Woman Caught Trying To Smuggle Cocaine In Heels For Online Charmer

By Keri Blakinger 09/10/18

The woman believed she was just smuggling artifacts for a promising love interest. 

Heel filled with cocaine
Heel filled with cocaine photo via Australian Border Force

Before a charlatan offering an internet romance lured her into smuggling 2 kilograms of cocaine in her gold high heels, Denise Marie Woodrum once dreamed of becoming a nun. 

But after crippling medical debt, a difficult surgery, a tough divorce, the loss of her job and a long battle with depression, the Missouri woman’s devout faith alone wasn’t enough to get her through.

Maybe, she thought, her new lover—a mysterious online charmer known as Hendrik Cornelius—was. 

Instead, the short-lived internet romance with the mystery Lothario she never actually met landed Woodrum in an Australian prison. She was reportedly sentenced last week to 7.5 years behind bars for her role in the smuggling scheme, a baffling illicit plot she claimed she knew nothing about. 

“There are fraudsters out there who are relying on women who are vulnerable,” said her lawyer, Rebecca Neil, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. "She was groomed to provide a financial gain for this person, Hendrik Cornelius, whatever person or persons it was behind this identity.”

The series of personal dramas that ended in the Aussie hoosegow started years earlier in California. Woodrum had been living with her husband and working as a grade school teacher when her marriage collapsed, according to the Washington Post.

She moved to Montana and into her father’s condo, but her life continued on a downward slide until she found herself saddled with medical debt and selling vitamins at the mall.

Then in the spring of 2017, she finally saw hope, a desperate grasp at something new that played out over the course of hundreds of text messages.

"Can you promise you will never leave me?" Woodrum wrote in a message, according to the Sydney paper. "You are my Only and First True Family!!!" 

It may have seemed that way at the time, but when Woodrum found herself at the airport with a key of coke and some hard questions to answer, Cornelius was nowhere to be found. 

The then-50-year-old started her ill-fated smuggling run in Missouri, then flew to Texas, then Trindad and Tobago, then Suriname. Then, she hopped back to Trinidad and Tobago, then Miami, then Los Angeles and finally Sydney. 

But when she touched down in the harbor city, her bags were flagged for additional inspection—and a swab test and X-rays found a heel full of blow.

“How much did they put in the shoes?” Woodrum allegedly asked while the felonious footwear went through the scanner. “Sorry, just talking to myself,” she added. 

Despite that muttered question, Woodrum consistently told the courts she’d been duped, and that she thought she was just bringing artifacts for the man she’d never met.

District Court Judge Penelope Wass didn’t buy it, deeming her story “at times unbelievable” and noting the apparent lack of contrition.

“I am being asked to accept that unknown to the offender the relationship was not genuine and created by the internet to dupe the offender,” Wass said, according to BuzzFeed. “There is a limit to which even her own expressions show she is genuinely remorseful for her conduct, rather than the position she now finds herself in.”

And so, on Thursday, the New South Wales District Court sentenced Woodrum to a maximum of 7.5 years in the pen. She’ll be eligible for parole in 2022.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.