Fake cancer victim fights extradition


Herald Writer

SULTAN — Chuck Zimmermann moved his family from Iowa to Snohomish County two weeks ago for a chance to start over.

Today, he’s trying to get his wife out of jail.

"Nobody’s telling me what the problem is," he said. "They just keep telling me they had a warrant for her arrest."

His wife, Charlene Zimmermann, gained nationwide attention in 1998 when she received a camcorder on Oprah Winfrey’s television show so she could tape a final message to her children.

Everyone, even her family, believed that she was dying of liver cancer. She was so believable that neighbors, friends and even strangers sent money, gifts, food and Christmas presents.

She taped a goodbye after shaving her head to look as if she’d received chemotherapy, telling her children that "their mommy is going to die."

It wasn’t until last April that Charlene Zimmermann stood before a Dallas County, Iowa, courtroom and apologized for her actions, which she attributed to mental illness.

In addition to the public apology, she was sentenced to two years probation and told to pay back $1,400. She also was ordered to attend counseling sessions with her family.

Her husband said she was meeting the terms of her probation, but some of the local folks were not very forgiving.

"My wife and my children were constantly being harassed by people," he said. "It was taking a toll on them. So we got permission to move to Washington."

He said he secured a job near Sultan and his wife was able to get permission to serve her probation here. She was assigned to a probation officer and regularly saw a therapist in Bellevue, he said. He declined to talk in detail about her mental illness.

Last Sunday afternoon, the police knocked on the door of their Sultan home.

Sultan Chief Fred Walser said officers were working on a tip that Charlene Zimmermann was in the area and was wanted for violating her probation in Waukee, Iowa. "She looked out the window and officers immediately recognized her from the newspaper story Waukee police had faxed to us," Walser said.

She was taken to the Snohomish County Jail, where she awaits extradition to Dallas County, Iowa. Officials there say she has refused to sign the extradition papers.

Meanwhile, Chuck Zimmermann is at home with his three children trying to figure out what went wrong.

"I’ve shown them the papers saying she can be here in Washington," he said. "I’m trying to get our attorney in Iowa to help."

Chuck Zimmermann said his wife had been paying $125 a month in restitution, but may have missed the last payment because of the move to Washington.

He said the irony is that he moved here to make more money to help pay that restitution, but he’s now home with his kids risking his new job.

"This can’t be good for her mentally," he said. "She’s a wife and a mother, and she needs to be home with her children. This is just not good."

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

The oldest known meteor shower, Lyrid, will be falling across the skies in mid- to late April 2024. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
Clouds to dampen Lyrid meteor shower views in Western Washington

Forecasters expect a storm will obstruct peak viewing Sunday. Locals’ best chance at viewing could be on the coast. Or east.

Everett police officers on the scene of a single-vehicle collision on Evergreen Way and Olivia Park Road Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Photo provided by Everett Police Department)
Everett man gets 3 years for driving high on fentanyl, killing passenger

In July, Hunter Gidney crashed into a traffic pole on Evergreen Way. A passenger, Drew Hallam, died at the scene.

FILE - Then-Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., speaks on Nov. 6, 2018, at a Republican party election night gathering in Issaquah, Wash. Reichert filed campaign paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission on Friday, June 30, 2023, to run as a Republican candidate. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
6 storylines to watch with Washington GOP convention this weekend

Purist or pragmatist? That may be the biggest question as Republicans decide who to endorse in the upcoming elections.

Keyshawn Whitehorse moves with the bull Tijuana Two-Step to stay on during PBR Everett at Angel of the Winds Arena on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
PBR bull riders kick up dirt in Everett Stampede headliner

Angel of the Winds Arena played host to the first night of the PBR’s two-day competition in Everett, part of a new weeklong event.

Simreet Dhaliwal speaks after winning during the 2024 Snohomish County Emerging Leaders Awards Presentation on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Simreet Dhaliwal wins The Herald’s 2024 Emerging Leaders Award

Dhaliwal, an economic development and tourism specialist, was one of 12 finalists for the award celebrating young leaders in Snohomish County.

In this Jan. 12, 2018 photo, Ben Garrison, of Puyallup, Wash., wears his Kel-Tec RDB gun, and several magazines of ammunition, during a gun rights rally at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
With gun reform law in limbo, Edmonds rep is ‘confident’ it will prevail

Despite a two-hour legal period last week, the high-capacity ammunition magazine ban remains in place.

Everett Fire Department and Everett Police on scene of a multiple vehicle collision with injuries in the 1400 block of 41st Street. (Photo provided by Everett Fire Department)
1 in critical condition after crash with box truck, semi in Everett

Police closed 41st Street between Rucker and Colby avenues on Wednesday afternoon, right before rush hour.

The Arlington Public Schools Administration Building is pictured on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
$2.5M deficit in Arlington schools could mean dozens of cut positions

The state funding model and inflation have led to Arlington’s money problems, school finance director Gina Zeutenhorst said Tuesday.

Lily Gladstone poses at the premiere of the Hulu miniseries "Under the Bridge" at the DGA Theatre, Monday, April 15, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Mountlake Terrace’s Lily Gladstone plays cop in Hulu’s ‘Under the Bridge’

The true-crime drama started streaming Wednesday. It’s Gladstone’s first part since her star turn in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.