Jacksonville Daily Progress
What started out as a "feel-good" story about a homeless man who lost, then recovered, his service dog with the help of Jacksonville's good Samaritans last week has turned out to be a hoax.
Charles Lee Boothe, 54, is described by Jacksonville police as a "drifter-grifter" with multiple violence-related convictions in seven states.
Authorities believe he lied to a Jacksonville Daily Progress reporter, claiming he had lost what he claimed was a “service animal.” By getting the reporter to write about the alleged incident, Boothe was hoping to receive resources and money from sympathetic area residents, police believe.
But something was very wrong with Boothe on Friday. He showed up at the offices of the newspaper, drunk and muttering conspiracy theories along with angry expletives. In the process, he troubled nearly every member of the newspaper staff.
"If he hadn't come back into our offices in the throes of a meltdown, we might not have ever known that something was wrong, very wrong, with his version of events," Editor Amy Brocato Pearson said. "I feel bad for all the people who tried to help him."
After the staff tried to talk to Boothe several times, Pearson determined that police should be called.
After Boothe was arrested on a charge of public intoxication, officers searched his belongings and found a stolen birth certificate – the theft of which is punishable as a state jail felony – and also determined paperwork Boothe showed the reporter when claiming his black-mouth cur Fuzzy as a service dog was legitimate, but actually belonged to someone else.
Police have taken Fuzzy to the city pound, where authorities will determine to whom he will be released.
Also, Jacksonville Daily Progress officials have filed a charge of criminal trespassing, a Class B Misdemeanor, against Boothe.
"It appears he is going to be in jail for awhile," Jacksonville Police Sgt. Jason Price said.
During the newspaper visit that led to his incarceration, Boothe disclosed that a reporter with a Tyler newspaper had upset him. But Sgt. Price said it's a fair bet Booth actually was angry because he knew he was attracting too much attention to his scam. During his ill-fated visit, Boothe claimed that the CIA could now pinpoint his location because of details disclosed in news articles, and that he was a target of the CIA because he had previously threatened to blow up the White House.
While interviewing with the Progress, Boothe claimed he was a veteran of the United States Marines – going so far as to allege he lied his way into the service at age 14. However, a Social Security number check by the Marine Corps League Det. 1381 could not locate a service record for Boothe whatsoever.
Following is the sequence of events:
• Boothe approached the paper about the allegedly missing animal on Monday;
• The first story ran on Tuesday.
• Fuzzy was found Tuesday afternoon.
• The second story ran on Wednesday.
• The final, ill-fated, visit to the newspaper took place Friday.
What is bothersome to Pearson is how many good-hearted members of the community became involved in this search. During the search for Fuzzy, the Daily Progress received numerous phone calls with Fuzzy sightings Tuesday morning. One resident apparently found Fuzzy and brought her to the Klein Animal Shelter. Another woman, who was physically unable to assist in the search, offered funding to put up 'lost dog' flyers in the area. When she learned Fuzzy was returned to Boothe, she said she would just buy dog food and drop it off near the location where Booth was living. Even on the day Fuzzy was returned, a customer who had stopped by the Jacksonville Daily Progress offices during Boothe's and Fuzzy's visit handed him a folded $20 bill.
"God bless," Boothe told her.
The "missing dog" scam is one Boothe had tried at least once before. According to information recovered by Jacksonville Police, Boothe circulated "lost dog" flyers in Palestine as well as penning a letter to the editor of the Palestine Herald Press.
In the flyers, Boothe referred to a missing service animal who answered only to "Lil Brother" or "Hey Stupid."
"Please return him," Boothe wrote in the Palestine newspaper. "I just want my baby back."
That was the exact same phrase he used with the Jacksonville paper.
The details were slightly different from the Jacksonville case, but for the most part it was the same basic scam, police believe.
Officers initially had just planned to take Boothe into custody overnight because he was drunk, but that changed after they discovered the stolen birth certificate,
Officers looked into his background and discovered his extensive criminal record, which ranges from aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Texas; to disorderly conduct in Florida; robbery and burglary out of California; and further charges in New Hampshire, Georgia, and Tennessee.
He had been living behind a local florist shop near Highway 79. In addition to Fuzzy, he also cared for a small black dog. That other dog's status was not immediately available Monday.
Ultimately, when Boothe gets out of jail, authorities hope he drifts on to another area.
Editor Pearson said she refuses to allow this incident to blind her to the mission of the newspaper.
"They say 'no good deed goes unpunished' and this could very well fall under that category," Pearson said. "However, just because Mr. Boothe fooled us into believing his trumped-up tale doesn't mean we still won't rally behind residents of Cherokee County who have a compelling story or who need the community's help in the future.
"As a newspaper, we did our due diligence in confirming as much of Mr. Boothe's story as we were able to at the time."