By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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Miramar Police documents contend the couple "told perspective clients that they had medical training and expertise in this type of cosmetic augmentation." They "wore lab coats" and advised clients to "soak in a warm bath" afterward. (Both Donnie and Mark deny the allegations.)
The couple's last trip to Florida began the morning of March 19, 2001. They drove a rented green van from Greenville to a budget hotel in Hallandale Beach and arrived at Cookie's condo the next day. Once inside, they were introduced to Vera.
Cookie knew the grandmother through her late son, who had died of AIDS five years before. Vera agreed to pay the couple $1,000 cash, according to prosecution, to inject her with silicone. When paramedics arrived, none of the party guests offered any information about the shots. Miramar Police noted, "It is believed this information could have been useful in treating [Vera]."
At Memorial Hospital West — even hours after Vera Lawrence's death — the oily liquid continued to seep from dozens of tiny needle holes. Doctors took note of the mysterious fluid and called Miramar Police. What medical examiners found next must have floored them: In her body was a half-gallon of medical- and industrial-grade silicone. Some of it had been in her buttocks for years.
On the morning of March 21, the day after the death, a heavyset man with thinning hair and neat dress clothes knocked on Cookie's green apartment door. He introduced himself as Miramar Police Det. Michael Rinaldi, sat Cookie down, and asked what had happened the night before. Then he began to search the cluttered condo.
Two minutes into the search, according to the police report, Rinaldi came upon a syringe and alcohol wipes in a trash can. "You have the right to remain silent," he began. "Anything you say..."
"What the fuck," Cookie responded. "I may as well tell you the truth."
Cookie explained that Donnie and Mark had performed about 90 percent of her many cosmetic treatments. "Once," she said, "they even punctured my lung." She went on to explain the couple was responsible for Vera's death.
Rinaldi soon learned more about the party. Another guest, Rodney Taylor — a transsexual whom the couple had injected in the chest — gave a sworn statement explaining she had gone to the condo to be pumped with silicone. She "declined to be treated after seeing what had taken place."
A few days later, Rinaldi received a phone call. A woman named Denise Jones explained she was a former client of Donnie and Mark's and that the couple's treatment caused her to "feel very, very weird" and to "breathe funny."
Rinaldi kept digging and soon learned Mark was a regular customer of Silicone Inc. in High Point, North Carolina. He sometimes had the chemical delivered to hotels in Miami.
So the detective headed north, and just after 4 p.m. on April 11, with Greenville County cops in tow, he arrived at Mark and Donnie's small gray home and pounded on the door. Donnie was outside by the pool with a friend setting up for a cocktail party. The officers presented a search warrant and began ripping into couches and digging through cardboard boxes in search of evidence.
Rinaldi found "discarded syringes and medical supplies," including rubber gloves and a stethoscope, along with notes that read, "Breasts $400, Hips $300." Names of other body parts were written on a calendar and circled. The detective next spotted business cards. In a bold red font, they read, "Body Sculpting by Viva."
Detectives arrested Mark and then questioned the couple's roommate, Michael Henson, who explained the two had "been acting as a team" and "had given silicone injections on the night in question."
"It was the strangest case we've ever worked," says Lt. Shea Smith, a Greenville detective who was there for the arrest. "They were certainly putting a lot of people in danger."
A week later, just after lunchtime on April 18, Donnie was taken to Greenville County Jail and locked up with men. She was transported to Florida by jail bus two weeks later. For the first half of the ride, she was allowed to sit in the front of the bus, away from male prisoners. But then she was sent to the back. Many of the men hadn't seen a woman in months. "They were very aggressive," Donnie says. "There were hoots and hollers and 'Hey, baby's.''
After Donnie arrived at the Broward County Jail, authorities permitted her to shower alone. There was no hiding the breasts and long blond hair. Says her lawyer, George Reres: "Everything about her suggested she was female. If you saw this woman at a club, you would certainly want to go out with her... She was essentially walking around waiting for an attack to occur."
About a month later, Donnie told guards that another inmate — a former crack addict who had been sentenced to life after being convicted of aggravated battery, robbery, and other crimes — had exposed himself and demanded oral sex. Donnie refused and he threatened to kill her with a shank, she says.
Guards then moved Donnie to an eight-by-ten-foot solitary room on the eighth floor. It was necessary, they noted in jail records, because she was an "effeminate male."