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Georgia woman lied about having cancer, collected $15K in donations: Police

Family said they started getting suspicious, collected evidence, filed a police report and told her to confess. She's now charged with felony theft by deception.

CEDARTOWN, Ga. — About one year ago, 22-year-old Katie Lynn Shellhorse turned to the internet to ask for donations to raise money for her alleged cancer treatment. Now, those who donated, family and friends are finding out that it was a lie.

The Polk County Police Department said she raised about $15,000 by telling people she had terminal cancer, even shaving her head in the process. The mother of two young girls is now charged with felony theft by deception. 

Shellhorse was arrested on Tuesday and was out on bond Wednesday. Police said more charges could come as the investigation continues. 

Detective Caleb Bowman with the police department is investigating the case.

"She stated that her hair fell off due to untreated mental health and that it was purely stress that her hair fell off," Bowman said. "When I was interviewing her she was visibly upset."

 Bowman said they began investigating this case in late April when the family of the Cedartown woman filed a police report after growing suspicious. The next day, Shellhorse came forward. 

"The fact Shellhorse stated she was taking oral chemotherapy and the pharmacy she stated she was getting it at, they were unable to fill that prescription at the pharmacy so that was the first big red flag for the actual family members," he added.

A family member told 11Alive that the money, which was raised by community members, churches, even the Polk County police chief, was used for marijuana and alcohol for Shellhorse's alleged cancer pain management.

"She told everyone that she could not take pain medication because of her liver and she had to smoke marijuana because of the pain of the cancer so she was buying bags of marijuana," said a family member on the phone. "None of it went to her husband or for her husband."

Credit: Provided
One of the fundraising events held for Shellhorse

Her family says they were completely blindsided. In a statement provided to 11Alive, they wrote the following:

"When the family was told in July 2020 of Katie's Peritoneal cancer diagnosis, we were devastated and feared what this would mean for her young husband and two small daughters. As any family would, we supported her and rallied around her. In December, we were told the cancer was terminal and again, we grieved. 

After a few months we grew suspicious and we started keeping records of Katie's claims. We didn't understand why her doctor wouldn't allow a family member to accompany her to visits or why her experience was so different from anyone we'd ever known who dealt with cancer. Our questions were always answered in detail, but we had no proof of our doubts. We researched and gathered backup information on the doubts as much as we could and we made taking care of the children and keeping them safe our main priority

Finally, we felt that we had ample evidence, and with our family's blessing, filed a police report. Katie's husband was informed and he confronted her and insisted that she prove her diagnosis. Finally, she admitted that she falsely claimed to have cancer. Her husband insisted that she go to the police department and admit that the report was true. 

Our family has been devastated by this event. We had no foreknowledge of her plan to misguide and we will not defend it. We are deeply saddened that our community was deceived. We pray for all that were affected and believe that justice will be served.

If you were affected by this we urge you to please reach out to Detective Bowman at the Polk County Police Department."

For those who may have donated money, like 22-year-old Shilee Fuller who graduated with Shellhorse, and 22-year-old Shelby Walls, who said she donated about $165 to the cause, Polk County police are asking you to call their department.

"She was a great person,  or so I thought," said Fuller. "At the time she just seemed very honest. The only thing I know to do is pray for her, pray for her husband and two girls because I know they're wondering where their mommy is. They're going to grow up and wonder why she did that."

Credit: Shilee Fuller
Shellhorse next to former coworker and friend, Shilee Fuller

"It makes me furious because I watched both of my grandmothers and my grandfather battle cancer," said Walls. "It's every day somebody passes away with a serious illness she claimed she had."

Bowman said the Polk County police chief donated about $500 and his church donated more, too. He said his department has never had to investigate a case like this one.

"We investigate financial crimes all the time, theft by deception, scams all the time, that's part of our daily operations here at CID. But as far as something revolving around false basis, a cancer diagnosis and then exploiting that in order to obtain money, we've never worked something like this before," he said.

Theft by deception is a felony. Bowman said although the actual sentencing is set by a judge, a felony requires over a year in jail.

"That's a lot of people that she took from," said Fuller, who used to be Shellhorse's friend and coworker. "She was going on vacation and buying new things. I want her to serve her time that she gets. I think she got what she deserves, tricking all those people who thought she was sick. She needs more than a slap on the wrist."

"Honestly it makes me sick to my stomach," added Walls. "Not only does she have [two young daughters], she has a whole family that stood behind her. A whole community."

The case remains active. Anyone who donated to Shellhorse that have not already been contacted by detectives are encouraged to contact Detective Bowman (#810) at (678) 246-5107. Detectives encourage reporting parties to only contact law enforcement if they have documented proof of a donation (dollar amount, mode of donation, etc.). 

Credit: Polk County Police Department
Katie Shellhorse mugshot