PORT CHARLOTTE, FL. - Authorities say a North Port woman was scamming a local church by saying four of her sons died fighting for our country. It turns out 49-year-old Shirley Ann Duncan never had any children die in combat.
She does however have one currently serving in the military and he's the one who turned her in.
"This really takes the cake." Mark Coffey is the senior pastor at the Community Life Center Church in Port Charlotte. He says it was just too real to believe it wasn't. "When you come up and you are dressed in black and you literally have tears flowing in the church service. Coming up after and saying pastor please pray for me."
Shirley Duncan came off as a mother who's son recently died fighting in Iraq and was struggling. "She asked for a bill to be paid. We did, just like we would for anybody else."
Then mentioning two other sons had died serving years earlier says parishioner Anne Soloduk. "We are giving her offerings. She is going to individuals asking for money. Nobody wants to turn her down."
Donations and items church members say. Then in October they say Duncan indicated a fourth son was injured and days later died. "One lady said if Shirley can't go to the services why don't we do a memorial for the boys here?"
The elaborate service featured photos, flowers, and tributes. Soloduk says something was off. "In our gut we felt that something just wasn't right but you hate to accuse any mother of lying about dead children."
After the ceremony, church members were able to track down one of Duncan's sons who does exist and is currently serving in the Army out of Kentucky, says Coffey. "She really sold us a bill of goods. Until we really investigated we did not know how far she had taken us with this."
Her real son Nick Collazo is the one who actually called detectives to report the scam, saying he was alive and well and only has one other brother who never served and is also alive. "If it were me and my mother faked my death I would be upset."
Detectives learned Duncan obtained photos of her son in his uniform off his Facebook page. The other photos were randomly picked from the internet. Enough to arrest her without the church which declined to press charges. "We are going to continue to love people. That is what we are supposed to do as a church," says Soloduk.
"We just want to keep on loving people. We will do a little more investigating but we are here to love this city. We are here to love people," says Coffey.
We went to the North Port address listed as Duncan's on the arrest report. Nobody was home and according to the signs out front it is up for auction.
Some neighbors say she has moved to another home somewhere in the city.
Duncan is currently sitting in the Charlotte County jail on the fraud charges. Authorities believe it is possible she may have used a similar scam at other churches in the area.
Detectives said the church asked Duncan for documentation on the deaths and she presented a fraudulent letter supposedly from the Secretary of War informing her that her son was killed Aug. 13, 2010. The phony letter was signed by Adjutant General J.A. Ulio. Detectives researched and found that the General died over 50 years ago.
Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell commented by saying, “It really sickens me when someone pulls at the heartstrings of people who want to help, and yet take advantage of them and our military men and women by profiting from her actions.” Sheriff Prummell ended by saying, “It’s just wrong what she did!”