explainer

Scammer Liz Carmichael evaded police for 12 years. Then she appeared on Unsolved Mysteries.

In 2018, Elizabeth Holmes went from being one of TIME’s Most Influential People in the World, to being charged with criminal fraud.

The 35-year-old had effectively scammed US$9 billion (AUD$12.7) from investors through her company Theranos, which promised to revolutionise medical testing through advanced blood analysis. Holmes claimed her technology could detect a number of diseases and conditions using only a few drops of blood, however this was soon discovered to be part of an elaborate lie.

At its peak, Theranos was valued at $9 billion. In 2018, Holmes was indicted to face a federal grand jury on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She’s still awaiting trial, and could face a jail term of 20 years.

Forty four years before Holmes’ empire crumbled, a similar ‘self-made woman’ by the name of Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael (more commonly known as Liz Carmichael) scammed investors of $30 million.

In the midst of soaring fuel prices during the 1970s oil crisis, Carmichael – a self-described widow of a NASA structural engineer, mum of five and trans woman – seemingly had the answer.

Elizabeth Holmes Theranos Liz Carmichael Dale
Liz Carmichael and Elizabeth Holmes. Image: Unsolved Mysteries and Elizabeth Holmes.

She claimed her company, the Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation had the prototype and technology to create The Dale - a fuel-efficient, three-wheel car which would weigh less than 1,000 pounds (453kgs), run at 70 miles per gallon of fuel (which rivals today's standard for fuel efficiency by 20 miles) and cost less than $2000 to buy. When questioned on the stability of a three-wheel vehicle, she claimed the 'low centre of gravity' would increase the car's stability, making it near impossible to tip over.

“We're going to shock General Motors, Ford and the rest of them right out of their big, overstuffed seats," she told the New York Times, who described her as a dominating "six‐footer with bulging biceps".

“I don't care about the public, I only care about money,” she continued.

“I'm going to build the public exactly what they're looking for and I'm going to knock the hell out of Detroit doing it.”

Liz Carmichael Dale
Image: The Museum of American Speed.
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Like Holmes, Carmichael was the public face of The Dale, and her public performance earned her glowing reviews from national publications. At one point the vehicle was even featured as a Showcase Showdown prize on US quiz show, Price is Right and while her sales pitches were only matched by non-working prototypes, she managed to charm a reported $30 million from investors, dealerships and prospective customers.

Eventually Carmichael was arrested in April 1975 and was convicted two years later on charges of conspiracy, grand theft, fraud and counterfeiting. She was also charged with a bail-jumping offence from before her sex change, when she went by the name of Jerry Dean Michael.

This discovery unravelled other aspects of Carmichael's personal life too. Her former claims of being a mum-of-five were questioned and it was revealed she was actually the father of her five children, who she shared with her wife, Vivian Barrett Michael. Explaining their unique arrangement to People magazine, she continued to stand by her once-husband's side.

“We love her just as much as we loved him. The children call her Mother Liz and me just plain Mother,” Barrett Michael said at her time of Carmichael's arrest.

Then, Carmichael evaded prison once again. Although she was given a 10 to 20 year prison sentence and $30,000 restitution fine, she fled police after posting her $50,000 bail.

For the next 12 years, Carmichael continued to successfully flee police until 1989 when her case was featured on the US true crime series, Unsolved Mysteries. A viewer tip led to her final arrest two weeks later, where she was found in the town of Dale, Texas, working as a florist by the new name of Kathryn Elizabeth Johnson. After her third and final arrest, records show she went on to serve 32 months for her crimes before being released on parole.

While Carmichael passed away from cancer in 2004, prototypes of her failed Dale still sit on display at the Peterson Automobile Museum in Los Angeles and Nebraska's Museum of American Speed, an ironic shell of an idea that had the potential to change the world.

Were you aware of Liz Carmichael's story? Tell us in a comment below.

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