Sarah Delashmit faked cancer and tragedy. ‘Sympathy Pains’ traces her downfall
Raised in Highland, Illinois, Sarah Delashmit spent years weaving elaborate frauds about living with serious illnesses, including breast cancer and muscular dystrophy. She invented family members, husbands, pregnancies and children — all as she befriended caregivers who believed Delashmit was who she said she was.
Delashmit’s many lies were eventually exposed as the victims of her frauds began finding each other — and it’s their voices that take center stage in iHeartRadio's new podcast“Sympathy Pains” from medical journalist Laura Beil.
“As journalists, we’re interested in telling really unusual stories, but the complexity of the case also interested me,” Beil told St. Louis on the Air guest host Cindy Collins. “Sarah hurt a lot of people, but she herself also has mental health needs, clearly.”
In 2018, Beil reported and hosted the hit podcast “Dr. Death,” which earned more than 50 million downloads and was adapted into a TV series. While “Dr. Death” focused on a dangerously incompetent surgeon who enriched himself while injuring patients, “Sympathy Pains” has a more complicated antagonist.
Delashmit wasn’t trying to get rich, but she spent years making those closest to her believe she was dying, or that her children had been killed in horrific accidents, or that she was living with a genetic disorder that had her using a wheelchair. For the podcast’s fifth episode, Beil interviewed federal prosecutor Luke Weissler, who pursued the criminal case against Delashmit after her many lies began to fall apart.
In the interview with Beil, Weissler talked about one of the most elaborate frauds Delashmit committed, which involved her enrolling in a camp for disabled adults while pretending to have spinal muscular atrophy.
“She actually went to a camp, actually allowed counselors at that camp to bathe her, to feed her,” Weissler told Beil. “I mean, for those counselors to learn after the fact that she was capable of doing all those things on her own. That is just devastating.”
In 2020, Delashmit pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. She was released from prison in March and will spend the next three years on probation.
Over the series’ episodes, Beil chased a bigger question: Who is the real Sarah Delashmit? After investigating the case for more than a year, she still doesn’t have a clear answer for what drove Delashmit to commit her lies.
But for Delashmit’s victims, the damage has been done.
“These are emotionally vulnerable people, who are already experiencing a trauma, and [Delashmit] came into that situation and really exploited that and added to their stress,” Beil said Wednesday. “The people I've talked to, they’re like, ‘I no longer have the faith in people that I used to have.’ And that's a terrible thing to take from someone.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.