The Atlantic

How a Fake Baby Is Born

For years, women on the internet have been writing conspiracy theories about celebrity pregnancies. What sparks them?
Source: Geoff Kim

Art by Geoff Kim

“Why do some of these blogs refer to Benedict Cumberbatch’s children as … Pilo?” I ask, reading from a Tumblr post on my phone. On my first try, I pronounce it “peel-oh” and get a confused look in response, so I spell it out instead.

“Oh, pillow,” Patty laughs, once she realizes what I’m looking at. “That’s our joke. We call them Pillow One, Two, and Three.” She laughs again. Then she blushes, as she does each time something cracks her up but doesn’t register with me as funny. I first knew Patty as “Gatorfisch,” her username since 2013 on Tumblr, where she goes for photos of cute animals and discussions of liberal politics, among other things. She is 49, and has a 15-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old grandson. Her husband, she wrote to me a few days before we met in person, would not be allowing me to come into their home, in case I hacked his computer. (“Nothing personal,” she assured me—he deals with highly sensitive information at his job.)

So I’m sitting in a coffee shop near her house in Reno, Nevada, just a few days before the coronavirus started closing businesses like these. And I’m asking her this question because, for the past five years, Patty has been one of the most prolific and well-known Tumblr bloggers making the case that Benedict Cumberbatch’s wife, Sophie Hunter, is a criminal, who has been blackmailing him for years to stay in a sham marriage.

Patty works in the operations department of a mortgage company, but she hasn’t updated her LinkedIn page in years, because she doesn’t want people on Tumblr contacting her current employer. (I granted her request to use only her first name in this piece because, in the past, she’s received a threatening letter at her home address, and she says her personal information has been published online repeatedly.) Having spent her youth living in several southern states before moving to Nevada 20 years ago, she has a sugar-water southern accent that soaks normal conversation with charm but makes caustic accusations sound even more ominous. Such as when she tells me that she spotted cocaine stains on Hunter’s jumpsuit in a photo taken days after she “supposedly” gave

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