Sunday, August 12, 2012

Yoos in the news

In case you missed this:

From Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Local man jailed for N.Y. attack

Alleged identity thief accused in tourist attack a Winnipegger

    A man accused of a hammer attack, standing with lawyer Alyssa Gamliel, told police he's John Yoos, but a John Yoos in Vancouver says he's former Winnipegger Douglas Epp.
    A man accused of a hammer attack, standing with lawyer Alyssa Gamliel, told police he's John Yoos, but a John Yoos in Vancouver says he's former Winnipegger Douglas Epp.
    A Winnipeg man is sitting in a New York jail cell, accused of a mysterious attack on a Spanish tourist while living under a bogus identity he secretly stole years ago from a friend.
    The tourist was beaten with a hammer as he sat on a park bench near city hall, eating lunch with his girlfriend. Hugo Alejandre, 31, was visiting the city from Barcelona. He suffered a fractured skull and other serious head injuries. The story made front-page news in several New York papers and led to an attempted murder charge being laid.
    Dual citizen John Yoos thinks Epp must have taken his identity to live in the U.S.
    Dual citizen John Yoos thinks Epp must have taken his identity to live in the U.S.
    Police, with the help of several witnesses, arrested a suspect at the scene and identified the man as 43-year-old John C. Yoos of Brooklyn, N.Y. But the Free Press has confirmed the man's true identity is Douglas Epp, 39, of Winnipeg.
    How and when Epp became Yoos -- and fooled authorities into believing it -- is not exactly clear. But several clues are beginning to emerge.
    The real John C. Yoos, 43, is an accomplished Canadian chess player currently living in Vancouver. He attended high school with Epp in Winnipeg and used to socialize with him, even after both men headed west to B.C. in the late 1990s. But they haven't crossed paths in at least seven years.
    Yoos told the Free Press on Thursday he learned of the bizarre situation when a friend called him Monday night, saying a man with the same name and age had just been arrested thousands of kilometres away.
    "He was kind of kidding me about it, like ha ha, what a coincidence," said Yoos.
    He felt it was a little too close for comfort, especially given the fact he admits to having an unusual name. Yoos conducted his own online search and was stunned to see the photo accompanying the arrest story. The tall bald man was Epp.
    He immediately contacted police and learned Epp had also provided Yoos's birth date and Social Security number.
    "It's clear to me now he's been living as me in the United States for a minimum of four years," said Yoos, who is a dual citizen. "He became me, likely so he could live in the U.S."
    The case also hit home for several current Winnipeggers who also grew up with Epp and have found themselves speaking on the phone this week with Secret Service officials who routinely probe cases of identity theft such as this. One of them, who didn't want to be publicly identified, said he was stunned to see his former friend in the news under a false name.
    "It's really quite a sordid tale. Truth is stranger than fiction," the man said Thursday.
    He went to school with Epp in St. James but said he lost track of him once they graduated. He heard Epp had moved around a lot, with stops in Vancouver and Hawaii.
    He believed Epp was living "on the streets" after falling on hard times, but said Epp would still take the time to send an annual Christmas card to his friends. The card last December indicated Epp was living in New York, although there was no indication what he was doing there.
    "He went off the rails a little bit, especially after his dad died years ago," the friend told the Free Press.
    Epp was said to be dressed in a suit at the time of the attack, in which the victim also suffered defensive wounds to his hands. Police and the Manhattan District Attorney's office have said little about the ongoing investigation or a possible motive.
    "Doug was always an unstable character, very erratic," Yoos said Thursday. "Most of his friends thought he had some psychological problems, that he probably had some mental illness."
    Epp -- still under the name Yoos -- has been remanded in custody without bail. His next court appearance is Aug. 28.
    "They're definitely taking it seriously," Associated Press reporter Jennifer Peltz told the Free Press on Thursday. She has been covering the story from New York and expects additional charges will be laid based on whatever the investigation reveals.
    The Legal Aid Society, which is representing Epp, has declined to comment. At an arraignment last week, lawyer Alyssa Gamliel said the man identified in court records as Yoos was unemployed and had lived in New York for two years. A neighbour at his Brooklyn address told the New York Post he had lent the man a hammer a few months before.
    Gamliel said her client had only one prior brush with the law, in Hawaii in 2008. Honolulu court records show an April 2008 jaywalking case against a man who gave Yoos's name and birth date; he gave police an address in Haiku, Hawaii. He was fined an as-yet-unpaid $100, court records show.

    -- with files from The Associated Press
    Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2012 A3

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