Local media outlets this week — with the help of their readers — have exposed a man we now know to be a serial storyteller who’s been creeping out Riverhead women for years.
His name is Walter Klapatosk and, thanks to the digital age, most everyone in town knows his face — and his modus operandi.
This all happened within days.
The ball got rolling at Sunday’s Cardboard Boat Race, where 25-year-old Amy Wesolowski was approached by a man later identified as Mr. Klapatosk. He told her he was Mike Love of the Beach Boys and convinced her he could pull some strings and get her on “American Idol,” she said.
Before she knew it — and at Mr. Klapatosk’s urging — she had jumped up on stage and told the crowd to vote for her during next season’s “American Idol.”
There was also a News-Review reporter standing by, recording it all with his camera.
Ms. Wesolowski declined to be interviewed after her announcement, saying she had promised an “exclusive” to a local news site. So we let the video do the talking at riverheadnewsreview.com, where we posted the footage after the event.
Ms. Wesolowski soon contacted us, saying she had been tricked by someone claiming to be Mike Love of The Beach Boys, and that she would not be appearing on “American Idol.” We then updated the online account of what had happened accordingly.
Frankly, we weren’t sure what to believe, but then we started hearing stories from readers that were similar to Ms. Wesolowski’s. Through Facebook, email and on our website, several women — some we knew personally, others we didn’t — said they, too, had encountered an older gentleman pretending to be Mike Love, actor Rusty Stevens from “Leave it to Beaver” or a Three Dog Night band member, at either Sunday’s races or other East End events.
“That same man was talking to me at the Cardboard Boat Race today,” one woman wrote on our website. “Told me he was Mike Love and that he had gotten a girl who performed at Vail-Leavitt into American Idol. He was quite the smooth talker.”
“He has been doing this for years!!!!” another woman wrote on the News-Review Facebook page.
Within a day, a reader had sent us a picture of the imposter. We posted it at riverheadnewsreview.com and asked for feedback. We had his name in just a few minutes. Soon enough, different photographs of the same man ended up on two other news websites as well.
Who in Riverhead doesn’t know who Walter Klapatosk is now?
He actually looks more like singer Kenny Rogers than the people he’s been pretending to be. Of course, he can’t go around saying he’s “The Gambler,” as anyone who grew up in a household that plays Christmas or country music knows exactly what Kenny Rogers looks like; his face is splashed across every one of his albums.
As just one member of an ensemble, Mike Love of The Beach Boys isn’t as easily recognizable; ditto Rusty Stevens. It’s easier for people — especially younger women — to believe that Mr. Klapatosk is these other characters. A few of our online readers who had met him admitted they had been taken in by his tall tales. So Ms. Wesolowski should find solace the fact that she is not alone.
There’s nothing illegal about spinning convincing stories. Generally speaking, there’s nothing illegal about making false promises and having people act on them. But that doesn’t stop those on the receiving end from feeling tricked.
Digital technology gets a bad rap, but technology and social media have helped make our streets a bit more comfortable today.
Mr. Klapatosk’s immediate family members say he’s been approaching young, attractive women with false stories and equally false promises for years, and without any serious repercussions.
His reign of creepiness has been dealt a huge blow.
With his face being splashed everywhere, it will be a long time before Walter Klapatosk shows up again at a Riverhead event telling stories in an unusual bid for attention from women.
At least not without some people spotting him.
And running him out of town on a rail.
Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.