This story first aired on NBC on July 9, 2006. Click here to skip ahead and find out what we've uncovered about 'Christy' since then.
Two families wanted to adopt and thought they’d found the perfect birth mother, a woman they met online. Instead, the Mantooths from Texas and the Colemans from Tennessee became victims of a heartless con. Dateline's Victoria Corderi exposes one cold-hearted scam in a Dateline Hidden Camera investigation.
Karen and Mark Mantooth spent the last seven years trying to become parents. First, their treatments for infertility were unsuccessful. Then, two adoptions fell through. It seemed like heartbreak after heartbreak.
KarenMantooth: That’s all I've ever wanted out of life was to be a wife and a mom. Just the frustration of "Am I ever going to be a mom?"
Victoria Corderi, Dateline correspondent: So it's been a tough nasty road?
Mark Mantooth: Oh yes.
Karen Mantooth: It has.
Last fall, they thought the long wait was almost over when they met a woman looking for a couple just like them: a loving family to adopt her baby girl.
The Mantooths didn't find her through a traditional adoption agency but with the help of the Internet. They had signed up with an adoption match-making service that posted their profile online. It was essentially an advertisement offering themselves as potential parents.
Mark Mantooth: The audience was targeted to birth mothers who wanted to find a home for their child.
Karen and the birth mother bonded quickly, talking on the phone several times a day.
Karen Mantooth: I'm like, "This person really cares about this baby." You know? She really cares about what kind of family this baby's going to.
Finally, Karen and Mark seemed to be on their way to parenthood. While they prepared for their baby at home in Texas, a couple 800 miles away in Tennessee hoping to adopt also turned to the Internet.
This would be Lori and Chris Coleman's second adoption. Like the Mantooths, they had endured years of infertility treatments. Then they turned to a private attorney who specialized in adoption. Kennedy was placed in their arms four years ago, just hours after being born.
Their first adoption experience was a good one. For the second adoption, the Colemans thought they could find a potential birth mother on their own, using the vast adoption resources online. Web sites, message boards, and chat rooms are all part of the fast-growing world of independent adoption.
Lori quickly discovered posting from expectant mothers.
Corderi: What were you seeing online? “Birth mother looking for a loving family?”
Lori Coleman: Yeah, exactly.
Independent adoptions are usually less expensive than traditional private adoptions because lawyers or agencies aren't paid to find a birth mother, but step in later just to do the legal paperwork.
The Coleman's found a promising candidate quickly. Lori replied to a posting from a pregnant woman named Christy. Soon they were talking daily and exchanging heartfelt e-mails, like this one.
“I am so happy that I have found you. I wanted the perfect family for this baby and I know in my heart that I have found them. I am 100 percent sure of this adoption and placing this baby with you both.”
Lori and Christy became fast friends, confidants even.
Chris Coleman: They were talking ten or 15 times a day.
Lori Coleman: She called me a lot.
Twice, Lori drove three hours to Nashville to meet Christy in person. She gave Lori a photo of her daughter, and said she was a single mother, raising a 2-year-old alone.
Lori Coleman: She was just a really super, nice, sweet person that I just connected with.
The Coleman's hired an attorney to draw up the adoption papers. Christy signed documents saying she was nearly 8 months pregnant and Lori and Chris made plans to be at the hospital for the birth. They also agreed to pay some of Christy's living expenses, rent and food. This is standard procedure in most private adoptions.
4-year-old Kennedy was excited about becoming a big sister, while Lori happily got ready for the new addition to family.
Lori Coleman: I completely redid the nursery. And I bought all new clothes and bought something for her to come home from the hospital in.
In Texas, Karen and Mark Mantooth also had hired an attorney, and were making plans to be there for their baby's birth.
Both the Colemans and the Mantooths felt the anticipation and excitement of impending parenthood. The birth mothers had told them they were the only ones and there was no going back.
There was just one problem: Both couples were talking to the same person. Christy, it appeared, had promised her baby to two different families.
Was she simply undecided? Or was this some kind of cruel game playing with people's lives?
Lori Coleman: She was really just totally confusing me at this point.
Mark Mantooth: We just wanted to find out the truth and if this is really happening.
We wondered the same thing. Dateline decided to go looking for Christy with our hidden cameras to find out.
The Mantooths' and Colemans' prospective parent turned out to be the same woman: Christy.
Just how did they figure that out?
It began when just four weeks before Christy was due to give birth she suddenly stopped calling Lori Coleman.
Christy’s cell phone was disconnected.
Lori Coleman: We were so afraid that something had happened to her.
They didn't hear from her for a a week — no word, no e-mails, nothing.
Lori Coleman: I thought that maybe she was just changing her mind.
Victoria Corderi: And she was too embarrassed to tell you?
Lori Coleman: Yeah, she didn't want to hurt us because we were so close.
The Colemans were desperate for an explanation. Lori turned to the Internet again. Through a message board where adoptive families share information, she started talking to Karen and Mark Mantooth. They told her their story about Christy, and how three months earlier their relationship had ended in almost the exact same way.
Christy had given documents to both couples. There were different due dates and different last names.
Lori Coleman: They were from the same area. They were the same age.
Karen Mantooth: The address was the exact same except for the city.
Lori and Chris Coleman: Social security numbers. Date of birth.
Karen Mantooth: It was just too much coincidence.
In both cases, Christy had called the couples frequently, more and more, as the due dates approached. At first, just to chat, then to ask for money. She'd told both families that she was behind on her rent and short on cash for basic necessities.
Lori Coleman: She would just say, "Do you know anybody that could help me with food?"
Victoria Corderi: To which you would say, "How much do you need?"
Lori Coleman: She was asking us for food for her daughter. What good person is gonna say no?
The Colemans had given Christy more than $800: $300 in Wal-Mart cards for food, and $510 for rent. The Mantooths say they'd sent her more than $1,200.
Karen Mantooth: When you are in the last months of your pregnancy, you can’t work being on your feet all the time. I have no problem doing that.
Even though it's common practice for adoptive families to pay some basic living expenses for a potential birth mother, most couples understand that it is a gamble. If the woman changes her mind, and the adoption doesn't go through, she's not legally required to return the money but this situation did not appear to be a case of second thoughts. To the families involved, this had the makings of a scam.
Karen Mantooth: I fully believe it was a scam.
Corderi: From the start?
Mark Mantooth: Yes.
Corderi: How would you describe what she did to you?
Karen Mantooth: Emotional rape. That's what I felt like. I'd felt that I had just been stripped raw of every emotion that I could even think of.
When the Colemans realized Christy might be a con artist preying on vulnerable families, their sadness turned to anger.
Chris Coleman: My frame of mind was, "I'm gonna find out who this girl is. I'm gonna get this girl."
Dateline wanted to find her too. We asked the Colemans to try to get back in touch with Christy so that we could investigate.
Lori Coleman: I sent her an e-mail and said, "I want the baby. I want to know you're okay. I care about you as a friend." I'm also coming as someone who's desperate for a baby.
Chris Coleman: We wanted her to feel like we were just suckers.
Just as suddenly as she'd vanished, Christy reappeared on Lori's computer screen through an instant message.
Lori Coleman: She says that she's fine. She's sorry she lost contact. I ask her, “Do you still want us to have the baby?” She says yes, without a doubt.
Why the abrupt disappearance? Christy said she had run off to Florida for her grandfather's funeral and that she'd lost her cell phone.
With that, the women took up right where they'd left off, chatting on the phone day in and day out. Only this time Lori was acting, pretending not to be suspicious.
Lori and Christy made plans for the following week: a lunch date in Nashville. What she didn't tell her is that Dateline would be there too with hidden cameras, watching her every move.
It’s no surprise that for their meeting, Christy asked Lori to bring cash. She says she needs $600 for rent and overdue bills.
Lori on the phone with Christy: Does the $25 late fee need to be paid this month or next month?
The Colemans had already given Christy $800 and say they spent thousands more on legal fees to prepare for the adoption. Now that Dateline has decided to investigate, Dateline will provide the money.
The night before our meeting, Christy asks for even more. She calls Lori to say that she and her little girl Jasmine are hungry and broke.
We buy them a $100 gift card at Wal-Mart for food. Lori calls Christy back and urges her to use it.
Lori on the phone with Christy: You need to get you some groceries.
The next day, we finally get a look at Christy, up close and in person. She arrives at a Nashville hotel for what she thinks is a casual lunch date. She has no idea that Dateline is watching or that Lori is part of our hidden camera operation.
She comes upstairs where I am posing as Lori's friend, with five cameras secretly rolling.
Lori Coleman: I’ve been tellin' her about you. Hi, honey. This is my friend, Vicky (referring to Dateline's Victoria Corderi who is undercover).
Christy: Can I take my shoes off?
Lori Coleman: Here, yeah, come over here and sit down.
As we sit down to lunch, I get right to the point, although Christy thinks I'm kidding.
Victoria Corderi: I’ll be your servant.
Corderi: Because I want to find out everything about you.
Christy: Uh-oh. (Laughter)
Our hidden cameras record every word as we settle in like old friends. As we snack on cookies, Christy thanks Lori for the grocery money we gave her the night before.
Christy: I got some grapes because after I have this baby, I'll have to be on the diet.
Christy does look pregnant, but not quite like a woman in her ninth month as she claims to be.
Christy: I told you I've dropped a lot. (Laughter)
Corderi: What's your due date?
Christy: January 26th. But I've been dilated at two for how long?
Lori: Two weeks.
She repeatedly plays up how soon she thinks the baby will be born.
Christy: I'm telling you, I'm having the baby today or tomorrow. I swear, if I don't have her tomorrow I'm going in there tomorrow and telling them I'm having contractions. I know it’s not nice to lie.
Perhaps to convince us she's not lying, she invites Lori to a doctor's appointment the next day. She says she wants to have labor induced so that Lori can be there for the birth.
Christy: Really, she's coming. Tomorrow we need to go in there as a team; you're not leaving till she's born.
Over the next 2 hours, Christy has a ready answer for every question: details we say we need for the adoption paperwork.
Her address, her mid-wife's name, her history.
Victoria Corderi: What's your maiden name?
She even volunteers information about her job: a profession that highlights her generosity and goodwill.
Christy: I work at a domestic violence shelter.
Corderi: What do you do there?
Christy: I'm an advocate.
Corderi: What's the shelter's name?
Christy: Hope House.
She tells us the story of how she got pregnant: a drunken one-night-stand.
Christy: That's just one of those whoops. I had too much to drink and woke up in some other man's bed. Whoops.
Perhaps it is a way to show there is no father involved, nothing to get in the way of the adoption.
She even answers sensitive questions without hesitation, telling us just what she thinks we want to hear.
Corderi: Is this gonna be hard for you?
Christy: Giving the baby up? Actually, I don't think so, ‘cause I never got attached to the baby. My whole pregnancy I never considered it my baby.
Lori Coleman: Like I've always told you though, if it weren't for people like that were so unselfish I would never get to be a mom.
Throughout our hidden camera meeting, Christy makes a point of talking about her daughter Jasmine.
Christy: I love my daughter unconditionally, but she's been so clingy.
She knows that Lori bonded with her over their shared experience of raising a little girl.
Christy: I can't even take a shower without her pullin' the curtain.
Corderi: Does she know that the baby's going elsewhere?
Christy: She knows it's Lori's.
Christy takes pains to show how careful she was in selecting Lori out of all of the women on the Internet who wanted to adopt her baby.
Christy: A lot of people emailed me.
Corderi: Why'd you pick her, do you think?
Christy: Because she didn't come right out and say, "I want the baby." She said, "I want to be there for you." She actually cared more about me than the baby.
I wanted to know the family. And I'm not going to hand over some babies to a complete lunatic.
As if to prove that she of high moral character, Christy tells us the story of a woman she met online who had asked her to lie on the adoption paperwork.
Christy: She wanted me to use a fake name, so the baby couldn't find me when the baby turned 18. You can't do a fake name. It won't be legal. How could I go through the court proceeding?
Christy doesn't know that Lori's husband, Chris, is watching it all in the next room. He's sure Christy is lying and gets fed up her act.
Chris Coleman: I was to the point where I was so angry, I was so mad, I had to leave. Lori brought out the outfit that she wanted to bring the baby home in and that girl sat there eatin' her little sandwich, not even lookin' at the outfit. That's when I got so mad that I left.
Christy, on the other hand, seems willing to stay all afternoon. She hasn't said a word about money, yet she's too busy laying it on thick, getting Lori excited about the birth.
Christy: Oh, you're gonna see it all in the delivery room, honey. Now, will Chris be in the delivery room, too? In case you fall apart?
Lori: I’m not going to fall apart.
Christy: He just needs to be on the top part. Hey, I want him to cut the cord. No I want you to cut it. Maybe you...
And once again she says something to convince Lori she's serious about handing over the baby.
Christy: I don’t want to hold her, I don’t want them bring her to me. I don't want it laying on my stomach; I don't want to hold her. I just want you to snip and go.
Christy is saying all the right things and her performance is so convincing that despite everything Lori knows, she finds herself being drawn back in.
Lori Coleman: So now I'm getting really double-extremely excited. You’re not going to change your mind, right?
Christy: No, I’m not changing my mind.
After all, Lori is still a woman deeply longing for a baby. And even though she is here as part of a Dateline investigation, she can't help but feel a spark of hope that maybe, just maybe, some of what Christy says is true...
Lori Coleman: I kept thinkin', "Well, maybe she's scamming everybody but us."
Corderi: So even though you were being nice for us and having this contact to let it play out.
Lori Coleman: I was still thinking, "Well, I might get the baby."
Soon enough, Christy turns the conversation to the real reason we think she is here. She drops a not-so-subtle hint that she needs the cash...
Christy: I’m set. Just need to get the rent paid or I’ll be without a place to live.
Lori hands over more $600. Then Christy gets up to go.
Outside, we watch the two women say goodbye, and wonder if they will ever see each other again, or if Christy is about to take the money and run.
Corderi: We were pretty sure you weren't going to hear from her again.
Lori Coleman: Oh, exactly.
Corderi: This is the way the game ends.
Coleman: It had to end. But will it?
Minutes later, to our surprise, Christy calls Lori's cell phone. Was Lori right to hope? Could Christy be for real this time? We were about to find out
Dateline checked up on Christy, and on the information she'd so willingly supplied: The address was bogus. Her midwife's office doesn't exist. Nor does the domestic violence shelter where she claimed to work.
One thing's for sure— she's not who she says she is. Dateline searched public records in Tennessee and found a mug shot of Christy Tidwell from a 1998 drug arrest. She looks nothing like the Christy we knew, but guess what? It turns out that the real Christy Tidwell is a friend. Our hidden cameras saw them together.
Remember the Wal-Mart card we'd bought in response to Christy's desperate plea for food? We watched the two women spend that money together. Not on groceries, but on baby supplies— an indication that she really is pregnant and probably planning on keeping the baby.
So who is this woman?
In the hours after that meeting, she called repeatedly, telling Lori where she was going and with whom. All of it lies. We know because our hidden cameras were still watching.
She told Lori she was picking up Jasmine, her two year-old daughter, while we recorded her doing something else.
She first stopped at the offices of a cell phone company, then went to a residence hotel and picked up her friend.
She called again to say she was having a quick dinner with her daughter, while we see the two women go to an upscale Nashville mall and dine at this expensive restaurant, with no toddler in sight. She had no idea that Lori was nearby in the mall parking lot when, once again, she did something that took us by surprise.
She told Lori on the phone she was in labor and had 3 contractions, giving specific instructions on what she and Chris should do.
Lori Coleman: When the contractions got to 14 minutes apart she said that Chris and I would need to come get her and take her to the hospital. She also said, "Well, it looks like by the time you get home Kennedy's gonna have a baby sister."
So what did this woman who was supposedly in labor do next? She got behind the wheel ofa car and went on a shopping spree. We watched her drive all over suburban Nashville. She went grocery shopping, stopped at a dollar store, a K-mart, and a Wal-Mart looking like she didn't have a care in the world.
Meanwhile, Lori was back at the hotel waiting by the phone. Two hours passed.
Lori Coleman: It was at that point that I tried to call her cell phone. Her cell phone had been disconnected.
Victoria Corderi, Dateline: That was the breaking point.
Lori Coleman: So I knew game over.
Corderi: It really hit you?
Lori Coleman: That's when it hit me. It hurts beyond belief.
Whatever hopes Lori had been harboring about adopting that baby girl were gone. For two months, through all the phone calls, e-mails and loving preparations, Lori had wanted to believe in Christy. Now cold reality set in. The rush of emotion surprised even her.
Lori Coleman: (crying) Then we're gonna have to go home and there's gonna be a nursery there. I just didn't think it would hurt this bad. I thought I was prepared.
She had hurt Lori just as she had hurt the couple from Texas, Karen and Mark Mantooth, months before.
Dateline found her trail of deception is even longer than that.
Corderi: You all feel pretty certain it was the same person?
Group, in unison: Yes.
Todd Miller: Most definitely.
The woman we knew as Christy is going have quite a bit of explaining to do.
When it comes to this pregnant woman and the promises she's made and the hearts she's broken, there is always one question.
Lori Coleman: How could anybody be so cruel and so heartless?
They are from different states, and different backgrounds, but all of these people believe they were conned in the same cruel way by the person we knew as Christy.
A New York woman, Jackie, read one of Christy's e-mails:
“I feel she should be placed in your arms when first born. She is your baby, not mine.”
Jackie: After a few conversations she said we would be the perfect parents for her baby.
And three years ago, thinking a baby was on the way, a couple from North Carolina sent her more than $2,000 before she disappeared.
Cindy Miller: It was just like a piece of my heart had been ripped out of me.
The North Carolina couple knew her as "Jamie."
Dateline found other adoptive families who'd met her online as "Amy Ost Cumbee." They all admit they were easily taken in by her.
Karen Mantooth: You are desperate to have a child when you're willing to go through all of this.
Victoria Corderi, Dateline correspondent: Isn't that the key here?
Cindy Miller: Yes that's the key.
Corderi: Isn't that what any scammer would know? That you're a bunch of sitting ducks?
Cindy Miller: Yeah.
Mark Mantooth: Yes.
Corderi: You and everyone else who really wants a baby.
We showed the group some of our hidden camera videotape: Christy buying infant supplies with the money meant for food (a sure sign she was keeping the baby), and the easy lies and intimate conversation.
Corderi: What did you think watching that?
Cindy Miller: I think she's sick.
Corderi: What was the worst thing you heard her say?
Todd Miller: She doesn’t want to touch the baby.
Karen Mantooth: "I want you to cut the umbilical cord."
Mark Mantooth: Yeah.
Karen Mantooth: She was playing in to those emotions because anything that we get to do like that makes it all the more special.
Karen Mantooth: It's just cold and manipulative and how could somebody do that?
Cindy Miller: (Crying) How could they take people like us that can't conceive a child? How could they come into our life and make us so devastated wantin' that child and walking away with nothing?
Now, we wanted to look for Christy again. This time we wanted to get an explanation and to let her know that Dateline was on to her.
We found her in a parking lot the morning after she'd claimed to be in labor.
Corderi (confronting 'Christy' or Amy Ost Cumbee): Christy. Hey. How are you doing?
For a woman who was supposedly about to give birth, she seemed awfully relaxed.
Corderi: So are you in labor? You told Lori you were in labor.
'Christy': I stopped contractions.
Corderi: When did they stop?
'Christy': Last night around 11:30.
She had told us her name was Christy Tidwell Miller.
Corderi: I have some questions for you.
We showed her the real Christy Tidwell.
Corderi: My name is Victoria Corderi. I’m with Dateline NBC and this is Christy Tidwell. Your friend that we see you going around with…
'Christy' also known as Amy Ost Cumbee: Why is he recording me?
Corderi: Because we're with Dateline NBC and there's a lot of information that you gave us that didn't check out.
Amy Ost Cumbee: I don't have to talk to you until I talk to my lawyer.
Corderi: These are pictures that you sent to other women promising them babies. As Amy in Alabama. This is you. As Amy in Pennsylvania saying this is your daughter.
Cumbee: I’m sorry I have talk to my attorney. (Gets in car and drives off.)
Corderi: Do you have any explanation? Why did you disconnect your phone?
She drove off, but within minutes she called Lori Coleman from a new cell phone number. Later that morning, she surprised us yet again by agreeing to sit down and answer our questions— in the very same room where she'd told a string of lies the day before.
Corderi: First of all, who are you?
Cumbee: Amy Cumbee.
Corderi: Who is Amy Ost?
Cumbee: That’s my maiden name.
Corderi: Why are you representing yourself as Christy Miller?
Cumbee: I don't know.
She admitted she lied to the Colemans and that she had scammed others as well.
Cumbee: I've done this before and I just need help.
Corderi: You need what kind of help?
Cumbee: I just need help. I didn't mean for it to go this far.
She described how she uses the Internet to find her targets.
Cumbee: I'd go look at Web sites and try to find a family.
Corderi: What do you tell them that makes them believe you?
Cumbee: I just tell them that I want them to have the baby.
Corderi: Do you think this is fraud?
Corderi: What are you doing it for? Are you just doing it for the money?
Cumbee: I don't know.
Corderi: Do you feel powerful when you're holding a baby over somebody's head basically and they're pleading with you?
Corderi: So why do you think you're doing it?
Cumbee: I don't know why I’m doing it.
Corderi: You’re not working?
Corderi: So you are doing it for the money?
Cumbee: Part of it, I guess. Yeah.
She told us that she learned the adoption scam from her ex-husband.
Cumbee: He was the one that got away with it the first time.
Corderi: Where's your ex-husband now? He’s not doing this. This is you. So whose fault is this?
Corderi: I've seen a lot of scams but the level of cruelty in this scam is hard for me to imagine, especially as a mother— to string somebody along who thinks she's going to be a mother, and go so far as to tell them you are in labor and then cut them off. I can't even conceive of that, I can't even imagine how somebody would think to do that. Do you realize the level of cruelty?
Corderi: Were you having a good laugh?
Corderi: Every time you got off the phone?
Corderi: What were you thinking?
Cumbee: I don't know. I wasn't. I guess I just believed it too.
Corderi: You believed you were in labor?
Cumbee: Just believing my own lies at times.
“Christy,” who we now know is really named Amy Ost Cumbee, says her real due date was months, not days away and that she was buying infant clothing because her girlfriend wants to keep the baby.
As for Jasmine, the 2-year-old she talked about so often and so convincingly? She'd made her up as part of the con.
Cumbee: I can't be a mother. I don't know how to be one, I guess.
Despite her lies, she still tried to insist she planned on allowing the Colemans to adopt her baby.
Corderi: You never intended to give the baby to Lori.
Cumbee: Yes I did.
Corderi: You cut her off last night.
Cumbee: I still called.
Corderi: You called after we caught you. You did exactly with this what you've done before. When you're done you have the phone cut off. Can you just be that honest?
Cumbee: Yeah, that is what I do.
Corderi: I don’t know what to say. What are you saying about yourself?
Cumbee: I'm a terrible person.
Corderi: Do you really think that?
Cumbee: Honestly I do.
Corderi: Did you think that before you got caught?
Corderi: But it didn't stop you.
Cumbee: I guess not.
The Colemans were nearby, listening. We invited them in.
Corderi: It's not often that you get to see the face, you know, or see the pain of the people that you hurt. You're emailing and these people are just strangers.
Cumbee: I fell in love with Lori.
Lori Coleman: No, you didn't. You told me what I wanted to hear.
Cumbee: Then I fell in love with you as a friend; you have the perfect family, a loving husband, a wonderful daughter, that's what I want.
Chris Coleman: Here’s what I'd like to see happen. You've been caught. You've been busted by Dateline. Just stop the lies. Tell us the truth. I was sitting in there hearing one lie after another. I had to sit there and listen to my wife cry for two days straight in the room that we had set up for the baby that you were supposed to give us. How do you feel about that?
Cumbee: It hurts me.
Chris Coleman: It hurts you?
Lori Coleman: You don’t know- you should be thankful you can have kids. Even when I knew you were lying; ask Vicky, what did I tell you?
Corderi: She still had hope.
Cumbee: I want you to still have hope.
Lori Coleman: I can't have hope- that's not fair! We have to go home to an empty nursery.
Chris Coleman: You’re sitting there crying and we're the victims here. All the people you scammed are the victims and all you have to say is "I don't know."
Cumbee: I’m sorry. I wish I did know. Maybe I have mental problems.
Corderi: Was there any satisfaction for you at all in being able to confront her?
Chris Coleman: Yes there was because I got to look in this girl's eyes and make her know that we caught her at her own game and that we were not as stupid as she thought we were.
Corderi: Did you see remorse?
Chris Coleman: No.
Lori Coleman: Absolutely not. I saw eyes that were just empty.
Chris Coleman: I wanted to choke the girl, I did.
Lori Coleman: At the same time you're sitting there thinking, that poor innocent baby.
Amy Ost Cumbee: I don't know what else to say. After I get help I just hope y'all can forgive me.
“Christy”left our interview a worried woman, afraid her next stop might be jail.
When Amy knew she was caught her first statement to me was, “I guess you hate me.” And then her second question was, “Am I goin’ to jail?”
Cumbee: I’ll take the heat for it you know. If I go to jail, I mean, maybe that’s what I need.
Victoria Corderi asked the heartbroken prospective adoptive parents what should happen to Amy.
Chris Coleman: She must go to jail.
Lori Coleman: Jail.
Cindy Miller: Jail.
Todd Miller: Jail.
Karen Mantooth: Needs to go to prison.
And there’s at least one more person who would like to see her behind bars: Eric Cumbee. Dateline tracked down Eric Cumbee, the ex-husband Amy claimed had introduced her to adoption scams.
Eric Cumbee, Amy's ex-husband: I think she’s probably one of the most sinister people I’ve ever met in my life. Was I ever involved in an adoption scam? No.
In fact, her former husband says he wasn’t her accomplice, he was her victim. They were married six years ago and after just 2 months, he says she abruptly disappeared.
Eric Cumbee: When she left, I received a stack of bills that were probably about 12 inches high. I had credit cards I didn’t know I had. I owed people I didn’t even know money. She put me about $15,000 in debt.
Cumbee believes his entire marriage was an elaborate con.
Eric Cumbee: She is a professional con artist. This is her job. This is what she does. And she’s very good at it.
So it appears there are numerous people who want this woman to face justice. But will she?
Three of the couples reported her to the police. Karen and Mark Mantooth filed reports in Texas and Tennessee, while the Colemans went to the FBI as well to local law enforcement. They all say no one seemed willing or able to prosecute.
Chris Coleman: What our local district attorney told us was, “Chris and Lori, I’m sorry. I don’t know what to charge it with.”
Proving adoption fraud can be difficult—remember a potential birth mother is allowed by law to change her mind and keep whatever money she’s received for expenses.
Chris Coleman: It’s so frustrating that this girl scammed all of us and many more people—and nothing’s being done, about it.
More victims come forward after the report aired on Dateline
No prosecution: That was where things stood when Dateline first broadcast this story in July. By then, the woman who’d admitted her real name was Amy— not Christy— had seemingly disappeared. She’d checked out of her hotel and had disconnected her cell phone.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. When our report aired some viewers recognized her and contacted Dateline with new information. More people came forward to say they too were scammed by the woman at the center of our story.Mike and Chantelle Early say last April “Amy Cumbee” promised them a baby and that they sent her nearly $1,000 dollars.
Chantal Early, prospective adoptive mother: She knew what to say to us to draw us in. And make us feel like we were gonna have a little girl.
The Earlys say they drove all the way from Iowa to Nashville because Amy told them she was about to give birth. Then, they say, she cut them off.
Mike Early: It was a devastating car ride back with an empty car seat.
Chantal Early: And I still (sobbing) I still held on. I still had that little glimmer of hope. I think that was the hardest thing was. Watching that show, and seeing all the other couples having the same hope. You know, that baby was everybody’s baby.
These two men from Amy’s past say they were victims of a different sort—that Amy stole their hearts and then their money.
Victoria Corderi, Dateline correspondent: What did you think when you saw what she was doing?
Jimmy Hodge, Amy's ex-husband: It’s like “Not again. What are you doing? When is enough enough?”
Jimmy Hodge says he and Amy were married in 1998, and just like the ex-husband we meet earlier, he says Amy fleeced him then fled.
Hodge: She left me and took off, and just took everything, I mean everything. The house was cleaned out. She took my dog.
Nathan Offut says he’s an ex-boyfriend who also was taken for a financial ride.
Nathan Offut, Amy's ex-boyfriend: The stories and stuff are the same, just different little lies in it.
Caught pulling another con
So where was Amy when our report aired? Apparently pulling another con. This time, she’d convinced a domestic violence shelter to put her up in an apartment by claiming that she and her girlfriend were sisters who’d been abused by their father and needed a place to hide. Imagine the shelter director’s shock when she watched our story and learned the truth.
She says she immediately called the Nashville police.
Police arrested Amy on an outstanding warrant for a probation violation. She'd pleaded guilty to running out on a hotel bill using yet another fake name, Marissa Foltz.
Her seeming accomplice talks to Dateline
But what about the real Christy—Amy’s girlfriend? Our hidden cameras had seen the two women go on a shopping spree together with money that was meant for rent and food.
Well, she was not arrested. And in fact, the real Christy—who appeared to be in on the scheme—agreed to an interview with Dateline. She claims she’s another one of Amy’s victims.
While she admits she lied to the domestic violence shelter about being abused, says she knew nothing about Amy’s dealing with the Colemans.
Christy Tidwell: She said her family was sending her money. And churches was giving her money. I never knew about anything else.
Christy says she has bipolar disorder, and that Amy convinced her to stop taking her medication and to hand over her disability checks. What’s more, she says she believed that baby would be hers too.
Tidwell: She said we could raise it together, it’d be ours.
She says it wasn’t until she saw our story that she realized what her friend had done, using her name.
Tidwell: It just blew my mind. I didn’t know what to think.
Corderi: Were you ever involved in an adoption scam?
Tidwell: No, ma’am. And I can put my hand on the Bible, I couldn’t hurt nobody like that.
In a final twist, Christy has joined the other couples we met in wanting to see this woman punished. She is cooperating with the Nashville DA’s office to put together a case of identity theft.
Assistant District Attorney (in court): Did you ever give Amy Cumbee permission to use your name in a pregnancy scam with Miss Coleman?
Christy Tidwell: No, ma’am. I will swear on anything. I did not.
Amy waived her right to appear at a preliminary hearing in July. Lori Coleman was there to testify.
Lori Coleman: It was hard reliving everything ‘cause I’m at the point now to where I’m angry instead of just heartbroken.
Then earlier this year, Amy pleaded guilty to identity theft. She got a suspended sentence of 2 years, and after spending nearly 10 months in jail she’ll be released to a halfway house in May.
What happened to the baby?
But one big question remains: What happened to the baby? Or perhaps, was there ever a baby? The math just doesn’t add up. When we met amy she said she was 7 months pregnant. Then six months later she was in the domestic violence shelter, still claiming to be pregnant.
Her room there was full of this baby gear that the shelter had helped her collect from local charities.
Corderi: Now you were with her every day for more than a year and she never gave birth to a baby?
The men who knew her say Amy repeatedly said she was pregnant, then claimed to miscarry, and soon would announce she was pregnant again.
Corderi: How often did she tell you she was pregnant?
Hodge: I got it so many times I couldn’t count.
Jimmy Hodge says he even caught her strapping on padding before a baby shower in her honor.
Hodge: I came home and I walk into the bathroom and she’s there with a pillow on her stomach wrapping an ace bandage around it. I’m like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’
The Colemans now believe that baby they’d wanted so badly never really existed.
Lori Coleman: And, looking back, when I touched her stomach as much as I touched it, her stomach was very soft. I wanted to believe she was pregnant because I was desperate for a child.
Still, happy endings
Fortunately, many of the couples who say they were burned by Amy have been able to fulfill their long delayed dreams of parenthood.
The Mantooths brought home a son they names Joshua just a month after they were stung.
And after all the anguish they’ve been through, the Colemans too have seen their dream come true. In September, they adopted Kingston, a baby boy they say makes their family complete.
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