Being the third installment of the continuing saga of Lisa Hackney, a.k.a. Melanie Mills, a.k.a. Lisa Mills, a.k.a. Lisa Thomas, a.k.a. Elisabeth V. Thomas, a.k.a. Elisabeth von Hullessem, a.k.a. Roswitha von Hullessem, a.k.a Roswitha Thomas, a.k.a. Roswitha von Meerscheidt, a.k.a. Roswitha Mills, a.k.a. Hullessem von Meerscheidt, a.k.a. a number of others that I don’t know. For those who need a refresher course, Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.
Megan MacBeth is notified that her mother has died in Germany. Months later she goes to the airport to pick up her mother’s boyfriend who, she assumes, is bringing back her mother’s personal possessions and there’s her mother, alive. Later that same evening her mother tries to kill her and by accident, she runs over her mother with her car, which saves Megan’s life. Her mother survives and accuses Megan of trying to kill her. Eventually, charges against Megan are dropped.
So begins the synopsis for “Elisabeth von Hull’s” thriller Sins of the Mother, a spinetingling novel of greed, murder, money, sex, and betrayal. According to Ms. “von Hull’s” query letter, “This novel is based on actual events that occurred in my life and have been fictionalized.” (Um…yeah. Really, really fictionalized.) Despite the not exactly scintillating writing skills demonstrated in these documents, Ms. “von Hull” did manage get her novel published, under a different title, Sins, and a different name, L. R. Thomas. The publisher is–wait for it–PublishAmerica!
Can you say “irony”?
(How I got hold of the query and synopsis is another howler. Apparently, when she was still Melanie Mills, Hackney was giving it to agency clients as a template for their own queries and synopses. [Note to writers: if an agent wants to use your query letter, run fast in the opposite direction.] When the Banff story broke, a former client noticed the eerie similarities, and sent me the documents.)
Hackney departed Banff in late November 2003. Almost at once she popped up again…on eBay. As Elisabeth von Hullessem, she posted an auction entitled “Fugitive Von Hullessem/Hackney/Mills,” described as “an invitation to a 1 hour lunch with the author, the first week of May 2004 in beautiful Victoria BC. Background check of buyer will be required.” Also included was an autographed copy of Sins, a signed photograph, and an excerpt from her “humorous” autobiography Damsel in Distress. The opening bid was set at $10,000. When eBay yanked the listing a day after it was posted, there were no bidders (imagine that).
Hackney now seemed to vanish completely. Writer Beware knew that the Arkansas sheriff’s office was seeking extradition, but we weren’t all that hopeful that anything would come of it.
Then, in mid-March, I got an e-mail from someone claiming to be a realtor in Victoria, B.C. He wanted to know if I had any information on Melanie Mills other than what was posted on the Writer Alerts page of Writer Beware. I told him I didn’t, and asked if he had news of her. He didn’t respond.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this; I half-thought it might be Hackney herself, checking up on Writer Beware’s info (this happens more often than you might think–scammers emailing us under fake names to find out what we know. Usually we can spot these contacts, but not always).
But it wasn’t. About a week later, I was contacted by a Canadian reporter for comment on Lisa Hackney’s March 23 arrest in Victoria, BC, on a Canada-wide warrant of extradition. There wasn’t much I could say but “Huh?”, because I hadn’t known she’d been arrested again. Turns out that she’d shown up in Victoria in early March, claiming to be best-selling author “Melanie Mills”, in town to purchase a multi-million-dollar estate. The realtors she contacted agreed to work with her, but something about her story didn’t seem quite right. When they did an Internet search, what should they find but the Writer Beware website, with all of Hackney’s aliases and shady dealings laid out for everyone to see. They tipped off the police, who promptly tracked her down and arrested her.
(You really have to wonder about someone who gets into so much hot water under an alias that she’s forced to abandon that identity–by faking her own death, no less–but then, less than a year later, starts using the alias again. Hackney knew about the Writer Beware alert. She knew about the long thread at the Absolute Write Water Cooler full of messages from angry former clients of her literary agency. It’s not like she hadn’t changed her name before. Could she really not come up with a new one?)
Hackney was jailed. While in custody, she made an apparent suicide attempt by covering her face with cellophane, and ripped her clothes to shreds. At her arraignment in B.C. Supreme Court on March 30, she appeared in a “bunny suit,” the white overalls usually reserved for dangerous prisoners. She claimed not to know who or where she was. A brief psychiatric assessment was ordered, but the psychiatric nurse who performed it couldn’t determine whether or not the amnesia was an act. On April 1, the judge ordered a full psychiatric evaluation. The evaluation determined that Hackney’s amnesia wasn’t for real (gee). On April 23, the way was cleared for her extradition hearing.
It was all over but the crying. On January 7, 2005, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that Hackney should be extradited to Arkansas to stand trial on the assault, battery, and theft charges she fled in 1999. The order was signed by the federal Justice Minister in August. Hackney immediately filed for judicial review of her case. However, she lost her fight this December. She was returned to Arkansas and the custody of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, and, as I noted in Part 1, booked on her original failure to appear. On January 6 she pleaded innocent (!). Her trial has been set for January 20. She’s being held in lieu of $75,000 bond.
In a strategic consolidation of her multiple aliases, she’s now calling herself Roswitha Elisabeth Melanie Mills.
What’s next for our wacky scammer? Another cellophane-assisted suicide attempt? A new wardrobe of bunny suits? Alien abduction? Perhaps that’s why she jumped bail in 1999.
If nothing else, Hackney can take comfort in the fact that her roman à clef, Sins, is still for sale. Here’s the listing at Barnes&Noble.com. Note the enthusiastic review by one M. Mills, avid mystery/thriller reader.
The diligent scamhunters at Writer Beware will be watching.
UPDATE, April 2006: On February 10, 2006, Lisa Hackney pleaded guilty to all charges facing her in Arkansas, and was sentenced to two prison terms, one of 15 years and one of 10 years, to run concurrently. However, due to various machinations, she won’t do any time beyond what she has already served. For more information, see my followup blog post.
Apparently undiscouraged in her literary ambitions, she is also hawking a tell-all memoir called The MM Journal. Several reputable agencies have received a proposal for this masterwork; you can see the proposal, in all its ungrammatical glory, here.