They all thought she was dying of cancer — and they all handed her cash.
Ashley Anne Kirilow, a 23-year-old Burlington native, admits she faked cancer, ran a bogus charity and collected thousands of dollars from hundreds of people.
She shaved her head and eyebrows, plucked her eyelashes and starved herself to look like a chemotherapy patient. She told anyone she met she had been disowned by drug-addicted parents, or that they were dead.
Both parents are alive and well, each in separate marriages with three young children. They both say they did all they could to support their troubled child.
“What I did was wrong,” Ashley said Thursday night. “I was trying to be noticed. I was trying to get my family back together. I didn’t want to feel like I’m nothing anymore. It went wrong, it spread like crazy, and then it seemed like the whole world knew.”
Over the last year, Ashley endeared herself to the all-ages music and skateboard scenes across the GTA and befriended groups of idealistic and energetic teenagers looking for an outlet for their optimism.
They embraced Ashley’s simple cause — pocket change for cancer research — and were inspired by her heartbreaking story. Teams of volunteers organized benefit concerts in her honour, designed T-shirts and made online tribute videos.
“I thought she was an angel,” said Nikki Jumper, 19. “I wanted to be a friend for her because she didn’t seem to have anyone.”
All donations were made in cash and given directly to Ashley in rolls of coins and stuffed envelopes. Nobody asked for a receipt.
The charity was never registered and consisted of little more than a Facebook page.
Over the course of a year, Ashley convinced local businesses and small-scale music promoters to join the cause. She persuaded a legitimate Toronto-based cancer-awareness organization — led by Newmarket skateboarding heartthrob, Rob Dyer — to fly her to Disney World.
Dyer refused to be interviewed for this story, but his organization, Skate4Cancer, released a statement earlier this week disavowing itself of Ashley and denying any formal or informal affiliation.
“Skate4Cancer’s involvement with Ms. Kirilow was based solely on fulfilling what the organization believed to be a legitimate final wish from a terminally ill individual.”
Her dedicated followers say they are shocked, betrayed and furious.
But Ashley’s parents are not surprised.
They say the latest allegations follow a pattern of behaviour since childhood, and that Ashley is manipulative, desperately craves fame and uses people to get what she wants.
“She loved playing the victim,” said her father, Mike Kirilow, a self-employed home renovator. “Because it gave her control over people.”
Late Thursday night, Ashley contacted the Star and admitted to the allegations against her, but disputed the amount of money volunteers say she raised through her charity.
While volunteers claim she raised $20,000, she said it was less than $5,000. She does not dispute the $9,000 raised at a Burlington benefit last September, saying that money was for her personally and not connected to the charity.
“I dug myself a big hole that I couldn’t get out of,” Ashley said. “And there’s nobody to blame but me.”
She said she wants to find a way to give all the money back.
In late 2008, Ashley was treated in hospital for a benign lump in one of her breasts. After that procedure, she began telling people she had breast cancer.
She also said she had brain cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer and ovarian cancer, at various stages and in various combinations. She claimed to have only a few months to live.
In mid-January, Ashley called her father. They had talked only once in the previous four years. She told him she had breast cancer and a brain tumour, and that she needed a bone-marrow transplant or she would be dead within six months.
“At this stage I thought this was another story, but I went along,” said an exasperated Kirilow.
The next day, Kirilow tried calling his daughter to find out her oncologist’s name, but she wouldn’t answer his calls.
After 10 days of trying to reach Ashley, he said he called and left a message on her cellphone saying that if she did not call back he would call the police, tell them she had collapsed and they could knock down the door.
He said Ashley called him back right away and told him: “Stay the f— out of my life.”
Kirilow did not hear from his daughter again for more than a year.
In the meantime, Ashley’s father and stepmother called the hospitals where Ashley said she had been treated for cancer, but they had no record of her.
In April 2009, Ashley called her biological mother — with whom she has had little contact since she was 14 — to say she had cancer and needed money for chemotherapy.
“The only thing she ever wanted from me was money, and I couldn’t ever give it to her,” said Cindy Edwards, a former school bus driver who now lives in Brantford.
Edwards said she told Ashley that chemo was fully covered in Canada and she could not give her any money. “I was crying, I didn’t know what was going on, I tried to tell her she was beautiful,” Edwards said, adding that Ashley responded: “Well, I’m just calling right now to tell you, before I die, that you’re the worst mother in the world.”
When Adam Catley, 22, heard Ashley was broke, alone and dying of cancer, he found her a place to live rent-free with some of his friends.
“Obviously I wanted to do what I could to help her,” Catley said.
On Sept. 27, Catley and a group of friends organized a benefit for Ashley at The Queen’s Head, Catley’s father’s pub in downtown Burlington.
They charged a $20 cover, bands travelled in from out of town at their own expense, Labatt donated the beer, staff donated all of their tips, and the bar itself donated the night’s profits.
Proceeds totalled almost $9,000, Catley said, and he gave the cash to Ashley in an envelope the next day.
Photos from the event show Ashley completely hairless, with a scarf around her head. “She’s good, I’ll tell you that,” said Catley. “She had me 100 per cent.”
Weeks after the benefit at The Queen’s Head, Ashley started a Facebook group to announce a charity she was starting called Change for a Cure.
“Together we can ‘Change’ the world one penny at a time! ?” reads the tagline. In two days, the group amassed 1,000 members. Within a few months, it had more than 4,000.
Ashley claimed she was raising money to donate to the University of Alberta’s research into dichloroacetate, or DCA, a prospective cancer treatment. She said she would walk from Burlington to Edmonton — starting April 29, her 23rd birthday — to deliver the money to the university in person and petition Canadians along the way.
On Tuesday, a communications associate for the university’s Faculty of Medicine said they were not affiliated with Ashley in any way. But on Thursday, the director of communications for the faculty said they could not confirm, one way or the other, whether Ashley had ever made a donation.
Ashley set up Change for a Cure booths at all-ages concerts across the GTA and collected coins in glass jars.
A performer and promoter in Newmarket, Jamie Counsell organized two benefit concerts for Ashley at the Sharon Hall in January and March, raising a total of $1,550 from the $10 cover charge and cash donations. He handed the cash directly to Ashley.
Counsell, 17, said Ashley told him an accountant was handling the money.
“We figured that if she’s got an accountant dealing with it, we don’t need to worry about it.”
The group’s core volunteers say at least $20,000 was raised in the name of Change for a Cure, based on coins rolled by volunteers, individual donations and benefit concerts — in addition to the nearly $9,000 given to Ashley personally from The Queen’s Head benefit.
During this time Ashley was also using four credit cards and running up massive personal debts.
Last summer, Ashley flew to Australia “to live out her last days in paradise,” according to friends. She returned two weeks later, saying she had contracted an infection and was surely to die soon.
By the end of 2009, Ashley had accumulated $30,803 in credit card and bank debts, including a $15,950 personal loan from TD Canada Trust. She declared bankruptcy in January with $1,000 in reported assets.
“I was told she had cancer,” said Mahmood Chagani, Ashley’s bankruptcy trustee. Chagani said Ashley did not mention Change for a Cure or any money she had received in the previous months.
Ashley was born in Burlington on April 29, 1987.
Her parents admit their marriage quickly turned dysfunctional, and after their second child was born — less than two years after Ashley — they separated.
A bitter custody dispute followed. Police were often called to enforce visitations.
Ashley ended up growing up with her mother and had little contact with her father.
Ashley’s mother, Cindy Edwards, said Ashley was a sweet child, but desperate for attention.
“She always wanted to be the princess.”
Edwards said Ashley became greedier in adolescence.
“She just wanted more and more, no matter what I gave her.”
After disappearing for three days after her Grade 8 graduation, Ashley came home said she didn’t want to live under her mother’s rules anymore.
She briefly lived with her maternal grandparents in Paris, Ont., before moving in with her dad and stepmother, where she stayed until she was 16. When she didn’t like her father’s rules, she moved in with a friend’s family for three months and then back with her grandparents for a year.
“You couldn’t trust anything she was saying,” said Mary Edwards, Ashley’s grandmother.
Ashley then lived with a boyfriend’s family before moving back in with her father and stepmother.
“She made this house a living hell,” said France, Ashley’s stepmother, citing constant lying, stealing from her siblings and flagrant disobedience.
Ashley’s parents and stepmother say although she saw a number of therapists and psychiatrists, Ashley has never been formally diagnosed with any mental illness.
“She has lived in a fantasy world as long as we’ve known her, where she’s a princess and everyone adores her,” said her stepmother.
Toward the end of 2009, friends say, Ashley started becoming distant. She stopped returning phone calls and would cancel plans at the last minute.
In March, she posted on Change for a Cure’s Facebook page that her cancer had come back — she had told people, at various times, that she was in remission — and that this would be her last post.
Events were still being held in her name at this time, but she would rarely attend.
Ashley’s father had been following the Facebook page, saw the post, looked at the pictures of his hairless daughter, and wondered if perhaps she was telling the truth. He said he called Ashley and she admitted she had faked having cancer.
“I said flat out: ‘You don’t have cancer, do you?’ There was silence on the phone and she very quietly responded: ‘No.’ ”
Kirilow said she admitted shaving her head and plucking her eyebrows, and said she wanted to come clean and turn her life around — but she needed time. She asked to move back home for a few days.
At this point, Kirilow said although he knew Ashley had faked having cancer, he thought the charity itself was legitimate.
“We didn’t think that she had full control of the money.”
When she got home she was evasive and jittery. But Kirilow said he believes she was faking that, too.
“She started to use this anxiety issue and really started playing that up.”
He said he admitted her to the local hospital’s psychiatric ward on April 27 because of the anxiety she was exhibiting. She stayed there for about three weeks.
“They saw no reason why she should be staying,” Kirilow said. “At that point I pretty much felt I’d figured out what she was up to.”
On the Saturday of the Victoria Day long weekend, Kirilow said, Ashley abruptly left a family barbecue to go camping with a guy she met while she was in hospital. She was gone for three days.
When she came back, he confronted her:
“ ‘You have to do this walk to deliver the money. But you don’t have it, do you? You spent it. Now you need a place to hide, so you came here. ’ ”
Kirilow told Ashley she had 30 days to come clean or he would tell everyone the truth.
She left May 28, and Kirilow hasn’t heard from his daughter since.
Halton Police confirmed that a uniformed officer received a complaint on June 28 from three volunteers about an alleged fraud run by Ashley, but the complaint has not yet been forwarded to the fraud unit.
Ashley’s parents say they hope she is caught.
“This is so embarrassing to all of us,” said Ashley’s mother.
“The only way she’s going to straighten out the rest of her life is if she gets caught,” her father said. “I just hope she does the right thing.”
Ashley Kirilow, a 23-year-old from Toronto, pretended to have cancer She shaved her head, waxed her eyebrows, and plucked her eyelashes. But why did she do it? She scammed more than $20,000 for her charity, “Change” for a Cure, which was really just a Facebook page.
She started this elaborate scam after having a benign tumor removed from her breast in 2008. She tricked hundreds of people into giving her money and even accepted a trip to Disney World from a cancer charity.
After Ashley’s father discovered her scam, he told her to confess or he would reveal her secret. She did not confess, but was found out by the public soon after. Later, she admitted that she only scammed $5,000. Now, she is nowhere to be found.
Ashley Anne Kirilow was born on April 29th, 1987
April 29th, 1987
4 + 29 +1+9+8+7 = 58 = her life lesson = what she is here to learn = Wellness. Well being. Bodily health. Healthy body. Robust health. Strong constitution. Healthful. Hardy. Rest. Relaxation. Respite. Vacation. Time out. Time off. Comeback. Recover. Restore. Recuperate. Nap. Therapy. Therapist. Physical therapy. Rehabilitation. Herbs. Treatment. Remedy. Safe place. Sanctuary. Refuge. Patient. Medical. Physician. Doctor. Medic. Medicine. Medication. Prescription. Pharmacy. Dosage. Side effects. Hospitals. Bed rest. Ailment. Ostracize. Enforced isolation. Shunning.
April 29th, 1987
29 +1+9+8+7 = 54 = her “secret” number = Cover story. Things are not as they appear. Living a double life. Messing with your head/mind. Fake out. Not knowing what’s up and what’s down. Faking it. Cleverness eats its owner. Immature use of the intellect. Betrayal of confidence. Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s anyone’s guess. Mind boggling.
4 + 29 +2+0+1+0 = 36 = her personal year (from April 29th, 2010 to April 28th, 2011) = Weighty responsibilities. Debt. Credit cards. Overextending oneself. Baggage. Burdens. Cumbersome. Encumbered. Shouldering a heavy burden. Feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Shrugging your shoulders. Light burden’s heavy if far borne.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
what she must/mustn’t do = AO = 16 = Expect the unexpected. Anything can happen. Predictably unpredictable. Never shout never. All of a sudden. In a flash. In an instant. From out of nowhere. A real eye opener. Life-altering experiences. Divine correction. Getting right with God. There are limits. Know your limits. Overstepping your boundaries.
How she obtains/loses her heart’s desire = AW = 15 = Lies. Lying. Gimmick.
“Chains you grasped to change your life
now hold you tight and cause you strife.”