Here's a nightmare that could happen to almost anyone. You wake up one morning and someone with the same name as you is now infamous. For Scott Peterson of Mendicino, no relation to the murderous Scott Peterson of Modesto, this is the least of his troubles.
For the people who know Scott Peterson of Mendicino, no one has died, but a lot of lives have been ruined or turned upside down.
I first heard of Scott Peterson of Mendicino (for the rest of the story, just called Peterson) on the Internet back in the mid nineties. Peterson invented a board game called Pirateer, a variant of backgammon or Parcheesi, a race game where you roll dice and move your pieces forward with ways of knocking your opponent's pieces back.
The game was published in 1995 and won the Mensa Select award in 1996. For serious board gamers, the Mensa Select award carries almost no weight at all. The best of the Mensa Select games, like Ingenious, Apples 2 Apples and Times Up!, are considered "light" games by board game geeks, and the games considered classics by geeks like me, games that would include Settlers of Catan, Acquire, Power Grid, Puerto Rico and Euphrates and Tigris, have never won a Mensa Select prize and never will. The brainiacs consider these games too complex.
So there's this split among game players, though Peterson didn't seem to know about it. There was (and still is) a newsgroup on the Internet called rec.games.board, and it is populated by serious gamers. Peterson went on the group to promote his game, and most of the reviews were lukewarm at best. This set Peterson off. He began flame wars with anyone who dared suggest his game was anything less than a modern classic. He would hijack conversation threads that had nothing to do with his game to promote it or attack his critics. He claimed his game had sold more copies than Settlers of Catan, which at the time was the hardcore board gamers' favorite.
A major line was crossed when he started posting articles and comments under another name, forging the name and ID of Richard Irving, one of his most vocal opponents on rec.games.board. When this was discovered, Peterson was persona non grata forever. People swore never to buy Pirateer on principle, and mentioning the his name or his game was considered a breach of newsgroup etiquette for many years.
Leap forward into the 21st Century. In 2002, Pirateer goes out of print. (Settlers of Catan, on the other hand, is the Law & Order or C.S.I. of the board game industry, still in print and spawning over a dozen spin-offs at last count.) Peterson starts suing people. In 2006, he wins a settlement of a quarter million from his publishers Warren Industries, but not before he goes on a hunger strike because the proceeding is too slow.
But as we saw earlier with his dealings on the newsgroup, Peterson can never leave well enough alone. He had disputes with his local investors in Mendicino, and he went about trying to ruin their lives. He started whisper campaigns against them, doing his best to get them fired from their jobs. He accused them of everything from embezzlement to infidelity. He filed lawsuits against anyone he considered an enemy, including accusing an ex-wife of slander because she said he showed signs of "narcissistic personality disorder".
Three of his investors, Ron Stark, Sally Stewart and Birdie Wilson Holmes, sued back. Earlier this month, Peterson was found guilty of defamation and ordered to pay $791,000 to the people he tried to terrorize.
Interesting questions remain unanswered about who actually will get paid in any of this or how much will be sucked up in legal fees.
It is a mercy that murderous psychotics like Scott Peterson of Modesto are very rare indeed, and very few of us will ever have our lives or the lives of our loved ones turned upside down by a person like that. But creeps like Scott Peterson of Mendicino are much more common, and they make much smaller messes in many more people's lives.