Re: The incredible true-life (mis)adventures of the Hoaks sisters: Deception. Confusion. Theft. Betrayal. Foot surgery.
- From: indigoace@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Indigo Ace)
- Date: Fri, 11 May 2007 15:10:17 GMT
From the Chicago Tribune--
Part 2 of 2
The incredible true-life (mis)adventures of the Hoaks sisters
Can the sisters complete the con again?
Will their victims forgive them?
Part 1: Deception. Confusion. Theft. Betrayal. Foot surgery.
By Jason George
Tribune staff reporter
Published May 10, 2007, 12:36 PM CDT
GALENA, Kan. -- At first glance, this town hardly seems worth a scam
Poverty is widespread. Industry is absent. And the people -- well, few
Lead and zinc mining brought riches to Galena in the 1870s, but only
the miles of abandoned underground tunnels endure.
Over the years, sinkholes have claimed the lives of at least five
residents as the tunnels have collapsed. Just last August, the town's
last tavern sealed its doors when an 80-foot-deep void appeared next
With the mining industry largely gone, many who survive in this Kansas
corner find employment across the two nearby state lines, in Joplin,
Mo., or the Oklahoma casinos.
Galena, population 3,100 and dwindling, perseveres as the second
poorest city in the state's second poorest county.
"They are good, hard working people," said Galena's Police Chief Larry
Delmont, whose office overflows with maps approximating where the
abandoned mine shafts snake underneath the town -- including beneath
his own desk.
"They're pretty strong people."
They're also compassionate, cheerful givers, willing to help someone
in need, which means they fit the profile of folks the Hoaks sisters
have preyed upon during their 16-year journey of deception and crime.
Such widespread goodwill may even be the reason the androgynous twins
came to Galena in the first place, although no one knows for sure. In
many ways, Galena resembles the sisters' Downstate Illinois hometown
of Hoopeston: Both places radiated a small-town innocence until the
Hoaks sisters appeared.
Birdie Jo arrived in Galena in autumn 2003 and pretended to be a
downtrodden, male teenager in need of charity, as she had done in so
many other spots. Becky pretended to be the boy's "aunt." Since
leaving the Army National Guard in the early 1990s, the sisters had
used their small, stout frames to make the scam succeed in nearly
every region of the country.
Still, following a couple of years of relative quiet, Becky and Birdie
Jo must have found themselves at a crossroads. They were 33 years old.
Their past exploits and pictures popped up in news stories across the
Internet. Birdie Jo was even raising a son, after giving two other
children up for adoption.
Even for a moment, the question must have crossed their minds:
Can we still get away with this?
The Galena Assembly of God church sits on the eastern edge of town,
and its 400 or so members are known for their generosity, including
food drives and coat donations. Every Sunday, people crowd the
gymnasium-like sanctuary to praise God with their hands toward heaven.
It was in the church parking lot that Birdie Jo appeared in October
2003 as "Chris Gomes," saying she was a Joplin boy who had been
sleeping in the church van to avoid violent parents.
"We heard the stories that home life was bad, abusive stepdad," said
Associate Pastor Randy DePriest. "And he'd show up with a bandaged
arm, and we would basically say, 'Chris, what's wrong?'."
"Oh, I just fell down," Gomes would whisper in a high-pitched voice
that emanated from beneath a baseball cap.
"Some people came to me and said he sure looks older than 13, and I
said he has had a hard life," DePriest remembered. "He's weathered."
The larger church community did its part to embrace Gomes, providing
meals and clothes, new glasses and regular haircuts. They even
supplied transportation back and forth to his Joplin home when "Aunt
Becky" couldn't drive.
The boy became a regular at church and youth services, however he
wasn't attending school - a fact the church remedied by enrolling
Gomes in the Galena Middle School in January 2004.
Several fellow students, who are now in high school, remember Gomes
walking the hallways alone during his first days and using the boys
bathroom when few were around. The new student also ate lunch by
himself and seemed suspicious of overtures of friendship.
Finally, about two weeks after Gomes began school, the skeptics at the
church confronted him, believing it impossible that this boy was only
13 years old. Gomes broke down and admitted that, yes, he was older
than that. In fact he was 33.
And further - he was actually a she.
Chief Delmont said the town was more than simply embarrassed.
"It hurt a lot of people," he said.
The county attorney for Cherokee County criminally charged Birdie Jo
with making "false statements and writings" to enroll in the school
and for theft of services - all felonies. Sister Becky, who had
falsified records so her "nephew Chris" could enroll in school, was
charged with a felony count of making a false writing. Yet like so
many places before, Galena's Cherokee County authorities decided to
drop the charges just months later. In this case, a new county
attorney said his predecessor had pursued the case solely for campaign
publicity purposes and he saw no reason to extend the affair that had
made Galena a laughingstock.
Once again, the twins were free to relocate wherever they wanted, able
to roam far and wide.
But perhaps for the first time in their lives, someone asked them to
Church leaders encouraged the sisters to remain in Galena because they
believed forgiveness was the Christian thing to do, even if the
sisters' presence in Sunday services caused snickers around town and
led some members to quit in protest.
"The church went through a time there when it had a reputation -
'you're the church with those girls' - but the church continued to
love them," said Pastor Rich Graves.
The church family actually extended its charity to the twins in the
following months, as the sisters introduced the congregation to their
mother, their mother's boyfriend and Birdie Jo's young son.
When the family needed money for an electric bill, the church supplied
it. When the twins' mother nearly died of lung disease, church elders
surrounded her hospital bed with prayer. And as summer temperatures
pushed past 100 degrees, family members essentially moved into the
Assembly of God, spending their days roaming its long cool halls.
"The church is a very compassionate church," Graves said.
And then, after nearly three years of everyone's efforts and prayers,
it came to an abrupt end.
Last year, on the morning of Nov. 6, DePriest entered his office and
discovered that the church safe was missing, along with the pay stubs,
credit cards and $2,500 or so in cash believed to be inside of it. The
church staff called police and said they had a good idea who was
responsible: Becky had told church leaders that Birdie Jo planned on
stealing the safe in the near future, although the leaders had
dismissed the claim when she made it.
It seems that in the two years since the twins' true identities had
been revealed, the sisters had become known for disparaging each other
in attempts to gain favor with the senior church staff.
"They had a real need to find affirmation from different types of
leaders in their life," said Graves who, like others, had assumed
Becky was simply lying like so many times before.
According to the Galena police report, Birdie Jo broke into the church
at night and stole the safe by loading it on a wheelchair, then
rolling the safe out of the church and into Becky's waiting car. The
twins, police say, then transported the safe to their house, where
Birdie Jo smashed it open with a screwdriver and hammer.
Coincidently, police stopped the twins a few hours later for acting
suspicious at a truck stop north of Galena. However officers released
the sisters within minutes, seeing nothing illegal in their car. Only
after the twins' role in the burglary was alleged the next morning did
police return to the truck stop, hoping to find some evidence.
They recovered the safe in the truck stop trash bin. Police arrested
the twins later that week.
The Hoaks sisters deny any involvement in the crime, and have pleaded
not guilty to the felony charges of burglary, theft and criminal
damage to property. If convicted, both twins could face serious prison
sentences for the first time in their lives.
At a recent court appearance, Birdie Jo sat at the defense table next
to Eddie Battitori, her high-profile area attorney who has taken her
case pro bono. Dressed like her sister in a flannel jacket and hiking
boots, Birdie Jo actively took part in her defense, whispering legal
strategy to Battitori in between periods of picking dry skin off her
Becky sat in the row behind them, leaning in to listen. Behind her sat
pastors DePriest and Graves, and Graves' wife, who had all come to
testify about the theft of "God's money," as they call it. The scene
marked a reversal from church services - pastors in the back, sisters
in the front.
The court proceedings ended abruptly when Battitori filed a motion
alleging that Galena police violated Birdie Jo's Miranda rights the
evening she was arrested. That case and Becky's separate one continue
through the court system with no resolution in sight.
For now, the church is continuing on as well, although without the
safe and without the Hoaks sisters in the pews.
"The church kind of feels like this is the last straw," Graves said,
realizing this statement means church leaders are no longer turning
the other cheek. "We don't know what else to do."
"Some people don't feel safe with them. They don't trust them. They've
watched them over a two-, three-year span of time, which is a long
period of their life compared to how long they've been other places,"
"They closed the door on this church. The church didn't close the door
Graves and DePriest both said they still pray the sisters will claim
their salvation. But for now, the ministers have washed their hands of
helping that happen.
"I think if true repentance and reformation was to show, and [if] in
two years they have trained for an occupation and have become a member
of society, and they had a new life, I think people would let them
back in," DePriest said.
"They would rejoice that, 'Hey -- it worked,'" he said. "'God helped
you get better.'"
Birdie Jo shrugs at such suggestions, and denies the church's claim
that she and her sister have begged to return to Sunday services. She
said she's too busy raising her son, now 6, with her sister and mother
in Tulsa, two hours away.
"I'm going to be buying my son a home, and he's going to stay put,"
she said in a brief interview during a recent court recess. "I want
him to have the same school."
As for her salvation and getting to heaven, she said she's not too
"I'll get there some way," she said, as a grin spread on her face.
"Even if I have to con my way in."
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Anne, indigoace at goodsol period com
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