It’s bad enough that Abreail “Abby” Winkler convinced members of her community that her 4-year-old daughter was battling leukemia in order to collect some easy money. But one of the victims of the ruse was the little girl, who thought she was going to die. This converts a crime to a sin.
According to the Deseret News, Winkler had everyone fooled up until two weeks ago, when police in Vernal, Utah, got wind of her confidence game. Detective Shaun Smith said Wednesday:
We contacted the Division of Child and Family Services. They were able to provide us with medical records and such, and nothing suggests that cancer was ever an issue.
Winkler, 30, had been arrested the day before, wrapping up a month-long investigation into claims that she had falsely represented that the child was undergoing treatment for cancer in order to receive donations from individuals and groups. Police believe Winkler accepted around $5,000 in donations. Said Smith:
Some of the victims that have come forward have had children with cancer, and those individuals are obviously the most impacted.
We interviewed the child, and up until a couple days prior to us interviewing her, she still at that point believed that she had cancer. At this point, she knows that she does not and appears to be coping with it well.
Authorities do no suspect at this point that Winkler did anything to make her daughter appear sick, although several community members told reporters that the child appeared to be very ill at times and was even losing clumps of hair. “Nothing that we could find in the medical records … suggests anything foreign that would cause those kind of symptoms,” Smith said.
However, there is evidence that this is not the first time Winkler claimed one of her children had been treated for cancer. During a “Be the Match” drive to raise awareness about the need for bone marrow donors, Winkler’s 11-year-old daughter was the event’s poster child. Organizers told prospective donors that a transplant that saved the girl’s life. On that occasion, too, said Smith, there was “nothing to substantiate” the child’s purported illness.
Winkler, who was booked on Tuesday, faces arraignment on charges of communication fraud. Community members, and especially those whose lives have been touched by cancer, are reported to have reacted to news of the alleged deception with outrage and disbelief. One of them, Jaime Toftum, is undergoing treatment for leukemia and thyroid cancer, said she never imagined it might be a hoax. Toftum, director of the Utah chapter of LEGOs for Leukemia, said, “This just blows my mind. I cannot even fathom being so desperate to lie about two children having leukemia.”
MaryAnn Spainhower, whose 15-year-old son has been in treatment for a cancerous brain tumor for the past four years, was more introspective about the deception:
I’m not really mad. I’m kind of baffled, surprised someone would do something like this. Anyone that’s sat in a hospital or watched a child go through this would never want their worst enemy to endure it, so to fake it is surprising.