BY PAIGE AKIN, TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Thursday, November 10, 2005
RELATED: Police Beat
Suzannah Bay Dirickson went to great lengths to convince her best friend she was dying of cancer.
She cut clumps of her own hair with a razor after showering so Christel Seidlitz would think the chemotherapy drugs were making it fall out.
She asked Seidlitz to pound on her back to relieve congestion in her only lung. Seidlitz took her to Disney World and Virginia Beach because Dirickson “wanted to see the beach one more time before she died.”
Seidlitz even accompanied her friend to a funeral home to pick out her casket, mausoleum and guest book.
Dirickson lived to see 2005, but Seidlitz thought the end was near.
Then, three years after the women met, Seidlitz learned her friend wasn’t dying. In fact, Dirickson wasn’t even sick, except for a mild case of asthma.
“I have been completely betrayed by someone that I loved so much,” Seidlitz said. “Her lies have ruined our family.”
But Seidlitz wasn’t Dirickson’s only victim. Dozens of victims, mostly police officers and their wives, packed into Henrico County Circuit Court yesterday to make sure she paid for ripping them off.
Dirickson, 30, a former Henrico police receptionist, was sentenced to serve two years in prison and to repay the people who gave her money because they thought she was dying of cancer. In September, she pleaded guilty to four counts of obtaining money by false pre- tenses.
Circuit Judge Burnett Miller III said Dirickson’s behavior was one of the worst examples of betrayal he’s seen in his 18 years on the bench.
“Of the injuries that people can do to each other, betrayal is the worst,” he said.
He also ordered her to repay the $14,420 she stole, mostly from police officers, and undergo mental-health treatment.
Dirickson read a brief statement yesterday, saying she has turned her life over to God.
“The Lord has done incredible work in my life in a short amount of time,” she said.
Dirickson’s attorney, Keith Hurley, said her crime was “a financial and an emotional crime” and that Dirickson is sorry. He requested that she be sentenced to only community service, possibly in a hospice for cancer patients. The judge denied that request.
For five years, Dirickson lied to co-workers, telling them she was soon going to die of cancer of the bone, leg, brain and throat, police said. They held fundraisers and collected donations to help her pay for medications and the chemotherapy she said she needed.
The most compelling testimony came from Seidlitz, who allowed Dirickson to live with her and her police-officer husband, Steve, for more than two years. During that time, Seidlitz paid for Dirickson’s medications and doctor visits and gave her friend around-the-clock nursing care.
Even while Seidlitz was dealing with her own difficult pregnancy last year, she continued to look after Dirickson, wrapping her limbs and rubbing her back to relieve blood clots.
Earlier this year, Dirickson fell in the middle of the night and called Seidlitz to help her. When the two women went to Dirickson’s doctor the next day, Seidlitz asked whether her brain tumor had caused the fall.
“He said, ‘What brain tumor?’ He had no idea what I was talking about,” she recalled.
She and her husband notified the police that Dirickson might have been faking her illness. When authorities looked at Dirickson’s medical records, they found Dirickson had no cancer at all. And the medication that she claimed was chemotherapy was actually Wellbutrin, a prescription antidepressant.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Maggie Deglau pointed to the Henrico police officers in the courtroom and said Dirickson’s crime could not go unpunished. Law-enforcement officers step up to help their own in times of need, she said, and that’s what they thought they were doing in Dirickson’s case.
“These people go out every day and risk their lives for every single dollar they earn,” Deglau said, “and she took it.”