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And so it ends.
May 20, 2001 12:09 PM   Subscribe

And so it ends. Kaycee's blog falls somewhere in the "truth based fiction" range. "because i care about people, i was taken in. call me a fool, call me gullible." - BWG
posted by bonzo (362 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the interest of moving this thread over, now that we'll truly be discussing a new topic, here's an excerpt from the comment I posted to the previous thread:

Personally -- I'm not bearing Debbie any grudge, but then I wasn't involved. I have said a prayer for Debbie and the three people she loved -- I hope you would do the same -- though there was no Kaycee, she was the amalgamation of four people in extreme pain and suffering. (Debbie included.) Here's one of my favorites, that I learned from Jack Kornfield:

May they be filled with loving-kindness
May they be well
May they be peaceful, and at ease
May they be happy.

posted by tweebiscuit at 12:13 PM on May 20, 2001


Can someone with legal training help me understand the process we need to go through now to have this woman prosecuted?
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:19 PM on May 20, 2001


Two more things I'd like to say:

1: For the love of god, no I told you so's, please. Most of the investigation was in entirely the wrong direction in any case. The only real piece of evidence was that no one, ever, had met either Debbie or Kaycee -- but people seemed pretty eager to Photoshop bio pics in search of hidden team mascots. Let's just forget that part of this thread, ok?

2: For metrocake, and the others calling for Debbie to come forward (see the previous thread): Debbie doesn't owe us anything. At least, not those of us who weren't close with KayCee and herself -- and metrocake, it doesn't seem like you are. Though Debbie chose to place herself in a public forum, she has no obligation to that forum, whatsoever -- only to her friends. If Debbie's going to say anything more on the subject, it will be in private, I'm sure -- and that's how it should be.
posted by tweebiscuit at 12:20 PM on May 20, 2001


The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
posted by revbrian at 12:21 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


Prosecuted for what? I can go make a web page and say I have a garage full of terminally ill elves. Lying and fiction aren't illegal. Fraud requires that the perpetrator lied for the purposed of parting people and their money/property.
posted by bonzo at 12:23 PM on May 20, 2001


y6y6y6 -- Were you a friend of KayCee/Debbie's? If you are, then you're justified in being angry, I think. If you're not -- well, I don't really feel you have a right to be as offended as you are by this.

In case anybody hasn't seen it yet (it involved following a few links from BWG's page), Debbie's final post is here.
posted by tweebiscuit at 12:29 PM on May 20, 2001


Fraud requires that the perpetrator lied for the purposed of parting people and their money/property.

and what about the ones who spoke with "kaycee" online and had her contact information and sent care packages before her death, and flowers and cards after?

i don't know how i feel right now. i'm hurt and angry and confused and doubtful. the story that "debbie" is telling us is even harder to believe that the original one.

i think it's time that i go outside and spend some time with the people i love, the people i can touch, the people whose eyes i can look into and see the truth.
posted by phooey at 12:32 PM on May 20, 2001


So, it's wrong to be deeply offended that an untold number of people spent several days mourning and dealing with emotional hell because they'd been tricked into believing that a girl who never existed died from a long and terrible terminal illness?
posted by gsh at 12:33 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


Prosecuted on what charge? It's not illegal to write fiction and claim it's true. If it were, the entire Democratic National Committee would be in Supermax for their 2000 party platform. (hee hee hee!)

I don't really bear Debbie any ill will either (as long as it doesn't eventually come out that she is somehow fictional herself, or that somewhere, somehow, financial gain was involved). I don't know why she chose to do this, but it seems to have been rooted in some honest attempt to spread vague touchy-feely uplifting words around, or give cancer patients hope, or something along those lines. But when it got to the point of "Kaycee" having phone conversations, IM sessions and emails with others, that crossed the line into pure fraud. I can only guess that perhaps Debbie had a psychological need to connect and share in the receipt of the well-wishing herself ... that perhaps my theory about "munchausen-by-email-proxy" is actually a correct diagnosis. In which case Debbie has some psychological problems. Nothing serious, but worth getting a therapist to talk it out.

And no, no I told you sos, except to those so hell-bent on stopping us from uncovering the facts in the first place because they had personally invested so much in the Kaycee story emotionally and couldn't handle the possibility that it was all made up.
posted by aaron at 12:34 PM on May 20, 2001


I feel that people were violated, and it's foolish to think that violation can only come through monetary means; people have feelings, and more important they have love. Love is based on trust, and it doesn't matter that they've told only a bit of a lie, or they went in with the best intentions, people's trusts were taken off. The harm being that moment when you realize you'd been taken in, and all your time and love has been stolen. The harm being that next time people will not bother or care, be it in the real world or online. These people should make long and hard apologies instead of placing the blame on an imaginary person. That's my 2 cents on Kaycee.
posted by tiaka at 12:34 PM on May 20, 2001


"I don't really feel you have a right....."

My opinion on this topic is very different. I've been used, lied to, and victimized to my very core. Yes, it was due to my own gullibility. I don't see how that mitigates anything.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:35 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


FWIW, a great "don't say I told you so" comment from the older thread.
posted by mathowie at 12:37 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


and what about the ones who spoke with "kaycee" online and had her contact information and sent care packages before her death, and flowers and cards after?

Well, she claims that all such deliveries were "passed on to the appropriate person." You might indeed have a case there, if Debbie is unwilling to ante up the names of the actual people whose stories she appropriated, and/or if those people do not agree they got lots of goodies.

Sidenote: Passing off an amalgam of other people as one actual human being is what cost Janet Cooke her 1981 Pulitzer Prize. And those in the prior thread questioning the ability of a major newspaper like the NYT of getting duped should note that Cooke worked for the Washington Post.
posted by aaron at 12:39 PM on May 20, 2001



Some people sent money to that post office box, after one of 'Debbie's' emails was circulated, in which she talked about how hard it was to be out of work while she stayed at Kaycee's side in the hospital. I got that email back in August of 2000 - forwarded to me by a webfriend with a big heart, who had sent them a little money to help them out.

Perhaps BWG wasn't the one soliciting money on her behalf, but someone else was - it was a very touching email about how skipping your morning latte for a week and sending that money would be such a great help. Did you send her money? Presents? Good will? Care and concern? Uplifting emails? Cheerful instant messages?

What kind of sick individual accepts all of that, and does not confess until they are outed?


I always thought the Kaycee blog was a rip off of this one, which is a true story.
posted by kristin at 12:40 PM on May 20, 2001


So the next question to ask is this:

Where did the "real" Kaycee (if she ever actually had a web page or online presence of any kind) end and Debbie begin?

Was the college club stuff Debbie or KC? Were the phone calls to KC or Debbie? If BWG talked to both KC and Debbie on the phone, did they sound different, and if so who were they?

and probably the most important question:

Will we ever know "the truth?"
posted by mathowie at 12:41 PM on May 20, 2001


somewhere, somehow, financial gain was involved

what about emotionial loss or gain? what's the worth of that?
posted by sugarfish at 12:43 PM on May 20, 2001


To me, the explanation by Debbie (or "Debbie"?) on her blog seems like a good way to short-circuit any full, detailed explanation.

"She's had enough, she's confessed, leave her alone." That kind of thing. I'm sort of impressed that people are still asking questions.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 12:46 PM on May 20, 2001


Did anybody to do with this whole mess actually die on Monday?
posted by normy at 12:46 PM on May 20, 2001


Sapphireblue, I am actually more inclined to trust. I've been online for a long time and the vast majority of people I'm in contact with are trustworthy. However, I have had a few encounters with people that have been negative. All that has done is teach me what to look out for, and given me an intuitive sense of when something isn't right. This Kaycee business, once I looked at the facts, didn't seem quite right, and, in the end, it wasn't.

I'm glad people were touched by Kaycee's story. They should be. You can call it rank sentimentality if you like, but it shows that people have a capacity to sympathize and to care. That should be a vital part of our lives.
posted by tranquileye at 12:47 PM on May 20, 2001


emotional, even.

and as a side note, how much do i love the internet, hoaxes and tricksters and spam or not? so many people are sitting here, refreshing and refreshing the comment pages, slamming google (i wonder if "kaycee" is a top search over there?) and generally searching for the truth.

viva the web, baby! ten years ago we'd have had to wait for the information to be delivered to us. now we can find it ourselves, or see it almost the instant it's posted.
posted by sugarfish at 12:50 PM on May 20, 2001


I'm not calling for prosecution.

However, there is such a thing as "confidentiality." I am asking the following questions:

"How did Debbie come by this information?" -- How is it that she had such seemingly intimate minute-to-minute information about the three separate conditions of three separate people?

And, more importantly,

"Did the families know this information was being posted on the Internet?"

If they did not, that's a problem. If Debbie was real and was writing about real people who didn't know all of this was going on, then depending on how she *got* the information, that could be a problem.

**** HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION: I AM THEORIZING ***
Suppose Debbie was an oncology nurse -- thus, seeing different people with different types of cancer -- and got inspired to write about them on the 'net. She's writing details about everything, from interactions with their families to mineral levels and seizures. And suppose this was all done without the families' knowledge.

That, my friends, is a serious breach of patient confidentiality. There's a great deal of difference between "write what you know" in a fictional sense and inserting details about specific people's lives.

*** end of hypothetical situation ***

The main reason why I was calling for Debbie to come forth is, honestly, to prove that she's not another construct. And to explain a little futher *why* she did such a thing; why, if she was going to write about cancer patients' lives, did she purport it to be one single person rather than telling it straight and calling it "tales of inspiration from cancer patients" or somesuch. Fine, not the harrowing tale of a ninteen-year-old fighting cancer, but still just as powerful -- perhaps even more so; how three different people fought this battle.

I'm not grabbing a torch and leading a witch hunt. I just want to know...well...*why.* I'm feeling pretty hurt and duped and, yes, pretty damned *stupid,* and now I'd like a clearer picture.
posted by metrocake at 12:53 PM on May 20, 2001


The point has been made before, but the fact that this hoax was outed is reason to have hope! It is when frauds go undiscovered that we have reason to fear.
posted by ericost at 12:54 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


And now how exactly is anyone supposed to believe a word this "Debbie" says? What about the College Club Kaycee? What about all these people who emailed and who received emails from a person signed "Kaycee"

Do many of us email well-wishing strangers under the guise of 3 of our friends combined?

Debbie responded to people using a personality named Kaycee. People who were empowered, who were moved, people who may have had cancer themselves who were looking for a bond, and she has made all of that an incredible fraud each time she responded to them and signed a name that was not hers to use.

We were told that Kaycee's "mother" logged onto her College Club account to respond to her email the days of/and following her death.

Now Debbie posts that her intentions were *good*?

What would have been a good idea "Debbie" would have been to give these three people you claim the story was created from, and give them their own platform. Make them a In Memory of Webiste. Tell their stories. It is deeply disturbing to find out a person people cared about and loved was created out of 3 or more people. You have made a friggin Frankenstein. Chosen the parts you wanted out of ill people and created one packaged perky blonde with bottomless optimism. While Debbie walked down the up and downs road. One day Kacyee is in remission, one day she sick and so it goes on and on, as she weaves a tapestry of stories into one digital person.

And now, oh yes, we *believe* you Debbie. You are the soul of integrity.
posted by justagirl at 12:56 PM on May 20, 2001


".....once I looked at the facts, didn't seem quite right...."

I don't like the idea that now I always have to run this sort of thing through a filter.

Someone will tell me that they are struggling, suffering, on deaths door, fighting the good fight....... They will reach out a hand.....

And I will have to say, "Really? Can you give me some proof?"
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:56 PM on May 20, 2001


normy, if somebody didn't die on Monday, my question is then, what made Debbie/"Debbie" choose to end the fictional Kaycee's life? When she says that she was an amalgam of three people's lives, predominantly one girl, did this girl actually die? And if so, she was weaving bits from the other two stories in there as she chose? How do you conflate three different diseases into one story?
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 1:01 PM on May 20, 2001


FWIW, a great "don't say I told you so" comment from the older thread.

Since you linked it here, I'll respond to it here; the other thread is so big now that it's taking forever for the page to load.



SapphireBlue wrote:
aaron: "Okay then. The blog was a fraud. Thank you."

the very worst thing about all of this is that people who are cynical by nature are going to take all this as validation of their suspicious natures---and people who are inclined to trust and to love are going to think twice before extending those kindnesses to strangers again.


Those who are cynical by nature, such as myself, receive literally dozens to hundreds of such validations every day. We don't need a big blog scandal to validate our beliefs. (Not to inject politics into this, but at its heart, this is the main difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals believe in the inherent goodness of people, and that humanity can eventually achieve a level of something close to perfection with the right combination of laws and regulations to make sure everything is spread around in the right amounts to benefit everybody. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that people are always going to be selfish on a number of levels, looking out for number one, no matter how hard we try. And not only will all the laws, regulations and social engineering in the world not change that, they'll simply provide more ways for the selfish to take more for themselves at the expense of the less fortunate it was supposed to go to (for example, the huge amounts of fraud scumbags manage to skim from just about every government program).

For those who are inclined to trust, I can only say that even as a card-carrying cynic myself, I have not lost all faith in trust and love towards strangers. I have merely learned that I should not bestow unlimited trust and love towards complete strangers who hide so far behind the screen that it looks extremely suspicious. And that's just common sense that we really all ought to practice in our daily lives. All it means is that when presented with extreme cases such as this one, where one is never ever presented with the slightest shred of non-circumstantial evidence that the person on the other end is real, you have the right to consider the possibility that something funky might be going on. And let's face it, such an extreme case almost never happens. Following such common sense rules shouldn't affect your day-to-day relationships with new online friends at all.

but the immediate future is going to bring a whole *lot* of ugliness from people who think that trust and love are things to be scorned, and who think that those of us who genuinely grieved for "Kaycee" are saps and fools for having done so.

I dunno. Even I don't believe this. As I said in the previous paragraph, none of this means trust and love themselves are to be scorned, nor that those that did fall for the Kaycee story are to be scorned. There really wasn't that much in her story to make people actively start to question the whole thing until they way that she "died" was so abnormal that it made lots of people start to question it all at the same time. The only thing to be scorned here are those who were so wound up in their grieving that they actively tried to stop others from investigating because they personally couldn't handle the possibility that they'd been had.

and a bigger shame that there are people small enough to get that kind of cruel and petty glee out of watching the fallout happen.

Again, any glee is obtained only by watching those who angrily and self-righteously attacked the rest of us for even attempting to investigate in the first place. The fallout itself to me is merely fascinating. I have no emotional investment in it, other than the satisfaction anyone doing any sort of detective work gets upon cracking the case.
posted by aaron at 1:03 PM on May 20, 2001 [2 favorites]



And those in the prior thread questioning the ability of
a major newspaper like the NYT of getting duped should note that Cooke worked for the
Washington


True. A good lesson to learn is that while news papers try to get things correct, they make mistakes on a daily basis. So many that they have a section for the ones they eventually catch. Wasn't it Carl Sagan who said that when trying to uncover the truth, "authoritive sources" are not valid evidence by themselves?

I'm sorry for all those who are now feeling a second round grief and anger over a story that may or may not have some grain of truth to it. But when dealing with the web, a critical mind is not a liability. Whatever the real truth is, we know this wasn't a large scale attempt to defraud the readers of money. But it could have been. If you truely benefited in some way from reading the blog then this doesn't change that. But always atleast keep an open mind to the possibility that people on the web are probably not as they present themselves.
posted by bonzo at 1:03 PM on May 20, 2001


I forgive Debbie. As I hope you'll all forgive me.

Her name was not Kaycee and she was not my daughter, but I loved her as if she had been. And I grieve her loss. as my wife and I "adopt" a lot of my children's friends. I can certainly relate.

A message hope hope was sent. A message that changed our lives despite the inconsistencies. I understand that while this was a "composite" of several people. These people were very much alive and suffering an ordeal I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

I hope we can see past this mess and still grasp the message that was sent in "LIving Colours".

As always, the choice is yours....
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 1:04 PM on May 20, 2001


Setting up a P.O. box and accepting gifts and donations on behalf of a fictional dying child is mail fraud. Even if Debbie didn't actively solicit anything, she readily admits to have accepted things in the mail. Debbie's real identity should be revealed to prevent this person from defrauding other people in the future.
posted by rcade at 1:04 PM on May 20, 2001


y6y6y6, I think you have to view the Internet as just another medium. If someone made the same plea on television, or via the telephone, or by mail, I'm sure you'd question it at least a little bit. For whatever reason, we've come to see the Internet as this wholly trustworthy thing from the get-go, and it's taken several good, old-fashioned hoaxes to let people know that it's not the "golden child" new form of communication that some people might still believe it to be. Actually, I don't know anyone who's been on the web or used its precursors that doesn't have at least some wariness. I guess the fact that so many people believed shows that there's a newer sensibility prevalent on the web.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 1:04 PM on May 20, 2001


What I find really interesting about this is that the essay acrid rabbit originally linked to was, for the most part, wrong. The largest clue turned out to be that no one had ever actually met either KayCee or Debbie -- but I had decided that it was mostly inconclusive -- that the reason it seemed to make so much sense was that I was already looking for a hoax, so clues were blown out of proportion. After all, I have plenty of close online friends that I've never met, and I don't doubt them.

I'm just surprised.
posted by tweebiscuit at 1:04 PM on May 20, 2001


Personally, I am very happy that this thread happened, because I'm certain that "Debbie" would not have come clean if it had not. She could see that her story was falling apart.

On the other hand, I'm ready and willing to drop the whole thing now. I'm not interested in hearing anything about the people involved.

I read Debbie's post and her half hearted apology and don't want to hear any more from her. It seemed to me that she still felt justified some how because the stories she was trying to tell were so worthwhile.

Debbie - next time, tell the truth - the real stories would have been just as valuable as the composite, more so, because now many many people will only remember the deception.
posted by ilanah at 1:05 PM on May 20, 2001


What I find really interesting about this is that the essay acrid rabbit originally linked to was, for the most part, wrong.

Only if you believe what Debbie and BWG are saying now. But why should anyone? Today's apology looks like an effort to defuse a volatile situation, not to legitimately come clean.
posted by rcade at 1:08 PM on May 20, 2001


well, i *was* going to offer my 2 cents, but it doesn't really matter now.

she was faked. so what? yes i understand that people 'believed' in her, but let's keep two things in mind:

1. the chances anyone is being completely honest with you on the internet is pretty goddamned small. you should be used to this by now.

2. the emotions you felt when you read her 'entries' were real. did these emotions cause you to appreciate life more than you would have? if the answer is yes, then you were given a gift, no matter how it was presented.

as for me, i don't trust anyone at all really, but if i see someone who looks like they're struggling, and i have the ability to have a positive influence, i'm going to do it.

if i get burnt, so be it. it's their karma, not mine. and if someone else attempts to pull the same stunt, oh well. i'll err on the side of compassion. i'd much rather be fooled than to turn away from someone who needs help.

isn't that what is important here?
posted by jcterminal at 1:08 PM on May 20, 2001


there is no spoon
posted by heather at 1:08 PM on May 20, 2001


What I find really interesting about this is that the essay acrid rabbit originally linked to was, for the most part, wrong.
Only if you believe what Debbie and BWG are saying now. But why should anyone? Today's apology looks like an effort to defuse a volatile situation, not to legitimately come clean.

No, I meant that the clues "headspace" brought to light did not, for the most part, pan out.
posted by tweebiscuit at 1:10 PM on May 20, 2001


i look at it this way: i give out my energy without any expectation of getting back. theres no way i can know every damn detail of every damn situation, so what's the use? a few times it's taken advantage of. but to not give it out in the first place due to fear is the slippery slope that i avoid.

if someone steals your wallet, you are angry. what about thinking about it in this way: maybe they needed the money worse than i did, because they went as far as stealing to get it. this doesn't in any way justify the action, nor does it stop you from attempting to right the situation immediately by calling the police or maybe even chasing after the guy. but the guy's gone now, with your wallet. what the hell are you going to do about it now? stay angry? clutch your purse to your side in fear every time a stranger walks by you? not ever trust again? i hope not.

so maybe i'm too trusting. but it's worked for me so far.
posted by queenkelly at 1:11 PM on May 20, 2001


I don't know why anyone here believes there is a "debbie" (although how do you cash a check unless it's made out to you? - I guess you get a conspirator to sign it over to you) or her story about a "real" kaycee that she was telling the story about.

it seems clear that there had to be a second person involved (if only for the phone conversations and to sign over checks) but I'm unclear about the rest.

unless there was a substantial financial gain from this whole thing, I have to deduce that "debbie" has significant emotional problems; and one wonders what she did with all those christmas cards....

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:11 PM on May 20, 2001


rcade: do you need to see a body? are you ever going to be happy?
posted by queenkelly at 1:13 PM on May 20, 2001


I don't know what to say.
I'm relieved. I'm crushed. I'm confused.

I feel like it’s the end of “The Sixth Sense” or “The Usual Suspects” and I am going through every scene, trying to re-visualize what *really* happened.

Who did I talk to on the phone? Who sent the Halloween candy?
Who emailed me for consolation when her beloved Dr. John died in an auto accident last year? Who sent me the Kansas City Royals Hat (KC...get it?) and signed it with Kaycee's name? Who did I speak to on the phone and who left me so many voice messages when I was at CollegeClub? Who opened the care package of cool hats I sent to cover Kaycee’s balding head?

It seems like I should be spiritually destroyed, but oddly, I don’t feel that way.

More than anything, I feel surrounded by love.

Take Kaycee out of the equation: You have a community of people who loved together, hurt together, learned together and consoled each other.

My inbox is filled with messages of love.

Instead of hugging each other over the death of a 19 year old girl, we are consoling each other over the death of a belief. Instead of helping each other to keep Kaycee’s spirit alive within each other, we are helping each other keep our faith in humanity alive.

To everyone who is extending their hearts to each other now, THANK YOU. Kaycee may not be real, but the love flowing through the net right now *is*.



Side Note: This Wednesday at 5:00 pm (Pacific) I’ll be doing a net radio show about Kaycee/Debbie/Love/Mistrust. People are welcome to call in and share their feelings about this whole ordeal. Then at 6:00 will be the weekly HugNation.com Virtual Group Hug. This week, more than any, I think we could all use one.
Both the radio show and hug will be meeting in the “Feel the Love” Lounge

Again, thank you.
posted by halcyon at 1:15 PM on May 20, 2001


Also, please do knock off the talk about how one cares so much, or how (posted in the previous thread) about how only always comforts one in pain. Goodie for you. You can't judge what's in anyone's heart, and acting as if you can -- or encouraging or participating in emotional promiscuity -- is only begging to get hurt. It's only begging for politicians who can claim that, say, their hearts are in the right place, and how dare anyone question them. (Does this sound familiar? If not, now's the time to stop being apathetic.) Of course no one here is perfect. Still, we'd do well, I think, to "care" in public with some (justifiable) restraint.
posted by raysmj at 1:17 PM on May 20, 2001


Whatever the details, it is undeniable that 'Debbie' and/or whoever is behind all this caused a great deal of genuine emotional pain for many people when the death of 'Kaycee' was announced last week.

If there was no 'Kaycee', nor perhaps any cancer patient of 'Debbie's acquaintence who died on that day, that is an act of calculated callousness and disgusting behaviour.
posted by normy at 1:18 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


Seems as good a place to bring up some historical perspective as any: the Village Voice's article about misbehavior in a MUD by one Mr. Bungle, A Rape In Cyberspace, originally published in December 1993; Mark Ethan Smith, who plagued The WELL [25% down], Ann Arbor's similar M-Net, and USENET newsgroups [end] ca. 1985-89; and other USENET cranks with shifting identities, such as John Grubor. (Beyond such blatant flame and real-world abuse, USENET is simply rife with people who aren't who they claim to be, partcularly since the September that Never Ended when AOL and its n screen-names per account came online -- but mostly with sex-chat personae and very few with that kind of staying power.)

Personally, I don't think this is of earthshaking importance, having seen a number of such 'constructs' blow up online in my (increasingly numerous) days. But if I'd ever sent a gift or money to this "Kaycee" construct, I would right now be drafting a letter to the district attorney of the county to which I mailed those gifts.
posted by dhartung at 1:18 PM on May 20, 2001 [3 favorites]


rcade: do you need to see a body? are you ever going to be happy?

look, this story is no more believeable than the first; in fact, it is less-so.

why would this "kaycee" take *debbie's* surname, and and why would debbie decide to make posts in her name? if debbie was eager to tell "kaycee's" story, why would she decide to conflate it with the stories of two other people?

were these people all alive at the beginning of the story, and when "kaycee" was in desperate straits, was one of them dying or very ill? if two of them were long gone, why add their stories into those of the currently alive "kaycee"? did "kaycee" ever see the weblog? would she object to seeing things written that weren't about her?

do you see my point? I don't really believe in any of the three people debbie was supposedly telling about; I'm interested in finding out more about "debbie" and I'm very interested in finding out how much money she received from sympathetic readers.

if those people would come forward, then we could judge what we're dealing with here.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:23 PM on May 20, 2001


I have unanswered questions. I don't give a damn what "Debbie" says at this point. I'd like to know where the care packages I sent and the amazon gift cert went. I want to know who sent me the care package.
I found Debbie by following what we now know. Kansas. "Kaycee" used Debbie's last name. Put the two together people. I am still digging, not because I am not still grateful for what my friendship with "kaycee" brought, but because my daughter used her allowance to send care packages. I'm not going to post what I find here because I am doing it for myself and my daughter, but I encourage anyone else with similar concerns to follow the clues and do their own research.
Seems to me that Debbie is one very sick individual. I've lost people close to me who deserved to have their stories told and never even considered masquerading as them. Sick and Twisted.
posted by amber_eden at 1:24 PM on May 20, 2001


y6y6y6, I didn't think about it too much until someone else posted that it might not be true. And when I started looking at the blog and at the facts, it started to smell funny. I would like to think that part of my day job is taking that hand that is reaching out to me, or at least facilitating others helping.

tweebiscuit, I don't agree that all of what acrid rabbit wrote was incorrect. In fact, I think it was the hurried funeral and service that raised suspicions. When people lie, there is a pattern of unverifiable narrative, and that's what we got from "Debbie": it felt like something was being covered up.

This still doesn't feel right, though. What was it that triggered "Debbie" to come forward and take the blog down? Was she checking Metafilter? And people say they spoke to both "Debbie" and "Kaycee" on the phone; did they both exist? Was there really ever a "Kaycee"?
posted by tranquileye at 1:26 PM on May 20, 2001


One thing that keeps coming back is the unlimited power of people to believe in something, no matter how insane. There are those here who continue to put forward that even though we know the entire episode was an intentional hoax, the value of the emotions themselves are real. Uh, no. You've been manipulated and lied to.

I guess the question those out there should be thinking is, why were you so emotionally invested in this whole thing? How was it that a distant tale of grief held and holds such power over you?

If you're looking for a sad story that tugs on your heart strings, I'm sure you can a real one. If nothing else the world is filled with misery. Go out there and find it!
posted by zebra_monkey at 1:31 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


cf: Life, death and Everquest

in which a guide gets fired, commits suicide, is mourned by the community, and then turns out never to have existed.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2001 [2 favorites]


zebra_monkey, as much as I'm of a similar view to you, I don't think you can actually place an objective "value" on emotions. I think this bizarre incident just highlights the fact that there are some very different ways of viewing the world, and that uh, never the twain shall meet.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 1:36 PM on May 20, 2001


I hope we can see past this mess and still grasp the message that was sent in "Living Colours".

The only message I'm taking away from Living Colors is that when sick people prey on the emotions of others, they are forgiven by those who feel the message is worthwhile.

Sorry folks. You've all heard the trite & true saying: the ends do not justify the means.

"Debbie" might have had a worthwhile story to tell (again assuming one believes what she says now), but by telling that story in such a deceptive and manipulative manner, the only message is "daymn that's really sick."
posted by faith at 1:38 PM on May 20, 2001 [2 favorites]


it really disappointed me to read that kaycee wasn't real. i don't hate debbie because it's possible that she (if she even exists) had good intentions, but she was wrong to go about her plan as she did. no excuses can hide the fact that she lied, and on an extremely large scale.

i have a fairly hollow feeling about the whole thing in general, that i'm sure many other people who read 'kaycee's' site can identify with.
posted by minor 9th at 1:41 PM on May 20, 2001


Debbie-hunters take note, any email you ever get from a hotmail account has a special header with the IP address the message originated from (where the author was sitting at the time) to prevent total anonymous correspondence.

This header is called <X-Originating-IP>

I received one email from Debbie last September 17, at 2:30 AM CDT was from: 209.134.87.160

It's a dialup in Kansas. Find a more recent message, locate the ISP, and have them search their customer logs to see who exactly was logged in and where they were when the emails were sent, and that's your Debbie.
posted by mathowie at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2001


If you are the victim of a fraud, and you are are cynically manipulated. Your compassion is used as a tool against you, you are a mark. Those emotions are in fact given to someone who does not deserve them. In that situation, I would say that the compassion you feel is nothing more than part of the fraud.

Only in a world where people are so isolated and alienated from each other (or one could argue so aesthetically removed from reality) could one argue that the emotions felt are more important than the cause.

Alright folks, I'm taking a walk. It's a beautiful day. I advise you all to take a walk, bike ride yourself. Or better yet, call up or meet up with someone you really KNOW and care about. Adios.
posted by zebra_monkey at 1:43 PM on May 20, 2001


Find a more recent message, locate the ISP, and have them search their customer logs to see who exactly was logged in and where they were when the emails were sent, and that's your Debbie.

It will help if you have a court order, of course. I think the likelihood of an ISP giving this information out to any random person who asked is pretty slim.
posted by kindall at 1:44 PM on May 20, 2001


Everyone should be reading what rcade and rcb are saying. Even if you were emotionally devastated by the whole affair, it seems highly unlikely that "this is it."

Why would anyone believe anything "Debbie" has to say at this point? After so much handwringing and suspicion, the answers just seem too pat, too much of a false compromise to admit that it wasn't 100% real, but not admit much wrongdoing, which there clearly was.

But I have to say, following this thread over the weekend was very, very interesting. I haven't stayed online this consistently since... well maybe ever.
posted by FPN at 1:45 PM on May 20, 2001


do you need to see a body? are you ever going to be happy?

We can't all be people who sympathize with a pickpocket because he really needs the money.
posted by rcade at 1:47 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


kindall, I'm not saying that I or you could get those logs, but if anyone with any sort of sway in the world read it, that's how you could end this once and for all.
posted by mathowie at 1:48 PM on May 20, 2001


i personally ran into kaycee's blog not long ago. i was touched, cried for a while as i sat and read through it. i even added a link to my website. this morning when i went to check and see if debbie had said anything and i found the confession, as well as the words from bwg, i was disgusted.

while the person who was supposed to be "kaycee nicole" did touch me, and i appreciated having the story to read. i feel there are better ways to have done this, whether or not she was a real person matters big time to those of us who feel like we were totally duped. we were made to believe something that was not true and in the end we were first hurt by grieving for someone we thought died and then we were hurt by finding out that we were grieving over the death of a hoax.

this is just too much. my stomach is nit knots, i would really like to know where people come up with some of their crazy ideas and why they would ever want to do something like this. if debbie wanted to tell a story about three people, there were much better ways to do it. she didn't have to hurt so many people in the process.
posted by caren at 1:50 PM on May 20, 2001


I think that when one has been cheated and finds out, there is a strong desire to get to know the whole story. Especially when there was emotional involvement.
posted by Tara at 1:50 PM on May 20, 2001


importantly, matt, if enough people who sent debbie money (or gifts) stepped forward, then they'd have grounds for an investigation. but you'd need at least a handful of people to get such a thing started.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:51 PM on May 20, 2001


"unless there was a substantial financial gain from this whole thing, I have to deduce that
"debbie" has significant emotional problems"


Well that remains to be seen. But there are some WELL documented cases on the web of insane or emotionally disturbed people using websites to get attention. A.J. Weberman, former webmaster of Dylanology.com, claimed everything from a government conspiracy to get Bob Dylan hooked on hard drugs so that that he wouldn't write protest songs to Dylan currently being infected with aids. All of this based on "lyric interpretations". Weberman is now in jail. There was a woman named Denice Sharpe who thought that David Gilmour from Pink Floyd wrote the Division Bell album as a personal love letter to her. She posted all sorts of crazy theories and evidences to alt.music.pink-floyd (even claiming that the new lucky charms marshmellow was a sign from David Gilmour). Her exploites have been detailed in depth. There are lots of stories like this. It is sort of a hobby of mine to keep track of cases of people creating fantasies on the web because of psychological conditions.

So what is the point? All of these people truely believe what they are saying. They are not lying in their minds. I am in no way claiming that Debbie is crazy, but I do think there is something very unusual about the whole situation. It is one thing to write a fictional story about a cancer victim to give others hope. It is an entirely different thing to go to the lengths that Debbie went.

In the words of halycon:

Who did I talk to on the phone? Who sent the Halloween candy?
Who emailed me for consolation when her beloved Dr. John died in an auto accident last
year? Who sent me the Kansas City Royals Hat (KC...get it?) and signed it with Kaycee's
name? Who did I speak to on the phone and who left me so many voice messages when I
was at CollegeClub? Who opened the care package of cool hats I sent to cover Kaycee?s
balding head?

posted by bonzo at 1:53 PM on May 20, 2001


This is just a hunch, but I think it's possible that Debbie is grieving and has been during the entire run of Living Colours. Rational people simply don't do what she did, and the grief-stricken are rarely rational. It is unusual for people to grieve that long, but sometimes grief can trigger a more serious breakdown and slide into a more or less permanent and serious mental illness. Perhaps she lost someone close to her first, or perhaps it was triggered by finding out that three people she knew had all come down with terminal illnesses at about the same time. It may even be possible that Debbie herself has a terminal illness and has no one close to her to support her. Whatever the source of her pain, perhaps Debbie created Living Colours to help her to deal with it. Of course it's not a good idea to take it as far as she did, but then, that's only obvious if you're thinking clearly. I think this is the key -- that Debbie is, for some reason, not thinking clearly, that it really did seem like a good idea at the time to her.

This isn't the only scenario that could explain what's happened, and I have no inside track on the situation, but if my conjecture is anywhere close to the mark, it's entirely possible that the entire scenario will never make any sense to those of us who don't know Debbie well enough to understand her suffering.
posted by kindall at 1:58 PM on May 20, 2001


Call me simple, but could somebody explain to me, in very few & small words, exactly what happened here? I'm confused as to the chronology of the Kaycee/Debbie mess.
posted by davidmsc at 1:59 PM on May 20, 2001


I really don't know what to say. I didn't know "Kaycee," "Debbie" or whoever these people were, but yet I followed this blog every day since around last September or so and believed every word of it. I sent "Kaycee" a few emails and even referred a friend who has a real daughter with cancer to the blog, hoping that it would give her some strength and inspiration to get through her fight.

How silly I was, apparently. Normally I consider myself pretty apt to see through to a scam, yet I was taken in by this. I'm just sitting here flabbergasted that this happened and wondering how I can tell this woman I know that the whole thing was a fraud. Sure, there's the message of the blog, but how can you believe the message when the messenger just ain't real? Sadder but wiser, I guess.
posted by digital_insomnia at 2:00 PM on May 20, 2001


1) The address listed near the top of this search results page is 18 miles from the P.O. Box address (which was in Newton, KS).

2) The IP matt listed had "peabody" in it. Peabody is the name of the city in the address found at the above link. There's also a phone number listed there if people are curious about that info.
posted by gluechunk at 2:07 PM on May 20, 2001


davidmsc:

Kaycee had a weblog for quite a while detailing her battle with leukemia. She went through repeated sessions of relapse of the disease and finally "died" Monday. Many people had talked to her online.

People started to doubt her authenticity. The "family" refused to post any address to send condolences/cards. No pictures we posted, no memorial information given out, etc. People realised that NO ONE had actually met her in real life. Several people searched for obituaries, high school basketball records, etc according to details in her weblog but nothing turned up. Many of her close friends posted that they were upset at all this doubt.

The wild investigations continued. People posted pictures asking if this or that person matched the descriptions. No hard evidence of her existance could be found and none would be provided by the family. Close friends begin to doubt.

Today, it was finally revealed that the "mother" of the girl wasn't her mother, but instead she claims the girl was a fact-based creation centered on experiences of three friends who had battled cancer.

Now everyone who has sent things to Kaycee wants to know where the things went and who exactly they were talking to. The mother claims she passed these things on to the families of the 3 victims. But the "mother"'s credibility is certainly questionable and possibly her very existence at all.

That is where we are.
posted by bonzo at 2:09 PM on May 20, 2001


I didn't see any address from the last google link, but I see one here
posted by futureproof at 2:16 PM on May 20, 2001


this page (linked to on the other thread) seems to support that debbie and tom swenson moved from oklahoma to lawrence, kansas in 1999.
posted by sugarfish at 2:19 PM on May 20, 2001


well, damn, i'm not sure where i got lawrence from. but it says they moved to kansas.
posted by sugarfish at 2:25 PM on May 20, 2001


you got lawrence from the second site of that google search results page.
posted by Tara at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2001


futureproof's Peabody Kansas sounds pretty good. There is a Tom and Debbie Swenson which corresponds with the swenson site.

Does anyone have any confirmation that the swenson site and the debbie of kaycee nicole fame are somehow linked?
posted by jay at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2001


i don't consider myself a cynic. i consider myself a realist.

for those who felt badly for kaycee's "death," i applaud you. you are good people; please, never change. the world needs as many of you as it can get.

it's really easy to get caught up with the anonymity of the internet. in spite of that, people tend to extend their approach towards real life to the internet. but you should never forget that all is not what it seems. most of us lock the doors to our houses or apartments; that is not done out of cynical doubt of our neighbors intentions. i feel that there is absolutely nothing cynical about, if nothing else, simply keeping in mind those you meet on the internet are not who you think they are.

the internet provides a great opportunity for people who have motive to impersonate or create other personas. you don't have to live in paranoia of everyone you meet on the 'net; just keep that in mind.
posted by moz at 2:33 PM on May 20, 2001


do we have any reason to believe that debbie swenson hasn't had her identity usurped? that she used her own name seems to be the obvious and simplest answer, but if this were a movie, the owner of her ISP would be the real culprit. :)

anyway, let's be careful before we get too sure about things....

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 2:34 PM on May 20, 2001


It's weird how something has to happen sometimes to see how you actually feel about something. --- Angela, 'My So-Called Life'
posted by feelinglistless at 2:43 PM on May 20, 2001


Rebecca, I think the only way we can find that out is for someone who talked to Kaycee/Debbie on the telephone to provide confirmation on the phone number. Preferably, someone who the MEFI community can trust as well. If it is not, it would then appear that Debbie and Tom should find out anyway as someone has obviously involved them in this hoax.

Its been amazing watching this thing unfold over the last 20 hour or so hours I have been following it.
posted by jay at 2:46 PM on May 20, 2001


I go away for a couple of days and look what happens.

What a total mindjob.

I don't think I'll ever trust anyone online as much again - not on blind faith anyway.
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:47 PM on May 20, 2001


Somebody refresh my memory - how did we turn up with the "Swenson family" site (Tom and Debbie) ?
posted by Tara at 2:52 PM on May 20, 2001


If anyone who sent money or gifts decides that this is a matter for legal authorities, the Postal Inspection Service office with authority to investigate mail fraud in Kansas is at 1106 Walnut St., St. Louis, MO 63199-2201; phone number (314) 539-9300.

I wasn't financially involved, so I'm not going to contact the postal service myself. I do think that people who gave her things should be exchanging information with each other, because that's the only way to determine if the gifts were incidental or part of a larger, intentional effort to con people out of money.
posted by rcade at 2:53 PM on May 20, 2001


Rebecca, I think the only way we can find that out is for someone who talked to Kaycee/Debbie on the
telephone to provide confirmation on the phone number. Preferably, someone who the MEFI community
can trust as well.


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't think that the MeFi community has a right to know. Debbie and KayCee were not even members. Those who were friends were them (her) certainly deserve to know what's going on, but as much as I'd like to hear the full story, I don't have any right whatsoever to demand it.

Especially since all this speculation about Debbie's motives are exactly that -- maybe she was lonely, maybe she was crazy, maybe she was sick, maybe she was malicious, maybe... some of you are demanding some sort of accounting with very little of the facts in hand. Sure, she deceived a lot of people, but it doesn't necessarily follow that she deserves punishment. (Although I suppose that depends a lot on your ethical affiliation. Personally, I'd much prefer to see Debbie get help than sued.)
posted by tweebiscuit at 2:55 PM on May 20, 2001


I want to start out by saying that I'd never even heard of Kaycee until this all turned up on MiFi, but I'm amazed at all the time and energy that so many people are spending on this.

Does anyone but me still remember the original definition of "community"? Let me quote Webster's:
"A group of people residing in the same locality and under the same government".

Folks, there are real Debbie's and Kaycee's living in your hometown right now, who need your help. Real single moms who are giving up sleep and food and sanity to devote all resources to their critically ill children. Real children and young adults who are fighting this battle, sometimes a battle that the patient is actually too young to understand. There are adults out there who have no living family, who are forced, more or less, to face this kind of up-and-down, real, day-to-day battle alone. These are people who need your help just as much as Debbie and Kaycee seemed to, and these are people who are real … who you can meet, talk to, become friends with (or, if you prefer to maintain a certain distance - I can understand that) simply verify the identity of.

Those of you who were so willing to send money, gifts, and letters of support to a girl who you had seen or met or spoken to … I admire the impulse behind your action, but I have to ask: what have you done in your own communities? Would you give up one Saturday to read to kids at your local hospital? Or just buy books and hats for those kids? Give money to organizations like the Jimmy Fund or Make-a-Wish? Give blood? Or did responding to an email or a message in a blog by dropping five bucks in the mail or ordering a book from Amazon make you feel like you had 'done your part'?

amber_eden, halcyon, y6y6y6 and the rest of you out there who feel taken and hurt, I can't say that I don't have sympathy for you. I do. But quit devoting your time and money and energy to anger and revenge and prosocution and do something positive with all that energy. There are people living in your Zip code who need your help. Do for them what you did for Kaycee. Send them a hat, or a book, or a Get Well card. I guarantee they're real, that they need help, and that they'll be very grateful.

And I bet it will make you feel better, too.

Some resources if you want to help cancer patients in your own area include The Ronald McDonald House, The Make-a-Wish Foundation, Gilda's Club, your local chapter of the Salvation Army or The Red Cross, or look in your local yellow pages under "Cancer Support Groups".
posted by anastasiav at 3:01 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


I'd like to know where the care packages I sent and the amazon gift cert went.

I'd suggest giving Amazon a call. I'm sure they won't just have over all relevant details about the account based on a single phone call, but they can tell you what process you must go through in order to get them to release that information. Generally, it would be a request from a law enforcement agency. So if you can get anyone in your local PD willing to look into this as potential mail or wire fraud, or perhaps the USPS's postal inspectors, they could get that info from Amazon very easily.

The only message I'm taking away from Living Colors is that when sick people prey on the emotions of others, they are forgiven by those who feel the message is worthwhile.

Well, people ought to forgive, just for the sake of their own emotional well-being. Better to forgive and stop letting it bother you, than spend weeks, months or years continuing to simmer about it. But the forgiveness should be about Debbie's fraud, not because "it just shouldn't matter anyway as long as the blog personally made me feel better about life." To me, the latter requires one to have some serious problems comprehend the most basic, important differences between reality and fiction, and potentially indicates a deeper emotional problem in those with that belief.

As for how easy or hard it is to scam others online in this way: I traded some emails with Steven over the last couple of days on this subject, and I realized that it's far easier to dupe people online that most think. The simple fact is that practically nobody in this world is so inherently skeptical and paranoid about everyone they come into contact with online that they harbor continued suspicions about each of their existences until they can pair up some piece of RL info to each online character. Our natural state of affairs is to not go looking for it, and to not even consider going to look for it. Given this fact, I have only ever seen three ways in which a fake online persona ever gets his/her true identity questioned and then eventually outed:

1) They make a truly massive blunder that makes everyone realize the fraud instantly. For example, someone discovers the persona is always posting from the same IP address as someone else on the system who claims to live 2000 miles away.

2) The persona makes the mistake of becoming too popular, to the point where too many people want to start communicating with them, but every single one is continually rebuffed for increasingly dubious reasons. (A little of this seems to have happened with Kaycee last year, but most of the questioners got suppressed quickly with a lot of "how dare you question someone with terminal leukemia" peer pressure, and the issue faded quickly.)

3) You kill off the persona. This is guaranteed to unleash a huge chorus of people begging for information on where to send condolences, flowers, maybe even show up for the funeral, etc. And of course, at that point the persona's "friends" are forced to spin elaborate, and totally unbelievable, excuses about why none of the mourners can even so much as send a Hallmark card to the grieving family. Steven noted in the other thread about a similar case on Anandtech last week, where someone was able to pull off one of these fake personas for almost a year, but the moment he killed off the character, the entire thing fell apart.

If someone with a fake character was smart enough to never make the persona so elaborate that (1) never happens, and never lets the persona become too popular or die as in (2) or (3), I wouldn't be surprised if they could pull it off for several years without a hitch.
posted by aaron at 3:04 PM on May 20, 2001 [2 favorites]



So Kaycee was a construct.... I only read a few entries to her Blog long ago and I remember thinking then that for a 19 year old the passages seemed incredibly well-written, emotionally complex, and terribly moving.

I'm going to list some definitions which may be useful for the discussion:

DUPE, TRICK, HOAX mean to deceive by underhanded means. DUPE suggests unwariness in the person deluded; TRICK implies an intent to delude by means of a ruse or fraud but does not always imply a vicious intent; HOAX implies the contriving of an elaborate or adroit imposture in order to deceive.
posted by Chairman_MaoXian at 3:15 PM on May 20, 2001


Hey, guys....I posted my thoughts on the matter on my blog. If you want to read it, you can.

::sad::

Hasta luego,

Redgie
posted by Redgie at 3:15 PM on May 20, 2001


I don't understand, by the way, why these personas are always killed off. The guy on Anandtech had a fictional woman and her infant daughter die in a car accident. That's not just a loss, it's a tragedy. Instead of concocting an elaborate story, why not just have the persona quit the internet? "I need to focus more on work..." etc.? I suppose it might be the attention, awful as it is to say -- but lord knows I've fantasized about how people would react after my death plenty of times. It's certainly attractive. Before we entirely blame Debbie, I think we should all reflect a little bit on why she would do this, and see if we don't all have some manifestation of those desires, if only a little. I'm not apologizing for her, just reaffirming her humanity.
posted by tweebiscuit at 3:15 PM on May 20, 2001


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't think that the MeFi community has a right to know.

Who cares? She'd still be conning people if not for pressure from places like MetaFilter. When I read in the local paper that someone is robbing people through bogus telemarketing scams, I don't question my right to know the information.
posted by rcade at 3:17 PM on May 20, 2001


i've been holding my tongue about this whole situation, mostly because this has happened to me before -- when i was in high school i was (sorry!) a pretty serious fan of the broadway musical "rent". one of the rentheads from out of town, heather, would come to nyc when she could to see the show and she also communicated with the renthead community via our email mailing lists. she told everyone about the serious illness she had and got a lot of people very emotionally involved. over time she got sicker and sicker and her friend started emailing a large group of people to keep them updated on heather's medical state. heather went into a coma, had operations, etc. and the friend, monika, kept pounding out the emails. she encouraged everyone to send her flowers and cards and gifts and especially encouraged people to get cast members of rent to send things to heather.

in the end it was all the doing of heather herself & some people uncovered the truth and heather was exposed. she was doing it to get attention from the various casts of the show. (which wasn't really necessary -- back then the casts were all completely open and friendly to fans & they gave fans tons of attention, whether they were ill or not.) this was a girl we had all met. we had spent serious amounts of time with an actual human person. she talked to people on the phone all the time.

during that drama, as in this one, i was never too emotionally involved, personally. i stayed on the outskirts, kept up with the story only casually, because i didn't feel close to either girl. but when people started asking questions as to the veracity of the stories we were believing, i followed both very closely.

you may have heard this story on this american life, we did a fairly long piece in which many of involved parties gave interviews and ira glass narrated. it was act III in an episode called "hoaxing yourself."

anyway.

from what i understand, and i have been following this closely, there really was a kaycee who many people have spoken to. the major clue that made people suspicious was that no one had ever met kaycee and no one could prove that there really was a kaycee. so if the circumstances were slightly different, kaycee might have met some people & we probably never would have forced debbie’s hand & she would have gotten away with this.

chew on that.
posted by palegirl at 3:18 PM on May 20, 2001 [2 favorites]


"I don't think that the MeFi community has a right to know."

Ya, that makes lots of sense. "I know you folks were deceived and lied to, but I don't think you have any right to the truth."
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:21 PM on May 20, 2001


"just reaffirming her humanity."

You are making me ill.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:23 PM on May 20, 2001


rcb: unless there was a substantial financial gain from this whole thing, I have to deduce that "debbie" has significant emotional problems; and one wonders what she did with all those christmas cards.... I only read a few entries in the kaycee blog once it had been announced that she died, so I've mostly been observing all of this with great interest. My thoughts after I read some of it were that I was touched, but that the person in it didn't seem, well, REAL, in the sense of having human tendencies. Like I said, I have not read the blog except for a few entries, but I smelled something.... idealized. From the little info I've seen, "Debbie" appears to have an overidentification with victims (particularly cancer victims) and seemed to put them on a pedestal - this is what I know think I saw in that blog. (hindsight and all) She got a LOT of energy out of doing all of this and I agree, she needs help, probably for a variety of reasons. I also think this is a great lesson for ANYONE that we can all feel deeply and yet still THINK and trust out intuition when something doesn't line up quite right. And as for forgetting your anger and focusing on people around you who DO need help, well, I have to say that if you feel angry, then FEEL it. Maybe your desire to prosecute is the only thing that will push "Debbie" into REALLY getting some help, if you want to look at it that way. Some of the ways that we "help" our "communities" (be they cyber or geographical) aren't always so obvious.
posted by thunder at 3:26 PM on May 20, 2001


y6y6y6 -- you were obviously personally hurt by this. So go ahead, search. But as a poster on a public forum who is only acquainted with KayCee through this thread and the previous one, I don't feel that Debbie owes me anything whatsoever. My comment was for those who are in the same position. I'd urge you (and everyone else) to do whatever you can to get the information that you feel you need to resolve this issue for yourself. It's ridiculous to say that the MeFi community at large deserves to know all the details. After all, how many of us were taken in by KayCee before all of this started? I'm willing to bet that an awful lot of us had never heard of or didn't care about KayCee until the controversy started.

The set of Metafilter users DOES NOT equal the set of people who knew or were concerned with KayCee. Period. Please don't try to equate the two.
posted by tweebiscuit at 3:30 PM on May 20, 2001


"But if this were a movie, the owner of her ISP would be the real culprit. :) "

That begs the question.... Who does own the rights to the movie?

It would seem to me that just one complaint to the police would set some sort of investigation in motion. I'm sure people's intention aren't to be cruel or to cause further distress to someone who may be grieving, but it would seem that a lot of people wish to know where their money and gifts went.

They appear to be people who wouldn't press charges if indeed it turns out that Debbie is unwell, was sending those gifts on to people who really were in need, or some like scenario.

I support the idea that people were right to care; that this was a good emotion. However the people who wish to inquire further into this, well, they are right too. They aren't necessarily disparate viewpoints.
posted by lucien at 3:34 PM on May 20, 2001


I cannot see any reason to defend 'Debbie' here. 'Debbie' has committed emotional (if not more serious) fraud, manipulated many people to the point of experiencing genuine unhappiness and done her(?) part to increase the overall sum of cynicism and distrust on the web and elsewhere.

Don't the people who were deceived (I'd argue that that means anyone who read the 'Kaycee' blog under the impression it was, as presented, true) deserve to have their humanity respected by ensuring that at least one trickster is prevented from perpetuating or repeating such a lie?

People being angry for being conned is a healthy human reaction, surely?
posted by normy at 3:36 PM on May 20, 2001


People being angry for being conned is a healthy human reaction, surely?

Yes, of course, and I'm not disagreeing with that. But my personal feelings are that this wasn't malicious -- that Debbie did this out of loneliness or grief. Even if she's "sick", as some have been saying, then she deserves help, not condemnation. I'd much rather see a disturbed person get help out of all of this than a "trickster" be punished.

Even if I'm wrong, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for now. That's the way I am, I suppose. I originally felt that KayCee was a hoax, and I'm glad I was right, but I think that compassion is needed in this situaiton -- as it is at all times. Maybe it's because I'm a Buddhist. Sorry.
posted by tweebiscuit at 3:40 PM on May 20, 2001


Even if she's "sick", as some have been saying, then she deserves help, not condemnation.

I think this is where we disagree. If she's sick, she deserves help and condemnation.
posted by normy at 3:44 PM on May 20, 2001


I think this is where we disagree. If she's sick, she deserves help and condemnation.

Fine. But please, please don't let the second outweigh the first. Revenge isn't going to help anyone here.
posted by tweebiscuit at 3:50 PM on May 20, 2001


So is repression the way to a better world? I don't believe so. I don't think her intentions were bad (I'm speculating). People with un-bad intentions who end up creating a big mess usually are punished enough by the mess itself.
posted by Tara at 3:50 PM on May 20, 2001


I'm still wondering who those pictures were of. the geocities kaycee site: www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Frontrow/3838/kc.html
is part of kelli's insynch site: www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Frontrow/3838/

(and the kaycee site appears to have once linked to the in synch site, if you look at the code.).

who is the girl depicted in all these photographs? does she know her pictures are online? it would be simple enough to go the school and find out who this girl is, I suppose. but what's the deal?

tweebisquit: unless you know the extent of monetary gain by 'debbie', I don't think you can ascribe motives here. it may be that she was just recycling gifts to all her admirers. I have no idea.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 3:52 PM on May 20, 2001


Aaron: These folks also assume, usually correctly, that those who harbor suspicions won't say anything unless they're absolutely certain that something is fishy. Or they wait for someone else to bring the matter up. For the most part, this is only the right thing to do.

Before, however, I had a limited interest in the Kaycee matter. I thought at first that this had to be something that had been going on before I was even lurking at metafilter. Maybe this was someone from the Bay area, I didn't know. People surely acted as if they were very familiar with the person, though. Then others came in falling all over themselves to say how much they cared, and had been touched even though this was the first time they read it. I was bothered by the latter posing, but still stayed out of the fray. I went to Kaycee's log later, and thought this looked like something very heartland feel-good-Protestant-meets-Disney. The cloying talk and overwrought poems. Cloying, it was, but I'm not going to make fun of anyone I even remotely have reason to believe is an actual dying person.

(It's better to poke fun of that sort of thing from some distance in fiction or satire. A good, classic example is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and its hysterically funny bit in which Huck looks over the drawings of a deceased girl who had an apparent death wish. Oh, and please recall that the fictional Huck's caring was proven by his actions and our getting to know his fictional persona over the course of a novel, warts and all.)

So why I did I still not say anything? Despite all the talk about American cynicism, what I saw in the Kaycee-death thread wasn't all that unusual. And in saying that I'm neither praising nor outright condemning what was going on. We all should be careful, and show restraint, and see people as neither all good nor all bad.
posted by raysmj at 3:54 PM on May 20, 2001


I must say, I'm really impressed by the tenacity of the MeFi Detective Unit in uncovering this fraudulence.

I would have just said "she died, it's sad..." and then resumed what I was doing. I wasn't following her saga but I knew about it, and never would I have suspected a hint of insincerity.

I'm with the "cynics" camp. I don't for a second believe "Debbie" is giving us the whole story. It's just too incomprehensible of a sham to pull, the way she described it. I mean, what would be her motivation for melding three people into one and relaying their collective stories under a common pseudonym?

This ordeal has certainly raised my awareness of scamsters, as well as my level of social paranoia. Though I hate to think about the idea, I'm starting to wonder who among the online "crowd" is whom they say the are.
posted by Succa at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2001


tweebisquit: unless you know the extent of monetary gain by 'debbie', I don't think you can ascribe motives here. it may
be that she was just recycling gifts to all her admirers. I have no idea.


Exactly my point. As I said, I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt for now. However, I honestly doubt that monetary gain was a factor -- KayCee's words, in this light, sound like someone trying really hard to get people to like her. I have a crippling self-esteem problem that has fucked up almost every relationship and friendship I've ever had -- so for now, I'm going to do my best to be compassionate for someone who might just be further down the hole than I am. If I were in Debbie's situation, that what I'd hope someone would do for me.

(again, i'm sure that this is not possible for a lot of people who have been hurt by this. i'm just expressing my feelings about the situation.)
posted by tweebiscuit at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2001


My two cents. Sigh.
posted by fraying at 4:07 PM on May 20, 2001


I had no knowledge of Kaycee's blog until a couple of days ago, but this has been a most fascinating thread, and I just wanted to thank all the participants for dealing with this potentially explosive topic in an honest and direct manner, be it in support of Kaycee's existence, or in the interest of finding out the truth. With little exception, this has been an example of what a MeFi discussion can be at it's best.
posted by jess at 4:11 PM on May 20, 2001


I'm forced to wonder why anyone would give any more credibility to BWG than to "Debbie" (who we know, if exists, is a fraud.) He has:

1. Been the host, designer, and editor of "Kaycee" and "Debbie's" sites from the beginning.

2. Responded irrationally (and, perhaps, violently) when people first began to question the veracity of Kaycee's stories.

3. Posted an "I don't want to talk about it anymore" post on his weblog, which conveniently excuses him from any further discussion.

Of course his WHOIS data is valid; he very well may be perpetrating this entire incident himself, however.
posted by Danelope at 4:22 PM on May 20, 2001


"I don't think that the MeFi community has a right to know."

And why not? I imagine that the scope of people who've been hurt by this goes far beyond the MeFi community. If this community can do something for those people who are not as web-saavy about fraud, hoaxes, or whatever one wants to call it, then why shouldn't the community use it's resources to do so? Seems to me, not only should they, but in some sense they have an obligation to.

And tweebiscuit: Please explain the source of your assertion that "Debbie's" motives were not bad ones. I don't see how anyone has a factual basis to claim that.
posted by faith at 4:23 PM on May 20, 2001


Jess: Agreed.

Wow, I am so impressed. These two threads - my initial one and this follow-up - are testaments to the beauty that Matt's created here. This is why I'm a daily visitor, and why I heart MeFi.

I really was nervous about starting this. I was terrified that I'd be hurting people with my questions. And I'm really sorry for the hurt that I've caused to any true believers.

And I'm really glad that this is such a mature community. I don't think that I'ver ever been this proud to call myself a member of anything.

I sure hope that we can get closure on this someday.
posted by acridrabbit at 4:25 PM on May 20, 2001


>2. Responded irrationally (and, perhaps, violently) when people first began to question the veracity of Kaycee's stories.<

I disagree. I thought his response was quite predictable and well within the range of normal for anyone who was witnessing an accusation that someone they loved was fictional. violently? please.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2001


Man, I haven't had so much fun since I was played, played, and played again.
posted by benbrown at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2001


Danelope,
That thought occurred to me and I doubt we're the only ones. But working alone with an IP in Hong Kong and a PO Box in Kansas? I can't get my head around that.
posted by normy at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2001


And why not? I imagine that the scope of people who've been hurt by this goes far beyond the MeFi community. If this
community can do something for those people who are not as web-saavy about fraud, hoaxes, or whatever one wants to
call it, then why shouldn't the community use it's resources to do so? Seems to me, not only should they, but in some
sense they have an obligation to.


There are certainly numerous members of Metafilter who have been hurt by this, and more outside of it. However, as I said above, not everyone on Metafilter fits that critera. Debbie has absolutely no obligation to the Metafilter community in and of itself, only to the individuals who were taken in by her. She should have to answer to them, not to us. After all, think about it -- what exactly links Metafilter to Debbie at all? That a lot of members knew her? Hey, a bunch of people in the state of New York talked to Debbie too -- maybe we should inform those tens of millions of people too. Do you see my point?

(sorry to be snarky -- i'm just a sucker for illustrative examples.)

And tweebiscuit: Please explain the source of your assertion that "Debbie's" motives were not bad ones. I don't see how
anyone has a factual basis to claim that.


Please refer to this response.
posted by tweebiscuit at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2001


You know, I posted on my blog to keep faith and everything.

I am gonna be 100% honest, though. It's hard, considering all that has happened, to know who or what to believe anymore.

::sigh::

I feel deceived....

Redgie
posted by Redgie at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2001


>I'm forced to wonder why anyone would give any more credibility to BWG than to "Debbie"<

follow the money. the now defunct po box was in kansas, was it not? bwg has been established as being in hong kong, no?

the po box would have to be close to the person receiving the loot.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 4:34 PM on May 20, 2001


i did something and i'm not sure if it was the right thing to do so before i tell it i want to explain my reasoning.

i was concerned about debbie. i think she is someone who snapped, has a problem, needs help. i don't think there was malicious intent. i was worried about an angry mob going after her and wanted to try and find someone who could help her out in some way. maybe listen without judging.

i called the baptist church that appears in a photo on kelli's site. i talked with the pastor, troy manley, and explained to him what was happening. he was very much in shock. he said that debbie and tom swenson were members of his church. they do have two children a boy and a girl, the girl named kelli. she was a secretary at the church for three years. they did move to kansas in 1999.

he said that she appeared to be troubled before they moved though she did not confide in him the reason. he said that she had lost her mother in law that year after an illness and that seemed to cause some problems in the family. her husband often did not attend church with her. i asked if there were anyone that year who might be "kaycee". he said that in fact a young woman maybe 28-30 named kaylee or kayla was in their congregation and did die that year though he wasn't aware of any special connection between debbie and that woman.

he said debbie was an extremely faithful parishoner and to have done something like this would mean she had experienced something absolutely devastating and he could never in a million years imagine her doing anything like that. i gave him her phone number and he was going to try to contact her immediately or find someone who knew her that could help her. he was very concerned and it was obvious he cared for her very deeply.

"kaycee" often mentions visiting children's cancer wards. i suspect that is where most of the gifts went. i think we should show some compassion. none of us can really imagine what drove her to this.
posted by centrs at 4:35 PM on May 20, 2001 [3 favorites]


All I know is that I just *feel bad* about this whole thing. I don't want to become hard or uncaring - tainted by this misrepresentation. I want to keep my propensity for feeling empathy intact. When I sent cards and notes to Kaycee, I was hurting for her and Debbie. I guess if there wasn't all that stuff about Kaycee's dad, aunt etc.... I wouldn't feel so manipulated, but I hate that I was made to feel so upset and frustrated by "Kaycee"'s father. Now I feel like someone was transefering their anger towards their husband and I was a hapless participant. I am also upset because BWG strikes me as the kind of guy who would be an ideal friend or older brother, and someone messed with him. In fact, someone was very, very reckless with the BWG - the world needs people like him and they should not be emotionally thrown about like that.
posted by Taxi at 4:36 PM on May 20, 2001


centrs -- thank you. That's the absolute best thing that someone could have done in this situation. I doubt that many of us really know Debbie well enough to know what kind of help she may or may not need.

On the issue of Debbie gaining from this -- I'm not convinced at all that she gained monetarily from this. From what I've heard, she sent at least as many packages as she received. How could this possibly be selfish? IMHO, that's a lot less likely than almost any other motive I can think of.
posted by tweebiscuit at 4:39 PM on May 20, 2001


So now the picture is a little clearer.

rebeccablood pointed out that the very first Kaycee page is in the same geocities directory as the Kelli's N'Sync page. Kelli was thought to have been Kaycee because of the similar stories in dates moving from Oklahoma to Kansas, the girl played basketball, and she had the same last name as Kaycee used when quoted in the New York Times, and her mom's name was Debbie (see the link on the page). Kelli was easily shown to not be Kaycee (see older thread), but I think this about nails it. So Debbie makes up Kaycee and has to fill about two years of blogging with personal details. Where do these details come from? Her own life. Kaycee moved when Debbie moved, Kaycee shared characteristics of Debbie's daughter, etc. Maybe the stuff about the parental relationships that Kaycee discussed are actually Debbie's. It is not hard at all to see where most of the details in the blog came from. Just look at the various Swenson family pages.

Now with the info posted provided from the church pastor, I think the whole thing is very clear. BWG was innocent and loving. He had nothing to do with it. The other pages predate his involvement and we know that Debbie really does exist. The stuff Kaycee said about her father fits in perfectly.

The only question is why did she carry on like this for so long? Sick, sick, sick...
posted by bonzo at 4:41 PM on May 20, 2001


Aaron, actually the Anandtech hoax took more than a year to unravel. "She" was "killed" in January of 2000, but the truth only came out about two weeks ago. The reason is that some people were suspicious, and others were coming to the defense of the hoaxster, and the subject just wouldn't die. And he was feeling guilt about misleading those people who were defending him, who were clearly good-hearted.

You'll pardon me for acting like a cynical bastard, but I wanted to mention when I started to doubt. I never heard of this until the "She's Dead" post last week, but I followed a link in there to Debbie's site and read her announcement of the death. Then I backed up one day and read the Mother's Day post.

And it just seemed too precious to me. It was about how grateful she was just to have her children near her, and how that was the best Mother's Day gift of all. It seemed tailor-made to create the greatest possible contrast to the announcement the next day that one of these beloved children had died. It was too poignant to be real, frankly. That kind of thing happens in soap operas and romance novels, but not in real life. I wouldn't have expected someone in real life to be that maudlin before a tragedy. (AFTER one, sure.)

I also confess to being a coward. This was my reaction last Tuesday when I first looked at her site, but I didn't say anything about it in public for fear of getting toasted yet again.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to express my enormous respect and gratitude to Acrid Rabbit for starting the first doubter thread. That took guts.

By the way, this is what I wrote this morning before I learned of confirmation of the hoax.

I still don't have any emotional attachment to this. About all I feel is bemused by it all. I can understand the anger, but I don't share it. Sorry, folks.

However, I'm also not contemptuous of the people who got emotionally involved with Kaycee Nicole. If you have to make a mistake, it's better to be too loving than not loving enough.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:42 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


Danelope, Randall is a good person with a big heart who wanted to help someone he considered a friend.

1. Been the host, designer, and editor of "Kaycee" and "Debbie's" sites from the beginning.

Kaycee was a presence on the web before BWG got involved with her. She was part of College Club, as many can attest to. He didn't meet her until CitizenX started up. I've helped friends make web sites before. I've just not been generous enough to share my disk space with them. There's nothing notorious about Kaycee and Debbie's blogs being on his site.

2. Responded irrationally (and, perhaps, violently) when people first began to question the veracity of Kaycee's stories.

If you'd had a close friend accused of doing something wrong and you believed your friend was innocent, wouldn't you be upset and hostile towards those making accusations? I'd probably have been way more hostile and quite a bit more vulgar.

3. Posted an "I don't want to talk about it anymore" post on his weblog, which conveniently excuses him from any further discussion.

if you found out that you'd been lied to by someone you loved and trusted, and that you'd even been accused of being behind a scandal, wouldn't you want to step back and try to minimize the backlash, rather than be hounded and accused by people you don't even know? Man, I just posted a short entry to MY blog and I've already gotten harassing email from some moron.

Sure, his behaviour might seem like that of someone who's guilty of something, but it's also perfectly appropriate for someone who's been hurt, betrayed, and attacked publically. He's as much of a victim as anyone else who believed in Kaycee and her story, except that he's at ground zero.

I'm not at all happy with what's happened. I'm angry and upset and worried. I was 'duped.' I sent in cards and gifts. But I'm not going to track down Debbie. I'm not going to try to turn this into something criminal.

Can we please not turn this into a witch hunt?
posted by phichens at 4:45 PM on May 20, 2001


"the po box would have to be close to the person receiving the loot."

I had a PO box in the states for years, but did not live there. There are numerous mail forwarding agencies that allow one to set up an American address.
posted by kristin at 4:48 PM on May 20, 2001


That thought occurred to me and I doubt we're the only ones. But working alone with an IP in Hong Kong and a PO Box in Kansas? I can't get my head around that.

the email that matt got had an ip that linked back to a dialup in peabody, kansas. i honestly don't think that bwg got an account at an isp in the middle of nowhere and called long distance from hong kong to perpetuate this hoax. i think he was taken in by this scam more than anyone else.

here are my thoughts about the whole thing.
posted by sugarfish at 4:55 PM on May 20, 2001


How do we ensure that we don't lose our compassion for genuine people who need our support? Despite this situation, I am going to endeavour to be there for anyone who needs my energy - but I got over 50 people turned on to Living Colors, and I feel really humiliated. People at my office ask me about "Kaycee" all the time and I am now dreading going to work on Monday.
posted by sammchop at 4:56 PM on May 20, 2001


phichens: If you'd had a close friend accused of doing something wrong and you believed your friend was innocent, wouldn't you be upset and hostile towards those making accusations?

No.
posted by Danelope at 4:56 PM on May 20, 2001


Steven: again, thanks. But please note that I'm a coward too. I provide no email address in my profile - hence, I took very little risk in posting the initial thread.

I'm thinking that more of the respect & gratitude should be aimed at Headspace & the Wunderblogger, both of whom are wonderful women (who write really well) and have opened themselves up to a lot more consequences by writing their thoughts on their websites.
posted by acridrabbit at 4:58 PM on May 20, 2001


A lot of people are going to need a couple of days to get over this. I think we'll start seeing more rational discussion about this Tuesday or so. Be patient, people; something like this is a major blow for someone like BWG. He's got some anger and grief and self-recrimination to work through. Give him space and time.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:58 PM on May 20, 2001


Interesting situation... because I can understand from both sides of the viewpoint. You have people who have involved themselves in many different spectrums. I cannot say what is "right" or "wrong" but my main question is, "what will it do for you..."

I lived in North Point, Hong Kong for a while and met, hung out, even smoked cigars in Causeway Bay HK with BWG. There were no blips, IP addys, or emails, this was a one to one friendship. Where we practically hung out 5 days out of the week together since we both had a lot in common. We even trained together on my rooftop in martial arts while I was living there. So I can honestly tell you from a personal note... I know this guy really well.

One thing you have to remember is that this is a person. This person would give his shirt off of his back for someone whom he considers a 'friend'. I am not going to drag this post into the ground... but Randall was there for me in a lot of tough times when I lived in Hong Kong.

This same person voluntarily placed his life online, like a lot of other people. He even trusted someone to the point that he hosted their blog who we know as, "Kaycee". To me, there is nothing wrong with trusting someone. If I called him up and asked if he can host my site, he would do it with no questions asked. In genuine friendship, you don't have questionnaires, or checklists, or background checks... you simply trust someone's words.

I moved back to California to take care of my mother because she does have cancer. In fact I had to rush her to the hospital for an surgical emergency. I have to deal with the thoughts of possibly losing a loved one day after day. Likewise, Randall has gone though it in his own personal life... you can see it when he talked about it.

So can you imagine building a friendship online, caring for them, building a friendship, then share their life online with others. Then go though the thought of loss, and have all your emotions from losing family members in the past swell up too? Then find out that this person might not be real, and now you have to slap your reputation online and practically apologize to the world because you trusted someone? That is a hard one to swallow... but he did it.

So if it makes you feel better to run WHOIS commands, search though obituaries, and run this online-witch-hunt to make yourself feel better. Mabye it will... mabye it won't. I don't have the right to judge or sway someone. But all I know is that it was wonderful to look through the eyes of not only Kaycee, but several other people that have written about their lives...and really appreciate the fact that we're all alive, and ya... living on borrowed time. I'm off to the hospital right now in fact, so if you can... do keep a good thought in your mind for my Mother or anyone who is going through those hard times in life.

Best wishes to everybody on this board...
~Robert
posted by robomonkey at 4:59 PM on May 20, 2001


[Danelope: For the record, wrt Zannah, I wasn't trying to create a brushfire or anything. I was simply pointing out that if one comes into a situation with no information, and the snippet provided is all that person's got, confusion and/or problems will result.]
posted by hijinx at 5:00 PM on May 20, 2001


si monumentum requiris, circumspice
posted by n/a at 5:09 PM on May 20, 2001


aaron: Know you wrote this a long time ago, but . . . If liberals believed in the inherent goodness of people, in blind Rousseauesque fashion, we wouldn't have wage and hour laws or OSHA or the National Commission on Race. We wouldn't have hate crime laws. Same goes with conservatives, only in reverse. What a crock. Now back to your usual programming.
posted by raysmj at 5:11 PM on May 20, 2001


Or, rather, the inherent total goodness of people. Sorry.
posted by raysmj at 5:12 PM on May 20, 2001


i never met Kaycee IRL. I met her just like Halcyon and many others did, at Collegeclub.com. I heard her voice, i recieved snail mail, i got a pkg from her. I talked to *Debbie* too.
The girl i met online was sweet, giving, caring. For nearly two years i called her *lil sis*.
I know they always warn you not to trust too much when u *meet* people online. But like BWG said, how could i not trust? this person was my friend. she never asked anything from me, and i can vouch for the fact that she actually gave $ to others.
I wont lie, after i read the post BWG made, i was shocked, angered and sad. But if *Debbie* is truly sorry, and if a real girl did die, and if that real girl was the one who shared so much love and caring, then i think thats whats important. So yeah, we were faked, we were all rooting for a person that was actually a combination of many people.
I know many people from Collegeclub who were deeply saddened by what happpened. I personally sent out emails to close friends announcing her death. *sigh*
The *Kaycee* might not be real, but the love and suffering are always true.
Maybe all that is hurt is our egos, for having believed and now we are being told it all was, but not really.
Im saddened by the fact that a girl lost her life, i feel angry that i was lied to, but most of all i feel that i was part of a story, fiction or fact, that has made me appreciate my life more.
Someone brought up the fact that maybe Debbie is still lying. Well if she is so be it, if she isnt so be it too. We are not here to judge or point fingers. What was done is done. The woman says she is sorry, and im not about to be angry and dampen my soul.
Everyone who is bashing this whole incident needs to think about the good things that came from her blogging. If you hated it or loved it, it still got you thinking.
So maybe by saying all this i could be accused of patronizing, but i want to be the bigger human being here.
Live and learn.
If Kaycee and the others were real, my deepest condolences to their families. If they were not, my deepest condolences to all the families who have lost a relative to cancer...myself included.
posted by Romi at 5:14 PM on May 20, 2001


My whole reaction to the whole thing can be summed up with *humph*.
I'm impressed with the MeFi community for following up. I'm sad that I had the wool pulled over my eyes. I agree that the gene pool needs a little chlorine here and there. I guess I'm just glad the whole thing is done and mostly figgered out now... it is done, right?
posted by SpecialK at 5:17 PM on May 20, 2001


centrs has contributed the most level-headed posts during this entire charade. You’re a good person to have around.

Danelope, you're forgetting mathowie’s IP information for Debbie Swenson. If BWG is the sole perpetrator of this hoax, that would require him to call Peabody, Kansas from Hong Kong.

I do have some questions for Randall (can I call you Randall?), Halycon and Kaya since we’re all having a little trouble understanding when Kaycee ends and Debbie starts.

Debbie apparently took all responsibility for both blogs, “Randy (bwg) only posted what I sent to be posted, so I am the only person who is to blame.” Did she also take responsibilty for all the online and mail correspondence, or just parts of it?

Who is the Kaycee person you guys spoke with on the phone? What is her relationship to Debbie?

I guess another way to put this is when Randall, says, “there was no conspiracy. debbie has told me the whole truth. i am willing to believe her when she says it was she who is totally responsible.” What is it, exactly, she is taking responsibility for? Creating the persona of a girl dieing with leukemia, and roping in someone else to play the part on the phone?

I’m afraid, for me at least, the fact that this hoax is uncovered only created more questions. Mostly technical — who did what exactly — but questions nonetheless.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 5:33 PM on May 20, 2001


it is done, right?

not even close, i'm sure. i wonder if the mainstream media will pick this up?
posted by jpoulos at 5:34 PM on May 20, 2001


they said tom petty is dead. they said tom petty isn't dead. but they NEVER said he wasn't real. that must explain why everybody is so cacked about this kaycee hoax. 120 posts and counting. fascinating the sort of thing that rivets the metafilter collective consciousness, don't you think?
posted by quonsar at 5:34 PM on May 20, 2001


not even close, i'm sure. i wonder if the mainstream media will pick this up?

As I said in one of the first comments to the first KayCee thread (I had the fortune of being on a Metafilter-reloading binge when acridrabbit posted the link), it's amazing to see the Salon headlines before they're even printed...
posted by tweebiscuit at 5:43 PM on May 20, 2001


I sent packages. They were addressed to "Kaycee". They were not addressed to "Appropriate People".
posted by flick at 5:49 PM on May 20, 2001


acridrabbit: I could not possibly disagree more with your assertion that Saundra and Christie are deserving of our "respect & gratitude". If anyone should be blamed for the unpleasant tone of these proceedings, it is these two.

Both of them, going on tiny scraps of ultimately inconsequential (and in some cases, wholly imaginary) circumstantial evidence, made callous, vindictive statements with no regard whatsoever for the hurt these statements might cause if their hypotheses turned out to be untrue.

Saundra and Christie could easily have chosen to raise their doubts in a fashion that would encourage thoughtfulness and respect. Instead, their reckless disregard for other people's feelings triggered the reflexively hostile reactions we've seen over the last couple of days.

Does the fact that they were eventually proven right (although not based on any of the evidence they originally put forth) absolve them of the responsibility to conduct themselves in a respectful manner in a public forum? I don't think so.

(Just to be clear, I don't think acridrabbit did anything wrong in starting the original thread; I only wish his/her/its citations had been less inflammatory.)
posted by jjg at 5:55 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


jpoulos, I have a feeling that Janelle Brown at Salon is reading this thread. If it doesn't turn up at Salon, it won't turn up anywhere ...

raysmj: Anne Frank believed in the inherent goodness of people, and look where it got her. Not pimping for ABC, really.

rebecca: Thanks for turning up the Everquest story. I had only a dim memory of it (thinking UO) and couldn't find anything on it. D'oh.

People misbehaving, screwing up, is fascinating to the rest of us: I don't think that's any revelation.

tweebiscuit: I respect that you're trying to prevent a lynch mob, but I don't see one forming. I see people wanting questions answered, which under the circumstances (money and gifts exchanging hands) is perfectly reasonable, and a precautionary move so that "Debbie" or whomever does not continue these practices in some other form or forum. Follow-through is important, and it shows that we respect the real injuries that have occurred, even if the perpetrator did not. The ends (gifts given to cancer patients, or recirculated) do not justify the means. In fact, they cheapen it. An honest enterprise of gifts to cancer patients could be continued, and would continue to give a hurting woman such as our hypothetical Debbie solace. She's rubbed out that possibility by her own actions.

Really, there is very little to distinguish this from the actions of Bonnie Lee Bakely Blake, or your average prison pen-pal. Maybe it's not that bad. But the people who gave, got played. I can't respect that.

jjg: I'm not with you. Questions needed to be asked. I wouldn't have given any of this a second thought if they hadn't come forward with their suspicions. I think it just looks insensitive if you still want to believe, a la Fox Mulder.
posted by dhartung at 6:00 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


For those like Saphireblue and others that have taken this hard, remember it is an aberration and not the norm. Most everything will raise some suspicion, for some time, but most everybody in this community is straight forward. This many people with honest fears and frustrations being open is amazing. The situation that is the center of this sucks, but it is an oddity and not the norm.

MeFi truly is a great community of people who care (yes community does not require a physical place is can be a group associated by feelings - 1927 Pocket Oxford Dictionary). We come together to offer ideas and fun items to others of similar minds and hearts. Our trust has been broken and our minds put into question what our hearts feel. Yet, we came together to trust in what we might find out from one another. We began to think this situation was odd as Kaycee was not being mourned in a manner that is normal for a community - notice of services or other normal patterns.

These are observations as I have watched this unfold. We found a bad thing, yet found in MeFi a wonderful community that was concerned. My belief that MeFi is a community that is a gem on the Web has been redoubled in the past few days.
posted by vanderwal at 6:00 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


I hope the Swenson's don't check their referrer logs.

Are any of you guys familiar with the KoolMan/Robert DuPree story? I am just bummed that I fell for the Kaycee thing. I should have realized that 16 year old girls were not going to be going nuts over Anne Murrray songs. That was the thing that always bothered me, the wierd approch to death. The woman who did this doesn't have much choice other than to say this was a tribute, or whatever to the real girl, but what kind of tribute is it really? Why would someone be so desperate to imagine themselves as a central player in a tragic situation? If you were going to create someone who was brave and nobel in the face of death, it would have been hard to to do better than this. Back when the first Kaycee thread was posted here, Matt said something about how he might no be able to be as brave as Kaycee if he were in her situation, and that always stuck with me. If we had never found out, might we not judge those we encounter in real life (just a bit) as not being able to measure up to Kaycee's constant bravery and cheerfulness?
posted by thirteen at 6:05 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


My belief that MeFi is a community that is a gem on the Web has been redoubled in the past few days.

Well, you know, I'm sure that chickclick's discussion forums are far more intimate, personal, and friendly than MeFi, right? I mean, they were nominated! That proves it! I bet they would have handled this entire affair like angels.

[We now end this sarcasm and return to you your regularily scheduled thread. Sorry for the disturbance.]
posted by tweebiscuit at 6:12 PM on May 20, 2001


in order to forgive debbie, we have to play the role of the creation she is leaving behind: a vibrant and inspiring love-for-life teen trying her best to make this world a positive place.
posted by register at 6:17 PM on May 20, 2001


I hope the Swenson's don't check their referrer logs.

God, I was thinking -- what happens when Miss Kelly Swenson (or Kaycee Brandon, for that matter) does a vanity search?
posted by tweebiscuit at 6:17 PM on May 20, 2001


You know, I'm as relieved as anyone to see the mostly sane way which the last two threads were played out, but please keep the gratuitous MeFi-is-great back-slapping to MetaTalk. Thanks.

(And here's my contribution to the MeFi drinking/MeFi-O game.)
posted by DaShiv at 6:21 PM on May 20, 2001


I don't like the idea that now I always have to run this sort of thing through a filter.

Someone will tell me that they are struggling, suffering, on deaths door, fighting the good fight....... They will reach out a hand.....

And I will have to say, "Really? Can you give me some proof?"


Welcome to the real world. I doubt anyone likes having to maintain this level of verification about the motives of other people (I know I do not), but to fail to do so is terribly irresponsible given how people often behave. This incident does not make it the least bit more necessary for people to be wary; it was ALWAYS necessary. Better to realize (and implement) this late than never.
posted by rushmc at 6:34 PM on May 20, 2001


"If we had never found out, might we not judge those we encounter in real life (just a bit) as not being able to measure up to Kaycee's constant bravery and cheerfulness?"

Thirteen, that's an excellent observation.
posted by lucien at 6:43 PM on May 20, 2001


Interesting factoid to file away:

It occured to me that the reason why "Debbie" decided to end this hoax was because of this site. Aside from the obvious referrer logs, if there were any, she was aware of Metafilter before this even happened, as referenced in this entry. It's how I became aware of the site and was the first place I thought to go when BWG posted his "I'm aware of the hurtful things being said" post.
posted by digital_insomnia at 6:46 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


"I hope the Swenson's don't check their referrer logs."

It seems obvious to me that "Debbie" not only reads MeFi, but is certainly one of the people posting here.

1) She created fake sites for Kaycee all over the place (I even found one at MSN). She had a huge number of people networked into the whole thing. She was all over the Internet. How could she not know about Metafilter and even this thread?

2) For the last two years she's been emailing, IM'ing, posting, calling, etc. on a daily basis. I doubt she could just suddenly drop it.

She's here folks.
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:52 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


It amazed me (though it supports my observations in other venues) how many people absolutely INSISTED that what they wanted to believe was true HAD TO BE true because they wanted it to be. It amazes me even more, I think, how many people are now again overreacting to the news that it was not, in fact, true. Words are not reality. At best, they are an attempt to represent reality, once removed. And even this is rare.

I have been fooled by people online, many times over the years to varying degrees (I once even had my very own stalker who suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder). The press has barked for years about the dangers of accepting people you meet online as they represent themselves--the New Yorker cartoon ("On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog") is ANCIENT and a total cliche. How many stories have we heard from friends, or at the very least read about, of people who flew across the country for a romantic liason with an online friend, only to discover that they had SERIOUSLY misrepresented themselves? How can *anyone* be surprised by this kind of thing anymore?? Suspicion is not a bad word, people. It is a healthy self-protection mechanism. Can it be exercised excessively? Of course. As can anything else, including gullibility, openness, and the "desire to believe."

So you were taken in. And now you're mad (and sad). Yes, you were dealt with in bad faith. Surely it is not the first time! Nor will it be the last. I don't know enough about the case to know whether actual criminal fraud was perpetrated against anyone here, but from what I'm hearing, it doesn't sound like it. But you were betrayed, your feelings were hurt. And that is real, I'm certainly not denying that. And whoever was ultimately behind this incident certainly has some culpability.

However.

It is ultimately the responsibility of each of us to protect ourselves. You failed to do so adequately this time. Learn from that. Don't become so cynical and jaded that you shrink from everyone and trust no one--why are people always so extremist?! Tighten up your defenses a bit. Question a bit more. Rely on facts, not feelings, a bit more. It is easy to blame other people for abusing our trust; it is more difficult--but far more productive--to accept responsibility for our own actions and emotions, and for protecting ourselves from the abuses of those (the vast majority of humanity) for whom our well-being is NOT the prime concern.
posted by rushmc at 6:53 PM on May 20, 2001


rushmc - "Welcome to the real world."

Point taken. I was being a bit dramatic there huh?
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:56 PM on May 20, 2001


This has "after-school special" written all over it.

As I hopped and jumped through the two threads, I felt a knot form in my stomach with each passing post - I hoped and wished that there would not be a "Debbie hunt". I hoped that I would not see a "I just stopped by Debbie's house and confronted her ..." post. I hoped that there would not be a "Debbie's phone number and address is ..." post.

Then I shivered/shuddered at the thought of reading a report about a terribly ill "woman" reading these posts, or personally reflecting on her actions, and turning her pain on herself by taking her own life.

Certainly, that's too large a price to pay for this sort of deceipt/emotional fraud/financial fraud etc ...

Of course, I understand how one needs/wants to know the truth when "taken for a ride" in such a way ... I can understand the pain that one goes through ... for these reasons, I do not expect anyone who is involved to stop in their quest to learn more about Debbie/KayCee ... yet still that knot in my stomach remains ... and grows.
posted by JISH at 7:08 PM on May 20, 2001


I'd like to point out that it hasn't been established beyond doubt that "Debbie" is actually Debbie Swenson. If that is not true, it will still be the case that the Swensons might see MeFi on their referrer logs (assuming they have access to them) because the Swenson family page was linked from here.

The minister will be calling Debbie Swenson, but no matter what he finds he's not going to tell us. It would violate his oath of confidentiality. No minister or priest or rabbi will ever reveal what someone tells them -- even if it's a denial.

Yes, there's a very troubled woman named "Debbie", but we do not now know, and perhaps will never know, who exactly she really is. Nor is it clear that we need to know. (I'm certainly curious, but it won't be a problem if I don't find out.)

I'm still curious about who the second phone voice was, but that too may never be revealed.

I'm not sure I believe there's any deep meaning to this event. It's just tragic.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:11 PM on May 20, 2001


y6y6y6: It seems obvious to me that "Debbie" not only reads MeFi, but is certainly one of the people posting here.

I suspect she's been posting elsewhere, too. on this message board "hannah" claims to have gone to school with kaycee. (do a ctrl-f and search for hannah - I can't find a way to link to the specific post.)

and on may 16, "freethinker1" names 'sister Kel, and Bro Brian' in his condolences there. names from the swenson family website ... did 'kaycee' have use those names with people she IM's and emailed?

freethinker1 has appeared here, too, btw, in the original thread that introduced many here to kaycee and again in the recent post that brought her existence into question.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 7:16 PM on May 20, 2001


Debbie wrote in her journal that her youngest daughter was molested. The entry exists now only as a Google cache, but here's the relevant excerpt:
Where Kaycee is open about her thoughts, my youngest daughter tends to lock up her emotions. She is one who will say her piece then quickly move on.

This summer I had a rude awakening. I had thoughts of harming someone. Never in my life did I ever think this would happen. I wanted to search out the predator and destroy him with my bare hands. I was angry, but worse yet, I felt guilty.

My guilt derived from my failure to protect my child from harm. Through a chain of distressing events I discovered the horrible secret my youngest daughter had been carrying around with her. The visions haunting her were devastating. She had been molested and felt unworthy of being loved.

At this point I felt as though I had somehow failed both of my girls. I hated the Cancer which was trying to steal Kaycee. And I hated the person who had stolen the innocence of a child. My anger burned inside me.
Two thoughts:

1) If it's true, there's a girl who has been molested in a home with at least one parent whose mental stability is questionable.

2) If it's false, there are two kids in a house where the mother imagines elaborate attention-getting problems for her children, including cancer and molestation.

Does either possibility give you much comfort about that situation?

I don't know what to do about this idle speculation, but if people are actually calling pastors and doing other forms of intervention, the molestation accusation is something to keep in mind.
posted by rcade at 7:30 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


dhartung: Yes, Anne Frank did believe in the inherent goodness of people. And she was a child. I was joking with aaron, by the way -- methinks the separation he's talking about has more to do with economics, by far, as well as what leanings your parents had, etc. The whole Rosseauesque thing gets brought back in during the 1960s, sure, but . . . I dunno, maybe it's 'cause I was a reporter (I can give you the name if you'd like and you could check records -- in the Miss. Delta) for a time and had to see people at their worst. I saw bad all around, from murders to low-rent scams to rapes of the taxpayers in ripped-off industrial loans to economic exploitation of a sort it's hard to place blame for (a child I saw during a flood, way out in shack in the country, ants all over her legs). It was some rought s***, and I still don't totally understand what made me stay and watch while I was in my mid-'20s. I'm sure people here see worse all the time. But my point is that this has nothing to do with ideology (and sheesh, America "conservatism" comes as much out of Locke as Hobbes, and Locke was somewhere in between Hobbes and Rousseau). Whoever thinks people are all good just needs to get out more, regardless of ideology.

Meantime, thinking people are all bad can cause the same problem. Did you see that guy on "60 Minutes" who said he could spot psychopaths without talking to the people he accused of being such? He'd been involved in criminal investigations for so long that, he admitted, he'd lost faith in people. I looked at that as if the man had become as much a menace to society as the people he thought were psychopaths. He's going accuse someone wrongly in, yes, a gestapo-like fashion. You can almost bet on it.

Anyway, suffice to it say: Extremes are to avoided.
posted by raysmj at 7:31 PM on May 20, 2001


I don't think he had nothing to do with debbie, but bwg joined MeFi on september 17, 2000, while freethinker1 joined on september 16, 2000.
posted by register at 7:33 PM on May 20, 2001


I don't think he had nothing to do with debbie

I meant anything.
posted by register at 7:34 PM on May 20, 2001


"She's here folks"

I wouldn't doubt it.

A few years back, I created an "online persona", a woman, solely for the purpose of screwing over an ex-boss who fired me.

It didn't stop there after the mission was accomplished... I enjoyed the attention and sought to wreak havoc elsewhere...

She's got a taste of the spotlight, and I have no doubts she'll be back under another weblog (if she isn't already).
**Disclaimer: No I'm not Debbie ** Don't even go there! :0)

Again, I'd like to apologize for the previous unpleasantries, but you all have to admit you were really stretching for a while... Especially when Amber was accused of being a part of the conspiracy.

I really thought I was trying to spare a family more added pain.

**Disclaimer: I *do* think most of you are still buffoons... please don't get me wrong. :0)

Now the only question remains: Who called Halcyon, John (loony.org), bwg and many others to say "goodbye"??!!??
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 7:38 PM on May 20, 2001 [3 favorites]


Oops, left out this part of my last post:

How would you feel if your daughter was dying, and one of your friends was masquerading as you and receiving sympathy from people all over the world? We can talk about the good feeling this created even if it was a hoax, but it is also the was to reap the attention and emotion of strangers. At the core of this is someone who used someone else's pain to feel better about herself. This is cruel at the core, and it does not honor the real girl at all.
posted by thirteen at 7:40 PM on May 20, 2001


I've been reading this thread all day long, what I've seen is just amazing...people are lashing out, people are angry, people feel stupid...Most of all people are hurt.

Some of you are saying we shouldn't ask questions, but those of us who were tricked feel that this "Debbie" person should step forward and lay down exactly where it all came from and if there ever was a real "Kaycee Nicole." The similarities between the Swenson Family and Kaycee are just too much...I so wanted to believe in her. But it's just too much to take in all at once. There was a phone number listed for the Swenson family, did anyone call that? Can anyone verify if this is the same phone number that this "Debbie" person used?

Those of you who claimed to speak to her on the phone, did you call them, did they call you? There has to be more information. Even in the best scheme there are always flaws. Something has to point out the truth, and it shall set us free.

I'm just asking for justice, something like this shouldn't be taken lightly. For those of us who keep journal's, and blog's and we tell the truth in them, and are trusting enough to believe that other's are telling the truth as well, this is a big deal. For those of us who read Kaycee's and Debbie's blogs and believed that they were true, this is a big deal.

I just want answers.

I hope.
posted by caren at 7:44 PM on May 20, 2001


Whether there was a real person or not it was always a plastic fabrication of sunshine and light, packaged and promoted by people external to the hospital room.

And, maybe well-meaning, they're still peddling. Debbie Swenson, poet of the Swenson home page and the Baptist Church site, wants you to know that the poetry was the actual product of a charmed and innocent soul. BWG wants you to know that he's the sort of fellow who goes out of his way to bring voices to the web. Mr. Styn still wants everyone to know the love.

I can't understand why if the site was designed to use Blogger all the posts had to be e-mailed to Hong Kong to be checked and edited before they could be posted. I don't understand that if Debbie needed BWG to change a period on the site, why there would be a posting on it about so webcentric a concern as the campaign to preserve the .org.

I first saw this site in the Self-Promotion section of Astounding Websites. In fairly quick succession BWG posted links to his site, a site he built for his mother, a site he built for his brother, then this one. I was always under the impression that he had built it for a cousin or a niece - someone in the family - but I'm probably wrong about that. This one was the only one I remember getting any reaction, although not much. There were a couple BWG posts to pray for Kaycee because she had some rough nights.

Maybe people just wanted to share the spirit of light and optimism, but they could certainly be tough to folk who didn't share the Hallmark sensibility.
posted by TimTypeZed at 7:44 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


Register, freethinker1 joined to respond to the first thread in MeFi about Kaycee Nicole. take a look at the posting history.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:49 PM on May 20, 2001


Tim, you say "Debbie Swenson wants you to know"... Do you have actual, direct communication from Debbie Swenson, or are you interpreting the "Debbie" post on the BWG site?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:55 PM on May 20, 2001


i guess i'm not the norm when i say every person i personally met in RL from online was who they presented themselves to be. granted, there haven't been very many (handful at most) and i've met them all through citizenX. in fact most of them had cams and broadcast on the site, making their existance quite obvious. (in fact, i share a room with one of them now.) maybe this is why i didn't ever think to doubt kaycee.

don't think you're never, ever going to get duped. i'm sticking with halcyon's advice: i'd rather give my support and get duped a hundred times rather than become a cold callous person that demands proof before giving of myself.
posted by queenkelly at 8:01 PM on May 20, 2001


A few years back, I created an "online persona", a woman, solely for the purpose of screwing over an ex-boss who fired me.

It didn't stop there after the mission was accomplished... I enjoyed the attention and sought to wreak havoc elsewhere...


EricBrooks -- what the hell are you talking about?
posted by tweebiscuit at 8:01 PM on May 20, 2001


way late response:

aaron said: (Not to inject politics into this, but at its heart, this is the main difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals believe in the inherent goodness of people, and that humanity can eventually achieve a level of something close to perfection with the right combination of laws and regulations to make sure everything is spread around in the right amounts to benefit everybody. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that people are always going to be selfish on a number of levels, looking out for number one, no matter how hard we try. And not only will all the laws, regulations and social engineering in the world not change that, they'll simply provide more ways for the selfish to take more for themselves at the expense of the less fortunate it was supposed to go to (for example, the huge amounts of fraud scumbags manage to skim from just about every government program).

I may be among the most liberal here, but I'm cynical as hell. Put that in your pipe...
posted by trox at 8:06 PM on May 20, 2001


Do you know what the worst part is?

Let us grant "Debbie" the benefit of the doubt for the moment and assume that there were three people in her life who died from various forms of cancer.

Now then: who are those three people?

We'll never know.

We'll just plain never know anything about them.

In trying to amalgamate their stories into one character, Debbie has effectively erased their identities. Any story they could have told, any insight they could have shared, any higher meaning to their lives and deaths, have been completely obscured by this fiction.

Who did Halcyon talk to, huh? Which one? Was it Madame Leukemia? Maybe Sister Breast Cancer. Or let's try Liver Cancer Daughter, Johnny! Spin the wheel, let's see where it lands! Did this "Kaycee" person know what Debbie was doing?

Again, this is all giving Debbie the benefit of the doubt. It's entirely possible that she's just a cracked individual with a twisted desire for attention.

However, I'm leaning towards the notion that Debbie simply told a lie. And then the lie took on a life of its own. The inspirational stories. The Lifetime TV movie tone of every blog entry. The acceptance of gifts. (And here's a question: how the hell did she divvy them up? "Well, Leukemia Gal's family got the hats, so Breast Cancer's son gets the M&Ms"?) The high-profile blog. And the realization that it was beyond her, outside her control. So she had to end it.

The irony is that if Debbie had simply attempted to chronicle the three people's experiences up front, she might have done a lot of good. She might have produced something great.

Now, all her good intentions are buried under the rent emotions of those who believed her lies.

Let's leave fiction to the movies and books.

And for those who feel hurt because of the emotions you invested: take a moment, catch your breath, and start again. You're good people for having cared. The world needs a bit more faith. One doesn't stop loving because one jerk betrayed them.

Interesting saga, y'all.
posted by solistrato at 8:06 PM on May 20, 2001 [2 favorites]


freethinker1 joined to respond to the first thread in MeFi about Kaycee Nicole

and as rebecca points out, "freethinker1 has appeared here, too, btw, in the original thread that introduced many here to kaycee and again in the recent post that brought her existence into question."

those are the only two threads freethinker1 participated in.
posted by register at 8:08 PM on May 20, 2001


or are you interpreting the "Debbie" post on the BWG site?

Last point in this afternoon's confession:

The real *Kaycee* is the true author to her poetry. It was her nickname and she was the last of the truly beautiful who those of you read grew to love.
posted by TimTypeZed at 8:13 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


And for those who feel hurt because of the emotions you invested: take a moment, catch your breath, and start again. You're good people for having cared. The world needs a bit more faith. One doesn't stop loving because one jerk betrayed them.

-well said. thank you solistrato.
posted by caren at 8:14 PM on May 20, 2001


tweebiscuit, I'm talking about how easy it is to create an online persona and fool everyone. And once you get the attention you crave, you keep coming back for more.

SHEEESH!
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 8:17 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


OK, I just need to get this off my chest.

Am I disappointed in the ending of this saga (if it is truely the end, which I seriously doubt)? Yes.

Do I feel betrayed? Somewhat.

Do I regret caring for Kaycee? HELL NO.

I will never regret caring for others. Someone once said that it is better to open your heart and be burned a hundred times than to be calloused. I wholeheartedly agree. I know people who have become calloused and non-caring, and I have concluded that I never want to become like that. NO MATTER WHAT.

I get the feeling that the end of this is not yet. We're gonna hear many different things and opinions concerning this mess. I just want to encourage people to keep caring and keep loving. (Yes, I know I have said that about 5693 times already.)

This mess has shown me the dark side of people, but it also showed the kind, caring part. It's too bad that people were taken advantage of, but hopefully we will all grow from this experience.

Hasta luego,

Redgie
posted by Redgie at 8:21 PM on May 20, 2001


[off topic]
"EricBrooks -- what the hell are you talking about?"

tweebiscuit, meet Eric Brooks. Eric Brooks, meet tweebiscuit.

[off topic]
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:25 PM on May 20, 2001


I'll just say ditto to Redgie's last post.
posted by phichens at 8:31 PM on May 20, 2001


ditto posts rule! especially if they're saying "ditto" to a thought that's been expressed 5693 times already.
posted by jpoulos at 8:42 PM on May 20, 2001


Another random rumination. Now that the controversy is sort of kinda out in the open (but not really), Monday morning quarterbacks like myself can look at everything that happened. Hindsight's wonderful.

This past spring, I taught a course in screenwriting at Boston U. My first experience teaching, and also my first experience reading the works of young, novice writers taking their initial crack at writing drama.

What struck me was that, for the most part, the students wrote movies like they should be written. What I mean by that is that they had internalized the formula of most movies to the point that they were unconcsiously following the unspoken script of three-act Hollywood filmmaking: crisis, buildup, climax and denouement. It was an interesting phenomenon to observe, and it was a habit I tried to break them of, with varying degrees of success.

My feeling reading the blog was similar: This is how someone would write a blog like this. The daily struggles. The mundane details. The occasional crisis. The tears, the laughter, the life. All ending under the most tragic of circumstances: she beats the cancer, yet dies anyway. And all told through this inspirational writing style that makes Kaycee look like the most noble soul on the planet. Of course we would believe it, because we wanted to believe it, because this is how we think stories really happen. Roll credits and wait for the accolades to come in.

Except, of course, that if this had been a movie, there would have been a nice big title at the beginning that said, "Based On Three True Stories" or something similar, and we would automatically know that the script had been written by professional dramatists. We wouldn't have gone in thinking we were going to see a documentary.

The author of the blog, whoever it is, had internalized so many cliches, formulas, and dramatic modes that they couldn't help but write like that. They were convinced that "Kaycee's" story wouldn't resonate with an audience - wouldn't "work" - unless it came to them as if it was a movie. Or, more likely, they didn't even realize what they were doing, and wrote these words through a melodramatic frame. Fox or Paramount or any other major studio couldn't have done it better. This was focus-tested, heavily edited, and aimed directly at the heartland.

I say all this because the horrible irony regarding this fiasco is that, once again, if the author had just presented the stories at face value, without trying to doctor everything, none of this would have happened. We might have read about the last months or years of three people trying to battle their diseases, and how they chose to face death. We might have learned something.

I'm really bothered by this. I'm bothered someone pulled this bullshit, I'm bothered so many people got hurt by it, I'm bothered that we will probably never know just what happened or who's responsible. And I'm bothered that three people's memories might have been so thoroughly dishonored.

Sigh.
posted by solistrato at 8:42 PM on May 20, 2001 [5 favorites]


5694, now.

:-)

Redgie
posted by Redgie at 8:46 PM on May 20, 2001


Tim, you misunderstood the question I was asking. Do you know that "Debbie" is actually Debbie Swenson?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:48 PM on May 20, 2001


I'd like to point out that it hasn't been established beyond doubt that "Debbie" is actually
Debbie Swenson.


No, I disagree.

Point 1: What Debbie told BWG

"no, kaycee's last name is not swenson. she used debbie's surname as a measure of protection, as there had been previous online and real life problems she wanted not to re-occur."

So we know that Debbie's surname is Swenson. So without much doubt, her name is "Debbie Swenson". Now which Debbie Swenson is she?

Point 2: Kaycee's original original web page WAS IN THE SAME geocities directory as Kelli's N'Sync page. Kelli's page is /index.html and Kaycee's page is KC.html. The html for the Kelli page shows that it used to link to the Kaycee page. So who ever had the password to set up Kelli's page presumably also set up Kaycee's old old page. Kelli is Debbi Swenson's daughter. Kelli's page links to the Swenson family page. Assuming we believe BWG (and I do) and thus point #1, where is the doubt?
posted by bonzo at 8:52 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


when i asked the pastor what he could tell me about debbie, the first thing he said was that she loved poetry and spent a lot of time writing it. i got goosebumps. then there's this:

The real *Kaycee* is the true author to her poetry.

perhaps debbie is the one with leukemia. i know the person with breast cancer was her mother in law and i'm pretty sure the liver cancer person is her father.

also freethinker1 is the person i was referring to in an earlier post that i mentioned only responded to these two threads and spelled "than" "then" as "kaycee" did.
posted by centrs at 8:53 PM on May 20, 2001


For those of you who didn't follow what I meant above in point #1, it was a reference to the fact that the New York Times quoted Kaycee as "Kaycee Swenson" in an article. BWG says that Swenson wasn't her real name, she had used Debbie's last name.
posted by bonzo at 8:54 PM on May 20, 2001


Steven: BWG's posting includes the statement that Swenson is Debbie's surname:

"kelli swenson is not kaycee. no, kaycee's last name is not swenson. she used debbie's surname as a measure of protection, as there had been previous online and real life problems she wanted not to re-occur."
posted by rcade at 8:54 PM on May 20, 2001


Fair enough. I am satisfied now.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:57 PM on May 20, 2001


perhaps debbie is the one with leukemia.

Oh, this is just getting TOO FUCKING WEIRD.
posted by solistrato at 9:00 PM on May 20, 2001


Will the real Debbie please stand up?

I'm really scared about tomorrow. Lots of people only access the web from work.

To those of you reading this now for the first time:

I ask ye this: Please be nice. Please?

We've done an admirable job keeping the discussion civil so far. Please lets all just continue.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:10 PM on May 20, 2001


Okay, I almost posted this before but held back: freethinker1 has turned up in the comments on Derek's post at his site. She has a weblog. Make of it what you will. Personally, I think she's a Kaycee fan rather than Kaycee, but I don't know what to think at this stage.
posted by rory at 9:19 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


I say we all go on a witch hunt and find all the MeFi people who got accounts in the last week and string them up.

This was the best posting so far:
Fair enough. I am satisfied now
Uh, okay. Can you explain it to me then? Debbi Swensen is three different people, all fighting for supremacy in a sick mind, crying out for help? And, someone else on this list likes to troll as a woman, someone else is calling a pastor to do an intervention, and Debbie is here watching under the handle freethinker. What else is happening?

I still think people should look at this in case they get confused

This is certainly better than boring-old-TV.
posted by zebra_monkey at 9:21 PM on May 20, 2001


freethinker's posts from both threads do not appear to be from any dialup accounts in Kansas, so I think you've picked the wrong person.
posted by mathowie at 9:26 PM on May 20, 2001


"Will the real Debbie please stand up?"
"I say we all go on a witch hunt and find all the MeFi people who got accounts in the last week and string them up."

It all keeps going back to College Club. Not Debbie Swenson.
I have a suspect(s), but not enough proof.

... not like I haven't been wrong before, right?
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 9:27 PM on May 20, 2001


sorry. I wasn't trying to "pick" anyone, jsut offering datapoints.

looking at her weblog, freethinker would appear to be a kaycee fan.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 9:27 PM on May 20, 2001


Mathowie... you got mail.
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 9:31 PM on May 20, 2001


freethinker1 has turned up in the comments on Derek's post at his site.

I didn't notice that freethinker1 posted there, and I was the first one to respond to her.
posted by register at 9:31 PM on May 20, 2001


Why would someone be so desperate to imagine themselves as a central player in a tragic situation?

Like I've said, I believe it's Munchausen or some variation. By being on the receiving end of all those endless emails, IMs and (perhaps) phone calls, lots of positive mentions on other peoples' blogs, and cards and presents via snail mail, she gains the unbelievable amount of attention and love she craves ... she's not "a central player," she's essentially Kaycee herself. All that affection is for her, regardless of what the name on the card might say.
posted by aaron at 9:32 PM on May 20, 2001



" So who ever had the password to set up Kelli's page presumably also set up Kaycee's old old page."

Hmmm...... So the mom and the daughter did this together? Maybe?

Since Halcyon and BWG talked to both Debbie and Kaycee then these would be the two voices?

If that's the case then it's sounding less like a disturbed mother and more like us just getting played.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:36 PM on May 20, 2001


i feel like we're playing clue.

a sad, sad version of it.

it was miss scarlet in the library with the lead pipe!
posted by sugarfish at 9:36 PM on May 20, 2001


I say we all go on a witch hunt and find all the MeFi people who got accounts in the last week and string them up.

i've been saying that for months. :-)
posted by jpoulos at 9:41 PM on May 20, 2001


And now, BWG's removed all mentions of "Debbie" and "Kaycee" from his blog save for the explanation post, despite not holding a grudge against "Debbie." I'm sorry, if he's truly not part of this, I can understand the grief he'd be feeling in being duped like this, but...

It just makes me think about the folks I've "met" in the 10 years I've been online. I've been speaking to a few in particular, even getting to the point of planning to meet this summer. How can I trust these folks? I used to think time spent in getting to know online personas was a good barometer in telling who was real and who wasn't. Now, I'm just not sure anymore. :(
posted by digital_insomnia at 9:43 PM on May 20, 2001


and it was a habit I tried to break them of, with varying degrees of success.

Why would you want to break them of a habit they'll have to possess in order to be successful in Hollywood?
posted by aaron at 9:47 PM on May 20, 2001



"I've been saying that for months."

That's the first belly laugh I've had in a while.

75 points to jpoulos.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:48 PM on May 20, 2001


I agree with aaron - Debbie and Kaycee are the same person. The poem on the Swanson's homepage is uncannily like this one - written by Kaycee, allegedly - http://www.google.com/search?q=angel%2Btear%2Bkaycee&btnG=Google+Search
posted by plainjane at 9:49 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


Hmmm...... So the mom and the daughter did this together? Maybe?

Since Halcyon and BWG talked to both Debbie and Kaycee then these would be the two
voices?


No, I wasn't saying that the mom and daughter did it together. I would tend to believe the mom set up both pages. While it is a possibility that the daughter was the younger voice, I don't think it is that likely. Why would a middle-school aged girl pretend and how would she pass herself off as a high-school senior/college freshman?
posted by bonzo at 9:49 PM on May 20, 2001


a suggestion: can people stop suspecting others of being 'debbie'? It seems like it could get real ugly real fast if we continued doing it. I'm sensing a lot of pissed-off, hurt people (I include myself in that lot), and I'd hate to see a mob mentality bust out around unsuspecting newbies.

(and I can almost hear you thinking "have they gotten to him too?!" :)
posted by mathowie at 9:50 PM on May 20, 2001


I say anyone of you could be part of the conspiracy... it's all so clear now.
posted by zebra_monkey at 9:52 PM on May 20, 2001


"Since Halcyon and BWG talked to both Debbie and Kaycee then these would be the two voices?"

Why do you assume that these two are not the perpetrators of this hoax? We know now there is no Kaycee - why would you still assume there is a Debbie? When in doubt, look for the most obvious explanation. Who owned the site, and who used Kaycee as a tool for self promotion?

2 Cents. mine.
posted by kristin at 9:55 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


Zebramonkey: I guess I am a subject of your witchhunt.

Sorry to disappoint you, buddy, but I wasn't involved in this "conspiracy." I did read her entries and was inspired by them, but like I said on the other thread, there's no way I could make that stuff up.
posted by Redgie at 9:56 PM on May 20, 2001


Mathowie is in on the conspiracy... I KNEW IT!!!!
(((duck))) :0)
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 9:58 PM on May 20, 2001


Well, this is all one certainly strange trip.

I did not have any emotional attachment to Kaycee/Debbie/Space Elf/Whateveritsnameis, having only learned of the whole thing when the initial "Kaycee's Dead" thread began. That said, I have found this whole thing, spanning these last two threads, to be absolutely fascinating.

It made me think. For some reason, I keep coming back to the Beach Boys song "That's Not Me" from Pet Sounds:

I had to prove that I could make it alone now
but that's not me,
I wanted to show how independent I've grown now
but that's not me.
I could try to be big in the eyes of the world,
but what matters to me is how much I could mean to just one girl.


The whole mess has taken a turn for the creepy. What if Debbie IS Kaycee? What if she's the one with leukemia? Taking another route, what is REALLY going on in Debbie's head? Is she a fairly normal person who was devastated by illness close to her and who, for lack of a better term, "snapped" and carried on this charade? Is she a well-meaning person who wanted these stories to be told but got them mixed up with her sense of self-promotion? Is she just a nutjob who created this fabric of lies and truths for financial gain? Will we ever know? What of the real people behind the stories?

I don't know if we will ever know. Personally, I think she's mainly a disturbed individual who did this as a result of some mental disturbance, perhaps for monetary profit. Or perhaps she's a real sicko and did it to screw with people's minds. Or, perhaps I am completely wrong. Any way you want to go, though, it's fascinating. I do think, however, that the character of "Kaycee" is an obvious choice - cheerful, ridiculously optimistic, model-beautiful, 19 year old woman fighting a deadly disease; seems like a great way to stir up outpourings of emotion from the masses.

I dunno, really. This whole thing is just REALLY bizarre, no matter if you follow the "Debbie is disturbed sicko" or "Debbie is Kaycee" ideas. Definitely one of the more twisty-turny, strange strange strange things I've seen on the 'net in a long time.
posted by Spirit_VW at 10:00 PM on May 20, 2001


Ok since I have been mentioned... I will clear some things up.

I am not kaycee. I was duped I met her collegeclub.com. I also have a weblog http://members.fortunecity.com/blairworld

up until recently I thought of kaycee as a real person who I had interacted with. I am obviously very very confused about all of this... but in no way ever knowingly participated in this charade.
posted by freethinker1 at 10:04 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


sorry beth.
posted by register at 10:09 PM on May 20, 2001


And now, BWG's removed all mentions of "Debbie" and "Kaycee" from his blog save for the explanation post, despite not holding a grudge against "Debbie." I'm sorry, if he's truly not part of this, I can understand the grief he'd be feeling in being duped like this, but...

but what? i need to make it clear that i don't know bwg at all, i have never corresponded with him, and i found his blog through living colours. but why would he perpetuate a hoax like this, at great expense? (calling long distance to kansas to send email, the price of bandwidth, etc.) i'm sure he has a job, on top of his own blog. this would have taken a lot of time and energy, for what? i guess i haven't learned my lesson from this whole thing, but i still feel as if he was tricked along with everyone else.


It just makes me think about the folks I've "met" in the 10 years I've been online. I've been speaking to a few in particular, even getting to the point of planning to meet this summer. How can I trust these folks? I used to think time spent in getting to know online personas was a good barometer in telling who was real and who wasn't. Now, I'm just not sure anymore. :(

like i posted on my page, (the link's up there, and i don't wanna self-link again) i've never had a bad experience with someone i've met online. i would urge you to realize that this situation was probably an anomaly.

i really didn't learn my lesson, i don't think.
posted by sugarfish at 10:09 PM on May 20, 2001


Kristin -- The idea that Mr. Styn is in any way involved in the charade is at best laughable but mostly just offensive. Self promotional does not imply cut throat, emotionless bastard willing to toy with the emotions of his friends and the public in general.

John's gained his fame through hard work, dedication, and a sexy, sexy ass. Not by pretending to be a sick kid.

Sheesh, you people. I'm with Matt. Stop pointing fingers at your friends and members of this community.
posted by benbrown at 10:10 PM on May 20, 2001


Although I recall being disappointed by its ending, this entire circuitous saga reminds me of nothing so much as Armistead Maupin's The Night Listener:
Gabriel Noone is a teller of tales, a writer whose cult-hit radio serial "Noone at Night" brought him into the homes of millions, including an ailing 13-year-old boy named Pete Lomax. Meeting through extraordinary circumstances, Noone develops a remarkable friendship with Pete, a connection that evolves into a profound mystery that will blur the lines between truth and illusion, and lead Noone to confront all of his relationships--familial, romantic, and erotic--knowledge that will alter his perception of himself and his life forever.
I think I'll be doing a little re-reading tonight.
posted by bradlands at 10:12 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


Wow. You guys sure are surfing a different net than I am.
posted by idiolect at 10:14 PM on May 20, 2001


i agree with ben. i've met john, and i've read his site over the years, and í just don't think he had anything to do with the whole situation.

at least i can vouch for the fact that he's real.
posted by sugarfish at 10:16 PM on May 20, 2001


Kristin:

Why do you assume that these two are not the perpetrators of this hoax? (in reference to BWG and halcyon)

Yes, BWG hosted the two blogs. But there are at least 2 previous Kaycee pages on the web before the blog. One of those is hosted on the same Geocities account as an N'Sync fan page by little Kelli Swenson, Debbie's real life daughter. The personal emails written by "Kaycee" according to info posted by Mathowie came from an ISP in Peabody, Kansas. Go type Debbie Swensen into switchboard.com. Guess where she lives? Mrs. Swensen moved there from Oklahoma. The pastor at Debbie's former church in Oklahoma confirms all of this (Debbie liked in Oklahoma, moved to Peabody, Kansas, has a daughter named Kelli, etc)

Also, almost EVERYTHING Kaycee said in her blog can be traced to Debbie's life. Kaycee moved when and where Debbie moved (because it was her pretend other daughter). Kaycee wrote poems that bear incredible resemblemces to writings of Debbie. Etc etc etc...

Almost conclusive evidence that this was perpetrated by Debbie Swenson. What evidence exists that it was instead Halcyon and BWG? Simplest explaination like you said...
posted by bonzo at 10:17 PM on May 20, 2001


"a suggestion: can people stop suspecting others?"

Not to disregard your suggestion, mathowie, but I'm assuming it applies to metafilter members and not, say, the elusive Audra Lea.

It seems to me that Audra Lea (audralea.com) has gotten off easy so far, and if there were in fact two voices, she is my odds on favorite for playing the voice of Kaycee. There are several items of note from her website:

"They worship me." - small text at the bottom of her homepage, possibly alluding to her Kaycee persona?

"Hangs head in shame. I'm such a retard." - small text on an internal page

She also lists a series of about 10 screen names, ending with "and about about 902865 others"

Among her hobbies:

"sitting in front of a computer for 9 hours @ a time"

Among her FYIs:

"I think too much"
"I love psychology"
"I love to write"

She may be as innocent as this whole episode as I am, but between the DNS records for the Kaycee website and the fishiness of this entire deal, you gotta wonder.

I have no troops in this war, but I must say, there has been more drama in these two threads than the entire run of Survivor and Big Brother combined. Of course, cancer is sad. And anybody who was unwittingly involved in this scenario has got to be feeling awfully bad right now. But it stopped being truly "sad" and turned into something else entirely with so-called Debbie's confession.

In conclusion: Col. Mustard, in the library, with a lead pipe. Right?
posted by seymour at 10:19 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


I do think, however, that the character of "Kaycee" is an obvious choice - cheerful, ridiculously optimistic, model-beautiful, 19 year old woman fighting a deadly disease; seems like a great way to stir up outpourings of emotion from the masses.

Yup. I've been wondering for some time now how many fewer people would have allowed themselves to be suckered in by this if "Kaycee" had had acne and/or had been overweight. My guess is maybe one-tenth as many.

From Kristin's blog:

It sounds grim but I knew that eventually I would know either way, if this Kaycee existed. Either she would die, and it is pretty hard to die in America without a paper trail, or she would live, in which case I would watch for her at FrayDay, or SXSW, or Journalcon, all venues populated by her fan base. There was talk of her being a panel leader at the next SXSW. There were people offering to pay her fare.

People really proposed this? How pathetic. I thought even when this was all believed it be true, it was "Mom" and BWG who were doing all of the work, while "Kaycee" was dashing off soliloquies based on her natural teenage love for bad early 70s pop songs. Does anything matter at these web gatherings besides popularity?
posted by aaron at 10:23 PM on May 20, 2001



" The idea that Mr. Styn is in any way involved in the charade is at best laughable "

  • Yeah... I mean he won a webby and everything. I doubt he needs to make up a dying girl for publicity.

  • I believe BWG was already ruled out for being halfway across the planet.

  • Many other people have had phone conversations with Kaycee and Debbie besides them. (John McCabe, Chaz Donovan)

    However, no one has ever seen Debbie and Ben Brown in the same room.... hmmmmmm.
    (((Duck))) :0)
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 10:24 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


  • Seymour:

    Audra Lea? I doubt it. Get on Instant Messanger, she has been online all night. I talked to her before and after the BWG post today. I get absolutely no feeling she was connected at all. She just bought a domain for a supposedly sick girl as a gift. She didn't even know Kaycee well. Lots of people sent her care packages, Audra Lea gave her a domain instead. There is no other evidence of any connection. This has been confirmed in the older thread by people who know her in real life. She isn't even in the right geographic region to have been near Debbie to be the other voice.
    posted by bonzo at 10:27 PM on May 20, 2001


    Alrighty then, now that we have gotten this big, wet sloppy, green-turd, fart-fest of pseudo-concern and faux compassion completely in the open, can we all please drop this subject?

    She is dead. Gone. Kaput. Finito.

    Fare thee well Kaycee. I do believe you will not be forgotten soon. Oh lordy, I sure hope your nightmares and dreams have no cyberlink with MeFi. If they do, prepare for a few sleepless nights(?). (or whatever you do inside the pearly gate compound).

    "my only regret is that kaycee is no longer living. that's really the bottom line, isn't it?"

    Exactly and more. Fiction or not, people die every day. A large percentage of them do not have computers and blogs. Can we just get over ourselves and simply move on? Let us all count our blessings to have the ability to debate this subject in this setting.

    People should have our problems.
    posted by perogi at 10:30 PM on May 20, 2001


    I just got home from a camping trip to find this fray regarding Kaycee. My heart goes out to BWG. In January, I held my best friend's head up as she typed an e mail to Kaycee. She was in the hospital fighting ovarian cancer with great dignity and courage. She died on April 29th. Many of us are dealing with loss and sickness and many of us find great comfort in the support of our online friends both near and far. While I admire the writings of "Kaycee" and "Debbie", I must say that this deception has devistated my family and taken away from any future credibility that my postings might have. I am sick as well. I envisioned an aspect of internet support. Now I feel like nobody will ever believe me, no one will want to hear my thoughts or ideas and I will never have the freedom to speak openly about my fears, frustrations, confusion or to just seek someone out who understands what I am going through. My heart remains with the "composite" people and in many ways, with Debbie, but this has hurt me, and taken away a lifeline that I was counting on. I doubt I will ever post again because nobody will believe me.
    posted by TarMac at 10:33 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


    I don't know if it's appropriate here, or yet, but I wonder if every form of community on the net goes through an experience like this? It has happened on Usenet, and there are old BBS stories around about this sort of thing. The Well and, to a lesser extent, Cafe Utne had their big, sad, confusing hoax experiences as well (I was involved on one - I'm not for a second trying to portray myself as smarter or savvier than anyone else). I'm sure there have been several examples of this sort of thing on mailing lists as well.

    Sadly, it seems almost like a rite of passage of online communities - in this case, encompassing both the loose "community" of people who keep weblog-style personal sites and MetaFilter itself.

    All I do know is that notwithstanding my own experience at the "betrayed" end of the spectrum, it hasn't really dulled my innate trust in my online companions. As others have mentioned, part of it is a conscious choice - I don't want to disbelieve or distrust everyone I come across online as a general rule. It's how I would prefer to live my life. And further - there is a great deal of value in webs of trust, and I have, for myself, learned that I can more or less take them to the bank. There is a prominent person here who I have never met - but he's friends with Jish, who I have met, corresponded with extensively and trust - so I trust him as well.

    And even though that was a specific part of the issue here vis-a-vis halcyon - my own experience has been so overwhelmingly positive that a story like this can't compete.

    A bit of a ramble, I guess. But although it's sad, and people are rightly feeling hurt and angry, it is not unknown. Oddly it might even be inevitable that whenever a slighly different form of loose (or no so loose) community springs up on the net, something like this occurs.
    posted by mikel at 10:33 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


    Why do you assume that these two are not the perpetrators of this hoax? (in reference to BWG and halcyon)

    Halcyon posted on Powazek's site tonight. I highly doubt he has anything to do with it. Also, having been in BWG's shoes before (except the girl lied about her age, not about actually existing, but she did have cancer) and feeling very embarassed, the first thing I did was remove any and all references to the person on my site. I even removed my site caches from Google. I don't blame him one bit. Leave the guy alone. I'm sure he feels bad enough that he helped drag everyone else into it....
    posted by Logboy at 10:38 PM on May 20, 2001


    .. not like I haven't been wrong before, right?
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom


    Right. That's the most correct thing I've read so far in this thread.
    posted by faith at 10:40 PM on May 20, 2001


    but what? i need to make it clear that i don't know bwg at all, i have never corresponded with him, and i found his blog through living colours. but why would he perpetuate a hoax like this, at great expense?

    I'm not saying he's the perpetrator of this hoax and in my heart I believe he's not complicit in it either. But there's just too damn many loose ends to the story. I know the way I'm feeling about this and I had no personal stake in it other than time spent reading the blog and some emails. I can only imagine what the people who were emotionally invested in "Kaycee" are feeling right now.

    i would urge you to realize that this situation was probably an anomaly.

    Most likely, and I appreciate the input. :}
    posted by digital_insomnia at 10:43 PM on May 20, 2001


    She (Audra Lee) didn't even know Kaycee well

    Are you sure Bonzo?

    Last night Chazio (Chaz Donovan) said: "As for Audra, she was in fact my girlfriend, and I have been in close contact with her for the past year (That means really touching her, and being with her..I have photos to prove any of that). When news that Kaycee was in a battle with cancer, Audra and I (together at the time) wanted to get her, her own site"
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 10:43 PM on May 20, 2001


    I know this is a little off-topic, but I want to apologize to everybody here for lending veracity to Debbie/Kaycee's story. I was fooled, listening to somebody with experience with cancer and surgery patients talking the talk of both a doped-up teenager with terminal cancer and a concerned, scared mother.

    I should have checked more closely. I should have have listened with my head and not with my heart. I should have raised and kept a high index of suspicion before lending my voice to support something/somebody as dubious as this.

    Again, my apologies to all.
    posted by Alwin at 10:46 PM on May 20, 2001


    john styn was not involved. period. anyone who's ever met john would say the same.

    there are times in you life when you're lucky enough to meet a person who is wholey positive. john is one of those people.
    posted by heather at 10:47 PM on May 20, 2001


    EricBrooks:

    Thank you for restating exactly what I said. Chaz knew Audra in real life. He can prove that. They wanted to get Kaycee a domain. How does that show that Audra knew Kaycee? Maybe you misread your own comment.
    posted by bonzo at 10:47 PM on May 20, 2001


    perogi: you do realize, of course, that you don't have to read this thread if you're tired of it.

    aaron: Glad I'm not the only one who realizes how great a construct "Kaycee" was. Heck, she even had a "cute name." I'm surprised she wasn't also captain of the cheerleading team during the offseason from her basketball, though I suppose that would have been stretching credibility.

    That's another question I have - who was the girl in the photos on "Kaycee's" site? The basketball pic, the others, who? Was she a relative of "Debbie?" Does she know she's been put on the 'net as "Kaycee Nicole?"

    Weird, weird, weird.
    posted by Spirit_VW at 10:49 PM on May 20, 2001


    Kristin, John is the only real person I actually know in any of this, and he would not fake his entire life.

    Why on earth would he be all about spreading warmth and compassion, promoting the thought that people should be nice to each other and that positive energy is a good thing, to do this for year after year, and then throw it all away to get some cheap publicity for a new site? It just doesn't make sense that he'd take any part in this, besides believe it were all true early on. Why spend years promoting some philosophy, then jump at the chance to turn against it in exchange for some success for a new venture?
    posted by mathowie at 10:52 PM on May 20, 2001


    kristin-
    halcyon openly wept as he dedicated his radio show to kaycee's memory on wednesday. i know because i live down the hall from him.

    the idea that halcyon (completely ludicrious) and bwg (also probably unlikely, tho i don't claim to know him) did this is...i guess it's the most outlandish thing i've read in these two threads.

    ridiculous. simply. but it gave me a damn good laugh.

    i'm sorry if i sound callous, but if you want to help this situation, making blind accusations is not the way to do it.
    posted by queenkelly at 10:52 PM on May 20, 2001


    Bonzo: I would assume (a dangerous thing on MeFi) that if Chazio was so close to Kaycee at the time he was with Audra, that she would know Kaycee as well...

    Nothing more than that.
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 10:53 PM on May 20, 2001


    "That's another question I have - who was the girl in the photos on "Kaycee's" site? "

    Debbie claims they are pictures of one of the 3 cancer victims she based the story on. She says they are legitimate. Of course Debbie obviously has no credibility at this point and different photos showed Kaycee with different color eyes etc. Are they even all of the same person?
    posted by bonzo at 10:54 PM on May 20, 2001


    I can say with utter certainty that halcyon isn't involved in this deception. at sxsw two years ago he told me how angry he was to have learned about someone who had written a fake online journal.

    halcyon was taken in like everyone else.

    ericbrooks: I take chazio's comment to mean that he was with his *girlfriend* everyday and he has pictures to prove it.

    rcb
    posted by rebeccablood at 10:56 PM on May 20, 2001


    Keep thinking with your heart Alwin..... life will be a lot more enjoyable.
    posted by Logboy at 10:57 PM on May 20, 2001


    Debbie claims they are pictures of one of the 3 cancer victims she based the story on.

    where does she claim this?
    posted by sugarfish at 10:58 PM on May 20, 2001


    aaron: Glad I'm not the only one who realizes how great a construct "Kaycee" was.

    Likewise. And anyone who bought into this fraud, or who ever decides to "support" or "feel for" someone's suffering largely because they're really attractive, deserves every bad and confused feeling they get when the truth comes out.
    posted by aaron at 10:59 PM on May 20, 2001



    TarMac, the truth always comes to light. Have faith in that.

    This is not meant to be rude, but everyone defending Styn, Randall and the others are the exact same people who defended KayCee and they are doing so on faith.

    Take a moment and think about where that got us.

    The connection between Debbie Swenson and the young girl who apparently posed as a KayCee is confusing to me, and to Kristin. She certainly went overboard in her accusations (I’m certainly not willing to acccuse them of perpatrating this whole thing), but she is just as right in questioning the people that have heard Debbie Swenson’s voice as everyone was in questioning the veracity of the hoax web logs.

    So, I’ll repose my questions to everyone who spoke with Debbie:

    Debbie apparently took all responsibility for both blogs, “Randy (bwg) only posted what I sent to be posted, so I am the only person who is to blame.” Did she also take responsibilty for all the online and mail correspondence or just parts of it? If just parts, then who else was involved?

    Who is the Kaycee person you spoke with on the phone? What is her relationship to Debbie?

    If you can’t answer that question offhand — as Chaz says he can’t — it seems to me you have a phone number you could call and find out.

    Randall says, “there was no conspiracy. debbie has told me the whole truth. i am willing to believe her when she says it was she who is totally responsible.” What is it, exactly, she is taking responsibility for? I’d like that to be carefully enumerated, because there is a lot Swenson/KayCee material floating around. Which is fact? Which is fiction? Where did they orginate?

    Or is the explanation that KayCee — based on a real person, hence the photos — probably never was online and Debbie handled all correspondence (phone, mail) and web presence from the beginning.

    To me, the last is the most likely, but I want to hear from someone who knows.

    There really is no sense in ruminating on it further until those questions are answered. Until then, there are unanswered questions. The doesn’t neccesarily mean unmasked guilt.
    posted by capt.crackpipe at 11:03 PM on May 20, 2001


    aaron: anyone who bought into this fraud, or who ever decides to "support" or "feel for" someone's suffering largely because they're really attractive, deserves every bad and confused feeling they get when the truth comes out.

    I'm curious. I never saw any pictures of kaycee on her site. where did everyone get the idea she was so attractive? or do most people automatically poke around looking for pictures of everyone they read?

    rcb
    posted by rebeccablood at 11:03 PM on May 20, 2001


    "where does she claim this? (that Debbie says the Kaycee pictures are of a real cancer victim)

    http://vanderwoning.com/ where BWG relates what he learned from his phone call from Debbie.
    posted by bonzo at 11:03 PM on May 20, 2001


    capt: This is not meant to be rude, but everyone defending Styn, Randall and the others are the exact same people who defended KayCee and they are doing so on faith.

    actually, no, this is a different set of people. I didn't say a word in the first thread, and heather and mathowie weren't big defenders of kaycee's existence.

    the difference is that each of the three of us has actually met halcyon in real life, and spent time with him, and that's what we're basing our judgements on.

    rcb
    posted by rebeccablood at 11:06 PM on May 20, 2001


    Aaron: How is that? How is it that we DESERVE to feel bad/confused/mortified when we put trust in something that turns out to be fake?

    Tell me, o wise one.
    posted by Redgie at 11:08 PM on May 20, 2001


    Alwin... listening with your heart is what makes you the great guy you are... don't ever change. :0)

    My theory is that after "killing off" Kaycee, last night's thread had them convinced that they were going to be busted soon, so it was time to "kill off" Debbie. Whoever it is they're following this thread too, and will slip up eventually.
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 11:10 PM on May 20, 2001


    Amen, logboy.

    Redgie
    posted by Redgie at 11:10 PM on May 20, 2001


    How is it that we DESERVE to feel bad/confused/mortified when we put trust in something that turns out to be fake?

    Read the post again. Did you give such love to her because she was someone dying from cancer, or because she was a beautiful 19-year-old girl dying of cancer?

    I'm only speaking of the latter. And if you are one of the latter ones, I have no desire to spell the reason out in more detail, as you're already a hopeless case.
    posted by aaron at 11:13 PM on May 20, 2001



    ditto what rebecca said.

    i made no judgement either way about whether or not kaycee was in fact a real person. i never met her, never corresponded with her or read her site on a regular basis. i didn't/don't have enough information to make that call. i have met john. i only made one small point regarding a domain registration. my comment was neither "for" or "against" the arguement.
    posted by heather at 11:13 PM on May 20, 2001


    This is not meant to be rude, but everyone defending Styn, Randall and the others are the exact same people who defended KayCee and they are doing so on faith.

    hi cap'n.

    while i'll agree with you about defending john and bwg on faith, i'll point out that i never defended the reality of kaycee here on mefi. i reserved judgment until more facts came to light; in fact, i spent a couple of hours on google last night (as well as sites like classmates.com) trying to see if this girl was real. until acidrabbit's post on friday, it never crossed my mind that kaycee wasn't real, but once the idea was planted, i waited to see if anyone could find something close to the truth.

    i may be wrong about bwg (which i don't think i am) but i am certain i am not wrong about halcyon -- if you'd ever met him, even for five minutes, i think you'd agree with me.
    posted by sugarfish at 11:13 PM on May 20, 2001


    Spirit.Ooo.....good argument. I could deny taking a dump for days, unfortunately, ye ole BMs seems\ to present themselves in such ways that are rather similar to the 200+ responses to this topic. Sometimes you just gotta face facts.

    I am just always amazed how posters get so full of themselves that the discussion becomes more about themselves than the original issue. This thread - been there, done that, got the T-Shirt and a bag of Doritos. May as well throw in some nice scat comments to an already shit-for-all discussion.

    "Oh Gee.....Can I sound the most concerned by beating this dead horse?" Please. Spare us all.

    Someone has to say this is bullshit. Not her death or nondeath, but this orgy of self-flagellation about whether one was part of her life.

    Yes, a person is not with us today. For that, I am truly sorry. But readiing all this "I knew her better than you did" and "I hurt more than you do" bullshit just gets my goat. To hell with all of you. Get over your fuckingselves.

    Ooooo, yeah, gee....I said that.

    Let us not forget, people die every day. We should not gloat over whether we were important one person's life. Let us simply take what meaning we can find in another person, and apply it to the life we lead - right here, right now and in the future.

    Yakkety yak all you want about what I have said. I am moving on.
    Later gators.
    posted by perogi at 11:14 PM on May 20, 2001


    I'm probably beginning to annoy everyone with my posts at this point. :) I'd just like to summarize my take of this whole thing.

    Debbie Swenson is a real mother with two kids. Kaycee was her imaginary third and oldest child who seems to be a mix of traits of Debbie and her real life daughter. Most everything Kaycee said during the entire life of her blog can be traced to things that happened in Debbie's life. The day to day stuff you read about Kaycee -was not real-. It was based on Debbie's life. Everyone else (halcyon, audra lea, BWG, etC) was taken in because of their willingness to love this imaginary person. Everything I say is supported by cold hard evidence. Read my other posts.

    The only real question left is this: Debbie either completely fabricated Kaycee from various tidbits in "Usual Suspects" style or she was acting as a front for a real leukemia victim who was not on the web and adding in her own stuff. From reading most of both Blogs, I tend to lean towards the first. Yes, Debbie had family members who suffered from cancer. But I don't think that Kaycee existed as such. But I can't prove that.
    posted by bonzo at 11:16 PM on May 20, 2001


    I am as confused and dismayed by these events as anyone, but there is one thing I can say without reservation: John Styn is one of the most generous, honest and trusting people it has been my pleasure to know. If anyone asked for help or support from him, be they blond and "attractive" or green with purple spots and a hump, he would give it just the same. Because I can't, I hope someone is giving him a lot of hugs tonight.
    posted by bradlands at 11:16 PM on May 20, 2001


    mathowie weren't big defenders of kaycee's existence

    Actually, I was (stupid me). I always fall for lame shit like this.

    But the Halycon thing is totally different. I just can't fathom Halcyon faking the last 3-4 years of his life to help get a future project off the ground, it just makes no sense. That, and that I've met him, hung out with him, and talked to him enough to convince me that he's exactly what you see online.
    posted by mathowie at 11:18 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


    rebeccablood: I swear I saw a photo of some sort on "Kaycee's" blog when I was perusing it after the initial "Kaycee is dead" thread. It looked to me like a senior class photo or something - I know ours were similarly fairly high quality and posed. Or, it may have been on one of the other "Kaycee" sites people have found since this whole thing began. Then, there is the notorious, heavily-Photoshopped image of "Kaycee" playing basketball. I didn't do any deep researching for those pics - others found them, I just looked at them.

    From the pics, "Kaycee" was, I thought, a pretty attractive young woman. I think some of them have been shown to show "Kaycee" with different colored eyes, etc. etc.

    I really wonder who was in the photos, and if they knew they were being used for this purpose. "Debbie" claims they were one of the three cancer patients, apparently - but I find it hard to believe her at the moment.
    posted by Spirit_VW at 11:19 PM on May 20, 2001


    Actually, no, I am not one of the latter. I never saw a photo of her prior to her death.

    Let me rephrase that: a photo that would give any clue as to her looks. There was one of her in a Cosmo-magazine type thing that was photoshopped, and there was another that was faded green for St. Patty's day. Therefore, I didn't have a real clue as to what she looked like.

    Anyway, I am a heterosexual female. (BTW, if you are wondering about my handle, see what I wrote about it in my profile.)

    My only reason behind reading her is because her posts provided encouragement and love. I wouldn't, couldn't, do something for the motives which you described. You're right on that: that would be pretty crappy.

    Sorry I got oversensitive. I am getting entirely too paranoid.
    posted by Redgie at 11:19 PM on May 20, 2001


    Spirit_VW:I swear I saw a photo of some sort on "Kaycee's" blog when I was perusing it after the initial "Kaycee is dead" thread

    I saw that too, but my reading of aaron is that he's accusing people of caring abotu kaycee because she was attractive.

    since I never saw any pictures of kaycee while she was 'alive' my question was, did I just miss them? and my point was, if there were no pictures, that couldn't be the reason people got emotionally involved.

    rcb
    posted by rebeccablood at 11:22 PM on May 20, 2001


    (holy shit this thread long)

    Yeah, Rebecca you squeaked in while I was posting. Sorry. I thought I was just commenting on queenkelly, heather and mathowie. Heather, I pegged you wrong, sorry. Sugarfish, I didn’t even notice you. Sorry.

    I’d like to calmly, cooly remind everyone, that I am in no way accussing anyone of anything. I just think there some things that could be explained in greater detail to give us all a better picutre of what happened.

    Yes, Debbie had family members who suffered from cancer. But I don't think that Kaycee existed as such. But I can't prove that.

    Bonzo, this is what I’m getting at. Thank you.
    posted by capt.crackpipe at 11:25 PM on May 20, 2001


    but my reading of aaron is that he's accusing people of caring abotu kaycee because she was attractive.

    That SOME PEOPLE are. Not everyone. And there were pictures.

    If you're that unwilling to believe that people are, as a rule, far more generous and caring towards those they consider physically attractive (and it doesn't have to be in a sexual way, either), there is several decades' worth of peer-reviewed evidence I can dump in this thread.
    posted by aaron at 11:27 PM on May 20, 2001



    aaron: The only known picture of Kaycee on the web (pre-mortem) was the button on BWG's site and the larger banner BWG made for me on my site. He made them about two weeks before her "death". Now they seem to be everywhere. Nobody knew or really cared what she looked like.

    It was her words and poetry that I fell in love with.
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 11:30 PM on May 20, 2001


    Audra Lee. Hmmm. Why would someone who lists her favorite writers as Charles Bukouski, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac be so very into the Kaycee site? So much as to buy a domain? Everything else points to a not too terribly innocent, pretty standard 21 year old cynic who believes herself way too cool for school, or at least 3/4ths of the way too cool . (Which I did too, at 21, so I'm not casting any stones.) Or maybe she is not as cynical as she acts? Also, she's from freakin' Jonesboro, supposedly (which is a college town, but she doesn't say if she's an Arkansas State student or not). I'm presuming that she'd know exactly what was up with the more cloying notes and cutsey language and poems that looks as if they could *only* come from someone whose site would have a picture of her church on it, a lil' note about the preacher. Jonesboro is not exactly close to Wichita, but it's the Bible Belt, people.

    Also loved Hunter at the same age, to a certain degree still do, though he's by no means at the top of the list anymore. And you must realize, if you look over her site, that I'm exercising a lot of restraint here. I've known hepsters who are cream puffs at heart, but she doesn't strike me as one of them.
    posted by raysmj at 11:33 PM on May 20, 2001


    aaron wrote: If you're that unwilling to believe that people are, as a rule, far more generous and caring towards those they consider physically attractive (and it doesn't have to be in a sexual way, either), there is several decades' worth of peer-reviewed evidence I can dump in this thread.

    But you alluded to people falling for Kaycee's whole story because of this, when like others have said, there just weren't any pictures of her until recently, so the claim you made holds no water. Move on.
    posted by mathowie at 11:40 PM on May 20, 2001


    Eric, I found photos of her the first time I looked at her site, back when the first thread was posted here last September.
    posted by aaron at 11:41 PM on May 20, 2001


    All I wonder is: Would the outpouring of support for a balding 45 year old male accountant fighting cancer have been as great as that for a cheerful, poetry-spouting, pretty 19 year woman fighting cancer?

    I personally don't think it would have been anywhere near as great as the support given to "Kaycee," which is why I think "Kaycee" is a great construct. Heck, everybody in my old home town is still going on about four cheerful, beautiful teens killed in a car wreck a few years ago, when it took people about a week to forget a non-beautiful, somewhat melancholy but still personable male teen when he comitted suicide in front of his parents after being made psychologically abused by peers at the high school (including the said four girls before they died).

    I'm not saying anybody here on MeFi factored the whole cheerful 19 year old thing into their response to the Kaycee blog, at least not consciously, but I do think that it's certainly more gripping to a lot of people than had "Kaycee" been overweight, suffered from Acne, and written dark, brooding poetry.
    posted by Spirit_VW at 11:41 PM on May 20, 2001 [2 favorites]


    Eric, Matt incorrect. This photo was in a post about going to a salon and finding out what she’d look like curls. This was in KayCee’s Living Colour web log.

    Compared to the photos on the KC.html geocities page they are most likely two differnet people. Besides, you can see some straight, brown hair in the “cosmo” photo.

    (I’m defending aaron on accident! This is neet!)
    posted by capt.crackpipe at 11:42 PM on May 20, 2001


    allow me to add to the voices of ben, heather, rebecca, brad, matt et al. in being completely sure that halcyon had nothing to do with this other than bringing the journal to the attention of some of us in the first place. and as mikel and others point out, most folks who have spent time online have seen this before - for me, the memorable moment was in 1996, finding out that jessa (who i'd been reading for nearly 2 years) wasn't actually jessa.
    posted by judith at 11:43 PM on May 20, 2001 [1 favorite]


    Then where did all those old sites of hers come from?
    posted by aaron at 11:44 PM on May 20, 2001


    capt: well, *that's* attractive. I can see why everyone would be blinded by that. :)

    actually, that doesn't look to me like a 19 year old face in there, although it's hard to tell.

    rcb
    posted by rebeccablood at 11:44 PM on May 20, 2001


    Ha ha! The Compassion Nazis are proven wrong and me right!

    (Sorry, I've just been dying to use the phrase "Compassion Nazis" in this thread.)

    (I’m defending aaron on accident! This is neet!)

    Eventually you'll get used to it, as you find it happening more and more often. ;)

    Heck, everybody in my old home town is still going on about four cheerful, beautiful teens killed in a car wreck a few years ago, when it took people about a week to forget a non-beautiful, somewhat melancholy but still personable male teen when he comitted suicide in front of his parents after being made psychologically abused by peers at the high school (including the said four girls before they died).

    Yup. Bullshit bigotry like this occurred several times in my hometown during my junior-high and high-school days. Arrogant, physically attractive popular kids go arrogantly speeding in a rainstorm in their brand new Jeep and hydroplane off the side of a cliff, and the entire area is in mourning, schools close, the all-important "crisis counselors" are brought in, the local paper covering the death with front page headlines in a font size that literally hadn't been used since Nixon resigned. Unpopular kid (fat) from the same school dies after a long painful bout with cancer, and the homeroom teacher mentions it one morning, everyone shrugs, and forgets about it by first period. Only mention in the paper whatsoever is the freebie death notice, about 1/2-inch long, called in as a service to the family by the funeral home.
    posted by aaron at 11:54 PM on May 20, 2001



    I hope someone is giving him a lot of hugs tonight.

    bradlands--i just did :)
    posted by queenkelly at 11:57 PM on May 20, 2001


    I can see why everyone would be blinded by that.

    No, that ain’t so hot, is it? Point is there was at least one photo, but I didn’t see any others.

    Anyway, I’m sure everything will be cleared up in time, and I hope people get the appropriate help they need.

    Don’t lose faith, everybody. There are plenty of people worthy of love. Let’s just make sure the real ones get it.

    you'll get used to it

    Oi, if KayCee Nicole made me a Republican there will be hell to pay, you hear me?!
    posted by capt.crackpipe at 12:01 AM on May 21, 2001


    In case you missed it in the last thread, here is a 99% certifiably real picture of the person you know as Kaycee. Yes that is whose thoughts you have been reading. She's the one on the far left.
    posted by bonzo at 12:01 AM on May 21, 2001


    Compassion Nazis? Now I feel bad about defending you dude.
    posted by capt.crackpipe at 12:07 AM on May 21, 2001


    My thoughts before I head off to bed.

    Looks.... though a superficial society we live in, we need to look past them. A "good looking" individual is no better or smarter than someone who isn't. Make friends on the basis of their conversational skills. When you're both 70 years old, looks don't mean a damn thing.

    Night all.
    posted by Logboy at 12:07 AM on May 21, 2001


    matt: To be fair, I think aaron also means people being drawn in to the whole cheerful 19 year old girl thing, not neccessarily anything about her looks specifically. "Attractive" does not always mean "physical beauty."

    In that regard, I think he's right. "Kaycee" could have been pulled from a Hallmark movie IMHO. The cheery 19 year old girl, website covered with bright cheery colors and photos, all the stories of hope, the cloying poetry - it's a perfect construct to pull on the heartstrings and, in some cases, open the wallets. This sort of thing DOES affect some people, though I am *NOT* accusing anybody on MeFi of that. Just pointing it out.

    After the "Kaycee is dead" intial thread, as I was perusing the sites, I noticed something somebody else already pointed out - the post the day before the "death" by "Debbie," talking about how wonderful it was to have her daugthers with her, etc. etc. was all just too perfectly timed. Left a bad taste in my mouth.
    posted by Spirit_VW at 12:09 AM on May 21, 2001


    Bwg just posted.
    posted by Logboy at 12:11 AM on May 21, 2001


    I first knew, with absolute certainty, that Kaycee wasn't real when I saw her CollegeClub member profile. Armageddon is nobody's favorite movie. Nobody.

    Additionally, it's a little creepy that her Sexual Style is "Pass Me the Handcuffs and Turn on the Camcorder". A happy-go-lucky, Lord-praising, yet-suffering-from-life-threatening-diseases 19-year-old doesn't seem the type to have lots of bondage gear and dildos lying around the house.
    posted by Danelope at 12:18 AM on May 21, 2001 [2 favorites]


    re: compassion nazi.

    you do see it, even if you disagree with his rhetoric? the concept that feelings and what one gleans from an experience is more important than the fundamental truthfulness and integrity of it?

    there are still so may questions. what i personally think or feel or believe or doubt really doesn't matter -- what matters is what really happened.

    i do hope we find out. or, rather, that those most wounded by these events find some healing of their own.

    and this from someone trechantly opposed to the compassion nazis, yet. :)
    posted by fuzzygeek at 12:21 AM on May 21, 2001


    Well Aaron: to the best of my knowledge there have never been pictures on her site... that's not to say there weren't any, but I haven't seen them.

    Capt Crackpipe: Who the hell is that in the cosmo pic... she looks middle aged with fake green eyes??!!??

    Original Question: Did we have a bigger response to Kaycee because she was going to die before her life even had a chance to begin, as opposed to a middle aged man who's probably done it all?

    You bet your bippy.
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 12:28 AM on May 21, 2001


    I haven't posted on any of these threads so far, as I had no connection to Kaycee/Debbie/whoever and am just not open to grieving/loving people I don't know in RL.

    But I'm worried about something, and why I think this whole thing needs to be pursued. This Debbie is a sick person, and as bad as this whole thing has been online - what has she done in real life? Is someone in this mindset okay to be around children if she's apparently this messed up?

    Continue to search, probe and alert.
    posted by owillis at 12:28 AM on May 21, 2001


    From Kaycee's answers in that CollegeClub profile:

    Survey Results for: Kutebabe
    1. The most intimate information you’ve ever shared with a girl/boyfriend is…
    a. how you lost it -- when your parents got divorced.

    posted by rory at 12:38 AM on May 21, 2001


    Keep thinking with your heart Alwin..... life will be a lot more enjoyable.

    This can be very dangerous. Hearts are really, really bad at thinking. I advise you use your brain for all your thinking (i.e., deciding what situations to get into) and use your heart only for feeling (i.e., experiencing to their fullest the situations your brain has decided to you get into). If you habitually forget which organ is for which function, you can very easily make a mess you will regret. The absolute worst emotional situations I have ever been in have resulted directly from foolishly deciding to "follow my heart." If you're going to do that, at least run it by your brain first, and if your brain tells you you're being an idiot, for God's sake listen.

    This has a curious and peripheral relevance to the Kaycee topic, if only I could put it into words...
    posted by kindall at 12:49 AM on May 21, 2001 [1 favorite]


    rory: "Kaycee" also answered, in re to who (historical figure) she'd most like to spend 24 hours with: Mark Twain. Did I mention the screamingly funny section of Huckleberry Finn about the girl with the death wish? Yes, think so. The feel-good sorta Kaycee talk is a modern-day verison of the same thing. Heartland Protestantism used to be about such an obsession with death. Now there's long been some Norman Vincent Peale thrown in. (Oh, and just for the record: Huck's reaction to the girl's morbid drawings and such are very solemn. Why? He thinks he's supposed to be solemn. He's being a good boy.) This was all someone's idea of an elaborate joke, in my opinion.
    posted by raysmj at 12:51 AM on May 21, 2001


    I've been lurking myself, in restrained awe at our "newsroom" hard at work. In a sense, these hundreds of posts could be conflated into a "Sensationalism for Dummies" book. We ask of the media; why isn't the "real" news being covered? But it is and has continued to be covered. Only logging precious few comments as the going mystery has "gripped" the "hearts and souls" of "everyone in the community".

    Most newsworthy, and the thing I find most fascinating, is that if this phenomenon continues with its current head of steam we're dealing with genuine Urban Legend. The kind of Urban Legend that new cliches, nouns and verbs enter our lexicon. "I just got debbied the other day". My mother asks where the word "spam" comes from. I explain it the best I can.

    MeFi may just be making its first mark in collective history folks!

    Not to mention. . .the terrifying campfire stories that will doubtless be told to children generations into the future about the "ghost of the internet". Imagine the terror when we rib the kids that their cyborg implants have been cursed by the phantom of Kaycee Nichole. Probably not too smart. Woe to our grandchildren.
    posted by crasspastor at 1:17 AM on May 21, 2001


    I'm with aaron: just a bit too cynical about all of this. Indeed, going all the way back to MY introduction to her, which was that September MeFi thread, my immediate and visceral reaction was what the hell is this, a cancer patient created by design team and focus group? Uplifting it may have seemed, but the adjective that sprung to my mind was cloying. I was also reading Fight Club around that time, so the idea of using things like cancer as emotional crutches was also heavily represented -- although my reaction was more along the lines of if this is for real, why the hell isn't she hanging out with other cancer patients instead of all these strangers? Maybe even more suspiciously I could have gone to the next level: why is she wasting her last days on the flipping internet? I could have allowed that she had a wide following up till now and the cancer had hit a vital online personality, accounting for some of the hype, but that didn't seem right either: she wasn't doing her own designs after all this time. Playing with your site is about the #1 activity of webloggers. And that's about where I left it: not into diaries in the first place, especially cloying ones, I ignored it. I did feel there was something off from the very beginning, though. Like she was going about this all the wrong way. That still assumed she was real at some level.

    owillis, rcade: her kids are teenagers, not helpless infants. I know people who've dealt with mentally ill parents before. I'm not sure I'd classify a Munchausen-by-Internet case as an immediate threat to others. She seems to have a close family and church social network around her; I'd leave those kinds of concerns for people who can judge them a little better.

    My main concern is the fraud, the money and gifts. Maybe small amounts for each individual, but collectively looking worrisome. It may be difficult to prosecute due to lack of record-keeping and the fact that they were, after all, gifts. To me, it's just another example of someone failing to recognize that the people in the bouncing pixels are actual other human beings. The irony is that somebody living in podunk Kansas can, indeed, develop a meaningful network of friends online, but scamming people just isn't the way. I'm not sure what it is; something of the actor's stereotypical narcissism, where seeking the approval of faceless millions is more important than the close relationships in his own life. Here, with all the forum postings, the e-mails, the phone calls, and the gifts, we seem to have had someone who was seeking small bits of approval from as many different people as possible.

    Assuming we're all agreed now that this is Mrs. Swenson, I do feel sorry for her. I'm astonished we haven't turned up a single person who actually lives in her area and has met her; that's the direction I'd want to go in helping her. But without that go-between, all we're left with is a pack of lies, and some things that exchanged hands and may, repeat may, constitute prosecutable fraud under Kansas law. That is going to be the choice of the District Attorney and possibly the Postal Inspector, and people in that position should definitely forward information so that those authorities can determine what they need to do next, if anything. Not incidentally, an encounter with the criminal justice system may be the best way to get help to someone like this.

    A précis of that Munchausen-by-internet article (itself a summary of a longer paper) is that online support groups are finding this sort of thing to be a real problem.

    In this form of the disorder, people use online message boards, .... to make false claims about illness. Some people concoct rather elaborate ruses, complete with fake personal histories, phony lab and x-ray reports, invented conversations with physicians, and even fictitious citations from medical journals. However, one attraction of Internet deception is that no great acting skill is required. “People on the Internet are faceless and anonymous,” says Feldman. “You don’t have the same accountability that you have in face-to-face interactions .... People who mislead others may dismiss it as playfulness on their part and of no particular consequence. But my research shows that’s not how it’s perceived by the victims.”

    While some people are unmoved or even amused by the audacity of a deception, others are sincerely hurt. Common reactions include sending angry or sad e-mails to the deceiver, leaving the group in disgust, splitting the group into camps of believers and disbelievers, and fearing that the deceiver will misuse personal information that was volunteered in the past.

    Victims have good reason to be miffed. At best, they have wasted time and emotional energy. At worst, they may have made decisions about their own health care based on false information.

    Warning signs
    Feldman offers these clues to detecting false claims:

    * posts that consistently duplicate material in other posts or on health Web sites
    * long or frequent posts from someone claiming to be in the throes of acute illness
    * near-fatal bouts with illness alternating with miraculous recoveries
    * continual dramatic events in the person’s life, especially when someone else becomes the group’s new focus of attention
    * complaints that other group members are not supportive enough and warnings that this is undermining the person’s health
    * posts that are ostensibly made on behalf of the person by friends or family members, but which have the same grammatical errors, misspellings, and individual writing style

    If these clues are present, your suspicions should be raised. Feldman suggests privately e-mailing the person and gently voicing your concerns.

    posted by dhartung at 1:21 AM on May 21, 2001 [4 favorites]


    Eric Brooks: Thank you for answering. Now answer me this:

    Would so many people have been caught up so deeply if "Kaycee" was a Marylin Manson-listening Goth 19 year old? Or a highly opinionated, controversial 19 year old (in the vein of, say, The Misanthropic Bitch)? Or a 19 year old Wiccan? Or any other 19 year old that wasn't, as stated above, a happy-go-lucky, Lord-praising 19 year old?

    It is my personal belief that the answer is "no way."
    posted by Spirit_VW at 1:32 AM on May 21, 2001


    Would so many people have been caught up so deeply if "Kaycee" was

    I think it was her high spirits and optimism that drew such a positive response: "What a sweet girl, she doesn't deserve to die..."

    If she was mean and rotten like, oh... Faith, most people wouldn't be bothered.

    I *did* find it unusual that she never had a bad day, or nothing mean to say about anyone... and what, pray tell, did they enter these journal entries on while on road trips?

    Is this part of a term paper you're writing on "social experiments" or something, Spirit_ww?
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 1:52 AM on May 21, 2001


    The story of Kaycee has now appeared on Journalist Dan Gillmor's weblog. No mention of Metafilter though.
    posted by gyc at 1:54 AM on May 21, 2001 [1 favorite]


    All I know is that even if you make up a fake name, fake website, fake life, fake illness and fake death, people from Metafilter will still be able to find out what very well may be your home address, phone number, the names of your entire family including all their websites and the pastor from your previous church.

    Now, that's scary.
    posted by animoller at 2:05 AM on May 21, 2001 [2 favorites]


    OT (and very sorry to the rest of you for it): Bite me Brooks. Quit hiding here at MeFi and come back into the open or go away and play with your tube of Krell.

    And Spirit_VW, you're right on the money. But that's why Kaycee was what she "was." Why make up a fake, unsympathetic ugly goth chick with a mouth and an attitude, when the cute 19 year old will catch the attention of so many more people?
    posted by faith at 2:09 AM on May 21, 2001


    I realize, being new here, that I am subject to being drawn and quartered....

    But what the hey! I have been reading for a few months and now is as good a time as any to join up.

    Grandly enough, we will collectively be the subject of someone's psych thesis someday; Lord knows that there's enough material here.

    I would love to lay it all on the line, but I already did that and I am tired, man.
    posted by JettSuperior at 2:15 AM on May 21, 2001 [1 favorite]


    animoller: ironically her mistake was using her real first and last name.
    posted by gyc at 2:17 AM on May 21, 2001


    I meant Kaycee. Remember, the girl that wasn't?
    posted by animoller at 2:22 AM on May 21, 2001


    Come on, Faith and Brooks! Don't fight! Kaycee wouldn't want it this way. Y'know...assuming she ever existed...which she did not.

    But if she did, she'd want her sunshine to beat down upon you.

    I can see clearly now, the lies are gone
    I can see all the con artists in my way...

    posted by Danelope at 2:38 AM on May 21, 2001


    Am I the only one who finds this eerily like the Who Killed Evan Chan? game from AI (the movie) that the Cloudmakers are playing?
    posted by lia at 2:51 AM on May 21, 2001


    Lia: Absolutely. I've had the same thought all along, and this has proved to be a fascinating departure while we (Cloudmakers) wait for further Game updates.
    posted by Danelope at 3:05 AM on May 21, 2001


    OT: Hey, it's just 29 hours until more updates Danelope... hopefully it'll be longer so I can the next version of the Guide done in time.
    posted by adrianhon at 3:19 AM on May 21, 2001


    I've been, lost, for a good part of the day.

    Yes, I have questions. Who did I talk to, who sent me a shirt, a hat, all of that jazz...who has been a friend of mine for the past two years?

    Lost I tell ya...lost.

    I can tell you, with 100% certainty, that neither Halcyon or Audra Lea were involved in some hoax.

    I started using CollegeClub as a normal member many years ago, and met Halcyon through there accordingly. I volunteered to do random host-type stuff, like Chat Admin, etc... Well it was through the Host program that I met "Kaycee", and we had worked closely together on new ideas for the site, chat topics, and what have you... this is where my friendship with fiction began.

    Time goes by, and I actually have ended up working at CollegeClub in San Diego. Being in personal contact with Halcyon everyday, back when he was employed there. He's a friend, and has been hurt with the rest of us. He was not involved.

    Audra and I met, through CollegeClub, and as to not go into much detail, we were close, and still are close. She was my girlfriend at the time Kaycee announced she would be battling cancer for the 2nd time. Audra only knew of Kaycee because I introduced them to each other. "Audra go read my friends blog". Audra spent many hours consoling me during times of Kaycee's battle. But for the most part, Audra did not know Kaycee well. Only breifly chatting with her through email. We, both Audra and I, discussed doing *something* for Kaycee, and getting her her own domain name for her site was what we had decided. The only reason we didn't get LivingColours.com was because I believe it was taken. We could have gotten .org, but I don't recall the reason behind not doing so. In any case, the domain was a gift. Simple and sweet, and not a burden on anyones wallet. *sigh* Anyway, drop the bull about Auda possibly being involved. She was not.

    To end this lightly...
    In a way, I feel like Charleton Heston at the end of "Soylent Green"....or at the end of "Planet of the Apes" for that matter.

    "Soylent Green, is peeeeoooople!!"
    posted by Chazio at 4:36 AM on May 21, 2001


    Faith and I just having fun, Danelope... not to worry. ;0)
    posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 4:58 AM on May 21, 2001


    My tuppence worth..
    I had never even heard of Kaycee until Ev posted the condolences of the front page of Blogger. I read the log from start to finish. I admit I cried over it. And then, just yesterday, I got sent the link to Metafilter questioning her existence, and I was stunned. I posted to my blog, and waited for updates. And then the truth came out.

    I never knew Kaycee, Debbie or BWG. But I feel sorry for them all. For Debbie, who made up the story for whatever reasons. For BWG, who seems to have a heart of gold. And for the real Kaycee, whoever she was.

    People have been hurt psychologically and emotionally. In less than a week it's affected me too. But it's just left me a little wiser, and a little more cynical.
    posted by emc at 5:34 AM on May 21, 2001


    I suspect the pastor.


    . . .

    well I do.
    posted by Outlawyr at 6:09 AM on May 21, 2001


    How do we decide who to trust on the web? We rely on friends. Someone we know and trust says "This person is also worth trusting". It's a network of trust and friendship. (We do this in real life, too.)

    If one person makes a mistake, and incorrectly identifies as trustworthy someone who isn't, incorrectly identifies as genuine someone who is fake, then the mistake propagates through the system. One person's mistake can result in harm to a lot of people. When that happens, there are really two people guilty.

    Of course, the untrustworthy person who screwed a lot of folks over is primarily at fault. But some fault also lies with the person who mistakenly convinced a lot of people to trust the untrustworthy person, and the degree of that fault is proportional to the amount of effort the gullible one put into trying to certify and spread the story.

    In specific, most of the blame here lies with Debbie, who I believe is primarily (probably wholly) responsible for this hoax. (The "second voice" remains an unsolved problem.) But some blame lies with BWG, who certified "Kaycee" as being genuine. Part of why people accepted Kaycee is because BWG said I know her. I've talked to her on the phone. I'm absolutely certain she's what she says she is, and if you disagree then you're evil, heartless, cynical. (For instance, here, as recently as May 18 2001.) It's not merely that he said Here's a kind of cool thing; he went well beyond that and made really big efforts to spread the story around. Without his help it is unlikely that anything like as many people would have been taken in -- and ultimately harmed -- by this.

    Because of his unwitting complicity in this, people who trusted him are owed answers by BWG. He is responsible not because he was a party to the hoax, but because he was its primary victim. It's not merely that he himself was gullible, but that he used his position in the web community to propagate his gullibility to many other people. Their mistake was to trust him; he betrayed their trust.

    He is also uniquely positioned to research this and to truly find out what was going on. He is perhaps the only person who has the ability to really do so. It is my opinion that BWG has a moral obligation to research this more fully and to reveal answers which are more satisfactory. He says he has accepted Debby's answer. For himself, that may be enough. He has the right to forgive her for what she did to him. For the other people victimized by his gullibility, it isn't. They deserve more than they have gotten. He doesn't have the right to forgive her for what she did to everyone else.

    Now I want to emphasize that I in no way think BWG was a party to the hoax. I think he was first of its victims. But it wasn't merely that he himself fell for it; he proceeded to use social pressure to shout down all the people who raised doubts about it from the very beginning (see this from September 2000). He gave Kaycee space on his web site. He actively pushed her story. And because of that a lot of people got taken in and badly hurt.

    He owes them a better answer than he's given them. It's going to hurt him to get it, but as long as he delays doing so many other people will remain in pain because of his negligence.
    posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:29 AM on May 21, 2001


    Original Question: Did we have a bigger response to Kaycee because she was going to die before her life even had a chance to begin, as opposed to a middle aged man who's probably done it all? You bet your bippy.

    Why? There are plenty of 19-year-olds in this world that have lived far more eventful, fulfilling lives than many 50-year-olds. Life is what you do with it (and, more importantly, what society lets you do with it), not the length.

    Indeed, one of the reasons I wasn't totally overwhelmed with sorrow for "Kaycee" was because she came off as just one of those types of 19-year-olds, who had lived a far more fulfilling life filled with zillions of friends and loving family members than I've ever had in my 31 years. This isn't to say it means I WANTED her to die, only that I realize that I would have traded places with her in a second, had she been real. As such, who's the real winner and loser?
    posted by aaron at 6:34 AM on May 21, 2001



    Steven - you think BWG owes people because he knew/thought he knew Kaycee? IMO, that's an incredibly arrogant statement.

    He went through more than anyone in discovering what happened. Is it any wonder he wanted to respond in defence when people started throwing around accusations about the person he thought of as his long time and recently departed friend? Would you have 'fallen for it'? I know I would.

    If BWG feels the matter is settled to his satisfaction, so be it. There is no moral obligation on his part. Why make him a target and demand answers when he was as much a victim, if not more, than anyone else?
    posted by emc at 6:36 AM on May 21, 2001


    In all of the WHOIS lookups, calls to pastors and heartfelt cries for the 'truth' what has been barely touched on is what a masterful hoax this was. This is a marvel of social engineering and will go down in the annals of web history.

    I don't want to dismiss out of hand the feelings of those who have been duped, however, there are a very few who have been hurt. Those who have suffered the most happen to be high profile members of a miniscule community. Betrayal is never pretty, but overall I think the majority of posters are taking this far too seriously. The vast majority of people in the world have never heard of Kaycee and could care less.

    My gut tells me, with no evidence whatsoever, that this is the work of a bored (or several) web savvy teenager. Dr. Watson and I have decided that the root of this lies in Mrs. Swensons daughters bedroom. There is certainly something pathological about perpetuating a hoax for such a long time...unless, it is no more than an experiment, in which case it is a masterpiece.

    Look at it this way. I find it difficult to believe that 'Debbie' could maintain such an elaborate fantasy without real world consequences. People that sick do not hold reality together well enough to maintain such consistency over a nearly two year period. I have to believe that this *is* not the work of a mentally ill (and she would have to be) person.
    posted by cedar at 6:51 AM on May 21, 2001


    EMC, I think BWG owes people because he vouched for Kaycee so vociferously, and because people accepted Kaycee on his say-so. I thought I made that clear.

    I'm aware that he's gone through a lot. I don't think he's gone through enough. It's not that I want him to suffer, but that I think he owes a lot of people better and more complete answers than he's provided. Unfortunately, it's going to cost him even more to get them, but I think he has a moral obligation to do that.

    If he had merely been a victim, he wouldn't owe anyone an answer. It's because he made other people victims that he owes answers.
    posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:55 AM on May 21, 2001


    "The vast majority of people in the world have never heard of Kaycee and could care less"
    The expression is "could NOT care less" and of what relevance is this to the thousands of people that HAVE heard of Kaycee. The vast majority of people in the world haven't heard of Allen Ginsberg. So what.

    "People that sick do not hold reality together well enough to maintain such consistency over a nearly two year period."

    You really don't know what you're talking about, and you are wrong. No offense intended, but I deal with crazy people every day, and they can function in society and still be totally nuts.
    posted by Outlawyr at 7:02 AM on May 21, 2001


    Aaron, if you really feel that way I suggest you do something about it. As a 34 year old (as of yesterday!) I can say that there's (1) nothing wrong with being older than 19 and (2) it's quite possible to have a life that gets better and better.

    I never paid much attention to the Kaycee stuff (although now that this news has broken, it's fascinating) because it seemed so saccharine (apologies to those who felt otherwise), but nothing I've read here is half as worrying as someone saying that they'd swap lifes with a girl about to die...
    posted by andrew cooke at 7:08 AM on May 21, 2001


    BWG and John Styn may have been complicit or they may have been innocent dupes, but they were never interested in making possible a sick girl being able to tell her story to the people who were close to her.

    They put together a site intented to receive a mass audience, and they actively promoted it to a mass audience. They were preachers for the New Church of Sunshine.

    When I looked at the site on Saturday there was a picture on it of a Kaycee with a naked Barbie body, standing on a cloud emitting golden light. I'd rather think people were deifying a fictional character in this way, rather than someone they thought was actual. Otherwise they lost all perspective.

    Over the weekend I found the whole white Bronco chase fascinating. Until I saw Halcyon plugging the group hug on his radio show soon after it all fell apart. Then I felt angry.
    posted by TimTypeZed at 7:10 AM on May 21, 2001


    You really don't know what you're talking about, and you are wrong. No offense intended, but I deal with crazy people every day, and they can function in society and still be totally nuts.

    That is the problem with forums such as this. You make a base assumption that becuase you disagree with me that "I don't know what I'm talking about".

    Mental health problems are far from rare and it would be an error to believe that your "dealing with crazy people" on a daily basis gives you a monopoly on insight.

    I stand by my statement. This is far to an elaborate construct for a disassociative personality to maintain for such an extended time. Certainly it is possible, but it seems far from likely. Then again, amateur shrinkology is not a slope I want to descend.

    In cases such as this the simplest solution is often the correct one. The simple answer for this bizarre episode is that it is an elaborate hoax and no more.
    posted by cedar at 7:15 AM on May 21, 2001


    Aaron, if you really feel that way I suggest you do something about it. ... it's quite possible to have a life that gets better and better.

    Yes, it's possible. However, like the Kaycee scam itself, fulfilling the possibility requires physical attractiveness and a social network, which I ain't got.

    If I did switch places with her, I'd have had to change the name though. "Kaycee" is so trailer-park. You just know that if you ever see "Kaycee" on a name tag, the words underneath are going to read "Wal-Mart Trainee."
    posted by aaron at 7:24 AM on May 21, 2001



    And I'm not saying I would switch places because I want to die. I don't. I'm just saying that, given the choice, I'd rather live a life of 19 years filled with love and enriching experiences, than live to 105 without such things.
    posted by aaron at 7:30 AM on May 21, 2001


    A coincidence (?): the high school girl's basketball team for Peabody-Burns high school is named the Lady Warriors.
    posted by user92371 at 7:31 AM on May 21, 2001


    Speaking as one of those gullible boggled bloggers (may I coin the term, "gullibloggled"?) who believed Kaycee was 100% real, I'd say "elaborate hoax" is too harsh a description. Debbie did say that there was a Kaycee, didn't she?

    A "primary" Kaycee, so to speak, whose life was blogged about, in conjunction with the other characters amalgamated into her online personality. But then, it's way past my bedtime, and I may be spouting sleepy-talk.

    Well, now that bwg is terminating the pages in question,will this drama now draw to a close? Or do we hunt down the pastor?
    posted by brownpau at 7:33 AM on May 21, 2001


    I just got off the phone with the post office. P.O. box 566 in Newton, Kansas -- the address published on Kaycee's Web site -- was rented by Debbie Swenson of Peabody, Kansas. It was closed in around March.
    posted by rcade at 7:36 AM on May 21, 2001 [1 favorite]


    Yes but Aaron, think of how many more elections you'd be able to vote GOP in if you lived to be 105! :)

    Sorry, this thread is getting pretty bizarre anyway, no?
    posted by FPN at 7:37 AM on May 21, 2001


    Cedar, again, no offense intended. I claim no "monopoly on insight". My experience is anecdotal, but I do deal with all types of people with all types of psychological problems on a daily basis, and there are those that can't handle going shopping while there are others who can function "normally" most of the time, but occassionally lose it. The latter type could easily continue an elaborate hoax like this. Also there is the pathological liar, but as you say this is a ride down the "amateur shrinkology" slope, so I'll leave it at that.
    posted by Outlawyr at 7:39 AM on May 21, 2001


    different photos showed Kaycee with different color eyes etc.

    she looks middle aged with fake green eyes


    FYI, on her page, audra lea says she has yellow (yes, yellow) eyes and usually wears blue contacts.
    posted by jpoulos at 7:41 AM on May 21, 2001


    What I like about the next thread is that it starts 'People are stupid...'

    Are all of you people for real? Seriously.. what is it with all of you?

    Trying to track down the 'perpetrators', analyzing web site links, code, pictures, e-mails..

    Accusing people of publicity stunts

    Thinking any of this is really, truly important

    Thinking that such a farce would be so hard to commit

    Trying to psycho-analyze someone or a group of someones who were able to con 'experienced' web-people, as well as the New York Times (ok, that second one probably wasn't too hard)

    Feeling hurt and betrayed. Ok, well, I guess I can give you the feeling part.. no business of me to tell you how you should feel.

    Christ. Get a freaking grip. I don't know John Styn, but I doubt he was 'in on it'. Since people actually talked to other people, you could probably assume there are a few people involved. I would place bets that it was a group of friends who got web-access and thought it would be fun.

    Who the fuck cares? Just because there was a mugging down the street, are you never going to walk on that corner ever again, even if its where you've bought your coffee for the past 5 years? Just because this was a huge 'violation' of trust.. I don't think it should have a (lasting, extended) chilling effect on trust on the web.

    Hey Derek - this would actually be a great part for your book - actually showing community. Only in a true community could you pull this off, and end up causing this kind of reaction. Explore that. It'd be a great case-study and an excellent read.

    Hey, look, we're all stupid at one time or another. Look at super star Ben Brown's Jennifer story. Though I thought his was much funnier. Hey - maybe Jennifer is Kaycee! (giggle)
    posted by rich at 7:42 AM on May 21, 2001


    Pretty amazing how much information authorities and pastors and suchlike are prepared to give to total strangers. I always thought V.I. Warshavsky was far-fetched in this respect, seeing how much information she was able to wheedle out of everybody. But it's entirely possible! Another edifying point to come out of this discussion...
    posted by schoolie at 7:45 AM on May 21, 2001 [2 favorites]


    [cedar]....what a masterful hoax this was. This is a marvel of social engineering and will go down in the annals of web history.

    I totally agree, and was wondering, has anyone archived 'living colours' or the Google cache's? Nice for posterity and research.
    posted by nonharmful at 7:45 AM on May 21, 2001


    Pretty amazing how much information authorities and pastors and suchlike are prepared to give to total strangers.

    Schoolie: As a former reporter, I can vouch for the ease with which most people reveal information to strangers who call them up with questions. Webloggers aren't the only people who get suckered by being too trusting.
    posted by rcade at 7:51 AM on May 21, 2001


    Wal-Mart Trainee

    Now that's better... ;-)
    posted by andrew cooke at 7:53 AM on May 21, 2001


    People will keep making wild & flimsy accusations until the real perpetrator is found. And unfortunately, the rule so far has been "guilty until proven innocent."

    For those who lost money or property, please contact the authorities if you haven't already. They can subpoena info about the PO box, trace posts & phone records, etc.

    Then again, it seems plenty of folks are enjoying playing sleuth--dragging the investigation into the real world might ruin the "fun" of speculating. hmm ...
    posted by whatnot at 7:54 AM on May 21, 2001


    Neither the woman who answered the telephone at the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin nor the one who answered at Baker Funeral Home were aware of anyone who had died recently of leukemia in the Peabody, Kansas area or of the recent death of any teenage girl.
    posted by NsJen at 8:02 AM on May 21, 2001


    Anybody know who this is? http://home.collegeclub.com/Tazwoman/
    Also read the profile for Tazwoman (Kaycee Nicole) I haven't seen references to these before.

    Yes, this is my first post to this site. I have been reading Kaycee and Debbie's blogs since Sept. I was sent the links to their sites from a cancer support group.

    I'm not sure what to think of all this, other than I should probably be doing something else :-)
    posted by wallflower at 8:16 AM on May 21, 2001


    What's a bummer is a day later, none of these questions can be answered. The answers don't lie on the web, so we'll never be able to come up with them on our own. And if the Debbie site comes down and bwg retreats, we'll definitely never know.
    posted by mathowie at 8:18 AM on May 21, 2001


    Okay. Let me see if I got this straight: So Debbie Swenson wrote about three separate people -- one with liver cancer, one with breast cancer, one with leukemia -- and from their lives created a pastiche of a ninteen-year-old girl with leukemia.

    At this stage, we still have no idea who those three people were. It is suspected that at least one is a family member, but we have no way of knowing for certain. We only know they existed at all on Debbie's say-so, which is certainly suspect at the moment.

    I, personally, am still hoping that if they were real, this was done with their knowledge. I'm crossing my fingers on that. I'd hate to think that someone would use someone else's life and death for their own ends. Yeah, that's a damned naive statement, I know it happens every day in other ways, but that's how I feel.

    The most heartbreaking thing about this is how *other* people with cancer or other chronic illnesses may be feeling right now. I work for a non-profit healthcare organization, and I know firsthand how helpful inspirational stories can be to other patients. Giving Debbie the benefit of the doubt, this may have been what she intended to begin with. But damn -- if I had cancer, and were taking comfort from the story of someone else with cancer, and to have them 1. die suddenly and 2. turn out not to be real to begin with? I'd be going nuts. That's a totally different level of involvement and pain right there.

    What the fuck was she thinking?!
    posted by metrocake at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2001


    "Seriously.. what is it with all of you?"

    Okay, you are being a poopy head.

    "none of these questions can be answered."

    Something tells me the Peabody Gazette will be running a story on this soon. I'm bookmarking that one.
    posted by y6y6y6 at 8:30 AM on May 21, 2001


    good find, wallflower. that is definitely the same girl. the picture of her in a crown is labeled "homecoming00" which would have been last october or november. which means it can't be "kaycee".
    posted by centrs at 8:39 AM on May 21, 2001


    NsJen, she wouldn't have. Apparently Kaycee didn't die of leukemia, correct? In BWG's words, it was an aneurysim.

    Also...on this:

    Anybody know who this is? http://home.collegeclub.com/Tazwoman/
    Also read the profile for Tazwoman (Kaycee Nicole) I haven't seen references to these before.


    I would definately say that the girl in those pictures is the *same* person used in the pic on the Kaycee geocities site, anyone agree?
    posted by caren at 8:40 AM on May 21, 2001


    wallflower posted this url: http://home.collegeclub.com/Tazwoman, and she's right, I don't believe we've seen this one before.

    Assuming this is "real" and not a red herring (hello Cloudmakers), it has five photos each of KuteBabe (aka "Kaycee") and Kute One (a guy) -- if you view source, the file names of the guy's photos all have the name Peter in them. Anyone know who Peter is?
    posted by lia at 8:47 AM on May 21, 2001


    Soooooo, has anyone tried to call Debbie Swenson yet?
    posted by MegoSteve at 9:00 AM on May 21, 2001


    Peter (Kute One) appears to be Peter Voutov. posted by rcade at 9:03 AM on May 21, 2001


    good find rcade, i read through his journal and he mentioned not hearing from his friend "kacee" in a while...
    posted by caren at 9:12 AM on May 21, 2001


    People, get a grip.

    Yes, y6y6y6, I'm a poopyhead.

    Since this was a hoax, how much information is actually true? Did the hoaxter just use Debbi Swenson's information?

    What if the people who did this were identity theives? Just some hackers who decided to pull a collective mind-fuck? You know, to pull this off the way it was done, more than one person had to be involved. For the length of time, they had time to refine their act. Maybe some things are spoofed (IP's and whatnot), maybe not.

    And this other girl in collegeclub.. does anyone know anything about her? Maybe they lifted her photos and she never knew.

    The point is, whoever did this was pretty organized, and if they were smart enough to pull it off for this long, I'm sure they were smart enough not to leave too many personal clues.

    My point is, leave the real life people alone. Stop calling funeral directors and pastors. Stop calling local newspapers and postmaster generals. Move the fuck on.
    posted by rich at 9:16 AM on May 21, 2001


    Hey Wallflower, you certainly picked a good time to de-lurk there didncha?
    posted by Jofus at 9:16 AM on May 21, 2001


    Also found that "Kutebabe" posted comments on his cam site...:)


    I seriously think it's time to start another thread if this is going to continue, this thing is becoming horrible to load. I can't imagine how dial-up people are feeling.
    posted by caren at 9:19 AM on May 21, 2001


    http://home.collegeclub.com/KCsCoolMom/allstar.html

    i haven't seen this url mentioned, either. where do you think she got these pictures?
    posted by phooey at 9:21 AM on May 21, 2001


    Move the fuck on.

    NO! The mob mentality must be satisfied! BLOOD! BLOOD! WE WANT BLOOD!
    posted by crunchland at 9:22 AM on May 21, 2001


    Someone went and signed up on CollegeClub.com and used the name "kaycee11" and then put their real name as "Kaycee Swenson" also 19 year old female, from OK. Hahah. Not only that, but "Kutebabe" has "kaycee11" listed as one of her friends...
    posted by caren at 9:28 AM on May 21, 2001


    To bring up a different subject, the idea of making friend or creating idols that are personable and interact with real people is not a new thing. The fact that we were not told that Kaycee was a semi-fictional character just happen to make this a little different from say Japan's Idol, "Kyoko Date". (Do a search anywhere, you'll get tons of info on her.)

    Having fictional characters that interact with us, without first questioning their authenticity is not that far off from the future. We can all understand the outpour of emotions that we are seeing in these two threads, but were this to have happened in another country that has accepted that it is okay to be infatuated with a fictional character (I mean, we never object to teenagers worshipping and writing and sending flowers and spending money on gifts for their popular idols), say...I don't know, a country that started the tamagochi fever and highly believable and lovable Digital Characters in video games...this may not have been such a big deal.

    Given, that suddenly, you are aware that anyone that you don't interact with in reallife, can potentially be an "artificial intelligence" or variations of. (I use AI VERY loosely.) This is something that could very well happen in the next decade. In fact, hasn't it already started?
    posted by margaretlam at 9:29 AM on May 21, 2001 [1 favorite]


    pained, caren. :)
    posted by centrs at 9:30 AM on May 21, 2001


    Soooooo, has anyone tried to call Debbie Swenson yet?

    Hell, has anyone tried to call KELLI/Kaycee Swenson yet?

    rich: If you don't like the thread, leave. You've made your point, it's been digested, people aren't going to agree with you on it. Move the fuck on.
    posted by aaron at 9:31 AM on May 21, 2001



    There ought to be a new thread with the express purpose of information sharing about who may be behind this hoax.

    I am one of those 'dialup people'

    but I also think it would be good to get an info-sharing thread going that stays away from chatting or wild speculation
    posted by FPN at 9:31 AM on May 21, 2001


    I was wondering how long it would take for someone to attach the phrase 'social engineering' to this situation, as it was (above all) a fairly masterful manipulation for some time.

    schoolie: Pretty amazing how much information authorities and pastors and suchlike are prepared to give to total strangers.
    Oh my dear schoolie, you would be quite amazed with what havoc could be wreaked with something as simple as your phone number. Most people are in the dark as to the fine subtleties that constitute social engineering. Therefore, they come from a position of simple human trust. If a question is phrased the right way, with the proper inflection and tone, you can damned near buy the farm for a nickel. *Especially* if the medium is not a face-to-face one, as is the telephone and our lovely little internet.

    Outlawyr: I suspect the pastor.
    Why the hell not?? The sky is falling and everyone else has had a finger waggled at them....


    MegoSteve: Soooooo, has anyone tried to call Debbie Swenson yet?
    I would suspect that someone in fact has, as early as yesterday. I would also suspect that she is no longer taking calls, whether or not she is the real perpetrator of the con....most especially if she is.
    posted by JettSuperior at 9:33 AM on May 21, 2001


    Move the fuck on.

    No way... this is way better than MTV.
    posted by Logboy at 9:33 AM on May 21, 2001


    Anyone know who Peter is?
    Peter (Kute One) appears to be Peter Voutov.

    Great. The witchhunt grows.
    posted by phichens at 9:33 AM on May 21, 2001


    " Move the fuck on."

    I see your point. In other words we need to stop asking questions and just quit thinking about this.

    We should leave any questions we have to the trained and certified professionals who are no doubt tracking down all this detail right now.

    Other people will deal with this and we should just wipe it from our minds.

    In other words, stop rocking the boat, stop asking questions, sit down, and shut up. We would all have been better if no one had started asking questions and the hoax had never been uncovered.

    And asking more questions at this point will only make things worse. We have no right to the truth and we're being very irresponsible to even think we do.

    " Move the fuck on."
    posted by y6y6y6 at 9:33 AM on May 21, 2001


    an email i just received from peter voutov:Hello Denise,

    I am a friend of Kaycee's but haven't spoken to her in months. She was sick
    with leukemia and her condition was stable (6 months ago). Her mom's name
    is Debbie, but I hope and pray that you're right about this being a hoax.
    I will contact some of her friends and will find out what's really
    happening. This is very disturbing news. Kaycee uses Tazwoman and
    Kutebabe as aliases... Both pages were created by the same person.

    Let me know if you find out anything else.

    Thanks,
    Peter
    posted by centrs at 9:38 AM on May 21, 2001


    Hey, do a profile search on collegeclub for KCsKewlMom, real name: Debbie Swenson. I think someone needs to call that phone number and see what happens...
    posted by caren at 9:40 AM on May 21, 2001


    The point is, whoever did this was pretty organized, and if they were smart enough to pull it off for this long, I'm sure they were smart enough not to leave too many personal clues.

    Yeah, the people involved are all supergeniuses. That's why it took me a single phone call to prove that Debbie Swenson rented the P.O. box she used to receive gifts and cards.

    I have been talking with Peter in e-mail -- he knows Kaycee the same way John and others do, through phone calls and e-mail. He never met her personally and may drop in on this discussion, since I told him about it.
    posted by rcade at 9:41 AM on May 21, 2001



    Damn, sorry about missing the closing tag.
    posted by phichens at 9:41 AM on May 21, 2001


    FPN: but I also think it would be good to get an info-sharing thread going that stays away from chatting or wild speculation

    Quite generally in a case like this, info-sharing and wild speculation are SYNONYMOUS.
    posted by JettSuperior at 9:44 AM on May 21, 2001


    Here's a new Kaycee thread.
    posted by rcade at 9:44 AM on May 21, 2001


    rich: There is only one postmaster general, at least within the United States. There are also U.S. assistant postmasters general. Notice the plural on postmasters, Mr. Smarty Pants.
    posted by raysmj at 9:47 AM on May 21, 2001


    End the flaming now, please, and take comments to the new thread.

    Oh, and Steven, brilliant post.
    posted by capt.crackpipe at 10:01 AM on May 21, 2001


    Ok, maybe I meant assistant postmaster generals.

    Oh, I think everyone is entitled to know 'the truth', and I don't think that anyone in the 'real world' is going to pay much attention and track this down in a profeesional vein - they're much too busy catching CEO's of Internet companies committing statutory nookie with 15 year olds.

    I doubt anyone else will 'deal with this'. But I'm just questioning the level of veracity it is being attacked with.

    I mean, has any real crime been committed. Oh, sure it was pretty immoral thing to do all around. No arguments there. And I don't think the people who did it were supergeniuses, just not particularly stupid. Well, stupid in the book sense of the word.

    People sent money and gifts.. well, if they weren't actively solicited, that's their own fault. People made connections.. well, there is no law against emotional fraud, so ah well. What are you people going to do if you actually track down a human being? Sic the hackers and phreakers on them? What if they deny that it is them? Assert they where unknowingly used?

    If its just satisfaction of knowing the whole truth.. well, that probably will never happen, anyway. But, sure it's understandable. But what I see is a lynch mob running to exact satisfaction for being emotional strung along for the past couple of years. Hey - I feel your pain.

    But in your zeal for the 'truth', don't run over other people's rights, lives, and emotions. Jumping to conclusions from an amature private detective routine will only lead to bad things.
    posted by rich at 10:11 AM on May 21, 2001


    Rich: I was only saying to you, Don't act superior to people. If you have geniune concerns, state them with some respect or at the very least a fair amount of restraint.
    posted by raysmj at 10:31 AM on May 21, 2001


    Keep thinking with your heart Alwin..... life will be a lot more enjoyable.

    Bunk.
    posted by rushmc at 11:02 AM on May 21, 2001


    has no one noticed that the posts made to that blog were *way* (and i mean *way*) too mature for an 18 year old? be realistic. seriously. are we all that naive? really?
    posted by miscdebris at 3:40 PM on May 21, 2001


    Readers getting this far: note that further posts to this thread mean a triple download of a 300K file. Be kind to Mathowie.

    Please either move to the new thread, or better yet, join a new Yahoo Group I set up for ongoing discussions of the Kaycee Nicole situation.
    posted by dhartung at 5:37 PM on May 21, 2001 [1 favorite]


    Hmm... I'm new here (if nothing else, all this has introduced me to MeFi - I'm impressed... unless you're all fake too ;-)

    But there are still a lot of questions unanswered, some of them rather worrying...

    Who wrote the poetry?

    'Debbie Swenson' said "The real *Kaycee* is the true author to her poetry". But... allegedly... there's a poem by 'Debbie' that's in pretty much the same style...

    Who is the girl in the photos here, here and here?

    Is this 'Kaycee Brandon', who as has been pointed out, looks similar, comes from the same area, has a similar name, and plays the same sport on a similar team?

    Whoever she is, does she know her photos have been used in these ways?

    Has it struck anyone yet that as well as the famous blogger with cancer, there was the basketball warrior, the collegeclub.com member, the other collegeclub.com member, and the contributor to the NY Times?

    Don't some of these predate the blog? Most people 'knew' this person through the blog, or through the detective work that exposed the blog as fake... but that wasn't the beginning of this, was it? At the very least, it certainly wasn't all there was to it while the fame and fortune were coming from that blog.

    This worries me, because it seems to undermine the assertions 'Debbie' has made that, even if it wasn't what most people thought, this was still all about three people that died from cancer....

    So do the Swensons even exist?

    IIRC, the only thing like proof of this is centrs' conversation with the pastor. I'm going to leave this puzzle to the end of this post, because I feel I need to qualify the doubts I have about it very heavily...

    But whether or not the 'Swennsons' existed... where did all the money go?

    'Debbie Swenson' said "if donations were made they were not made to me or any other person" - but read that carefully: it sidesteps the fact that, apparently, money was sent... and as 'Debbie' says later, "If you sent something it was passed on to the appropriate family".

    Is it just me who has the awful feeling that maybe what 'Debbie' said contains a lot of tricksy phrases? For instance, 'donations' were not 'made' to 'any... person', but things that were 'sent' were 'passed on' to the 'family'.... And what about "The last thing I would like to say is I'm sorry"? Should that be read 'is, I'm', or 'is that I'm'?

    And what about Mark Twain...?

    Now I hope that at least some of this is just unfounded paranoia, or the sort of semi-contradictory reportage that exists in real life... but even now, the only thing that seems clear about all this is that nothing's really actually clear even yet. And I get the growing sense that there's no truth to any of it, that the whole 'Swenson' thing, that it's all a very elaborate, very well-planned hoax - a hoax-within-a-hoax, in fact.

    The danger is that until these things are answered, we have to be careful about not pointing the finger at anyone... it's very easy to make mistakes, to read too much into the little inconsistencies that are the inevitable product of language.

    And that's especially true of what I'm about to say, because I'm sure I've missed something obvious.

    But I can't see it.

    Does the pastor exist?

    I can't see a contact number anywhere on any of the 'Swenson' sites or pages, and I've turned up zip on Google... so how did centrs get in touch with this man?

    centrs?

    If I'm wrong, I'm wrong - but for my own peace of mind, if nothing else... please point me to whatever it is that I've missed here.
    posted by n/a at 6:05 PM on May 21, 2001 [2 favorites]


    Erratum: I've posted a slightly modified version of that last post in the new thread... please answer it over there...
    posted by n/a at 6:30 PM on May 21, 2001


    LAST POST!
    posted by jcterminal at 3:57 PM on August 30, 2001 [1 favorite]


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