If you're trying to escape your past, there have always been two options: You go south, or you go west.
Phil Ferguson went west.
Ferguson, the perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in Indiana history, with ill-gotten gains estimated at $14 million, wound up with a bullet in his head on a ranch in Eastern Oregon after twelve years on the run. The law had finally caught up, and he took his own life.
But for 10 years as a fugitive he was Roy "Vernon" Cox of Burns, Oregon, beloved surrogate father and honest, penurious rancher (if a bit too enamored of the wrong sorts of ladies), and he left behind people here who refuse to think of him as a criminal—including current Portlander Kenney Bush.
This excellent story from the Indianapolis Monthly recounts the whole sordid tale:
“We’re always going to think of him one way—to us, he was Vern Cox,” says Bush. “And with the people in Indiana, you’re going to have the same thing—to them, he’s always going to be Phillip Ferguson. They’re not going to change and we’re not going to change, because the experiences we had with the man? Fucking awesome.”
“Shit, he’s still my hero,” says Bush. “Taught me how to work. Taught me how to do everything.”
Aside from the holes he left in a lot of people's bank accounts, the Indianapolis Monthly story reveals Ferguson's legacy to be a cryptic, rambling 70-page manuscript stored in a Portland house where Bush lives with his wife and about 10 others. The book seems to be simultaneously a death note and a treatise on how to make tons of money trading commodities. The Bushes also named their baby after Ferguson's alias, Vernon, and induced birth so the kid would have Ferguson's birthday.
And as for the location of that $14 million? Still a mystery.
Read the full story here.