Conspiracy Monday has been pre-empted by Kaycee Nicole Redux. But this time, the Sick Teenager Hoax is even more disturbing than usual…
This time, the perp presented herself as a sweet 15-year-old Idaho cancer patient named Jonathan Jay White. Jonathan was diagnosed with brain cancer in April 2008, and like Kaycee Nicole he soon attracted an online following with his funny, optimistic, brave musings. He had a blog and a Twitter feed, was featured on other cancer-related blogs, and even chatted online with his hero, Lance Armstrong. Tony Hawks sent him a signed skateboard, Kenny Chesney a signed guitar. Supporters established a fund to help Jonathan’s single father pay for his brain surgery, scheduled for last week at an Arizona hospital.
Like Tony Johnson, Jonathan had that beguiling combination of worldly smarts and refreshing innocence. For example, though he aspired to be a doctor and an athlete, he freely admitted to being a Miley Cyrus fan. Which maybe should have raised a red flag.
Gena Solar developed a special bond with Jonathan. A cancer survivor and campaigner for Lance Armstrong’s foundation, Livestrong, she wanted to be with Jonathan and his father after the surgery. She was all prepped to fly to Arizona when an email from a woman she had never met informed her that not only was Jonathan’s cancer not real, Jonathan was not real.
Sheriff’s officers in Bonneville County, Idaho, soon served a search warrant on the home of an Amman resident named Melissa Ann Rice. The 24-year-old woman was to be charged with grand theft by fraud, but couldn’t be found. At least not alive. Last Wednesday her body was found in her car, parked in a remote area near Idaho Falls. Cause of death has not been released, but it was reportedly suicide. Investigators found a copious amount of evidence in her home, including the signed skateboard and guitar sent to Jonathan.
As always, the motive for this hoax is probably more complex and messed-up than we can ever imagine. It wasn’t strictly financial, since Rice couldn’t actually access the treatment fund without launching a hoax on the scale of the Priory of Sion. Clearly, she couldn’t do that on her timeline. She would have had to cough up a desperately ill teenager and his father, with proof of existence, in a matter of days.
There’s the possibility of a factitious disorder like Munchausen Syndrome, also a possibility in the case of Vicki Fraginals/Tony Johnson.
My hunch, though, is that the Jonathan identity filled some emotional and creative blanks in the life of Melissa Rice, just as J.T. LeRoy did for Laura Albert. We can expect to see a few more of these Imaginary Sick Teenagers, fake dead babies, and even serial teen imposters.
In this case, we have three distinct victims: The cancer survivors who reached out to Jonathan, the young woman who was destroyed by her own loneliness and imagination, and all the child cancer patients in need who will not receive as much support as Jonathan did because so many people have been burned by these hoaxes.