Earlier this week, two different readers contacted the magazine, each raising questions about the facts in a story that appears in Philadelphia magazine’s April issue, “The War Within.” The article—written by Anthony Gargano, the popular WIP radio host—tells the story of a former Marine sniper who claims to have killed scores of people during his tours of the Middle East and who now says he is haunted by what he did.
The allegations from readers were serious enough that we immediately removed the story from our website. Then, in a series of phone calls, email exchanges, and text messages, Gargano and I confronted the subject of the article, John P. Boudreau, who was also its main source. (He was identified in the story as “the Tree Pruner.”) In a series of conversations on Wednesday and Thursday, Boudreau, who claims a residence in Chester County, acknowledged that much of what he had told Gargano over the preceding several months—information he had also confirmed to Philadelphia magazine’s fact-checker—was either embellished or flat-out fabricated. While he continues to say he served in the Marines—a fact we are attempting to officially confirm with the Marine Corps—he acknowledged that he was never a sniper and that many of the incidents he described to Gargano never happened.
Some background: The article grew out of a friendly relationship that developed over the last year between Gargano and Boudreau. As they got to know each other, Boudreau began to share details of his supposed military experience with Gargano, as well as the guilt and regret he said he now felt over his actions. Late last summer, Gargano contacted me to see if the magazine was interested in running an intimate story about one man’s struggle with his past. After meeting with both men, I agreed that it was a compelling piece and assigned the story to Gargano.
Over the next couple of months, Gargano interviewed Boudreau several times and ultimately exchanged hundreds of text messages with him. In February, Gargano turned in a draft of the piece, and from there it went through our normal revision and editing process. The story was also fact-checked—though, given that the piece was largely told from Boudreau’s point of view, the vast majority of the fact-checking was done with Boudreau himself.
In retrospect, of course, there were red flags that all of us missed along the way, as well as a major failure on our part to use outside sources to verify the information we’d been given. While other publications have certainly been duped by sources over the years, that in no way lessens our responsibility or culpability in this case. In plain terms: We blew it.
Philly Mag has never shied away from controversial topics or edgy stories (witness the hubbub that ensued over our cover story last month about race in Philadelphia). But no matter what the story, we have always prided ourselves on trying to tell the truth—to the best we can discern it—in our pages. With this story, we failed in that mission.
For that, I offer my apologies to you, our readers, as well as to all military veterans who have served our country honorably and truthfully. We regret the mistakes we made with this story.
As for Boudreau, I will be forever baffled by what motivated his lies. At the same time I can only hope he seeks treatment for whatever real demons he has battled and clearly continues to battle. On Tuesday of this week, just hours before the lies he told us began to unravel, he sent yet another delusional text message to Anthony Gargano:
“I have been recalled to Korea next month. They need. Me to do what I do the best. If I don’t come back? I love ya Cuz. Goodbye….”