Turns out Hostage Mom made it all up.
Her elaborate, alarming story - she and her 9-year-old abducted in broad daylight after a fender bender - was enough to set off an Amber Alert and heat up FBI tip lines.
Oh, and get Nancy Grace's juices flowing, of course. A fresh abduction of a blond and her child? Watch those ratings soar.
But Bonnie Sweeten, 38-year-old Feasterville mother of three, wasn't done telling her story yet. She knew exactly what to say to sweeten the hunt - and to buy herself 24 hours to make a run for it.
A black man did it. No, wait. For good measure, two black men did it, she said.
And yet again, the nation jumped. Station after station, from CNN to MSNBC to local news outlets, bit hard, throwing up breaking-news bulletins, sending reporters for scene shots in front of the family home.
Yet another white woman plays the tried-and-true bogeyman race card.
The one that trumps everything else.
From day one, investigators say, they suspected Sweeten's story. It just never passed the smell test.
Really. Wonder what was their first clue?
Let's see. Two black men in a Cadillac abduct a blond white woman and her daughter after rear-ending them in the middle of the day on one of the busiest thoroughfares in Bucks County. Hmm, not a single person notices and calls police.
The alleged victim makes several frantic cell-phone calls, ostensibly from the trunk of a car, yet police can't hear the daughter, who is supposed to be in there with her? Not to mention these bad, bad black men never thought to take Sweeten's cell phone?
Are you kidding me?
But somehow, the black-bogeyman card works every time - for a minute.
It worked for Susan Smith. South Carolina mother. Children missing. The black man did it. Racial tension. Turns out she had driven her "missing" car into a lake to drown her kids.
Charles Stuart, Boston store manager. Pregnant wife murdered in a carjacking. The black man did it. The case ignites fear and door-to-door searches. Except that Stuart did it.
Tanya Dacri from Philly. Child missing. Black men did it. Three of them. It worked until police discovered that Dacri had drowned and chopped up her infant son.
Ashley Todd, John McCain campaign volunteer in Pittsburgh. Accosted at an ATM. A backward B (presumably for Barack) cut into her forehead. The black man did it. She gets sympathy call from Sarah Palin. Todd was sentenced to probation this week, having confessed to her self-mutilation.
Example after example of people showing the capacity for evil and deceit, yet they dispassionately and cruelly play into the long-held belief that a generic black man should always be feared.
A sentiment expressed since our nation's existence - with an overseer's whip during slavery. With a rope and a tree in the 20th century. With racist blame games that work even today.
"It's a terrifying thing for a community to hear that two black men in a black Cadillac grabbed a woman and her daughter. . . . It's terrifying," Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry admitted at Wednesday night's news conference after the hoax was revealed, probably telegraphing more about her own fear than she intended to.
Fact is, there are plenty of victims in this story. A husband and an ex-husband. The children Sweeten abandoned. Loyal friends. And not least of all her 9-year-old, whose face is plastered next to her mug shot on every station in the country.
But long after the dust settles, there will still be residue left on black men. No matter who they are.
"I was certainly distressed as an African American male," Mayor Nutter told 6ABC yesterday. "Just another case of 'here we go again' . . . that once again was not true."
Good thing he doesn't drive a black Cadillac.