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Interview With Chris Goffard

Aired August 14, 2003 - 11:17   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Douglas Cone, the self-made Tampa millionaire who made his fortune in the road-building business. Donald Carlson, a State Department employee who would disappear for days at a time on sensitive assignments. One man leading a double life. Both men had glamorous wives, both lived just miles apart in elegant estates and both ran in the same social circles. Both shared a secret. Cone and Carlson are reportedly one in the same man.
Now this plot worthy of a daytime soap unraveled after Mrs. Cone was found dead behind the wheel of her Rolls Royce in a garage. Reporter Chris Goffard broke this story for "The St. Petersburg Times" and he joins us in Tampa this morning to talk about this incredible story, Chris. First of all, begin with exactly how this whole thing broke. How was it that this man was uncovered?

CHRIS GOFFARD, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": Well we broke the story in early June, soon after Jean Ann Cone died under these mysterious circumstances. We started getting tips that her husband of many years had remarried with what some people thought was undo haste.

HARRIS: Two weeks.

GOFFARD: Two weeks. And this alarmed some of Jean Ann Cone's friends and we started getting tips. We started doing some digging and doors started slamming in our faces. It was journalistically a daunting task because we were in the position of having to prove a negative. We had to prove essentially that this guy Don Carlson did not exist, and there were no public records to establish that he did.

The theory as a journalist is you checked 100 records and the 101st record will show you that he does exist. So it took some doing. I worked very carefully on this story and closely with John Martin (ph) our researcher.

HARRIS: Well how many years did this man pull this off? As I understand it there were kids that he actually fathered in both marriages here.

GOFFARD: He was doing it at least for 21 years. That's the figure that his neighbor gave us. The big break in this story came when we found the secret compound that he was keeping his hidden family on up in northern Hillsborough.

Armed with that address, I was able to bring a mug shot of Mr. Cone and show it to his neighbor who identified him as Don Carlson. He had been calling himself Don Carlson for 21 years to his neighbor. HARRIS: So that would mean then that the second wife knew all along about the whole thing, she knew about this scam, if you will. Is it clear whether or not the first wife ever did know?

GOFFARD: It's not clear. Many of Jean Ann Cone's friends say that she was too proud a woman to permitted such a thing had she known. So it's really impossible to say at this point.

HARRIS: Was he implicated in any way in her death at all? You say it was a mysterious death with her dying behind the wheel of her own car in a garage.

GOFFARD: It was a bizarre death. The official cause of death is accidental carbon monoxide inhalation. She apparently had too much to drink, fell behind the wheel of the car while the garage door was closed and choked on car exhaust.

It was a bizarre death but the authorities so far have ruled that it was an accidental death. There is no evidence of foul play at all in the death.

HARRIS: What about the rest of the families, Chris? If these two families, one of them being this fictitious family, were living in such close quarters there had to be some circles where they overlapped.

GOFFARD: That's one of the very interesting things about this story, how he got away with it. It takes some measure of brazenness to raise two families in the same town.

HARRIS: Well the kids were going to the same school, I understand.

GOFFARD: Right. The acknowledged family and the secret family going to the same school. The acknowledged wife and the mistress both installed as board members on the same school. And monuments both to his acknowledged family and his phantom family only yards apart at the same school, bearing the names of both families.

HARRIS: Absolutely stunning. I know the family, the children in this case have got to be somewhat stunned if nothing else about this. The children from the Cone family, Cone relationship, they've lost a mom and now they've had this mystery exposed about their father. Have they spoken out at all?

GOFFARD: I haven't had any luck getting them to speak to me. There is an open invitation. Doug Cone, Jr., Mr. Cone's son, had some concerns about his mother's death and enlisted a top Tampa defense attorney to implore the state attorney to make some inquiries into Jean Ann Cone's death.

That's one reasons this got some attention early on. But so far there is no suspicion that the death was anything but an accident. Of course, the stage is set for financial infighting in the family. There's a substantial fortune at stake. HARRIS: Yes, you know that's going to happen. And I can tell you something else too, Chris. You know there is going to be a movie somewhere down the road with this one. This is an incredible story. Nice job digging it up, Chris Goffard.

GOFFARD: Thank you, sir.

HARRIS: Thank you very much for coming in today.


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