Just Sweats Chronology
(“Mistaken for Dead,” Forensic Files)
Last week’s post provided a cheat sheet for the principal characters in a murder-insurance fraud case perpetrated by a trio of friends.
The conspirators were grown men who really should have known better: Dr. Richard Boggs, Gene Hanson, and John Hawkins.
Dr. Boggs was a California neurologist with a Harvard degree and, at one time, a good reputation and lots of money.
Ohio residents Hawkins and Hanson staked their own glory on Just Sweats, a chain of stores they opened to sell workout clothes.
Hawkins and Hanson were also lovers, although some sources suggest that the boyishly handsome Hawkins preferred women and was just using Hanson.
Once Just Sweats faltered, they should have simply filed for bankruptcy and gotten jobs selling health club memberships or real estate.
Instead, they hooked up with Dr. Boggs in California, took the life of an innocent fourth party, and ruined all their own lives.
A number of viewers who left reader comments on the YouTube webpage for “Mistaken for Dead” — the Forensic Files episode about the case — mentioned the plot of the murder-insurance fraud case was hard to follow. So a timeline seems in order.
Dr. Richard Boggs, a respected neurologist, helps create Satellite Health Systems, one of the first HMOs in the United States.
1971 to 1976
Satellite Health Systems grows spectacularly but fails to make a profit. Dr. Boggs is millions of dollars in debt.
Dr. Boggs declares bankruptcy. Friends say he is never the same afterward.
Lola Boggs leaves Dr. Boggs after a marriage of more than 20 years and four children.
He moves out of the couple’s luxurious Tudor-style house in Glendale, California, and gets an apartment in West Hollywood. He begins partying with young men there.
Lola Boggs takes her ex-husband to court over $33,000 in unpaid child support.
1981 to 1988
Dr. Boggs continues to spend lavishly, buying a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith II. He incurs huge debts.
He is accused of performing unnecessary surgeries on patients. Medical organizations expel him.
At some point in the 1980s, he meets the two Just Sweats entrepreneurs from Ohio: sexy high school dropout John Hawkins and middle-aged former department-store shoe buyer Melvin Eugene “Gene” Hanson.
Hanson becomes Dr. Boggs’ patient.
Hawkins and Hanson open their first Just Sweats store, in Columbus, Ohio. It carries a large inventory of colorful exercise clothing.
The store is a huge success.
The duo open more Just Sweats for a total of 22 stores in Ohio and Kentucky. They offer such deals as Lycra bike shorts for $4.99.
Hawkins appears in TV commercials for the business and becomes “a household name across central Ohio,” according to the Columbus Dispatch.
But Hawkins and Hanson begin mismanaging the business. They start selling off the stores’ assets for cash.
At some point, the two men begin plotting a crime that will relieve them of the financial hellhole Just Sweats has become.
Hanson starts applying for life insurance. He ultimately obtains three policies totaling $1.5 million and names Hawkins sole beneficiary. The plan is to fake Hanson’s death and get their hands on the insurance money.
They invite Dr. Boggs in on their plan. His assignment: to procure a body to pass off as Hanson’s.
Meanwhile, Hawkins and Hanson do a Herculean job of hiding the financial problems at Just Sweats. As a Columbus Dispatch story stated:
“Propelled by a series of seemingly ubiquitous TV commercials — all of which featured the wavy-haired, always-smiling entrepreneur — the chain’s annual sales were approaching $10 million. Would-be franchisees were lining up, and major players in the athletic-wear industry were looking to invest.”
Any prospective Just Sweats investors would require to see an audit, which Hawkins and Hanson can’t allow.
With Just Sweats sinking fast, Hawkins and Hanson get serious about an illicit plan for a way out.
Gene Hanson starts telling people that he has AIDS and is dying. Neither claim is true: Hanson is setting up a story to make his upcoming “death” believable.
April 9, 1988
Dr. Boggs makes his first attempt at acquiring a dead body by killing someone.
The would-be victim, a computer professional named Barry Pomeroy, complains to the Glendale police that Dr. Boggs tried to murder him by prodding him with an electric device after meeting him at a bar called The Spike and inviting him to his office for an EKG.
The district attorney declines to press charges because of a lack of corroboration. At least one source says authorities dismissed the incident as a lover’s spat.
Also, Dr. Boggs retains some remnants of his former success: A detective who hears of Pomeroy’s claim notes that Dr. Boggs has an excellent reputation in town.
April 15, 1988
Another try: Dr. Boggs — and possibly Hanson as well — chat up a stranger named Ellis Greene and somehow entice him to Dr. Boggs’ office. The doctor tasers Greene and murders him by suffocation, then puts Gene Hanson’s driver’s license, credit card, and birth certificate in the dead man’s wallet.
April 16, 1988
Dr. Boggs calls 911 and says a longtime patient named Gene Hanson (who was in reality alive and well and hiding) died from a heart attack in his office; he tried CPR, but it was no use.
Paramedics note that rigor mortis already set in. Dr. Boggs claims he tried to call 911 earlier but the line was busy.
Late April 1988
John Hawkins jets to California, identifies Greene’s body as Hanson’s, and puts in a claim for $1 million of the insurance money.
At some point, Hawkins has “Gene Hanson’s” body cremated to destroy evidence.
Farmers New World Life Insurance sends Hawkins a check for $1 million.
A few days later, a case worker at the insurance company discovers Ellis Greene’s thumbprint taken at the morgue doesn’t match Gene Hanson’s thumbprint on record at the DMV.
Two other insurers deny claims filed by Hawkins.
Hawkins panics. He withdraws $400,000 from Just Sweats accounts and flees to Amsterdam. He buys a boat so he can travel freely.
Hanson also abandons Just Sweats stores, and flees separately.
Security workers at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport notice a nervous-looking man with plastic surgery scars on his face.
Suspecting he’s a drug courier, they detain the man and find he’s carrying $14,000 in cash.
Although he gives his name as either Wolfgang von Snowden or George Soule (sources vary), he has Ellis Greene’s driver’s license. He’s also carrying a Dade County library book called How to Change Your Identity.
He is Gene Hanson. Police take him into custody.
Hanson claims he paid Dr. Boggs $50,000 to supply a corpse but had nothing to do with the murder of Ellis Greene.
John Hawkins is still at large.
October 10, 1989
The Los Angeles Times runs an in-depth article called “The Rise and Fall of Dr. Boggs.”
Dr. Boggs claims that he didn’t kill Greene; he was already dead. He also said that he only took part in the insurance fraud scheme because Hanson threatened to out him as gay.
Regardless, Dr. Boggs is convicted of murder and insurance fraud and gets a life sentence.
April 29, 1990
With John Hawkins still missing, America’s Most Wanted airs a segment about the sweatpants gang’s crime and asks for help locating him.
Oprah Winfrey has America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh on her show to discuss the manhunt.
A former girlfriend of Hawkins in Amsterdam sees the Oprah episode and offers info about his whereabouts.
Authorities find Hawkins off the coast of Sardinia in a red catamaran named Carpe Diem. He angrily denies that he’s John Hawkins. They seize him anyway.
August 8, 1995
Gene Hanson goes to trial. He maintains that he thought Dr. Boggs was going to use a cadaver, not murder someone.
Nonetheless, a jury convicts him of murder and insurance fraud.
August 10, 1995
It’s Hawkins’ turn to go to trial. Like Hanson, he claims that Dr. Boggs was supposed to use a cadaver; the state drops the murder charge against Hawkins.
But Hawkins is found guilty of insurance fraud.
August 21, 1995
Gene Hanson receives life in prison without the possibility of parole.
October 13, 1995
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul G. Flynn gives John Hawkins 25 years to life — a lighter sentence than what his associates got.
Dr. Boggs dies in Corcoran State Prison in California at age 69.
Hawkins wins early release from Donovan State Prison in San Diego in part because he participated in Convicts Reaching Out to People, or CROP, a program to help teens stay out of trouble.
A Columbus Dispatch story reveals Hawkins lives with his mother in a San Diego recreational vehicle park and continues to work with troubled young people.
In an interview with Columbus TV station WBNS-10, Hawkins says he was an arrogant youth. He admits to participating in the insurance fraud scheme but again insists no one was supposed to die.
Hawkins tears up on camera and says he’s glad to have a second chance.
Hanson remains in prison at Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, California.
That’s all for this post. True Crime Truant will be on vacation next week and back with a new post on July 13. Until then, cheers.
Update: Read the next installment, the Just Sweats gang in the media