So, when I first heard about the story I’m about to discuss, it was in the context of my favorite newspaper, the American Physical Society News. I think at the time the details of the story were still in dispute and APS News tends to be about the least sensational news outlet I know1, so although I remembered some mild weirdness, it didn’t make me sit up and take notice quite like the article sent to me more recently by a friend. In summary (though I would recommend reading the full article yourself) a notable theoretical particle physicist, Paul H. Frampton, has been sentenced to about four years in prison for (1) meeting a woman claiming to be Denise Melani on a dating website, (2) over a period of weeks being convinced that this was in fact the actual Denise Milani2 and that she was in love with him despite only communicating via Yahoo Messenger, (3) flying to La Paz, Bolivia to meet her, (4) being told that she had a last minute photo shoot in Brussels, that he could come and join her there, and ‘oh by the way could you bring this empty suitcase that I just happen to have left in La Paz’, and finally (5) being caught in the Buenos Aires airport with a suitcase full of his dirty laundry and two kilos of cocaine sewn into the lining.
Despite Dr. Frampton’s continually professing his complete ignorance of anything illegal or strange about the situation, subsequent court testimony and documents seem to indicate that he had more than an inkling of what at least might be in the suitcase. Still, this 68 year old professor from Chapel Hill had seemingly convinced himself beyond much doubt that this glamor model was willing to drop everything, marry him, and have children with him. He’s a bit young for dementia – after all, he was publishing papers in good scientific journals in 2011 with abstracts like
We examine models in which the dark energy density increases with time (so that the equation-of-state parameter w satisfies w < -1), but w approaches -1 asymptotically, such that there is no future singularity. We refine previous calculations to determine the conditions necessary to produce this evolution. Such models can display arbitrarily rapid expansion in the near future, leading to the destruction of all bound structures (a “little rip”). We determine observational constraints on these models and calculate the point at which the disintegration of bound structures occurs. For the same present-day value of w, a big rip with constant w disintegrates bound structures earlier than a little rip.3
He has a reputation for being a bit prickly and terribly arrogant, but these characteristics make him more likely to try and fluster some poor particle physics grad student during a conference talk rather than take on the occupation of drug mule. The man also, by his own admission, “rarely listens to the opinion of others”, which is probably why he ignored a more worldly physicist friend who told him before he left Bolivia that he was being duped into carrying drugs. The only thing that suggests to me that he might be a little more street smart and calculating than he appears are the facts that he had little in the way of savings, so needed money, and that the text messages he was sending to ‘Denise’ from Bolivia made specific references to his concern about drugs and drug-sniffing dogs4.
Personally, despite his conviction, I’m inclined to believe most of his side of the story. The man certainly has a rational and penetrating mind, but one that had been cloistered and focused for decades on questions that have almost nothing to do with the world as most humans understand it. As with any ability that is rarely or never used, his ability to interact with and read people who weren’t his peers in the academic community had clearly atrophied to the point of being nonexistent5. As for his motivation, well, it could have been money. To me though, his apparent complete naivete and not inconsiderable arrogance actually fits well with the story of his ‘finding love’ over the Internet with a glamor model he’d never met. He thought of himself as a brilliant and famous physicist: a wonderful match for a famous, large-chested glamor model who was half his age. Right. One pubescent fantasy that was never outgrown, and so began the tragi-comedy that describes Dr. Frampton’s career change from respected professor to (perhaps unwitting) drug trafficker. I would say something like, ‘let this be a lesson to you’, but it’s hard to come up a useful takeaway other than, “Well, sometimes people say things that aren’t true. So don’t believe everything you hear.” Most of us, however, learn this earlier than Dr. Frampton did. Unfortunate for him.
1 Which simultaneously explains why I enjoy reading it and why almost no one reads it.
2 An internet search will provide plenty of scantily-clad photos of this very pretty and, er, top-heavy glamor model.
3 I’ll see if I can get back to you on the meaning of that.
4 He, unsurprisingly, claims he was merely joking around with his beloved.
5 Kind of a scary thought, really.