For The Walrus, reporter Rachel Browne writes to Patrice Runner, the Canadian king of mail order grift, a man whose persuasive direct-mail copy writing skills deceived vulnerable believers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
When Patrice Runner was around eleven, in the late 1970s, his mother, a writer, began looping him in on the family’s financial struggles, he recalls. Runner’s father had left a few years earlier, sending monthly sums as child support. Thoughts of a career were a long way off, but Runner says he remembers feeling that all he wanted was to “get rich” so he wouldn’t struggle like his mother. He says he once asked a friend, “Do you know a simple way to become a millionaire?” When the friend said he didn’t, Runner replied: “It’s easy. Find a way to only make $1 one million times.” At nineteen, Runner started his first mail-order business, with $80, selling weight-loss booklets and how-to books on a range of topics.