A tragic tale is not what it seems
By THOMAS LAKE
Published February 1, 2007
HUDSON - Beneath a stained-glass mural of the resurrection, the choir of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church gathered Friday to mourn a young member's death.
The people had braced for Alison Matera's passing since they learned of her cancer. They sat in wooden pews before a pedestal of polished white stone. Among them was a stranger who looked strangely familiar.
She said she was Matera's sister. But she looked and sounded exactly like Matera.
And the people wondered.
Was it all a trick?
According to an incident report from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, this is what happened:
Matera told them about the cancer last February, after two years in the choir. They were some of her closest friends, and she gave them frequent updates on her treatment.
Near the end of last year, at the age of 27, she said she was giving up and entering hospice care. Choir members started getting calls from a hospice nurse with updates on Matera's condition. Several of them noticed the same thing: The nurse's voice sounded just like Matera's.
Jan. 18, the same nurse called choir director Timothy Paquin and told him Matera had died at 7:04 p.m. He spread the news and planned the memorial.
Soon after, Paquin got a call from a woman saying she was Matera's sister. She said Matera's body would be shipped north to her family. She, too, sounded just like Matera.
Paquin called the hospice. He called local funeral homes. No one had record of Alison Matera. But the wheels were in motion, and the memorial went on.
Then the so-called sister appeared, and the suspicion grew, and by the end of the service the people were convinced it had been a charade.
It's unclear whether anyone confronted her, because no one from the choir agreed to be interviewed for this story. Matera also declined comment, as did the stepsister she might have impersonated.
After the service, a choir member called the Sheriff's Office and asked for help.
A deputy visited Matera's apartment in New Port Richey that night. She was there. According to the report, she confessed to faking her sickness and death.
Matera was not arrested. According to sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin, she did not commit a crime.
So why did she do it?
She told the deputy she has attachment problems rooted in childhood trauma. Any time someone gets close, she feels the need to separate.
After she gained several close friends in the choir, she said she had cancer to drive them away.
But it brought them closer.
She said the fake death - the heartbreaking conclusion of an 11-month lie - was her best attempt at sparing everyone's feelings.
Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.