Longform

Return of the Black Widow

Page 13 of 13

When Benson told her she must leave, Bridewell got on the phone and called New Birth church, crying and pleading for someone to help her. But Benson had already warned the pastor's office. As Judkins carried her bags and boxes downstairs, Bridewell queried a policewoman about what church she attended. She got no response.

When Benson last saw Sandra Camille Bridewell, she was hobbling in the rain--with as much dignity as she could muster, given the medical boot on her broken foot--across the parking lot to hit someone up for cab fare to the airport. Wearing a long skirt and purple sweater, straw handbag under one arm, she tugged behind her the locked green suitcase.

The Next Mark

Paul Ferrari got the call out of the blue sometime in November. Camille Bridwell from Georgia said she'd shopped in one of his A.G. Ferrari stores in California and wanted to pick his brain about the specialty food business.

"She knew all about my stores and about the industry," says Ferrari, who lives in San Rafael. "Her husband had been in the oil business, and since he'd died, she'd been working as a missionary in India on her own for several years, building houses for people."

Implying she was wealthy, Bridwell told him she was living in Atlanta with a black woman from India and wanted to invest in his business. Could she visit him when she came to San Rafael, where her son lived?

Ferrari was impressed with how much she knew not only about the specialty food business but the organic food growers in the San Francisco area. He said sure.

When Bridwell called a second time to chat, Ferrari realized she not only knew a lot about the industry but about him personally--where he lived, that he owned property in Marin County, that his brother is a whale expert who lives in Maui. Earlier, she'd drawn out that he was single and lived alone. Though her voice sounded angelic and she ended the conversation with "God bless you," Ferrari began to get uncomfortable.

In her next call, Bridwell said she'd be in California on a certain date to visit her son. When Ferrari asked if he could recommend a hotel, she hinted that she could stay at his house instead. He was confused: Mother Teresa was asking to spend the night with him?

Ferrari called Alisa Barry, an Atlanta friend also in the specialty food business, and asked her to check out Bridwell. Barry called back with the word that Bridwell seemed legitimate: well-dressed, knowledgeable and very savvy. "But Paul, she's asking a lot of personal questions about you," said Barry, who had once dated Ferrari.

In her next call, Bridwell came right out and asked if she could stay at his place.

"Well, I have a one-bedroom apartment," Ferrari said. "It wouldn't be very comfortable."

"Oh, I've slept in the jungles of India," Bridwell said.

Feeling Bridwell was more interested in him than investing, Ferrari told her no. Days later, he got another phone call. Bridwell was at the Atlanta airport. "Paul, they've lost my reservation," she said. "I'm here at the gate." He could hear airport sounds in the background. "Can you give the ticket agent a credit card number so I can get on the flight?"

When Ferrari asked why she didn't call her son for help, Bridwell said he was traveling and wouldn't be back until after Christmas. Ferrari had had enough. "I'm not going to do that," he said and hung up.

Less than an hour later, Barry called Ferrari. Bridwell had arrived at her business in a taxi, lugging shopping bags and boxes of her belongings, and was asking for money. "Something's not right here," Ferrari told her. "Call the police."

When Barry gave her $25 and suggested she go to a church for help, Bridwell got extremely angry. Dumping most of her possessions at Barry's warehouse, Bridwell stomped off, plotting her next move.

The stuff Bridwell abandoned, which the Observer obtained, provides intriguing clues about her modus operandi. Along with old clothes, a bottle of "My Sin" perfume, recipes for "Jerked Leg of Goat" and religious publications are handwritten notes interspersed with names and phone numbers. One number leads to a couple in Pennsylvania. They'd never heard of Bridewell, but they had an apple orchard advertised for sale on the Internet. Come to think of it, there had been that strange call from a woman...

But Sandra Camille Bridewell has disappeared again.

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Glenna Whitley