How Little Billy's letters fooled the great and the not-so-good

John Major, Charles Manson and the Mormons all fell for 15-year prank

His name is Billy Geerhart, he's eight years old and he lives in Los Angeles. If you happen to be rich, famous and influential, he may have sent you a cute handwritten letter, earnestly seeking expert advice.

Billy once asked John Major how to be elected class president. The British PM merely sent back a signed photo. Billy also contacted former US Defence Secretary Robert Macnamara, asking him whether a moat would protect his treehouse from invasion. "It will work if you dig it deep enough, and your enemies can't swim," was the response.

His letter to bra-burning feminist Gloria Steinem wondered: "If the Six Million Dollar Man hit the Bionic Woman in a fight, would that be wrong?" Her reply: "The short answer to your question is yes ... it would only be fair if it was done in self-defence." One summer, Billy contacted some of America's most notorious serial killers, asking if he ought to drop out of school. David Berkowitz, known as Son of Sam, told him to stay in education and not "do self-destructive things". Charles Manson sent him pages of gibberish.

They were all victims of a big prank. Billy Geerhart was actually a bored adult, who has spent 15 years scrawling fake letters to public figures. The highlights have now been compiled in a book, Little Billy's Letters, which is due out in the UK next month.

William Geerhart, to use the author's proper name, invented Little Billy in 1994, when he moved to Los Angeles hoping to become a screenwriter, but found himself temporarily unemployed.

His first letter was fake fanmail to Dan Quayle. The former US Vice President's reply suggests that he accepted, without question, the proposition that an eight-year-old had recently ploughed through his turgid memoirs.

After that, Mr Geerhart began sending a letter every few days, squirrelling the replies away in a private collection. He has narrowed down the 1,000 or so replies to little Billy's letters to 120 for his book. Highlights include a letter from OJ Simpson's attorney, Robert Shapiro, offering advice on how Billy might get away with having destroyed his sister's doll: he should accuse the family dog of eating it and hire "a good forensic dentist".

Mr Geerhart said yesterday that he'd had trouble pitching the book to publishers because of concerns about copyright. But William Morrow eventually took it on, hoping to mimic the success of similar bestsellers, such as William Donaldson's Henry Root Letters.

His favourite chapter, said Mr Geerhart, sees eight-year-old Billy write to the heads of religious organisations, saying his parents have allowed him to choose a faith, and asking if they think he should join theirs. The Mormons sent missionaries to his doorstep, while the Church of Scientology sent him a letter with a pamphlet entitled: "Becoming an Operating Thetan".

"It contained a list of self-improvement courses they'd send me on," he said. "Some cost tens of thousands of dollars. It was fascinating that they saw fit to send that to an eight-year-old."

Written evidence: Little Billy's letters and the replies

*Dear Church of Scientology, My parents have allowed me to choose my own religion. Could you tell me what's cool about yours? My friend Eddie says you like aliens and volcanoes which sounds cool! Thanks, Billy

Dear Billy, Scientology is not a religion based on aliens and other such things. Scientology means: "knowing how to know in the full sense of the word." Do you have internet? I say this because you can get loads of information that [sic] if you go to scientology.org!? Love, Brittany Garrett, LA Registrar

*Dear Governor Palin, This is a project for my school. We're supposed to write to ask someone we admire a question. My grampa helped me find your address. He likes the way you wink at him from the TV. My question is we visited Alaska would you take us wolf hunting from your helicopter? That would be really cool! Could you also send a picture? Sincerely, Billy

Billy, Thank you for your letter to Governor Palin. I'll get it to her tomorrow. Like your Grandpa, I also like the way Sarah winks. I'm helping her with the mail... No wolf hunting from helicopters here. The news media thought that up. It is done in Russia, though, where pictures came from. Best Regards, Chuck Heath (Sarah's dad)

*Dear [segregationist senator] Strom Thurmond, This is a project for school. We are doing a unit on Black History and we are allowed to write to a public official for extra credit. I want to ask what it was like to own slaves. What were your slaves' names? How many did you own? Could you send me a picture of you with your slaves? Thank You, Billy Geerhart

NO REPLY

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballLive: Latest news from Champions League draw
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Scrum Master (Agile, Java, team recruitment)

£45000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Scrum M...

Junior Asset Manager

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Junior As...

HR Generalist (standalone) - Kent - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist / HR Officer (standalo...

Oracle Developer/IT Analyst

£35000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A market leading financia...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?