It isn’t uncommon for civilians to do legwork for lower-profile cases in advance of law enforcement, according to Boninsegna. Texas locals, some of them members of missing-persons Facebook groups, covered a wide swath of the Dallas suburbs with missing-person flyers. While “going real life”—pestering victims’ family members for updates or visiting their homes to gather “evidence”—was forbidden by the True Crime Junkies, posting flyers was a noninvasive way for members to get involved. “Every case that we have followed that had an adult male, they’re kind of just put on the back burner. Women are different, and if they’re a mom, then they get a lot of media attention,” Boninsegna said. “I believe that most police officers don’t take missing men particularly seriously.”This certainly seemed to be the case with Rendlen, at least according to Badra. The Colony Police department wasn’t “doing shit,” she wrote in a July 18, 2019 post on Dallas’s NBC affiliate Facebook page; “they say bcs [sic] he has his wallet on his pants they’d call them [sic] if they found him.”But in the days following Badra’s first post, things took a dark and strange turn. Her claims began to morph. She first characterized her last interaction with Rendlen in the car as a normal conversation, and later wrote that Rendlen had a “small psych fit” of nonsensical ramblings. Badra couldn’t remember where they had stopped just before Rendlen ran off, and the prior destinations she mentioned kept changing: Whole Foods, a Mexican restaurant, and a nature preserve more than 250 miles from The Colony. Drugs weren’t involved, then Badra claimed Rendlen had been on a “bender.”
“Something isn’t right with this lady. Too many things don’t add up.”
Family and friends were hopeful when Rendlen—who had mostly held short-term positions as a quality technician and geotechnical engineer—landed his dream job as a chemical engineer after he and Badra moved to Texas in 2018. “He was like, ‘I finally made it, bro,’” LaFayette said. “He had his own cubicle, they gave him his own company credit card. His bosses were coming to him with projects to work on. They wanted his direct input and he was so excited about that.” Then Rendlen called LaFayette with the news that he and Badra were moving to Florida. The details of the plan didn’t seem to track. Badra, with no prior experience, was planning to set up a real-estate business, backed by a mysterious uncle who suddenly wired her inheritance payments. Rendlen’s burgeoning career would be left behind. “This is the part that really got me because it was so unlike Ethan,” LaFayette remembered. “He told me he was going to drop everything and he was going to try and be a crab fisherman. I said, ‘Ethan, that’s crazy…’ The fact that he would be willing to drop his childhood dream to be a crab fisherman? It was insane. This girl is telling him crazy things, and he’s just eating it up. Something’s gonna happen; something bad is gonna happen.”
“This girl is telling him crazy things, and he’s just eating it up. Something’s gonna happen; something bad is gonna happen.”
On July 24th, 2019, Alice made a post in the True Crime Junkies and other Facebook groups alleging that Badra trashed the Chicago apartment they shared briefly in 2012, did not seem to work or attend school, and told elaborate lies. “I have received, over the years, messages of her boyfriends... and others that came after… telling me how they felt victimized bye [sic] her, how she scammed them of THOUSANDS of dollars, got them hooked on drugs, was hooked on drugs, faked pregnancies, faked suicide attempts, etc etc,” Alice posted to the Facebook group. “She’s not a cancer survivor... she's currently an American resident because of her fake story of being a survive [sic] of abuse, she’s dangerous, abusive and manipulative.”
“I went from thinking, ‘my friend Anya has big boyfriend problems’ to ‘all of Anya’s boyfriends have big Anya problems.”
When con artists start out online, it begins “a grooming process to actually desensitize you to some of the things that come after that,” said Martina Dove, author of The Psychology of Fraud, Persuasion and Scam Techniques. “By the time you are asked for money, or asked to believe something that’s ludicrous, you're invested. You know something’s wrong, but you just can’t pull back.”
Con artists give us a complex sort of villain, an antihero: even if a con artist is a wholly unsympathetic character, there’s titillation to be found in their gumption.
After Rendlen’s body was found, Boninsegna and her True Crime Junkies admin team received private messages from more victims, many of whom wished to remain anonymous. Some alleged they had been coerced into providing Badra with money, others that they had been blackmailed into purchasing items for Badra, who had threatened to make false allegations against them to police.Francis Silva, Badra’s ex-husband, thought she was likely connected with Rendlen’s death. Their relationship, which began online in 2006, resulted in disaster. Silva alleges he discovered she was lying about a cancer diagnosis and threatened to divorce her, to which Badra responded with a false domestic violence claim against him in order to obtain a Green Card via asylum. On July 10, 2012, Badra sent him an email in which she confessed to having fabricated the abuse. “So be it, I lied about what happened,” she wrote. “I perjured myself. I was angry, I was scared… I LIED AND I TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY.” Silva did not respond. In August of 2012, Badra rescinded the charges, for which Silva had been indicted by the Texas District Attorney at a grand jury trial in 2011. While there have been a battery of accusations leveled against Badra by her former friends and romantic partners—lies, theft, coercion, physical abuse—she has never been formally charged with any of these crimes in either Illinois or Texas. None of the ex-associates who spoke with VICE have brought charges. “Yes, I did rebuild my life away from her,” Silva said of his experience with Badra. “I try my very best to forget that ever happened to me.”Badra declined an interview request for this article. “I apologize, but no,” she wrote via email, calling the allegations against her “Absolut (sic) insane, all of it.” She did not deny involvement in Rendlen’s death, which she described as a “tragic accident” and “the worst trauma I carry with me, for many reasons.” Badra was adamant that the online discourse surrounding the case had been particularly hurtful and damaging after such a loss. “I could spend forever talking about him and how much I miss him and love him, and what type of person he was,” Badra wrote. “These people, these ‘sleuths,’ have caused me enough grief for enough lifetimes already.” When VICE reached out to Badra again for comment in this article, she denied using multiple Social Security numbers, stating: “I’ve obviously never used anyone else’s SSN other than my own.” In a follow-up email, she declined to comment any further. “I have retained legal counsel and have been advised by my attorney to not make any statements to you. You and your editor should be hearing from them soon,” she wrote. We never heard from legal counsel on Badra’s behalf. In the months after Rendlen’s death, bits and pieces of information about Badra surfaced sporadically in posts in the True Crime Junkies group—an arrest for D.U.I.; photos of an Amazon package addressed to her old Texas apartment; a stay at an ayahuasca retreat. Behind the scenes, Boninsegna and her moderation team received more private messages from those who had encountered Badra.In August of 2020, longtime friends Davis Trent, then 26 years old, and Tiffany Harris, who was 25 years old, came forward with harrowing accounts of having met Badra, known to them as 28-year-old Anya Audi (Badra was 34 at the time). They had learned Badra’s true identity from a misplaced medical form, and a Google search led them to the True Crime Junkies group. When Trent and Harris called The Colony Police Department with this information, they said they were told that Badra was “dangerous” and to change the locks to their apartment.
“Yes, I did rebuild my life away from her. I try my very best to forget that ever happened to me.”
Trent claims that, while he was under the influence of ketamine, Badra convinced him that he had been molested by a family member (as she had with Rendlen), and that she played him interviews with serial killers like Ed Kemper and 911 calls of rapes in progress. “She comes up with these outlandish, horrifying lies about people, then plants them in your brain while you’re tripping,” Trent said. “And you've got to understand that she didn’t just say things. She has done her research. She knew terminology that she could use to make you think it was real.” Harris also alleged that Badra dosed her with methamphetamine, and then psychologically manipulated her. But even more peculiar is that both Trent and Harris relay Badra’s recounting of Rendlen’s death. On several occasions, they said she broke down completely, bursting into uncontrollable bouts of tears to confess that she had witnessed his last moments. “I watched him die,” they said she would say, over and over. “I watched Ethan die.”As of this writing, Badra uses Tatiana on Facebook Dating, where she claims to be 29 years old, and Tanya (a diminutive for Tatiana) on Instagram. On both platforms, she has claimed Jewish familial lineage, despite her past activity on Stormfront and Catholic upbringing (an event program obtained by VICE lists Badra as completing her first Holy Communion in 1997). Occasionally, Badra will post about Rendlen. Davis Trent found her Reddit account still logged in on his computer (the account was also sent to VICE by another independent source and deleted after VICE reached out for comment). “I was present when my fiancé had a psychotic break and made a run for it,” Badra wrote in r/eyeblech, a subreddit dedicated to gore and post-mortem photographs. “Some absolute psychopaths on Facebook gave me the gift of spamming my email with his autopsy photos.” (The Dallas Police Department’s Open Records Division was able to confirm the release of autopsy records, but not the requestor’s identity).Even recently, Badra’s life, as she recounts it, is filled with stories of high drama and suffering. Members of the True Crime Junkies group posted screenshots of Badra celebrating the sixth month of a pregnancy on her Instagram account, a claim that most members suspected was untrue. But on March 3rd, Badra posted a photo of her newborn daughter, born 19 months after Rendlen went missing, to her Instagram. The True Crime Junkies started buzzing again. “I believe it is her baby and hope that being a mother at last for real will make her change her ways,” one member commented. Others were less optimistic. “Oh snap!” another member wrote. “I was team ‘she’s faking this pregnancy!’”A few weeks later, Badra wrote a sobering post about her baby’s hospitalization for seizures. “Still no answers to the ‘why’ of the epilepsy,” it read. “We have an appointment with genetics on Monday to go over the epilepsy gene panel, then neuropeds on Wednesday. Send good vibes her way!”RF Jurjevics does research consulting work for a New York City-based private investigator. They were previously a staff writer at the San Diego Reader, and have written for Allure, GOOD, and Real Simple.
“I watched him die,” they said she would say, over and over. “I watched Ethan die.”