Bright and Athletic, He Seemed Perfect for Princeton, but This Paper Tiger's Stripes Came from the Jailhouse
updated 03/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 03/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST
This Side of Paradise
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Seventy years and an early spring scandal later, Fitzgerald might have thought his alma mater just a bit too languid. In 1988 Princeton University admissions officers accepted the application of a 19-year-old track star named Alexi Indris-Santana, who boasted a self-taught education, superb Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and a glowing recommendation from the Lazy T Ranch in Utah, where he worked as a cowboy. The school generously postponed his enrollment when Alexi said he needed to care for his dying mother. Eventually Princeton even provided Santana $40,000 in scholarship money.
The only problems with the young man's story were 1) there was no Lazy T Ranch in Utah; 2) his mother wasn't dying; and 3) his name wasn't Alexi. In fact he turned out to be one James Hogue, 31, who had postponed his matriculation to serve a prison sentence in Utah for possession of stolen property—and was wanted there for skipping parole.
And so, two weeks ago, two plainclothes Princeton Borough detectives entered Hogue's geology class and handcuffed him on a fugitive warrant. Then last week, while the stately campus reeled in astonishment, a tense Hogue managed a wink at a classmate as he was arraigned in Mercer County Courthouse in Trenton, N.J. The charges: three felony counts of forgery and one count of theft by deception. On top of that, Hogue still faces possible extradition to Utah.
University officials were first alerted about Hogue several weeks ago after Renee Pacheco, a Yale senior, recognized him at an Ivy League track meet. Certain that she had known him at Palo Alto (Calif.) High School as Jay Huntsman, Pacheco telephoned the high school's track coach, Paul Jones. He in turn tipped off Jason Cole, a reporter for the Peninsula Times-Tribune, who had exposed the Huntsman/Hogue masquerade nearly six years ago. Cole quickly telephoned Pacheco, who told him, "I'll never forget that face and that bowl haircut."
Cole hadn't forgotten either. He contacted Princeton authorities and then broke the story that university runner Indris-Santana was the same James Hogue who, at age 25, had similarly hoodwinked high school officials in Palo Alto. His story there was that he was an orphan whose parents had died in Bolivia and that he had been living on a commune near Elko, Nev., for eight years. Cole did a little digging after Huntsman/Hogue ran in a cross-country meet and learned, sure enough, that no such commune existed. Hogue left Palo Alto High School the day before Cole's first story appeared.
This time, the story emerged before Hogue had the chance to bolt. Actually, the wonder is that he was able to keep the lid on for so long. He was an athlete and a student with a reputation for acing upper-class science courses, an exotic creature who wove fabulous stories about his wayward youth and slept on the floor in his room at Holder Hall. As a measure of his prominence, Hogue was recently selected to join Ivy, an aristocratic Princeton eating club whose former members include Secretary of State Jim Baker and His Royal Highness Saud Faisal of Saudi Arabia.
Two of his track teammates, Captain Bill Burke and Alexis Rocherolle, reflected on Hogue's deceptions. Says Rocherolle: "He said he'd lived outside, eating nuts and berries and hadn't seen television in years. He built a complete image, this mystique that he was an amazing athlete. Then we just sort of bought into the rest of it." Says Burke: "If you asked a question about his past, he always had tons of stories to tell, so he never seemed to be hiding anything." Eileen Kavanagh, a senior on the women's track team who joined Hogue and a close-knit few for weekly happy hours known as Super Tuesdays, says, "He had a certain aura about him because of his background, and he kept that up nicely. He always kept you guessing. You never knew where he stood."
It seems as if no one has ever known exactly where James Arthur Hogue stood. Suffice it to say that it was never in one place for very long. He grew up in Kansas City, Kans., the son of a railroad inspector. (His parents reportedly had given up on him years ago and didn't even know he was at Princeton.) Hogue starred on the Washington High School cross-country team and still holds the school records for the mile and two-mile runs.
After high school Hogue enrolled first at the University of Wyoming, ran in one NCAA regional meet—and then left school. He attended the University of Texas from 1980 to 1983, then dropped off the map. He surfaced in 1985. With his slight, distance runner's build and boyish face, Hogue conned his way into Palo Alto High School as Jay Huntsman.
When reporter Cole began to unravel his skein of deceit, Hogue again left school. He was convicted of check-forging, received probation, then took off for Colorado. He hustled a job on the staff of a cross-training camp in Vail, Colo., claiming he held a Ph.D. from Stanford. But a fellow runner told the camp's founder, Jim Davis, that Hogue was a fraud. Davis confronted Hogue and now recalls, "There was this dead silence. He didn't even bother to answer me."
Meanwhile, in Vail, Hogue had met a bicycle designer from San Marcos, Calif., named David Tesch, 31. When Hogue left Vail in 1987, he appeared on Tesch's doorstep and bunked in for 10 weeks while working in his friend's bicycle shop. Now Tesch says, "I guess he was sizing up my place in order to knock it off." Because soon after Hogue left, someone broke into Tesch's shop and stole $20,000 worth of goods. Hogue was questioned but not charged. Less than a year later, however, a cyclist in St. George, Utah, telephoned Tesch to tell him that Hogue had sold him a precision tool with Tesch's name on it.
Hogue was arrested, convicted of possession of stolen property and sentenced to up to five years. He was paroled in 10 months, despite Tesch's furious efforts to convince the Utah parole officer that she was being gulled. "I was practically screaming over the phone that Jim was conning her and that he'd skip town the minute he got out of the prison door. Which is exactly what he did."
By then, Hogue had already been accepted at Princeton. (Brown also accepted him: Yale and Harvard turned him down.) Thus his last and greatest con began; so it has ended, leaving in its wake a trail of friends feeling sad, angry, puzzled and betrayed. Says sophomore Judson Jacobs: "Maybe he got so involved in his lies that he started to believe them himself. Or maybe he was laughing at us every night." Adds Danny Grossi, who had planned to room with Hogue next year: "I don't know what to think. I'll wait to see what he says to me first. I heard he spoke to his girlfriend and told her to tell us he's sorry. I guess he'll say he's sorry again."
—Mark Goodman, Sarah Skolnik in Princeton, and bureau reports