WENDY'S CHOICE

SHE WAS PROMISED SHE COULD ADOPT A RUSSIAN BABY IN EXCHANGE FOR HUMANITARIAN AID. IT WASN'T THAT EASY.

They reached the embassy at two minutes before the hour, but at a door two blocks from where Wendy needed to be. She asked the way from embassy personnel at the door, then started running, flustered and frantic, in the direction she had been pointed. The driver followed alongside in the car, rolling down the window and calling out to find out what was wrong. When she reached the door, she found it locked, and she burst into tears.

A U.S. Marine on duty noticed her through the window and let her in. She ran to the office she needed. The clerk she had spoken to on the phone turned out to be the cousin of a friend. They chatted, they munched on brownies, they stamped the papers. Then the clerk told her there would be a $20 fee, and Wendy realized that she had left her purse in the car. He let it slide with a promise that she pay him back later.

@rule:
@body:Davis hid in her room for the remainder of the trip, either because she was rightfully mortified by the scope of the charade she had been acting out or physically afraid of the justifiably irate people she had duped. She has refused to explain her motives or admit any failure of her own. On the flight back to the United States, Davis sat with her family, all color drained from her face and sullen in the first-class section. The more verbal and less inhibited of the adoptive parents would angrily point her out to anyone who would listen, berating her as a fraud and a fool. She sat silently.

"In plain Alabama terms," Jamie Combs says, "when the wheels came off the wagon, she just went into a shell. [Her actions] were the worst judgment I've ever seen--but she would not concede defeat." She still won't. On her return from Moscow, Davis wrote a letter to the trip participants saying, "Russia's promises fell to pieces." Months later, when contacted by New Times, all Davis would say is that "the Russians refused to accept my papers." Later she told anyone those who complained how lucky they were to have gone on the trip.

When Tim met Wendy at the airport, he found her in tears, strung out and exhausted from the ordeal. He didn't think of saying "I told you so," and since she seemed so resolved that she would eventually return to Moscow to bring back Andrina, he didn't try to talk her out of it.

Wendy was understandably confused about what she had been through, and she was not alone. In that way of strangers who are thrown together in adventure or misadventure, the trip participants kept in touch, exchanging snapshots and videos and little newsletters detailing who was following through on adoption plans. More than anything, the letters asked what the hell Rebecca Davis had been up to, and detailed every tidbit uncovered about her. The participants speculated whether Davis was a publicity-hungry egomaniac or a naive do-gooder. How she convinced 100 people to act against their better judgments is another question. When the prospective parents got back to Columbus, the local newspapers denounced them as stupid, which only exacerbated the pain they felt at being duped. Hindsight is cheap. Trip members who had already adopted children from abroad in general and Russia in particular say Rebecca Davis knew the right names to drop--Ludmilla Fimina's, for example. Apple put Rebecca's story on its bulletin board, the church let her take out a checking account. She had pulled off previous charitable drives. Even people with no emotions at stake were fooled. "She came fully credentialed," says Sandi Bartley, an administrator in the office of Columbus mayor Gregory Lashutka. When Davis presented herself to the city, she had photocopies of newspaper stories about her past works and was very convincing. Bartley even went on the trip.

"She was the most convincing person in the world," Wendy echoes.
Some are more angry than others. As Lynne Dundon, a trip member from the Columbus area, says about going, "What the hell else are people supposed to do, ask for a polygraph?" Dundon has children of her own, was by no means desperate to adopt, but rather was willing to take in a child in need. She had been to Davis' house several times before the trip, and had never felt cause for alarm. And so the deception came all the more painfully.

Yet many of the participants carried a feeling of foreboding into the trip. The handwritten notes might have been a clue. "You saw it coming," says Lynne Dundon's husband, Mike. "So why didn't you see it coming?"

Jamie Combs, who had hung back from boarding the plane until the last minute, keeps a philosophical attitude. "I was fool enough to think all that stuff was true and I took the trip," he says. But as for Davis' conduct, he says, "That's called lying and that is not right."

Indeed, Davis lied.
Over the course of planning the trip, Davis would frequently tell people she had just gotten off the phone with Ludmilla Fimina, her contact with the orphanages in Moscow. But Jan Edelen, of Park City, Utah, who had already adopted a Russian child, shared a mutual friend with Ludmilla Fimina, Davis' alleged contact. While Edelen was in Moscow for Project Russia, she even met with Fimina--who was not aware Davis was in town. And strangely, Fimina told Edelen that she hadn't heard from Davis since October, that she had repeatedly called and faxed Davis as to her intentions, but never got a response. Fimina thought she would be accepting donations to give to the orphans--but nothing was ever said about adoptions.

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