The Mom Who Stole Her Daughter’s Identity


In early 2016, a blonde stranger with round cheeks arrived at a domestic violence shelter near the small town of West Plains, Missouri, visibly shaken. She said her name was Lauren Ashleigh Hays and that she was 22 years old.

The story Lauren told was each familiar and sad: She was running from a boyfriend who beat her. She needed help starting over. A lady affiliated with the shelter had friends nearby named Wendy and Avery Parker, who offered to take Lauren in. The Parkers, an older married couple, found Lauren an old truck to drive and a spot to live of their town of Willow Springs, a quaint community with 2,160 residents and a predominant street lined with red brick buildings. They helped her enroll at a satellite campus of Southwest Baptist University in one other small town called Mountain View, 17 miles east. Lauren expressed interest in becoming a baby psychologist.

For the subsequent two and a half years, Lauren thrived. She led story time for the youngsters at a neighborhood library, appeared in a production of a Jesus-centered domestic violence play, and gleefully kissed her justifiable share of the town’s young men. She went to water aerobics and made friends with an excitable mob of young women, who wore a uniform of short summer dresses with tennis shoes within the sticky Missouri heat. However the persona she was constructing would transform an outrageous lie. After which she was gone, leaving residents to wonder who she really was, and if any of the love and care they’d invested in her ever meant a thing.

After she arrived, Lauren was hired to work 16 hours every week on the Mountain View Public Library, after passing a drug test and background check. Beth Smith, who has worked on the library for 18 years, remembers Lauren as a busy, loud, and barely peculiar college student, who took plenty of selfies to post on Facebook. “She was only a silly girl,” Smith says. “She didn’t know how one can cook. She didn’t know anything about kids.” When it was quickly determined that Lauren was also not super competent within the crafts department, she was put in command of story time. “The little kids just loved her,” Smith says.

Lori Coulter got to know Lauren through her friends, the Parkers. “This girl showed up and he or she was calling them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad,’” she says. “I used to be like, Wait a minute, I do know this girl is just not their child—she’s too old. But then someone told me she was 22 and had been dumped off on the battered women’s shelter. Everybody just felt so sorry for her.”

In all places Lauren went, she sold her tragic tale. She wore heavy makeup and told a boyfriend she had scarring from a automotive accident; to a different friend, she said the scars were from when her ex smashed her face right into a mirror. Her stories weren’t the type that prompted follow-up questions, only a clucking of the tongue and a quiet acknowledgment of life’s unfairness.

Coulter remembers Lauren attempting to pull her life together, whilst she seemed chronically unbalanced. She says that Lauren initially had some trouble applying for school; she couldn’t get her birth certificate even with a driver’s license and Social Security card. But once every part got here through, she enrolled and successfully applied for financial aid. Coulter, then a single mother, asked her if she desired to make some extra money babysitting her 13-year-old autistic son.

She quickly became Lauren’s confidante—like a trusted big sister. “We sat for hours and talked, and he or she asked me questions a youngster would ask,” Coulter says. “I talked her through it because, as an older person locally, if a young girl is asking for help, I’m going to assist her.” Lauren was all the time partying and always had friends over to her studio apartment, which was a classically messy young adult habitat with laundry strewn across the ground. Lauren wanted advice a couple of young man she was dating. “She could be like, ‘I don’t wanna go too fast with him,’ and I’d be like, ‘Well, you understand, it’s your body and don’t do anything you don’t wanna do,’” Coulter says.

laura oglesby

Beth Smith, who has worked on the library for 18 years, remembers Lauren as a busy, loud, and barely peculiar college student, who took plenty of selfies to post on Facebook.


Lauren was vulnerable and bubbly, wide-eyed and barely hapless, and he or she attracted protectors. Jo-Mártín Archuleta and his husband believed they were taking a broken young woman under their wing. Lauren told them that her mother was an alcoholic who let her boyfriend use Lauren for sex when she was young. She said that her abusive boyfriend was from a distinguished family, and he or she was terrified they’d track her down. “She thought she had early childhood trauma and that’s what caused her to be stuck [mentally] at around age 16,” Archuleta says. He and his husband wanted to point out her a greater life. They mentored her and lectured her on her refusal to grow up, had her sleep over, and took her to church with them. She spent days grooming the couple’s horses, and nights talking on their moonlit front porch. Lauren referred to Archuleta as her uncle. He remembers her as all the time laughing, all the time smiling—and greater than a bit ditsy. “I don’t mean to be rude, but she was so dumb,” he says.

In hindsight, perhaps Lauren overdid it. She giggled nonstop, hosted frequent slumber parties, and wore rhinestone cat-ear headbands. She made extensive use of animal-related filters on social media, and he or she doted on a pet bunny named Officer Hops. In one among her Facebook profile photos, Lauren is wearing a sweatshirt that reads, “Girls Just Wanna Have $Fund$.”

Archuleta says that he often found himself frustrated with Lauren. She partied more often than he liked and customarily ignored his advice. One night, she was out with some teenagers, drinking down by the river, when she attempted to leap from the bed of 1 slow-moving truck to a different. She didn’t make it, landing on a rock and ending up within the hospital. It was classic Lauren. “We never asked her to house-sit,” Archuleta says, “because we didn’t trust she wouldn’t throw a celebration and nervous she’d forget to feed our pets.”

Lauren and Archuleta were each involved in Willow Springs’s local theater group, the Star Dramatic Company (tag- line: “Discovering the Stars Inside Our Community”), where Lauren helped out backstage. When Cindy Delp was mounting a production of her semi-autobiographical Christ-centered domestic violence play, Breaking the Chains, at one other local theater company, she needed some extras to fill in certain roles—particularly, the demons who were meant to represent the abusive protagonist’s inner demons. Lauren obliged.

Soon, Lauren was moved to confide in Delp that she was abused by her parents and raped by an uncle. She also told Delp that Wendy Parker—one half of the couple helping Lauren rebuild her life—was her real mother. “It was just the strangest thing,” Delp says. “In fact, Wendy said, ‘That’s not true. I’m not her real mother.’ But Lauren was telling everybody that.”

As can occur in towns big and small, people began to talk. Lauren regularly became referred to as someone who asked men for whatever she might need—groceries, gas, repairs to her battered pickup. “She never got any type of special jewelry or anything like that,” Smith says. “It was just survival stuff. You might have a bunch of country boys who learn about trucks and may get food from home. She type of preyed on the naïve.”

After too many conversations about her boy troubles, Coulter decided to set Lauren up with a young man she knew. Coulter says he fell for her friend “hook, line, and sinker.” One other man, a 23-year-old we’ll call Brad, met Lauren through mutual friends and ended up dating her for greater than six months. Her whole life story, she explained, was a little bit of a large number: She had been adopted from Florida—her biological parents were drug addicts—but then her parents (meaning Wendy and Avery) had swooped in when she was still a child. Before Brad met the Parkers, Lauren warned him that they didn’t prefer to talk in regards to the adoption.

The connection was turbulent. Brad was all the time working, and Lauren all the time desired to party. “I used to be working three jobs as an alternative of drinking, attempting to get in a greater situation,” Brad recalls. She was often indignant or frustrated with him, even throwing things if she didn’t get her way, and one time he found her going through his phone. Sometimes, when she got mad, she threatened to call her “daddy”—as in Avery Parker. Brad wondered if she was younger than she said she was. “She was very manipulative, and I watched her turn friends against friends in our group,” he says. “She was so immature at times.” Brad says the connection ended because he couldn’t sustain with Lauren’s partying.

Even in a small town stuffed with kind people willing to provide her the advantage of the doubt, Lauren’s behavior raised red flags. In 2018, Wendy, Lauren’s recent “mom,” became concerned that certain parts of her story just didn’t add up, in line with friends. “She would say something about this town in Arkansas, and Wendy was like, ‘I didn’t think you had ever been to Arkansas,’ ” Coulter says. “And Lauren would just type of dance around it.” Her Spidey sense tingling, Wendy called her sister-in-law, who lived in Arkansas, and asked her to do some digging.

Still, nobody was prepared for what she found: Lauren Ashleigh Hays was in truth a young adult living in Arkansas. The girl who had been constructing a life in Willow Springs for nearly three years was her 45-year-old mother.

The true Lauren, who was 24 in 2018, has the identical blonde hair and round cheeks as her mother, Laura A. Oglesby. To the perfect of our knowledge, nothing Oglesby said in Willow Springs about her background was based on her daughter’s life.

Laura A. Oglesby abandoned her daughter, plus a husband of eight years, sooner or later when she decided to walk away from her old life in Arkansas. Perhaps the pressure of being a wife and mother, the day by day grind, was all an excessive amount of for her. She could have longed to wind back the clock, shirk the responsibilities of middle-aged womanhood, and embrace the vulnerability and freedoms of young maturity. She hasn’t said, and we may never know. (Oglesby’s lawyers didn’t reply to requests for comment.)

But Laura also had secrets, and the summer before she landed in Willow Springs, they appeared to be catching up along with her. On July 30, 2015, as specified by a probable cause affidavit, a former employer of hers, Mike Lane, filed a report of theft after his bookkeeper called him and indicated there have been several bank cards he didn’t recognize being paid out from his business account. All of those cards were within the names of Laura Oglesby and/or Adam Oglesby, her husband. Laura had been briefly employed the previous 12 months as a bookkeeper for Lane, owner and operator of an auto parts store called The Auto Doctor. Laura was only there for six weeks, during which she had access to all of Lane’s business records.

When questioned by police, Adam indicated that he had no knowledge of the cards, and, in truth, had never even had a bank card in his name, in line with the affidavit. But he had noticed something relevant: His wife, Laura, had been spending plenty of money. She had told him that the money was from her unemployment checks. A resident we’ll call Jonathan, who has known Laura since elementary school, was told Adam and Laura spent their last weekend together at a cabin on a river, and Laura disappeared while Adam was at the shop. “When he got here back, her purse, phone, wallet, and ID were still there,” Jonathan says. Her automotive was there, too. “They thought someone had kidnapped or killed her.” Jonathan says that he even posted missing person posters with Laura’s picture.

Shortly after she disappeared, her daughter Lauren Ashleigh Hays posted a desperate-sounding update on Facebook, accompanied by an image of her mother. “Her name is Laura Oglesby she is about 5’1″. She could possibly be in Missouri or Arkansas area. She is from Missouri but lived in Lafe, AR, and has a cabin by Black River. Please share and help find her. I’m very nervous about her.” In the image, Laura is smiling. Her makeup is somewhat more muted, and he or she has a stud decorating her nose. She could easily pass for somebody in her thirties. (Hays didn’t reply to requests for comment.)

But by October, Adam Oglesby had filed for divorce. In his grievance, he says that in their marriage, Laura subjected him to “indignities of such a nature and degree as to render Plaintiff’s life intolerable.” He asked that she be stripped of the Oglesby name. The hearing was set for March 15, 2016, but Laura didn’t show up. Adam told the court he had no idea where she was.

We all know now that Laura was in Missouri, living under her own daughter’s identity, and pretending her old life never existed. It took almost three years for the reality to catch up along with her.

On August 28, 2018, the Willow Springs “Lauren” was pulled over by Mountain View police, who had a warrant for her arrest issued by Arkansas as a part of an lively identity theft investigation. The identical day, Wendy posted on Facebook: “For 2 and a half years, Avery Parker and I actually have mentored Lauren Ashleigh Hays,” she began. “We took her into our lives and we cared for her. Physically, emotionally, and fairly often monetarily. The lies were small at first, lies a baby would tell. Then things escalated.” Parker went on to say that she asked her sister-in-law, Stacey Parker Hackler, who lives in Arkansas, to do some reconnaissance, insinuating that Stacey was the one who busted Laura. “Two days, 26 phone calls, and 86 texts later, Lauren, or I should say Laura…Oglesby, age 45, is now in custody awaiting trial in two states.”

Brad heard the news when he was at his recent girlfriend’s family’s house. “I told her we would have liked to go away, and I went home and commenced drinking since it was making me sick to take into consideration,” he says. “I’ve seen people get grief about dating someone who’s five years older or five years younger—you call them a cradle robber or a cougar—and I ended up with someone 20 years older than me.” When asked if he felt like he had been manipulated or taken advantage of, Brad says he mostly just felt dumb. “I’m really good at putting puzzle pieces together, and it’s hard to idiot me,” he says. “But I had no freaking clue she was lying.” After her arrest, he reached out to her on Facebook for an evidence. “I asked her why and he or she’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ After which she blocked me.”

laura oglesby

After Laura was arrested, she faced charges of identity theft in Missouri federal court and Arkansas state court.


The disbelief on social media was intense when Laura was arrested and her playful selfies were shown on a neighborhood newscast. Mostly, people desired to discuss Laura’s face, and about how anyone—let alone a whole town—could possibly consider that she was as young as she claimed. When the Mountain View police posted in regards to the case on Facebook and included Laura’s mug shot, one person commented that “Stevie Wonder could tell she ain’t 24!!!” One other suggested that Laura’s chest wrinkles—something more typically developed in midlife—were the true giveaway. (To be fair, the rhinestone cat ears Laura was a fan of—and wearing in her mug shot—do force the eyes up.) Further suggestions that those that had been victimized get their eyes checked weren’t well-received. Officer Jamie Perkins stepped into the net conversation to remind everyone that the mug shot was taken by a high-definition camera under LED lighting.

After Laura was arrested, she faced charges of identity theft in Missouri federal court and Arkansas state court. In an indictment filed in October 2019, it was alleged that Laura had fraudulently obtained a Social Security card and driver’s license nearly three years earlier by falsely assuming the identity of “L.A.H.” She then used that fraudulent identification to enroll in college and successfully apply for student loans, including $9,400 in federal student loans, $5,920 in Pell Grants, and $337 for books purchased at the school bookstore.

But then, as Laura’s case in Arkansas was winding its way toward trial, she performed one other disappearing act, failing to look for a hearing. One other arrest warrant was issued on December 6, 2019. Back in Missouri, word got out that Laura was once more on the run. Smith, on the library, realized that Laura was still logged into the iPad they often used for story time, so she was in a position to follow in real time as Laura moved around California and Florida.

By January 2021, one other arrest warrant was issued. In May, she pleaded guilty in Arkansas to theft of property and financial identity fraud and was ordered to pay restitution to Mike Lane in the quantity of $26,900, along with administrative fees, court costs, and a high-quality. She was also ordered to enroll in and complete a course to acquire a GED. Then, in December 2021, Laura, now 48, pleaded guilty in Missouri to at least one count of “intentionally furnishing false information to the Social Security Administration” when she obtained identification in her daughter’s name. She’s scheduled to be sentenced in December.

When Smith was monitoring that iPad Laura was still logged into, she wasn’t just tracking a fugitive. She also scrolled through Laura’s old life on Facebook, attempting to make sense of what happened. “She was just a daily mom,” Smith says. “They were having fun; they were laughing.” Laura took kids bowling; she posted photos of Thanksgiving dinner. “Her mom pictures were just mom pictures,” Smith says. “I don’t know if she just decided she didn’t need to be a mom anymore.”

Coulter heard that, when Laura was first arrested, she asked the cops in the event that they could let her out of jail long enough for her to take a test for one among her college classes. “That’s something a child would say,” Coulter says. She wonders if Laura went thus far down a rabbit hole in her bid to erase her old life that she even believed it herself. “She didn’t need to grow up and be an adult,” Coulter says. “I truthfully don’t know if she even knew who she was.”

Willow Springs continues to be asking why—why them, and why their town? Why didn’t Laura just pick a giant city like Dallas or Chicago to vanish into? But small-town life, with its implicit trust and intimate neighborly relationships, appears to be exactly what Laura was searching for. It’s like she arrived in Willow Springs expecting to be reparented by the community.

The confusion and heartbreak Laura left behind is intense. “Sometimes I feel she meant what she said when she said she loved us,” Archuleta says. “I went through a stage where I felt indignant, but now, I miss her sometimes. She laughed loads and was all the time joyful. But I don’t feel sorry for her, knowing what I do know now.” Archuleta doesn’t know what to make of his experience, of his earnest belief that he was offering a guiding hand to a young woman trying to search out her footing. “I taught the bitch how one can cook chicken, even,” he adds, laughing. I reached out to Wendy Parker, and he or she declined to comment, saying, “Thanks, but we prefer to forget that it ever happened.” Her husband, Avery, told a neighborhood news outlet that he tries “real hard to see the 45-year-old Laura, in order that I can hate her. But all I can see is a 22-year-old Lauren, who I just desired to help.”

This text appears within the December 2022/January 2023 issue of ELLE.


Headshot of Sarah Treleaven

Sarah Treleaven is a author and producer, and the host of USG Audio’s Madness of Two podcast. She lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.

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