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."

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