This Man Conned His Way Into Princeton, But Then A Classmate Revealed His True Identity

To the admission staff of Princeton University, Alexi Indris-Santana was a standout candidate. A self-taught dreamer with a thirst for learning, he was driven, motivated and a star on the running track. And when he arrived on campus, he impressed both his peers and tutors alike. But the man who claimed to have been a humble rural worker was hiding a dark secret – and eventually a chance encounter would unravel his lies.

Established back in the 18th century, Princeton’s among the most prestigious universities in America. And for the students lucky enough to pass through its halls, it represents a powerful springboard towards a successful career. In 1989 Indris-Santana found himself among the lucky few – but everything wasn’t as it seemed.

Over the course of 18 months, Indris-Santana built up a reputation as one of Princeton’s most promising students. A gifted athlete, he also excelled in his classes and even joined the prestigious Ivy Club. But one day early in 1991, everything came crashing down, with the long-distance runner being exposed as a liar and a fraud.

On paper, Indris-Santana had presented himself as a romantic loner who’d learned philosophy while working on a ranch. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. In reality, the star student was somebody else entirely, and his time at Princeton was just the latest in a series of deceptions and scams.

Of course, Indris-Santana was far from the first person to bend the truth on a university application form. For Ivy League institutions such as Princeton, competition is particularly tough. According to the academic consultancy Shemassian, the admission rate across all eight of America’s top universities was less than seven percent in 2019.

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Along with Harvard and Yale, Princeton is ranked among the best universities in the United States by Forbes. For hopeful applicants, that means a rigorous admission process that’s far more likely to end in failure than acceptance. And when Indris-Santana applied, he was one of around 14,000 potential students competing for fewer than 1,300 places.

What’s more, even those slim odds were apparently stacked against him. Historically, Princeton has always been the preserve of the wealthy, and some 20 percent of successful applicants had parents who’d attended the college. But although there was clearly a system in place, he discovered that it could be played.

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So by the time that it landed on Princeton’s admissions desk, Indris-Santana’s application had been meticulously crafted to succeed. On paper, the young ranch worker who’d overcome adversity was exactly the sort of person the Ivy League university was searching for. And ultimately, he was offered a place.

After deferring for 12 months, Indris-Santana began his studies at Princeton during the summer of 1989. And even prior to classes starting, he’d already developed a reputation as one to watch. Athletically gifted, he had a story that set him apart from the other students – and a serious dedication to his coursework that soon became apparent.

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As Indris-Santana settled into Princeton, he distinguished himself academically and showed a remarkable work ethic. He became something of a celebrity out of the classroom, too, thanks to his unconventional past. At one point he was even invited to join the Ivy, the most prestigious of the campus societies known as “eating clubs.”

Perhaps Indris-Santana’s best talent, though, was as a runner, and he was soon accepted onto Princeton’s illustrious track team. But it was this decision that would ultimately prove his undoing. During a meet in 1991 a woman called Renee Pacheco recalled the promising runner from her high school days and revealed the truth about his identity.

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According to Pacheco, Indris-Santana had been known back then as Jay Mitchell Huntsman or by the nickname Riivk. Apparently, he’d turned up at California’s Palo Alto High School during 1985. And this time, he had a back-story even more bizarre than the one that would gain him a place at Princeton three years later.

Reports stated that the man calling himself Huntsman had told the school that he was an orphan who’d been left alone when his mom and dad passed away during a trip to South America. But even before that, he claimed, his life had been far from ordinary. Apparently, he’d grown up in a commune in Nevada, taking responsibility for his own education and running in his spare time.

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By Huntsman’s own account, following his parents’ deaths he wanted to get a formal education. So he took lodgings in Palo Alto and enrolled at the local high school, with his sights set on attending Stanford. And just weeks into his academic career, he took part in a track meet at the prestigious university, leaving the rest of the competitors’ in the dust.

Despite his success, though, the impressive young man didn’t present himself to officials at the meet. And this raised the suspicions of local journalist Jason Cole. Digging into the stranger’s past, Cole soon discovered that the real Jay Mitchell Huntsman had passed away back in 1969. This individual, it seemed, was an imposter.

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When Cole approached the school with his findings, Huntsman confessed. In reality, he admitted, he was a 25-year-old man called James Hogue. He wasn’t an orphan, either: his mom was alive and well and living in Kansas. So why the strange act – and why was he posing as a boy almost ten years his junior?

Although Hogue himself disappeared shortly after his unmasking, the true details of his life were slowly revealed. Apparently, he’d attended high school – the first time around – in Kansas City, where he excelled in track events. Hogue eventually won a scholarship to the University of Wyoming, where he continued to pursue his passion for running.

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Unfortunately, though, Hogue’s dreams were shattered when he found himself up against the university’s superior Kenyan athletes. Unable to match their speed, he became disillusioned and ultimately dropped out of college altogether. But rather than move on with his life, he’d decided to take a second shot at high school instead.

After his first con was discovered, Hogue fled Palo Alto and eventually wound up in the Colorado ski resort of Vail. Claiming to be a professor from Stanford University, he spent a couple of seasons working at an athletics camp run by the renowned coach Jim Davis. Hogue then returned to California, where he continued an acquaintance with bicycle manufacturer Dave Tesch.

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Not long after Hogue’s arrival in the city of San Marcos, equipment and components worth $20,000 were stolen from Tesch. But the manufacturer might never have suspected his friend had the story not taken a bizarre twist. In the spring of 1988 Utah native Bruce Stucky came into the bicycle store with a strange story to tell.

According to Stucky, a pal of his had encountered Hogue during a get-together in Utah. Hogue was showing off bicycle equipment bearing the name of the San Marcos manufacturer. Sure that he’d fingered the culprit at last, Tesch contacted police and traveled with an officer to search a store unit belonging to the suspected thief.

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At the unit in St. George – more than 400 miles from San Marcos – the men found Tesch’s stolen gear. And that wasn’t all. According to reports, they also found evidence that someone had been sleeping there. Who that was became apparent when Hogue arrived and was promptly arrested, eventually receiving a five-year jail stretch. But his time in San Marcos hadn’t been wasted. While living rough in the city, it seems, he’d also been preparing for the ultimate con.

During their investigation, the men discovered that Hogue had been in the process of establishing another fake identity: Alexi Indris-Santana. Using this name, he’d applied to several of the country’s top colleges, with Princeton among them. Today, though, those involved can’t recall if these institutions were warned of the attempted fraud. But if they were, the message certainly didn’t get through.

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While Hogue was hoarding stolen goods in St. George, admissions officers at Princeton were considering an application made in Indris-Santana’s name. According to the paperwork, he was a ranch hand from Nevada who’d never had a formal education. Instead, Hogue claimed, he’d immersed himself in the works of Plato while living in the great outdoors.

Backed up by excellent SAT results, Indris-Santana’s application was intriguing to the admissions board. And when an appearance on campus in the spring of 1988 confirmed the hopeful’s athletic ability, his prospects improved even further. At the time, university officials believed that it was the first occasion in a decade that the young man had slept inside.

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And not long after his visit, Indris-Santana was accepted into Princeton. But around the same time Hogue was being locked up for possession of stolen goods, leaving him unable to assume his false identity. Not wanting to give up on his dream, though, the conman convinced the university to defer his place.

Hogue concocted an elaborate story to explain his absence from Princeton. His mom, he informed university officials, was seriously unwell, and he’d have to travel to Europe in order to tend to her. And despite a report naming Indris-Santana appearing in a San Jose newspaper, his deception went unnoticed.

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After just nine months of his sentence, Hogue was released in time to take up his deferred place at Princeton. And in 1989 he finally arrived on campus, with his reputation as an athlete preceding him. According to The New Yorker, the student’s mature personality often won him the admiration of surrounding women. But given that he was actually almost 30 at the time, that perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise.

At Princeton, Hogue shared a suite with Avshalom Yotam and Ben Richardson, who’ve both since commented on their former roommate’s bizarre habits. Speaking to The New Yorker in 2001, Yotam explained, “He was in very good physical shape. But he always walked hunched over, with his long hair sort of hiding his face, even when he was right there in front of you. I don’t think Alexi made direct eye contact with me or Ben very often. And he was always walking fast, like it was a race.”

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In the same interview, Richardson recalled that Hogue had once informed him that he made a habit of sleeping on the floor. But though there were no great friendships forged between the roommates, the man known as Indris-Santana was certainly popular. At times, he even threw parties for his female admirers inside his room.

Soon, though, all that was to come crashing down. After Pacheco recognized the man she knew as Huntsman she reached out to Cole, and the journalist exposed the conman once again. In February 1991, he was arrested in the middle of a geology class. As word spread around campus, Hogue’s former friends were shocked to find out the truth.

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And unlike Hogue’s previous exploits in Palo Alto, his Princeton con soon garnered widespread coverage in the press. Now, America looked on as the serial trickster faced criminal charges for forgery and theft. After all, he hadn’t just been an imposter – he’d also claimed over $20,000 in grants that he wasn’t entitled to.

For the second time, it looked as if Hogue was set to go to jail for his crimes. But while he was awaiting sentencing, a former teacher took pity on him and assisted him in starting afresh in Cambridge, Massachusetts: the home of Harvard University. Was it enough to set him on the straight and narrow? Unfortunately not.

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In Cambridge, Hogue found work at Harvard, helping to record the university’s vast collection of jewels. But it wasn’t long until he was back to his old ways. After artifacts valued at in excess of $50,000 went missing, they were eventually found in the conman’s private quarters.

Before Hogue could be pulled into court to explain himself, it was time for him to face justice for his exploits at Princeton. Just before Chistmas 1992, he was given nine months behind bars, although he was out in less than five. This time, though, his freedom was short lived. The very same day that he walked free, he was taken into custody over his role in the Harvard crimes.

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By this time, then, Hogue had become the scourge of the Ivy League. He spent a further 17 months in jail on grand larceny charges. But even this extended stint of incarceration did little to straighten him out. And once paroled, he couldn’t resist heading back to Princeton, where he struck up yet another con.

Clearly, Hogue couldn’t get enough of campus life. Taking on the alias of Jim MacAuthor, he began frequenting the university lunch hall until he was eventually spotted and the police were called. Finally, it seemed, the conman’s career as a fake academic was over. But it was far from the last time that he’d find himself on the wrong side of the law.

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In fact, the later chapters of Hogue’s life are littered with arrests and petty crime. In 1997 he was picked up while trying to steal a bike in Colorado. Two years later, a film-maker began work on a documentary, Con Man, about the imposter’s grand schemes. And by the time that it came out in 2003, its star had already been taken into custody again on multiple occasions.

As the years passed, Hogue’s criminal urges showed no signs of slowing down. And by 2006 he’d amassed a vast amount of robbed goods – some of which, such as antlers and stuffed animals, were downright bizarre. Once more, he was shipped off to prison before being freed in 2012. Then, four years later, rangers in Aspen would stumble upon the next chapter in this unlikely tale.

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By then, Hogue was living as a transient in a makeshift shack in a forest. After the authorities discovered and dismantled his home, he stole tools and returned to build another shack – a decision that ultimately led to his arrest. Figuring out his identity, police followed a trail to yet more stolen goods, along with some $17,000 in cash. And for the fifth time in the dedicated conman’s life, he was behind bars. Today, he reportedly remains there, no doubt plotting the next bizarre escapade in his strange and puzzling life.

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