Nikki Araguz: A Life Examined, With Many Twists Along The Way

It's going to be a while before the courts sort out whether Thomas Araguz and Nikki Purdue had a legal marriage; and until that happens, the Araguz and Purdue families say they will not be able to properly mourn the fallen Wharton firefighter.

It's hard to imagine two people less likely to meet and fall in love. Thomas Araguz was raised Catholic in a small town, married his high-school sweetheart, and had two boys. Nikki Purdue was born a man, got in trouble with the law before she was 20, and appeared on sensationalistic talk shows.

The month they first went to breakfast -- after church --  Nikki tried passing counterfeit hundreds at a Wharton Walmart and was ultimately charged with cocaine possession; she told cops she got the fake cash from a guy she slept with and subsequently ripped off in Houston.

Nikki says she told Thomas everything two weeks into their relationship, before things got physical. Thomas' family doesn't believe this, and that's based in part on what Thomas told them, and on what Thomas swore to in a deposition. However, based on interviews and e-mails, it is almost certain that Thomas knew about Nikki's birth gender, if not the entirety of her criminal history, but chose not to share that with his family and friends.

But when his ex-wife found out about Nikki and sought to modify custody of the boys, Thomas' life was turned upside-down. He must have been under tremendous emotional strain; here he was, a firefighter and reserve Sheriff's deputy who was just trying to live a normal, quiet life, and now the whole town was going to know his secret.

After the custody battle, Thomas seemed to enter a tailspin, and his relationship with Nikki suffered. There were arguments and separations. Yet Thomas still seemed connected to Nikki, no matter what. Unfortunately, he would not be able to resolve things before he died in a horrible fire on July 3. Now, both the Araguz and Purdue families are fighting to preserve their versions of history. Whichever side prevails, one fact remains: they cannot bring Thomas back.

"The Fireman's Wife," this week's cover story, examines the tale of Nikki Araguz, her husband and her fight.

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