Death by Silicone | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Death by Silicone

Donnie Hendrix was sick of waiting. Dolled-up like a Southern beauty queen, she wore Barbie-blond hair and a pink collagen pout as she sat in the parking lot of a Miramar condo. The five-foot-ten, 32-year-old eyed the clock from the passenger seat of a rented green Chevy van just after 7 p.m. on March 20, 2001. With her pert double-D breasts and slow, saccharine drawl, she could have passed for a South Florida trophy wife — if she hadn't been born with a penis.

Donnie was male by birth but living as a woman thanks to weekly doses of estrogen. She had long ago shed the boyish figure, chin stubble, and deep voice. Her boyfriend, Mark Hawkins, a fit housecleaner with a tidy goatee, fiddled anxiously with his cell phone in the driver's seat. Crickets chirped in the fading evening light. In gold letters, a nearby sign read "The Enclave Luxury Condominiums."

What's taking this queen so long? Donnie thought.

Then Mark's phone rang and an effeminate voice instructed them to go upstairs. So the couple climbed to the third floor of a building with red Spanish-style roofing and a man-made lake vista. They knocked twice on the green door of unit 306, and a curvy transsexual named Corey "Cookie" Williams greeted them in a skin-tight dress. The wand of plastic surgery had morphed her face from that of a young black man into a Jessica Rabbit look-alike.

Soon, three other guests arrived. One was Vera Lawrence, a buxom 53-year-old Carol City secretary and gospel singer. Though the 227-pound grandmother wore thick makeup, three-inch red fingernails, and stylish clothes, she stood out in the younger, mostly gay male crowd.

After some small talk, the guests migrated to a spacious bedroom decorated with Egyptian trinkets. Vera lifted the hem of her short-sleeved, leopard-print dress to uncover clusters of pinprick-sized scars that led from her thighs to her buttocks. Hard, gravel-like bumps peppered her bulging hips. The skin was nearly translucent. Something was wrong.

Donnie flinched at the sight and scribbled the figure $1,000 onto a notebook. Vera let her dress drop back into place, took a deep breath, and lay facedown on the bed. According to investigators, Donnie used a marker to draw points on Vera's left thigh and, with Mark's help, filled a thick syringe with a clear fluid. Then they injected Vera's left buttock and upper thigh. Afterward, Donnie used cotton balls to swab the puncture marks with rubbing alcohol.

The injection wasn't drugs. Vera's vice was silicone. She hoped to round and smooth her aging body. After a few minutes, she excused herself and headed to the bathroom. She returned wheezing and began to mumble incoherently. Blood mixed with a thick, oily liquid oozed from her upper left thigh. Eventually, she lay back down on the bed, gasping for air.

Cookie, the host, nervously called 911. "She's breathing real, real hard, and it's like she's sweating... She's limp."

Miramar Fire Rescue arrived in minutes and rushed her to Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines. It was too late — she stopped breathing before they arrived. Doctors pronounced her dead in the emergency room at 11:30 p.m. due to a massive embolism in a lung. The cause: silicone leakage into the bloodstream.

Twenty-two days later, police arrested Mark Hawkins and charged him with third-degree murder, manslaughter, and practicing medicine without a license. They nabbed Donnie on the same charges.

In 2003, separate juries convicted Donnie of illegal practice of medicine and Mark of third-degree murder. She was given the maximum sentence of five years. Mark was sent up for only six; prosecutors struck a deal after the judge threw out the testimony of a key witness and ordered a retrial.

But the tale didn't end there. Though Donnie was taking prescription female hormones and had been living as a woman for more than ten years, she was sent to a male cellblock — where unconscionable horrors would unfold.

Donnie is now out of jail and living in North Florida. She has given up estrogen and is caught in gender limbo. Her description of the booming world of do-it-yourself cosmetic enhancement and abuse by fellow prisoners shows this: Gender confusion and vanity take lives, bruise psyches, and baffle law enforcement. In South Florida, Vera Lawrence's death hasn't stopped people from taking insane health risks in the name of beauty. Says Donnie: "I still get calls from people wanting to get pumped. It blows my fucking mind."

Joanie, a willowy brunet with a teeny dress and a winning smile, lip-synchs the final line to Kelly Clarkson's "You Thought Wrong." When a new song begins, she hops off the stage and playfully smacks herself on the rear in front of a portly older patron at a packed bar. Her face says, I look good, and I know it.