scams

The Harvard Professor Scam Gets Even Weirder

Six other men describe their encounters with the same mysterious Frenchwoman.

Bruce Hay outside his home in Cambridge. Photo: Jeff Brown for New York Magazine

Two weeks ago, New York readers were introduced to Bruce Hay, the Harvard Law School professor who had a brief affair with a young woman named Maria-Pia Shuman and suddenly found himself drawn into a combative relationship with her and her wife, a trans graduate student named Mischa Haider, that would unravel his life, leaving him indefinitely suspended from his tenured teaching job, temporarily homeless, and with mounting legal bills that eventually exceeded $300,000. Since the publication of “The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge” on July 22, six other men have come forward with accounts of Shuman’s attempting to pick them up, including one who says that, as with Hay, she told him she was pregnant with his child.

In one incident, a man named Aaron Holman was moving into a new apartment on Merrill Street, near Harvard Square, on a sweltering afternoon in September 2012, when, he believes, Shuman approached him and his friend *Matt. He and Matt recall seeing a woman who resembles Mischa Haider sitting in the driver’s seat of a black car across the street. Holman says Shuman came up to him and Matt and said, “You guys are so sweaty, I like seeing you like this — let’s go upstairs.” Matt tells me, “It was really over the top.” Holman says he and Matt were dumbfounded and tried to brush her off but that she continued to talk with them until she gave up, finally returning to the black car — where she sat in the backseat and the two women watched them until Holman called out to his neighbor, a Boston cop (“Straight out of central casting,” says Matt), who was just getting home. “But the second he turned around to check them out,” says Matt, “the women took off.”

Two months later, in December 2012, Steve* met Shuman in a Starbucks in Harvard Square. She approached him, as she had Hay, and as she had two other men she’d picked up in Boston and Cambridge, John Doe and Richard Roe from our original story — stopping them on the street and saying, in a hushed tone, “Excuse me, you’re very attractive.” Steve says he gave Shuman his number after a brief chat and made a lunch plan, via text, a week later. But just before they were to meet, he says, she called to say there had been a change of plans. She told him a relative was making a surprise visit — Steve can’t recall whether it was a parent or a grandparent, but he remembers Shuman explaining that the relative was not aware that she’d had a child with a trans person. In an email to me, he explains that Shuman wanted him to come over and pretend to be the child’s father “for the benefit of the visiting relative.” Steve declined and says he never saw her in person again, but the conversation didn’t end there. He provided some text exchanges he’d had with Shuman: “I understand u didn’t want to do this, but I feel it’s unfair of u to act as if I asked some outrageous thing,” she texted. “Well honestly it did seem a bit outrageous to me. I know it must be a difficult situation for you bit it didn’t seem my place to get involved,” responded Steve. Shuman suggested, “Then you politely decline, and express some understanding and sympathy. A simple polite comment would be, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I understand it’s a tough situation and I hope you find a way to handle it.’” After three months of silence, Steve received a text from Shuman, dated March 2, 2013, that read, “Are you down to fuck”; when he didn’t respond, she followed up two days later: “Lets hang out this week?” He ignored that text, too — he says he found the whole encounter odd. When he read the story in New York, he wrote in an email, “Within the opening paragraphs, I was already about 90 percent certain that I had met Maria-Pia several years ago. I typed the name into my phone. Right there, under the name ‘Maria S,’ were all the old texts.” (The number corresponds with one Shuman has used to correspond with Hay.)

On Friday, April 17, 2015, a third-year Harvard Law School student named Jordan, who asked that we not use his last name, was walking down Massachusetts Avenue near the law school’s Wasserstein Hall late in the afternoon. (Shuman’s apartment was across the street from HLS.) Jordan says he was bound for the T to Boston to meet up with friends and see comedian Hannibal Buress perform when Shuman’s delivery of the “attractive” line caught him off guard. He said, “Thank you, I have a girlfriend” — which was true — and continued walking, only to find that she was following him, wanting to continue the conversation. She said, “I’m attached, too. Here’s my number if you change your mind.” She said she was only going to be in town for a few weeks, if he wanted to get together — no strings attached. Jordan brushed her off with another polite thank-you and continued on, even as she asked if he had somewhere to be. He says he was surprised by her persistence and told her, “Yes, I do,” and headed for the train. When he got to Boston, he immediately called a friend about the encounter. The friend confirmed their conversation to me via email, recalling it because it was so strange and, in part, because she was French and the friend and Jordan have a passion for Richard Linklater’s films about an American man’s longtime love affair with a Frenchwoman.

David*, who asked that we use a pseudonym because of his job, said he encountered Shuman in the spring of 2015 on Boylston Street in Boston following a night with friends at a bar called Whiskey’s. At around 2 a.m., as he was returning to his South End apartment with his roommate and another friend, Shuman approached him and, in an encounter that echoes John Doe’s, spoke to David in hushed tones to tell him how attractive he was, that she was visiting from Paris for a few days and would love to see him before she left. They exchanged numbers and started texting that night. “I don’t remember exactly what we said in the texts, but I think we were making plans to meet up the next night,” says David, who says he lost the texts when he got a new phone. “She told me she was staying at a hotel. My friends and I were talking about how shocking and weird the whole encounter was. There was none of the standard-protocol flirtation leading up to an exchange of numbers; it was short and direct.” As David and his friends were talking about the encounter, another friend, Carl*, arrived, and upon hearing the story, he “looked stunned. Because the exact same thing had happened to him” that same week,” says David. “He thought that we were playing a prank on him.”

Carl says that one evening around six, as he was returning from his office, a woman approached him on the corner of Charles and Revere Streets in Beacon Hill and delivered the same pickup line. “This was the same backstory that David heard,” says Carl, “which helped us confirm it was the same woman.” And then, David says, “we took a deep breath, and I read her phone number out loud. The four of us in the room all went CRAZY when the numbers matched. It was the same girl.” Another of David and Carl’s friends decided to call her right then, pretending to be David, and spoke with Shuman, initially flirtatiously, and then changed tactics, interrogating her, asking her where she was staying, where she was from, what she wanted from them: “Finally, he fully called her out: ‘We know you’re lying, you approached my friend on Charles Street a few days ago — was your plan to rob us?’ She started to yell, and we hung up.” David says that moments later, he received a Facebook request from Shuman (David shared a screenshot of the Facebook request) — which rattled him because he’d never told her his first or last name. Then his phone rang, and he heard a different, deeper voice on the other end, which he now suspects might have been Haider. “[The person] knew my full name and where I worked. And she was ANGRY. Screamed at me for being a misogynistic pig and threatened to call my workplace. I put the phone on speaker so my friends could hear, and they got involved as well, yelling back that they were con artists. Shuman was in the background on the other end, yelling as well. They were mostly going on about how me and my friends were pieces-of-shit men. I threatened to contact the police if they kept harassing me in any way and hung up,” recalls David. Carl adds that the women left between 20 to 30 missed calls on both his and David’s phones that night — until Carl blocked her number. David says, “I ignored them, and they eventually gave up.”

In a story that hews most closely to that of Doe’s and Hay’s, Anthony*, a Harvard graduate student, was approached by Shuman in early May 2015 on Massachusetts Avenue near the law-school campus. She stuck to her script and invited him for coffee. Anthony told her he had a girlfriend — which wasn’t true, he says, but he wasn’t interested. She countered that she had a wife and asked for his number. He obliged, thinking he could simply not answer if she contacted him. Later that day, she texted — and soon the tenor of their exchanges became sexual. He agreed to meet her at an apartment on Massachusetts Avenue — she said it belonged to a friend — where she appeared at the door in just “this little coat.” They had sex, during which his condom broke, though he quickly replaced it.

A couple days before he was to travel for the summer, on June 7, she reached out to him saying she wanted to talk — he braced himself, remembering the broken condom. She told him by phone that she was pregnant, that it had to be his because “she didn’t have sex with any other man,” says Anthony. “She first said that she was thinking about whether to terminate it, that she has to tell her wife now, and it’s going to be very difficult, that she is going to be furious and it’s going to endanger their marriage. But then she called again a few days later to say that she would keep it,” he says. He gave Shuman a fake email address, associated with a fake name and birth date, and a prepaid-cell-phone number to continue their correspondence, because he didn’t want her to know his actual identity and he was suspicious of her story. He says, “I tried not to reveal any more personal details. She only knew where I went to school and my first name because I thought this was some sort of scam where she wants money.” But when he returned home, he says, “I felt pretty bad about it because I was like, Is that the kind of person I want to be? Botching responsibility and leaving this poor woman alone?” That is, until her correspondence took on an increasingly angry, threatening tone, as she told him her lawyer had contacted Harvard, retrieved all of his personal information, and was now preparing documents to have him release his parental rights to the child. When he told her that he had no intention of staying connected to her or the baby and suggested that she not name him as the father on the birth certificate, she changed her approach, proposing that he stay in monthly contact with the child. He refused, then canceled his prepaid phone, telling her he was moving abroad and suggesting she contact him via email. He hasn’t heard from her again, but he says he’s nervous she’ll find him and seek child support.

Late last week, a friend of Shuman’s, who asked to remain anonymous, reached out to defuse some of the mystery of who she is. She says Shuman — who really is the daughter of Mort Shuman and his second wife, also named Maria-Pia Isabelle Shuman — grew up in the Chelsea section of London and lived there since she was around 4, so she was surprised to learn Shuman was using a French accent around Boston. “She speaks French, and was born in France, but she’s British,” she says. “Her accent is English.” She says Shuman had a core group of friends throughout her life, but once she and Mischa Haider became close during their final year at Imperial College, where they studied physics, she “ghosted” them.

“They had a very, very, very intense friendship — the kind of intense friendship you have when you’re a teenager, when you’re always talking. I remember around 2008, Mischa was in New York, I think, and [Shuman] would take calls [from Haider] at strange hours of the night, leave the apartment at 2 a.m. and talk and then come back, and we’d be like, ‘Is everything okay?’ And she’d be like, ‘I can’t tell you.’” When Haider moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to pursue her doctorate in applied physics at Harvard, Shuman, who has U.S. citizenship, followed her. “She went to visit Mischa,” says the friend, “and basically never came back. She just came back to pick up some more clothes, and that was about it.” The friend is also puzzled by the story Shuman told Hay about an ex-wife. “I don’t know who that is. I’ve never known her to be a lesbian, and as far as any of her friends are aware, none of us know of any woman she was married to in London. I think it’s complete nonsense.”

In fact, the friend says, Shuman always had a serious boyfriend. But it wasn’t until she met Haider that she became obsessed with men. “She changed when they became friends. I noticed in the last couple of years of knowing her that there was a serious preoccupation with men. I don’t know why — she had nice boyfriends, long-term relationships, and she was now suddenly single and she was out there trying to meet up with a lot of guys, with a use-them-and-abuse-them kind of feel to it,” says the friend. “She had never been like that before. I assumed it was like she was young, free, and single. She and Mischa were both very obsessed, something about going out and picking up men and finding hot men and wanting to hook up with men. It was just off.” After reading the New York story, the friend was reminded of one of their last conversations. “I remember she said, ‘I love corrupting these really Waspy Bostonian guys.’ The impression I got was, if she picked up a guy, told him he was really hot, went back and slept with him and then discarded him, she felt like, ‘I’m in control, I’m so powerful, I used him, I tossed him aside.’ She liked the idea of corrupting what looked like these innocent, nice guys.”

*Some names have been changed at the request of the subjects to protect their anonymity.