LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Southern California man released from prison after 20 years is using his second chance to counsel teens, hoping to steer them away from a path he wishes he never traveled.

KCAL9’s Leyna Nguyen spoke with John Hawkins, who by 25 has established himself as a successful entrepreneur with a flourishing business.

“I was already at a place in my life where I had more money than I ever dreamed I’d have. I got more attention than I should have gotten, and it went to my head,” he remembered.

It was 1988, and Hawkins had a chain of 22 stores, mostly in Ohio, called Just Sweats, which sold workout clothing.

“I thought I was on top of the world, but I was a guy with a lot of character flaws,” he said.

Those flaws eventually led to a twisted plot to fake his business partner’s death and file a false life insurance claim.

Hawkins would cash in on the insurance, and his partner would cash out of the business.

“We were approached by a company that had, like, I think it was 500 or 800 shoe stores all across the country. And they wanted to be our venture capital investor,” he recalled.

When the national shoe company wanted to invest, Hawkins says, his business partner wanted to sell his shares for nearly $2 million. But he didn’t have the money to buy him out.

“He was going to get all the money. And I was going to get his shares in the company,” Hawkins said.

That’s when he found Richard Boggs, a Harvard-educated Los Angeles doctor, to help commit the fraud.

“The doctor would purchase a cadaver from a medical school or a teaching hospital, identify the body as my business partner, sign the death certificate ‘natural causes’ and send the body to a mortuary. My role was to have the body cremated, scatter the ashes at sea and collect the insurance money,” Hawkins said.

But there was no cadaver. Instead, Boggs picked up a man at a North Hollywood bar and killed him, telling officials it was Hawkins’ business partner, who had died of natural causes.

Hawkins flew to California, arranged for the cremation and cashed the insurance payment.

But, Hawkins claims he didn’t even know there was a murder until the insurance company realized the dead man was not the business partner and contacted authorities.

“At that point, I pressed the panic button and ran,” he said.

Hawkins fled to Europe with $400,000, bought a boat and stayed on the run for three years using several aliases, still partying and still quite the ladies’ man.

A rerun of “America’s Most Wanted” resulted in Hawkins’ arrest in Italy.

He was returned to Los Angeles to face charges, but few people remember the case because it was going on while all eyes were on the O.J. Simpson trial.

“We were housed in the same place. I used to see him every day on my way to the shower,” he said.

Hawkins was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. It was there he says he found his calling: counseling troubled teens.

“It was for me an opportunity to give back and make amends,” Hawkins said.

Letters of praise and recommendations from those teens, their parents and school officials helped win Hawkins a second chance. He was paroled after more than two decades behind bars.

“There was no reason for this crime to even happen. It was senseless,” he said.

Now living in an RV with his aging mother in San Diego, it’s as if time stood still while he was in prison. Twenty years ago, there weren’t iPhones and Facebook or Twitter.

Now 55, Hawkins is trying to make up for lost time and learning to live in a world almost foreign to him.

The transition has been difficult, but he continues to counsel teens, hoping to steer them away from a path he wishes he never traveled.

“I just feel very blessed to have a second chance,” Hawkins said.

Boggs and Hawkins’ business partner Melvin Hanson were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Boggs died in 2003.

Hanson is 72. He’s incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.

Comments (10)
  1. Richard Ruby says:

    Soo… released after serving only 25 years… and John Hawkins was an America’s Most Wanted. But they still released him from prison so soon… So why even put him on the most wanted list, if he’s not even going to spend the rest of his life in prison. A second chance of freedom for Hawkins may be a blessing to him, but for the community, it’s a curse. We the community and Greene’s family didn’t get justice. 25 years for involvement in taking an innocent life who he didn’t even know, but who only resembled Hanson, is an injustice.

    1. Mary Winnie Tatman says:

      He was on the list because he evaded capture. That list is for capturing people who have been charged but skip out or escape from law enforcement. It’s put out to get the public to help locate him.. It doesn’t excuse his crime nor does it designate him as the most bruttal criminal in history. Its just a list that identifies criminals or accused criminals who are trying to evade the law and need to be caught.

  2. Richard Ruby says:

    Wait- 20* years of a 25-year-to-life sentence.

  3. Ria Thompson says:

    That man is a filthy liar, talking about he didn’t know there was a murder so he panicked and fled, right. Once a lying sociopath always a lying sociopath😡.

    1. Tony Parker says:

      I just watched the “Killer Couples” episode about this case, and as someone that is a former Researcher, Writer, and Associated Producer on a number of crime shows, I’m calling BS on John Hawkins. You mean to tell me that Gene did all that for him and they weren’t in some kind of relationship? Furthermore, John said he didn’t know about the murder? Give me a f-ing break. Playing the victim because you got caught isn’t pretty. Man up dude.

  4. I guarantee you, any teen he’s counseling is being conned, abused, or both. Criminals don’t change. Once a con, always a con.

  5. Martin David McCoy says:

    What kind of justice it that the guy who was the main con man did only 20 years and his partners did and are doing life??? Doesn’t make any sense to me! Such is our system today.

  6. Moera Shapiro says:

    I don’t know whether or not it’s true that originally a cadaver was going to be used in this scheme instead of this doctor picking up a guy and murdering him, and if John Hawkins was aware of this plan/change and plan and to what if any degree he had a hand in it. In other countries the amount of time he ended up serving (20 years) would be deemed a normal sentence length, and perhaps even somewhat harsh, considering he was not the only “mastermind” nor did he wield the murder weapon. It’s been a long time and he could be rehabilitated enough to use what gifts he has to be an asset to the community now.

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