‘Fargo’ Fact Check: The Story of Laura Buxton’s Balloon Really Happened

“Fargo” Season 3 is a story full of far-fetched coincidences, but at least one, about a girl named Laura Buxton releasing a balloon, is the real deal

Last Updated: May 17, 2017 @ 8:23 PM

Every episode of “Fargo” starts with the text, “This is a true story.” The use of that card dates back to the original 1996 film, but it’s never been truly true. In Episode 5, though, “Fargo” includes a little piece of reality in the form of the story of Laura Buxton and her balloon.

Sheriff Dammick (Shea Whigham) tells the short story as a way to illustrate why he doesn’t buy her version of the events surrounding the death of Ennis Stussy (Scott Hylands). In the story, a girl in England releases a balloon with a note attached. The note gives her name, Laura Buxton, and asks whoever finds the balloon to return it to her address.

Miles away, the balloon finally lands — where it’s found by another young girl of the same age, who also is named Laura Buxton.

Dammick means for the story to explain that coincidences happen, and just because they sound amazing doesn’t mean they’re actually meaningful. It’s a pretty good example, in fact, because it actually happened in the real world. Both Laura Buxtons exist, and one really did send up a balloon that the other found. And they weren’t 40 or 50 miles removed, like Dammick said, but three times that, around 140 miles away from each other.

Urban myth debunking site Snopes did a fact-check of the story, which dates back to 2001. The girls decided to meet, which is when they discovered even more similarities. They both are the same height and have the same eye color, they chose to wear similar clothes to their first meeting, they both had a black labrador dog and both dogs were the same age, and both had guinea pigs — which they both brought to the first meeting.

While the story sounds like an anomaly of crazy coincidences, it’s actually been used as an example of how human perceive patterns and ascribe meaning to random chance. The WNYC public radio show “Radiolab” did an episode on the occurrence in 2009 and interviewed both girls. (It’s completely worth listening to and can be found right here.) In it, experts pointed out the tendency of people telling the story to point out similarities between the girls, while leaving out differences, for the sake of a more interesting tale.

For instance, in the original report of the story, the balloon supposedly landed in the second Laura Buxton’s back yard. It didn’t; a neighbor discovered it in a hedge near his property, read the card, and then delivered it to the Laura Buxton he knew, thinking it was hers. And both girls weren’t actually 10 years old: one was 10, and the other was a few months shy of her 10th birthday.

So in Sheriff Dammick’s view, the Laura Buxton story is a good illustrator of how the desire to see patterns can add meaning to coincidences where there is none. And he’s not wrong — except that he is wrong. Chief Burgle and Officer Lopez know exactly what they’re talking about, thanks to good police work, and if Dammick would just get out of the way, they could end Season 3 right here. But it wouldn’t be “Fargo” without a lot of unnecessary screw-ups.

Speaking of screw-ups, scroll down for our gallery ranking every single “Fargo” Season 3 character, from most to least inept.