Fear and loathing in small town America

Come to harm in Fishing Creek Farm

Fear and loathing in small town America has been turned into a living docusoap on the Web. The squabble revolves around Fishing Creek Farm - a wealthy community near Washington,DC.

The story begins in 1997, when residents Tim and Lori Gough received an anonymous letter accusing them of being bad parents for letting their son, who has Down's Syndrome, appear in public service announcement ads in People magazine.

Lori Gough, convinced her neighbours, Keith and Julie Conrad, were behind the letter, announced her suspicions to the community.

The Conrads, who were ostracised by the town following Gough's denunciation, sued the Goughs for $2 million for defamation. They lost.

Protesting innocence, they created Web site to document the neighbourhood bickering and the court case - complete with depositions.

Their neighbours tried and failed to block the publication of depositions on the site, which accuses the Goughs and their friends of changing their stories in court. It provides a tantalising glimpse of gossipy life in the burbs - from illegal drug use to extramarital affairs.

The Conrads say all they want is to do is clear their name by finding out who sent the original hate-mail to the Goughs.

Their site's message board contains a mixture of sympathy and criticism. "Good luck in your fight for the truth," says one visitor, with another labelling the incident a "tragedy". But many urge the couples to stop bickering for the sake of the children, while one posting simply states: "Mr and Mrs C, you need psychiatric help."

Whatever your opinion, the site documents an entertaining ongoing whodunnit. While blasting out the Dallas theme tune. "I'd have to admit that if this turns out to be a 'made for TV movie of the week' I would no doubt grab some popcorn and catch the action," points out one fan. ®

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