HE PICKED HER up in a tidy red crossover hatchback with leather seats, dodging light traffic and awkward silence on a September night in Arizona. It was just dinner and drinks between two Kansas City Chiefs fans, not a date, although now Lindsay True wonders if he thought it was. She knew only his first name -- Xaviar.
They'd met through Chiefs Twitter, a community bound by devotion to its NFL team. There, he was ChiefsAholic, one of the most famous fans in the Kingdom. He entertained his 40,000-plus followers with stories of a freewheeling, sports-crazed bachelor who put big bets on the Chiefs while traveling the country to support them. On game days, he was the guy in the wolf suit, often shown on TV, who'd run around tailgates in head-to-toe gray fur, claws and a mask, firing up fans. He was young and successful, at least that's what he said on Twitter.
True, 23, with blond hair and blue eyes, didn't even know what he looked like behind the wolf mask before they met that night. But she considered him a friend. She was a Kansas Citian finishing up her master's degree at Arizona State University, and Xaviar, along with Chiefs Twitter, made her feel closer to home.
He told her he graduated from Kansas State, managed warehouses and had an apartment in Chesterfield, an affluent suburb of St. Louis. He said he was close to his mom and had family in Los Angeles. She had no reason to doubt him, or any idea of the mystery surrounding his real life.
Three months later, on Dec. 16, True was back home at a Kansas City-area Costco and saw a man in a purple K-State tracksuit, who reminded her of Xaviar. She texted him, but he never replied. It wasn't like him. He was supposed to be on his way to Houston for the Chiefs-Texans game, and she wondered if his phone was broken. But then his Twitter account went silent, and True began to worry.
Chiefs fans grew concerned, too. He meant something to them. Parents would seek him out at tailgates hoping to get a picture of the wolf with their kids, and online, ChiefsAholic became a staple of their lives. They might not have known his name, but they knew exactly where he was supposed to be that December morning, somewhere on the highway between Kansas City and southeast Texas.
As the days of silence stacked on top of each other, fans of the superfan became internet sleuths. Some of them became desperate. "we have a missing fan!" one tweeted to the official team account, "Help if you can!!"
On Dec. 19, a teacher's assistant and Chiefs fan from Tulsa, Oklahoma, named Erin (who didn't want to give her last name) came upon a hit. It was his mugshot, in an eastern Oklahoma jail. Her revelation spread fast on social media, and soon, their concern turned to shock. They began questioning who it was they had trusted. And whether they'd ever known him at all.
True was on a beer-tasting tour with her parents when the news hit her phone. "Well, he's OK," she told her mom, "But he's going to go to prison."
XAVIAR MICHAEL BABUDAR, according to police in Bixby, Oklahoma, walked into the Tulsa Teachers Credit Union on the morning of Dec. 16, pointed a black pistol at bank teller Payton Garcia and demanded she give him "the 100s" or he'd put a bullet in her head.
Garcia said the robber jumped the counter, knocked down the plexiglass window and told her to open the vault, holding a gun to her back.
"I was terrified," Garcia said in an interview with ESPN. "In my head, I was thinking, 'This is it. If we don't get this open, today is my last day alive.'"
Prosecutors say he fled on a bicycle, was apprehended a few blocks away from the credit union and was found with a black backpack containing a paintball mask, ski goggles, gloves, a green zip-up jacket, green sweatpants, black shoes, a black CO2 pistol and a bag containing $150,000.
Babudar was charged with robbery with a firearm and assault while masked or disguised. Robbery with a firearm carries a sentence of five years to life in prison in Oklahoma, while assault while masked or disguised ranges from two to five years, according to the Tulsa county district attorney's office. He pleaded not guilty and declined to comment to ESPN about the charges against him.
The district attorney's office said it was not aware of any other robberies involving Babudar, and a spokesperson for the FBI in Oklahoma City did not confirm or deny whether Babudar was under investigation for other robbery cases.
Interviews and documents reviewed by ESPN found that Babudar and his family have a long history of legal troubles and much of what he posted about himself on social media was untrue.
"After graduating KSU in 2016 I was working a warehouse job making $12 an hour," he tweeted on Dec. 13. "Today I manage multiple warehouses throughout the Midwest region and make an excellent living, and I'm only 28 years old. Hard work pays off and don't let ANYONE tell you otherwise!"
He did not graduate from Kansas State; the school has no records of him taking classes there. There is no evidence of his assertion that he is a self-made man who manages warehouses; he worked at Amazon for seven months from November 2017 to May 2018, before voluntarily resigning, the company confirmed. Aside from a line in a police report that said he helped run a family antiques business, ESPN could not find records of other employment. In a court affidavit after his December arrest, he was listed as homeless, self-employed and unable to afford an attorney.
The man who posted photos of himself at Super Bowl LIV in Miami in 2020, who always seemed to score prime seating during the Chiefs' glory runs of the past three seasons, was seemingly rudderless in the fall of 2016. According to a police report, he was watching a game in a parked silver station wagon with his mom and his brother in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. (The Chiefs were playing the New York Jets at the time.) Police were dispatched to the parking lot of an insurance company on a suspicious vehicle call, and the family was told to leave.
The only semblance of roots, or home, for Babudar appeared to occur years earlier, in grade school, according to documents and interviews. He attended Top of the World Elementary School in Laguna Beach, California, a school district official confirmed, and lived in a 2,400-square-foot home near the ocean with his parents and older brother Noah. But in 2004, when Xaviar was 9, his father filed for bankruptcy, according to court documents. Two years later, the boys' mother, Carla, added a filing to the case that said Michael Babudar had left to put in community service for a traffic violation and never returned.
According to the filing, Michael abandoned his family and did not contact them for two years, and in 2005, a trustee sold the house. "This was financially devastating to my children and I," she said in the filing. "We did not have sufficient income to purchase another residence."
Michael Babudar did not return calls from ESPN, and a number for Carla Babudar had been disconnected. When reached by phone, Noah Babudar quickly hung up.
Court documents and police records provide a roadmap for a family that shuffled from California to Utah to Kansas City, facing allegations of petty crime at every stop. In 2009, when Xaviar was 14, his mother pleaded guilty to theft after she was arrested at a grocery store in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Her children were with her, and she also was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She gave police a false name and address, according to the report.
Three years later, in Rancho Cucamonga, California, Carla and her sons were arrested on charges of forging meal certificates at Souplantation, an all-you-can-eat chain restaurant. Carla and Noah eventually pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace. Records were unavailable for Xaviar, who was 17 at the time, but a local newspaper article at the time said he was booked into juvenile hall.
By the time he was 21, Xaviar would face charges for trying to steal spoon holders and snack bags from a Target in Sandy, Utah, and, in a separate incident at the same store, was accused of switching price tags on merchandise, then returning the mismarked items for the higher price.
In at least five separate occasions from 2014 to 2017, officers in Overland Park were dispatched to ask the Babudars to leave the premises of various businesses, including multiple hotels and the parking lot of an Einstein Bros. Bagels. "They often sleep in their vehicle and could be homeless," an officer noted in a report. In another run-in, an officer wrote that Carla and Noah were in a 2004 silver Mercedes "full of belongings and very little room for three adults to sit."
The most consistent address Xaviar and Carla have provided in the past few years is a Mail & Copy Plus in an Overland Park strip mall. Witnesses at the strip mall said Carla would park her silver station wagon up to 50 to 75 yards across the parking lot from the entrance of the mail store. She would be seen leaving with mail in plastic bags, sometimes wearing latex gloves, which she'd dispose of in the black trash bins outside, according to the sources, who spoke to ESPN on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Xaviar said he avoided parking at Arrowhead Stadium on game days, walking miles to the stadium in the wolf costume. "... I ain't paying $65 for parking," he tweeted in August. He also posted about keeping disposable gloves in his car for pumping gas and eating fast food.
Xaviar and his mother attended Chiefs and Kansas State games together. He once tweeted that she "raised me by herself, and took me to my first Chiefs game when I was 3." A fan who sold them tickets and sat in the same section remembered Xaviar standing over his mom to protect her from the sun on a hot day at Arrowhead Stadium.
PART OF CHIEFSAHOLIC'S appeal was that he was living the fan life that his followers couldn't.
"I hate to say this, but he almost represented the Kingdom, you know?" said Deion Hulse, a Chiefs fan who attended a Phoenix Suns game with Babudar in November 2021. "I almost envied him. I wish I could go to every single game. Like, that's my dream. And he was living that dream."
He could be generous. He didn't just treat Hulse to the Suns game in 2021. He took Hulse's then-girlfriend, too. He invited True to see the Suns host the Golden State Warriors in October, and they sat in the 11th row, close enough to see the celebrities. He held giveaways on Twitter, picking out a lucky follower who liked or retweeted his posts and rewarding them with a Chiefs jersey or tennis shoes.
Every Chiefs road trip, every photo he took in another NFL stadium, raises the question his followers have been asking for months: Where did he get the money?
Was it gambling? Babudar often bragged about his bets on social media, posting screenshots of $1,000 long shot parlays centered on the Chiefs that were placed with FanDuel's online sportsbook. In October, he posted a ticket of a $1,000 bet on Chiefs backup tight end Jody Fortson to score a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 18-1 odds. Fortson scored and Babudar celebrated his $18,000 win on social media. But most of the bets he posted about were losers. (FanDuel said they removed Babudar from the platform after his arrest.)
Two months before the alleged Tulsa robbery, an $80,000 bet was placed at Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kansas, on the Chiefs to beat the favored Buffalo Bills. The casino's sportsbook posted the ticket on social media but did not name the bettor. Local news picked up the story, and rumors began to circulate about who was behind the bet.
Multiple Hollywood Casino patrons said that they were told by sportsbook employees that Babudar had placed the bet. An employee at the sportsbook subsequently tweeted that he accepted the bet from Babudar, but later deleted it. Tanner Rome, sportsbook manager at Hollywood Casino, told ESPN, "We do not comment on specific individuals."
Buffalo beat Kansas City 24-20.
Last year, months before the start of the NFL season, Babudar posted photos on Instagram of a $5,000 bet on the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl at 10-1 and a $5,000 bet on Patrick Mahomes to win the regular-season MVP at 8-1 odds. With Mahomes being named MVP and the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl, the bets, if legitimate, would pay a net $90,000. In an email conversation with ESPN from jail in early February, Babudar was confident in those bets.
"My family is cashing the slip when [Mahomes] wins," Babudar emailed. It is unknown whether they have been able to do so.
ON FEB. 3, Babudar was escorted into the Tulsa County Courthouse wearing an orange jumpsuit and leg shackles. He'd been in jail for seven weeks and was in court requesting his $200,000 bail be lowered. Six-feet tall and muscular, Babudar sat quietly and lowered his head as assistant district attorney Morgan Medders laid out a life of contradictions.
The man who in December attended Mahomes' $1,250-a-head charity event, who'd acquired an autographed painting of the quarterback that night that commands $10,000, signed a pauper's affidavit upon his arrest saying he was homeless.
The man who claimed to be homeless, Medders said, had a check in his car for $78,000 and a tax form that showed he acquired somewhere around $150,000 in a recent year. He said that the search warrant on Babudar's car also revealed documents showing two bank accounts totaling roughly $58,000 in assets.
"His jail calls indicate that he engages in a lot of sports betting," Medders told the court. "Also in his car was a number of receipts indicating bets of large amounts, $4,000. There is one wager for $20,000 with a potential payout of $46,000. He's made numerous statements in jail calls about how he stands to gain a lot of money from the Super Bowl outcome, and I believe that casts doubts on his honesty to the court."
In Babudar's motion for reduced bail, he said he had no mental health diagnoses. He listed one family member who could vouch for his reliability: his 66-year-old mother, who the motion said was willing to move to Tulsa and be with him as his case played out. But Medders said a series of jail calls between Babudar and Carla also cast doubts about her reliability. In the calls, the two had expressed concern over whether police would find his car at the gym where he'd parked it, he said.
"His mom says to him, 'Thank God I got your phone, wallet and a bunch of other stuff out of the glove compartment,'" Medders said in the hearing. "'Thank God they didn't get your phone, because there's a lot of bad things in that.'"
Surveillance video, he said, showed a woman moving Babudar's car to the back of the gym after the alleged robbery.
Babudar's bail was reduced from $200,000 to $80,000, on condition that he wear a GPS monitor and did not leave Oklahoma. Four days before the Super Bowl, he was released on bond. In his bond document, his mother listed a Tulsa Residence Inn as her address. A day later, Mahomes won the NFL's season MVP award, and Babudar petitioned the court for permission to travel to Arizona, site of the game, for what he said was a pre-planned family trip with his mother. The petition said that the inability of Babudar to attend this trip "will cause considerable financial hardship for the defendant and his family."
When reached by ESPN, Babudar's attorney, Tracy Tiernan, said he couldn't comment on the financial hardship that his client stood to face if he didn't get to Arizona. Asked if the trip was for the Super Bowl, Tiernan said, "... he's a big fan. The fans want him there, clearly."
He was not allowed to leave the state to attend the Super Bowl.
In emails with ESPN from jail, Babudar said he watched the AFC Championship Game between the Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals on a small TV in the day room outside of his cell. He said he got so excited that he was told numerous times to keep it down.
"You can put the Wolf in a cage," he wrote, "but he's still going to howl for his team!"
PERHAPS THE ONLY thing authentic in Babudar's embellished life was his love of the Kansas City Chiefs. Lindsay True felt it when she communicated with him in texts and online, and that's probably why she got into his car that first time and trusted him.
"I study forensic psychology," she said. "I watched all this true crime and stuff. I was like, 'Is this a little suspicious?' But I obviously told my family about it. I told my friends about it. And he has all these followers on Twitter.
"I just didn't expect that he would be arrested in Tulsa for armed robbery."
In the days before the Super Bowl, Babudar emailed that it "killed" him not to be there rooting for his team in person. But in late January, as he sat in jail, he did offer a prediction.
"The Kansas City Chiefs are going to put the "Hurt" on Philadelphia and will be hoisting the f---ing Lombardi in Glendale!"
Before the alleged robbery, before the revelations, Babudar had a lovable loser quality that Chiefs fans found genuine. They rooted for him to finally score a date with Abby Berner, a local Kansas City YouTuber. They laughed at his somewhat pathetic wishes for the Chiefs official Twitter account to follow him and would flock to his account for his frequent giveaways.
To Chiefs fan Sierra Jasso, he represented the good things that could come with hard work, and she admired that it gave him the money and freedom to follow their team. Last spring, she even won a Mahomes jersey in one of the giveaways. When she first saw Babudar's mugshot, she felt queasy.
"My daughter has pictures with him," she said. "And I had given that jersey that I won to my dad. Was that jersey paid for in a good way? I don't know. I'm protective of my daughter, so it was betrayal and disappointment. I know that sounds weird because none of us actually personally know him, but, I think, we were attached to the idea of who we thought he was."
Babudar's first tweet in two months came Sunday night, after Kansas City defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 in the Super Bowl. He posted a video of rapper Tekashi69's song "GOOBA," editing his wolf head over the rapper's face. "You're mad, I'm back, big mad, big sad, haha, don't care, stay mad..." the video opens. In one sequence, the rapper is wearing an ankle monitor. By Tuesday afternoon, the tweet had nearly 300,000 views.
By Wednesday morning, his Twitter account was gone, and his Instagram was scrubbed.
PAYTON GARCIA TRIED to go back to work a week or so after Babudar's arrest. Garcia, 25, had worked at the credit union 5½ years. But every time someone walked through the front door, her heart pounded, and she'd get so nervous she'd shake. She worked two days, trying to go back to the time before that December morning, but she couldn't do it. So she quit.
Whenever she hears a loud noise, she flashes back to the crashing sound of the plexiglass and gets a knot in her stomach. She has nightmares and anxiety and sometimes, her mind races to that moment when she and a co-worker couldn't get the safe open, when the robber was becoming more verbally aggressive, and they were minutes away from the vault locking up.
Garcia hasn't found a job yet -- she wants to work from home, away from the noises and fear. She wasn't alerted that Babudar was released on bail and found out by searching online.
"I'm terrified that I'm going to see him out somewhere," she said. "It's frustrating and scary because you don't know where he is. I mean, you could be in the store and run into him."
Her lawyer, Frank Frasier, said the lyrics on the video Babudar posted are misogynistic, and that his client sees them as a threat. He is frustrated that after being accused of robbing a bank, Babudar is all the more famous. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce even called Babudar a "legend" on "The Pat McAfee Show" in January. Frasier is petitioning the judge to revoke his bail.
"He's profiting from a crime," he said. "This clown is drowning the sanity out of the whole thing."
ESPN reporter Sara Coello and ESPN researcher John Mastroberardino contributed to this story.