At the start of last week, I awoke to a scattered onslaught of messages about one specific thing. 

“Where’s the story about the man who froze to death in Kennedy Park?” one woman demanded. 

“Man dead in the cold!” wrote another. “Why is this being covered up?!” 

On and on it went in the early part of the day. There were text messages and phone calls, Facebook messages and emails. Whatever the truth was about the unnamed man in Kennedy Park, the rumor had spread like a jailhouse cold. 

It didn’t take long to come up with the facts in this one. Say what you want about contention between the media and police, I’m pretty confident that the local department wouldn’t outright lie to me about a dead man in Kennedy Park. 

Nobody had frozen to death. A drunk guy was shooed from the park during the cold spell, sure enough, but he was alive and well.

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Frozen guy? What frozen guy? Never happened. Not even close.

So where and why, exactly, had that rumor been born?

A lot of these free-floating rumors have absolutely no basis in reality, and yet I still find value in them. The fact is, people care about things like whether or not a man has died out in the cold and so they will hound us ceaselessly until someone comes up with a credible answer. 

The same goes for rumors of shootings, child abductions, inner-city beat downs, drownings, electrocutions and all other forms of death by misadventure. 

You can’t ignore these kinds of rumors even if you kind of want to. They nag, like an itch at the back of the throat. And every now and then, the rumormeisters get wood on the ball and the unlikely story bouncing around social media turns out to be fact instead of folly. 

In 2007, a 38-year-old local woman went missing and rumors started to surface of all sorts of mischief. The lady had been repeatedly harassed by a co-worker, according to the scuttlebutt of the time. The co-worker was a vile sort of dude, capable of anything.  

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I ignored those rumors, more or less, because people went missing all the time and usually they turned up soon thereafter with a perfectly valid reason for their absence. It happened all the time. Why should this time be different? 

But it was different. This lady, a mother of two who was pregnant with her third, never turned up alive. Instead, her battered body was found in a shallow grave off Lisbon Street and the fiend ultimately captured in connection with her murder was in fact the vile sort of character of whom the rumor mill had foretold.  

It was a gut punch, that one. For me, the murder of Donna Paradis in 2007 serves as an avatar of the dangers of discounting rumors prematurely.  

These days when people go missing, I assure myself that there’s a 99% chance that person is going to turn up healthy and hale, embarrassed by all the fuss that was made but otherwise walking and talking and breathing. 

But there’s always that 1% chance, so why not start a file and make some calls? That 1% haunts me still. 

There has never been a time in human history when rumors have had such a vast environment in which to flourish. Social media alone cranks them out like weird-shaped bits rolling off an assembly line. 

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There are people out there — we all know who they are — who seem to derive personal satisfaction from creating wildfires of speculation by elaborating on small bits of information and presenting those elaborations as fact. 

Which is a polite way of saying they throw dung around like monkeys at a zoo in hopes that some of it will stick. 

And some of it does, which is unfortunate. 

One such fellow — social media frequenters know who he is — is so prolific at blending fact with fiction in this way that police have to occasionally take to their own social media pages to remind people that the bulk of what he says is news is the equivalent of the aforementioned monkey dung. He never corrects erroneous reports. He never admits when he’s wrong and he censors those who offer credible information, and that’s the most dangerous kind of misinformation there is.

That dude is all over the place and yet he’s correct just often enough — you know the idiom about the blind squirrel and the nut — that you discount him at your peril. I don’t follow his reports, myself, but somehow every time he puts out another hysterical claim of mayhem and conspiracy, it finds its way to my mailbox. 

Which is all good. Rumors are part of the job. You chase them down and they either bear fruit or they wither to nothing in the bright light of reason. 

You just can’t ignore them altogether because sooner or later, you’ll get burned and that shame is great. 

These days, if I awake to a barrage of messages insisting that a fleet of bug-eyed extraterrestrials have landed on the Colisee roof, I’m going to scoff, sure enough. But I’m also going to hop on my motorcycle and ride on down to the Colisee because seeing is believing and there’s no way I’m going to miss THAT story when it happens. 

It’s the one I’ve been waiting for, really.

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