The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman (2022): Season 1, Episode 2 - Chasing a Ghost - full transcript

The father of an early victim raises the alarm with authorities about his daughters safety. Decades later, the police chase down a bizarre lead.

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Everything that was confusing
suddenly all made sense at once.

His name's Robert Freegard,

and he's a convicted conman.

My mum had been living with this conman,
this man that was controlling our lives.

Once I'd found out
who David Hendy truly was,

I spoke to the police

and told them that my ex-wife
is with this serial conman.

Unfortunately, whilst they listened to me,

they had no interest
in pursuing the case at all.

We don't know where she is.
We've not seen her in years.

I tried again and again.

Finally, we managed to get the police
to investigate Sandra as a missing person.

In 2015, they located Sandra,
who was with Freegard,

and they arranged to meet her
to discuss things.

I had a sense of relief.

The police have seen her.

So the police told my mum,
"Please be aware the person you're with

is a convicted conman."

They said to her,
"Do you know who this man is?"

And she said, "Yes."

For almost a year,
my daughter Sarah has gone missing.

I was worried.
I was trying to trace Sarah.

The main thing, I was after information.

I couldn't prove that a crime
had been committed,

but I think she is being controlled
in some way.

I'd been on the run from the IRA,
staying in a collection of safe houses.

Rob said that he worked for MI5,

therefore, you follow the rules,

whether you like it or not.

I called up on John's parents.

John had told them about the IRA
and why they all had to run.

They needed to pay money
for their protection.

Right. Now we've got trouble.

Finally, I understand
what's going on here.

He's after the money.

But I didn't know half of what was coming.

Rob informed me that, um, his bosses
had allocated a target amount for me

to provide a new identity and a new life.

I had an inheritance.

It was over £200,000.

Rob's bosses needed me
to withdraw that money.

I had to have proof of ID,

and my passport was at home.

He told me, "You have this many minutes
to get in and out."

I knew that my parents were away,
but the secretary was there.

I was very nervous.

Walking into your parents' house
and behaving like a thief is not good.

I walked in to where the safe is.

Opened it up.

I'd got her passport,

and she wasn't gonna have that
at any price.

I probably had a hunch,
and that's probably why we had two safes.

One under the floor.

And she never noticed it.

Rob is really angry.

Sarah came out, and she was crying.

Rob told me,
"Do you see what state Sarah's in?"

"That fucking bastard
is fucking everything up."

"Get on the phone
and tell him to fuck off."

"You fucking wanker,
you're fucking destroying everything."

"Why can't you do what Sarah says?
You're a fucking bastard."

The air was so charged.

It felt as if the whole bloody room
was shaking.

I told John…

Freegard's a fraud.

He didn't believe a word of it,
and he threatened to kill me.

I haven't recorded how many hours
I spent talking to the police.

I can't prove it.

I had to produce some evidence
that she was coerced.

I employed a private investigator

to see if he could find me
more information than I had.

But it was awfully difficult
because Sarah just couldn't be found.

There was no contact with my parents
for the best part of four years.

The group ceased to exist.

We were told that Rob's bosses
were gonna separate us.

And Rob just basically said,

"You have no choice.
That is the only option."

He didn't tell me anything
about John and Maria.

I wasn't allowed contact.

It was like being on an island

where you're separated
from everybody else.

He controlled everything in my life,

where I went, what I did,
what I wore, everything.

All the money that I earned went to Rob
to pay for the witness protection program.

Rob said that it wasn't enough.

I needed to get hold of the inheritance.

Life springs eternal.

Once Sarah's made contact, there is hope.
One, we know she's alive.

And I was made to demand this money.

I told Sarah not to trust Freegard.

Get out. Leave.

Rob puts the phone down. Chop.

Chop. Chop.

And he made me keep phoning back.

When we asked her
why she wouldn't come home,

she said she couldn't.

And she'd got to have this money.

"I need the money, the money,
the money, the money."

Calls came day or night.

Weeks on end.

Even if you don't answer the phone,
the phone still rings.

And it'll ring for a bit,
and then it stops.

And then they'd ring again.

And that in itself
is like a hammer going at you.

Unfortunately, the business,
uh, got problems.

We had debts in the millions.

And so, my father said…

…they were having to tell all the staff
that they were being made redundant.

You knew he wouldn't stop.

And Jill was suffering.

And as a mother,
it rocked her life very badly.

If they could get Jill,
they'd keep on hammering away.

Bang, bang, bang, bang.

That was it.

Jill decided she was going to pay it.

I would never have given that money
if I could have had any other option.

But with Jill persuaded, worried…

made ill…

that had to come first.
That was first consideration.

I thought to myself,
"I don't give a damn what else happens."

"I'm going to live my life."

That was the end of it.

My parents paid it up.

And they…

They said,
"I don't think you should call back."

And I truly, truly believed
that was the end of it,

that I'd never speak to them again.

When the police found Sandra,

they said, "Do you know
what Robert Freegard's done?"

Which she said she did.

Sandra was told, "If you want to,

we can take you
into protective custody now."

Um, and which she said,
"I don't want to go.

I want to be with David."

As an adult saying
she wanted to be with him,

the police couldn't make her leave him.

There was nothing more
the police could do.

How could you know this information
about someone and stay with them?

My mum was an only child.

She was very close with her parents.

My nan and granddad
both sadly passed away,

and my mum didn't turn up to the funerals.

It was so out of character.

But, deep down,
I knew she wasn't gonna come.

I haven't seen my mum
in seven years.

There has been some contact,
normally on a withheld number.

If I want to call her, they don't pick up.

And, in my belief, the conversations,
they've all been scripted.

It just feels like
I'm speaking to a robot.

To this day,
I don't actually know where she is.

I mean…

she's never once allowed me
to know where she lives.

What's that?

- What's that there?
- My mum is a loving, caring woman,

and it just seems
that there's someone there,

pulling the strings.

I believe the person
behind all of this is Freegard.

My name's Bob Brandon.

For 30 years,
I was a Metro Police officer,

and I spent the majority of my career
at Scotland Yard on the fraud squad.

I first heard about the case
when a woman called Hammersmith Police

to report that her ex-fiancé,
Robert Freegard,

had deceived her
in the tune of approximately £30,000.

[dramatic music playing

And it was felt proportionate
just to call Freegard

and invite him to the station
for an interview.

But he never turned up,
and from that moment on,

his SIM card was never, ever used again.

Freegard suddenly disappeared.

The only lead we really had
was the fact the victim met Freegard

at a car showroom in West London.

When the police
came to speak to me,

I told them of all the car salesman
I ever met,

Robert Freegard was definitely
one of the best.

He could move metal.

He was tall. He was handsome.
He looked a successful guy.

He was the sort I'd think to myself,
"I'd like to look like that."

He was a charmer and a ladies' man.

He was dismissed from the car showroom

for persistently
hitting on female customers.

Apparently, he never stopped.

The story that the car salesman
told the officers was amazing.

One day, he said to me,
"I've got something to tell you."

"I work for MI5."

"I'm an MI5 agent."

He told me he was working undercover,
yes, as a car salesman,

but that he's a secret agent in real life,

tracking IRA suspects.

My reaction was, "Really?"

But he did make a real point
of being quite secretive

about who he was on the phone with.

And he changed his SIM card.
Why do you need two SIM cards?

And I suddenly started to think,
actually, you know, maybe he was.

Some of the stuff we did,
it felt like we were undercover policemen.

All stations, Peter, out now
and off towards Tottenham Court Road.

Peter One, roger.

He'd go into a meeting, into a hotel.
He'd have to see somebody in there.

He'd disappear, and then all of a sudden,
half an hour or an hour later perhaps,

he'd suddenly reappear
and like, "Come on, let's go."

So we were into the car and were off.

Peter One. He's on the number one bus,
heading north.

I was always the getaway driver
in the car outside.

I never went in and I was never involved

in any of these clandestine meetings
and so forth that was happening.

Roger. Out.

There was no real
explanation as to what he was doing,

but there was always a sense of urgency
when we left.

It was quite exciting.

Peter Two to Control.
Peter Two to Control.

Now, it could have been true,
but I thought it was highly unlikely,

because if he was an MI5 spy,
he wouldn't tell everybody that.

So, we checked with MI5,

who confirmed that he was not
one of their operatives.

We knew that we were dealing
with an impostor.

He was circulated as wanted
on the police national computer.

And then the officers
began looking into his history,

looking into his background,
in an attempt to trace him.

Freegard wasn't a spy,
but he actually tried to act like a spy.

He made himself very difficult to trace.

He'd switched off his phones,
moved out of his address,

and he was on the run.

The average person will go
to the local shop and buy some milk,

and go to the local train station
to buy a ticket.

They might take cash out
at the local cashpoint.

So when you look at the spend,

you can generally work out
where someone lives and works.

This wasn't the case here.

It was like chasing a ghost.

Nobody knew where I was.

Rob left me in a safe house in London

to wait while he had gone off
on some mission for weeks.

I was told that if anybody comes
to the door, just pretend you're not in.

When I told Sarah not to call,
I was angry.

But there are no limits of love.

You keep going on,
and you hope for a lead.

And if it is going to take ten years,

you still go for it.

You don't want to lose your daughter,

in spite of everything.

What were your worst fears?

I don't know. There were a good many.


Never seeing Sarah again
might have been one.

Her getting abandoned, starved…

and, um, left to die.

I wasn't going to let that happen.

I needed more evidence
to get the police to help me.

I was trying to grab every loose end
that I could follow.

And then, out of the blue,
we had this letter turn up.

"Dear Mr. Smith,
I feel I need to explain further…"

"…how it was for Sarah and I."

"Rob told us that the only way
to protect our loved ones

was to tell them nothing."

"You were a loose cannon
who could lead the IRA to us."

"Our bank accounts were emptied."

"He was very convincing."

I went back to my family's farm,

and I explained to the family
that we were on the run from the IRA

so they would pay the next payment
for Rob's protection.

Over three or four years,
I handed over £400,000.

As time went on, I was spending
more and more time back on the farm.

It was clearer to me
that if anybody was looking for me,

they would look for me at the farm,

and I was clearly there.

And nobody had come to kill me.

Rob stopped calling.

The doubt really took hold.

All of this is a sham.

The Irish Republican Army
is taking credit…

I'm an MI5 agent.

"Jim's one of them."

I realized this really could just be Rob
doing all this.

I'd just lost a fortune,
had put my family through hell.

I'd dragged two innocent girls
from college into a web of lies.

And the self-loathing was immense.

I wanted to die.

I didn't want to exist.

I'd got out of the situation,
and Sarah hadn't.

I felt a wave of guilt.

So, I wrote a letter to Mr. Smith.

"I do not know where Sarah is. I'm sorry."

This was direct from one of the group.

It was a vital piece of evidence.

I phoned the police again.

I was told,
"You need to speak to Bob Brandon."

Peter told this amazing story

of what had happened to his daughter
over the past ten years.

The fact that she would believe
she was on the run from the IRA…

A bomb exploded without warning.

…that Freegard pretended to be a spy,

that he had taken hundreds of thousands
of pounds off his victims.

It went from a £30,000 fraud
to something beyond belief.

As a father of three daughters myself,

I understood just how worried
he must have been.

I told him we would find Sarah.

Peter had done everything
he possibly could to find his daughter.

Every lead, every piece of information,
he just held on to it.

Like a dog with a bone.

So, we knew
about the three original students,

uh, John, and Sarah, and Maria.

We also knew
that Freegard had been working

in a car showroom in West London.

As time went on,
it got bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

Freegard needed to be found,
and he needed to be found quickly.

We did some good old-fashioned policing,
and we found Freegard's mother's house.

There was a car parked near his house

that was actually registered
to West London,

maybe 200 miles south
of where his mother's house was.

Not only that, but it also been sold
by the garage where Freegard had worked.

We went to the address.

Freegard wasn't there. The door was opened
by a guy called Simon Proctor.

And Simon told a story
about his ex-girlfriend, Kim Adams,

an American
who had been renting his house.

Kim had suddenly disappeared,

telling her work colleagues
that she was terminally ill.

Rob said that we're in grave danger
and we had to leave.

I told them that I had liver cancer.

It was just too similar

to what had happened
all those years ago with the students.

We went back to the car showroom.

Kim Adams bought a car from Freegard.

Kim went onto our list
as a potential victim.

First was Sarah, now Kim.

I was gonna need help to get them back.

I got a call from Bob Brandon
from Scotland Yard.

Bob's first words to me were,
"Are you sitting down?"

Bob told me a crazy story about the IRA,


and people being on the run for ten years.

There was a potential new victim,
an American woman named Kim Adams.

So who better to start with
than Kim's parents?

I sent out a team of agents to Arizona
to find out if they had heard from her.

They told the agents
Kim was planning to marry Robert Freegard.

That he had told them
that he was a security agent for MI5.

It seemed that Kim had been
completely swept off her feet.

Freegard bought Kim
a Cartier engagement ring,

a Rolex wristwatch,

trips abroad.

Kim's parents thought
Kim had a bright future with Robert.

Then that's when we learned

that Kim's stepfather
was a large lottery winner.

I'll definitely have some fun.

The golf game's gonna get better,
I can tell you that.

And after that,
she had gone missing.

So, the agents had to break the news
to both parents

that Freegard certainly was not
an MI5 agent.

No one knew where Kim was,

but Kim's parents
did hear from her sporadically

when she wanted money.

As far as the FBI was concerned,
Kim was kidnapped.

I came up with a plan…

to start recording
the telephone conversations

between Freegard, Kim, and her parents.

First, we got Kim's parents
to call Kim and leave messages.

After that, we just keep trying.

Finally, Freegard picks up the phone.