Five years ago, I, like most Chicagoans and many around the country, found myself riveted by the story of Rita Crundwell, the former comptroller of tiny Dixon, Illinois, who bamboozled the town out of $53 million to fund a vast show horse empire.
The saga had it all: A mousy clerk working out of a municipal office in Ronald Reagan’s white-picket-fence, flapping-American-flag hometown by day, transforming into the glittering queen of the richy-rich American quarter horse circuit by night. A scheme that spanned three decades and plunged the trusting little town deeply into debt. And the lingering question: How on earth did she pull it off?
So I drove down to Dixon in the summer of 2012 to find out. The result was the September 2012 feature in Chicago magazine, “The $53 Million Dollar Bamboozle.”
As it turns out, Kelly Richmond Pope, a DePaul University accounting professor with an eye for compelling film subjects, was equally fascinated and has captured the story in a documentary that is earning rave reviews (including a three-and-a half-star review from Richard Roeper) and big crowds at the Loop’s Gene Siskel Film Center.
For All the Queen’s Horses, Pope dug out a number of intriguing nuggets that were previously unreported. Here are four:
1 Dixon residents often questioned where Crundwell's wealth came from. The rumor that she received a dividend from Campbell Soup stock was a borrowed story from whistle-blower Kathe Swanson’s life. Swanson’s dad worked for the Campbell Soup company.
2 In serving her 20-year sentence, Crundwell has been transferred several times, the latest to a medical facility in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, where she is awaiting a medical procedure.
3 One of Crundwell’s crown jewel horses, Good I Will Be, was euthanized shortly after being sold at a live auction for $775,000, following complications from kidney-stone surgery.
4 Rita Crundwell and her long-term boyfriend, Jim McKillips, have ended their relationship, despite his supporting her throughout her court case, living together while she was out on bond. Crundwell was the only person charged in connection with the embezzlement, reportedly the largest case of municipal fraud in U.S. history.
All the Queen’s Horses, through 11/22, $6-11, Gene Siskel Film Center, siskelfilmcenter.org