John Hawkins: From Just Sweats to Eternity

This Abomination Will Live On
(“Mistaken for Dead,” Forensic Files)

With any crime that involves a lot of money and at least one commercially attractive offender, you can pretty much count on a TV movie and a book or two.

Captured: John Hawkins in police custody in 1991

The last blog post mapped out a timeline for the murder-insurance fraud fiasco perpetrated by two entrepreneurs and a neurologist in 1988. The post before that one offered a cheat sheet listing the cast of characters.

For this week, I compiled a list of the various shows and books about the case. But first, a superquick summary of the crime for readers new to the sordid mess.

The story starts in Columbus, Ohio, where a  young con man named John Hawkins and his middle-aged lover, Gene Hanson, opened a store selling colorful workout clothes in 1985. The business did so well that in a few years, they had 22 stores in Ohio and Kentucky.

But they had expanded too fast, overbought, and probably spent too much on TV commercials, which starred the nubile Hawkins decked out in the likes of a lemon-yellow tank top paired with periwinkle-blue shorts.

With the business on the edge of bankruptcy by 1988, the duo decided to fake Hanson’s death and try to cash in on his $1.5 million in life insurance.

A Just Sweats store in the chain’s juggernaut days

Neurologist Richard Boggs, a recent acquaintance from California who had money problems of his own, procured a dead body — by killing an innocent man named Ellis Greene — to pass off as Hanson.

Utter disaster followed, with authorities figuring out what happened and nabbing Hanson and Dr. Boggs fairly quickly. Hawkins escaped to Europe, triggering a three-year international manhunt. Like his pals, Hawkins ended up behind bars, but he got out on parole after 20 years.

Here are some other sources of information and entertainment related to the case (in addition to Mistaken for Dead, a favorite Forensic Files episode).

Cheating Death by Edwin Chen. This nonfiction paperback written by the reporter who covered the crime for the Los Angeles Times got a mixed review from New York Times writer Bill Kent, who described the tome as having “brief, breathless chapters” and said its “just-the-facts style of reporting is long on information but short on analysis.” (Onyx, 1992, 320 pages.)

Insured for Murder by Robin Yocum and Catherine Candisky. Written by two Columbus Dispatch reporters who followed the case from the beginning, the nonfiction hardback contains some tantalizing details about the plot. The book got decent reviews. You can check out excerpts free online before buying. (Prometheus Books, 1993, 286 pages.)

The Dirty Nasty Truth: 18 True Crime Stories to Stop Juvenile Delinquency by John Barrett Hawkins. The former Just Sweats partner, who now counts motivational speaker as part of his reinvented self, came out with his own book that “chronicles his descent from successful entrepreneur … to convicted felon.” Amazon carries the book. (Dark Planet Publishing, 2012, 192 pages.)

If Looks Could Kill, a TV movie starring soap opera actor Antonio Sabato Jr. as John Hawkins and Maury Chaykin (who Entourage watchers may remember in a role as a Harvey Weinstein-like movie producer) as Dr. Richard Boggs. Produced by America’s Most Wanted in 1996, it got mediocre reviews, but it sounds like fun and you can check out the 80-minute drama for free on YouTube. (Don’t wait too long. A different link that worked just a week ago has already been taken off YouTube.)

America’s Most Wanted did a great segment about the case on its regular TV show back in 1990, when John Hawkins was still on the loose. Unfortunately, the vignette (except for a short promo) isn’t on YouTube. A couple of sources gave links to the AMW episode on Lifetime and Hulu — but they no longer work. If anyone knows of a way to watch online, please leave a clue.

Killer Couples, an Oxygen Network series, features one episode about the Just Sweats case. It includes the real John Hawkins discussing the crime on camera. There’s an interesting promo on YouTube, and you supposedly can watch the episode on the Oxygen website, although it’s not clear whether it’s free.

John Hawkins circa 2012

Blood, Lies, and Alibi, a 2012 series from the Investigation Discovery Network, devotes a Season 1 show called “Doctor of Death” to the Just Sweats murder. It features interviews with Columbus Dispatch reporter Catherine Candisky and legal authorities directly involved in the case. You can watch the episode on YouTube.

Murder by the Book, a Court TV show in which true-crime authors devote an hour to cases that intrigue them, featured the Just Sweats crime in 2006 in Episode 4 of Season 1  with writer Jonathan Kellerman. I couldn’t find any trace of the the episode on YouTube or anywhere else online, however. If anyone knows where to watch it, please share the evidence.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. R.R.

5 thoughts on “John Hawkins: From Just Sweats to Eternity”

  1. As an afterthought, the pic of Hawkins, above, reminds that some of the best hair care professionals wind up in jail, and ex-cons always have the best coif. Too, it’s interesting how twenty years in the slam can leave a guy looking like the women’s tennis coach. Perplexing.

    1. They have their own hair salon in Orange Is the New Black. Not sure whether they exist in real prisons or for men.

  2. Great research! And what a cautionary tale — not only from the obvious “crime does not pay” angle, but with regards to business. No matter what your growth rate is, don’t bite off more than you can chew.

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