Enjoying a second childhood and gender

Thursday, February 17, 2005

COLUMBUS, Kan. -- A southeast Kansas prosecutor has filed a motion to dismiss felony charges against twin 34-year-old women, one of whom was accused of posing as a 13-year-old boy and trying to enroll in Galena Middle School a year ago.

Birdie Jo Hoaks is charged with two felony counts of making false information and one felony charge of theft of services.

School officials said Birdie Jo Hoaks, posing as a 13-year-old boy named Chris Gomes, met with a special-education teacher for about three hours a day for four days in January 2004. Superintendent Ray Dykens said the woman never was allowed to attend classes with other students and eventually stopped showing up at the school.

Becky Jo Hoaks was accused of helping her sister with the hoax. She faced two felony charges of aiding and abetting making false information and one felony count of theft of services. The sisters now live together in Joplin, Mo.

Cherokee County prosecutor Michael Goodrich, who accused former prosecutor JoAnna Derfelt last year of using the case to gain national publicity, said he didn't think a jury would convict the two women.

Goodrich, who beat Derfelt in the primary election last year, said prosecuting the case would be a waste of the court's time and taxpayer money.

Jim Jones, pastor of the Galena Assembly of God church, said last year the person he now knows as Birdie Jo Hoaks showed up at his church in October 2003 and claimed to be a teenage boy who was a victim of child abuse.

Jones said Birdie Jo Hoaks, who is about 5 feet tall and 140 pounds, was very convincing in portraying a boy who claimed to have been sleeping in a bus belonging to his church.

He said he urged the woman to enroll in the Galena School District. Jones has said a series of inconsistencies led him to confront the woman, who revealed her true identity.

Galena Middle School principal Danny Albright said he agrees with Goodrich's decision to have the charges dismissed, but he still thinks the women's actions were serious.

"It was a major thing," Albright said. "We spent some time trying to educate a person we thought needed educating. We got tricked. We were deceived."

A woman who went by the name Birdie Jo Hoaks also attracted attention in Salt Lake City in 1995 when she called Utah social services officials and told them she had been left at a bus stop by her stepmother and father.

The story triggered an outpouring of sympathy, and two trust accounts were set up. But after the story was revealed as a hoax, the money was refunded.

Reports of similar hoaxes by a Birdie Jo Hoaks came from several other states, including Montana, Vermont, Alaska, California, Texas, Idaho, New York, New Jersey, Maine, South Dakota, West Virginia, Arizona and Wisconsin.

The Joplin, Mo., Globe found court records showing Birdie Jo Hoaks has at least 12 convictions in seven states, including in the Salt Lake City case.

A judge still must approve the motions to dismiss the Cherokee County charges, but Goodrich said that would be a formality and should occur within the next week.

The sisters also face felony stealing charges in Jasper County, Mo., alleging they stole credit cards from a woman's purse while it was on a hall bench at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

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