Fake identities: Manti Te'o scandal and 6 other Internet hoaxes

2. J.S. Dirr: A long-lived lie

  • close
    While only some Internet hoaxes are exposed, it seems that they are common on the Web. The perpetrators behind them often assume fake identities and trick people into believing the elaborate stories and characters they create.
    Jake Turcotte/CSMonitor
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption

The story of J.S. Dirr and his family's battle against cancer is one of the longest-running, most elaborate Internet hoaxes.

Over the course of 11 years, J.S. Dirr gained a following on online social network as a Canadian cop with 11 children, including a cancer-stricken child many knew as "Warrior Eli," according to Gawker. But after his wife, "Dana Dirr," suddenly died in a car accident, J.S. Dirr was exposed as a fictitious character created by 22-year-old Emily Dirr, a medical student in Ohio.

J.S. Dirr started out on the social networks Yafro (“Yet Another Friendster Rip-Off”) and Xanga in the mid-2000s. He was known as a member of the Canadian Royal Mount Police and a part of a K9 unit. His Xanga blog gained attention as he wrote about the stabbing of his twin brother, his relationship with his other siblings, his sexual encounters with multiple women, and his 11 children.

J.S. Dirr and his wife also grew popular on Facebook, Gawker says. In 2008, two years after J.S. Dirr’s fictional son Eli was born and diagnosed with leukemia, he married Dana Dirr. The two set up a “Warrior Eli” Facebook page, which documented the boy’s battle with cancer. They also set up pages on CaringBridge and the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation website.

The Facebook page received up to 6,000 likes while it was up (most of them after Dana's reported accident). ALSF received thousands in donations on behalf of the Dirrs. Those who donated received a “Warrior Eli” bracelet from an address in Rootstown, OH (J.S. Dirr said his sister, Emily, would send out the bracelets so he could avoid shipping across the Canadian border.)

Gawker says that throughout J.S. Dirr's existence, Emily Dirr is believed to have juggled more than 70 fake accounts. She made several real online friends under the guise of J.S. Dirr and even maintained an online relationship with a married woman from Florida. But her elaborate story came took a final turn after she killed off Dana Dirr.

On May 13, J.S. Dirr announced that his wife, who was 35 weeks pregnant, was in a car accident. The doctors could not save her, but they managed to deliver the baby (J.S. Dirr’s 11th child). 

The Warrior Eli Hoax Blog explains that supporters were asked to donate to ALSF in memory of Dana. In less than a day, supporters exceeded the family’s goal of $1,000. The “Warrior Eli” page was then deleted, and the profiles of J.S. and Dana Dirr became private. Supporters grew suspicious and began doing some research. They found the Dirr family’s Facebook photos on other people's blogs and websites and the packages from the so-called sister, Emily Dirr.

Blogger Taryn Wright told Gawker that she e-mailed Emily Dirr about the hoax, threatening to expose her. She confessed and apologized in a statement: “I am so deeply sorry for all of the pain I have caused everyone. It was never my intention to do so. This all started 11 years ago when I was a bored 11-year-old kid looking for an escape from the pain and heartache I saw in my own family. It started almost as a fiction writing, but the more time I spent escaping to it, the more ‘real’ it became.”

2 of 7