Flim-Flam Man

The True Story of My Father's Counterfeit Life

Flim-Flam Man

A frank and intimate portrait of a charismatic, larger-than-life underworld figure, as told by the daughter who nearly followed in his footsteps.
"Do unto others before they do unto you," John Vogel used to advise his daughter, Jennifer. By his account, the world was a crooked place and one had to be crooked in order to survive. A lifelong criminal, John robbed banks, burned down buildings, scammed investors, plotted murder, and single-handedly counterfeited more than $20 million. He also wrote a novel, invented a "jean stretcher," baked lemon meringue pies, and arranged for ten-year-old Jennifer to see Rocky in an empty theater on Christmas Eve. In his reckless pursuit of the American Dream, he could be genuinely good. When it came time to pass his phony bills, he targeted Wal-Mart for political reasons.
In 1995, following John's arrest in what turned out to be the fourth-largest seizure of counterfeit bills in U.S. history, he managed to slip away, leaving his now grown daughter to wonder what had become of him. Framed around the six months Jennifer's father ran from the law, Flim-Flam Man vividly chronicles the police chase -- stakeouts, lie detector tests, even a segment on Unsolved Mysteries. In describing her tumultuous life with John Vogel, Jennifer deftly examines the messy, painful, and almost inescapable inheritance one generation bequeaths to the next.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 224 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743217088 | 
  • September 2005
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for Flim-Flam Man
1. Jennifer says of herself and her sister, "Dad was a mineshaft we raided for clues about ourselves" (102). Can you find evidence of her tendency to see herself in the mirror of her father throughout this memoir? What does she learn?
2. Similarly, Jennifer often worries that she is too much like her father. She lies, and remembers that he's a liar. She sets fires in the restroom, and remembers that he's an arsonist. Do you think Jennifer adopted these behaviors for the same reasons that her father did?
3. Think about the different ways John Vogel is portrayed in this book by observers other than the author, from the U.S. Marshals' description (95), to the résumé he creates for himself in Seattle (139), to the impersonation on "Unsolved Mysteries" (128). How do these contribute to your impression of John Vogel? Why does the author choose to share these descriptions with you even though she often criticizes their portrayal of her father?
4. Chapters about Jennifer's childhood are intermixed with chapters about her father's arrest, disappearance, and suicide. How does mixing the past and the present affect the telling of both tales? Do you see any parallels between the two stories?
5. Why do you think John Vogel chose to rob the bank in South Dakota? Do you think he needed money? Or do you think he needed a way to end the suspense of eluding capture, as Jennifer suspected (205)? Why else would he ha see more

About the Author

Jennifer Vogel
Photo Credit:

Jennifer Vogel

Jennifer Vogel worked as a writer and reporter in Minneapolis for seven years before moving to Seattle, where she was editor in chief of The Stranger. She moved back to Minneapolis in 2003.