In August of 2017, Denise Marie Woodrum, a 51-year-old woman from Missouri, allegedly attempted to smuggle cocaine into Australia. While this type of crime doesn’t typically make international headlines, the circumstances around the case are more than unusual.
You see, Woodrum was reported to be a nun, although the congregation she was involved with says she was just a "lay associate." And her lawyer says she got caught up as an alleged drug mule because of a lover she met on the internet.
Let’s reel it in and take you back to the beginning.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Woodrum suffered a series of setbacks over the years, including health issues and a failed marriage. But, Woodrum, who was a lay member of the international Catholic congregation Adorers of the Blood of Christ at the time, supposedly thought her luck was turning when she met a mystery man online named Hendrik Cornelius.
The pair spent months texting back and forth but never met face-to-face before her August flight, where she allegedly attempted to smuggle cocaine in the heel of a shoe.
“She was groomed to provide a financial gain for this person, Hendrik Cornelius, whatever person or persons it was behind this identity,” Rebecca Neil, Woodrum’s laywer, told District Court Judge Penelope Wass, according to the Herald. “She went on this trip thinking she was bringing artifacts for him.”
However, Woodrum is having a hard time convincing some people that she truly didn’t know what was inside the shoe.
“I am less than convinced by her explanation,” Wass said, according to the Herald, noting it seemed “inconsistent” with facts.
For example, according to evidence presented in court, Woodrum took a rather unusual flight path to get to Australia. She first flew from Missouri to Texas and then continued on to Trinidad and Tobago. From there, she flew to Suriname and on July 25, Woodrum texted a mystery woman named Stacie noting, “This whole trip is paid for and will get additional payment for work.” She then flew back to the United States, waited a few days, and headed to the airport once more.
Prior to her flight, Woodrum texted her internet lover a list of her expenses for him to repay, including flights and hotels.
“It just came out of the blue,” Tom Rozanski, Woodrum’s father told the Herald, adding that he believes in her innocence.
“Life took a turn. She has never done anything like this before, and this experience has been difficult for me to understand. Mostly because none of our family has had anything happen to them that even remotely resembles what Denise has done,” he said. “I’m just hoping the best for her, that’s all I can tell you.”
Woodrum will be sentenced in early September.
"The Adorers have known her for five years," Adorers of the Blood of Christ communications director Cheryl Wittenauer told Travel + Leisure. "The Adorers have known her for five years. They learned of her alleged criminal behavior last August. Nothing in her actions or statements to them in the past would have tipped them off to this kind of behavior or action."
Correction: A previous version of this story identified Woodrum as a nun. Reps for the Adorers of the Blood of Christ told Travel + Leisure she was a lay associate. The congregation's U.S. offices are in St. Louis.