OK, GIVE yourselves some credit. You had this Bonnie Sweeten abduction pegged for a hoax by morning coffee break Wednesday.

Anybody around the water cooler with an IQ of 65 or above was starting to sense that the by-now hardy perennial tale of the missing blue-eyed blonde being hijacked by those handy, hulking black men from Central Casting was bogus.

Don't gloat too much, though. The odor of week-old carp was wafting off of this one from the moment the call came in from the damn'dsel in distress.

I can't get a call through from an elevator but missy was able to get a clear signal from the trunk of a Cadillac. General Motors could build an ad campaign around that feature.

In the growing annals of hijack hoaxes, this one makes Susan Smith's lame yarn look like the search for the DaVinci Code.

Smith, you may remember, was the young mother who rolled her car into a South Carolina lake, killing her two sons in 1994. She claimed that the culprit was a black man who sped off with the boys, aged 3 and 1, in the backseat of her hijacked car.

Even before the car was found, police were starting to see through the thinning fabric of this tired tale.

But my personal favorite from recent memory is the bizarre saga of Ashley Todd. She's the overzealous, but under-intelligent McCain-Palin volunteer who spun a harrowing yarn about some huge black man who accosted her at an ATM.

She told police that he had demanded a specific amount of money from her, which she then peeled off of the larger bankroll she had just retrieved from the ATM. She also said that he had socked her in the eye.

Then, in an odd fit of political awareness, he was so outraged by seeing a McCain sticker on her car that he delayed his escape long enough to carve a "B" for Barack on her cheek. Or so she said.

Police, noting the backward "B" etched lightly into her face, started to suspect that she may have done it to herself while standing in front of a mirror.

She might have gotten away with it if only she had claimed her assailant was for Hillary. "H" spelled backwards is still "H."

For some reason, my outrage quotient wasn't very high this time. I had to get in touch with that as I decided on a tone for this column.

For one thing, the Bonnie Sweeten story was a slight upgrade on the usual "black-guy-did-it" yarn. These guys had their own Cadillac. They didn't even bother to take her $35,000 SUV.

The other thing is that, as these stories grow increasingly stupid, the police are able to see through them before they start rounding up every black man who fits the general description. That used to be me when I had more hairline and less waistline.

Bucks County and Philadelphia police say that they didn't bother with the usual roundup in response to her hastily drawn lie. Thank God our criminal class remains bone-stupid.

Before this investigation is over, we may learn that Bonnie Sweeten had embezzled thousands of dollars from her former employer before stealing a former co-worker's ID to buy airline tickets to take her nine-year-old daughter to Disney World.

The paper trail she left behind was easier to follow than the bread crumbs Hansel and Gretel left on their trek through the woods. Her inevitable conviction may be a deterrent to the next fable spinner.

But this is small solace to hundreds of black men who have found themselves in the dragnet after one of these bogus yarns. Some of them have been convicted on the basis of lies not much better than this one.

The truth may make us free. But lies like Sweeten's may keep some of us from having to be freed. *

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith