Indiana Daily Student

Theft suspect tells her tale of faking cancer

Sitting in jail, Walters says she is sorry for deception

Brookelyn Walters, 26, sits in a cold, white cement room in a fluorescent orange jumpsuit. Her thick brown hair is starting to grow back.\nShe sits in the Monroe County Jail on charges of theft by deception. She has been accused of falsely attesting to having cancer. The Bloomington Police Department arrested her Aug. 29 for stealing money from a fund-raising event for the Indiana Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.\nIt's been five months since this all started and her hair has grown back from her "cancer."\nWalters has a hazy story and a tainted past. And for the first time, she's sharing that story. \nShe said she is sorry for the lies and hopes she can find help. \n"It's been portrayed as a scam to get money, and it's not," Walters said in an exclusive interview with the Indiana Daily Student at the Monroe County Jail. "It's a need for love and acceptance. People hug you more when they think you are sick."\n

She made them believe

\nWalters met Erin Booher and Booher's husband, Mike, who own and run Rising Star Academy of Gymnastics and Tutoring in Bloomington. \nBooher hired Walters to work in her gym and became friends with Walters. Around the end of March, Walters told Booher she had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. Booher said she eventually allowed Walters to move into her home.\nBooher said she and Walters organized a fund-raising event that benefited the Indiana Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She said they gathered about $3,000 with about $1,000 of that in the form of cash donations. Booher said the money was not intended to help Walters, although she had been discussing helping Walters finance a bone marrow transplant.\nBooher said the cash donations were kept in an envelope Walters was managing. One day, she noticed all of the large bills in the envelope had been replaced with \n$1 bills.\n"I let Brooke handle most of the fund-raising," Booher said. "At first I felt hurt and violated. Now I am angry. She's a thief. We don't feel sorry for her."\nWalters claimed she did not take any of the money.\n"She comes off so kind and warm," Booher said. "She's not."\nWalters showed up to work one day with no hair on her head or arms and no eyelashes or eyebrows. She claimed it happened overnight because of chemotherapy. Booher said Walters told her 5-year-old daughter that her hair was growing back because she was praying for her.\nBooher said she or her husband stayed up every night with Walters for a month while Walters was appearing to have seizures. She said she stopped going to her gym to stay home and care for Walters. When Walters needed to go to various hospitals in Indianapolis, Booher made sure she had a way to get there, but Walters never allowed Booher to accompany her to see a doctor.\n"She was doing everything she could to wrap me around her story," she said.\nBooher said Walters took many different medications that were kept in various re-sealable plastic bags. She said there were printed forms, which appeared to be prescriptions, with the medicine. Walters also injected herself with both clear and orange liquids.\n"One time, after Brooke had a seizure, I called 911. There were nine EMTs in my living room attending to her, and they all believed her," Booher said. "One of the EMTs pulled us aside and said that this was very serious and we needed to find a way to get Brooke to the hospital since she was refusing their service."\n

A troubled past

\nThis was not the first time Walters falsely claimed to have cancer.\nPeople close to Walters in Bloomington were also surprised to find that Walters had been convicted of two counts of felony theft while attending Ball State University.\nBPD Sgt. Barbara Beland, who arrested Walters, said Walters was involved in similar incidents at four other schools in northern Indiana.\nWalters said when she was 4 years old her father abandoned her and her mother and brother.\n"I interpreted my father's departure as a signal that I had done something wrong," Walters said. "I remember vowing at age 4 to be the perfect child so I would never lose a \nparent again."\nWhen Walters was 12 years old, she found out that her biological father committed suicide. She said she began telling people she had diabetes about one week after her father's death. Walters said she began giving herself insulin shots at age 12. At age 14, she started saying she had leukemia.\n"I was dealing with everything well on the outside, but on the inside, I was trapped in an emotional prison with nowhere to turn," Walter said. "If drugs or alcohol had been available, I would have turned to that. I sometimes wish I would have because society is accepting of drugs and alcohol."\nWalters was involved with 4-H Club, student council, cheerleading and gymnastics in \nhigh school. \n"I was voted 'Most Likely to Succeed,'" Walters said.\nWalters said she has tried to commit suicide several times. She said being arrested in Bloomington this August saved her life.\n"I was standing with a cup of antifreeze and was ready to drink it," Walters said. "I asked God to give me a sign if I wasn't suppose to die. That was when the police knocked on my door."\nWalters is being held at the Monroe County Jail on a $50,000 surety bond. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Oct. 18, according to the Monroe County Clerk's Office.\n

Something was wrong

\nThe Boohers had started to become suspicious of Walters. She asked for access to the money and her seizures always stopped when the Boohers called for help, according to police reports. They were also concerned when Walters told them her heart stopped and she had to be resuscitated but left the hospital without discharge papers or treatment \ninstructions.\nBooher, after growing extremely concerned about Walters, spoke to a doctor, who said Walters told him she was from France, had cancer two years ago, was in remission and was being seen that day for a \nnosebleed.\nBooher said she believes Walters was setting her up to take $10,000 from her, which Walters claimed she would need for a bone marrow transplant. \n"I told her I didn't have the money, but she could say the word and I would find it," Booher said. "I would have given her that money in a heartbeat. I think I would have never seen her again."\nBooher asked her husband to see what he could find out about Walters. \nBooher's suspicion was confirmed when her husband found articles online about Walters from 2003 when she claimed to have cancer while attending BSU.\n"I was so shocked," Booher said. "I couldn't believe anyone would do this."\nThe Boohers found out Walters was arrested on a felony charge of theft and forgery in Delaware County, Ind.\nThe office of Disabled Student Development at BSU said it provided Walters with a deaf interpreter after she supplied it with the necessary paperwork. The office provided Walters with the interpreter, but had a gut instinct something was wrong and asked for additional documentation. When Walters provided their office with more documents, which turned out to be forged, Disabled Student Development turned the documents over to the dean's office.\nBSU was the first party Walters paid back after she pled guilty but mentally ill to two counts of felony theft. The other count of theft was in regards to funds Walters received from a fund-raiser organized by a sorority and fraternity at BSU.\n"I'm so mad a person could jump into our life like she did and cause it to be put on hold for a hoax, for a fake. What a selfish person," Booher said.\nWalters said she learned that she should not take money from people from the incident at BSU.\n"They just put the money in my account. I shouldn't have accepted it," Walters said.\n

Brookelyn's recovery

\nWalters said she was completing her last semester of student teaching at BSU before she was \nexposed.\n"I wanted to teach deaf elementary children. I am now $25,000 in debt for an education I'll not be able to use," Walters said.\nWalters said she has believed herself to be sick with cancer for 12 years and is having trouble stopping those feelings.\n"Often my mind believes so deeply that I am ill with cancer that my body even begins to exhibit some physical symptoms, such as being pale, hair loss, vomiting, weight loss and bloody noses," Walters said. "I am not getting any therapy in jail. It scares me. I feel myself slipping away." \nIU Associate Professor of Psychology Edward Hirt is researching self-handicapping.\n"There are a lot of reasons people perceive themselves to be sick. You get a lot of attention when you're sick," he said. "If a person has a preconceived notion he is sick, he can usually find something to be wrong with him."\nBut Walters said she has hope for the future.\n"My heart is with deaf kids," she said. "I would like to minister to deaf kids. Obviously, I'll have to get my own problems worked out first."\nHer first step is apologizing. \n"I want to say I'm sorry to the people I've told I have cancer," Walters said. "It's a problem I'm working on. I want to get better"

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