We don’t know yet whether Manti Te’o was a victim or a willing participant in the girlfriend hoax heard ‘round the world. But one thing is clear: Online relationships that turn out to be grand fabrications aren’t as uncommon as you might hope. Here are five shady Internet dating stories gone wrong that you won’t find on MTV’s Catfish.
1) A Good Man Is Hard To Find
Paula Bonhomme was convinced she’d finally met a good man and then some in Jesse Jubilee James. Jesse was a volunteer firefighter, animal lover, and alliteration enthusiast. Their online love blossomed via e-mails and phone calls between Bonhomme, James, and even James’ family.
Three months into their relationship, however, James died suddenly from (previously unmentioned) liver cancer. Bonhomme was devastated. Her shock turned to outrage when she discovered that the entire James family was the fabrication of a 58-year-old woman living in Batavia, Ill. Bonhomme eventually sued her hoaxer, but the Illinois Supreme Court dismissed the case.
2) First-Person Shooter
Perhaps the most infamous of online-love deceptions is the tale of Talhotblond. The details are complicated—though the Lifetime movie hits the major points. In 2005, Thomas Montgomery, 46, began frequenting Internet chatrooms. Using the screen name MarineSniper and using photos from his long-ago military days, Montgomery pretended to be a young Marine. Then he met “Jessi” (Talhotblond), an 18-year-old from West Virginia, in a chatroom. Though Montgomery was a married man, his casual flirting with Jessi grew into an obsession.
But after Montgomery’s wife confronted her, revealing that he was actually middle-aged, Jessi turned to the electronic arms of Montgomery’s coworker, Brian Barrett, 22. Barrett, who went by “Beefcake,” consoled Jessi, reasoning that they were a better fit for each other. But when Montgomery found out, he gunned Barrett down and then disappeared to find his true love. When authorities went to ensure the safety of the young woman, they were astonished to find that Talhotblond was really a housewife, Mary Sheiler, who had been using the name and photographs of her own daughter. Sheiler’s husband divorced her, and the real Jessi moved out of the house. In 2007, Montgomery pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
3) Trust Me, I’m a Doctor
Angela Buchanan made headlines in fall 2012 after admitting to concocting an elaborate scheme to coerce a female friend into having sex with and marrying her. Buchanan had recently discovered a pre-cancerous lump in her breast, and her close friend went online to figure out how to help her. In an online medical forum, the friend met a gynecologist named “Doc” who claimed to know Buchanan. “Doc” said that the best way to help Buchanan was for the victim to have sex with her, because “special hormones” produced during sexual activity could help treat breast cancer. The friend took Doc’s advice and slept with Buchanan.
Next, Doc’s “medical advice” reportedly took the form of encouraging the victim to move to a state in which gay marriage was legal so that she and Buchanan might marry and be able to win an ongoing custody battle for her children. Soon after the civil union, the victim began to look into the mysterious Doc, only to uncover Buchanan’s elaborate ruse. As of October, Buchanan had been charged with online impersonation, a misdemeanor.
We’ll leave it at that.
4) Lennay Kekua, Times 40
In 2011, reports surfaced about a particularly cruel prank in the same vein as Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend: A 28-year-old woman from New Zealand systematically created profiles for fictional teenage girls, then used them to flirt with unsuspecting young men. The twist: She would subsequently kill off the fake girls and revel in the online mourning that took place on the profiles. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that an estimated 40 boys were victims of the cruel stunt.
5) He’s Real(ly Not That Into You)
In a Salon essay, Sarah Hepola describes a twist on the “fake online boyfriend.” During their digital relationship, she became convinced that he couldn’t be what he said: In addition to having played soccer in Germany, started his own business at 20, and being a tall, handsome, good-old Texan boy, the guy canceled dates like it was an Olympic sport.
First the mother of his child was sick, and he was stuck watching the kid.
Then he was sick.
Then the casting call for his reality TV show Topless Chef ran late.
“I kind of don’t think you’re a real person,” she told him. They eventually broke up.
The funny thing, though? The hotness, the soccer, and the kid? All real. One day, she ran into him at the grocery store.