Pregnancy Make-Believe

July 21, 2006 — -- Sarah and Kris Everson, depending on whom you believe, are either calculating con artists or the most misunderstood couple in rural Jackson County, Mo.

The couple is at the center of an alleged hoax involving miracle sextuplets. It began last winter when Sarah made a shocking announcement -- she was pregnant with six babies. This was quite a surprise, since Sarah was 45 and had two grown children, but her fourth husband, Kris, 34, was delighted.

However, when "20/20" asked Sarah if her gynecologist had confirmed the pregnancy, she refused to answer the question and her story became inconsistent.

"I'm not going to answer that one," she said. "Can we just leave it at I went to the doctor?"

Sarah said she kept the sextuplets a secret from her husband for months during her pregnancy. Finally, well into the pregnancy, she made the bombshell announcement.

Kris said he was worried about how he was going to support the children.

"I was like 'holy crap!' How the hell am I going to do this?" he said. "I was, like, working in a job and just kind of getting by."

Paula McKinney, an executive at Haldex Corp., the auto parts factory where Kris worked, was moved by the thought of such a special birth and told Kris not to worry about finances.

"I was going to reach out to my co-workers," McKinney said. "I was going to go global with my company with the announcement. I was going to go out [in]to the community."

Awaiting the Six Babies

Excitement over the sextuplets mounted, with people everywhere opening their hearts and their wallets to help the cash-strapped couple. No one questioned Sarah's pregnancy when they saw her.

Sarah said she had a really big, round belly and that she looked very pregnant.

"I actually believed I was [pregnant]," she said. "There's actually a disorder where your mind takes over and your body actually begins to grow and you begin to lactate."

Sarah said she was suffering from pseudocyesis, a psychological condition in which a woman who's not pregnant but is desperate to have children looks as if she is. She said she had sonogram pictures to prove the babies were real.

Disorder or not, one thing was for sure: Sarah and Kris were broke. They couldn't pay their rent and their electricity was turned off. So the couple did not turn back donations when they started pouring in.

McKinney said she took $600 to $700 in cash to them at a time.

Truth Revealed

Then Sarah encountered a major problem: She suddenly realized she wasn't having sextuplets. She realized she wasn't pregnant at all.

"I was kind of disappointed," Kris said. "But I told her, I don't know how many times, that I'm gonna stand beside her no matter what."

The couple then made a decision that would later devastate their entire community. Knowing no babies existed, authorities say the couple continued to take donations from their supporters, such as McKinney, who offered money and concern for the "pregnant" Sarah.

When she came closer to her "due date," Sarah told McKinney that there were teams of doctors standing by. And finally, McKinney said, she got a call.

"Three days after, she had called me and told me that the babies were born and had given me the names, the weights, and the times they were born," McKinney said.

Hoax Continues

In early March, after collecting thousands of dollars and baby gifts, Sarah and Kris announced they were the proud parents of six beautiful babies: four boys and two girls. Authorities say this was all part of an elaborate hoax that was now in high gear.

After the baby announcement was made, the community came together with financial help for the Eversons. Sarah and her husband welcomed the support.

"It wasn't something that we did to get ahead so we can get out and party," Sarah said. "That help was legitimate, and we needed it."

But soon, the people of Jackson County, Mo., wanted to see the six newborns. The Eversons told everyone the infants were in intensive care at an unnamed hospital. According to their story, the babies were fragile and struggling for life.

In the meantime, Sarah and Kris accepted local realtor Chris Henning's offer to help them get a new house.

Henning remembered seeing Sarah with diapers for premature babies. He said Sarah sat next to him with diapers in her hand and said, "You know, you'll be one of the first people that gets to meet these kids. I promise you that."

Trying to Keep the Hoax Alive

As the weeks passed and March turned to April, the stories became more detailed and the lies more outrageous.

"There was a time Paula told me that she actually saw Sarah come out of a room with what appeared to be breast milk as if they were going to go to the hospital that night to feed the babies," said Henning.

"She [Sarah] said they went at night because they could both go in and touch the babies and stay a length of time," said McKinney.

Soon, churches and charities began donating cribs, clothes and other items. Community leaders even created a Web site and opened a bank account for the Eversons. The hoax was taking on a life of its own.

Sarah insists she and her husband never profited from or asked for gifts.

"We didn't ... ask them to do that," said Sarah. "People are thinking that we're raking in cash, and we're, like, running around partying and buying things. We had no access to any of those things!"

More Help, More Media

According to former supporters of the couple, the Eversons wanted more and more -- a washer and dryer, even a minivan. So, they took their story public in a big way.

The couple did an interview with a local reporter, pulling the small town newspaper into the scam. Sarah cried, claiming her babies were in "critical-stable condition." There was even a heartwarming picture of one of those tiny preemie diapers -- the perfect appeal for help.

When the article hit the newsstands on April 10, it was the beginning of the end for the Eversons.

Police Chief Aaron Ambrose, of Grain Valley, said, "I immediately laughed because what I looked at was a man and a woman standing there holding six shirts, and I said, 'Wow, there are six shirts, but I don't see six babies in those shirts."

Ambrose said he just laughed about it and went on with his day until he got a revealing phone call.

Replaying the Hoax

The call came from the Eversons' landlord, who said Sarah pulled the same hoax on him just months before her claim of giving birth to sextuplets. He said he received a letter from Sarah in which she claimed that she had given birth to five babies and needed money.

That's when the sextuplets hoax fell apart. Sarah and Kris were brought down to the police station where they faced realtor Chris Henning. Police said the couple then confessed to lying about the sextuplets.

"I have never in my life felt so sick to my stomach as [at] that moment," Henning said. "I left the room and went to the bathroom and threw up. I went over to Chief Ambrose's office and just kind of slid down a wall and sat on the floor in utter astonishment."

The Eversons were arrested and charged with felony stealing by deceit. They could face up to seven years in prison.

And there was one more icing-on-the-cake revelation that the community never heard about. Investigators say that in June 1988, Sarah had had a full hysterectomy. She couldn't possibly have been pregnant or had any more children.

"This was a very sophisticated scheme, very, very well organized from their standpoint with one real purpose," said Michael Sanders, the Jackson County district attorney. "And that purpose [was] to defraud people out of money."

Sarah's pseudo sextuplet pregnancy has been a harsh lesson for the people of Jackson County, who take pride on their trusting and caring nature.

"I was devastated. I was speechless. I was numb. I was hurt," said McKinney.

Like McKinney, the people in Jackson County say it will take them a long time to get over the emotional trauma of the sextuplets hoax.