The mysterious email arrived days after our story was published.
We were investigating the July 2016 arrest of Michelle Hadley, a quiet, goody-two-shoes MBA student in Orange County, California who had been accused of impersonating her ex’s new wife on replies to Craigslist “rape fantasy” ads.
At the time, prosecutors claimed Hadley had not only pretended to be Angela Maria Diaz, but also sent her graphic emails threatening her life and that of her unborn child. Diaz claimed strangers appeared at her condo and assaulted her because of the ads, and she told police she believed Hadley was behind the attacks.
And someone named “Lacey” had more to say about it.
In August, “Lacey” cryptically contacted The Daily Beast and offered intel on Diaz. She also claimed she was having an affair with Angela’s husband, a U.S. Marshal named Ian Diaz. “I have been a close friend and dated Ian (quite currently), despite his marriage to Angela Diaz, the victim in this case,” the email began.
The sender claimed that Ian Diaz—who is Hadley’s former fiancé and happened to be fighting her in court for ownership of the condo they once owned together—was “cheating on Angela” during their marriage.
“She was attacked, almost raped and stalked, yet this man continually contacts other women and has really no business doing that,” the supposed tipster added. “Angela is a really pretty nice girl and has been a victim of not only Michelle, but her cheating hubby.”
The bottom of the message contained photos of Angela and Ian, and one snapshot of Angela with a scruffy black dog. “I have these pictures so you can see for yourself how she is,” the sender concluded. “The media needs to investigate this.”
The messages stopped after we asked “Lacey” to provide proof of her identity and she refused.
It wasn’t until January, when the Orange County DA dropped all charges against Hadley and announced that Angela Diaz herself was now under investigation, that we began to wonder if we had been catfished by Diaz or someone affiliated with her alleged convoluted crimes. (Calls to Diaz’s lawyer were not returned by press time; we’ll update with her response once we hear back.)
At a press conference last month, prosecutors announced they had exonerated Hadley and that she had been falsely accused.
Now they had their sights on Diaz and accused her of orchestrating a Gone Girl-style plot in an attempt to put Hadley away for life.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was forced to concede that cops’ prime suspect ended up being the “innocent victim of a diabolical scheme,” which was allegedly masterminded by the spouse of Hadley’s ex.
“I don’t think we have a clear statement of what her motive might be,” Rackauckas told reporters, before adding, “You have a love triangle. Maybe a [desire] to put the dagger into the older relationship, but all that’s just speculation at this time.”
Diaz, a 31-year-old daughter of an Arizona doctor, is incarcerated on a $1-million bond and awaiting trial on a litany of charges including kidnapping, false imprisonment, falsely filing a police report, grand theft and forgery.
She faces 12 years and eight months in state prison, in addition to 11 years in county jail, prosecutors say.
Authorities say Diaz sent intimidating messages to herself and made it appear that Hadley was the author. Some of them were sinister and Biblical in tone, describing Hadley as “Lilith” and Diaz as “Eve.” Diaz also allegedly pretended to be pregnant with the U.S. Marshal’s baby and forged doctor’s notes.
Prosecutors have not charged Ian Diaz—or suggested any involvement by him—in his estranged wife’s case, and Ian’s lawyers did not return messages left by The Daily Beast. Court records show Ian Diaz, 39, filed for a marriage annulment in September 2016.
Allison Margolin, Angela Diaz’s attorney, said she believes there might be other conspirators in the alleged plot against Hadley.
“It’s still unclear who was involved and how many suspects there are. It’s not clear to me why Angela is being singled out and somehow [pegged as] the mastermind of the entire situation,” Margolin told The Daily Beast.
She described Diaz as “a much easier target” for prosecutors than the U.S. Marshal.
“People are innocent until proven guilty,” Margolin said. “When the government is publicly telling their side of the story, and the defense hasn’t had the opportunity to see all the evidence, I think people should look at that skeptically.”
Meanwhile, Michelle Hadley—who lost her job, her apartment and dropped out of business school because of the false allegations against her—is left to pick up the pieces. She filed a notice of claim against the Anaheim Police Department for her wrongful arrest and launched a blog to write about her arrest and post-setup life.
The top of her new website declares, “2 false arrests. 86 days in jail. But that won’t stop me from loving, laughing, or living.”
Hadley is slated to appear on the Today Show this morning, and her story is getting the Dateline treatment tonight at 10/9c in a one-hour episode titled “Diabolical,” a segment on which I discuss the case.
In an interview with The Daily Beast on Wednesday, the 30-year-old Hadley said, “I don’t want people remembering me as the girl who has suffered for this. I want to be remember as the girl who fought back.”
The bookworm was arrested twice: Once in June after Diaz contacted police, and again in July after she was bailed out of jail. She spent three months behind bars while her parents and attorney, Michael L. Guisti, feverishly advocated on her behalf.
Hadley blamed Anaheim cops for refusing to consider evidence she believes would have absolved her of any crime. During the Dateline special, she tells correspondent Dennis Murphy, “I appreciate the apologies. But the apologies don’t rebuild your life and the apologies don’t undo what’s been done.”
According to Hadley, Anaheim police “dropped the ball big time” by allegedly failing to conduct a thorough investigation that included obtaining IP addresses and certain camera footage at the condo building, where she once shared a home with the federal lawman and where Diaz had claimed to be attacked by men seeking rape fantasies.
While cops haven’t released a motive, Hadley believes Angela Diaz might have targeted her because she filed a lawsuit against Ian Diaz over their condominium. “The timing on it all perfectly coincides with actions on the real-estate property,” Hadley told The Daily Beast. She says the alleged setup had nothing to do with a love rivalry.
“What love triangle? I wasn’t in the picture. Why would she go after me? I’m just the ex,” Hadley said, adding that she’s never met Angela before.
“The tone of all her fake e-mails pretending to be me … she is complimenting herself. It’s really weird. If the cops read this at all, [they should have thought] ‘Why would Michelle be complimenting her?’”
Prosecutors say Diaz impersonated not only Hadley, but two of her hubby’s former flames.
Investigators told The Daily Beast they believe “Lacey,” whose last name is being withheld by The Daily Beast, is another ex-girlfriend whose identity Diaz tried to assume.
In August, when asked for proof of identity, “Lacey” told The Daily Beast she works for Apple and “cannot risk my job.” Then she forwarded an email that she had sent to an Anaheim detective working on the Hadley case.
“The detective on the case has heard my story,” the sender stated in her third and final email to The Daily Beast. “How sad and sorry we should all feel for this poor woman [Diaz]. Angela knows nothing more than how to be a dutiful and good wife it seems yet she’s being attacked from all sides. Someone should speak out for her.”
When asked about “Lacey,” the Anaheim Police Department confirmed a detective did receive emails from the same address.
Sgt. Daron Wyatt said those missives—similar to emails that make up Diaz’s criminal case—were sent under someone else’s identity.
“The email address is based off a real person. There is a real Lacey. We did contact her … and our investigation has confirmed she did not send the email,” Wyatt told The Daily Beast.
Wyatt, however, would not confirm whether police suspected Angela Diaz of pretending to be “Lacey” online. He cited the pending investigation. The department “confirmed involvement of other parties in the case,” Wyatt said. “Not Michelle [Hadley].”
A woman who is believed to be the real “Lacey” did not return emails or phone calls left by The Daily Beast.
Danny Becerra, an investigator for the Orange County DA, told The Daily Beast that “Lacey” was “probably somebody [Ian Diaz] had dated in the past. As far as the type of relationship and how long, I don’t know.”
Becerra said authorities are tasked with combing through a thousand pages’ worth of emails that Diaz allegedly sent herself and determining which IP addresses and devices those messages came from.
“A lot of them were being sent from an IP address from their [Ian and Angela’s] home. Who’s behind the computer? That’s all part of the investigation,” Becerra said.
Lacey isn’t the only past love Angela Diaz allegedly imitated.
A search warrant affidavit—filed in Diaz’s native Arizona—alleges Diaz posed as her ex-boyfriend in menacing emails that she sent to herself and used as ammunition against Hadley. Those messages, delivered under the name “Jason Ray,” were included in Diaz’s petition for a restraining order against Hadley, too.
One May 2016 email from “Jason Ray” began, “You have not heeded my warnings and will have to be hurt in order to see the truth about Him,” referring to Ian Diaz.
“YOU NEED TO WATCH YOUR BACK,” the message warned, according to court papers.
Another email, titled “The Truth,” stated, “DO WE HAVE TO HURT YOU TO MAKE YOU SEE THIS?
“IAN IS A SNAKE, SATAN AND IS A SINNER …. You are disposable and I hope to GOD ON HIGH you are put in your place….
“I WILL PROVE TO YOU THE TRUTH, no matter the cost.”
“Jason Ray” likely refers to Jason Rayburn, a California cop who had dated and broken up with Diaz before she married the U.S. Marshal. It wasn’t until Diaz’s arrest that he learned she was allegedly impersonating him.
According to the affidavit reviewed by The Daily Beast, Diaz contacted Anaheim police in May 2016 to report Hadley was sending her threatening messages through a LinkedIn account with the name Jason Rayburn.
“I located Jason Rayburn who told me he never had a [Linkedin] account but he did have a dating relationship with Angela that lasted 8 months until he discovered she had lied about having cervical cancer and being an attorney,” an Anaheim detective stated in the document.
Reached by phone, Rayburn confirmed that Diaz had apparently been impersonating him online. He told The Daily Beast that police questioned him as part of the Diaz investigation and that he could not comment in detail.
Still, his twisted liaison with Diaz, who then was named Angela Connell, still haunts him.
They met at a pub where Rayburn, a bassist, had just performed with his band. The cop stood at the bar when Diaz allegedly made a beeline for him. “Like a lion on the Serengeti, she saw her wounded gazelle—or the guy who was paying the tab,” Rayburn recalled. “We carried on a conversation for several minutes and exchanged numbers.”
Soon after, they moved in together. But, according Rayburn, the relationship took a strange turn with drama that consumed him and his friends and family.
“At the time, I’d literally felt like I was living in a Lifetime movie or the Oprah Network or something,” Rayburn said, adding that he experienced “crazy, over-the-top caliber stuff” that matches what Hadley allegedly encountered.
When asked about Diaz’s pending criminal charges, Rayburn said he wasn’t surprised. “There was incredibly devious stuff going on,” Rayburn said. “Stuff that a normal human being wouldn’t devise. I’m fortunate to be out of the situation now.”
“It truly reaches the level of almost unbelievable, what the human mind is capable of,” he said.