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Altar Veteran Admits Taking Latest Bride for $210,000

Times Staff Writer

Conrad Eugene Grohs Jr., 42, who had a written formula for marriage fraud and may have used it to marry 11 women for their money, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Los Angeles Municipal Court to taking more than $210,000 from a Studio City businesswoman he met last year through a singles magazine and married a few weeks later.

Grohs entered the plea to a charge of grand theft from Arlene Karp Magnus, 47, who gave him access to her bank accounts and made him a partner in her Los Angeles management consulting firm after their marriage.

Grohs, who used some of the money to buy such playthings as a $25,000 hot-air balloon and a $15,000 fire engine in which to carry the balloon, will be sentenced July 30 in Superior Court.

Under a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office, he will be sentenced to no more than three years in prison. Grohs has been held in the Los Angeles County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail since his arrest in Newport Beach earlier this month.

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Bank Accounts Drained

According to the police report filed with the court, Magnus knew Grohs, a self-styled Kenny Rogers look-alike, as Dr. Andrew Afar. Grohs appeared to be a generous, romantic husband who told her he had a doctorate like her own, a balloonist’s license and a substantial income. But she confronted him after she discovered in December that her bank accounts had been drained, the police report says.

Grohs then confessed his real identity to her, told her he had been married seven times before and moved out of her home, police said. He left behind almost $50,000 in unpaid bills, including $228 for their wedding cake.

Magnus, who would not comment on the case, is having the marriage annulled.

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Police said Grohs, in fact, had been married at least 10 times before.

When Grohs was arrested, he was living with an Orange County woman on her boat and wooing another woman, police said. Grohs, a licensed pilot, apparently had no real source of income other than from the women he charmed, police said.

According to court documents and an ex-wife, Grohs is skillful at tapping into women’s dreams and then seeming to answer them. Detective Robert Cameron of the Los Angeles police fraud and bunco squad, whose investigation led to Groh’s arrest, wrote in his report that Magnus “was so taken up in the world Mr. Grohs had created around her that she did not see, or have a desire to see, what was actually happening to and/or around her.”

Magnus met Grohs after she advertised for male companionship in the August, 1984, issue of the Singles Register, the police report says.

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“You’re ad touched me--humor is so important!” Grohs wrote in response. Grohs, who is about six feet tall, blond, bearded and slightly overweight, described himself as a “a man, tough when necessary yet with underlying sensitivity.”

“I am looking for the story book relationship with a partner--the story may have many chapters but at the end the two are together,” he wrote in the note, later given to police by Magnus. Grohs also wrote that he was earning a Ph.D. in counseling psychology “with special interest in pain control.”

In a resume obtained by police, Grohs also falsely claimed to have a doctorate in neuroscience from an Arizona university. He also said he was expert in a field called neurolinguistics and in hypnosis.

The couple made a first date and met for dinner at the Westside’s Chardonnay restaurant on Sept. 15, 1984, according to Cameron. Magnus was “immediately stricken by Grohs’ charm, wit, self-confidence and knowledge,” the detective said. They were married less than a month later in Albuquerque, N.M., where Grohs had taken her for a balloon festival.

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The couple sent out wedding announcements with the word “love” on the postage stamps.

According to Judy L. Gray, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, Grohs told Magnus a tragic story about his past: He said he had been married only once before. He was a widower, he said. His beloved late wife, Jackie, died after an auto accident a decade earlier while pregnant with their first child, he related.

Grohs told the same apocryphal story to wife No. 10, 35-year-old Donna Blethen, she said in an interview Wednesday. She was defrauded of $85,000 by Grohs in 1984, police said.

“He painted this ideal picture of this relationship he had had and offered it to me,” Blethen, who lives near San Francisco, recalled. Their marriage was annulled.

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The prosecutor said Grohs also told Magnus that he had received a $75,000 advance for a book about death and dying called “The Last Six Days,” apparently inspired by his deathbed vigil at “Jackie’s” side. All police found of the book, however, were some penciled notes and a dedication page that Magnus gave them. The dedication reads: “To Arlene, Erik and Jayson, from whom I learned about love and life.”

The boys mentioned in the dedication are Magnus’ sons by a previous marriage.

After the wedding, Grohs was made a trustee of two trust accounts in which about $100,000 had been saved for the boys’ higher education. According to prosecutor Gray, much of the money Grohs stole was diverted from these accounts.

The prosecutor said Grohs told Magnus he received $15,000 a month as an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, but said he could not discuss the precise nature of his work. He also used the intriguing, and non-existent, job as a pretext for not introducing his friends to his bride, she said.

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Gray noted that Grohs’ latest victim is an intelligent, competent woman. “After her divorce, she went back to college, got a Ph.D. in a management-related field and started a business that was grossing about $96,000 a year,” the prosecutor said.

But Grohs has a near genius for figuring out what women want, said ex-wife Blethen. “He’s real slick,” Blethen said. After gleaning his victim’s deepest hopes and aspirations, she said, “he feeds that back to you. He convinces you that he has the power, the connections, the background--whether it be intelligence or finances--to assist you to realize that dream. It’s very seductive.”

In fact, Grohs had written down his formula for marriage fraud, Blethen said. She said she found it among his papers after she developed doubts about him, began studying her bank statements and finally kicked him out.

“Behavior of the con. Identify their need such as money, power, sex,” Grohs wrote of his method in the document, which Blethen gave to Los Angeles authorities.

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The second step, Grohs revealed, was getting “information about their dream, their financial positions, their past failure and success, their needs.”

Next was “dream building: Develop dream around info gathered.”

As to the lies he told in the process, Grohs wrote, “Lies are visual movies of how I’d like things to be that usually don’t have factual basis in the exterior world.”


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