Real-Life ‘Gone Girl’ Framed Love Rival in Twisted Craigslist Rape Plot

She catfished an innocent woman, got her jailed—and wanted to sell the story to Lifetime.

Real-Life ‘Gone Girl’ Framed Love Rival in Twisted Craigslist Rape Plot

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

A California woman was sentenced to five years in prison for framing her hubby’s ex-girlfriend in what prosecutors call a “diabolical” catfishing scheme.

Angela Maria Diaz, 32, pleaded guilty to a slew of charges including kidnapping, perjury, and false imprisonment by menace, fraud, or deceit.

The case stems from a series of “rape fantasy” ads that appeared on Craigslist in the summer of 2016. Diaz told police that her husband’s ex had been answering the ads in her name and giving strangers her address, leading men to show up at Diaz’s residence with the intent to rape her. But prosecutors say Diaz replied to the ads herself, and posted at least one of her own, in a plot to frame her love rival and get her locked up.

Prosecutors argued that Diaz’s bogus reports to police led to Michelle Hadley’s “kidnapping” and false imprisonment as the initial suspect behind the ads.

Diaz’s conviction follows a two-month preliminary hearing that painted her as a skilled con artist with a history of fooling former friends and flames. In years past, pals even staged a videotaped intervention to confront Diaz for lying about having cervical cancer.

The sham diagnosis was only part of Diaz’s web of untruths. She also pretended to be an attorney, forged doctor’s notes and employment checks, and impersonated two of her husband’s ex-girlfriends over email, prosecutors say.

In spring of 2016, Diaz presented her in-laws with fake sonograms showing she was carrying twins. The false photographs, purchased on Etsy.com for $7.50, listed Diaz’s name alongside the doctor, hospital, and date of the examination.

Diaz’s plot was enough for a Gone Girl sequel. Indeed, Anaheim detectives later found Google searches for the blockbuster film and novel on Diaz’s phone.

They also found a Word document that was a pitch to the Lifetime TV network called, “A Darkness Within: The Angela Diaz Story.” Another pitch was titled, “Daughters of God: The Angela Diaz Story,” according to the court testimony.

Diaz’s arrest made national news in January, when the Orange County district attorney announced his original suspect tied to the rape ads was exonerated. Michelle Hadley, a 30-year-old MBA student, was falsely accused of impersonating Diaz in the “rape fantasy” ads on Craigslist.

The link between the women was U.S. Marshal Ian Diaz, who purchased a condominium with Hadley and was once engaged to her. In court papers seeking a marriage annulment, Ian Diaz said he met Angela in January 2016 and married her a month later. Yet had he known about “what appears to be lying at the pathological level,” Ian Diaz never would have married her, his petition says.

A spokeswoman for the DA said that Ian Diaz is not under investigation—despite allegations from Angela’s lawyers that he was involved in the twisted scheme against Hadley, who waged a legal battle with him over ownership of the condo.

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Allison Margolin, an attorney for Angela Diaz, previously told The Daily Beast that the U.S. marshal allegedly had the motive and opportunity to target Hadley.

Hadley, whose story was featured on Dateline, spent almost three months in jail because of Diaz’s convoluted setup. She has filed a lawsuit against the city of Anaheim over her wrongful arrest. The complaint, which is pending as civil rights case in Orange County, also lists Angela Diaz and Ian Diaz as defendants.

Hadley’s attorney, Michael L. Guisti, did not comment to The Daily Beast on Angela Diaz’s conviction.

Not long after Hadley and Ian Diaz split, the lawman started seeing Angela Diaz, who then went by Angela Connell, and she moved into the former couple’s condominium.

The plot against Hadley began in June 2016, when Diaz called 911 and claimed a man had appeared at her Anaheim condo, attacked her, and tried to rape her. She later said he was the first of several strangers to attempt a sexual assault on her. These men had posted “rape fantasy” ads on Craigslist, and Diaz believed Hadley was replying to them using her name.

Diaz also claimed that Hadley was sending emails from fake accounts, threatening her life and that of her unborn child, prosecutors said. (According to Ian Diaz’s petition for a marriage annulment, the sonogram actually “depicted twins.”)

But police would soon learn that Diaz was never pregnant, and that she masterminded the flurry of bogus messages to herself that appeared to be from Hadley and utilized made-up addresses. She used virtual private networks and third-party proxy servers to avoid detection.

Cops arrested Hadley on June 24, 2016—the day they received Diaz’s 911 call—and she was released on $100,000 bail.

Diaz told cops that the barrage of ominous emails stopped when Hadley was in jail, but they started again after her release. At the time, Hadley didn’t have access to her email account or computer, prosecutors say. Some messages Diaz sent herself included pictures of corpses and aborted fetuses.

The Daily Beast unearthed a trove of messages Diaz took to authorities, and many of them were biblical in tone, referring to Diaz as “Eve” and Hadley as “Lilith.” One phony email warned, “I hope you are scared of death tomorrow. Be prepared. Don’t sleep, be watchful of the Daughters of God. We will steal your child and we will watch as it dies.”

Diaz allegedly sent herself a message, in Hadley’s name, suggesting Ian Diaz didn’t really love her. “He is obsessed with me, I am his treasure princess, you are nothing,” the message added, before concluding, “Watch your back tomorrow.”

Hadley was arrested again on July 14, 2016, and held on $1 million bail as authorities continued to untangle the case. She turned out to be the actual victim, wrongfully facing multiple felony charges and life in prison. She was released Oct. 7, 2016.

At the outset, Anaheim detective Michael Cunha didn’t consider Angela Diaz or her law enforcement husband to be suspects. Angela Diaz “believed that Michelle [Hadley] had lost her mind,” Cunha testified. “She basically thought Michelle was crazy.”

Still, Hadley’s parents rallied to her defense. After her arrest, Hadley’s father told The Daily Beast that he believed his daughter was being framed by the U.S. marshal. The family pushed for a closer look at IP address records.

Last September, the Hadley clan’s hunch was verified. The phony email accounts carried IP addresses linked to Angela’s cellphone, the Anaheim condo where Angela and Ian lived, and the Phoenix, Arizona, residence of Angela’s father.

The elaborate deceit by Diaz was nothing new, court testimony revealed.

During the preliminary hearing, Cunha testified that Diaz had duped another ex-boyfriend who also works in law enforcement.

Jason Rayburn, of the state highway patrol, told cops that Diaz moved into his Huntington Beach residence shortly after they began dating. The couple met at a bar and were struck by how much they had in common, Cunha testified.

Rayburn was a cop, and Diaz claimed she was an attorney. (Diaz was never a lawyer but worked in a legal office.) According to Cunha, Rayburn described the relationship in its early days as “too good to be true.”

Diaz moved in after claiming she’d been diagnosed with cervical cancer and that her living situation fell apart, Cunha testified. Rayburn told Cunha that he had to rearrange his house because of Diaz’s chemotherapy treatments, and that it was a difficult ordeal because his son has special needs.

Rayburn told police that Diaz shaved her head and displayed photos of herself getting chemotherapy. She also allegedly started drinking heavily. “He told me that she became irrational,” Cunha testified. “He was kind of concerned that she was drinking so much while going through chemotherapy, which is not something you want to do.”

The boyfriend began to suspect Diaz wasn’t actually sick. He had a friend survey the house one day while Diaz was supposedly scheduled for chemo. But Diaz never left the house that day, according to Cunha’s testimony.

Rayburn and his friends started searching Google for phrases including “chemotherapy and cervical cancer” and found the same images she’d been sending them—images she claimed were of herself in treatment.

The discovery led to the videotaped intervention, where Rayburn and a circle of friends confronted Diaz about her fabrication.

One of the people who led the intervention was Mary Bukovskis, who befriended Diaz while Diaz was a paralegal at a law firm. At the beginning, Diaz allegedly told Bukovskis that her boyfriend, Jason, was abusing her.

Diaz would attend the Little League games of Bukovskis’ son and went out to eat with Bukovskis and her family. “We did a lot together, because I felt so badly for her because she didn’t have family here, and her boyfriend was beating the shit out of her, and we were always telling her, ‘You need to leave him,’” Bukovskis recalls.

Bukovskis told The Daily Beast that even as Diaz pretended to have cancer, she would bring over a bottle of wine and drink at Bukovskis’ home. Bukovskis said she began to become suspicious because Diaz never exhibited any side effects from her chemo treatments.

When Bukovskis called the hospital where Diaz claimed to get treatments, saying she wanted to meet Diaz there and keep her company, staff said they had no record of Diaz—who was the using her maiden name, Connell.

“That really cemented it for me. I think it was then that I told Jason I knew she was full of shit,” the friend told The Daily Beast.

Later on, Bukovskis helped Rayburn pack up Diaz’s belongings. Her stuff was already out of the house before the intervention began sometime in 2014.

Bukovskis found a journal she bought as a gift for Diaz and peered inside. “She’s talking about how in love she is with Jason and how he would just be devastated when she dies, and all this other kind of bullshit,” Bukovskis said.

“It was such a crazy time and I thought it couldn’t get more bizarre, and then the detective called me last year and I’m like, ‘Oh, my god.’ In fact, I think my words were: ‘She’s a hot fucking mess.’ I think those were my exact words,” the former friend added.

During the intervention at Rayburn’s home, Rayburn was the first to speak. Bukovskis recalls Rayburn telling Diaz, “We know you don’t have cancer.” Diaz allegedly replied, “Yes, I do.” Rayburn continued, “And we know you’re not an attorney.”

“Yes, I am, you want to see my papers? You wanna talk to my mom?” Diaz said, according to Bukovskis’ recollection of that day.

Things took an uncomfortable turn when Bukovskis asked to see Diaz’s chemotherapy port, but Diaz refused to take off her jacket.

Diaz immediately moved out, and her friendship with Bukovskis ended. She was in their lives for only a few months, Bukovskis says.

“She’s very sweet. I miss the person that I thought she was. And that’s what really killed me. Because my little boy would pray for her. He goes to a Catholic school and he was in second or third grade then. He would have his whole school praying for her [to beat cancer]. And she would [use the] hashtag #AngieWarrior,” Bukovskis said.

Bukovskis said that Diaz was a “deviant” planner, and that she believes there’s no way police could have known she was duping them.

She’s incredibly intelligent. To speak with her, I would love talking to her. We would talk about all kinds of stuff. And why, if somebody tells you that it’s orange, and you know what the color orange looks like, why would you not believe them?

“And why would anybody do that to themselves? Why would anybody fake cancer? Why would anybody say they’re an attorney?” Bukovskis said.

Bukovskis wouldn’t see Diaz again until years later, at the preliminary hearing that concluded Tuesday with Diaz’s guilty plea.

“The person I thought she was, was fun, sweet, charming, very caring. She was just very playful even when she quote-unquote didn’t feel well. She was just such a trooper about things,” Bukovskis said. “And we thought wrong.”