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No, elderly woman from Ohio did not train 65 cats to steal from neighbours

A screenshot of an article posted on a South African cat supplies company’s Facebook page has a surprising headline: “Elderly woman accused of training her 65 cats to steal from neighbours”.

It’s been flagged as potentially false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. But it’s not – it’s just a joke.

The screenshot is of a story on World News Daily Report, a known satire site. It shows a mugshot of an elderly woman who it says is Ruth Gregson, 83, of Columbus, Ohio in the US.

The article claims she was arrested “after a surveillance operation”.

“Several victims reported being visited by Ms Gregson’s cats before noticing the disappearance of several shiny objects, like valuable cutlery and pieces of jewellery,” the article says.

“Upon searching Ms Gregson’s house, investigators found $650,000 worth of jewellery and precious metal among piles of worthless shiny baubles.”

She “confessed to training her cats to steal, saying the felines had to ‘earn their meals’”.

‘Where the facts don’t matter’

A reverse image search reveals that the mugshot actually shows then 92-year-old Helen Staudinger who in 2011 was reported to have been arrested on charges of shooting at her neighbour’s house in the US state of Florida.

The story also has a photo of a police officer. This is Columbus Police Chief Kimberley Jacobs, who retired in February 2019. 

World News Daily Report is clear that its stories are satirical and fictional.

The website’s slogan is “Where facts don’t matter”. Each page includes a disclaimer that “all characters appearing in the articles in the website – even those based on real people – are entirely fictional and any resemblance between them and any person, living, dead or undead, is purely a miracle.”

Satire or misinformation?

Africa Check has been called on to investigate other startling stories from the site. When it’s clear the stories are from World News Daily Report they are rated satire.

But when a fictional story is reused as real news, it becomes misinformation.

This claim has been checked by Snopes and rated false. – Dancan Bwire


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