Kaycee Nicole was a nineteen-year-old girl from Kansas dying of cancer. Or so believed the thousands of people who visited her website on which she kept a diary of her fight against leukemia.
For over a year Kaycee Nicole had added updates to her diary, letting people know about the ups and downs of her struggle with the disease, about her hope as the cancer went into remission, and about her fear as it reappeared. Kaycee's mother, Debbie, maintained a companion journal in which she discussed what it was like caring for a child with cancer. Many people grew extremely close to Kaycee. They communicated with her via e-mail, chatted with her in online chatrooms, and some even phoned her.
Then on May 15, 2001 Kaycee Nicole died of a brain aneurysm. Her online friends were distraught. They sought for ways to express their sorrow. They wanted to send gifts to her family. Some even wanted to attend her funeral. And that's when things began to get suspicious.
Kaycee's mother refused to provide anyone with information about where the funeral was being held or where to send gifts. This prompted a group of individuals who participated in the online community Metafilter, and who called themselves the 'ScoobyDoos,' to find out what was going on. What they discovered was disturbing. Kaycee's death had not been recorded by any obituary they could locate. Nor could anyone remember ever having met Kaycee in person. They began to wonder if Kaycee actually existed.
Their fears were confirmed a few days later when Debbie Swenson, a forty-year-old woman from Kansas, confessed that she had invented Kaycee and written all the diary entries herself. The photos of Kaycee that appeared on the site were simply pictures of a neighbor, used without the neighbor's knowledge. Whenever anyone had thought that they were e-mailing Kaycee or instant messaging with her, it was actually Debbie they were communicating with. Debbie did not reveal who had posed as Kaycee for the phone calls.
Debbie Swenson remained unrepentant and evasive in her confessions, claiming that Kaycee was real, in a way, because the character of Kaycee was a composite of a number of cancer victims whom Debbie had known. She added that she hadn't realized so many people were reading the diary.
This hardly satisfied the thousands of people who felt their trust had been abused. The FBI even looked into the case, but determined that because Debbie Swenson hadn't gained money from the hoax (besides a few small gifts and the use of webspace donated by a sympathetic man in Hong Kong) she hadn't actually committed a prosecutable crime.