Uncovering Dying Daughter Hoax That Lured in Several Celebrities


"It is stage 4 neuroblastoma," she wrote by text message to Carmen Hope Thomas, a gospel singer. "The worst news we could have gotten. Ollie has his first chemo in 15 min. It will be a brutal on his little body. I am in the bathroom crying my eyes out. Are you there??"

My colleague, "Nightline" producer Sally Hawkins, was tremendously helpful following up on leads to come up with a growing list of victims, including the band Little Big Town, the American Idol contestant and Grammy winner Mandisa, and Kate Gosselin, the reality television star.

As various victims shared their emails with the hoaxer, patterns started to emerge. The cancer was often neuroblastoma. Jackson peppered her correspondence with certain favorite phrases like "angel wings." Jackson's introductory email to Christian recording artist Natalie Grant was almost identical to the email used to lure in Kimberly Williams-Paisley.

Read the Full Email Sent to Natalie Grant

Read the Full Email Sent to Kimberly Williams-Paisley

Jackson appeared to play multiple parts in phone calls. Sometimes she was the mother, and sometimes the daughter. Grant said that she noticed that something about the little girl's voice seemed off when she spoke to her over the phone.

"I actually was mad at myself for even having those thoughts because I thought, 'Natalie, how could you be thinking this?'" Grant said. "This is a little girl who's on her deathbed, taking her final breaths, how could you even be questioning this?"

Gosselin had even dedicated an episode of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" to a woman who had supposedly died of cancer. In the credits, it said, "In Loving Memory of Hope." My colleague Sally Hawkins reached Gosselin by email, and Sally was actually the person to tell her that her conversations with the real Hope Jackson, which had lasted for months, were based on lies.

"This is the first email in a LONG time that I read, and realized my jaw had actually dropped and my mouth was hanging open," Gosselin wrote back.

Other calls were far more difficult to make. There were the other people who got caught up in this hoax, the real families who had lost children only to have their tragedies and photos stolen by Jackson. The Skees family of Florida and the Thomas family of Ohio generously shared their stories with us and welcomed us into their homes so that we could learn about two of the real children in the photos, Ellie Skees and Christi Thomas.

Angela Thomas, Christi's mother, said her daughter was a luminous child who spread love and joy to total strangers.

"She just had an infectious smile where people would just fall in love with Christi," Thomas said.

She hopes that, despite the hoax, celebrities will continue to reach out to others.

"I hope they haven't had their hearts hardened ... so that they won't do those things that a sick child would certainly ask for or would want," Thomas said.

Sarah Skees was one of the first people I spoke to while researching this story, and I visited her home in November of last year. She spoke of her daughter, Ellie, a young girl with a great sense of humor who loved animals, Egypt, art and especially, other people.

"She was a positive little girl," Skees said. "She loved anybody who loved her back."

A year later, as new discoveries unfolded, Sarah Skees sounded moved to learn that her daughter's photos had ended up in the hands of Natalie Grant even by way of a hoax. Grant sings the song "Held," about a mother who loses a child, which Sarah listened to repeatedly while grieving.

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