By MAXINE SWANN
Published: March 8, 2013
“In November 2011, Paul Frampton, a theoretical particle physicist, met Denise Milani, a Czech bikini model, on the online dating site Mate1.com. She was gorgeous — dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a supposedly natural DDD breast size. In some photos, she looked tauntingly steamy; in others, she offered a warm smile. Soon, Frampton and Milani were chatting online nearly every day. Frampton would return home from campus — he’d been a professor in the physics and astronomy department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 30 years — and his computer would buzz. “Are you there, honey?” They’d chat on Yahoo Messenger for a while, and then he’d go into the other room to take care of something. A half-hour later, there was the familiar buzz. It was always Milani. “What are you doing now?”
Frampton had been very lonely since his divorce three years earlier; now it seemed those days were over. Milani told him she was longing to change her life. She was tired, she said, of being a “glamour model,” of posing in her bikini on the beach while men ogled her. She wanted to settle down, have children. But she worried what he thought of her. “Do you think you could ever be proud of someone like me?” Of course he could, he assured her.
Frampton tried to get Milani to talk on the phone, but she always demurred. When she finally agreed to meet him in person, she asked him to come to La Paz, Bolivia, where she was doing a photo shoot. On Jan. 7, 2012, Frampton set out for Bolivia via Toronto and Santiago, Chile. At 68, he dreamed of finding a wife to bear him children — and what a wife. He pictured introducing her to his colleagues. One thing worried him, though. She had told him that men hit on her all the time. How did that acclaim affect her? Did it go to her head? But he remembered how comforting it felt to be chatting with her, like having a companion in the next room. And he knew she loved him. She’d said so many times.
Frampton didn’t plan on a long trip. He needed to be back to teach. So he left his car at the airport. Soon, he hoped, he’d be returning with Milani on his arm. The first thing that went wrong was that the e-ticket Milani sent Frampton for the Toronto-Santiago leg of his journey turned out to be invalid, leaving him stranded in the Toronto airport for a full day. Frampton finally arrived in La Paz four days after he set out. He hoped to meet Milani the next morning, but by then she had been called away to another photo shoot in Brussels. She promised to send him a ticket to join her there, so Frampton, who had checked into the Eva Palace Hotel, worked on a physics paper while he waited for it to arrive. He and Milani kept in regular contact. A ticket to Buenos Aires eventually came, with the promise that another ticket to Brussels was on the way. All Milani asked was that Frampton do her a favor: bring her a bag that she had left in La Paz.
While in Bolivia, Frampton corresponded with an old friend, John Dixon, a physicist and lawyer who lives in Ontario. When Frampton explained what he was up to, Dixon became alarmed. His warnings to Frampton were unequivocal, Dixon told me not long ago, still clearly upset: “I said: ‘Well, inside that suitcase sewn into the lining will be cocaine. You’re in big trouble.’ Paul said, ‘I’ll be careful, I’ll make sure there isn’t cocaine in there and if there is, I’ll ask them to remove it.’ I thought they were probably going to kidnap him and torture him to get his money. I didn’t know he didn’t have money. I said, ‘Well, you’re going to be killed, Paul, so whom should I contact when you disappear?’ And he said, ‘You can contact my brother and my former wife.’ ” Frampton later told me that he shrugged off Dixon’s warnings about drugs as melodramatic, adding that he rarely pays attention to the opinions of others.
On the evening of Jan. 20, nine days after he arrived in Bolivia, a man Frampton describes as Hispanic but whom he didn’t get a good look at handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. Frampton was expecting to be given an Hermès or a Louis Vuitton, but the bag was an utterly commonplace black cloth suitcase with wheels. Once he was back in his room, he opened it. It was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why this particular suitcase was so important. She told him it had “sentimental value.” The next morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.
Frampton flew from La Paz to Buenos Aires, crossing the border without incident. He says that he spent the next 40 hours in Ezeiza airport, without sleeping, mainly “doing physics” and checking his e-mail regularly in hopes that an e-ticket to Brussels would arrive. But by the time the ticket materialized, Frampton had gotten a friend to send him a ticket to Raleigh. He had been gone for 15 days and was ready to go home. Because there was always the chance that Milani would come to North Carolina and want her bag, he checked two bags, his and hers, and went to the gate. Soon he heard his name called over the loudspeaker. He thought it must be for an upgrade to first class, but when he arrived at the airline counter, he was greeted by several policemen. Asked to identify his luggage — “That’s my bag,” he said, “the other one’s not my bag, but I checked it in” — he waited while the police tested the contents of a package found in the “Milani” suitcase. Within hours, he was under arrest.
Frampton was arrested at the Buenos Aires airport and
spent time in jail in Argentina awaiting trial.
I first met Frampton this past fall in the prison warden’s office in Devoto, one of the few remaining old-style jails in Buenos Aires, so dilapidated that its windows stick open and rain leaks through the roof. It was September, the beginning of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, but there was still a chill in the air, and the prison heating system was down as usual.
“Hey Professor, have you won the Nobel yet?” a guard shouted as Frampton walked by. He was wearing a red Adidas tracksuit (“Adidas seems to have a franchise in Devoto,” he said), running shoes and a tattered Barbour coat to keep warm. “This is the coat the royal family wears, it’s for hunting,” Frampton, who grew up in Britain, pointed out. “See, it has this pocket in the back where you can put a dead bird.” Frampton had been in Devoto for eight months, awaiting trial on charges of transporting two kilos of cocaine into the country. He was housed not in a single cell but in a group pavilion with 80 men accused of drug dealing or smuggling, most of them from other Latin American countries. Frampton had had almost no experience with drugs in his life, apart from the occasional drink and a nicotine addiction (he’d given up smoking two years before). Now he was living with people who were not only well versed in the intricacies of the drug trade but regular users of marijuana and cocaine. The pavilion was often illuminated at night by little flames held under spoons, as inmates cooked paco, a cocaine paste similar to crack that is often made with kerosene and sulfuric acid. But there were good things about not being in a private cell, too. A number of the prisoners on the pavilion had their own TVs. On Sunday mornings, Frampton would turn on the classical-music station, Arpeggio, so he could listen for a few hours before others got up and switched the channel back to music videos. Whenever his case was reported on local news channels, pictures of Denise Milani would flash across the TV screen, eliciting catcalls and applause from the other prisoners.
“I’m a bit of a celebrity in here,” Frampton said. From the moment of his arrest he had maintained that he was the victim of a scam — even if it didn’t occur to him right away that the Milani with whom he was corresponding was not the real Milani — and he projected a sense that all that had happened to him was a mistake that would soon be resolved. Perfectly congenial, he kept punctuating my questions about his present predicament with “And after this, we’ll get to physics, right?”
Finally, eyes burning with schoolboy enthusiasm, interrupted now and then by a spasmodic cough — he has a lung condition, which the smoke-filled prison air worsened — he talked me through what he called his “14 groundbreaking discoveries,” which he had written out for me on a piece of notepaper. Frampton closed our interview half-seriously, half-impishly, with another kind of calculation: “I’ve co-authored with three Nobel laureates. Only 11 theoretical physicists have done that. Six out of those 11 have wonNobel Prizes themselves. Following this logic, I have a 55 percent chance of getting the Nobel.”
How Frampton, who holds an endowed chair at the University of North Carolinaand has been an adviser to the Department of Energy, ended up in Devoto appears at first to be a classic tale: a brilliant man of science gets into trouble as soon as he tries to navigate the real world. Since his arrest, he has certainly cultivated this notion, burnishing his wacky-scientist profile with lines like “That’s my naïveté” and “My mind works in a strange way.”
Those who know him well also portray him as a kind of idiot savant, someone who could have been easily duped by whoever was posing as Milani. “Women came later in Paul’s life,” says Richard Czerniawski, a chemist who was a student with Frampton at Oxford University and now lives in Buenos Aires. Frampton was married for the first time at age 50, to Anne-Marie Frampton, then 52, a Frenchwoman living in the United States, who calls herself a physics groupie: “I couldn’t completely follow everything Paul said, because of the mathematics, of course, but either I could understand the words, or I could just listen to the music, the music of physics.” The pair divorced in 2008 but are still on good terms. Anne-Marie describes her ex-husband as a very good scientist with the emotional age of a 3-year-old. “I was flabbergasted, flabbergasted but not surprised,” she said, referring to the call she received from Frampton from Devoto prison. “Paul is a very experienced traveler, but that sentence, ‘Don’t take any luggage that doesn’t belong to you,’ he doesn’t even hear that. He’s in another world, an alternate universe.”
One story about his search for a new wife certainly bolstered this view. Shortly after his divorce, Frampton, then 64, expressed concern about finding a wife between the ages of 18 and 35, which Frampton understood to be the period when women are most fertile. One particularly promising candidate was a young Chinese woman. After an extended e-mail correspondence, Frampton arranged to see her during a trip to China to visit another eminent scientist, but they met for only an hour, and “it didn’t go anywhere.” The next important contender appears to have been Milani. “He told me to look her up on the Internet,” Dixon recalled. “I thought he was out of his mind, and I told him that. ‘You’re not talking to the real girl. Why would a young woman like that be interested in an old guy like you?’ But he really believed that he had a pretty young woman who wanted to marry him.” When I later asked Frampton what made him think that Milani was interested, he replied, “Well, I have been accused of having a huge ego.”
Over the course of three and a half months, Frampton called my house 42 times from jail. He’d call to report the latest news. A “brilliant” op-ed he published in a Raleigh newspaperabout the U.N.C. provost’s “illegal” action — cutting off his salary without any due process — had succeeded in getting the provost fired. (The provost had granted Frampton 60 days of paid leave, then suspended his salary until he could resume his duties as a faculty member. Frampton sued the university, unsuccessfully, for his wages.) He was particularly pleased about the provost’s dismissal, because the severance of his salary had had real repercussions. Apparently without savings, he was unable to afford a private lawyer and had to rely on an overburdened Argentine public defender. He’d given up his health insurance and risked losing his car and apartment in Chapel Hill. In Argentina, he scrambled to get the money he needed to buy himself decent food in prison and telephone cards, of which he might have as many as 30 in his pocket.
It turned out that the provost was stepping down voluntarily in June 2013 and would remain as a faculty member. Frampton didn’t seem sheepish about having linked the provost’s fate to his own. He was excited about something else now. The president of Harvard, he’d heard, had been given a memo about his case in hopes that she’d mention it to Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, during Kirchner’s visit to the university. “I think I’ve never been discussed by two such important people in my life,” Frampton reflected. (Harvard’s president never received any memo about Frampton, and she and Kirchner never did discuss his case.) Or he’d report, ever hopefully, that he’d be out on house arrest any day. (His Argentine public attorney, Ignacio Anitua, had requested that his client be placed on house arrest, given his age and his pulmonary ailment, but the request was still wending its way through official channels.) He asked me to bring him Gruyère, blue cheese, curry powder, chili pepper, notebooks, reading glasses and telephone cards, and he expressed frustration about the slow progress of his case. He was especially exasperated that the text messages on his confiscated cellphone from Jan. 20, the day of the bag exchange, had still not been handed over to his defense lawyer by the police, despite repeated requests. “It’s clear from those messages that it was not my bag,” he said. “That should be sufficient to exonerate me.” (His public defender told me that the text messages were actually in his file but would never be enough to prove his innocence.)
One Monday, Frampton called three times. The first time was at 3 p.m. He was animated and talked at length about the “volatile situation” at the university, which had yet to reinstate his salary, despite letters of support from the Nobel laureate Sheldon Lee Glashow and from John C. Taylor, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Cambridge, among others. “Research institutions throughout the country are in jeopardy if a tenured professor of 30 years has his salary suddenly revoked without any due process,” Frampton said. “This means that the jobs of tens of thousands of tenured professors are at risk.”
Second call, 6 p.m.: Frampton reported that he was a month into his prison stay before his fellow prisoners managed to convince him that the woman he thought he’d been in touch with all this time had probably been a man impersonating her. The real Denise Milani was never accused of having a role in the drug smuggling and has no connection to Frampton. “The only real connection we have is through the international media,” Frampton admitted. Milani, who was interviewed for The Daily Mail, expressed alarm about having her name associated with drug smugglers, fear for herself, her 12-year-old son and “sympathy” for the professor. “I feel sympathy for her, too,” Frampton said. (Despite repeated attempts, Milani could not be reached for comment.)
Third call, 8 p.m.: “There could be retribution. I could be assassinated.” He spoke about how he had overheard the dealers and smugglers he was now living with talking about what happens to drug mules who lose the stash. He said people had told him someone must have been watching him move around at the airport, so they knew what he looked like. “These thoughts keep me up at night.”
Frampton is prone to seeing himself as the center of the action whatever the milieu. When he was growing up in Worcestershire, England, in what he describes as a “lower-middle-class family,” his mother encouraged him to report his stellar grades to all the neighbors, a practice that may have led the young Frampton to confuse worldly laurels with love. At 18, he enrolled at Brasenose College, Oxford, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1968. He received a number of offers for postdocs, including one at Princeton and another at the University of Chicago. His advisers suggested he go to Chicago to work with the Japanese physicist Yoichiro Nambu. Nambu was an intellectual giant in the field, but Frampton’s advisers may have had other reasons for steering Frampton his way. Nambu, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in 2008, has, Frampton told me, “astonishingly no ego.”
As Frampton tells it, his life is one unbroken line of impressive grades, advanced degrees and innumerable citations of his work in cosmology and physics. There is certainly much truth to this. “He has always been very inventive in thinking of new ideas extending and going beyond the standard model of particle physics,” says Prof. Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. But then there is Frampton’s tendency to transfer his professional accomplishments to his personal life. In what a fellow physicist described as a “very vain, very inappropriate” talk delivered on the 80th birthday of Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel laureate in physics, Frampton veered into autobiography, recounting how his ability to multiply numbers in his head at 4 led him to see himself as “cleverer than Newton.” This line became a refrain throughout the talk. Interspersed with the calculations and hypotheses were his Oxford grades, which, he said, showed that he, like Newton, was in the top 1 percentile for intelligence. Frampton insists that he was merely joking and that his sense of humor was misinterpreted as self-regard. Yet in many of my conversations with him, he seemed to cling to the idea of his own exceptionalism. During our first meeting, when I asked him what attracted him to Milani, he said, “Not to offend present company,” referring to me and the representative from the penitentiary service, “but, to start with, she’s in the top 1 percentile of how women look.” And in an e-mail to Milani — or, rather, the fake Milani — Frampton wrote, “As these days tick by, and I think about it a lot, the more I realize that we are the perfect couple in all respects.”
The strategy of Frampton’s defense team was to present Frampton as a brilliant man out of touch with day-to-day life. They called in a psychologist, who pronounced him unusually gullible without, however, diagnosing a mental illness. The judges sent their own doctor, who declared Frampton normal. A total of three psychological evaluations were presented at the trial, and two agreed that he had the traits of a narcissistic personality — an overblown and unrealistic image of himself. One concluded that it did not constitute a pathology, while the other suggested that there were pathological aspects to his narcissism that led to gaps in his understanding of reality.
Fidel Schaposnik, a physics professor at the National University of La Plata, which, along with the University of Buenos Aires, had offered Frampton a visiting professorship to help get him released from Devoto while he awaited trial, said of Frampton: “He’s a typical person trained at Oxford. He knows he’s part of an elite and can’t imagine such things would happen to him.” Indeed, Frampton sees academia’s denizens as creative misfits who deserve special protection. “People who are socially inept can nevertheless be the most creative people,” he told me one afternoon on the telephone. “It’s very important that they can’t be fired. This is the genius of tenure.”
There had been a case similar to Frampton’s in the past year, that of a New Zealander named Sharon Armstrong. Like Frampton, Armstrong, a former executive at the Maori Language Commission, said she met her lover on an Internet dating site and, after months of online contact, made a plan to meet him abroad, passing through Buenos Aires on her way to London to pick up some important paper contracts for him. She was caught carrying a bag with five kilos of cocaine. After the two were mentioned together in a number of articles, Armstrong contacted Frampton. The judges in her case — she received a sentence of 4 years 10 months — were also going to be the judges in his.
According to Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, if Frampton and Armstrong were unaware of their involvement, they would be the exception. He had never heard of a case in which a virtual “honey trap” had been used to dupe someone into being an unwitting drug mule. “When it comes to drug trafficking, we rarely see someone duped or used as part of a ruse,” he said. “It is very typical for those arrested to claim no knowledge or involvement.” The prosecutor in Frampton’s case, Mario Villar — 80 percent of his cases involve drug smuggling — concurred. It is highly improbable, he said, that a person is unaware that he or she is carrying drugs. Frampton acknowledged that this was undoubtedly true — most of the time. Of the other 79 prisoners on his pavilion, he thought none were innocent. “Some people will say they’re innocent, but when I talk to them further, it becomes clear that they were somehow involved. I think people like me are less than 1 percent.”
Three weeks before his trial, Frampton hired private lawyers. When I asked how he was able to afford them, he first said he’d rather not tell me, then claimed that friends in Argentina were footing the bill. The new lawyers picked up where his public defenders left off, yet at a significantly accelerated pace. On Oct. 30, I spoke to Frampton as he was driving away from Devoto, accompanied by his friend, Czerniawski, who had agreed to take Frampton in on house arrest. Giddily, he said that the first thing he wanted to do was to sleep in, impossible in prison because every morning at 7:30 they do the roll call.
The following day at midday, I met Frampton at the Czerniawskis’ three-bedroom apartment, just blocks away from the Argentine Parliament. Dressed in a dark blue pinstriped suit and a tie covered with tiny red-beaked penguins, Frampton was finishing lunch with Czerniawski’s wife, Silvia, and their two daughters. “See,” he said, “I’m Paul Frampton again.” Czerniawski was at work. When I asked Frampton if he had slept in, he said he spent half the night on the Internet, reading through all the latest discoveries in his field, checking to see what his “competitors” had been working on, and beginning to answer the thousands of e-mails he received. He reported that he had more citations than ever. The conversation turned to his long-awaited release to house arrest. How had the new lawyers achieved so quickly what his public attorney had been requesting for more than four months? “They say they drink maté with the judges,” Frampton answered cryptically. Later he added, “A little bird told me that if I get off, I’ll never know why.”
He showed me his latest calculations, pages of beautifully rendered symbols with not a word in sight except for “Nestor Kirchner,” the former president and deceased husband of current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, written in the margin. “I’m trying to connect the God particle, the Higgs boson, with dark energy — you know, the thing that makes the universe accelerate. This sounds a bit egomaniacal, but to understand dark energy, I think we have to be open-minded about Einstein’s general relativity.”
This time, he was the one who brought the conversation back around to drug smuggling, showing palpable anxiety about the outcome of his trial. He told me uneasily that his lawyers had reported that nearly all drug-smuggling cases that came to trial ended in guilty verdicts.
As I was leaving, he stepped out with me into the hallway. “Can I do this?” he asked, wondering if he was violating his house arrest. He got into the elevator, a wrought-iron cage that offered a view of the stairs as it descended, and repeated, “Can I do this?” He accompanied me down another long hall to the entrance and gave me a kiss on the cheek goodbye, peering out at the street as the door closed.
Two weeks later, on Nov. 12, Frampton’s trial began in a small wood-paneled courtroom, where he sat before three judges. On exhibit in front of the judges was a collapsed black cloth suitcase with wheels wrapped in yellow cellophane.
Frampton’s long-held defense — that he was duped because he had a childlike understanding of the ways of the world — began to unravel. The prosecutor opened his cross-examination of Frampton by citing a text message retrieved from Frampton’s confiscated cellphone. “On Jan. 22 at 9:46 a.m.,” he said, “you wrote from Ezeiza airport to the person you understood to be Denise Milani: ‘Was worried only about sniffer dogs but more.’ ” As his interrogation of Frampton continued, he read other text messages sent from Frampton’s phone. One at 9:52 a.m.: “Need to know if your loyalty is with the bad guy-agent & bolivian friends — or good guy, your husband?” And another at 9:56 a.m.: “SIRU” — the Hotel Siru, where they were planning to meet in Brussels — “IS AMBUSH.” 10:14 a.m.: “Your naivety is bad for me, us. This is millions. NO SIRU, OK?” At 11:19 a.m., Frampton sent Milani an e-mail: “This stuff is worth nothing in Bolivia, but $Ms in Europe. You meet me at the airport and we do not go near the hotel the ‘agent’ suggested. Stay at another hotel.” At 11:47 a.m., there was another text message: “Monday arrival changed. You must not tell the coca-goons.” At 12:16 p.m., he wrote: “WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME? AT THIS LAST MOMENT. WE DID NOT DECIDE HOW TO MEET TOMORROW IN BRUSSELS AND KEEP COCA & LIVES. AT SIRU WE MAY LOSE BOTH!!” At 1:06: “We may do cool 1,000,000.”
Frampton explained to the judges that these messages were jokes. He’d made them up because of Dixon’s earlier warnings about drugs. “I was trying to keep Denise amused. I had already decided to fly back to North Carolina.” But even taking Frampton’s peculiar brand of humor into account, it was hard to understand why he would have taken the joke so far. He sent 30 messages like this, with specific details that made it seem as if he were referring to a real situation, a considered plan, not fabricating a story on the spot. Or did he think that whoever was behind the man who came to the hotel with the suitcase might hurt Milani if he didn’t agree to take the bag? While for much of his life Frampton seems to have had little interest in money, he may well have seen his actions as a strategy to prove to Milani once and for all that he was indeed the husband of her dreams — a knight slaying dragons.
The defense worked to show that far from hatching some elaborate plot, Frampton was unconcerned about the contents of the bag. Footage from airport security cameras showed him getting up from a cafe table and wandering off, leaving his open laptop and his two bags — his own white one and Milani’s black one — unattended for up to 25 minutes at a time, gazing in shop windows, talking to security personnel, standing at an airline counter, returning to his abandoned luggage and then, an hour or so later, repeating the operation. Would anyone, even a wacky scientist, behave this way if he knew he was transporting two kilos of cocaine?
And if Frampton’s behavior was innocent, it still called for an explanation. Who leaves his bags unattended in an airport? Frampton, apparently. “I’ve seen him in airports,” his ex-wife said, “He leaves all his bags and goes for half an hour somewhere else.”
The prosecution continued to press its case, producing a piece of paper on which Frampton had written:
“1 gram 200 dollars
2,000 grams 400,000 dollars.”
The amount of cocaine found in the bag Frampton was carrying was 1,980 grams. When asked why he’d been making this calculation, Frampton said: “My mind works in a strange way.” That evening, Frampton told me on the telephone, “I made those calculations in the airport office after having been arrested,” a fact that his defense team stressed the following day, noting Frampton’s tendency to make random calculations. They asked him to explain another notation on the same piece of paper that read “5 standard deviations 99.99994%.” “The criterion for the discovery of the Higgs boson had to be 5 standard deviations, which means it’s extremely unlikely to be a statistical fluctuation,” Frampton explained. He was “calculating the probability that Denise Milani would become my second wife, which was almost a certainty.” Pursuing this line of questioning, his lawyer asked whether Frampton was also calculating the weight of one of the judges.
“I’m embarrassed to admit it, but yes,” Frampton answered. “I calculated that he must weigh 100 kilos.”
“You calculated badly, as badly as you did about your second marriage,” the judge responded. “I’m 124 kilos.”
On the third and last day of the trial, the defense exhibited love letters Frampton had written to Denise Milani that they recovered from his Gmail account. They were full of tenderness, vividly imagining their life together in Chapel Hill. She wouldn’t need to work at first; she could accompany him to the office, make friends at the gym, the cafeteria and the supermarket; they’d take walks on the beach, and soon their little baby would arrive. Eventually she could get a contract with Victoria’s Secret. A response from Milani exhibited matching tenderness: “You’re the best thing that’s happened in my cursed life.” But the judges were apparently unmoved by these declarations of love. As Frampton’s former defense lawyer said, “The only thing that matters as far as the law is concerned is whether Frampton knew there were drugs in the bag. Whether he did it for money or a woman doesn’t matter.”
On Nov. 19, Frampton was sentenced to 4 years 8 months for drug smuggling.
After the trial, Frampton said his lawyers had forbidden him to speak to me, fearing that he might say something “stupid.” But three weeks later, this injunction was lifted, and I went to visit him again at the Czerniawskis’, where he remains under house arrest. With credit for the time he has already spent in custody, Frampton is expected to be released in May 2014. (Under Argentine law, a foreigner must serve half his sentence but can then be expelled from the country, and the penalty is then considered discharged.) It was a hot summer day, and he was dressed casually this time, in a light blue polo shirt, white shorts, black socks and black sneakers. He was still insisting on his innocence, but a new wariness had crept into his manner. He asked me several questions about myself, as if trying to gauge with each word which version of Paul Frampton I believed. He reported that U.N.C. would not make any decisions about his position on the faculty until it heard the results of his appeal, which could be months away. (U.N.C. confirmed that Frampton still has his position but that his current salary is $0.) His lawyers were using the same strategy they had previously, but introducing further evidence, like the complete record of his Yahoo Messenger chats with Milani, which he felt sure would exonerate him. “It shows unambiguously,” he said later, “that the only reason I went to South America was to meet Denise Milani.” For his part, Frampton had been working on two papers simultaneously. “So I can rest assured that I’m not like Oscar Wilde,” he said. While in Devoto, he checked out a copy of Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray,” destined for English-language learners, from the prison library. He read in the preface that after Wilde’s stay in prison, he gave up writing. “That really affected me. He lost his confidence.”
The night before, Frampton told me, he watched the Nobel Prize ceremony live in Stockholm. He described to me how the king of Sweden presented the prizes in a concert hall, adding that he had been there once himself. His greatest dream was “to have a prediction verified by experimentation.” This, he explained, was how you win the Nobel as a theoretical particle physicist. “That would bring an enormous sense of fulfillment, quite apart from the Nobel Prize,” he said. “ ‘I predicted a particle that’s actually in the universe.’ Wouldn’t that be a rush? Much better than other ways of getting a lot of dopamine.” Later in the conversation, he reflected: “I’ve written 450 papers, an absurd number. A typical professor writes 100 in his career. I don’t regret my work in physics, but I have made sacrifices.” When asked what kind of sacrifices, he responded as if the answer were obvious, “Well, I don’t have a family.”
One of Frampton’s last e-mails to Denise Milani was written on a pirated cellphone a month into his stay inside Devoto prison: “I only think of cuddling all day and having sex all night with Denise Milani. How can you prove that you are Denise Milani?”
Maxine Swann is the author of the novels ‘‘The Foreigners’’ and ‘‘Flower Children.’’
Editor: Sheila Glaser
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 8, 2013
An earlier version of this article misidentified the location of the Institute for Advanced Study, a theoretical research center. It is a private, independent academic institute located in Princeton, N.J. It is not part of Princeton University. The article also misstated part of the name of the federal agency for which Rusty Payne works as a spokesman. It is the Drug Enforcement Administration, not the Drug Enforcement Agency.”