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‘I married a sociopathic fraud’

New book explores former CHEK-TV host's life with an unstable con man

Back in the 1980s, former CHEK-TV broadcaster Lee Mackenzie married a con man who swindled her, told people she was “dying” and even pilfered her costume jewelry.

Mackenzie says the worst thing her ex-husband Kenner Jones did was “making me believe that someone was coming to kill me.” That night she sat terrified with only a fire poker in her hand to defend herself. The experience was so stressful, a then-pregnant Mackenzie miscarried.

“That has had the most long-lasting effect, to this day,” the 64-year-old told the Times Colonist recently.

It turned out that Jones fabricated the killer story. However, Mackenzie’s marital situation was genuinely dangerous. Once, after Jones was packed off to a Nanaimo psychiatric ward, a psychiatrist told Mackenzie her husband was a narcissistic sociopath who could potentially kill her.

Doubleday Canada has published Mackenzie’s book about her experiences, The Charming Predator — The True Story of How I Fell in Love with and Married a Sociopathic Fraud.

Many Victorians will remember Mackenzie as an anchor and reporter for CHEK from 1989 to 2001. She also worked for CBC Television in London, England, Halifax, Windsor and Edmonton.

Today, Mackenzie lives with her current husband in Powell River, where she works for the RCMP as a court liaison officer and exhibit custodian. She’s also a professional artist.

She married Jones, a Welshman, in 1982 after meeting him during a holiday in north Wales. They split a year later, after Mackenzie discovered he was writing bad cheques on her bank account, resulting in a Canadian warrant for her arrest. Police later visited the Vancouver television station where she worked to ask about Jones’s unpaid vehicle lease and other bounced cheques. He also wrote letters to her family asking for money because she was dying (she was not).

Not long after they married, Mackenzie was shocked to discover Jones had convictions for fraud and forgery dating to 1973. To date, the former choirboy, who fled before a 2003 fraud trial in the U.K., has more than 60 convictions. Jones’s more recent con jobs include posing as a doctor and priest for seven years in Kenya, where he set up a fake charity that racked up more than $100,000 in debts. He also swindled people in Portugal and Spain out of thousands of dollars.

There were reports of Jones turning up in Sweden in 2013, where he tried to declare himself a Kenyan refugee. However, the paper trail went cold after the country allowed thousands of Syrian refugees to enter.

“There was no way to find him. That’s our last trace of him,” Mackenzie said.

She was 26 when she met Jones in 1979. Mackenzie had taken a solo trip to Wales, where Jones was a tourist officer. She wasn’t physically attracted to the five-foot-five Welshman with a scruffy beard. However, she was drawn to his intelligence and fascinating banter.

“That’s what I fell in love with. This amazing brain. This wonderful, wonderful brain. All the personality stuff was lovely, too. He was really great company,” she said.

“I defy anyone to find anyone on the planet who’s better company than Kenner Jones.”

Mackenzie said her own sheltered upbringing made her a good target. She was raised in North Oyster, a tiny Vancouver Island community where no one locked their doors.

Another factor contributed to her vulnerability — she’d grown up in a “fairly dysfunctional family” with an alcoholic father. This left an emotional void.

“I had a lot of empty spaces in my heart by the time I became a young woman,” Mackenzie said. “I wanted love. I wanted someone who would see me as the centre of their world. To take care of me. Love me. All those things.”

She added: “You don’t even know that there are people who are charming predators. You don’t even know that there are people who actually don’t have a conscience.”

After her vacation in Wales, Mackenzie returned to journalism studies at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. A few weeks later, she began receiving letters from Jones.

One was quite strange. Jones told Mackenzie he was now in a U.K. prison. It was all a terrible misunderstanding, he insisted. He’d borrowed 300 pounds from friends who had complained to police when he didn’t immediately pay them back.

Some might have become suspicious at this point and ended the relationship. However, Jones said he wanted only to carry on a correspondence. This seemed innocent enough.

“I thought, as a normal, compassionate human being, why wouldn’t I do that?” Mackenzie said.

What started as letter-writing blossomed into romance. Mackenzie, who at the time viewed herself as a “boring, insignificant Canadian,” was flattered by Jones’s attention. In 1982, they married and she joined him in Buckinghamshire, England. She got a job with CBC Radio in London as an assistant to a current-affairs producer.

There were early signs that something wasn’t quite right with Jones. He told her he was a member of the Royal Naval Reserve and one day arrived home with a uniform. Jones wore it to church, where parishioners noticed him limping (he had claimed a sprained ankle). They assumed he had been injured in the Falklands War.

“He did nothing to set them straight,” writes Mackenzie in The Charming Predator.

There were other signs. Once Jones picked up mail at their home, glanced at a letter and slyly tossed it under a bureau. She felt a glimmer of suspicion, but didn’t ask him about it. After all, Mackenzie wanted to believe in her new husband.

“Why would I pick up a hammer and shatter my world and my dreams?” she said.

Their increasingly tumultuous marriage led them to Nanaimo, where a now unstable Jones — threatening suicide — was taken to a psychiatric ward at Nanaimo General Hospital for assessment. That’s when Mackenzie met the psychiatrist who delivered an ominous warning.

“This man is bent on killing you,” Mackenzie recalls in her book. “If he can’t do it emotionally or mentally, I can’t rule out that he won’t try physically. You must, you must, get him out of your life.”

Afterward, she and her mother bought Jones a one-way ticket to Britain. Mackenzie got him to leave by promising to reunite later — but never did.

In the mid-’80s, Mackenzie tried to write a book about her experiences. She completed 80 pages, but was unable to finish. So she put the manuscript in a box and stashed it away.

“It was still too raw. I couldn’t do it. It was too painful.”

As well, Mackenzie felt deeply shamed by the entire experience — especially given her chosen profession.

“It was very humiliating to see how easily and how completely you can be taken. Especially in matters of the heart. People would say to me, ‘Come on, you’re a journalist.’”

Victoria police Sgt. Derek Tolmie, who’s spent years investigating fraud cases, says anyone — no matter how intelligent — can become a con victim. This is especially so if there’s a strong desire to believe in the person perpetrating the fraud.

“Sometime you put your blinkers on if you want it to be the real thing,” he said.

Years later, researching Jones on the web, Mackenzie came across an Irish reporter, Len Port, who had followed her former husband’s later exploits. Jones had earned notoriety in the U.K., with BBC Wales tracking down the man it dubbed “Conman Ken.” Port announced his intention to write a book about Jones.

So Mackenzie sent him her unfinished manuscript, imagining Port would find it helpful in his research. The journalist wrote back saying it would be best if Mackenzie wrote the book.

“I would like to say, in his own way, he delivered the equivalent of a double-dog dare,” she said.

That was 2015. Three months later, Mackenzie had completed the first draft of The Charming Predator.

Today, she lives a happy life. However, the experience of being married to Jones has had lasting effects.

Recently, Mackenzie was in a shop that sold beautiful tea cups featuring nature scenes. She was attracted to one with the image of a robin. But then Mackenzie remembered her miscarriage. If the child were a girl, she had intended to name her Robin.

“I was tempted to [buy it]. But I thought, no, it’s still too hard. If I had to look every morning at that memory, it would be too hard.”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com