Nun gets caught with coke in her high heels at airport


Denise Marie Woodrum believed she would never love again.

But after a failed marriage and major health problems that came with crippling bills, the US citizen who lived alone met someone special.

She had told him of her happiness waking up every morning and of her dream that they would settle down together.

"Can you promise you will never leave me?" the 51-year-old texted him on July 11 last year.

"You are my Only and First True Family!!!"


Less than a month later, the Missouri woman who was a sister of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ would be importing cocaine concealed inside a pair of high-heel shoes into Sydney Airport.

"It was a big shock to the whole family," her father, Tom Rozanski, told Fairfax Media from his Illinois home. "It just came out of the blue."

Mr Rozanski, who speaks to his daughter weekly, said there were no secrets between the pair.

"At least I didn’t think we did [have any]," he said.

But she hadn’t told him about "Hendrik Cornelius".

"She met a man on the internet and started an intimate relationship with him," Woodrum’s NSW Legal Aid lawyer Rebecca Neil told District Court Judge Penelope Wass last week.

Woodrum texted Cornelius on May 28, 2017, saying that her father had agreed to help financially after telling him she needed $US50,000.

"This of course would be a loan on my part," she texted.

"No I didn’t tell him about you … just for me to get out of debt … I’m still going through bankruptcy and he doesn’t know that either."

Despite exchanging hundreds of texts with Cornelius from April 2017 to her arrival in Sydney on August 4, 2017, she had never seen him face to face.

Once in the custody of Australian Customs officials, she had even tried to call him, the court heard.

"She was groomed to provide a financial gain for this person, Hendrik Cornelius, whatever person or persons it was behind this identity," Ms Neil said.

"There are fraudsters out there who are relying on women who are vulnerable."

On January 31 this year Woodrum pleaded guilty before Central Local Court magistrate Les Mabbutt to importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.

It was accepted by the NSW District Court that she was reckless as to what exactly she was carrying into Australia.

But her agency in the international operation, which spanned North and South America, as well as across the Pacific, remains in dispute.

"She went on this trip thinking she was bringing artefacts for him," Ms Neil said.

But Judge Wass questioned the truthfulness of Woodrum’s account, finding it "inconsistent and at times unbelievable".

"I am less than convinced by her explanation," she said.

Prosecutor Ben Dunstan urged Judge Wass to find Woodrum knew she was smuggling cocaine.

According to an agreed set of facts tendered to the court, Woodrum flew from Missouri to Texas, then to Trinidad and Tobago on July 18.

The next day she travelled to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, in South America.

On July 25, she texted someone named "Stacie": "This whole trip is paid for and will get additional payment for work."

On July 30, Woodrum texted Cornelius: "Riding in his car to get stuff no signature needed."

That same day she returned to the US via Trinidad and Tobago.

On August 2, she texted Cornelius a list of expenses, including for hotels and flights, and departed Miami for Sydney, via Los Angeles.

"It’s been a pleasure serving together … " she texted him after landing.

When Woodrum arrived at Sydney Airport at 7am, her bags were selected for screening.

She told the Australian Border Force officers she had come to Sydney to see the Harbour Bridge and the aquarium and that the shoes in her suitcase were a gift for her mother.

After swabbing the suitcase, a substance was detected inside the heel of a shoe, a wallet and buttons on clothing.

When the shoes were X-rayed, Woodrum asked, "How much did they find in the shoes? Sorry, just talking to myself."

After being told she had tested positive for cocaine she said, "Why, how much did you find?"

This was her "penny drop moment", the court would later hear.

The weight of the powder was just over a kilogram, containing 756 grams of pure cocaine.

During a recorded interview she told officials that in Paramaribo she was given gifts and clothes, which she was supposed to give to people in Sydney whom she was instructed to meet.

She was told to go to a hotel on arrival and let "them" know she had made it, she said.

Meanwhile, Cornelius was texting her: "Are you ok?" "What are you doing honey?" "Shuttle?" "In taxi?"

Woodrum, who has been in custody since the day she was arrested, is due to be sentenced early next month.

Even while behind bars, she told a prison psychologist she "sort of had a relationship" with Cornelius.

Reading from Ms Neil’s submissions, Judge Wass asked, "to what extent did she do it for love?"

Ms Neil said her client was a socially isolated but "very religious woman who belonged to a lay order of sisters in the US", an Australian member of which was supporting her in court.

Mr Rozanski told Fairfax Media his daughter was a former teacher who had a masters degree in marketing.

He said she had lost her job at the YMCA in Osage Beach, Missouri, then began working at two jobs to try to make ends meet.

She had suffered depression and undergone a hysterectomy.

"All of a sudden she met someone she talked to. She said she was going to be doing some travelling," Mr Rozanski said.

"Life took a turn. She has never done anything like this before, and this experience has been difficult for me to understand. Mostly because none of our family has had anything happen to them that even remotely resembles what Denise has done.

"I’m just hoping the best for her, that’s all I can tell you."

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