By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Albanese told people at the paper that her mother had been a fashion model in New York and her father had worked as an assistant manager at the glamorous Plaza Hotel, where the family lived for some time. One sister was an opera singer at Juilliard, another was a trainer for the Dallas Mavericks. It seemed like something out of a movie.
From February through May 1994, Albanese worked at the paper without incident. She met deadlines and was accurate in her reporting. Horan did have some suspicions about her larger-than-life stories—and a bookkeeper had pointed out that the birth date on her driver's license had been altered—but he didn't have any reason to be concerned.
That changed later that month, when Albanese was arrested for writing a bad check for a used car in the amount of $783.75. The day the case was to be heard, Albanese's attorney came into the Shenandoah County Courthouse with a certified check to pay for the car, but it was too late; when the felony charge was entered into the state's criminal system it was discovered that Lisa Jeanne Albanese was wanted in Texas for violating probation she received on a charge of stealing two airplane tickets.
Albanese was arrested and booked in the Shenandoah County jail. During a telephone interview with a reporter from her paper, she said the arrest was a case of mistaken identity.
"I have asked them to prove they have the right person," she said. "It's kind of like being blind. I don't know what's going on up here. My main concern is getting home and getting this straightened out. Obviously at some point I'm going to have to go home and find out if this is something to do with me."
During an extradition hearing, Albanese finally admitted that she was indeed the woman being sought by Texas authorities.
While still in jail, Albanese asked Loving to go to her apartment to fetch her diabetes medication. Loving went but could never find the medication.
"By that time," Horan says, "I knew there was no medication."
Albanese was not heard from again until a few years later, when a former boyfriend called the paper. He said he had been engaged to Albanese and that she had maxed out his credit cards and left him in financial ruin. At one point, she had told him she was flying to Oklahoma City to cover the bombings there for CNN, when in reality she was flying home to Houston for a probation hearing.
Shortly after that phone call, Horan sat down to write a letter. Dated February 22, 1996, its intent was to warn anyone who came into contact with Albanese that she was a fraud. She didn't have a kidney transplant, and she had never graduated from college, and she had never lived at the Plaza Hotel. Her mother, who had visited Horan after Albanese's arrest, was certainly no fashion model. They were a working-class family from La Porte, Texas.
"Most, if not all, of what [Albanese] said...was untrue," Horan wrote. He filed the letter away. For 10 years it would remain untouched.
By the time Albanese arrived in Dallas, she was a different person. Literally. Her name was now Elizabeth, and besides the University of Texas degree on her résumé, she had now added a Harvard law degree. In 2000, she married a wealthy businessman named David Johnson. She later told friends she met him through a freelance job for D magazine for which she had to date three men for an article and that the last one she met was the man she had married. Also in 2000, the couple bought a $300,000 house in a gated community in Trophy Club. Her kids, she told friends, went to a private school.
"She dressed like a Dallas-Fort Worth housewife," says one friend. "Little skirts with little sweater sets and little summer dresses and little kitten heels and handbags that she wore on her arm.
"She considered herself a very attractive woman. She was very comfortable with her looks. She loved to show off her cleavage, which I thought was a bit much."
At work, she was well-respected and well-paid—$80,000 a year, she told friends. In the seven years she worked at The Bond Buyer, there were never complaints about her accuracy.
"I never heard anybody tell me that something she wrote wasn't right," says Jim Watts, who worked under Albanese.
If she had one fault, it was her lack of organization. "She was in a constant state of frenzy," one co-worker says. "But she did so much you could forgive her."
She usually picked up the tab at business lunches, where she often entertained colleagues with the stories of her extraordinary life. She had been a University of Texas cheerleader, she had been married to a Greek basketball player who died in a car accident, and she had worked as a stringer for CNN during the first Gulf War. When asked why she had given up practicing law for a career in journalism, she said she wanted more time to be with her family.