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American Football: Solved - the case of the girlfriend who never was


As mysteries go, the one involving the Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and his "dead" girlfriend takes some beating. Yesterday, like the next chapter in a detective novel, it unveiled another twist which will only serve to ratchet up the interest in this bizarre story.

It began as a tale of bravery in the face of grief, as media outlets broke the tear-jerking news that Te'o had shrugged off the heartbreak of losing his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, to leukaemia just hours after the death of his grandmother to play the game of his life and lead his college team Notre Dame to a crucial 20-3 win over Michigan State last autumn.

But the tears of sympathy and admiration had hardly dried when Deadspin.com reported that not only did his girlfriend not die but, in fact, she had never existed.

The death of the grandmother was true, but there were no records of the girlfriend's birth or death, or her supposed attendance at Stanford University. As the 21-year-old's story unravelled, an alternative theory grew, that Te'o had concocted a hoax to enhance his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy for the outstanding player in college football.

Te'o denied this, yet he did finally admit that he had never met the girlfriend, but that he believed he was in a relationship with a woman he had met online, regularly Skyping her though never seen her face because the picture was always blocked. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her," said Te'o.

So what was going on? Yesterday, in an off-camera interview with ESPN, Te'o said Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance from California he had first met in November, had contacted him to confess to setting him up – and presumably providing someone to speak to Te'o on the phone in the guise of Lennay Kekua, the girlfriend. Te'o claimed Tuiasosopo had originally said Kekua was his cousin. Te'o also said he lied to his father about how he met the woman. To cover that up, he apparently lied to everyone else, admitting: "I even knew it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet."

But is this the truth? Watch out for the next exciting episode.