On Sunday night, Elle published a truly shocking story: an account of a journalist who fell in love with Martin Shkreli — he of “Pharma Bro” notoriety, best known for his villainous smirk and jacking up the price of a lifesaving AIDS drug by 5,000 percent. So intense was their purported connection that the journalist, Christie Smythe, seems to have uprooted her entire life for it, eventually divorcing her husband and quitting her job. (Shkreli is currently serving seven years in prison for hedge-fund fraud.) Adding another horrifying twist, it seems like Shkreli dumped Smythe via the Elle article, giving a breezy and dismissive statement to the magazine after ghosting her from prison.
Shkreli has been described as “an icon of modern greed” and “pharma’s biggest asshole,” to quote two headlines cited in the story. In addition to price-gouging medication, he has viciously harassed female journalists, taunted the Wu-Tang Clan, and offered $5,000 for a piece of Hillary Clinton’s hair. Shkreli’s own lawyer has admitted to wanting to punch his client in the face.
Smythe first came across Shkreli in 2015 while reporting on Brooklyn federal court for Bloomberg, before Shkreli rose to infamy. In the wake of the AIDS drug-price scandal, she attempted to convince him to agree to a profile, and, in 2017, she began drafting a book proposal about him. The two grew increasingly close, as Smythe describes it, and her determination to write about him became obsessive.
Despite warnings from those close to her, Smythe was sucked into Shkreli’s world, even as his legal problems worsened. During his 2017 trial and ensuing incarceration, she began vehemently advocating for him on Twitter, arguing with his critics and trying to remedy his villainous public persona along with other purported misconceptions, like the fact that “he is 5’10,” not 5’7.”” In 2018, she resigned from Bloomberg after HR spoke to her about her social-media conduct. Shortly after, she and her husband divorced. Throughout this, Smythe had been making frequent visits to Shkreli in prison, and she eventually confessed her love to him.
Smythe maintains that she and Shkreli are “life partners” and that she’s never been happier. She describes discussing her future with Shkreli: She says they agreed to move in together and that she froze her eggs on his suggestion, over concern that she’d be too old to have children by the time his sentence was over.
However, she hasn’t seen Shkreli in over a year due to COVID safety protocols, and when Shkreli found out about the magazine article, he stopped communicating with her. When Elle reached out to him for comment, his response read very much like an awful breakup text: “Mr. Shkreli wishes Ms. Smythe the best of luck in her future endeavors.” A truly haunting moment.
Still, Smythe, who keeps a photo of them next to her bed, told Elle she plans to wait for Shkreli while he serves the remainder of his sentence. She wistfully recalled her and Shkreli’s first kiss, after she confessed her love in 2018, to the magazine: “The room smelled of chicken wings,” she said.