The Illusionist

By Paul Kix | Boston Magazine |

But the neighbors wondered how the new couple was getting by. There was the mortgage on their place, and, in 2003, came their son, Gavin, and the next year their daughter, Fiona. That was quite a bit of overhead. Cara worked as a bookkeeper at Williamson Orchards, just northeast of Marsing, but their friends guessed that couldn’t have paid much more than $20,000 a year. Shaw and Pace did seem to be frugal: They drove only used cars, and Shaw would pay for new tires the same way he built his house — incrementally, which is to say one tire at a time. But everyone, especially the guy who would become Shaw’s best friend, Kelly Verceles, wondered what, exactly, Shaw did for a living.

Verceles — a mechanic and ex-Marine who was moving in when Shaw knocked on his door, offering beer and another hand with the U-Haul out back — drank six-packs with Shaw on enough nights to be pretty sure that he wasn’t doing after-hours website work. And during the day, Shaw stayed home with the kids. He adored them. His devotion, though, left little time for full-on ranching. Shaw never had more than a dozen head of cattle. He was a hobby rancher. So how were he and Pace affording that $10,000 fishing boat out back? And how was it that Shaw could talk of paying off his house in just 10 years?

Something else was strange, too. Shaw didn’t seem to have his name on any of the couple’s paperwork. Bodie Clapier knew this because he’d once had a small issue with a property line where his land bordered Shaw’s. When he went to the courthouse, he found that everything was in Pace’s name. Another time at Verceles’s place, Shaw leaned in and said that even though he and Pace wore rings, they weren’t really married. Why fill out paperwork for the government, Shaw told Verceles, when you know you love each other? Shaw even once told Jessie Jackson that he didn’t put his name on his children’s birth records.

It was, frankly, a little unsettling to discover any of this. The theory among Shaw’s friends was that he was avoiding a custody case; he’d said he had a child from a previous relationship back East.

But Shaw’s neighbors were more than happy to give him his privacy. He was a warm and friendly guy, and he could assuage any misgivings by the force of his personality. As the years passed, and as he took on the look of the Idaho ranchers — a full goatee, a baseball cap forever on his head — he also acquired their handiness. He helped friends and neighbors stack hay. He taught Verceles’s daughter how to bottle-feed a calf. In time, he even became the treasurer of the neighborhood water association, which included the ranch homes like his as well as the gaudy ones in the Whispering Heights development on the hill next to Shaw’s acreage — an area Verceles liked to call “Snob Knob.” Jay Shaw seemed at ease talking to everyone. He also seemed inordinately concerned with his neighbors’ well-being. One night a water pipe burst, but rather than have the association call someone to fix it, Shaw grabbed a shovel and walked outside, working until 2 a.m. to repair the break and saving everyone loads of money.


Listen to Paul Kix as he talks about his experiences researching Enrico Ponzo and reveals snippets of his interviews from his Idaho visit. 

  • Idella Tanna

    This is one of the best posts I have seen on this topic. Let me know if you do any further related posts and I’ll come check them out!