A bunch of amateur internet “sleuths” have once again targeted the wrong individual with extremely serious allegations, this time related to a cold case from 2009. It’s another shining example of how mob mentality continues to thrive in the digital age.
A creepy video titled “Hi Walter! I got a new gf today!” was posted on YouTube back in 2011. The short video featured a man named “Patrick” talking to the camera and addressing his “friend” Walter, explaining that he had gotten a new girlfriend, took her to the mall, and had a great day. The video ends with Patrick pointing the camera toward his “new girlfriend,” who is locked in a room, bound and gagged on the floor, and struggling to free herself.
There’s no denying that the video is weird and disturbing, but there’s also no denying that the man is very clearly acting out the scene in an over-the-top manner. The only part of the video that seems slightly genuine is the blurry image of a woman struggling on the floor, as we can’t make out what she’s saying and the video abruptly ends.
The clip sat dormant on its YouTube channel for years, drawing a few clicks here and there, with comments mentioning how creepy it was but nothing more. That is, until it appeared on a Reddit thread, where commenters suggested that the video might actually show a girl who had been missing since 2009. (The subsequent chatter between Reddit and Imgur users erroneously suggested the video was published in 2009 as well, though it was later confirmed by authorities to have been published in 2011.)
Kayla Berg was 15 when she disappeared after being dropped off at an abandoned house in 2009 in Antigo, Wisconsin, and that’s the last time anyone saw her. The woman in the video bears only a superficial resemblance to Berg—dark hair, light skin—and the low resolution of the camera and the angle at which it is shot makes it impossible for amateur viewers to determine anything conclusively.
Of course, that didn’t stop determined Imgur and Reddit posters from dissecting every detail, and eventually convincing themselves and one another that the man in the video was somehow responsible for Berg’s 2009 kidnapping. The mob mentality grew, and soon the threads were filled with pure vitriol for the anonymous video creator. That rage spilled over into social media, and the angry mob eventually found its way to YouTube, where insults, slander, and death threats began to pile up.
As the story began to go viral, news organizations took notice, including local Wisconsin stations who tracked down Kayla Berg’s mother, Hope Sprenger, and played the video for her. Berg’s mother said the video was “disturbing” and that the girl in the video “sounded like [Kayla].”
Seemingly encouraged by Sprenger’s comments, the online “investigation” continued to gain momentum, culminating in the Antigo Police Department announcing via Facebook that it had opened an investigation into the video tape, as had the FBI.
Once the real investigators got on the case, it didn’t take long for them to find the video’s creator and confirm that the woman in the video was not only safe and sound, but not related to the Berg case in any way. In fact, there’s a whole other YouTube account full of weird improv videos featuring the same guy, along with several other aspiring actors.