Twenty-five years after the spotlight first glared on Tawana Brawley — a black woman who as a teen claimed she was raped by a gang of white men, smeared with feces and stuffed in a garbage bag — she's desperately struggling to stay hidden from public view.
"I don't want to talk to anyone about that," Brawley, 40, said recently after The Post found her in Hopewell, Va., where she lives in a neatly kept brick apartment complex with signs warning of video surveillance cameras.
Brawley, using aliases such as Thompson and Gutierrez, now has a young daughter, a neighbor says, and works as a licensed practical nurse at The Laurels of Bon Air in Richmond, where co-workers were clueless about her past.
State records show "Tawana V. Gutierrez" and "Tawana V. Thompson" have held the same nursing license since 2006. The Virginia Board of Nursing confirmed issuing it to a "Tawana Vacenia Thompson Gutierrez."
Brawley maintains a PO box in Claremont, Va., under the name Gutierrez, according to sources.
A quarter-century ago, Brawley, then just 15, told a story incredible for its sheer brutality.
After she went missing for four days from her home in Wappingers Falls, Dutchess County, Brawley was found in a trash bag on Nov. 28, 1987, dazed, covered in feces and with the words "n—-r" and "b—h" scrawled in charcoal on her body and "K*K" carved into her shoe.
Initially, Brawley said little, simply nodding or writing notes when investigators questioned her and revealing that she had been abducted by two white men in a dark car who drove her to the woods, where four other white men were waiting.
Details were in short supply. Tawana couldn't offer names or even a description of the attackers who ravaged her for four days.
She said her memory went blank from the time she was attacked until she was discovered. Though she did recall that one of her attackers had blond hair, a holster — and a badge.
The case attracted attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason, and the then-little-known Rev. Al Sharpton, who used it to catapult to the national stage.
Less than a week after Brawley was discovered, Fishkill Police Officer Harry Crist Jr., 28, was found dead in his apartment.
Soon, Brawley's advisers would name Crist as a suspect in the rape. And when Dutchess County prosecutor Steven Pagones offered an alibi for Crist, Pagones suddenly found himself also accused.
Sharpton and Brawley's lawyers claimed — without proof — that Pagones kidnapped, abused and raped Brawley on 33 occasions.
They also fingered state trooper Scott Patterson, a friend of Crist and Pagones, who found Crist's body.
Brawley became a cause célèbre. Bill Cosby posted a $25,000 reward for information on the case; Don King promised $100,000 for Brawley's education; and boxer Mike Tyson gave her a $30,000 watch to ease her pain.
But a grand jury found in 1988 that Brawley was never raped and the whole incredible case was all a hoax.
The panel, which heard from 180 witnesses over its seven-month investigation, found evidence that Brawley ran away from home and was hiding out in the vacant apartment from which her parents were just evicted and that she spun her yarn to avoid being punished for staying out late and missing school.
Many believe Brawley feared her stepdad King's wrath and needed an alibi for her absence.
The hateful words scrawled on Brawley's body were upside down — likely written by Brawley herself, and traces of the charcoal-like material were found under her fingernails, the grand jury found.
The grand jury found that Crist committed suicide because he was upset after breaking up with his girlfriend and over his failure to pass a state police exam. His death, the panel found, "had no connection with any incident involving Tawana Brawley."
"It is probable that in the history of this state, never has a teenager turned the prosecutorial and judicial systems literally upside down with such false claims," state Supreme Court Justice S. Barrett Hickman wrote at the time.
In 1998, Pagones won a defamation lawsuit against Sharpton, Brawley and her lawyers. Maddox was found liable for $97,000, Mason for $188,000, and Sharpton was ordered to pony up $66,000, money that was paid by celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochran and other benefactors.
Brawley was ordered to fork over $190,000 at 9 percent annual interest. None of that has been paid, which brings her total bill to $429,000.
Pagones, who served as Dutchess County assistant district attorney until 1990, continues to search for her.
"Through her silence, she's as guilty of libel as Maddox, Mason and Sharpton," he said. "The only way to hold her accountable — at least at this stage — is financially."
"I absolutely think she was manipulated by Mason, Maddox and Sharpton," he said. "But even if at the time she was being victimized by them, 25 years have gone by. At any time she could have told someone, 'I want to tell the truth.' To me, she's no longer a victim."
Seems like the right thing to do… doesn’t it? Sounds like something Oprah and Iyanla need to look into right away!