In October 2009, a user named Hi Walter! Its me Patrick! uploaded a video to YouTube called "Hi Walter! I got a new gf today!" In it, a man with glasses faces the camera and talks about meeting a girl at a shopping centre. In the video's last few seconds, the man promises to introduce the girl. The shot then switches, and he appears in a dark room, where he opens a door to reveal a young woman -- bound and screaming on the floor. Image: YouTube
The horrifying video has since been removed for "violating YouTube's policy on violent or graphic content". But internet communities recently discovered it, and it popped up on Reddit and in a detailed Imgur thread a few days ago. Then, yesterday, the Antigo Police Department in Wisconsin announced that it was investigating the video, because "[it] has recently gone viral and many believe it is connected to our missing person Kayla Berg". The department explained in a Facebook post:
Kayla Berg, then 15 years old, disappeared from Antigo in August 2009. But the video -- the authenticity of which, police said, is still uncertain -- apparently led her mother, Hope Sprenger, to question whether the young woman was her missing daughter. It's unclear when she saw the video, but based on the recent police involvement, there's a good chance it came to her attention after going viral.
"[It] sounded like her, looked like her, it gave me chills," Sprenger told local news outlet WAOW. "Disturbing. It made me sick to my stomach."
Whether or not the video is real, it's exceedingly creepy -- the man's demeanour can best be described as unnervingly excited, and he happily discusses the fact that although the woman "hates cameras" he's going to "show you her anyway". He looks like he's sitting in a kitchen, but the woman appears to be in a basement. The viewer never gets a clear look at her face, and the footage itself is very grainy.
WARNING: The following video contains graphic content that may be disturbing for some viewers.
Though the original video has been pulled from YouTube, a few copies still exist out there. However, the video appears to have sprung up from relative obscurity. It's unclear how or why the spike in interest happened -- especially given that the video has been online since 2009.
As is often the case with content that goes viral on the internet, the timeline is twisted and mysterious. Though the video remained relatively dormant for years, a number of debunking videos started popping up on YouTube a couple of months ago. In one, the poster claims that the original video only had about 20,000 views as of July, but that number jumped to over 500,000 by the time the "debunk" was posted in mid-August. (Some have suggested that actress Sarah Bull is the woman in the video, but she's denied that.)
More recently -- about three days ago -- an Imgur user named TheGeminiTIGER posted stills from the video as part of a larger roundup. In the initial post, TheGeminiTIGER wrote that "it's only been recently that it gained noteworthy attention". He or she also noted, dubiously, that they considered a possible connection to Kayla Berg after "searching through some missing person cases". The Imgur user posted a more detailed analysis yesterday, and that analysis has spawned a few Reddit threads. Many of the posts revolve around trying verify the identity of the girl at the end of the video, or the veracity of the video itself.
Police involvement and YouTube's intervention happened after the sleuthing from the Imgur and Reddit communities. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for YouTube said the video was removed because it violated the company's policies: "We understand that law enforcement is actively investigating whether the video has any connection to a crime, and we will do what we can to cooperate with any legal process."
YouTube didn't respond to questions about the timeline of the removal, or whether it had any information on the original poster, whose account is currently devoid of uploads.
While it may appear as though the Imgur thread alone prompted the police investigation, TheGeminiTIGER said this wasn't the case. "It wasn't just me that tipped them off," reads a post from TheGeminiTIGER today. "An Antigo detective that I spoke to said their phone had been ringing off the hook!"
There's a chance, of course, that the video and its popularity are a complete hoax, and that the whole incident was staged. But for now, a number of questions -- including the identities of "Walter" and "Patrick" and the exact timeline of the video's dissemination -- are still unanswered.
We reached out to both Imgur user TheGeminiTIGER and the Antigo Police Department but had not heard back at time of writing.