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Mug shot of David Hampton, taken by New York State Department of Correctional Services on January 10, 1985, after Hampton was arrested for attempted burglary.
April 28, 1964|
Buffalo, New York
|Died||July 18, 2003
Passaic, New Jersey
|Other names||David Poitier, Patrick Owens, Antonio Jones, David Hampton-Montilio|
|Criminal charge||Fraud, fare-beating, credit-card theft, threats of violence, burglary, harassment|
|Criminal penalty||Twenty-one month prison term|
David Hampton (April 28, 1964 – July 18, 2003) was an American con artist who gained infamy in the 1980s after milking a group of wealthy Manhattanites out of thousands of dollars by convincing them he was Sidney Poitier's son. His story became the inspiration for a play and later a movie, titled Six Degrees of Separation.
Hampton, eldest son of an attorney in Buffalo, moved to New York City in 1981 and stumbled upon his now-famous ruse in 1983, when he and another man were attempting to gain entry into Studio 54. Unable to do so, Hampton's partner decided to pose as Gregory Peck's son, while Hampton assumed the identity of Sidney Poitier's son. They were ushered in as celebrities. Hampton began employing the persona of "David Poitier" to cadge free meals in restaurants. He also persuaded at least a dozen people into letting him stay with them and give him money, including Melanie Griffith; Gary Sinise; Calvin Klein; John Jay Iselin, the president of WNET; Osborn Elliott, the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; and a Manhattan urologist. He told some of them that he was an acquaintance of their children, some that he had just missed his plane to Los Angeles and that all his luggage was on it, some that his belongings had been stolen.
In October 1983, Hampton was arrested and convicted for his frauds and was ordered to pay restitution of $4,490 to his various victims. He was also banned from New York City. After he refused to comply with these terms, he was sentenced to a term of 18 months to 4 years in prison.
Six Degrees of Separation
Playwright John Guare became interested in Hampton's story through his friendship with two of his duped hosts — Osborn and Inger Elliott, who had been outraged to find "David Poitier" in bed with another man the morning after they let him into their home. Six Degrees of Separation opened at the Lincoln Center in May 1990, and became a long-running success.
Hampton attempted to turn the play's success to his own advantage, giving interviews to the press, gate-crashing a producers' party, and beginning a campaign of harassment against Guare that included phone calls and death threats, prompting Guare to apply for a restraining order in April 1991, which was unsuccessful. In the fall of 1991, Hampton filed a $100 million lawsuit, claiming that the play had stolen the copyright on his persona and his story. His lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
After his release Hampton continued to adopt false identities. After the play and film Six Degrees of Separation made his original con well-known, Hampton evolved other false identities and traveled extensively to find new victims. Hampton was in and out of prison in numerous states. He was interviewed during each break from incarceration by a journalist with the TV show The Justice Files, seen in the USA on the Discovery Channel.
After swearing he had changed his life, Hampton continued traveling at least as late as 1996, where he found a large number of men who, even if they'd heard of his notoriety from the East Coast, had never seen his picture or the press, allowing him to move about unnoticed and work on numerous victims at one time. In Spring 1996, Hampton arrived in Seattle, Washington, USA, posing as Antonio de Montilio, the son of a wealthy District of Columbia physician. Due to his light skin color, victims claimed he could easily be believed as the Puerto Rican he claimed. Typically, his story was colorful. Hampton claimed to have been mugged upon arriving in Seattle early for a work assignment for Vogue magazine. He was to interview Bill Gates but was suddenly in peril as his wallet was stolen and nothing could be replaced until that weekend was over. Hampton managed to woo two people within blocks of each other without their being aware that he was working them both. It is believed that he was first drawn to one victim, Justin Baird, because Baird had been identified at RPlace as the official taking in fundraising dollars from Bunny Brigade volunteers as they returned from their collection rounds.
- "Obituary: David Hampton". telegraph.co.uk. 2003-07-22. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- Witchel, Alex (1990-06-21). "The Life of Fakery and Delusion In John Guare's 'Six Degrees'". nytimes.com. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- Kasindorf, Jeanie (1991-03-25). "Six Degrees of Impersonation". New York Magazine. p. 40. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
- Jones, Kenneth (2003-07-20). "David Hampton, Con-Man Whose Exploits Inspired Six Degrees, Dead at 39". playbill.com. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- Suspect in Hoax is Arrested Here in Rendezvous at nytimes.com (October 19, 1983)
- Teen-Ager Who Posed As Poitier 'Son' Guilty at nytimes.com (November 20, 1983)
- Impersonator Wants To Portray Still Others, This Time, Onstage at nytimes.com (July 31, 1990)
- HEADLINERS; Playing Himself at nytimes.com (August 5, 1990)
- About New York; He Conned the Society Crowd but Died Alone at nytimes.com (July 19, 2003)