When news broke that the infamous “Black Widow” had been caught after allegedly scamming an elderly North Carolina woman, there was another woman who wasn't shocked by revelations of Sandra Camille Powers' methods of manipulation and deceit.
Sandy Hodgins had been through it herself.
The 60-year-old South Carolina bookkeeper told FOXNews.com how she had met Powers in August 2005, while Powers was still running one step ahead of a cloud of notoriety that linked her to three mysterious deaths and a staggering number of accusations of lies, fraud and seduction, leading police and the news media to dub her "The Black Widow."
“I just wanted a friend, that's the God's honest truth,” Hodgins said. “I don't know if she's schizo or paranoid or whatever. But I can stand before God and be clean, and I don't think Camille can.”
Not surprisingly, Hodgins met Powers — whom she knew as Camille — through her church in Charlotte. Hodgins had moved there recently to get a new start after her husband's death. Church members knew Powers as a devout woman whose only husband had died of cancer and who had just returned from years as a missionary in Africa and India.
“Everybody fell in love with her because she was a missionary and had been a missionary in the field for nine years,” Hodgins said. “She's very, very congenial, very friendly, very easy to become friends with.”
Hodgins and Powers began going out for coffee and attending church together, and soon they began to look for a house to rent together. Powers implied that she was living in a townhouse in a new Charlotte development that had a Starbucks, a vibrant community life — and many wealthier families.
“She was going frequently to that area to meet and talk to people,” Hodgins said. “You could tell now she was looking for the money — she's a gourmet person, she knows the language, she talks the talk.”
In September, 2005, Powers encouraged Hodgins to rent a $1,375-a-month home, promising to pay half the rent and expenses.
“In the beginning, she told me, 'God told me you're supposed to be my business partner,' ” Hodgins said.
When Hodgins was dubious, Powers mentioned that she would soon be coming into money from a trust fund, and that Hodgins had nothing to worry about. When the pair started shopping for their October move-in, Powers assured her friend that she'd pay her fair share, or more — when the trust money came in. Meanwhile, Powers indulged her taste for fancy living, egging on Hodgins to rack up a $26,000 bill for furniture, some of which had to be custom-made.
“In the furniture store, she's like, 'I like this, I like this, I like this,' and before I know it it's on my bill,” Hodgins said. “Things like a $75 decorative canister set — one you can't even actually use.”
Hodgins wasn't the only one whose charity was being abused, she said. Friends lent Powers their car, which she kept for two months. Whenever Powers went to a restaurant, someone else always paid the bill, and despite her supposed Christian modesty, she tended to order the most expensive meal on the menu. When she went shopping for groceries, which Hodgins paid for, Powers insisted on expensive organic labels.
“Everything had to be organic. She was an organic nut — when we were out to eat, everything had to be organic this, organic that,” Hodgins said. “She had to buy groceries at Whole Foods and places like that.”
And, it seemed like Powers was up to her old tricks of separating husbands from wives, as well. When married friends of Hodgins expected to come into money, Powers finagled her way into their lives, encouraging the husband to buy property out in the country and undercutting anything the wife said.
“He said he felt like she was trying to move in between them,” Hodgins said.
Powers had visions of owning property herself, and spent her days looking for land to establish a center where she supposedly could teach organic farming to Third World orphans and find them adoptive parents.
Instead of looking for a job, she claimed she was looking for property, including on the Georgia-Alabama border, where she spoke to real-estate agents on Hodgins' dime.
Interestingly, Hodgins noted, Powers never wanted to visit her children, even though she claimed they were in Alabama, only a short distance from the land she was trying to buy.
At home, where the trust fund money still hadn't arrived, Powers was behaving bizarrely, filling the garage with other people's castaway furniture. When Hodgins began to question her roommate's motives, she'd reassure herself that Powers was a religious woman — after all, didn't she donate the daily spending money Hodgins gave her to evangelists and speak in tongues at 4:30 in the morning?
"It made me feel like I wasn't the quality Christian she was," Hodgins said.
But by November, with her credit cards maxed out and tens of thousands in bills she couldn't pay, Hodgins began noticing $400 charges on her credit card. She confronted her roommate.
“I said, 'Camille, when is the money coming in?' ” Hodgins recalled. “She started the religious thing on me, about me not having faith. I said I wanted her out on Friday and I wanted my money.”
Powers moved out before then, but not before taking an odd assortment of items from the garage — a broken TV, a container of birdseed, pieces of pottery. Naturally, she didn't leave a check for the money she owed Hodgins.
Partially because of the debt Powers put her into, Hodgins eventually had to move back to South Carolina to live with her daughter. She's focused on getting her life back in order and paying off what she owes for furniture she never really got to use and never really wanted.
“Before I met Camille, I was debt-free,” Hodgins said. “But I don't know if this is going to stop me from being good to people. I just want to recover and be able to say I learned something from this.”
When Powers was arrested recently, a Charlotte friend called and gave her the news. Then the other stories came out, of similar scams on church groups, religious people and lonely men throughout the country. It all rang true — almost all of it.
But one element of the stories of the "Black Widow" didn't seem right, Hodgins said. She was surprised by stories of possible murder because she personally never felt physically threatened.
“I would never have guessed she was capable of that. I didn't see that in her,” Hodgins said.