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August 2, 2004

Ex-BSU student accused of more false illness claims

From: Muncie Star Press, IN - Aug 2, 2004


MUNCIE - A former Ball State University student charged with perpetrating a scam in which she faked cancer has tried faking an illness yet again.

Brookelyn Walters, 25, originally from Culver, was charged last year with two counts of theft and three counts of forgery for allegedly convincing friends, family and professors at the university that she was deaf and had cancer. A fraternity and sorority had a fund-raiser for Walters and collected money for her treatments.

Walters was supposed to go to trial this month. However, she was admitted to a mental hospital last week after authorities learned she had told people on two separate occasions that she was ill again. This time she claimed that she had severe diabetes and cancer, authorities said.

In a hearing Monday in Delaware Circuit Court 1, another trial date, Nov. 15, was set for Walters.

After the hearing, Walters's attorney, Jay Hirschauer, said his client is suffering from a mental illness and "can't control herself."

In the most recent accounts of Walters faking illness, Hirschauer said his client did not try to solicit money from anyone, and she had told her therapist what she had done.

"No one paid her money, and she didn't forge any documents," he said. "This is a problem she's had since she was 12 years old. It's a recurring one which she doesn't have any control over."

Walters first lied about having cancer when she was a preteen. While a student at Ball State University, her scam led her to allegedly shave her head, forge letters from doctors and start a Web site dedicated to her fight against the illness. She also was granted an interpreter from Ball State after she claimed to be deaf, and a fraternity and sorority held a hog roast for her that raised $1,000 for a bone marrow transplant she said she needed.

Some of Walters's female friends, who believed she had cancer, shaved their heads in support of her.

Hirschauer said Walters has told some people that she truly believes she is sick and does not realize the damage she has done by lying about her illnesses.

"She actually becomes ill to the point she is bleeding from her eyes," he said. "She loses weight and exhibits all of the manifestations of an illness.

"It has nothing to do with a desire for people to give her money. It is far deeper than that."

Hirschauer referred to Walters's condition as conversion disorder, one in which a person loses or alters a physical function as the result of a psychological need rather than an actual disease.

"It's a psychiatric illness where she becomes ill and takes on the characteristics of having cancer, diabetes or deafness," he said.

Hirschauer said people have reported seeing Walters go into convulsions and drop more than 40 pounds in a few months.

Hirschauer has filed a notice with the court that if his client goes to trial, she will plead not guilty by mental illness.

He said his client has been seeking help since she was charged.

Delaware County Deputy Prosecutor J.A. Cummins said he had been informed that Walters recently lied again about being ill in two other Indiana counties. He said he didn't suspect that any money changed hands in those cases or that additional charges would be filed.

Contact news reporter T.J. Wilham at 213-5832.

Copyright 2004 The Star Press.