Hornswoggled!: Welcome to Gerald, Missourah — the town that did just fall off the turnip truck

Hornswoggled!: Welcome to Gerald, Missourah — the town that did just fall off the turnip truck

Video: Take a windshield tour of Gerald, Missouri.

In His Own Words:

In the course of reporting this story, RFT obtained a transcription of a sworn deposition that Jakob gave earlier this year as part of a $7.25 million civil rights lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court. Read deposition.

At their monthly meeting on May 8, 2008, the elected officials of Gerald, Missouri, agreed to demolish the old cattle barn, discussed problems with a resident's ditch and chewed on the idea of creating a website for the town of 1,200. All in all, routine business.

Until just before adjournment, when the powers that be unanimously approved the hiring of Bill Jakob, a resident of the nearby town of Washington, as a "reserve" police officer. The following day Jakob, a dark-haired, moderately tattooed 37-year-old with a doughy physique, would log his only official day on the city's clock.

For weeks Gerald had been abuzz with rumors that an undercover federal drug agent had infiltrated the community. Residents whistled and bristled at stories of doors busted open, homes turned upside-down without warrants, a shotgun cocked to people's heads.

On May 9 investigators from the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation pulled up in front of Gerald police headquarters to follow up on the hearsay. Specifically, to pay a surprise visit and ask Bill Jakob whether he'd been playing cop.

Jakob professed his innocence, directing the investigators' attention to a tome of city ordinances pertaining to littering, lawn mowing and the like, which he said he'd been hired to enforce as a "code officer." He was well aware, Jakob told his inquisitors, that impersonating a police officer was a federal crime.

"The violation is called a 1001," notes FBI special agent Patrick Cunningham. "He was the one who mentioned it and described it to me."

Jakob wore a sergeant's badge and a handgun clipped to his hip. Gerald's police chief, who was also present, barely made a peep during the interview.

The investigators left, more suspicious than when they'd come.

Three days later Jakob's scheme unraveled. He confessed to impersonating a police officer and would subsequently make a brazen appearance on national television, telling Katie Couric as the 60 Minutes cameras rolled, "I'm not ashamed of the fact that I cleaned up a town."

"This was a holy-cow, catch-me-if-you-can sort of deal," sums up Sergeant Jason Grellner, who heads the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit. "The ego this guy had! His ability to charm and enchant and lie knew no bounds."

One year later, as Jakob stews behind bars in Texas, a pending $7.25 million federal lawsuit pits Gerald residents against their town's public officials, and Missouri native Brad Pitt's film-production company, Plan B, is at work on a screenplay involving one of the bizarre tale's curious subplots.

Meanwhile, many of those whom Jakob hoodwinked through at least a decade of fraud and fabrication still scratch their heads and wonder:

Who was Bill Jakob? And why didn't someone stop the con man sooner?

A Franklin County school bus had just deposited six-year-old Daymeon Bradshaw in front of his grandpa's auto shop on Highway 47 on May 13, 2003, when Bill and Amanda Jakob approached in their Ford F-150 pickup. Like the three cars ahead of them, the Jakobs were going the speed limit, according to court records, when Daymeon inexplicably ran into the road.

The other drivers managed to avoid the kindergartener. But Bill Jakob's truck hit Daymeon, propelling him 50 feet into the air and into a ditch. The boy's mother pulled him off a ventilator an hour later at St. John's Mercy Hospital, and subsequently filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Jakob.

When the case went to trial in Franklin County Circuit Court in early 2007, a jury returned with a $600,000 judgment, finding Jakob partly liable for Daymeon's death. The jurors did not know, however, that Jakob was living a lie of a life — a fabrication that he brazenly recounted in his defense.

Jakob claimed to have been medically discharged from the military after being injured in a rocket attack in Iraq. He said he sustained short-term memory loss and suffered a mini-stroke after his return stateside.

"[He was] very believable, very convincing," recalls attorney Jessica Mikale, who represented Jakob at trial. "He was in tears on the witness stand. He was in tears prior to court. And so was his wife. His wife corroborated, on the record and as part of the trial, what he told me about the accident, and about who he was."

But there never was a tour in Iraq, and there was no medical discharge.

In fact, according to a Department of Defense investigation undertaken last year, in January 2004 Bill Jakob fraudulently enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard by doctoring a diploma from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and apparently submitting papers that stated an inflated rank and training record from a stint he'd served in the Illinois Army National Guard.

While stationed at Fort Leonard Wood with Missouri's Guard, Jakob wore badges and stripes of ranks he never held, military investigators learned. He told fellow soldiers he'd served in Korea and in Operation Desert Storm. He also promoted soldiers whom he had no authority to promote, investigators concluded, and was thought to have stolen money from a fund for injured servicemen.

"He stated he wasn't married. But yet he had three different [women] calling the armory saying they were his wife," reads an affidavit from a fellow soldier.

That affidavit was part of an army investigation launched in January 2005, after which Jakob had gone AWOL and attempted to enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserve in Tennessee with a fake discharge form, the DOD learned.

In June 2006 Jakob's military service ended with a dishonorable discharge. At the hearing, he offered no evidence in his defense.

In contrast to the tales he'd told his fellow servicemen and, later, the Franklin County jury, Jakob had spent the years leading up to his fatal encounter with little Daymeon working a string of odd jobs. He drove a truck and worked at a few factories. He also worked for a spell as a contractor.

"When I first met him, at a Lowe's, he said he was in charge of building all the decks at the Legends [subdivision] in Eureka," recalls Washington resident Phil Marquart, who was employed by Jakob for a time. "Come to find out he was hired to do one deck. And that deck never got built. He took the couple's money — $11,000 — stole their tools and declared bankruptcy on that money, calling it a loan."

Marquart says he caught Jakob in a string of lies ranging from the quality of his golf game to the purported crew of carpenters he employed. "Finally one day I just told him, 'Go fuck yourself. You're a liar.' And I stormed off the job."

Informed that records indicate Jakob had told the FBI that Marquart owned the deck-building business and folded it in the midst of a divorce, Marquart, who remains very much married, bursts out laughing. "I was what? No shit? Wow!"

In January 2007 Bill Jakob answered a classified ad for a lock installer placed by Maryland Heights-based Total Lock & Security Company. Owner Gidget Fogerty liked the idea of hiring a veteran. After offering him the job, she remembers, "He called back to say, 'Do you have anything else? I just got back from Iraq, and my wife really doesn't want me to travel anymore.' He said he'd dispatched gas tanks with the army," adds Fogerty, "so we made him a dispatcher."

Jakob regaled his Total Lock coworkers with tales of battle and produced dog tags and photos that appeared to back up his accounts. He also showed initiative, and Fogerty promoted him to sales and provided him a company car, plus gas expenses for travel.

It wasn't long before the move paid off. Jakob scored Total Lock a deal to outfit Fort Leonard Wood with a suite of high-security locks, and then, in the fall of 2007, he informed Fogerty he'd landed a $386,000 contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Jakob submitted a purchase order and a chain of e-mail correspondence related to the contract. The Army Corps e-mails came from Hotmail.com addresses under the names "Lisa Kennedy" and "Terri Morstetter," but Jakob explained away the nongovernmental domain names, saying, "This is the way the federal government does things after 9/11."

"Our employees would ask him for different bits of information, very technical information, about the locks and other things, and he would always come back with the correct information," says Fogerty, who purchased $100,000 worth of materials to start the Army Corps job.

Then Total Lock tried to run the credit card number Jakob supplied, and it got declined — twice.

"I questioned him about it," says Fogerty, "and he got all flustered. He said, 'I'll go talk to them and figure out the problem.' The next day his company car was in the parking lot with the keys in the ignition. A couple days later he mailed back his swipe card to the building."

Fogerty was flummoxed. She didn't know if she had a contract to deliver on or not. She tried and failed to reach "Kennedy" and "Morstetter" at the Corps of Engineers.

That's when the Total Lock staff began to reflect on some of the curious things Bill Jakob had bragged about.

He'd told colleagues he owned hundreds of acres, and numerous horses, in Franklin County, but whenever he invited a coworker to come hunting or fishing, the coworker would arrive but Jakob would fail to show up.

He said he owned a Cessna. He said he owned a strip joint on the east side. He said he won the Medal of Honor, but when asked to produce it, he never did. One night toward the end of his tenure, Total Lock employees were celebrating a birthday at a nearby Hooters when Jakob abruptly stood to leave, saying he had Drug Enforcement Administration business to attend to.

And then there was the funny business with the young woman who sometimes spent an entire day reading a book in Jakob's truck outside Total Lock while he worked. When Fogerty got wind of the woman's presence, she asked Jakob about it. "He said, 'Oh, that's just my sister, she's here to pick up my truck for me.'"

Investigators would later learn that Jakob was having an extramarital affair with the woman, Chelsea Potter. It seemed the couple had met at First United Methodist Church in Washington, where Jakob taught adult Bible study, performed in the praise band and regularly assisted the minister with worship. Jakob had told congregation members that he was ordained by an offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church and was planning to start his own religious society. A member of the church had set him up with several sets of engaged friends and Jakob had performed their marriage ceremonies.

Jakob also told fellow churchgoers he was a military chaplain at a hospital in St. Louis and that he flew organs for transplant patients around the nation.

(Records from the 2008 FBI investigation into Jakob's antics in Gerald note that Jakob told Potter he owned the lock company, and that in early 2008 he "complained to Potter that he was tired of 'babysitting' everyone...and sold [Total Lock] to a large company.")

In February 2008, when Total Lock's owner called the Department of Defense to report Jakob's fraud, the agency thought it might have a serious national-security issue on its hands, recalls DOD special agent Steve Manley.

Manley soon learned that Jakob had concocted many of his bogus e-mails at the Washington Public Library and that while Fogerty thought he was out on sales calls he was actually hanging around Franklin County and conducting Internet searches for law-enforcement jobs around the nation.

By the time Manley and an assistant figured out their quarry was a bankrupt high-school dropout with bogus military credentials, Jakob was deep into his next charade.

By the spring of 2007, Bill Jakob had risen to the rank of Worshipful Master (a.k.a. president) of Hope Lodge No. 251, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, in Washington. Among the fraternity — a club whose members have included numerous U.S. presidents — Jakob was an active member with a seemingly special connection.

"He had a Masonic ring, a very old ring, which he said was his father's," recalls longtime lodge member Charlie Coy. "He said that he'd been in the German army [during World War II]. Hitler would kill any Freemasons he found out about, so his father carried the ring in his boot."

Scoffs Jakob's step-uncle, Otto Jakob: "That's a pure fabrication."

Billy, as he was called growing up in Fairview Heights, Illinois, was born Billy Reuss. "Susie, his mother, was kind of like a wild child," recalls Otto Jakob, a retired St. Clair County Sheriff's Office lieutenant. "Wayne, his father, was a really nice guy."

The couple separated when Billy was five and abandoned him and his three half-siblings (whom Susie had conceived with another man). "I always heard that Susie was either in jail or dead. I never knew what happened to Wayne," Otto Jakob says.

Otto's step-mother and father, Debbie and John Jakob, were Billy's maternal grandmother and step-grandfather, and they adopted the children and changed their last names. Though John Jakob was indeed German, Otto confirms, he never served in the Nazi army.

According to neighbor Harter Dermody, Billy Jakob was an outgoing, intelligent teenager who was meant to be the quarterback at Belleville East High School but "didn't hit the books" and "seemed to be in trouble a lot."

Jakob never graduated; he obtained a GED and bounced around as a young adult, joining the Illinois Army National Guard and taking one semester's worth of law-enforcement courses at Southwestern Illinois College (called Belleville Area College at the time). During the '90s he worked stints with several municipal police departments in the St. Louis area, among them Brooklyn and Caseyville, Illinois, and Kinloch.

Jakob wasn't certified as a cop in either Missouri or Illinois, however, according to DOD special agent Manley. "He had 40 hours of handgun training; that's all we know of," Manley reports. "And he was fired from Kinloch, Brooklyn and Caseyville for use of improper force."

In 1990 police in O'Fallon, Illinois, had arrested Jakob for criminal sexual abuse (having sex with a minor). Prosecutors dismissed the case. In 1994 O'Fallon police again arrested Jakob on the same charge. Jakob pled guilty to a lesser offense. By then he was married, and a father.

Otto Jakob says he had virtually no contact with Bill when the latter was a boy. But he remembers getting a call one day in the early '90s alerting him that his "brother" was locked up.

"I had a real brother, so I went to the jail to see about it, and they pointed to this guy. And I'm looking at him, going, Who the hell is he? He says, 'I'm your brother.' I didn't realize my father had even adopted him. I got pretty hot. I said, 'Don't you ever use my [name] to try to get out of trouble again.'"

Bill's name didn't arise again until 2000, when Otto heard that his step-relative was a candidate for chief of police in New Baden, Illinois. "A friend of mine's brother was on the village board there, so I told him, 'You better clue everybody into the fact that this guy's been investigated for abuse,'" Otto Jakob recounts, adding, "They never did anything with him."

Department of Defense investigative records show that Bill Jakob fraudulently enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserve in the fall of 2000, shortly before deserting his wife, son and six-week-old daughter for a paramour.

Three days after finalizing his divorce in June 2001, he married Amanda Hatcher. The Jakobs moved to Amanda's parents' home just outside Washington, where Jakob soon took on the identity that would help propel him to the top ranks of the local Masonic Temple.

The year he became Worshipful Master, the Washington Missourian printed a sympathetic feature about Jakob's cherished Masonic ring. "The important thing is that the Masons help good men become better by bringing out their traits," Jakob told the Missourian.

"It's gratifying knowing I have a sense of brothership. I belong to something that's bigger than me."

The Gerald Police Department comprises three rooms at the back of city hall. Hanging at the entrance: an eleven-by-fourteen-inch poster of the Bill of Rights, which Chief Clyde Zelch put up upon taking the reins last summer.

"I'm a constitutionally minded chief of police," Zelch says, pointing out a box that contains copies of the U.S. Constitution, which he gives to residents and visitors. "Some people think that's radical or fanatical. But I don't."

At age 43 Zelch is the father of six and grandfather of four, a lifelong resident of the Gerald area who works as a welder to supplement the chief's gig, which pays about $30,000 a year. He's done two tours overseas as a military contractor and maintains his own website touting his law-enforcement credentials.

"I was stabbed in the stomach, blown up three times, went to Germany to have things put back in the right places," he says of his stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. "But then, I've been shot at four times in the Gerald-Rosebud area! I've had beer bottles cracked over my head here."

Located roughly 70 miles southwest of St. Louis, the town of Gerald straddles Highway 50 on the north and south. Sans saloon or its own high school, a pair of water towers and a sprawling feed mill are the city's most prominent features. There are trailer parks and McMansions, a Dollar General and a fireworks shop. To the southeast lies a public park, its pond stocked with catfish of double-digit weights, and a rodeo ring once voted second-best in the state.

Gerald's sleepy South Main Street includes a library that some residents launched years ago on a volunteer basis. One local man takes a weeklong vacation to put on the annual July 4 barbecue. A group of citizens recently worked nights and weekends to erect an impressive veterans' memorial, funded by $45,000 in donations solicited by city officials.

It's the kind of town where nobody locks their doors at night and where a story whispered at one end of town has been broadcast at the other end within the hour.

At the end of the day, stresses Zelch, "it's got a lot of good people."

But like much of Franklin County — which has been called the methamphetamine capital of the United States — Gerald also has some drug problems that officials have been desperate to stamp out.

Zelch worked for a short time as police chief in 2007 before resigning to go to Afghanistan. His successor was dismissed under mysterious circumstances, paving the way for officer Ryan McCrary, 33, who took over in December 2007.

A paramedic who has spent time at different rural law-enforcement agencies, including a prior three-year stint in Gerald, McCrary spent three years as a military contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he worked narcotics cases.

That biographical tidbit was included in a January 2008 Washington Missourian article that is thought to have brought the Gerald Police Department to Bill Jakob's attention.

According to investigative records, in early 2008 Jakob was working on two fronts trying to find a job in law enforcement. He applied to become a security officer for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and was undergoing the requisite background check.

Says DOD agent Manley: "Bill made it known that his wife had terminal cancer and he really needed that job because it was steady, didn't require much travel and he needed to be there for his kids."

But the Fed "found his two sex arrests in the background search," says Manley. "He tried to argue his way out of them, saying he was just a kid, but the head of security didn't buy it and told him, 'Don't come back.'"

One day around that time, Jakob strolled into the Gerald PD to have a word with Chief McCrary. According to investigative records, the men's versions of that conversation differ.

Jakob would later tell the FBI that he wanted to find work as a security contractor overseas and that he and McCrary decided he could acquire the required experience on Gerald's force.

McCrary told the FBI that Jakob had claimed to be a federal officer who could be detached to Gerald to work drug cases undercover.

According to friends and former colleagues interviewed by the FBI, McCrary was interested in ramping up the five-man department's drug busts. He floated the idea of his own task force to compete with the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit headed up by Sergeant Grellner, who is known across the nation for his zealous pursuit of meth cooks.

Jakob appeared to be exactly what McCrary needed for the mission.

On March 17, 2008, per Jakob's instructions, McCrary sent a detailed fax to a person he thought was Jakob's boss, requesting the "Multi-Jurisdictional Narcotics Task Force" loan Jakob to Gerald. McCrary followed up with a phone call to a number Jakob provided.

That call went to Jakob's own phone, the FBI would later discover, and was answered by his girlfriend, Chelsea Potter.

Potter declines to comment about the call. She also denies she and Jakob were anything more than friends.

FBI investigative documents show that in March 2008 the Gerald city clerk secretly swore in Jakob as an "undercover federal agent" at Chief McCrary's request. The clerk told the FBI that the chief would not tell her Jakob's name and informed her that no one would know his identity.

Gerald mayor Otis Schulte says he and the town's board of aldermen learned of Jakob at about the same time and were told the mission was "top secret" and that none of the officials would meet the officer.

Schulte adds that he and an alderman did unexpectedly meet Jakob at city hall two months later. "He tells us, 'My boss thinks we're doing such a good job here that when I leave, we're going to leave my police car here,'" says the mayor.

That encounter came only two weeks before Schulte and his fellow officials made Jakob a city employee on May 8. "None of us caught it [at the meeting] that night — that you couldn't be a federal officer and a reserve police officer for the city at the same time," Schulte says. "Not anyone on the council, not our city attorney."

A week later, halfway around the world, Chief Zelch saw the headlines about the fake cop in his hometown.

"I was at a base near the Iranian border and they had FOX News on, and there it was!" he says with a laugh. "In Ryan [McCrary]'s defense, I could see how somebody could be fooled for a little while. But the moment we start working together, I need to be satisfied that you are indeed a certified cop."

Bill Jakob and Debra Lovell were pen pals for four years while Lovell served time in a state prison for several violent crimes. When she got out in early 2008, she asked Jakob — whom she believed to be a federal officer — to look into suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of her sister's adoptive father. Jakob agreed, and on March 8, 2008, he drove to St. Joseph to meet with Lovell and interview her sister, Melissa Baker.

"He was slick as shit," Baker recalls. Jakob, she says, recorded their interview. "[He] told me that what I was saying had to be true or I could be punished under penalty of law. It didn't appear to be anything but on the up-and-up. He goes: 'We already have his records from the hospital, the blood work that they did, and we can't tell you anything definite, but yes, they did find a chemical in his system that shouldn't have been there.'"

Baker says after Jakob left, she never heard from him again.

"My sister and I come from a family of criminals," she adds. "You'd think we'd have spotted this guy from a mile away."

Not long afterward, Jakob made his Gerald debut.

FBI investigators would learn that he'd told local police officers and their friends that he'd worked stints for the DEA and for "border patrol" in the South. When an officer asked him how to apply for a job with the latter, Jakob purportedly told him that "during the hiring process they make you take a language test. The language was not a real language, it was made-up. Jakob said they were just trying to determine if you could learn it."

Jakob said he joined the "Multi-Jurisdictional Narcotics Task Force" in East St. Louis "back in the 'good old' days," and was "given money to go to the strip clubs to bust 'crack heads.'" He liked to refer to his gun as his American Express card, as in: "Never leave home without it."

But he also tried to keep his cover. The FBI heard that Jakob had made it known that it was a crime to disclose the identity of a federal agent and that the instant anyone ran his license plate, a GPS-like "ping" would go out to federal law enforcement.

For a time Jakob operated undercover in Gerald, trying to collect information at local eateries and posing at the station as a suspect under arrest. He sported all the law-and-order accoutrements: a badge he purchased off the Internet, a 2003 white Crown Victoria he bought for $3,500 and pimped out with antennas and radios, and a .45-caliber handgun. (The department offered him a Glock; Jakob preferred his own sidearm.)

On April 24, 2008, Jakob began operating in the open.

That morning he and a friend, fellow Mason John Erfurdt, were en route to a shooting range when Jakob got a call from the Gerald PD requesting his help.

Though Erfurdt, then a jailer for the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, knew Jakob to have toiled at different jobs, he says he believed Jakob was a credentialed federal agent. (Erfurdt had even accompanied Jakob to St. Joseph two months earlier to meet with Melissa Baker; he says Jakob told him it would count toward state-mandated professional-development hours.)

The pair rolled onto East Springfield Street just as a cadre of Gerald officers were arresting two suspected drug offenders.

So began two very busy weeks, as Jakob, along with Gerald's finest, rounded up dozens of drug suspects, collected several pounds of marijuana and attempted to set up narcotics buys. The suspects would later tell FBI investigators that they were never shown a badge or a warrant and that when challenged, Jakob would yell, "I'm a federal officer, I don't need a warrant!"

According to witness accounts, Jakob did most of the questioning, and the officers eventually let most suspects go, telling some to come back to the station the next day instead of taking them for an overnight stay at the Franklin County Jail.

"Two cop cars flew up here real quick and pulled in at an angle, and the guys jumped out and bum-rushed me," recounts 24-year-old Josh Davis, an unemployed ex-con who was doing yard work outside his grandmother's house when the law arrived on May 5. "They searched my house, my garage, everything, and they arrested me for my camping supplies — a couple of propane tanks and some mantle lanterns. "[At the station] he kept trying to stack years on top of [me]. 'We'll give you five years in the pen. No, we'll give you ten, fifteen, if you don't answer' such-and-such questions."

Joe Rabbitt, 29, and Rebecca Fieser, 22, say Jakob and Chief McCrary raided their trailer in the Pear Tree Mobile Home Park on April 28.

"I was getting high and had some buddies over, and I had a [surveillance] camera on my deck because I don't trust the people in here," recounts Rabbitt. "All of a sudden my buddy [looks at the monitor and] says, 'Dude, it's the cops, and they've got shotguns and M-16s!'"

Rabbitt says he refused to open the door, so Jakob kicked it in, shoved him to the floor and pressed a gun to his belly.

After McCrary found marijuana stashed in the toilet tank, Jakob flew into a rage, Fieser adds. "[Jakob] points the gun at Joe and yells, 'Where the fuck is the rest of it? Am I going to have to start tearing the walls apart? Where the fuck is the rest of it?'"

The pair say police confiscated Rabbitt's gun collection, his PlayStation console and $750 in cash. Fieser says Jakob also forced her to set up a Vicodin buy from a drug dealer. "He kept saying, 'If you don't do this, I'll call DFS [the state's child-welfare agency] on you. You've got a beautiful son. How'd you like to wait twelve years in jail to see him again?'"

Adds Rabbitt: "We ended up sitting there for hours before they let us go. Before we left they made us sign this thing that said, 'You cannot give up this federal agent's name or identity.'"

Neither Gerald nor any other jurisdiction ever pressed charges against any of at least a dozen people hauled in for questioning during Bill Jakob's scant tenure.

An avid seamstress and gardener, 52-year-old Linda Trest is editor of the Ladies' Pages of the Gasconade County Republican. But on the afternoon of May 5, 2008, she encountered a story that didn't quite fit her usual beat.

Trest got a tip that police were raiding the house of Gerald's one and only pharmacist — her next-door neighbor — and sped home to get the scoop. When she began photographing the raid, a man she'd never seen before stepped outside and demanded she put away the camera.

"I told him, 'No, I don't have to, I'm on a public street,' and he kept pressing and pressing. I asked, 'What agency are you with?' And he wouldn't tell me," Trest remembers. "He got extremely belligerent. He went back inside. He came back out, and all of a sudden he wanted to be my best friend. He said something like, 'Oh, my mom used to be just like you. She wrote a gossip column for a paper in Kentucky.'"

Trest has a brother who's a former meth cook doing time in a state prison. She's the mother of six kids who range in age from 17 to 35. Through friends of her kids and other contacts, she had been hearing for two weeks about the federal agent who was going around town performing warrantless searches. After her tête-à-tête with the cop next door, Trest was pretty sure she'd just met the man in question.

The following day Trest put in a call to the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, which soon determined that no federal agent was detached to the Gerald police force. But she still didn't know the fake fed's name.

Two nights later Gerald made Jakob's name known by hiring him as its "reserve" police officer. With one phone call to the state licensing agency, the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Program, Trest learned that Jakob was no federal agent — and that he wasn't even certified to be a cop.

Knowing she was on to something, she began to sketch out a page-one article for the following week's paper. At a meeting with Chief McCrary and members of his force, the chief told Trest he believed Jakob to be a member of the "Multi-Jurisdictional Narcotics Task Force" and that when he called to confirm that the agency had received his fax requesting assistance, a woman had answered and said, "Yep, we got it, everything is in order."

"[Jakob] told the cops he was going to get $22,500 to purchase meth or meth ingredients from [a suspect], undercover," Trest goes on. "And the Gerald cops told me they were in the process of renting a trailer, with audio and video equipment and everything, to set that up."

The officers told Trest that it had been Jakob who insisted they set free all the suspects rather than send them to the county jail. "He said, 'We don't want Franklin County involved. We'll have the feds come and get them when we get the case pulled together,'" she recounts.

Then Jakob announced he was "going overt," the officers said, and he needed the city to officially bring him onboard.

At the end of the interview, Trest says, she looked up from her notebook at Brad Landwehr, a city alderman who had sat in on the meeting.

"'This is big,'" Landwehr told Trest. "I said, 'I know,'" she says.

"He said, 'No, this is CNN-big.'"

A few years ago, after serving for more than a decade as a Gerald alderman, Otis Schulte ran for mayor. He says that before the election his wife wanted to build a new house right outside the city limits, "just so I couldn't run for anything again."

Instead Schulte built the biggest house in Gerald, with a three-car garage and a special room for his model-train collection. After winning a first term by a landslide, he squeaked by with only a fifteen-vote margin in his re-election campaign post-Jakob, this past April.

Schulte says his mother's ancestors founded Gerald back in the nineteenth century. His grandfather was Gerald's first doctor. His mother penned a history of the city in 1976. Until recently Schulte worked two jobs, hauling cars for Chrysler during the wee hours and manning his hardware and lumber store by day. In his spare time he likes to draw architectural plans for businesses that want to come to town.

In the midst of erecting the town's new veterans' memorial and dreaming up possible bigger projects, like a community center, Schulte says, the Bill Jakob scandal was small potatoes, a distraction.

"Look," he says as he conducts a tour of the town, "I was watching an old Andy Griffith Show the other night. In 1961 a guy came to Mayberry as — guess what — a fake FBI agent. Somebody called me and told me to check it out. I recorded it. So it's not like we're the only people this has happened to."

Adds the mayor: "None of us on the council can see why it was such a big thing."

After Jakob confessed to his conniving on May 12, 2008, Schulte and the aldermen called a closed session. Four hours of discussion later, they resolved to fire Chief McCrary, Bill Jakob and two Gerald officers.

Schulte says he hoped that would be the end of the saga. Instead he faced a recall by petition and a barrage of bad headlines.

The mayor blames Linda Trest, saying, "She just kept pointing out all the negatives."

Residents are divided over the Jakob scandal's impact. Some think that regardless of his false credentials, he did wonders for the town. Others decry the scare tactics and civil-rights violations.

Twenty-nine people, many of them among those arrested, filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming Jakob and the Gerald police violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights. They seek $7.25 million in damages.

"This case is about what kind of society you want to live in," says their St. Louis attorney, Bob Herman. "Do you really want to live in a society where the police can come and break down the door at any time? Because that's what they did. There are many people in the world who do live in such a society, and we don't, and the only thing that makes the difference is the Fourth Amendment."

John Borbonus, a St. Louis-based lawyer who represents Gerald in the case, contends that the suit is misguided. "This isn't about a bunch of cops breaking down doors. It's about everybody being duped by one exceptionally good con man," Borbonus argues. "Look at this guy's record: He was born telling lies.

"If you want to talk about victims here, you can't stop at these people who were arrested, many of whom were [guilty of] what they were arrested for. If you want victims, you don't stop with them, because the whole city, its officials and its police department were victimized."

Linda Trest concedes that she approached her story with some bias. "I knew these people personally. I knew who I could believe and who I couldn't. I knew some of [the arrestees] were definitely innocent."

Schulte begs to differ. "Most people in town don't know the people who's doing the so-called lawsuit," says the mayor. "I had a citizen say the other day, 'Would you vote to not give known drug people money, or would you vote to break a city? You give them money, and they'll go buy more drugs, and turn around and sell them in the city.'

"I'll tell you the consensus of the council," he adds. "We don't want to settle for one dime."

In his confession to the FBI, Jakob said he had a brother in law enforcement, and that all he ever wanted to be was a police officer.

The officer in question, Jakob's estranged step-brother and -uncle Otto Jakob, is unsure how to respond to that. "If he was smart enough to do all this other stuff, he probably could have put himself in a good job — or a real job — and really would have gotten ahead," he says.

Instead everything fell apart for Bill Jakob in 2008.

Early in the year, a St. Clair County judge found Jakob in contempt for failing to pay at least $24,000 in child support to two of his five children. Hope Lodge No. 251 expelled him from the Masonic Temple via certified letter, upon realizing that he'd falsified his membership application.

In July Jakob was scheduled to go to court for a retrial of the wrongful-death suit involving the kindergartener, which his attorney had successfully appealed on a technicality. But attorneys learned just prior to trial that Jakob and his wife had declared bankruptcy five years earlier. Because Jakob had no assets, three years of proceedings had carried on for naught.

On July 10, 2008, Jakob turned himself in to the FBI and was booked on 23 felony counts, including impersonating a police officer. Two weeks later the Gasconade County Republican reported that deposed police chief Ryan McCrary had been transported to a hospital via ambulance after failing to show up for work at his paramedic job. McCrary did not return several phone calls for comment for this story.

Charlie Coy recalls how disgusted some of his fellow Masons were when they ran into Jakob after his downfall. "He showed no remorse. He didn't apologize," Coy says. "On the contrary, he talked about how he was looking forward to doing a movie or a TV show."

Linda Trest sold the rights to her life story to Plan B, Brad Pitt's production company; the company is shopping a screenplay about the caper to Paramount. If the movie gets made, Trest says, she stands to collect a tidy sum. "I got a Christmas card last year from Plan B, with Jeremy [the agent] and Brad Pitt on the front. It's like: What do you say?" notes a tickled Trest. "You just put it up on the TV with the rest of them!"

Jakob pled guilty to all charges on September 29 last year. On December 19 U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel sentenced him to five years in federal prison and ordered him to pay $30,000 in restitution to Total Lock.

Jakob reported to a low-security facility near the Texas-Arkansas border in February. Through his attorney, Joel Schwartz, he declined to be interviewed for this story.

Jakob's wife, Amanda, also declined to be interviewed, saying she doesn't want to say anything that could "harm" her husband. When pressed to comment on Jakob's fabrications about his military service, Amanda Jakob says, "I've read all the Internet, and all the bullshit. I have nothing good to say about this community."

"I have a lot of questions I'd like to ask him," says Bill Jakob's old friend John Erfurdt, who lost his job at the Franklin County Sheriff's Department over the scandal. "But do I really want to know the answers?"

Gidget Fogerty, owner of Total Lock, is perplexed by the fact that the U.S. military merely discharged Jakob and did not prosecute him for forgery. "They basically put him back out on the street, where he could hurt other people," she marvels. "Why?"

In Gerald, some wonder if Bill Jakob might have been an undercover cop after all.

Even Mayor Schulte sounds conspiratorial when he confesses, "I'd like to know if Jakob is actually in prison. It'd be worth a drive down to [Texas] to see if he really is."

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