The Fireman's Wife

Nikki Araguz, formerly Justin Purdue, clashes with family over her late husband's legacy.

According to Thomas's family, the cancer explanation prevented sexual intimacy for the first leg of Nikki's and Thomas's relationship. It was a perfect cover story that kept Thomas at bay until Nikki could pull off the ultimate deception. (Nikki bristles at this suggestion, saying, "I had the surgery two months after we were married. Do you think from 2007 to October of 2008 that my husband did not see me naked, did not know my body?")

Of course, Nikki did not go to Colorado for a hysterectomy. She went to Dr. Marci Bowers's sexual reassignment clinic in Trinidad, the so-called "Sex Change Capital of the World," nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains three and a half hours south of Denver. Nikki calls the procedure she had a "vaginal reconstructive surgery."

In August 2010, Nikki's attorney filed with the court what appears to be an October 2008 e-mail exchange between Nikki and Thomas, indicating that Thomas was fully aware of the situation. However, Mona's attorney questioned the e-mail's veracity, pointing out that nowhere in the exchange does it explicitly state the nature of her surgery. (The closest it comes to describing what kind of procedure Nikki had was when she wrote, "This is wild that little thing is gone....I think I am supposed to see it for the first [time] tomorrow.")

The Press also obtained another e-mail, not admitted into evidence, containing Nikki's Colorado itinerary. The e-mail address thomasaraguz@gmail.com is included among the recipients. Purportedly sent by Nikki, the e-mail ends with, "It has been a long time coming, and I am overwhelmed with joy and excitement."

However, Nikki and Sheri have been inconsistent when it comes to what they vaguely refer to as a "birth defect." Early after the lawsuits to void Nikki's and Thomas's marriage were filed, Sheri told reporters that Nikki was diagnosed with "Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome." But she told the Press weeks later that those reports were erroneous and that Nikki was never diagnosed with AIS. And Nikki's friend and publicist, Nicole Haagenson, told the Houston Chronicle that Nikki didn't have AIS, that it was actually "gender dysphoria." It's unclear whether Haagenson knew that gender dysphoria is defined as a psychological, rather than a physical, condition.

Then, in August, Nikki said in two interviews for local Fox News that she had been diagnosed with "Partial Androgen Interceptor Syndrome," which doesn't exist. When asked about the details of that particular syndrome, Sheri told the Press that Nikki must have meant to say "Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome." When the Press reminded Sheri that she had already vehemently denied that her daughter had AIS, Sheri said that it's possible Nikki could have been diagnosed with AIS without Sheri's knowledge.

Nikki also said she meant to say "insensitivity" instead of "interceptor," but neither Sheri nor Nikki had an explanation for why, in two different interviews on two different days, Nikki couldn't remember the name of her incredibly rare, life-defining medical trait.

Nikki also told Fox News that, because she was actually born female, she never identified as transgender. And despite the fact that many in the Houston transgender community are offering Nikki financial and emotional support, and despite the fact that prominent transgender attorney Phyllis Randolph Frye believes the suit against Nikki threatens every transgender person's civil rights and has taken on Nikki's case pro bono, Nikki told Fox that she should not be "lumped in" with the transgender community.
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Along with the surgery, Thomas seemed to be a stabilizing influence on Nikki — at least in the beginning.

Thomas had none of Emilio's problems. He didn't have two nickels to rub together, but he was straitlaced, devoted to his boys and had a passion for public service. It rubbed off on Nikki. She quit her job selling ads at OutSmart magazine in Houston and launched her own publication, Wharton County Living.

But according to Thomas's family, it didn't take long for the cracks to show, and for Nikki to become a malevolent presence.

Thomas's sister Raquel says, "She would always tell us that she would be a better mother to the boys than Heather would, and she would refer to Heather as the stepmom."

Big Tom says he had to go to their house three times to help Thomas calm down a drunk and out of control Nikki. The last time he went, he says, "the boys were in the next room listening, and they were getting scared."

His family says the couple fell into the pattern of fight, break up, make up, repeat. At one point, they say, Thomas discovered Nikki in a motel, getting high with Emilio. Thomas moved in with Mona. Mona confronted Nikki, who appeared contrite, and talked about going to counseling and getting help from the church.

The couple reunited, but soon Thomas's ex-wife was alleging that Nikki was a bad influence on the boys, and she told Thomas to keep Nikki away from them. Thomas paid no mind.

Inexplicably, in the midst of this, Nikki decided to run in Wharton's mayoral election.

"I loved Wharton," she says. "...I had a vested interest in making Wharton a better, more economically stable and well-represented community."

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