AKRON, OH—Area resident Helen Crandall, 44, was arrested by Akron police Sunday, charged with conducting an elaborate "sex-for-security" scam in which she allegedly defrauded husband Russell Crandall out of nearly $230,000 in cash, food, clothing and housing over the past 19 years using periodic offers of sexual intercourse.

A 1993 photo of alleged "sex-for-security" scam artist Helen Crandall. Police suspect the groceries she is holding were paid for by her victim, husband David Crandall (right).

"It's the biggest scam of its kind I've ever seen," Akron police chief Thomas Agee said. "We're talking coats, dishwashers, jewelry, sewing machines, bathroom cleansers—you name it."

According to Agee, undercover agents spotted Crandall's husband handing her $50 in cash at approximately 4 p.m., just 30 minutes after the two had sex. Crandall then drove off in her car, returning home two hours later with five bags of groceries.

"That's when we made the arrest," Agee said. "After tracking her for years, we finally had proof that she was buying all those goods with dirty money."

During the arrest, Akron police officials entered the Crandall household and seized more than 150 items Mrs. Crandall had received from her husband over the last 19 years, including a four-speed adjustable food processor, 12 pairs of earrings, a matching sofa and loveseat, a box of two-ply kitchen garbage bags, and a portable radio.

In exchange for these items, Agee said, Crandall's husband received sex an estimated 950 times—most frequently in the master bedroom, but also in the downstairs den three times, and once on the floor of the sewing room.

In addition to physical evidence, Akron police have collected considerable eyewitness testimony. More than 250 Akron residents have come forward to report seeing Helen and Russell Crandall together, and several said they witnessed Mr. Crandall flagrantly purchasing items for his wife.

"Sure, they'd come in here," said Ray Greene of Greene's House and Home. "I think the last time they got one of those box fans with the three settings."

Perhaps the most damaging testimony has come from Mr. Crandall himself, who on Tuesday told police that while the couple was dating in 1977, Mrs. Crandall—then known as Helen Steuben—demanded that he buy her a ring worth over $1,000 before he could have sex with her. The first sexual liaison took place some six months later at Bob's Honeymooner Hotel during an all-expenses-paid trip to Niagara Falls.

It was also in 1977, Mr. Crandall said, that his wife quit her job at Shippee Shoes in downtown Akron.

"Clearly," Summit County prosecutor Andrew Dravecky said, "after quitting her job, the accused began receiving money under the table from some other source: How else could she have afforded to not work? It's now pretty apparent that at that point she began supporting herself by providing a certain service to Mr. Crandall."

Crandall's mother, Bernice Steuben, a resident of the Valley View Senior Home in Yuma, AZ, is being sought for questioning in connection to the case: Police suspect that Steuben may have introduced her daughter to the sex-for-security scam after having used it herself from 1932 to 1971.

But for all the evidence collected against Crandall, Dravecky said the case will likely be difficult to prosecute. "Helen was very careful to cover her tracks," he said. "She even got her husband to put her name on the bank accounts and credit cards."

The Crandall case is not an isolated incident, said criminologist John Ohlmeyer, who said there are "literally millions" of such cases across the U.S. each year that never come to court.

"This kind of thing isn't as uncommon as we'd all like to think," Ohlmeyer said. "A woman finds herself in a situation where she isn't employable. Or maybe she has interests like child-rearing, cooking and home-maintenance that keep her from getting a job. So what does she do? She cooks up a scheme to entrap a man using her body as the bait. It's frightening, but it happens every day in this country."