The rumor rags appear to have settled on a man named Raffles van Exel as the person who shot a photo of Whitney Houston during her open-casket viewing and sold it to the National Enquirer for as much as a half a million dollars, but who is he?
Raffles van Exel was first fingered as the culprit by Roger Friedman at Forbes, who wrote that van Exel was the only nonfamily member on the private plane carrying Whitney Houston's family from California to New Jersey for the funeral. Friedman wrote that there were actually two private viewings, and that van Exel was at both of them. Curiously, he noted, the Houston family appears to have circled the wagons around van Exel, with Patricia Houston telling Oprah Winfrey that she doesn't care who took the photo -- an abrupt shift from days ago, when the family was telling reporters that they had the police on the case.
But who is Raffles van Exel? And how did he manage to make his way into Whitney Houston's life and, even after he was tabbed as the leaker of the casket photo, still have the trust of the Houston family?
Raffles van Exel, it appears, is a notorious Hollywood hanger-on. The most damning evidence is his own admission. In the following YouTube video, he cops to lying to celebrities and using them to gain fame for himself, saying he is willing to do whatever it takes to become part of the show.
In a memorable appearance, he cites rule #2 as no shame, and then proceeds to show himself lying to a blind man -- literally! -- as he tells Stevie Wonder that he's young George Benson, GB's son, referring to the 10-time Grammy Award-winning funk, soul, and R&B star, and then asks for a photo.
But getting photos taken with Stevie Wonder isn't the only thing Raffles van Exel has done with George Benson's son's identity.
According to Roger Friedman, Raffles van Exel actually -- well, read for yourself:
The famous R&B singer George Benson (Give Me the Night, Turn Your Love Around) has his own story about Raffles. Around 2005, he says, his lawyer had to send van Exel a cease and desist letter warning him not use the name Benson or describe himself as Benson's son. George Benson has four living sons, and three deceased. Benson says that around 2004-2005 van Exel had ingratiated himself into Benson's mansion in Engelwood, New Jersey.
He was there for a year on or off, Benson told me. One day, Benson says, van Exel called him and told him to come home; he thought there'd been a robbery. When Benson returned to the house, he discovered $25,000 in cash was missing that he'd taken out of the bank to pay for home repairs. By the time he made the discovery, van Exel had vanished. We never saw him or heard from him again, Benson recalls. Without tangible proof, he couldn't press charges with the local police. van Exel, as I reported in my original story, has sometimes been sued under the name Raffles Benson.