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Posted on Mon, Mar. 29, 2004
Inmate says she faked child’s leukemia to keep husband from leaving
MARYSVILLE – A woman imprisoned for faking her daughter’s leukemia to gain thousands of dollars in donations said she concocted the scheme to keep her husband from leaving.
Teresa Milbrandt told The Columbus Dispatch that she regrets what she did, which included shaving her daughter Hannah’s head to mimic chemotherapy side effects.
“Last week, I said to someone, `I wonder if I could pay the doctor and have him give me a lethal injection,’ ” she told the newspaper in an interview at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. “I can’t take you to where I’m at. There’s no way. I can’t hardly live in my own skin.”
Milbrandt was sentenced to 6 ? years in prison after pleading guilty last August to felony charges of endangering children, grand theft and theft.
Authorities said Milbrandt and her husband fooled 65 people and businesses in their hometown of Urbana into donating an estimated $31,000 for Hannah’s treatment.
Robert Milbrandt was sentenced to four years and 11 months. He has said his wife handled all doctor visits and medical bills and that he believed her when she said their daughter had cancer.
Teresa Milbrandt said the ruse began in early 2002 during intense arguments between her and her husband. She said she doesn’t recall what prompted the arguments but feared her husband would leave.
“I knew how much he cared about Hannah and if she’s sick, I thought, he’s not going to leave us. I just said she had cancer and next thing I know, people were giving me money,” she said.
Milbrandt began feeding her daughter over-the-counter herbs and vitamin pills daily, saying they were cancer treatments. She also said she gave Hannah sleeping pills on several occasions.
“She needed to think that I took her to the doctor,” Milbrandt said. “So I knew if she was asleep, I could tell her that we went.”
Milbrandt shaved Hannah’s hair and bandaged her to make it appear she was receiving chemotherapy, made her wear a protective mask and put her in counseling.
Milbrandt said Hannah would ask if she was going to die.
“I’d always tell her, `No.’ But she knows about cancer. She knows that people die with it, and I’m sure that was on her mind very heavy.”
Milbrandt decided to talk to the newspaper as her family pleads for her release, writing in a letter last week to Champaign County Prosecutor Nick Selvaggio that she belongs at home or in counseling.
Milbrandt’s mother, Mary Russell, was cleared by a jury of any involvement in the scheme. She told Selvaggio in the letter that her daughter’s “cancer hoax occurred shortly after she started taking medication” for depression.
Selvaggio says the scheme was simply a case of greed.
“Hannah was a vehicle for her to get what she wanted, an object to be used for Teresa Milbrandt’s own personal gain, nothing more,” he said.
Hannah Milbrandt, now 8, has been placed in a foster home and is doing well, said James R. Smith, director of the Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services.
She’s in the program for talented and gifted students at her elementary school and loves to get her hair done.
“Considering the pictures that circulated of her before, I imagine getting her hair done is a very big deal,” Smith said.
The agency is about to complete a plan that will allow Hannah to be placed in the permanent custody of relatives who live outside the area, he said. Urbana is about 40 miles west of Columbus.
Teresa Milbrandt, who was ordered to pay restitution for the donations, said she used the money to take care of her family.
“I spent that money on my daughters,” she said. “I bought them anything they wanted. We shopped, we ate out. Hannah’s room was immaculate. She had everything. That’s how I thought you got love — you bought it.”