CUMMING, Ga. - People all over North Georgia offered up their prayers, their love and their money for a Cumming woman who told everyone she had Stage IV ovarian cancer. Authorities said it was all a lie.
Forsyth County sheriff's detectives charged 29-year-old Mary Bennett with theft and forgery. The shocker: they said she never had cancer. Her defense attorney had no comment.
For years, though, Bennett's social media posts went on and on about her bucket list, fun things she wanted to do before her supposed terminal illness won out. Detectives say the licensed practical nurse spent years collecting at least $25,000 in cash and free stuff until someone started asking questions.
Free stuff, like skydiving.
"Anything you want to say to the people on the ground or anywhere else before we go?" yelled the instructor to a beaming Mary Bennett as she prepared to jump.
"Um, another check off the bucket list!" she yelled back, the entire experience captured in a souvenir DVD. Another day Mary Bennett decided to live like she was dying.
She had quite a bucket list. A free trip to New Orleans. A free Hot Air Balloon ride. A free weekend at Treasure Bay in Biloxi.
A free fishing trip in the Gulf. A free ride on the Skyview over Centennial Park. A free hunting trip with celebrity hunter Haley Heath.
Free Braves tickets... including a signed card from Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons and manager Fredi Gonzalez saying Mary was "in our thoughts and prayers."
"What do you predict this community's going to think when they find out the truth?" FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis asked Forsyth County Sheriff's Department detective Jeffrey Roe.
"I think a lot of people are going to be shocked."
On Facebook, Mary Bennett posted that she was undergoing chemo and had her head shaved since her hair was going to fall out anyway. Mary walked as a Cancer Survivor, wore a mask because she claimed her immune system was compromised. But the whole time, she continued to work on that bucket list.
A ride along with the Lumpkin County Sheriff's Department during a motorcycle fundraiser.
Free tickets to see Phantom of the Opera at the Fox.
Free tickets to World of Coke.
A free tour and cookbook from Mary Mac's Tea Room.
And a huge spaghetti dinner thrown by local restaurant owner Kirk McConnell that raised $4000.
"The Forsyth County sheriff's department says she's a fake." Randy told him.
"And that breaks my heart," responded McConnell. "It does."
"Did Mary Bennett seem sick to you when you met her?"
"Did any red flags go up?"
"No. I didn't even think about it," McConnell replied glumly.
Neither did her friends and family who talked to the FOX 5 I-Team. They said Mary Bennett never wanted them to come with her to any of her medical appointments. So they stayed at home or waited in the car, even when she came to Northside Hospital for a special Gamma Knife procedure because Mary supposedly had "3 tumors on my brain and 1 tumor on my brain stem."
She emerged from Northside with two small bandages on her forehead. When they came off a few days later, investigators say there were no scars.
"Well, how did she explain that?" Randy asked detective Roe.
"Uh, it was a miracle," Roe replied.
In May, 2015, Mary Bennett even flew to Houston with her parents because she said she had an appointment with the famous cancer hospital MD Anderson. She posted a smiling picture of herself on Facebook goofing around along the Texas coast. But detective Jeffrey Roe says he checked with every hospital Mary claims to have visited.
"Everybody came back... we don't know this person," he explained. "We have not treated this person. This person is not a patient."
"So MD Anderson says they've never seen her before?" Randy confirmed.
"Emory says they've never seen her before?"
"None of these places say they've ever treated her for cancer?"
Mary got the money for that Houston trip from Kirk McConnell's spaghetti dinner. The Donut Connection owner says he even gave her a few hundred dollars himself. Randy showed him the picture of Mary clowning for the camera.
"This is what she was doing in Houston instead."
"I can't believe it," McConnell responded. "I don't know how she lives with herself. I don't know how she can live with herself."
By that time, the bucket list started making some people suspicious, especially when Mary made another miraculous recovery. Late last year, the FOX 5 I-Team received an unmarked envelope with all those pictures and social media postings, suggesting Mary Bennett was faking it all along.
Turns out, the Forsyth County Sheriff's department was sent the same material. She's charged with theft and forgery, accused of faking medical records to make it look as if she were really a cancer patient.
Before Mary was arrested, no one answered the door when the FOX 5 I-Team stopped by her house. After her arrest, a no trespassing sign greeted visitors at the road. The bucket list had reached the end.
"This is a medical professional," detective Roe pointed out. "Someone who needs to be held in my opinion to a higher standard. Openly deceiving the general public at large, just openly taking these monies and going out on elaborate trips. And all the while just sitting there looking, nodding your head and saying yes, I've got cancer."
Detective Roe asked to hear from any Mary Bennett donor who feels they are a victim of a crime. Contact him at 770-781-3038.