By Roger McKinney
COLUMBUS, Kan. — Twin sisters Birdie Jo Hoaks and Becky Jo Hoaks apparently have bobbed outside the reach of the long arm of the legal system in Cherokee County.
Birdie Hoaks’ record includes 12 convictions in seven states.
When the FBI was investigating then-Cherokee County Attorney Michael Goodrich in 2007, two of the cases assigned to a special prosecutor were those of the Hoaks sisters.
Then, nothing happened. The sisters left the area.
Now, charges against the sisters have been dismissed because there has been no activity in the cases, and the 37-year-old women are long gone.
The sisters were charged with felony burglary, felony theft and felony property damage, alleging that on Nov. 6, 2006, they broke into the Galena Assembly of God and stole a safe containing $2,400 from an associate pastor’s office.
Then-assistant Cherokee County Attorney Garth Adams was prosecuting the cases at the time. Stephen Angermayer was appointed special prosecutor in both cases on July 26, 2007, because the FBI was investigating Goodrich, though that was not revealed as the reason at the time.
“It breaks my heart,” Adams said at the time about turning over the case.
Candace Gayoso, who became assistant county attorney in December 2007, was appointed special prosecutor in the Birdie Hoaks case on Oct. 11, 2007. Cherokee County Attorney John Bullard took office on Dec. 1, 2007, after Goodrich’s resignation. Bullard did not keep Adams on his staff.
Yet there was no further activity in either case until Jan. 9, when Bullard filed motions to dismiss the charges against both sisters, and Magistrate Judge Bill Lyerla signed an order dismissing the charges.
In his motions, Bullard listed four reasons for dismissing the charges:
Considerable time has passed since the charges were filed, and witnesses have moved away.
The sisters have moved from the area with no known intentions to return.
The costs of prosecution to the taxpayers of Cherokee County wouldn’t justify further prosecution.
The victim is not seeking to pursue the case.
Bullard was asked why the cases were allowed to languish.
“It had languished before I ever took office,” Bullard said. “It was very stale when I took over. It was another one put away and forgotten.”
He said the church no longer wanted to pursue the case. He said the Hoaks sisters aren’t expected to return.
“Nobody knew who was prosecuting the case,” Bullard said in describing the situation when he took office.
Richard Graves, pastor of Galena Assembly of God, said the complications involving Goodrich made prosecution difficult.
“It just seemed prudent for us to move on,” Graves said.
Graves said he didn’t expect the sisters to return to the area, but that no one should try to predict what they might do.
Attorney Eddie Battitori, who represented Birdie Hoaks in the case, said his client may have benefited some from being lost in the shuffle among Goodrich, special prosecutors and Bullard.
“It certainly didn’t hurt her situation,” Battitori said. “The main thing is the victims decided they didn’t want to pursue it. That’s more of it than anything.”
Battitori said he has remained in contact with Birdie Hoaks, but that he wasn’t at liberty to reveal where she or her sister are now.
“She checks in weekly,” Battitori said of his client.
Becky Hoaks’ attorney, Doug Steele, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
The sisters have been active in the area over the past few years.
They were charged in 2004 in Cherokee County with felony theft of services. The charges alleged that the sisters plotted to enroll Birdie Hoaks at Galena Middle School, where she was posing as a 13-year-old boy named Chris Gomes. Jim Jones, who at the time was pastor of Galena Assembly of God, said Birdie Hoaks had convinced him that she was an abused 13-year-old boy and that Becky Hoaks was his guardian. The charges were filed by County Attorney JoAnna Derfelt and were dismissed by Goodrich soon after he took office in 2005.
Dean Dankelson, prosecutor in Jasper County, Mo., also previously dismissed a felony charge of credit-card theft he had filed against Becky Hoaks. The charge alleged that Becky Hoaks on Nov. 18, 2005, stole a wallet containing credit cards from a purse belonging to Angela Hartman that had been placed on a bench at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. Authorities alleged that Becky Hoaks was caught on video using the credit card at an automated teller machine at a convenience store.
Before that, the sisters were in other parts of the country. In 1995, Birdie Hoaks was sentenced to probation in Salt Lake City, Utah. She had shown up shortly before Christmas in 1994, claiming to be an abused and abandoned 13-year-old boy. The story prompted an outpouring of donations from the community.
The Chicago Tribune in 2007 featured a two-part series on the Hoaks sisters by reporter Jason George, headlined “The incredible true-life (mis)adventures of the Hoaks sisters.” It explained how they swindled everything from cash to foot surgery from people and agencies around the country. The foot surgery was provided to Birdie Hoaks in Topeka.
Bullard said he hopes the Hoaks sisters don’t appear in the news for some new crime elsewhere, but that he wouldn’t be surprised if that happens.
Battitori, asked the same question, said he had no comment.
Former Cherokee County Attorney Michael Goodrich has been sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison after being found guilty of extortion, unrelated to the Hoaks cases. He was convicted of receiving cash and other favors at Sensations Gentleman’s Club in rural Galena in return for giving favorable legal treatment to the strip club’s employees as county attorney.
He has not yet started serving his sentence, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
By Roger McKinney
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