The Fireman's Wife

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

She says she didn't think it would cause anyone to dig into her past.

But her stepfather Chuck says he and Sheri were blunt: "Her mother and I both said, 'Are you out of your ever-loving mind?...This is going to open up a can of worms that's going to be a big problem.' And Nikki refused to ever back down from anything because someone might dare or threaten this would come out, or whatever."

That would be put to the test once Thomas's ex-wife found a lawyer to file a motion for modification of custody. That attorney was Frank E. Mann III, who came equipped with knowledge of Nikki from eight years earlier.

Nikki says her family has always supported her.
Courtesy of Nikki Araguz
Nikki says her family has always supported her.
Thomas (pictured with his sister Raquel) loved riding in his dad's truck growing up.
Courtesy of Raquel Araguz
Thomas (pictured with his sister Raquel) loved riding in his dad's truck growing up.

Around this time, Heather Delgado learned that Nikki Paige Araguz was the former Justin Graham Purdue. At first, she played it close to the vest.

On April 12, 2010, the ex-wife swore in an affidavit that, "My husband's wife, Nikki Araguz, is interfering with my legal rights to our children. She makes appointments with medical professionals and school officials without my consent. She will not allow me to the father of my children. She will not allow the children to talk to me on the telephone. She drinks alcohol when driving a vehicle with my children in the car, and she has a history of using illegal drugs....I am concerned for the safety of my children."

It's at this point, three months before Thomas's death, that the Rashomon effect kicks in. At this point, depending on whose historical account you believe, Thomas is the ultimate victim, or he's a man who decides it's time to finally face his family with the truth, or he's a sworn peace officer who perjures himself.

According to Thomas's family, Heather Delgado told Thomas that, even though it wasn't in her affidavit, she knew about Nikki's past. But Mona says Thomas didn't know what to believe, that he suspected his ex-wife may have been just making up extraordinary stories as part of the custody dispute.

Yet according to Nikki, as soon as the ex-wife brought up the subject, Nikki and Thomas sat down with Mona, Big Tom and Raquel and revealed everything.

"And they were in full support of Thomas and I," she says. "...It did not make a bit of difference to them at the time. They considered me his wife and...fully female."

As Mona tells it, that conversation never happened. As late as April 28, 2010, when Thomas and Nikki sat down for a deposition with Frank Mann, Thomas still doubted his ex-wife. Mona says Thomas knew what he was getting himself into with the deposition, that his ex-wife warned him it would come up — it was a last resort to get Thomas to finally open his eyes.

"Heather was trying to tell him about the stuff that she just found out about Nikki," Mona says. "...But of course [Nikki] turned him around. So Heather felt lost...[she was thinking] 'My God, what is it going to take to get Thomas to see the truth? What's it going to take?'"

Apparently, Heather Delgado believed it would take Frank Mann getting Thomas on the record.

So on April 28, the following exchange took place:

Mann: Do you know that your wife was formerly a male?

Thomas: No.

Mann: You have no knowledge of that?

Thomas: No.

Mann: Has she ever had any type of gender surgery?

Thomas: No.

When it was Nikki's turn, the attorney asked about her first marriage, her criminal record, her mayoral campaign and her health. Nikki didn't hide her contempt. (She told the Press that, were Thomas alive and aware of Frank Mann's representing Heather Delgado in a motion to nullify the marriage, "My husband would literally punch his fucking lights out.")

Mann also asked questions that were based on a conversation Heather Delgado had with Nikki's former stepdaughter:

Mann: Would you be surprised that she said that you blew marijuana smoke in her face when she was five years old?

Nikki: I would be shocked.

Mann: Would you be surprised if she said that you introduced her to smoking marijuana when she was a teenager?

Nikki: I would be shocked.

Mann: Okay. Would you be surprised if she said that you gave her a pill that made her ­hallucinate?

Nikki: I would be shocked.

Shortly after the deposition, Frank Mann e-mailed some old Wharton buddies about what he was able to coax out of their mayoral candidate.

"Occasionally you get a case that makes the papers or Jerry Springer," the attorney wrote. "...I think the citizens of Wharton, Texas should know this information...Nikki Purdue Araguz is the stepmother in a case of mine, and she gave testimony that she is a transgender. She is a he. Her birth certificate states that she is male."

He then went on to divulge aspects of Nikki's medical history; he also stated that "she has multiple felony convictions in Harris County," when Nikki in fact has never been convicted of a felony. (Nikki later filed a complaint with the State Bar, and, as of this writing, Frank Mann is facing investigation for possible ethics violations. Again raising the specter of nonexistent felony convictions, Frank Mann told the Press that he sent the e-mail because, "I think that people needed to know information about her background of felony convictions for theft...the people in Wharton, Texas, did not know anything about her background.")

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