Storme Aerison walks to the front of the courtroom and selects an aisle seat. Gone is the heavy mascara, the lipstick and the thick layers of blush. Gone are the poses, the pouts and the sultry glances of Aerison's Internet persona -- Shannon Ireland, cover girl. On this afternoon, Aerison appears to be just another dumpy blonde with a ponytail, potbelly and sunglasses, wearing rumpled clothes -- baggy sweatpants, jogging jacket, Mickey Mouse T-shirt -- and waiting under the pale fluorescent lights of the Fourth Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs. The 36-year-old Aerison whispers calmly to the public defender who'll argue against the mounting criminal charges, then opens a paperback and begins reading, mouthing the words as if they were scripture.
Across the aisle, a grandmother clutches her handbag and scowls.
"See that person?" she whispers. "That's not really a woman. It's a man."
The grandmother's name is Ruth. For the past eleven years, she and her husband, Ed, have attended practically every court hearing involving Aerison, who was born as Charles Daugherty but legally changed his name in 1992. They've clipped news articles, taken notes and discussed again and again the strange tale of a black man pretending to be a white woman pretending to be a supermodel. And they do so for one reason.
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"Justice needs to be done," Ruth says. "He's hurt a lot of people. He'll never stop until he gets punished."
Ruth is a retired teacher's aide, and Ed is a retired military photographer. They don't want their last names used because they're afraid.
"There's nothing good you can say about this person," Ed says.
"He's just disgusting," Ruth concurs. "That's what we think about him. Disgusting."
The couple met Aerison in the fall of 1989, when he sashayed his way onto the cheerleading squad for the now-defunct Colorado Springs Spirit football team. Wearing green contact lenses and pancake makeup, Aerison befriended Ruth and Ed's seventeen-year-old daughter, also a cheerleader. They shared rides to and from practice. They talked on the phone. They practiced dance routines together. They even chatted about boys.
"It's amazing the things he pulled off," says Ed.
At the time, Aerison called himself Shannon Trump (one of eight aliases now on his rap sheet) and pretended to be the niece of billionaire Donald Trump, the couple contends. He bragged about owning several Trans Am sports cars, riding on private jets and traveling overseas. His apartment was decorated with portraits of Donald Trump, and he even pulled into the couple's driveway in the back of a stretch limo.
"He always tried to make himself out as being very wealthy and better than he was," Ruth recalls. "He did so many strange things to get sympathy. He once told the squad that his dad had a heart attack, and everyone sent over bouquets. He had an immediate coverup answer for everything. No one knew this was not a white girl. He had all the tricks down pat. The detective said he taped everything down. When you saw him, you thought it could be a girl who was a bit tomboyish and muscular. We had no idea."
"Most people around him tended to take him at his word and believe what he said," Ed adds. "Even though he didn't quite look the part."
"He's ugly," Ruth interrupts. "You've got to say that. He's husky and he's ugly."
Even so, the couple discovered the truth only after a Colorado Springs detective caught wind of the ruse and presented their daughter with photos of Charles Daugherty, who had been in and out of jail for everything from burglary to fraud to impersonation.
"Our daughter had nightmares over this," Ruth says. "She's married now and has a baby, but to this day, she does not feel she can trust people the way she did before meeting Charles Daugherty. She felt like a close friend had died without the opportunity to mourn. She was very hurt. It was a very deep betrayal."
She was not the first to feel betrayed -- or the last.
In 1990, Aerison enrolled at Coronado High School in Colorado Springs as a seventeen-year-old transfer student from Greece named Cheyen Weatherly. For eight days, the then-26-year-old man attended classes wearing women's blazers, skirts and high heels. He sang soprano in the choir and even joined the all-girl cheerleading squad, where he performed in uniform during at least one pep rally. School authorities became suspicious after students noticed stubble poking through his makeup in afternoon classes. After his school records turned out to be bogus, police arrested him for criminal impersonation.
Afterward, Aerison appeared on Sally Jessy Raphael's TV show and explained that he had been sexually abused as a boy and suffered from a multiple-personality disorder as a result. He wasn't guilty of impersonation, he said, because he considered himself to be a woman; his dominant personality was named Shannon. He was convicted anyway and sentenced to two years' probation and mandatory counseling.
He surfaced again several years later, this time as Storme Ireland, the fictitious half-sister of supermodel Kathy Ireland. In that role, Aerison has been accused of running a fashion-calendar scam bilking tens of thousands of dollars from photographers, bodyguards, limousine drivers, hotel managers and rental-car companies worldwide. Aerison even created a Web site (StormeIreland.com) featuring alleged swimsuit calendars, magazine covers, sweepstakes, posters, T-shirts, Dreamteam staff rosters and a biographical sketch of the supermodel, who's described as a nineteen-year-old with green eyes, dark-blond hair and a 38-inch bust.
It's all a sham, according to the Colorado Springs cops. Many of the photos on the Web site, particularly the bikini shots, are simply Aerison's heavily made-up face superimposed atop women's bodies, authorities say. Victoria's Secret even had an earlier Web site shut down after discovering that Aerison had posted his head onto the body of one of its models.
In January, Aerison was charged with writing $185,000 in hot checks on a closed Colorado Springs credit union account and pocketing $30,000 in cash and merchandise, including airline tickets to Tahiti for Dreamteam members who were making preparations for another calendar shoot. Although no charges have been filed in connection with Aerison's calendar-related activities, in June he was arrested for jumping his $125,000 bail. During an April hearing on the check-kiting charges, Aerison had asked Judge Ed Colt for permission to complete the photo shoot in Tahiti while the trial was pending, but Colt said no.
Aerison went anyway, police say.
On June 9, an Aurora woman phoned Colorado Springs authorities after reading "The Broad Was a Fraud," my June 8 story about Aerison, and told them that her brother, a photographer, had just accompanied Aerison to Bora Bora. Her brother had no idea Aerison was a man, she said, and she convinced him to return to Colorado. The photographer told police that Aerison had indeed traveled overseas despite the judge's order. When Aerison returned to Colorado Springs, he was arrested.
Aerison has not yet entered a plea on any of the charges. (Nor has he responded to calls, e-mails or faxes from Westword.) If convicted on all counts, he could get fifteen years in prison.
"Finally," says Colorado Springs detective John Amundson. "I've been working this off and on for five years. We always knew stuff was going on, but there was never anything we could go on. This time, we've caught him with his hand in the cookie jar."
Ruth and Ed hope Amundson is right.
"He seems to get away with everything," Ruth says. "He just keeps doing it over and over with new scams he dreams up. He knows exactly what he's doing. He's very clever. Very devious. You see him. Laughing. Smiling. Casual. It doesn't bother him at all. He needs to get some kind of punishment or he'll keep going. He needs to go to jail."
Back in the courtroom, Aerison walks to the podium as the clerk calls his name. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other and smiles at Judge Colt, who smiles back uneasily. The public defender asks for more time to negotiate with the district attorney, and Colt schedules another hearing for September 11.
Aerison rushes from the courtroom with a friend. They hurry down the hall and into a stairwell, where they disappear. Behind them, Ruth and Ed collect their belongings and make a note of the new hearing date. They'll keep coming back, no matter how long it takes.
"Until he goes to prison," Ruth says.
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