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Drop Dead, Gorgeous

Trudy Hill named her older daughter after Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch spinster who hid Jews from the Nazis and was sent to a concentration camp for her efforts. Ten Boom's story, commemorated in a book beloved by Christians everywhere, is about trusting in God, taking on evil, and learning...
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Trudy Hill named her older daughter after Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch spinster who hid Jews from the Nazis and was sent to a concentration camp for her efforts. Ten Boom's story, commemorated in a book beloved by Christians everywhere, is about trusting in God, taking on evil, and learning to forgive.

Trudy Hill had grown up without religion, but she read ten Boom's book as an adult. It had a major impact. "It was my first brush with someone who was strong in their faith," she says.

Both Trudy and her husband ended up being baptized, and when their first child was a girl, they named her Corrie. Corrie ten Boom was strong, resourceful, joyful. "I wanted those qualities in my daughter," Trudy says. It was a name for a heroine.

If it doesn't sound like the name for a beauty queen, well, that's because Trudy Hill never intended for her daughter to be one. But while the Hills didn't go looking for pageants, the Miss America pageant found them. Eventually, Corrie Hill -- named for a Resistance worker, but slender and smart and a great dancer -- was crowned Miss Arizona 2003.

It's the sort of happy ending that little girls dream of. It was certainly Corrie Hill's dream, and it became Trudy Hill's dream, too, in the way that these things often do.

But it wasn't the ending.

Instead, Trudy and Corrie Hill, who had been expecting one of the best years of their lives, had one of the worst. And they decided to do something no Miss Arizona had done before.

Corrie ten Boom had preached forgiveness, but she had never promoted passivity. The Hills decided to fight back.

The Miss America pageant certainly seems glamorous: There's the parade of flawless hair and professionally whitened teeth, that sparkling tiara, the joyous victory splash in the Atlantic City surf. Despite the best efforts of the Trump-promoted Miss USA, Miss America remains the nation's most prestigious pageant.

Modern times, however, have dulled the tiara's luster. The last Miss America to achieve name recognition was Vanessa Williams, in 1984 -- and that was partly because she lost her crown over Penthouse pics. Television viewership has plummeted, from 30 million people in 1988 to 9.8 million last year. In the Old South, Miss America remains a huge deal, but other state franchises struggle just to find contestants.

In the pageant hierarchy, Arizona is no Wyoming, which saw just four women compete for last year's state title. Still, the Miss Arizona Scholarship Foundation is a bare-bones operation: It has no headquarters except the director's home. No one, not even that director, gets paid.

The Arizona organization's $80,000 in annual revenue -- collected from sponsors, contestant fees, and tickets -- barely covers the cost of hosting the state pageant and paying out scholarships. The dozen local pageants that feed into it are even worse off: Their directors, also volunteer, must either find sponsors or pay the winners' scholarships out of their own pockets.

Finances are a constant issue. The franchise was running a six-figure debt in 1994 when Bill Toon, a Mesa businessman, took it over with his wife, Frances. Their daughter was retiring from pageants, and the Atlantic City brass asked the couple to "right the ship," Toon says. They thought it would be a fun hobby, but they ended up giving it 40 hours a week for five years.

Both generous and well-connected, the Toons managed to wipe out the debt, double the winner's scholarship to $10,000, and move the state pageant from a high school auditorium to the Orpheum Theatre stage.

In 1998, the exhausted Toons handed off the pageant to their top assistants, Steve and Monica Rich. The pair have been at the helm ever since: Steve, as president and CEO, handles the books. Monica, the executive director, works with the girls.

By all accounts, the couple is devoted to the pageant. But they've recently come into heavy criticism -- most of it directed at Monica.

Some of it is to be expected. Pageant moms are famously high-strung, and any pageant has many more losers than winners. But this is different: The charge is being led by two former Miss Arizonas.

Both women say Rich told them who to talk to. What to wear. How to perform. When the beauty queens resisted her control, they say she yelled at them, gossiped about them, and ostracized them. In one startling incident, they charge, she even complained to a contestant's church leadership in an attempt to sabotage her wedding.

The two beauty queens have told Miss America that they want her gone. But despite the seriousness of their accusations, Miss America basically ignored them. So now they're breaking the number one rule of pageants: They're airing dirty laundry with a vengeance.

Their outspokenness has divided Arizona's insular pageant community. The former Miss Arizonas who support Rich have distanced themselves from their more critical counterparts, and the two factions barely speak. (Rich seems to have plenty of supporters, but for the most part, they've been unwilling to speak to New Times.) There have been angry e-mails and threats of legal action. Two staffers have been fired. Others have quit.

The dissent is affecting the state's pageant business: Arizona crowned 22 local winners in 2001, but will have only 16 this year -- the minimum required by Miss America for a three-night pageant.

And yet again, money is tight. The Riches have moved the pageant back to a high school and slashed the titleholder's scholarship in half. The foundation's most recent tax returns show a $33,000 debt.

It's easy enough to laugh at feuding beauty queens, and the pageant's cash-strapped status only makes the idea funnier: Practically speaking, these well-coifed women are fighting over crumbs.

But Miss Arizona has never been about the money. Most contestants spend thousands more dollars preparing for competition than they'll ever earn in scholarships. The appeal is in the thrill of competition, the gorgeous clothes, the gossipy girl talk. Pageant staffers love molding fidgety teens into poised young ladies, love getting credit for that transformation -- and love being friends with a winner.

As for those winners, they often attend pageant events for years after their victory. Miss Arizona is more than a line on their résumé: It's part of who they are.

The rest of the world may laugh, but to these women, pageants matter enormously, and that gives this battle its meaning.

"I do not want one more girl to have to endure what I endured," says Corrie Hill. "Everyone Monica has pushed out feels very strongly. She has to be removed, or the pageant system in Arizona will be destroyed."

As the stepdaughter of an Air Force staff sergeant, Trudy Hill moved frequently as a child. There was money for his alcohol but not for pretty dresses for her, she says, and as the family moved from New Jersey to Germany to Wisconsin to Washington to California, she'd sometimes catch the Miss America pageant on TV and wonder about its appeal. It was too alien to be anything other than depressing.

"I didn't know anyone who looked like that, who dressed like that," she says. "I thought girls who did pageants were born beautiful and had really rich families. It made me envious."

Now she's matriarch to one of those rich families, perched on a plush sofa in a gorgeous home in a gated community in the nicest part of Gilbert. She and her husband, Irv, never graduated from college, but they did work hard, and he's now vice president at a manufactured-housing company. Pageants have become Trudy's world, which she freely admits, even while laughing at how silly it seems. She laughs a lot.

In Corrie's five years competing for Miss Arizona, Trudy and Irv invested thousands of dollars in dresses and lessons, and Trudy spent countless hours at pageants, driving to pageants, and talking about pageants. Even though her daughter's year as Miss Arizona ended last July and she's never held an official position within the organization, Trudy still talks to pageant people about pageant business several times a day.

She couldn't be more pleased to have a reporter in her home asking about Miss Arizona.

"This is just so much fun," she trills -- and it is. For all the Hills' financial success, Trudy is still every bit the new girl in school, friendly and eager to be liked. She's offered to pop in a videotape of the Miss Arizona pageant, but she does more than push play: She provides running commentary.

Women involved in pageants slice and dice one another's flaws in a way that can be disconcerting to outsiders. We may all bemoan our big butts and whisper with our friends about other women, but it's idle, chatty, catty. With pageant women, the critique has a scientific precision: This girl needs a different haircut. That girl has fat arms. This girl is too thin, but if she gains weight, it goes to her stomach.

Broken down into a series of imperfect parts, the contestants are suddenly less threatening.

Trudy can talk shop with the best of them. You don't spend five years listening to people critique your daughter without developing an expert eye. Trudy is matter-of-fact about Corrie's breast implants, even though it's usually the first thing people use to attack the family.

Trudy is unfazed. "Corrie has such muscular legs from dancing, and she's really small-boned on top," she says. "She had to balance it out." The proof is in the pudding: Corrie started winning the swimsuit portion of the state pageant immediately thereafter.

Trudy hits fast-forward, and beautiful women in evening gowns fill the TV screen. Corrie looks tall and lean in a black dress cut to show off her shoulders. When they announce the second runner-up, then the first, and suddenly it's clear that Corrie is Miss Arizona, her image onscreen gasps with joy and is mobbed by also-rans hugging her, gasping with her, crying.

Trudy, who's been narrating cheerfully, is quiet for a moment, watching. This, she says, is why she's decided to take on the Miss Arizona organization.

"I hope someday Corrie can look back and truly remember this joy, because this is before we knew things would not be what we expected," she says, her eyes intent on the screen. (Corrie is still hugging people.) "Even though her year didn't turn out like I thought, it was still a wonderful moment when she won."

On screen, Corrie is blowing kisses. Her arms look long and impossibly thin; she looks thrilled. "This was probably one of the highlights of my life, other than my kids being born," Trudy says.

The woman who runs the Miss Arizona organization, Monica Rich, shows up in one of Trudy Hill's videotapes, bustling around the edges of the room like a nervous honeybee. Short, chubby, and clad in a shapeless jacket, she stands out in a room of beauty queens like the answer to a Sesame Street puzzle: Which of these things is not like the other?

A 4-year-old could pick her out in a heartbeat.

Years ago, Rich was a second-grade teacher. Her husband, Steve, a customs agent, is "the quietest person on Earth," says LeAnn Hendrix, Miss Arizona 1998. The two have spent their lives in the dusty border town of Douglas, population 16,000. Their only child, a son, lives out of state.

The Riches refused an interview, but New Times spoke with nine people who volunteered for Miss Arizona during their tenure, as well as a half-dozen contestants. No matter what these people think of Rich, all agree she is devoted to the job.

Monica Rich started as a traveling companion for the "Miss Douglas" pageant and was later promoted to that pageant's director, then state field director, and finally state executive director. It's a lot of work for no money, and Rich is famous for sighing folksily about her cash-strapped status. She talks frequently about the time and money she spends on Miss Arizona, staffers say, never noting that the beneficiary is a scholarship organization that would never choose anyone like her as a recipient.

She has a sweet manner -- sticky sweet to her detractors. She is also talented: good at crafts, a good pianist, a former clarinetist with the junior college symphony.

She holds, strongly, the ladylike values that Miss America still promotes, even if the rest of the world has coarsened. The "duties and responsibilities" sheet she gave to Corrie Hill bars Miss Arizona from drinking, smoking, or showing "any outward signs of affection" to boyfriends at official appearances. LaLona Hughes, the current Miss Mesa, says Rich went out of her way to praise her for praying before a meal during last year's pageant. "We notice these things," Rich told her.

(While Rich has no official say in choosing the state titleholder, she makes a point of telling contestants that good behavior matters, they told New Times. Contestant Hannah Boucher once questioned Rich about how it could possibly factor into scoring. She says Rich replied, "We let the judges know who doesn't follow directions.")

Rich and her husband obviously believe in Miss America. "They have good intentions, the best of intentions," says Rhonda Smith, who used to produce the state pageant. "They love these girls. They think this pageant is the best thing ever."

Second to the pageant, though, might be a good piece of gossip. Even before she was director, Rich was famous within the organization for her scoops, says Jaime Fryer, who was a contestant in the mid-'90s and later a state director. "She was this little lady from Douglas, and all she did was run her mouth. She knew everything. You'd get to the pageant and she'd just plop down next to you and fill you in: who was pregnant, who was getting married, everything."

For a while, Trudy Hill was part of Rich's audience. Trudy was flattered when the state director called her up to chat -- this, after all, was the state director, at a time when her daughter really wanted to win the state title. So on and on Rich went, talking about that week's crisis, and Trudy clucked sympathetically, enjoying the proximity even more than the news.

It got particularly exciting four years ago. A girl from Mesa, Kapri Rose, had won the Miss Arizona title.

Rose wouldn't do what Monica told her -- could Trudy believe it? (She couldn't.) She'd sneaked a dress backstage at Atlantic City that Rich hadn't even seen before the competition. There Rich was in the Miss America audience, when Rose came out looking like a "beached whale." "How could she do this to me?" Rich wailed. (Trudy didn't know.)

Rich told Corrie Hill that Rose was an embarrassment to the state organization, that she'd been caught having sex in a hot tub in a Sierra Vista hotel. "Everyone knew about the hot tub," Corrie says.

And everyone believed it. Rich was, after all, the executive director.

"People believed everything Monica said," Corrie says. "If you want to be Miss America, you believe every word she tells you."

The drama only grew. Rich would beg Trudy and her husband, Irv, to escort her to her car. The Rose family was angry, she said, and might attack her.

Everyone believed that, too.

Corrie Hill was a skinny, awkward kid. Her junior high photographs show a girl who was more average than not: a long nose that her face hadn't quite grown into, braces, and frizzy hair that looked permed, even though it wasn't.

"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.

Addressed to Corrie, the letter began, "Well you and your family certainly made spectacles of your selves in Atlantic City. What an embarrassment to the state of Arizona."

It only got nastier from there.

"Maybe you should have not been so consumed with implanting silicone into your body and requested implants of common courtesy, respect, integrity, kindness, loyalty and a sense of obligation. But then again as most of saw and heard your fake boobs only go along with the fake person you truly are.

"And what are your parents thinking to allow you to act and treat others like you do. Is this the type of daughter they raised? Apparently it is because they are right there beside you acting in the same manner. . . .

"The real Corrie showed herself and it's not a pretty sight.

"It's going to be a long year for everyone, but especially for you.

"Sent by an embarrassed, angry and sad supporter of the Miss America and Miss Arizona organizations."

When Kapri Rose first competed for the Miss Arizona title in 2001, she was a complete unknown. Many of her competitors had been in the system for years, honing their talent and learning the tricks that turn a pretty girl into a winner. Rose was just 19, the veteran of exactly one pageant.

She won anyway.

At first she seemed like a breath of fresh air. Jim Eager, then co-producer of the state pageant, remembers seeing Rose in the hallway after her victory. He was struggling with equipment. Still wearing her crown, he says, Rose helped him carry it.

Eager's co-producer, Smith, remembers liking Rose instantly. "She was so down-to-earth," she says. "She totally knew who she was."

Smith tossed off a quick e-mail to Rose soon after the pageant. "It was something about how wonderful and talented she was and how she should stay exactly that -- to not let the Riches or her coaches tell her to do anything that wasn't herself. I didn't want her to get bogged down with pageant politics and lose what had made her so great."

It was already too late. Monica Rich had given Rose a speech about how other people would try to lead her astray. The teenager wondered if Smith's e-mail was a test.

She was only 19. And the speech had made her a little paranoid.

So she forwarded the e-mail to Rich.

Smith knew none of this -- until she got a very angry e-mail from Rich herself. "It was just pages long," Smith says. "Every little thing that Jim or I had said that she didn't like, it was in there. And she'd forwarded this thing to the entire board of directors!"

Smith and Eager were both fired. Rose didn't even learn that until earlier this year, during an interview for this story.

When Rose, now 23, enters a restaurant for a lunch date, heads turn. That's what happens when you're 5'11", blond, and wearing more than one diamond. She's smart, too: A recent summa cum laude Grand Canyon University grad, she's applying to dental school.

Somehow, she's not intimidating. She peppers the waitress with questions about the pasta. It doesn't have any onions, does it? Or parsley? "I'm such a picky eater," she says, embarrassed. "It's terrible. I've always been like this." Her husband is "totally into food" and trying to help her branch out.

The story she tells is eerily similar to Corrie Hill's. First Rich told her who she shouldn't talk to. Then she gave her a new talent: electric fiddle instead of classical piano. They also clashed over her costume -- and when Rose rejected Rich's pick, Rich told Trudy Hill that Rose's choice made her look like a slut.

"She wasn't helping me at all," Rose says. "If anything, she was anti-helping." No one had bothered to suggest that she test her evening gown on stage with lights. Rose was aghast to learn, hours before competition, that her slip glowed whitely through the pink dress.

Her mother frantically phoned Rich's hotel room, but couldn't get an answer. Desperate, she picked out another dress hours before the competition, and asked a security guard to slip it to her daughter.

Rich was livid. After Rose returned from Atlantic City, Rich arrived at her doorstep with another pageant staffer in tow. "How could you wear something without my approval?" she demanded, according to both Rose and her mother, Karli. "You put the entire pageant in jeopardy because you smuggled something into the convention center."

Karli Rose protested that it was her fault. A kindergarten teacher, she knew nothing about pageant rules: "I just did what I had to do as a mother."

Rich would hear none of it. "I could take away your title for this," she told Rose.

"In retrospect," Karli Rose says, "I believe that was the catalytic moment, and from that point on, she had a vendetta against my daughter."

Rich's actions did seem to take on a disturbing vindictiveness. Rose had won a $1,000 scholarship as Miss Gilbert, but since she'd taken a break from college for her Miss Arizona duties, she wanted to save it for later. Rich told her she had to fill out a special form before the Gilbert pageant's one-year anniversary. But though Rose asked repeatedly, she recalls that Rich never provided the form.

The day after the anniversary, she says, Rich called to let her know she'd missed the deadline. She'd lost the scholarship.

In April, Rose went to Sierra Vista to host its local pageant, the duty of the current Miss Arizona. Her fiancé, Brant Roberts, came along to check out the nearby Kartchner Caverns.

Many boyfriends would chafe under the restrictions of Miss America, which wants every state titleholder to at least feign virginity. But Rose and Roberts are both devout Mormons, so they were on board already. Roberts booked a room of his own in a different hotel.

That night, Rose relaxed in the hotel's hot tub. Roberts, naturally, joined her, sporting swim trunks to her one-piece Speedo.

But when Rich stopped into the pool area to say "good night," she was oddly giggly. "Oh!" she cried, in her best I-didn't-mean-to-interrupt voice. "Good night, Kapri!"

The story was soon the talk of the Miss Arizona organization. Everyone knew Rich had caught Kapri Rose in the hot tub with her fiancé, making out. It only took a few weeks for the story to become that they'd been having sex.

That spring, Roberts got a summons to talk to their stake president, a leader in the Mormon Church.

Someone, the church leader had told Roberts, had called him. The caller alleged that the couple had been engaging in "immoral acts" and shouldn't be allowed to get married in the Mormon temple -- the pinnacle of the Mormon experience, and reserved only for couples that have stayed pure.

Roberts was stunned. He knew they'd been chaste.

Then he remembered the funny look on Rich's face that night in the hotel.

He asked, "Is this about a hot tub in Sierra Vista?" The stake president affirmed that it was.

Roberts had spent the year telling Rose to calm down, that Rich's true character would eventually reveal itself. But that day, he was livid.

Rose believed that Rich was the caller -- or had, at minimum, asked one of her underlings to make it. Almost two years would pass before her suspicions were confirmed, when Corrie Hill told her that Rich had boasted about making the call.

Kapri Rose gave up her crown on June 30, 2002, and got married three days later, in the temple. "The church leadership knew who I was, and what I will do and won't do," she says.

Two years passed. Rose tried to forget Monica Rich.

And then she got the phone call that changed everything.

Rose knew the caller, Trudy Hill, only distantly. Corrie Hill was a few months into her career as Miss Arizona, and the Hills were hearing reports of awful things that Rich had supposedly said about Corrie.

"Then, all of a sudden," Trudy said, "we thought of what she'd said about you."

"And that," Rose says, "was one of the best days of my life."

It wasn't until the final week of Corrie's reign, in June 2004, that the two contestants gave any public indication that they'd been commiserating. Trudy invited Rose to join them at rehearsals for the state pageant, which Corrie was hosting. When Rose arrived, Trudy waved her over and gave her a hug.

The next day, Miss Arizona closed rehearsals -- something that had never been done before, Fryer says. The producer said that the girls had complained about having so many spectators.

"We knew it was a bunch of B.S.," Fryer says. "We'd been in rehearsals with them for three days."

It wasn't the girls who had a problem, Fryer says. It was the administrators.

"They just couldn't stand that people were friends with Kapri."

Petite, blond, and girl-next-door cute, Jaime Fryer was Little Miss Arizona, Miss Sierra Vista, and Miss Scottsdale. But she got married young and dropped out of pageants.

In 2000, she got a call from Monica Rich. How would she like to run a local pageant?

At 22, Fryer was a working mom with a three-month-old baby. But she accepted the job, and found she enjoyed it. Her mother, Cindy Boughan, who'd competed in pageants as a girl in Idaho, also began running one.

Rich seemed to like the work of both mother and daughter. Fryer produces recent e-mails where Rich praises her pageants as consistently "first-rate." When Boughan contemplated taking a break in 2004, Rich seemed disappointed.

That all changed last April.

Hoping, Trudy Hill says, to kill the pageant's leaders with kindness, the Hills offered to sponsor a $100 scholarship at each local pageant in honor of Irv Hill's sister, who had recently died of breast cancer. But after announcing their plans, Trudy got a snippy e-mail from Granzella, the state vice president: "PERSONAL OPINION: I only wish that you would have made such a donation to the state program first, as Corrie is Miss Arizona."

So Trudy started to think. "I'd drink a lot of coffee, get fired up, and come up with some fund-raising ideas," she says. But Rich just blew her off.

When a new woman, Kristen Snair, joined the board, Trudy gave her a call. She wanted her to come to a meeting to brainstorm new ideas. She planned to invite some people, including Jaime Fryer.

Snair suggested that Rich liked things just as they were.

"Well," Trudy said blithely, "she might not be here forever!"

And that was a big mistake.

The next day, Snair called to say she couldn't come. And the day after that, Trudy and Fryer got a four-page e-mail from Laura Lawless, Miss Arizona 2002. (Lawless first agreed to an interview, then canceled after talking to Rich. She called Steve and Monica Rich "dear friends.")

Lawless wrote that she'd heard about the proposed meeting. "I was concerned," she wrote, "because I had not heard anything about this from Monica or Steve through whom -- as you well know -- any state activities must be cleared."

After a long digression about contract law, Lawless got to her point, kind of: "Word travels quickly in the intimate world of pageantry and it has been suggested that ideas are being sought for a contingency plan in the event of Monica's 'retirement.'"

If such plans were being made, Lawless wrote, "I believe the more correct characterization of such a meeting is mutiny."

Rich had long seemed paranoid, Fryer says. Each year, she would warn the state staff that there was no point in complaining to Miss America about anything, Fryer says. The national organization, she assured them, would immediately turn the complaint over to her.

Even Rich's friends had learned to be careful. Delia Mattice worked on the state staff with Rich and considered her a friend. But after Rich was promoted to director, she confronted Mattice with some perceived slight, screaming that Mattice had been trying to undermine her.

"I had no idea where this was coming from," Mattice recalls. "And once she gets an idea in her head, that's the only way it is. You can't sway her." Mattice quit soon after.

By that point, Trudy Hill was through with trying to be friends. But Fryer was intent on clearing her name.

She didn't have a chance.

She begged for a meeting to explain, but Granzella just wrote back tersely: "There will be no meeting." Boughan sent Lawless an e-mail defending her daughter and suggesting the whole thing was "junior highish," but she never got a response.

That spring, a new page appeared in the packet that the state gave local directors. It noted that each director's franchise was up for review. Miss Arizona had the right not to renew any local pageant "WITH OR WITHOUT GOOD CAUSE." (That part was underlined, too.)

All through pageant week, Fryer felt a palpable chill. Even Corrie, the reigning Miss Arizona, was getting snubbed. "There was just kind of this shoulder-turning," says Boucher, Miss Maricopa County. "It was obvious."

In August, Fryer got a certified letter informing her that her pageant, which sponsors Miss Mesa and Miss Maricopa County, had not been renewed. Her mother, who ran Miss Valley of the Sun and Miss Gilbert, got one, too, for good measure.

"I knew it was coming," Fryer says. "I could have quit. But I wanted to make a point. It was just such a slap in the face."

"There's been times it bothered me so much that I can't sleep at night," Boughan says. "It's not right."

Last summer, Trudy and Corrie Hill, Kapri Rose, and Cindy Boughan did what Monica Rich had always warned them not to do: They wrote letters to the Miss America Organization. Rose even included the story about Rich's talking to her church leadership.

Miss America didn't even investigate.

Marie Nicholes, director of field operations for Miss America, declined an interview, but answered some questions in writing. The organization received "not only letters of complaint, but letters of support and endorsement" for the Riches, she wrote. "The decision was made that there was not sufficient cause to warrant an investigation at present time."

As for Rose's complaint that Rich had contacted her church leadership, Nicholes wrote, "The alleged accusations were not predicated on tangible proof and therefore will not be recognized by this organization."

LeAnn Hendrix, Miss Arizona 1998, hasn't stayed up on pageant gossip lately. Her father died last year, and her grandfather recently suffered a stroke. Hendrix, who suffered a stroke herself a few years ago and now works in a dermatology-related field, has been busy.

She's still well aware of the battle that has ripped through Miss Arizona. Everyone is. But while she supports Steve and Monica Rich "100 percent," she says she hasn't talked to Monica about it.

Monica doesn't talk about it, Hendrix says.

"I can tell in the times I've seen her and spoken with her -- it's almost like her spirit is broken," she says. "She really just wants to make this one huge extended family."

High expectations, Hendrix says, may have been Corrie Hill's problem. "This is a pageant, and it can be an amazing steppingstone for young women, but you should just take it at face value: It's just a pageant!

"You can talk to any Miss Arizona. They'll tell you everything was not perfect. But you get over it."

Hendrix, who now lives in Ahwatukee, says she'd like to see everyone sit down and talk. She doesn't think it will happen. "There are so many vicious things that have been said. Sometimes anger goes away, but when you're hurt -- both for Steve and Monica and the other people in this, the hurt runs equally deep. And it gets to a point of no return."

She is good friends with several former Miss Arizonas. But she's distanced herself from Corrie Hill and Kapri Rose. "How do you carry on a normal conversation with someone when you know they have so much animosity for someone you care about?" she says. "I don't want to get caught in the middle of it, but it's important to stay loyal."

The only board member who agreed to talk about the Riches, Nanci Wudel, called Monica Rich "proactive," "fair," and "a little dynamo." She adds, "And maybe people who are dynamos as well will butt heads with her."

Both Hendrix and Wudel insist Rich would never gossip. Wudel speculates that the anti-Rich faction is composed of sore losers. "Whether it's sour grapes, or stage mothers who thought their daughters should score higher than they did . . . you see so much of this."

But Wudel can't explain why two of the loudest critics are Corrie Hill and Kapri Rose, two women who should have nothing to be sour about. "It is strange," she says.

"I don't know why there's this personal vendetta against Monica," she says. "I don't understand that."

The reigning Miss Arizona, Katherine Kennedy, did not return calls for comment.

Steve and Monica Rich initially agreed to an interview, but Steve Rich called the next day to say their lawyer had advised against it. He then faxed over a cheerful two-paragraph statement stating that the organization's status is "excellent," and the staff "is operating with extreme efficiency in a true spirit of cooperative volunteerism."

After New Times left a message with the organization's lawyer, Ilya Lerma, she replied with a fax of her own, threatening a libel suit.

Lerma, a former Miss Douglas, wrote that Miss America had "conducted investigations" in response to the letters it received and declined to take action. (Miss America, of course, says it never investigated.)

Lerma added, "I must assume that the materials made available to the New Times were provided by the disgruntled few former affiliates who seek to use your paper to work out their petty personal vendettas. I can assure you that for every one letter of spiteful and misleading information, there are ten others that can refute and support the leadership of this program."

Despite a written request to Lerma's office, no such letters were forthcoming.

And so Corrie Hill and Kapri Rose continue to talk about Monica Rich.

"Before this happened to my family, there were little groups of people who'd been cast out, but they were never united," Corrie Hill says, from her home in Colorado.

She's gotten married and started a career in banking. She's not giving up.

"People know us," she says. "And we're saying to them, 'You are not alone. If you want to help us out, come help.'"

Rose is less diplomatic. On the subject of Monica Rich, she says flatly, "I hate her."

But then she adds, "If I knew she wouldn't hurt another girl, I wouldn't care. She could stay. I just don't want anyone else to go through what I went through. Because it really, really was awful."

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