Over the weekend, Elle published an explosive article detailing the love affair between infamous “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli and journalist Christie Smythe. It’s a rather shocking and, frankly, confusing saga. And yet, the story is so involved and messy it might as well be a subplot from some soapy drama like Riverdale. Shkreli is one of the most reviled fraudsters in America, currently serving a seven-year prison sentence. Smythe was a successful reporter with a husband in Brooklyn.
How, you may ask, did a woman like that fall for a guy like him?
For starters, it includes a playback of the $2 million Wu-Tang record for "research." But really much of it, at least initially, had to do with ambition — Smythe was a determined journalist with a lifelong dream to write a book and had found, in Shkreli, a tantalizing subject and an appealingly contrarian angle: the real story behind one of the internet's most despised individuals. ("Martin Shkreli Is Big Pharma’s Biggest A**hole," wrote the Daily Beast in 2015, when he hiked the price of a life-saving drug, Daraprim, by 5,000 percent.)
You should probably read the entire article, penned by Stephanie Clifford. She covered the Shkreli trial back-in-the-day for the New York Times, alongside Smythe, who wrote about white-collar crime for Bloomberg News. Smythe first broke the news that Shkreli was under federal investigation for securities law violations, in early 2015. (To her credit, Smythe did sense, right before she broke the news of his arrest later that year, "that there would be massive schadenfreude.”)
Gradually, after meeting him in person and clocking that his “earnestness [...] didn’t match this idea of a fraudster,” Smythe fell under the Shkreli's spell. Looking back on the tactics he used to draw her in, she now says, “These are incremental decisions, where you’re, like, slowly boiling yourself to death in the bathtub.” Nonetheless, over the course of nine months starting in July 2018, she quit her job, divorced her husband, and embarked on a relationship with a convicted criminal.
Like we noted up top, the full story is pretty devastating, but here is a sampling of the details of Shkreli and Smythe's affair:
- The first time Shkreli called Smythe, she was on the job and sitting in a courtroom next to Clifford (who overheard their conversation). “I should’ve listened to you,” Shkreli said, referring to their very first conversation, when he told Smythe she didn’t know what she was talking about.
- During Shkreli's trial, Smythe visited his apartment and listened to his infamous Wu-Tang album, explaining it was “for research." (She also tweeted about it.)
- The emails Smythe sent Shkreli in prison likely added two years to his prison sentence.
- The first time the couple kissed, in a prison visitors' room, Smythe noticed "the room smelled of chicken wings."
- Smythe only has one picture of herself with Shkreli. “Doesn’t he look human there?” she noted when she showed it to Clifford.
- Smythe hasn't seen Shkreli in over a year, due to COVID-19. And once he learned about the Elle article, Shkreli stopped communicating with Smythe entirely. But she still plans to wait for him.
- People on Twitter have had a lot to say: