Figure in JT Leroy Case Says Partner Is Culprit
A central figure in the case of the mysterious writer JT Leroy has come forward to say that no one named JT Leroy exists, and that the books published under that name were actually written by a San Francisco woman named Laura Albert.
Geoffrey Knoop, Ms. Albert's partner for the last 16 years, said in a telephone interview on Saturday evening that he had seen Ms. Albert write the books of JT Leroy in their San Francisco apartment. He added that for much of the last decade, he had been present when Ms. Albert conducted telephone conversations as JT Leroy with unwitting editors, writers and celebrities, using the voice of a young man with a West Virginia accent. Ms. Albert, 40, is originally from Brooklyn.
"The jig is up," said Mr. Knoop, 39, a rock musician. "I do want to apologize to people who were hurt," he added. "It got to a level I didn't expect."
Mr. Knoop said that he played an important role in the creation of JT Leroy, who developed a cult literary following. "On the business side, I ran a lot of the day to day," Mr. Knoop said. "Sending things out and contacting people, making decisions about what we were and weren't going to do."
Mr. Knoop, whose 25-year-old half sister Savannah Knoop was unmasked by The New York Times last month as the public face of JT Leroy, said that he had come forward out of concern for his son, family members and others affected by what he called an all-consuming web of deceit. He said he and Ms. Albert separated in December, in large part because of stress caused by the deception. He said they are involved in a custody dispute over their young son. "If you're feeling more and more suffocated by the complications and lies, it's not worth it," he said.
Mr. Knoop has hired a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer and said that he hopes to sell a movie about his experience. (New York Magazine yesterday cited an anonymous source saying that Mr. Knoop was seeking a book deal about the Leroy story, which Mr. Knoop denied.)
Mr. Knoop's statements and first-hand account — the first by anyone involved in the deception — may help solve once and for all a truly bizarre literary fraud, one that drew in countless people, many of them celebrities and noted literary figures who had lengthy contact in person and on the phone with someone they thought was making literature out of a terrible childhood.
"People were generous because they thought they were helping an H.I.V.-positive former drug addict, ex-prostitute, who used the hardships of his life to make art," said Ira Silverberg, JT Leroy's former literary agent and an early champion.
In the interview, Mr. Knoop outlined the origin and execution of the scheme, which he said was motivated initially by his and Ms. Albert's shared desire to have their artistic work — his music and her writing — acknowledged by a wider audience. Ms. Albert's attorney, Peter Cane, of Manhattan, declined to comment. A person answering the phone at Ms. Albert's home hung up on a reporter.
Mr. Knoop said the ruse began in 1996, when Ms. Albert sought to get in touch with Dennis Cooper, a noted gay writer of edgy fiction whose work she admired. Concerned that Mr. Cooper might not be interested in communicating with a woman in her 30's, Ms. Albert had the idea to approach him as a troubled teenage boy nicknamed Terminator, with the biography of a street hustler.
Mr. Cooper said his memory of that early call was consistent with Mr. Knoop's account. He said that Terminator's life story seemed almost taken from the pages of one of his own novels.
"He was very much like one of my characters, so I was interested," Mr. Cooper said.
The conversation went off without a hitch, Mr. Knoop said, and soon Mr. Cooper and Terminator — Ms. Albert later changed his name to JT ("Jeremy Terminator") Leroy — were speaking frequently about Ms. Albert's writing. Eventually Mr. Cooper championed JT Leroy to writers like Bruce Benderson as well as several prominent Manhattan editors. As JT Leroy, Ms. Albert also successfully solicited editorial advice from writers like Michael Chabon and Dave Eggers.
As the books of JT Leroy built an audience — the first, "Sarah," was published in 2000, followed by "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" in 2001 — Mr. Knoop said, media interest in JT Leroy and his improbable story increased. When a German television station asked for an interview around the time "Sarah" was published, Mr. Knoop said, he and Ms. Albert recruited his half sister, Savannah, to stand in. She wore a wig and sunglasses as a disguise, he said, an outfit that would become JT Leroy's trademark.
Ms. Knoop did not return voice messages left seeking comments.
"At first it was just to validate it," Mr. Knoop said. "There was a lot of buzz, but you couldn't meet JT."
"We just need to make an appearance or two," he said, summing up the thinking at the time. "Then JT would go back to being a reclusive writer."
But that didn't happen. Instead, in 2002, Ms. Albert put together a six-week European book tour with JT Leroy's various European publishers. Savannah Knoop went along to play Leroy in public, with Ms. Albert in the role of his chaperone. The trip culminated with a large event in Rome, at which Ms. Knoop, as JT Leroy, conducted a reading while hidden under a table.
But the ruse, Mr. Knoop said, eventually began to take its toll on the couple's relationship. He said he had tried to convince Ms. Albert to abandon the deception, either by taking credit for the works of JT Leroy, or simply by letting the persona quietly fade away, but that she refused.
Though Mr. Knoop and Ms. Albert lived together for years, they were not legally married. If Mr. Knoop is to share in any of the monies generated by JT Leroy's books and films, he might need to demonstrate that he was an integral part of the deception.
Mr. Knoop's account also sheds light on one of the most confounding aspects of the Leroy story, the involvement of a Bay Area psychologist, Dr. Terrence Owens, whom JT Leroy often credited with starting his writing career. Several writers, including Mr. Benderson and Patti Sullivan, a screenwriter who worked on a film script for "Sarah," said that they took part in conference calls with Dr. Owens and JT Leroy when the writer was supposedly experiencing psychological problems. The involvement of a legitimate psychologist lent credibility to the ruse, they said.
Mr. Knoop said that Dr. Owens himself was a dupe. He conducted his sessions with JT Leroy by telephone, Mr. Knoop said, and met a stand-in only once, in the late 1990's.
In a phone call, Dr. Owens said that he did not know Mr. Knoop and that patient confidentiality constrained him from speaking. "I know it doesn't meet the public curiosity, but it's a different obligation I'm held to," Dr. Owens said.
Mr. Knoop said he did not believe Ms. Albert would ever admit to her role in the JT Leroy scheme.
"For her, it's very personal," he said. "It's not a hoax. It's a part of her."