Catfishing, where people pretend to be someone else online in order to bait another person, became part of the mainstream thanks to Nev Schulman and Max Joseph's popular MTV documentary series and film.
But it doesn't just happen in the world of online dating. There are some catfishing cases that involve murder.
Schulman and Joseph first made a film in 2010, which told the story of how Schulman himself was the victim of a catfish scheme. It turned out that the woman he was communicating with was not who she said she was. In 2012, MTV ordered a series based on the concept, where the two help out other people who think they might be catfished. The show has been so successful that a seventh season aired earlier this year.
"I think people have this sense that on the Internet, you're not accountable for what you do," Schulman said in a 2013 interview with Teen Vogue. "You can say something nasty on someone's wall because they can't say anything back. Back in the day, if you called someone stupid to their face, they might punch you in the nose. That's something that's hard to regulate online."
Here's a look at eight Catfish murder cases.
MS-13 Gang Members Catfish Massachusetts Boy Later Murdered
Earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts announced 21-year-old Carlos Melara pleaded guilty to the 2015 murder of a 15-year-old boy. According to FOX News, Melara and two other members of the MS-13 street gang took part in the murder. The U.S. Attorney's office said they catfished the boy, convincing him he was talking to a girl.
"In reality, the Facebook account was being controlled by MS-13 members to lure in suspected gang rivals so that the gang could murder them," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
"On the day of the murder, Melara picked up the victim on a scooter pretending to be a friend of the girl that the victim was planning to meet for a date," the attorney's office said. "Melara drove the victim to Constitution Beach, where the other MS-13 members were waiting to kill him. Melara and the other MS-13 members took turns attacking and stabbing the victim to death."
The name of the victim was not released.
Melara will be sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison and can be deported after serving his sentence.prevnext
Woman Pretends to Be a CIA Agent, Convinces Her Father to Kill Cyberbullies
In a bizarre case chronicled on 20/20, Jenelle Potter convinced her father to kill a couple. In 2005, Potter moved to Mountain City, Tennessee with her parents. She had trouble making friends and spent most of her life on social media since she had to stay home because of her health problems, notes In Touch Weekly.
However, one day when she picked up her prescriptions, she befriended clerk Tracy Freenwell. He introduced her to his friends, including his brother, Billy Payne, and a cousin, Jamie Curd. Greenwell said Potter fell in love with Curd, and had a relationship without Potter's family knowing.
But as her life in the real world was looking up, Billie Jean Hayworth, Payne's girlfriend and mother of his son, began harassing Potter on Facebook.
On Jan. 31, 2012, Payne and Hayworh were found murdered. Potter's father said the CIA told him to carry out the murders. It turned out that Potter was pretending to be a CIA agent and catfishing her father. Potter and her mother were both found guilty of murder. Her father took a plea deal to spend 25 years in prison.prevnext
46-Year-Old Man Has a Relationship With Teen and Kills a Co-Worker
In 2005, 46-year-old Thomas Montgomery pretended to be a 18-year-old, even though he was married and had two children. He started a conversation with an 18-year-old girl, and decided to pretend to be her age. He never thought they would meet, but their relationship turned romantic. The girl, named Jessi, even sent him provocative photos. He responded by sending her 30-year-old photos of himself. Later, he told 20/20 that his wife found out about the conversations and sent Jessi a real photo of their family.
Jessi then ended the relationship, but then she found one of Montgomery's co-workers, 22-year-old Brian Barrett and started a relationship with him. Barrett was later murdered, and Montgomery was given a 20-year jail sentence.
Later, police found out that Jessi was actually a middle-aged mom named Mary Shieler who was catfishing both Barrett and Montgomery. Although she was not charged with a crime, her husband divorced her. Her daughter, the real Jessi, no longer speaks to her.prevnext
Alabama Aunt Finds out Her Niece Is Plotting Her Murder
Patra Williams of Alabama decided to catfish her 22-year-old niece, Marissa Williams, to keep tabs on her, reports The Daily Mail. Williams used the name "Tre 'Topdog' Ellis" to befriend Marissa. During their conversations, Marissa said she would pay Topdog to kill her Williams. Marissa was arrested for solicitation for murder, but escaped custody while on probation.
"I still wrestle with the thought of being deceptive towards her. But it was a necessarily evil," Williams said on My Online Nightmare.prevnext
U.K. McDonald's Worker Pretends to be Singer to Lure Teen Girl from America
In 2011, David Russell, a then-20-year-old man who worked at a McDonald's in the U.K., lured a 19-year-old girl from California to the U.K. while pretending to be Bring Me The Horizon singer Oli Sykes. According to prosecutors, he lured the girl to a forest blindfolded and cut her neck. Thankfully the girl survived. Russell was sentenced to a minimum of 17 and a half years in prison.prevnext
California Man Gets Life in Prison for Luring Men Using the Image of a Beautiful Woman on Facebook
In 2013, 19-year-old Manuel Edmundo Guzman Jr. of San Jacinto, California was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of 23-year-old Eddie Leal, reports the Press-Enterprise.
Guzman used a fake Facebook page named "Rebecca," along with the image of a beautiful woman. He used the page to lure men to parks and rob them to fund his drug habit. In 2011, one of these meetings when awry. Leal's family said he genuinely thought he was going to meet the woman, but instead, Guzman met him and killed him. The judge said this was a "thrill kill" for Guzman.
"This is one of the most disturbing trials this court has had to preside over. In every other case where violence was inflicted upon a victim, there was at least a reason," Judge Michael B. Donner said. "Here, it was a random victim and this was essentially a thrill kill."
Three other men responded to the "Rebecca" profile, but they did not agree to meet because Guzman did not give them a phone number.prevnext
19-Year-Old Builds a Fake Circle of Friends Before Killing a 19-Year-Old Girl
In 2012, 19-year-old British man Tony Bushby was sentenced to 25 years without parole for the murder of 19-year-old Catherine "Katie" Wynter. Prosecutors said Bushby created a fake circle of friends to gain Winter's trust. Investigators discovered that the four fictitious "friends" were all created by Bushby because the same IP address was linked to them, reports the BBC.
Eventually, Bushby became Wynter's boyfriend.
One day, he went to Wynter's house and stabbed her while she was babysitting his niece and nephew.
"What in his eyes was a game to him, grooming her, controlling her," Catherine's mother said in court, reports InTouch. "He is evil and we will never forgive him."prevnext
Texas Man Uses a Fake Facebook Account to Lure Man, Then Kills Him
In December 2013, then-22-year-old Alejandro Garcia Gallegos used a face Facebook account to lure 19-year-old Andres Chavez. Police said he beat Chavez and slit his throat.2comments
After the murder, Gallegos' sister told police her brother might be responsible for Chavez's death. She told police Gallegos thought Chavez planned to rape her. He decided to create a fake Facebook page of a woman named "Monica" to stop Chavez, reports KLTV.
In 2015, Gallegos was sentenced to 30 years in prison.prev