In 1987, when Tawana Brawley was 15-years-old, she’d gone missing for four days. When she was finally found alive, on November 28, she’d been stuffed into a garbage bag, coated in feces, with racial expletives scribbled in charcoal on her body, and the initials of KKK sliced into her shoe.
Brawley shared vague details to the events that explained her absence and found condition. When questioned by investigators, she disclosed that she’d been abducted by two white men and driven into the woods, where they met up with four more white men. She was unable to produce names, but did allude to the sexual brutality she suffered for the days she was missing, and noted one of her attackers was a blond man with a badge.
The allegations fueled preexisting racial tensions in New York, as a black teen had recently been killed in a white mob attack in Howard Beach, Queens. Shortly within the same week Brawley’s was found, a Fishkill Police Officer, Harry Crist, Jr. was found dead. Representatives of the case fingered Crist as a suspect in the four day assault. Crist’s alibi, Dutchess County prosecutor Steven Pagones, came forward to refute the allegation. Instead, he too was suspected to have engaged in the kidnapping and rape of Brawley.
The case attracted interest from attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, and Reverend Al Sharpton. Their influence cast a national spotlight on the case. Ultimately, officials insisted, without proof, that Pagones kidnapped, abused and raped Brawley. State Trooper Scott Patterson, a friend of Crist and Pagones, who found Crist’s deceased body, was also roped into the case as a possible accomplice.
Brawley garnered sympathy and was consoled by society, with open arms and open wallets. The New York Post noted the celebrity contributors: Bill Cosby posted a $25,000 reward for information on the case; Don King promised $100,000 for Brawley’s education; and boxer Mike Tyson had gifted her watch worth $30,000.
The seven month investigation finally culminated, with a declaration by a grand jury, that the entire thing had been a hoax. After thoroughly reviewing the evidence and interviewing multiple witnesses, it was revealed that Brawley had not been kidnapped or assaulted at all. She’d run away and didn’t want to get into trouble for staying out late and missing school. It was determined that Brawley had written the expletives and smeared feces on herself. There were no signs of sexual trauma or exposure. No ligature marks or excessive bruising. No semen was found. The aforementioned would have been expected in a gruesome assault.
Crist’s death was ruled a suicide, and was found to have absolutely no connection to the Brawley case. Pagones, who is still an attorney in New York, filed a defamation lawsuit against all those involved, including Sharpton and Brawley. Sharpton, Brawley, and attorney Mason are pictured.
As explained by The New York Post, Pagones won the defamation lawsuit in 1998. Maddox, one of Brawley’s attorneys, was found liable for $97,000 and Mason, her other attorney, for $188,000. Sharpton was ordered to pay $66,000. Brawley was ordered to fork over $190,000 at 9 percent annual interest. None of that has been paid, which means her fines have accrued to $429,000. To this day Pagones has not received an apology from either Sharpton or Brawley, acknowledging their wrongdoing in perpetuating a hoax and branding him a rapist.
“Through her silence, she’s as guilty of libel as Maddox, Mason and Sharpton. The only way to hold her accountable, at least at this stage, is financially. It’s not about the money, but the money is the only way I can hold her accountable.”
Twenty-five years later Tawana Brawley, now 40, has been located living in Hopewell, VA. Brawley had been utilizing aliases, like Thompson and Gutierrez, in order to remain incognito, and has been working as a licensed practical nurse. Her co-workers and neighbors are oblivious to her true identity and past.
State records show ‘Tawana V. Gutierrez’ and ‘Tawana V. Thompson’ have held the same nursing license since 2006. The Virginia Board of Nursing confirmed issuing it to a ‘Tawana Vacenia Thompson Gutierrez.’
Brawley, regardless of whichever alias she is using, adamantly refuses to officially comment, to any media source, on the original hoax or defamation lawsuit.