Mom convinces son, 9, he has cancer to solicit donations, cops say

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERMean streets Police investigate a double shooting in Kensington on Amber Street near Auburn early Friday evening that left a 22-year-old man dead and a 27-year-old man injured. Police witnessed the shooting and arrested the suspected shooter shortly afterward, Chief Inspector Scott Small said.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERMean streets Police investigate a double shooting in Kensington on Amber Street near Auburn early Friday evening that left a 22-year-old man dead and a 27-year-old man injured. Police witnessed the shooting and arrested the suspected shooter shortly afterward, Chief Inspector Scott Small said.
Posted: April 28, 2013

HAVING A child with terminal cancer is every mother's worst nightmare. But for a mother of four in South Jersey, police say, it was a way to make easy money.

In what police called an unfathomable crime, Susan Stillwaggon, 35, of Pennsauken, is accused of convincing her 9-year-old son - along with relatives, neighbors and others - that the boy was suffering from stage 3 Hodgkin's lymphoma and using the fake illness to gain sympathy and donations.

"It's shameful. It really is," said Pennsauken Police Detective Sgt. Cheryl Duffy, an investigator on the case. "I've been doing this for 22 years. . . . This has been the most malicious mental cruelty that I've ever seen."

So far, investigators said they have determined that Stillwaggon reaped at least $3,500 in donations made by those duped into generosity. Police said a check of her son's medical records proved that he is not suffering from the life-threatening form of cancer.

Several fundraisers, including cupcake sales run by his soccer teammates, were held for the boy, police said. Authorities believe Stillwaggon had been weaving the sob story and using it for financial gain since at least the beginning of March.

Cops got wind of Stillwaggon's plot April 15 when an anonymous tip was called in to another police department and forwarded to them. Two days later, the boy's school also raised suspicions to investigators.

A fundraiser that had been scheduled for June at the school, St. Cecilia in Pennsauken, has been canceled.

The principal, Sister Alicia M. Perna, said the school had not been involved with planning that fundraiser and declined to comment on the case, other than to say, "My responsibility is to ensure the safety and education of all the children in my building and not to judge their parents."

Duffy said people who'd been helping with fundraisers began to grow suspicious when they noticed that Stillwaggon's son did not appear to be sick.

"They had a fundraiser on the 14th [of April], and I think after that, people started scratching their heads," Duffy said.

Stillwaggon is charged with theft by deception, forgery, endangering the welfare of a child and using a child to commit a criminal offense. She is scheduled to appear in court May 2.

The woman's mother, who declined to identify herself, told CBS 3 that her daughter is undergoing psychiatric care.

"My daughter is sick and something snapped in her head," she said. "That's why she is where she is, so that we can find out what's wrong with her."

Tamara Disalvo, a neighbor of Stillwaggon, said she's concerned for the woman's son.

"He must be pretty confused because he was deceived this way by his mother," Disalvo told NBC 10. "That's got to feel awful."

Duffy said she hasn't yet been able to speak with the little boy, but has spoken with his father.

"From his dad, he's coping," she said.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Duffy at 856-488-0080, ext. 2407.


On Twitter: @morganzalot

Blog: PhillyConfidential.com

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