“I believe in miracles,” Lori wrote on Facebook the next day. “I believe in signs they are coming … Hospice delayed for now … Miracle coming for a Team Lori championship?? You bet your ass!”
Meanwhile, her sister and brother-in-law hunted for evidence that Lori was sick. Or that she wasn’t. Something. Anything. Mike called Samaritan Hospice, explaining he was a concerned relative of a patient they were caring for, Lori Stilley.
Lori Stilley? They couldn’t find any record of a Lori Stilley.
“What about Lori Oppmann?” Mike asked. Maybe she’d used her maiden name.
Any Lori in Delran?
He called a pal who worked at Cooper Hospital, where Lori had supposedly been getting chemo, and begged him to look up one thing: Was there a Lori Stilley in their database?
Lisa found a psychiatrist in Alabama who specializes in Munchausen syndrome—where people fake illness—and sent an email explaining what had been going on. He wrote back that based on the information she’d provided, “there can be little doubt she is a Munchausen Syndrome patient.” Lisa cancelled Lori’s ATM card for the account where they’d been depositing donations, which still held a balance of more than $5,000.
Lori’s father, John Oppmann, drove to her house to confront her. But she had an explanation ready—she’d used someone else’s insurance card.
“Dad, you can’t use someone else’s insurance card!” Lisa yelled when her father told her. Soon after that, she called Hampton Behavioral Health Center, a local psychiatric hospital, to ask what she should do.
The hospital’s advice: Go to Lori’s house with a police officer. Again their father, a former Camden city cop, volunteered. But he returned with yet another explanation: Lori and Bill had called Cooper and gotten her oncologist on the phone. The doctor had spoken to John personally, confirmed that Lori was his patient, that he’d been treating her for bladder cancer.
“Dad, do you really think that you can call a hospital at 10 on a Sunday morning and get an oncologist on the phone in five minutes?” Lisa asked him. But it was clear that her father believed Lori.
Lisa reached out to a few of Lori’s friends. “I think my sister needs help,” she said. “But not the help you think I’m talking about.” No one would get involved. They were scared.
“I just couldn’t stop thinking: Who fakes cancer?” says one Team Lori Rocks member who’d delivered dinners to Lori even when her own finances were so tight, she had to skip meals herself. “But then Lori posted ‘I feel a miracle is coming!’—and I knew I’d been had.”
Others did, too. A flurry of posts on Facebook asked what was going on. But it seemed that anyone who posted a question or doubt was instantly deleted from Lori’s friend list.
“I posted on my own wall,” says Valery Petitt of Delran, one of the few former members of Team Lori Rocks who agreed to be identified for this story. “It was something like, ‘All this would end if she just produced some medical documentation, if she just posted some proof.’” She thinks that may have been when Lori dropped her from Facebook.
Then, on December 20, 2011, someone finally called Lori out on her own Facebook page:
Lynda Zimmerman Lotierzo: You should be ashamed of yourself. For somebody who has cancer in six different organs and not on chemo, would and should be dead by now. You are not a miracle. You are a fraud.
Jodi Klein: How can you say that? You’re not a doctor.
Bill Stilley: Jodi, I just sent that bitch an inbox ripping her apart.
Delran is a small town. A town where everyone knows everyone, and everyone also knows everyone’s mom. The kind of place where you can’t sit at the bar at Ott’s on Bridgeboro Road without running into someone you know who knows something you don’t. And that was basically how the news spread in 2012 that Delran police and the Burlington County prosecutor’s office were investigating Lori. The topic of “Lori Stilley” had died down a bit in town since the end of 2011, after all that talk on Facebook of “miracles” and “bitches,” after the requests for proof of Lori’s illness from the people who’d helped her and fed her and bought her e-book and raised more than $11,000 for her went unanswered. After Lori basically went back to posting what everyone posts on Facebook, her boring day-to-day.
But word sneaked out that people had been called into the Delran police station for questioning. Like Lori’s ex-husband. Like the friend who’d paid for the ballroom for Lori’s wedding. Like Lisa.
“I kept asking them, ‘Is my sister sick? If you could just tell me, is she sick?’” Lisa says. Because Lisa still didn’t know for sure, for absolute sure. She and Lori hadn’t been in contact in months. She’d been in touch with her parents only sporadically. She’d heard that her dad was telling people, “Lisa started this rumor that Lori isn’t really sick because she and her sister didn’t get along.”
Lori and Lisa’s mother, Dottie, says there were many rumors going around at that time. “As a mother, I want to fix this [damage in my family],” she says now. “But I can’t fix this until the God’s honest truth comes out. And I honestly don’t know what that is.”
By September 2012, Lisa had found out a few things she hadn’t known about her sister—most notably that Lori had been arrested before. According to court documents, Lori had been charged in 2004 with “health care fraud,” though the charges were dropped after she served probation through a pretrial intervention program. This confused Lisa even more—if her sister had done something like this before, why weren’t the police taking any action? On the morning of September 26th, Lisa emailed the police chief: “Please let me know what is going to be done about this situation.”
A couple of hours later, while Lisa was eating lunch, a friend who lives down the street from Lori sent her a text: “There are two police officers at your sister’s door.”
Oh boy, Lisa thought. Here goes.
The article about the arrest posted online that evening by the Courier-Post was shared on Facebook. And shared. And shared. And shared: DELRAN WOMAN ARRESTED FOR PHONY CANCER FUNDRAISING SCHEME. The charge was theft by deception. Lori was released on $25,000 bail.
Lori’s attorney, Adam Malamut, maintained his client’s innocence in a statement to the press: “The Prosecutor’s Office has not presented me with any competent evidence that would lead me to believe that they are able to prove my client did anything wrong. The only evidence I’m aware of are statements made that I believe to be slanderous in nature from a family member with whom she’s had a fractured relationship.”
The town was shocked to learn that the person who had turned Lori Stilley in to the police was her own sister.
“I was scared to death for [Lori’s] kids. I couldn’t imagine. I thought she was going to leave with the kids,” Lisa says. But Lisa had another concern as well—that bank account. It was in her name. What if the police thought she was involved? What if they thought she had been a part of it? “I had to clear our names,” she says.
The least surprising part was where so many people on Lori’s Team ended up. They circled right back to where it all started—Facebook. They posted, logged on for updates. But none of it happened on their “Team Lori Rocks” page, which had been taken down. In its place, someone—a very angry someone—had set up a new group. It was titled, “Faking Cancer Is Just Not Cool.”