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Elaine Antoinette PARENT






A.K.A.: "The Chameleon Killer"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: American criminal known as "the world's most wanted woman" in the late nineties and early '00s
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 18, 1990
Date of birth: August 4, 1942
Victim profile: Her former flatmate, Beverly McGowan, 34, a bank clerk
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: St. Lucie County, Florida, USA
Status: When Florida police caught up with her on April 6, 2002 she committed suicide by shooting herself in the heart as they stood outside her bedroom door waiting for her to get dressed

Elaine Antoinette Parent (August 4, 1942-April 6, 2002) was an American criminal known as "the world's most wanted woman" in the late nineties and early '00s.

She was wanted for the murder of her potential roommate, Beverly McGowan, a 34-year-old bank clerk. McGowan had placed an ad in the paper looking for a roommate. A woman named "Alice" answered the ad. The woman was actually Parent. Soon after, McGowan disappeared; on July 19, 1990, her remains were found in a rural canal in St. Lucie County, Florida. She had been mutilated by removing a tattoo on her stomach, her head and hands to hinder the identification of her corpse but a small tattoo was enough to identify her.

The origin of Parent's nickname, the "Chameleon Killer," was a photograph of an oil painting of herself she sent to police with the message "Best wishes: your Chameleon" typed on the back. The nickname was apt as she stole the identities of her victims and was found to have used McGowan's credit cards after she killed her.

She also scoured graveyards for names and dates of birth and stole the information of other potential roommates by telling them she was a numerologist, soliciting their social security numbers, driver's licences and even birth certificates.

When Florida police caught up with her on April 6, 2002 she committed suicide by shooting herself in the heart as they stood outside her bedroom door waiting for her to get dressed.

There have been concerns that in her time on the run she is likely to have committed other crimes. Beverly McGowan's murder and the search for Elaine Parent were profiled on Unsolved Mysteries and America's Most Wanted. In 2014, it was featured on the Investigation Discovery program Swamp Murders.


'Chameleon Killer' cheats the Florida police by ending her many-faced life

By Tim Tate in Miami -

April 21, 2002

ELAINE PARENT, an elusive American conwoman nicknamed "the Chameleon Killer" by police who pursued her during a 12-year manhunt in America and Britain, has shot herself dead in Florida as officers waited to arrest her.

Flamboyant to the last, Parent shot herself in the heart with a .357 magnum as officers stood outside her bedroom door, ostensibly to allow her to get dressed. To their frustration, Parent's suicide two weeks ago means that she has taken the secrets of her bizarre and murderous criminal career to the grave.

Scotland Yard were among the forces keen to question Parent, 60, an American citizen who used to live in London and often pretended to be English, about the killing of her former flatmate, Beverly McGowan, 34, a bank clerk in Florida.

Because Parent used many aliases, however, American investigators fear that McGowan was not her only murder victim. Her speciality, they believe, was stalking single women, killing them and stealing their identities.

She was born in the Bronx in 1942, but in the mid to late-1990s spent five years on the run in Britain. Here, Parent apparently perfected a refined English accent, went into hiding with a former lesbian lover, a female businesswoman, and enjoyed baiting detectives back in Florida.

In 1998 she sent them a photograph of an oil painting of herself, with the phrase "Best wishes: your Chameleon" typed neatly on the back. The Florida press gave her another sobriquet: "The world's most wanted woman."

Nora Pfeiffer, the dogged investigator for the Florida State Attorney's office, who had trailed Parent since McGowan's murder, said: "This is the most difficult homicide I've ever handled. We've always been days, months, even years behind the killer. Our suspect is a mistress of disguise and has more than 20 false identities - many of them stolen.

"I've had sightings of her in London, Paris, Turkey, Australia and South Africa. And 12 years after Beverly was murdered, I'm still no closer to knowing why."

The police hunt for Parent had begun in July 1990 after McGowan's mutilated and decapitated corpse was discovered on a remote canal bank in southern Florida. Her head and hands had been hacked off with a chainsaw to delay identification; a distinctive tattoo of Thumper, the Disney rabbit, had also been crudely cut from her stomach. But the killer missed the tattoo of a flower on her ankle and the police were able to identify the body as McGowan's.

Police also discovered that in June 1990 the dead woman placed a flat-share advertisement in the classified columns of the Sun-Sentinel newspaper: "Share 2/2 condo, female 34 plus two cats. $290 plus half utilities." At some point between July 10 and 14, Parent answered the advert. Calling herself "Alice" and claiming to be an English employee of IBM on secondment to Florida, the charming conwoman evidently impressed the younger woman.

McGowan agreed to rent a room to Alice, who quickly won her flatmate's confidence. Alice claimed to be an expert in numerology - a pseudo-science that uses personal numbers to predict the future - and persuaded McGowan to hand over her social security, bank account and driving licence numbers for analysis.

It was a fatal move. Within 72 hours McGowan had been murdered and Parent adopted her identity. After spending a few hundred dollars on her victim's credit cards, she boarded flight BA292 to London. At Heathrow, Parent rented a car from Avis but was forced to use cash as the stolen credit card had been cancelled. The failed transaction raised suspicion and Scotland Yard was soon on McGowan's trail. When news came through that the card's owner had been murdered, the investigation switched to Britain. Parent, however, disappeared.

In London, Parent had a former lover, a female senior executive at a blue-chip company. Although detectives would not discover this for another five years, the couple had lived together for several years until Parent's mood-swings and demands for money split them up. Parent had even tried to blackmail her lover.

The wily Parent managed to persuade her former lover to take her in again. As the police searched in vain, their quarry was living comfortably in a smart house in south-west London. When the relationship foundered again, Parent's actions became more extraordinary. She kidnapped her former lover's dogs, taking them to America and attempting to hold them to ransom. She also sent the woman death threats.

Later, Parent was arrested in Miami Beach in possession of documents that showed her to have three separate identities. Remarkably, police failed to run her name through the computer and released her on bail.

Subsequent investigations showed that she next surfaced in New Mexico, running a restaurant. A year later she was back in Florida, claiming to be South African and apparently penniless. In 1992, even as the Florida police sought her in connection with Beverly's murder, Parent - under another identity - filed a civil negligence suit against the State after she slipped and injured herself in a restaurant. She won, though the police will not confirm how much she was awarded in damages. In 1994 she disappeared from view altogether.

Relatively little is known about the real Elaine Antoinette Parent. Those who knew her, and in some cases lived with her, describe her variously as beautiful, intelligent, charming and bisexual - but also speak of her flip-side: aggressive, prone to violent mood-swings and threatening.

The only child of an American father and a French-Canadian mother, she grew up in the Bronx in New York. By her 30th birthday she was in Florida and three years later acquired her first conviction, for shoplifting.

For most of her adult existence, however, Parent was a chimera. Some of her 20 identities were stolen from women she met and seduced but did not kill, some were entirely invented and some cannot be traced by detectives at all. Privately, they fear that these women could have met the same fate as Beverly McGowan.

Dr Barbara Kirwin is a leading forensic psychologist who profiled Parent several months before her death. "She is driven by her own psychological demons," she said in December last year. "I believe she steals identities compulsively to fill up the emptiness of her own personality."

Dr Kirwin also believed that Parent both feared and needed the police manhunt. "The oil painting is very theatrical. I believe she sent it to law enforcement as a way of thumbing her nose at them, of sort of teasing them by saying: 'I'm alive, I'm well - look out for me but you'll never find me."

A fortnight ago Ms Pfeiffer received a tip-off that her quarry was back in Florida under yet another assumed identity. She went to an apartment in Panama City in the state's panhandle. Parent made them wait outside her bedroom and, when one officer became suspicious and knocked on the door, she shot herself in the chest.


'90 Murder Trail Leads To Woman

Police Looking For Former Miami Real Estate Agent

By Donna Pazdera -

December 11, 1996

FORT PIERCE - On a sultry July evening six years ago, a fisherman discovered Beverly Ann McGowan's corpse on a St. Lucie County canal bank.

Her head and hands were crudely hacked off.

Detectives still don't know why the simple and staid 34-year-old loan processer from Pompano Beach was killed. But on Tuesday they said they are a little closer to figuring out who might have done it. Problem is, they can't find someone they're looking for. Elaine Parent, 54, a former Miami real estate agent, is not a suspect, but the charismatic woman with a penchant for fine clothes, numerology and changing her appearance like a chameleon may have critical information.

"We believe she has a vital link to the disappearance," said St. Lucie sheriff's Capt. Robert Miller. "Hopefully, somebody from South Florida will remember her."

Detectives admit that they are stuck in trying to solve one of the strangest cases ever handled in St. Lucie County. If Parent can't be found, the McGowan murder may go unsolved.

In the six years it took to link Parent to the case, investigators traveled to England and Scotland Yard. They consulted with the U.S. State Department, the FBI and even resorted to asking NBC-TV's Unsolved Mysteries to run a segment about the case.

On Tuesday they said that one key to the solving case may be a classified ad that McGowan, a loan processer at Glendale Federal Bank, placed in the Sun-Sentinel in July 1990: "POMP SE - Share 2/2 condo, female 34 plus two cats. $290 plus half utilities."

After screening several applicants, McGowan told her family and friends about a wonderful woman named Alice who worked for IBM. She said Alice was from England and was being transferred to Fort Lauderdale.

McGowan told her friends that Alice was into numerology. She told friends the woman had asked for her passport and driver's license numbers to predict her future.

Even though McGowan was cautious, she willingly turned over the information. Alice told her that she would come into money, have no worries and meet the man she would marry when she turned 40.

McGowan excitedly told her friends that Alice would soon move in.

A couple of days later, on July 18, McGowan disappeared. The following day, several of McGowan's friends got cryptic letters from McGowan, postmarked Miami. In each letter, she said she was quitting her job, selling her condo and planning to travel.

On July 19, her body was found.

About the same time, $795 of the $800 in McGowan's bank accounts was withdrawn. An attractive blond woman with a British accent used McGowan's credit card to buy books and clothes at Aventura Mall. The same woman bought a British Airways ticket and rented a car from Avis in London.

The woman flew from Miami to London on July 23 under the name Sylvia Ann Hodgkinson. In October, Hodgkinson flew from London to Los Angeles. She rented a car under the name Charlotte Cowan.

In May 1991, a woman named Elaine Parent was stopped by police in North Miami for driving an overdue rental car with a stolen plate. Police were suspicious because she carried identification for both Cowan and Hodgkinson. But they released her anyway.

From there, the trail went cold.

In January, Rena Crowningshield, the lead investigator in the case, got a call from the U.S. Department of State. A passenger manifest from a British Airways flight indicated that Hodgkinson had an alter ego: Elaine Parent. That, finally, turned out to be a real person.

From there, Crowningshield connected Parent to McGowan's apartment. Dim traces of handwriting left on tablet there were found to be Parent's. Crowningshield also found one of Parent's aliases very much alive: Charlotte Cowan.

From her home on Florida's west coast on Tuesday, Cowan said she met Parent about 10 years ago at a bar called Faces in Orlando.

Parent impressed Cowan with her fine clothes, British accent and charisma. Parent had straight, short, red hair - similar to Cowan's.

They began chatting. Before long, Parent asked Cowan about her birthday and said she was into numerology and wanted to profile Cowan. Though Cowan had never heard of numerology, she agreed to hand over her driver's license number, birth date and time of birth.

Parent wrote it on a cocktail napkin and told her of a rosy future.

"I had never had that approach before," Cowan said.

Parent divulged "not too damn much" about herself, Cowan said.

"She said she'd been involved with a woman before who hurt her bad," Cowan said.

A few days later, Parent visited Cowan and her mother for lunch.

"Even my mother thought she was a sophisticated person," Cowan said. "My mom is no fool."

Cowan didn't hear from Parent until some time later, when she got a phone call. Parent told Cowan that her aunt had died and she and her brother were to split the inheritance. But she said her brother committed her to a hospital to keep her from the money.

About a month later, Parent showed up at Cowan's home at 3 a.m., wearing a paste-on mustache. She said she used the disguise so she could escape from the hospital.

She cried and begged Cowan for her birth certificate so she could use it to get identification to hide from her brother.

Cowan eventually gave it to her.

A few weeks later, Parent mailed Cowan back the birth certificate along with an apology for taking so long.

Cowan never heard from her again.

"To be quite honest, I have never forgotten this woman. There is something about her," Cowan said. "She's definitely a good-looking woman."

In an attempt to snag Parent for questioning, the State Department has filed passport fraud charges against her. But Parent hasn't been seen since she was arrested in North Miami in 1991.

"If she finds the right person, she'll get whatever she wants," Cowan said.

Crowningshield and others say it's likely that Parent has assumed another identity or died. And she's not sure whether McGowan was killed for her identity or some other motive.

Detectives ask that anyone with information about the McGowan case to them at 561-462-3230 or CrimeStoppers at 800-273-8477.



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