1. College football star mourns the death of a girlfriend who never existed.
Star Notre Dame defenseman Manti Te’o showed such athletic promise, he was once featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In 2012 he garnered worldwide sympathy by publicly announcing that his long-distance girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died of leukemia. A few months later, a reporter from Deadspin dug into the story and found that Lennay never existed—“she” was instead a male friend of Manti’s named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who eventually confessed he was in love with him.
2. Woman’s aunt sets up fake Facebook account and discovers her niece is plotting to kill her.
Teenager Marissa Williams was living with her aunt in Tuscaloosa, AL when her aunt asked her to stop using Facebook to lure male strangers into her home. In response, Marissa blocked her aunt on Facebook. So her aunt created a fake persona named Tre “Topdog” Ellis and befriended Marissa on Facebook. To her aunt’s shock, Marissa began complaining to “Topdog” about how she wanted him to come and pretend to kidnap her and take her away from her overbearing aunt. She even allegedly gave him instructions on how to break into her aunt’s bedroom and kill her before pretending to abscond with Marissa. She also encouraged “Topdog” to kill her uncle, cousin, and dog. Marissa’s aunt took these messages to authorities, and Marissa was jailed and charged with solicitation of murder.
3. College football player allegedly shoots transgender woman to death after finding out she’s a man.
Earlier this year, 24-year-old Tyrone Underwood—who posed online as a female named “Tyra” and self-identified as a female—was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds. Detectives pieced together evidence that suggested Carlton Ray Champion, Jr. had been involved in a weeks-long sexual relationship with Underwood that ended fatally when Champion discovered that Underwood had a penis.
4. Anonymous person steals woman’s pictures and develops a huge online following.
For nearly three years, a still undiscovered person swiped an estimated 900 or more photos from a woman named Ruth Graves (born Ruth Palmer) and posed as “Leah Palmer” online, breaking hearts and bending minds until a friend alerted Ruth to the fact that someone was posing as her. The social media profiles belonging to “Leah” were shut down, only to reemerge shortly thereafter.
5. Woman manipulates several women into thinking she’s a man named “Sebastian Pritchard-Jones.”
Starting around 2010, an online entity named “Sebastian Pritchard-Jones” began courting at least five British women, always flirting up until the point where they actually had to meet. There always seemed to be some horrid tragedy befalling “Sebastian” that rendered him unable to close the deal, whether it was his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s or sob stories about his sister dying of breast cancer. Then “Sebastian” sent one of his prey a picture of a perfume bottle that “he” intended to send her. What “he” failed to realize was that the perfume bottle acted as a reflective mirror that revealed “Sebastian” was instead a portly blonde woman.
6. Pro football player punches a man who’d been catfishing him as a woman.
Buffalo Bills linebacker IK Enemkpali was approached by a “woman” on Facebook named “Missy Lee” who claimed “she” was eager to perform oral sex on him. Enemkpali visited Missy Lee, only to find “her” cowering under the bedsheets and refusing to reveal “her” face. He left but then came back, but then left again when Missy Lee still wouldn’t emerge from the bedsheets. Then during a video call minutes later, Missy Lee showed “her” face, revealing male facial hair. It turns out that Missy Lee was instead a male named Ketryn Anderson. Enemkpali returned yet again, and during a fracas that erupted when someone else entered the room, Enemkpali punched Missy Lee in the face, knocking out two of his teeth.
7. Female medical student convinces several women she’s a highly successful man.
An exhaustively detailed article in the New York Observer covers the highly strange saga of a New Jersey woman named Emily Slutsky who was living in Ireland at the time she lured a trio of women into thinking she was a man named Ethan Schuman who always wound up backing out of person-to-person meetings. “Ethan” would use alibis such as that he had esophageal cancer, that he’d been mugged, and that he’d been injured in a car crash. Slutsky went to painstaking lengths to “verify” her identity as Ethan Schuman, including infographics, an alleged undergrad thesis, and a Ph.D. dissertation.
When her ruse was uncovered, Slutsky offered the following alibi:
You have to understand that I was disconnected from reality while I was talking to you three. It was playing out a movie for me. Ethan Schuman was present, but I was only in the audience during the performance. In convoluted ways that could take a book or two to explore, I was handling my own personal issues via the vehicle of Ethan Schuman….There will be no relapse because I’m done with this.
Two years later, Slutsky was back at it again. The real Ethan Schuman, whose identity Slutsky had cannibalized, was forced to remove all traces of himself from social media to avoid misunderstandings.
8. Gay man is catfished on Grindr by a man using his pictures.
Eighteen-year-old Jack Kennedy was cruising for sex on the mobile gay dating app Grindr when, to his amusement, he was catfished by a man using Jack’s pictures in his profile. Jack said he “just couldn’t stop laughing” and eventually signed out of Grindr and ignored his weirdo catfisher.
9. Ex-husband stalks ex-wife under a new identity.
Using the pseudonym “Aaron Carpenter,” Minnesotan Brian Matthew Cornelius struck up a “romantic” relationship online with his ex-wife, who wound up revealing to “Aaron” that Brian had been physically abusive toward her and that she was thinking about filing a protection order against him. “Aaron” was able to convince her not to file the order. After a yearlong online relationship, during which Brian repeatedly showed up in public spaces where his ex-wife had told “Aaron” she’d be, she figured out it had been Brian all along. She finally filed the protection order, and Brian was charged with stalking.
10. Woman befriends woman by posing as a man who eventually dies of liver cancer.
In 2005, LA resident Paula Bonhomme rapidly fell in love with “Jesse Jubilee James,” an alleged volunteer firefighter from Colorado who loved animals like she did. They even exchanged gifts which Bonhomme would later claim cost her around $10,000. An Illinois woman named Janna St. James—as if the “James” wasn’t enough of a clue—also befriended Bonhomme and reassured her that Mr. James was deeply in love with her. As with many other such cases, every time that Paula and “Jesse” arranged to meet, some sort of tragedy suddenly befell him which made him unable to see her in person. Then one day he suddenly died from liver cancer, and Janna accompanied Bonhomme to the Southwest to visit her recently deceased lover’s “favorite places.” It was eventually revealed that Janna had been posing as “Jesse” all along. Bonhomme unsuccessfully tried suing St. James in an Illinois court.
11. Woman allegedly convinces other woman to get a mastectomy to cure her breast cancer—even though she didn’t have breast cancer.
Posing as a gynecologist who survived breast cancer, 30-year-old Texan Angela Buchanan was able to convince a 51-year-old woman that she, too, had breast cancer, and that entering into an active lesbian relationship with her would release hormones that would fight the malignant cells. She also eventually convinced her unnamed victim to get a mastectomy—even though it was eventually revealed that the woman did not have breast cancer. Buchanan was arrested and charged with online impersonation.
12. Man gets catfished, then stalks the woman whose photos his catfisher had stolen.
The silent victims in most catfishing cases are those whose photos are stolen and used to construct fraudulent online identities. In 2011, after a Michigan man named Brian Hile discovered he’d been catfished, he allegedly drove to San Diego seeking to murder the woman depicted in the photographs. He apparently didn’t realize that his catfisher was a man who lived in South Africa.