By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"She definitely was not a pretty girl, but she was smart," Trudy Hill says. "And she learned how to become pretty."
Pageants helped. Corrie was 15 when she first entered a pageant, in Indiana. Years later, when the Hills moved to Gilbert, she enrolled at Arizona State University, majored in marketing, and started entering pageants here.
By the time she won, in 2003, she was 24 and in her fifth year competing. Her moment on stage, surrounded by the girls she'd competed with for so many years, was such a high.
It took only weeks to crash. Still giddy from her victory, Corrie was shopping with her new director when Rich announced that things needed to change. She should cut ties with a roster of people, including Jaime Fryer, who'd coached her most recent victory. "You're no longer their girl," Rich told her. "You're my girl."
It made Corrie queasy, but she tried to comply -- and urged her mother to do the same.
Trudy tried, until a conversation with a longtime volunteer, someone on Rich's "Do Not Talk" list. The woman said she understood the stress Trudy was under: "If we see you in public, we'll just pretend we don't know you so Monica won't know we're friends."
"I felt about an inch high," Trudy says. "I said, 'I can't do that. That's wrong.' These were the people who'd given us the most support."
Corrie quickly reached an impasse with Rich for other reasons. They clashed over clothes: Rich flew her to Utah to shop at a particular store, but it had nothing she liked. Then Rich wanted her to change her dance, but Corrie thought Rich's chosen choreographer was clueless -- not to mention based in Tucson. Corrie found someone on her own, and the Hills footed the bill.
Then, for the Miss America parade through Atlantic City, Rich wanted Corrie to dress as a Native American. "I didn't think it was appropriate," Corrie recalls. She suggested a Diamondbacks outfit instead.
Rich was extremely upset. But Corrie had made a decision: She would listen to Rich's advice, but not rely on her.
From then on, it was one stupid crisis after another. Corrie offered her complimentary Miss America tickets to Fryer, her local director, and another pair of volunteers. That earned her a stern talking-to from the state's vice president, Ranata Granzella, a close friend of Rich's. "You need to donate those tickets to the state staff, not your so-called friends that we told you not to talk to," she said. (Granzella did not return calls for comment.) When Trudy called to apologize, she was told it was too late; the state staff had already booked tickets of their own, thank you very much.
Corrie's problems with her Atlantic City traveling companion really sent things into overdrive. Corrie had always been obsessive about punctuality, but her companion was more lackadaisical. After Miss America staffers reprimanded her for being late, Corrie began to push the companion to speed up.
The rumor mill pulsed with the excitement. At a preliminary event in Atlantic City, Fryer says, Arizona staffers were already asking, "Have you heard what's been going on with Corrie?" Soon after she got a call from someone back home: "What happened with Corrie? I heard she's being a total bitch."
Corrie didn't hear about the rumors until Rich confronted her parents, complaining that Corrie had been screaming and slamming doors.
When Trudy questioned her on the flight home, Corrie was upset. "I never did anything like that," she protested. She was determined to call Rich as soon as they landed.
The phone call proved disastrous.
"You don't know how embarrassing it was for me to be around Atlantic City and hear how horrible you were," Corrie says Rich told her. "The hotel manager said he got a complaint about you." As Corrie protested, Rich launched a new attack: Someone, she said, had written in a Miss America chat room that the Arizona state staff had uncovered Corrie's plan to sneak her boyfriend into her hotel room.
"We were just so embarrassed," Rich repeated.
Corrie started crying, insisting none of it was true. Irv Hill grabbed the phone. (At various points in the conversation, he was on the line, then Trudy, while both Monica and Steve Rich were talking on their end.) What was the hotel manager's name? Irv demanded. The Riches didn't know. And had they uncovered a plot to sneak in Corrie's boyfriend, as the chat-room poster alleged? Irv asked. Well, no, but . . .
The Hills said they wanted a meeting. "We wanted to put everything on the table, get it out in the open," Trudy says.
Steve Rich said he was too tired. "I'll look at my calendar and get back to you," he said.
He never did. The meeting never happened.
"After that," Fryer says, "everybody was down on Corrie. She came home from Atlantic City, and half of the people who were her friends wouldn't even talk to her."
The letter arrived just days after the Hills returned from Atlantic City, in an envelope with no return address. It was taped shut instead of licked, as if the writer was paranoid enough to think DNA testing might out him. Or her.