Paula Bonhomme was seduced with messages and emails from the imaginary fireman she met on TV series 'Deadwood' chat rooms in 2005.
The pair lavished each other with gifts before Bonhomme ended her marriage after planning to move with her new 'love'. But Bonhomme was devastated when she was informed that 'Jesse Jubilee James' had died of liver cancer in 2006.
Her stunned friends later discovered that the imaginary fireman was allegedly concocted by Janna St. James, a middle aged woman in Chicago, Illinois.
Bonhommme filed a lawsuit that was moved to Kane County, Illinois, where in December 2009 a judge dismissed her complaint.
But after months of legal wrangling an appeals court last month reinstated Bonhomme's fraudulent misrepresentation claim after rejecting the defence attorney's argument that the alleged hoax could be classed as fiction.
The appeals court was told how Bonhomme had been looking at message boards when she began flirting with the character. The couple spoke almost every day on the phone, with St. James being said to have used a high-tech voice altering device to sound like a man.
The pair had never met in person but Bonhomme left her marriage and was set to leave her home in Los Angeles, California, to be with her online 'boyfriend' in Colorado.
From her suburban home, St James had created a complex web of characters that were all entwined in the fireman's life. They included Pavlo Quietao, an Argentine friend, Krista, James' jealous ex-wife, Cakey, a rancher friend and even Rhys, James' young son. James was described as being a llama rancher with a love of words, and a rugged fireman who loved to knit but also suffered with bi-polar disorder. 'He' told Bonhomme that he had a six-year-old son and even sent a hand-drawn picture of a mermaid claiming to be from the child.
St James also sent gifts that were supposed to be from the mystery man. They included a rubber duck with a fireman hat, a lock of hair and a flattened quarter he'd stuck on the train tracks as a kid. Later she sent a carving knife said to have been melted in a fire and wood from a tree that had the initials 'JJJ' carved in, which St. James had said was salvaged from a fire that the man had extinguished. Bonhomme responded with her own gifts for 'James' and his family. They included a dog for his son.
Before the alleged con ended, St. James wrote Bonhomme a poem saying she was thankful of the romance between her and the imaginary fireman.
She wrote that she was grateful for 'the residual of that love, from which I now benefit.'
A short time later in 2006 Bonhomme was told that 'James' had died of liver cancer, having requested that nobody was present at his death.
'You all have temples within you,' he is said to have written in a last note. 'Go there if you want to honour me.'
The note, written on hotel paper, continued: 'I don't want to go. I don't want to die. I'm not ready. Not now. Not when I'm so close to being whole. So since everybody has always encouraged me to be selfish in my life I chose to die in secret. I know even if nobody else can understand, you can.'
An email from another of St James' characters, the fireman's son, stated: 'My daddy really died. I still cry every day and you will … it's okay to do that. We miss my daddy and your dog.'
St. James had been in constant communication with Bonhomme by posing as the fireman's friends. After the 'boyfriend's' death the pair grew closer. St. James arranged to meet the heartbroken woman and the pair traveled to New Mexico where they went on emotional visits to the fireman's imaginary haunts. But several months after the fireman's 'death' Bonhomme was told the truth about the relationship the day after St. James had visited her house.
Her friends confronted St. James who admitted putting Bonhomme through an 'emotional wringer' and the video was posted on YouTube. 'Who does that?' Bonhomme said, according to the Chicago Tribune. 'When you take it all apart and look at it, oh, you feel like such an idiot. … But when it's unspooled on you tiny bit by tiny bit and mixed in with reality, how do you even know where the lie begins?'
The court said that the fraud claim, which is usually applied to business, rested on an 'almost-two-year masquerade of false statements.' Daliah Saper, Bonhomme's Chicago attorney, said the ability to use the legal remedy for personal situations was a 'beautiful new tool'.
St James is reported to have written a letter to one of Bonhomme's friends after the hoax ended. 'I wanted nothing from her. I only wanted to be helpful,' the note is understood to have read. '(From) Janna, content with who and what I am.'
St. James' attorney claims that she should not be punished in court. She wrote in court papers: 'The concepts of falsity and material fact do not apply in the context of fiction because fiction does not purport to represent reality.'
GOOD FOR BONHOMME FOR GOING AFTER THIS WOMAN - SOUNDS A LOT LIKE THIS HOAXER (click here)