Paulette Leaphart captured national attention after she had a double mastectomy and pledged to walk 1,000 miles topless from her D.C. home in order to raise awareness not only for breast cancer but for the issue of body shaming. In fact, her story inspired so many that it even reached Beyoncé, who featured Leaphart topless in her Lemonade album.
As her story grew more and more famous, documentary filmmakers became interested in documenting her promised 1,000-mile walk. However, as the makers of Scar Story worked with Leaphart, they began to grow concerned. Director Emily MacKenzie had told Leaphart that the crew was just there to document the story and that Leaphart would be in charge of logistics.
But when it came time to start the walk, Leaphart turned to MacKenzie and asked, “Which way should I go?”
“My heart sank,” MacKenzie told CNN. “In that moment when she said that, I felt betrayed and deeply worried.”
The documentary filmmakers ultimately decided to leave Leaphart for the stories of other women, even as CNN began to question the severity of her disease. CNN obtained medical records showing that she had a 0.7-centimeter cancerous tumor in her right breast and that one of the sentinel lymph nodes in her right side had tested positive for cancer. However, no cancer was reportedly found in her left breast, despite the double mastectomy.
What’s more, Leaphart has been accused of fraud related to her crowd fundraising efforts to fund her walk. Carmen Lawrence had reported donated $800 to Leaphart’s walk but was then blocked by Leaphart when she asked Leaphart about the allegations concerning her diagnosis.
According to CNN, Leaphart is also in debt, owing the IRS $45,000. At one point, she estimated a daycare business to be worth $200,000 in order to gain investors, but the estimation was discovered to be fraudulent, and investors lost everything they put into the company.
Court documents show that Paulette had defaulted on her lease and had “fraudulently represented” the worth of her business. Paulette “declined to cooperate with her counsel and failed to appear for trial,” the court order read.
The plaintiffs were awarded more than $100,000, but they “never saw a red cent,” Smith said. Paulette filed for bankruptcy a few days later.
When media reports about Paulette’s 1,000-mile walk began appearing, Smith said she and her friend were only temporarily surprised. Knowing her the way they did, this was just another “newfangled idea of how to get money,” Smith said.
“She found a way for people to feel sorry for her, a way to collect money and notoriety.”
Despite the growing skepticsm surrounding her, Leaphart insists on Facebook that she loves her haters and will not be detered. “They did the same thing to Jesus,” she points out. “They’re going to have to kill me to stop me.”