Hibdon later said he eluded authorities, at least for an hour or so, by slipping out the back of the house and picking his way down the steep, forested hill, before finally coming to a creek bed.

Wearing carpenter pants and a T-shirt, along with earrings and pink panties, "I was just sitting there quiet, thinking, 'How did I get to the point where I am hiding in the woods, armed to the teeth, wearing women's underwear and smoking cigarettes?'"

When finally he climbed back up to his home, a flashlight shone in his eyes, and voices told him to drop his rifle. Realizing those voices were coming from deputies, he thought, "Oh, no. This does not look well."

A four-year-old Tom Hibdon in a wig.
Courtesy of Rachael Amratiel
A four-year-old Tom Hibdon in a wig.

Tom Hibdon spent the final week of May 2007 languishing in jail before making a last-resort phone call. He hadn't spoken to his mother in nearly six years.

Nancy says that several times she drove past her son's house but couldn't bring herself to knock on the door. "I really couldn't have handled the open rejection of not being allowed in."

But when her son called from Jefferson County jail, says Nancy, he was "shaking and trembling." She and her husband Ken immediately sped out to Hillsboro to pick him up. They posted his bond, and he walked out. "There was something different-looking about him," she remembers.

Having talked with Karen the month before, Nancy was aware of her son's cross-dressing proclivities. So when they climbed into the minivan, Nancy looked him square in the eyes and asked, "Have you been cross-dressing?" Hibdon finally replied, "Yes."

"I was so afraid," Amratiel says, reflecting back on that moment. "My mom was just staring at me through the rearview mirror. There was a painful silence. Then she said, 'OK.' I was floored. I was expecting the ax to drop."

Hibdon moved in with his mother and stepfather. Karen immediately petitioned for a restraining order and a child-protection order against her husband. Both were granted. She filed for a divorce in late June 2007 and won custody of the children. Hibdon was ordered to pay $800 in monthly child support.

He struggled to keep his carpentry jobs at various construction sites, but the estrogen pills were making his appearance hard to ignore. One day he was told by some fellow workers that he should probably look into another line of work.

Says Amratiel: "They told me, 'You wouldn't want to accidentally fall off some scaffolding.'"

In the latter part of 2007 Hibdon gathered up all his male clothing, drove to a McDonald's parking lot downtown and threw the garments into a Dumpster. From that point on, he wore wigs and women's apparel in preparation for sex-reassignment surgery. He dressed as a woman while attending classes full-time at Metro Business College in Arnold and while working part-time at Starbucks to help pay child support. He even wore dresses when he visited his children under court supervision.

Hibdon lost his rights to see his kids after missing four visitations. He blamed his ex-wife Karen, the custodial parent, for refusing to agree to a time outside his work shifts at the coffee shop. Karen countered that he didn't make an effort to reschedule.

With his new life in full swing, Hibdon began referring to himself as Rachel Ildeya Amratiel. One night in the fall of 2008, while playing darts at a south St. Louis bar, Amratiel met a trucker in his fifties named Keith Milton. The two started dating and fell in love. She invited him over for Thanksgiving dinner, and he got along well with her parents.

With Keith's blessing, a $25,000 loan from her parents and the court's permission, Amratiel scheduled the sex-change. She flew to Thailand in January 2009 and checked into the clinic of Dr. Suporn Watanyusakul, a well-known gender surgeon in Chonburi province.

After submitting referrals from an M.D., a therapist and a veterans' affairs psychologist, Amratiel took the necessary blood tests and was ready. On January 13 she underwent an eight-hour procedure that removed her testicles and created a vagina. Her Adam's apple was shaved off, her breasts augmented.

Fitted with a catheter, her nether-region packed tightly with gauze, Amratiel spent a painful eight days on morphine and antibiotics. "He" had become, anatomically, a "she."

The surgery had no effect on her sentencing several months later. On June 17, after pleading guilty to three felonies, Thomas Hibdon IV received five years probation from a circuit court judge in Jefferson County. It wasn't until the following week that the state of Missouri formally recognized Hibdon as Rachel Ildeya Amratiel.

By that time she was living with Milton, her boyfriend. One condition of her probation — total abstinence from alcohol — was very much at odds with his lifestyle. "He was a party animal," Amratiel says, adding that her man was quite popular, especially in the bars of Soulard.

"I couldn't be in that environment; I was tempted a lot," she says. She broke up with him in mid-July. Two weeks later she received a phone call from a sheriff in Illinois. Milton had died while riding his motorcycle to Wisconsin. Authorities found in his wallet Amratiel's phone number listed as the emergency contact.

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