Once the Metropolitan Museum of Art discovered the King Tut ticket scam in 1979, museum officials easily detected the fakes. That's because a careless counterfeiter misspelled the name of the Egyptian pharaoh.
The traveling King Tut exhibit drew more than 8 million people in the United States to see relics from the pharaoh’s tomb.
One of the first blockbuster museum shows ever, it featured funerary items such as a gold coffin, death mask, thrones, wine, clothing and fresh linen underwear.
Tickets to The Treasures of Tutankhamun were hard to get. The Metropolitan Museum of Art sold 1.3 million tickets in six days. After that, the only way to get them was from Ticketron or scalpers.
The King Tut Ticket Scam
On April 7, 1979, a busload of museumgoers from central Connecticut were turned away from the show. They held counterfeit tickets.
Joanne Perloff had organized the tour for the Dattco Bus company of New Britain. She went to the museum to see what went wrong. She seemed stunned, but would have no comment for the press.
Then the museum turned away more museumgoers. The counterfeit Connecticut tickets were easy to spot because they spelled Tutankhamun with ‘an’ at the end of this name instead of ‘un.’
Police soon learned blank tickets had been stolen from the G. Fox department store in downtown Hartford.
On the morning of Tuesday, April 10, a 38-year-old woman from West Hartford led police on a high-speed chase along 18 miles of I-684 in Harrison, N.Y. She was going as fast as 96 mph.
It was Joanne Perloff.
Joanne Perloff had taught in various school systems before she went to work for the Dattco Bus Company, and she had two children. She had grown up in New Britain, graduated from Emerson College and earned a master's degree in Education from Central Connecticut State University.
Why did the 38-year-old mother and former teacher turn to counterfeiting? Perhaps she just needed the money.
Police found 2,700 tickets in her car. Some of them were real. Perloff had been speeding to beat a Dattco bus full of people headed to the King Tut exhibit – presumably to distribute the real tickets before the counterfeits were spotted.
She was charged with possession of forged instruments, possession of stolen property, resisting arrest and motor vehicle violations.
On Friday, the Hartford Courant broke the story of the King Tut ticket scam. Hundreds of Connecticut residents couldn't get into the exhibit because they had phony tickets.
Dattco Bus canceled the rest of the trips to the exhibit.
Joanne Perloff died in 2017 at the age of 77. Her obituary makes no mention of her criminal past.
Photo of King Tut’s death mask By Carsten Frenzl from Obernburg, Derutschland - TUT-Ausstellung_FFM_2012_47, CC BY 2.0 via Wikipedia. With thanks to On This Day in Connecticut History by Greg Mangan. This story about the King Tut ticket scam was updated in 2019.