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Frédéric Bourdin, also known as “The Chameleon”, was a serial impostor who claims to have had over 500 false identities over the course of his life

Tijana Radeska
Bourdin

A true impostor is a person who can adopt a fake identity and pretend to be someone else, a person who aims to achieve financial or social gain through their manipulation of the art of social engineering. One of the most famous imposters is Frank Abagnale, who was the inspiration for the movie “Catch me if you can”. However, this is a story about another guy – Frédéric Bourdin.

Frederic Bourdin. Photo credit

Frederic Bourdin. Photo credit

Frédéric Bourdin, also known as “The Chameleon”, was a serial impostor who began his career as a child and claims to have had over 500 false identities over the course of his life. At least three of those identities were of missing teenagers, whose families Bourdin would try to move in with by taking over the identity of their missing children.

Back in 1994 a 13-year-old boy, Nicholas Barclay was playing basketball with his friends in San Antonio when he disappeared, never seen or heard of again. So, in 1997, Bourdin presented himself as Barclay to the poor boy’s family and was flown to the United States. Despite his physical appearance being completely different from Barclay’s, and the fact that his English had a distinct French accent, he managed to convince the Barclay family that he was their son. He claimed that he was abused in a prostitution ring and that the color of his eyes was forcibly changed. He lived as Nicholas Barclay with his family for five months.

While filming the Barclay family, a private investigator noticed that the two boys had very different ears. His suspicion led to FBI obtaining a court order to take DNA and fingerprints from the man living with the Barclays, which were of course identified as Bourdin’s and not the missing boy’s. He was convicted of passport fraud and perjury and imprisoned for six years.

British-American documentary film about the 1997 case of the French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay. The film includes interviews with Bourdin

A British-American documentary film about the 1997 case of the French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay. The film includes interviews with Bourdin.

As soon as he returned to France in 2003, he went to Grenoble and presented himself as Léo Balley – a 14-year-old boy who had been missing since 1996. Once again, thanks to a DNA test, it was proved that the man was Bourdin.

Just a year later, he moved to Spain and assumed the identity of a man – Ruben Sanchez Espinoza – claiming that his mother was killed in the Madrid bomb attacks. As soon as the authorities found out the truth about his real identity, Bourdin was deported back to France.

None of that would stop him, though. While in France, he showed up as Francisco Hernandes-Fernandez, a 15-year-old Spanish orphan whose parents were killed in a car accident, and lived in the Jean Monnet College in Pau for a month. Even though he was much older, he managed to convince everyone else that he was 15. Unfortunately for Bourdin, his acts had been discussed on a TV program, and a teacher from the school recognized his true identity. This led to him being imprisoned for four months.

Cartoon of the would-be explorer Louis de Rougemont who claimed to have had adventures in Australasia

Cartoon of the would-be explorer Louis de Rougemont who claimed to have had adventures in Australasia

According to interviews, Bourdin had been looking for the “love and affection” that he never received as a child. Eventually, got married and now has four children. During an interview, he was asked if he had become a new person now that he was a father and a husband. Bourdin’s answer was, “No, this is who I am.”