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Hollywood Con Queen lured hundreds of people into a bizarre scam, but the biggest twist was yet to come

By Indonesia correspondent Anne Barker,

The scammer’s victims all received invitations out of the blue from a powerful or high-profile woman.,

Photographer Henry Wu couldn’t believe his luck when he got an email from Wendi Murdoch., She was offering him and his partner Zory Shahanska a lucrative assignment abroad for an exhibition connected to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics., Now divorced from media mogul Rupert Murdoch, she chaired events at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and worked as a film producer and art investor., So her email, describing the pair’s work as unique and “the kind of voice I was looking for”, was both flattering and entirely plausible.,

Based in San Francisco, Henry and Zory were joint editors of an online travel photography site, called This Life of Travel., A man and a woman wrapped in a blanket look at each other while sitting on the steps to a cabin in the desert, Henry Wu and Zory Shahanska thought Wendi Murdoch was giving them the opportunity of a lifetime., They were completely taken in by Wendi Murdoch’s invitation to “capture the essence of China” among Chinese immigrant communities in South-East Asia., “She complimented us on our photography and went on to talk about how our style was exactly what she wanted,” Henry Wu wrote on his blog., Soon after, Henry answered a call from Aaron, who introduced himself as Wendi Murdoch’s assistant and wanted to talk about the details of the project., “He had a thick New Yorker accent and connected us to Wendi after a momentary pause,” he said., “When she got on the line, she introduced herself with an interesting accent that was a mix of Asian, British, and East Coast drawl., , “If any of you have seen Crazy Rich Asians, she sounded very similar to the character that Michelle Yeoh played.” , , There were a couple of “red flags”, as Henry put it, including his discovery that Wendi Murdoch’s listed lawyer appeared not to exist. , , But Henry and Zory duly signed the contract sent to them and booked flights to Indonesia, where they were to photograph people and sites in several cities, including Jakarta., , , But there was a catch., , They were suddenly told they would have to cover their own airfares plus other expenses, until they were paid and reimbursed for all costs once the project was completed., , It meant thousands of dollars out of their own pockets and seemed risky given they had never met Wendi Murdoch nor her assistant Aaron., , But in their excitement, not even that could deter them., , “All I could think of was the grandeur and high-profile connections that ‘Wendi’ would be able to open up for us if the project was successful, ” Henry wrote. , , But nagging doubts turned to suspicion when the pair arrived in Jakarta. , , ‘This might be an elaborate scam’ , , On landing, Aaron called and told them they would have to cover more costs, payable to the driver who’d picked them up at the airport, including $1,500 for a photography permit. Again, they were promised it would be reimbursed., , But a day later, Wendi rang in a fury, accusing the pair of racism for taking unauthorised photos of the driver. She threatened to cancel the project altogether., , As they promised to fix any misunderstanding, she told them they would have to fork out for another photography permit, again payable to the driver., , They began to smell a rat., , “It started to dawn on us that this might be an elaborate scam, ” Henry said.

He remembered an old friend of his was living in Jakarta, and called to see if he could help, only for the friend to drop a bombshell., , , The same scam had been operating for years, luring creative artists to Indonesia from all over the world — actors, movie producers, make-up artists, photographers, and countless more — most of whom were eager to get a foot in the entertainment industry, especially Hollywood., , The friend sent Henry a link to an old story showing that victims before him had also agreed to travel to Indonesia to work on a film or project that never materialised. , , Like Henry and Zory, they too had paid thousands of dollars to the same driver, on the instructions of an assistant who was often called Aaron, occasionally Leslie, and sometimes Albert…..

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