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Two scammers steal more than $3,000 from family of dead Sebastopol teen


Some crimes just shock the conscience.

Already awash in anguish, the family of an 18-year-old Sebastopol man who died last month in Peru after drinking a hallucinogenic tea has been scammed by two con artists who stole more than $3,000.

After news of Kyle Nolan's death last month at a 10-day program in the Amazonian jungle made international headlines, well-wishers began donating money to help the family, who took time off work to fly to Peru twice looking for answers in Nolan's death.

Clients and friends of Nolan's mother, longtime veterinarian Ingeborg Oswald, poured into her Blue Sky Veterinary Hospital in Rohnert Park to express their condolences. About $1,000 in donations was being held at the front desk in a tissue box decorated with hearts and the words "Kyle Nolan Memorial Fund."

On Thursday, a female con artist missing several front teeth took advantage of the trustfulness of the office staff and made off with the box, the cash and checks inside.

Rohnert Park police are investigating, armed with a detailed description and possibly fingerprints of the thief.

Office manager Phylis Accornero called Oswald to tell her the news, with her heart in her throat. How could she tell the grieving mother that the box filled with donations had been swiped?

"I felt horrible," she said.

But it got worse. Oswald delivered perhaps even more disturbing news.

Someone called Oswald's mother — Kyle's grandmother — in Los Angeles on Wednesday and said he was Kevin, a triplet with Kyle and their sister Marion.

"He said he was in jail and needed money to get out," Accornero said, relaying what Oswald told her.

"He said 'Don't tell Mom because she's upset.'"

Worried and not wanting to bother Oswald in her time of need, the grandmother wired $2,100 at the scammer's request.

"She's a devastated grandmother, for gosh sake," Accornero said, incredulous. "She's in her 80s."

Police say those types of scams, often perpetrated on elderly victims, are difficult to solve.

But the Rohnert Park thief may have left key evidence behind. And witnesses have given police a detailed description of the woman.

Accornero said the vet's office staff was pretty watchful about the money, but no one dreamed anyone would be so heartless as to steal from a family grieving the death of a young son half a world away.

She was planning to take the funds on Wednesday to Exchange Bank, where a trust fund is being established.

Kyle Nolan was thought to be missing until the shaman at the retreat reportedly confessed to police that he buried Nolan's body after the teen was found dead. The family went to Peru to retrieve his body for burial back home.

Around 9 a.m. Wednesday at Oswald's clinic, a woman who identified herself as Helen Burgess came in and asked for directions.

Accornero said she talked about having two kittens spayed. Then she made an appointment to get treatment for a fox hound on Thursday.

She noted the donation box and said she'd heard about Nolan's death and sympathized with the family.

"She said, 'I had a son who died at 21, so I understand how she feels,'" Accornero said the woman told her. "She was here for 40 minutes."

Accornero left the counter momentarily to grab a brochure about a flea medication for the woman. When she returned the woman was gone. The donation box was gone as well.

When Accornero called police, they told her the address and phone number the woman gave for the appointment was false.

"She just waited for me to turn my back," Accornero said. "I can't believe the indecency of people.

"You would think she was the nicest lady. She said her dog was named Bo. She's a real con artist."

The woman had gray-brown hair below the ears, and was wearing a grey sweat shirt, jeans and a brown patterned headband.

She was missing several front teeth and said she was 55 years old, Accornero said. The woman claimed to have recently moved to the area from Alaska and said she wanted to volunteer at the city's animal shelter.

"It's been horrible, it's been really horrible," Accornero said. "It's horrible the way that humanity is anymore."

Police dusted for fingerprints and took as evidence the clipboard and pen the woman used to make an appointment. Police had no updates by Thursday evening.

"If he brings me pictures, I could definitely identify her," Accornero said.

She is hopeful the thief will be captured: "Talk about a tragedy on top of a tragedy on top of tragedy."

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)