A St. Louis-area woman who is the subject of a new podcast by ‘Dr. Creator of death

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In April 2019, a woman from the Saint-Louis area, Sarah Delashmit, appeared on the tv show Dr Phil to talk about the lies she had told. But these were not trivial lies. For years she had told people – friends, colleagues, charities – that she had illnesses such as cancer and muscular dystrophy. A counselor from a camp for disabled adults Delashmit attended — in a wheelchair — appeared on the talk show to discuss the breach of trust that occurred when she discovered Delashmit could walk. Another couple came forward to talk about how Delashmit told them she had terminal cancer, a stalker and was caught in a shooting. “There are more people doing this stuff than you can imagine,” host Phil McGraw said at one point.

That may be true, but medical journalist Laura Beil, host of the hit podcast Dr Death, recognized something extraordinary in the story of Delashmit, which is now the subject of Beil’s new six-parter iHeartRadio Podcast, Sympathy pains. On the one hand, it was clear that Delashmit, who hails from Highland, Illinois, had been successful for some time. Other lies included that she was in abusive relationships and had suffered the loss of a child. It was also obvious that money was not his motivation. In October 2020, Delashmit pleaded guilty to fraud charges after she received donated items and money while posing as a sick person. She was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison in January 2021 and released in March. “Even the prosecutors in the case said the money…wasn’t really his motivation,” Beil said. Attention? It didn’t seem quite right either.

Beil was also drawn to the story after thinking about the tension of telling the story of someone who had deceived people around her but apparently had mental health issues herself. “That’s what kind of appealed to me — the challenge of telling that story and maybe sparking a different kind of discussion, because the system let it down as well,” Beil says. (And she felt more comfortable exploring Delashmit’s story because Delashmit had already voluntarily gone on national television to talk about it.)

The first half of sympathy pains explores what Delashmit did and the effects it had on those around him, but the second half dives into how we can understand him and talk about him. Beil goes to great lengths not to portray Delashmit as a “two-dimensional villain”, to try to figure out what she’s been up to. She hired a disability consultant to read scripts not only on behalf of the disability community, but also to advocate for Delashmit.

Because Delashmit declined to be interviewed by Beil, listeners will never get a nice, clean answer to Why? A more important question for Beil is this: after Delashmit realized the level of harm she was causing, why did she continue? We may never know, but sympathy pains still offers a compelling story of broken trust, told from the perspective of those Delashmit deceived. Episode 5 has another connection with Saint-Louis: the story of a local teacher to whom Delashmit lied.

Last week, sympathy pains reached number 1 on iTunes. Its popularity begs the question: what resonates with listeners? Beil hopes it’s the unusual quality of the story that draws people in. It is also possible that we have all been duped, that we find ourselves a little in the story. “‘That could have been me,'” Beil imagines the listeners thinking. “‘If it happened to me, I wouldn’t say, are you really disabled?’ I think that’s part of it. The people she tricked into all these lies? They were just normal people. »

Amanda Woytus

Woytus is associate editor of St. Louis Magazine, covering current affairs and culture. Do you like this story? Want to share more comments? Email Woytus at [email protected]

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May 10, 2022

4:03 p.m.

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