Why Do People Catfish?

Catfishing is the act of online deception, whereby the deceiver invents and assumes a fake online identity in order to lure the interaction and attention of unsuspecting internet users. This nefarious activity can be motivated by love, revenge, jealousy or, as this article explores, for many other reasons.

Today we will look at five of the darkest catfishing stories to understand why they did it.

Number One – Janelle Potter

In 2012, when a CIA agent became involved in an online feud marked by jealousy and lust, things were about to take a strange and brutal twist.

30-year-old Jenelle Potter, who lived with her parents, led a sheltered and lonely existence, and due to health conditions was unable to lead a normal life for a woman of her age. She did have a boyfriend, but she was forced to keep this relationship a secret from her overbearing parents. To compensate for this, Jenelle lived much of her life though social media, where anonymous trolls insulted, belittled and even threatened to rape and assault her.

phones being usedJenelle suspected that these anonymous messages were being sent by two of her former Facebook friends, young couple Billy Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth. This Facebook feud, which had been a long-term affair, began when Hayworth suspected that Jenelle was attracted to her boyfriend Payne. At this point, a CIA agent, who communicated online simply by the name of Chris, became involved.

He claimed that he wanted to help Jenelle, and kept in regular contact with her and her overprotective parents. Chris knew a great deal about the personal lives of all three and seemed very aware of details, proving his involvement in the feud. In some of his emails, Chris insisted that Payne and Hayworth, whom he had allegedly been monitoring, were attempting to kill Jenelle. As these emails continued to build, Jenelle’s father became angry and desperate – he vowed to help his daughter.


When Payne and Hayworth were found dead in their Tennessee home, he was the number one suspect. The couple were found with fatal gunshot wounds to the head. Payne’s throat had also been slashed, and Hayworth was found cradling her 7-month-old child, who survived the ordeal unharmed.

Jenelle’s father later confessed to murder. Investigators, after searching the computer of the Potter family, discovered that CIA agent Chris did not exist – and that all emails from this stranger were actually sent by Jenelle herself, to convince her family she was in danger.

She fed hers and her parents’ delusions to avenge Payne for her alleged unrequited love. Although she did not pull the trigger herself, Jenelle was charged with first-degree murder, along with her father and mother. Jenelle’s ‘secret’ boyfriend, who is believed to have assisted Jenelle’s father in the crime, was also charged and sentenced to 25 years.

Jenelle denies sending any of the emails, maintaining that she wasn’t playing the part of Chris. Prosecutors believe that Jenelle intentionally manipulated her parents into believing that Payne and Hayworth needed to be killed.

Number 2 – Melissa Williams

In 2014, 19-year-old Marissa Williams, who lived in Alabama with her aunt, had a dangerous habit of befriending strangers online and inviting them to her home.

When her aunt criticised her for this behaviour, Marissa blocked her on Facebook, meaning that her aunt was no longer able to track or monitor her online. Marissa, unaffected by her aunt’s concerns, continued to befriend people online, and soon began talking regularly to a user called Tre ‘Topdog’ Ellis.

During their first conversation, Marissa invited him to come to her home to get drunk and offered him sex, if he’d pay her $50 phone bill. He didn’t accept her invitation, but the pair continued to talk. Over the next few days, Marissa confided in Tre, and told him all about her problems with her aunt. She eventually asked Tre to rescue her from her family, chillingly telling him that he could shoot and kill her aunt if she got in the way.

Over time, these plans became more complex and increasingly ruthless and cruel. Marissa asked Tre to kill her aunt and her partner, her cousin and their family dog. She also asked Tre to bring a getaway car for a quick escape. What Marissa didn’t know was that Tre was fake.

Stranger danger

the account had actually been created by her aunt, who was hoping to teach Marissa a lesson about stranger danger. When this lesson wasn’t heeded, and when Marissa’s communications with the fictional Tre became more sinister and dangerous, her aunt became distressed. She reported these conversations to authorities, who subsequently charged Marissa with solicitation of murder.

After her arrest, Marissa apologised and claimed that she had no real intention of following through with her plans.

Number Three – Brian Hile

When 29-year-old Brian Hile began a two-year-long online relationship with Tiffany Watkins, the two would send explicit pictures and chat online. Hile became besotted with Watkins, and would send, graphic nudes. After talking for over a year, Hile became frustrated that the two hadn’t met so he decided to track his girlfriend down.

angry manAfter a lengthy online search, he discovered that these images had actually been sent by a gay man who lived in South Africa, and that Watkins herself had absolutely no knowledge of any of these interactions. Watkins did not know either the man who had been sharing her images or Hile himself.

Hile, who lived with his grandmother at the time, became furious that his lover wasn’t real, and he’d been sending lewd images to a fake profile. He allegedly told his grandmother ”Grandma, it’s a gay! I hate gay guys!” He then concocted a plan to kill the hoaxer along with Watkins and her boyfriend, despite the other two not being involved at all.


Hile boarded a bus from Michigan to California with the intention of murdering Watkins and her partner. Hile’s brother contacted police, he and his family were suspicious that Hile had plans to murder those who he felt had wronged him. Hile was found and arrested only a mile away from the home of Watkins.

Later in the investigation, a notebook was found, in which Hile had written details about his plans. One section coldly listed weapons and tools which he planned to use, including rope, duct tape, chloroform, mace, a knife, and a trench coat. The notebook also stated that he wanted to learn to pick locks and contained his would-be victims addresses, phone numbers, and even their favorite restaurant.

This personal information was gathered by Hile after he managed to hack into Watkins email account. In 2013, Hile was found guilty of interstate stalking with the intent to kill, injure, or harass and was ordered to serve five years in prison.

Number Four – Tallhotblond

In 2005, Jessi Shieler began circulating provocative pictures of herself online in an attempt to attract young men. Under the alias of ‘tallhotblond’, she would talk to men online, and had a catalogue of alluring pictures in order to tempt those with whom she was chatting.

sniperOver time, one particular relationship developed with a man named ‘marinesniper’, who was soon bound for duty in Iraq. The two communicated via explicit messages for over a year. It seemed that the two teenagers had found a fulfilling mutual love.

However, the face behind ‘marinesniper’ was not who he seemed. The account was actually owned by Thomas Montgomery, a middle aged man with a dead-end job and miserable marriage. When his wife discovered a stash of photos, notes, and womens underwear, she was furious, and wrote to Jessi to expose the real identity of her apparent lover.


Montgomery later told reporters that the online relationship with Jessi had become more real to him than life. Notes which he’d written to himself indicated that he was losing touch with reality, and his online persona was becoming the most important part of his life. After finding out, Jessi was furious that the relationship had been called off, and planned her revenge by starting another online love affair with a colleague of Montgomery, 22-year-old Brian Barrett.

When this affair became known to Montgomery, he became jealous of Barrett, particularly amid claims that Barrett had been offered Jessi’s virginity. During this period, Montgomery and Jessi continued to chat online, which only seemed to exacerbate Montgomery’s rage. At one point, he told her that Brian Barrett will pay in blood.

hearing voicesOne night, after leaving work, Barrett was killed by the jealous Montgomery with a sniper rifle. Montgomery was sentenced to twenty years for the murder. But the deception doesn’t end there. After all of this occurred, it became clear to investigators that Jessi knew absolutely nothing about any of these relationships or exchanges. The ‘talhotblond’ account had in fact been created and managed by Mary Shieler, Jessi’s very own mother.


Mary had secretly been sharing these images, underwear, details, and notes without the knowledge of her daughter and had been conducting these lewd and lascivious online interactions while playing the part of her young and attractive child. Mary could not be charged for her responsibility in any of this ordeal, as she was found to have broken no law. However, she did not come out unscathed: after everything became clear, her husband filed for divorce, and she now speaks to neither him nor her daughter.

Number 5 -14 year old girl ‘Catfished’

In September of 2013, a 14 year old girl, was contacted online, by what she believed was a 16 year old boy. The 2 quickly became friends, exchanged numbers, and began texting each other and talking daily.

After a couple of weeks, the pair began calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend, even though they had never actually met in real life. The young girl was asked by her online boyfriend to send him sexually explicit photos. She refused at first, but soon gave in. After dating for a couple of months, The girl decided that she had had enough and told her boyfriend that she wanted to break up because all he could think about was sex.

blank expressionThe teenager didn’t take the breakup well, and told the girl that he would send the explicit photographs to her father, to get back at her. The 14 year old girl was understandably distraught by this and believed that her life was over. Soon after the break up, the girl received a text message from her ex’s mother, who claimed that her teenage son had taken his own life.

Dark Turn

To make things worse, after hearing this shocking news, the young girls father revealed that he had received the nude pictures her. The story took a very dark turn when the father told her that he liked the nude pictures and began to sexually abuse her. After around a year, the abuse came to an abrupt end after the girl went to the school nurse and told her about what was happening. The nurse reported it to the police and the 41 year old, who also can’t be named, was arrested and charged for his disturbing crimes.

After tracking the IP address, Investigators soon uncovered that the girls 16 year old boyfriend, was actually her own father the whole time, and the entire relationship was a lie. The young girl’s father faces up to 250 years in prison.

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