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The Most Famous Fake Women in History

Manti Te'o isn't the first person to invent (or, have invented for him) a lady. Here are five other women who never existed

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Image: Neon Tommy

The internet is freaking out right now about how Manti Te’o, star Notre Dame football player, either made up or was hoaxed by a fake girlfriend. The story is confusing, and we’ll let other people sort that out. But let it be known that Te’o isn’t the first person to invent (or have invented for him) a lady. Here are five other women who never existed.

Allegra Coleman is a fake supermodel, invented by a journalist named Martha Sherrill, writing a parody of celebrity profiles. She posed on the cover of Esquire (actually, Ali Larter posed, under Allegra’s name) next to the words “Dream Girl.” Salon wrote of the incident in 1996:

Coleman, Sherrill suggests, has a “simple, irresistible vulgarity” that Gwyneth Paltrow and Matthew McConaughey can never match; she’s “one giant ka-boom of a girl.” Her fans include Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci, Andrew Dice Clay — and even new-age faith healer Deepak Chopra. “She is without blind vanities,” Chopra tells Esquire. “Her nature is spongy and luminescent.”

And fictional. Yes, Allegra Coleman is altogether imaginary — a dreamy creature cooked up by writer Martha Sherrill and “played” by model Ali Larter in the sometimes-doctored photos that accompany the piece. It’s a wonderful parody of celebrity puff profiles — and one that’s reportedly garnered Larter herself more than a few calls from morning TV shows and others who want to make her a star in the real world.

Aimi Eguchi was announced as the seventh member of the Japanese pop group AKB48. Except that really, she’s a CGI composite of all the existing (real) six members. Her addition to the group was announced in Japanese magazines, and she reportedly posed for Japanese Playboy. But some things seemed fishy, and the band’s fans started asking questions about just who Aimi Eguchi was. Eventually, the truth emerged that she wasn’t a person at all:

This past Sunday, Ezaki Glico, the candy company which aired the commercial, confirmed what many of AKB 48’s fans had come to suspect: Aimi Eguchi wasn’t real. The new group member, it turns out, was a computer-generated composite of the real band members. Her pretty face was actually made up of the “best features” of six other members: her eyes, nose, mouth, hair/body, face outline and eyebrows were not flesh-and-blood, but cut-and-paste.

Lucy Ramirez supposedly gave former National Guard officer Bill Burkett documents that disputed former president George W. Bush’s service in the military. The paper sparked a “60 Minutes” documentary and tons of stories questioning just what President Bush did in the military. But when questions arose about who Ramirez was and whether the documents were real, no one could find her again. The Weekly Standard writes:

Where did the documents come from? We are told Bill Burkett informed CBS that a woman named “Lucy Ramirez” arranged a drop of the documents to him. We are also told that Burkett declined to cooperate with the panel. And that’s that. But what of Lucy Ramirez? Who is she? What was her role? Does she even exist? We don’t know. Ramirez is referenced seven times (on pages 35, 210, and 211). Here is the report’s final mention of her: “ sent personnel into the field to attempt to find Ramirez and thus possibly to confirm the new account. This effort proved unsuccessful.” Exit Lucy Ramirez, stage left.

Kaycee Nicole was a teenager with terminal leukemia (hey, Te’o, sound familiar?) who found solace on internet websites and chat rooms. She died on May 14th, 2001, and support poured in over the internet. Except that Kaycee Nicole was actually Debbie Swenson, a middle aged mother in Oklahoma, who used the profile to blog about leukemia, life, death, and surviving. The New York Times writes:

For nearly a year, thousands of people went to the site to follow her travails. Many came to feel as if they knew her, and a few talked with her regularly on the phone. Some sent her gifts. Others with cancer spoke of her as an inspiration. On May 15, when Kaycee’s online followers went to her Weblog, they found a small image of a rose, accompanied by an announcement of her death:

“Thank you for the love, the joy, the laughter and the tears. We shall love you always and forever.”

After Swenson confessed, many who had followed Kaycee online, were outraged. She had to hire a lawyer due to the number of angry phone calls that poured in. Here’s the Times again:

Nevertheless, Ms. Swenson said on Tuesday that she believed the Kaycee character had been more helpful than harmful. “A lot of people have problems,” she said. “I know I helped a lot of people in a lot of different ways.”

She could be right. So compelling was Ms. Swenson’s creation that powerful online connections were made among those who believed in the Kaycee persona and among those who pulled it apart.

Tokyo Rose was a Japanse radio personality who, according to the FBI, “tried to demoralize American soldiers and sailors during the war by highlighting their hardships and sacrifices.” After the war, two journalists tried to find the real Tokyo Rose, whose radio broadcasts mocked American troops.

Through searching, they found a woman named Iva Ikuko Toguri d’Aquino, who claimed to be Tokyo Rose. The problem is that that she wasn’t. The FBI file says:

The problem for Aquino, though, was that “Tokyo Rose” was not an actual person, but the fabricated name given by soldiers to a series of American-speaking women who made propaganda broadcasts under different aliases. As a result of her interview with the two reporters, Aquino came to be seen by the public—though not by Army and FBI investigators—as the mythical protagonist “Tokyo Rose.” This popular image defined her in the public mind of the post-war period and continues to color debate about her role in World War II today.

Aquino was, however, tried and convicted of treason on September 29th 1949.

Know of other fabricated women in history? Tell us in the comments.

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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