A homeless man moves in with a much older wealthy woman – is it a genuine love story, or something much darker?
Carolyn Holland was a wealthy widow aged 80, living in the idyllic Californian beachside resort of Cayucos, when she met David Foute, a man 23 years her junior.
He came to do some odd jobs for her. Within weeks, they were a couple, declaring their undying love.
Carolyn said she’d never expected to fall so deeply in love with a stranger or to be having a romantic, sexual relationship at her age: “He’s given me something special, because of his caring spirit. We share a lot. I love his personality, and I hate it when he’s gone.”
“I’m going to take care of her as best I can unless I can’t,” Dave told me. “All the guys know that Carolyn’s my girl and I don’t mess about. I don’t stay out late because I have someone to go home to. I’m going to remain until the wheels fall off.”
However, her daughters saw things in a different light.
They believed that Dave was out to con and fleece their mother and would break her heart.
I learned about Dave and Carolyn’s story because I live on their street. The pace of life is slow in Cayucos, and people take time to sit together and chat.
There’s a pier that stretches out nearly a thousand feet into the ocean and in the evening as the light fades, you can see the surfers outlined against the setting sun. It’s the perfect setting for a love story and I wanted to believe in Dave – but like Carolyn’s family, I was also suspicious.
Was Carolyn about to fall victim to financial abuse, which affects around one in five of the over-60’s?
“The age difference really bothered me – that was a red light,” Carolyn’s niece, Kim, told me. “Why would someone that age act like he’s in love with her, except to have a place to stay?”
I was in a unique position to watch the story unfold. Everyone involved wanted to talk – Carolyn’s daughters welcomed a chance to give voice to their worries. Dave and Carolyn thought they were being wrongly judged and wanted to tell their story.
When I first met Dave, I really warmed to him. He’d been recommended to do some renovation work for me by a neighbour, through the local church where he was a regular in the congregation. Dave charmed all the other workmen on the job. He played the harmonica and guitar, he was funny and seemed very open about his past.
The more I heard, however, the more I understood why Carolyn’s family were alarmed. Dave had arrived in Cayucos homeless and was living rough, sleeping out by the pier, when he first showed up at Carolyn’s house to do some work.
He readily admitted he’d been a crystal meth addict. It had led him to drug dealing and eventually made him so paranoid that he was jailed for making pipe bombs that police believed were linked to a possible attack on Walmart. Dave was – and still is – convinced that the supermarket chain was intending to microchip us all.
Dave claimed to have given up drugs, but I noticed he drank quite a bit, and smoked a lot of marijuana too.
Carolyn’s daughters, Susan and Sally, were horrified by the change in their mother’s personality after she met Dave. “It’s like a fantasy world, it’s so bizarre,” Sally said. “She was like a teenager when he came along. She was doing all this weird giggling and laughing.”
The daughters didn’t believe for a moment that what they were witnessing was love. What they saw was a lonely old woman in need of a companion, and a cunning outsider on the make.
There was also the question of inheritance. With her late husband, Joe, Carolyn had built up a property portfolio worth a few million dollars.
“It’s our family’s money, my parents worked hard for that money. Should we be okay, just giving it to some loser?” she asked me.