Hiding in Plain Sight, Five Great Imposters
This Week on the 5: Five Famous Fakers
The last thing a con wants is to become famous. A famous imposter, is a failed imposter. But these 5 con men were infamously successful at their game until they got caught. They were so good, that Hollywood made movies about all five of em.
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- Frank Abagnale Jr. One of the most famous imposters in history started in check fraud, and later posed as an airline pilot, the chief resident pediatrician in a hospital, and a lawyer (he actually did pass the bar exam, but never went to law school). He was finally caught and arrested in France in 1969 and eventually deported back to the US. He served a few years and was paroled with the condition that he assist federal authorities in investigating and catching other scam artists. The 2002 movie, Catch Me If You Can stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale.
- Alan Conway. Travel agent Alan Conaway became famous for convincing others he was the elusive Stanley Kubrick. Although he looked nothing like him, Kubrick was in a kind of self-exile, and so Conway’s victims either didn’t know what Kubrick looked like or had only seen him with a heavy beard. The con he ran was relatively small time –using the ruse to get rides, entrance to clubs, expensive dinners, and trips in return for promises of studio reimbursement, exclusive interviews, or roles in his films. He was discovered by Kubrick’s assistant and outted in a Vanity Fair article. In the 2005 film Color Me Kubrick he was played by John Malkovich.
- David Hampton. Much like Alan Conway’s con, David Hampton used his false identity to get into clubs, get free meals, trips and other perks. But instead of trying to pass himself off as an actual celebrity, he conned others by pretending to be the son of actor Sidney Portier. He started by using the lie to get into Studio 54. After being treated like a celebrity he continued to con others to get star treatment and to gain his way into the homes of celebrities. His story formed the basis for the play Six Degrees of Separation, and the 1993 film of the same name. Will Smith plays the lead– an impersonator named Paul– based on David’s life.
- Ferdinand Demara. Much like Abagnale, Demara had many identities. With the help of a photographic memory, he assumed the identities of a doctor, a civil engineer, many law enforcement authorities, several monks. He even performed surgery as a trauma surgeon by speed reading a medical book. His true identity was discovered after he actually performed surgery that saved a man’s life, but he was never arrested for any crimes. He was said to be using his cons to get respectability more than any monetary gain, and he didn’t seem to have any real ‘victims’ as everyone he worked with was happy with his performances in the various identities. Or at least that’s how the media portrayed him. His story became the subject of several books, a primetime drama, and the 1961 film, The Great Imposter, in which he is played by Tony Curtis.
- Frederic Bourdin. Nicknamed “the Chameleon” Bourdin assumed countless identities– starting as a young child. His most famous child impersonation took place when he assumed the identify of a 16-year-old Texas boy who had been missing for 3 years. He convinced authorities and the boy’s family that he was the missing kid for five months. At the time he pulled this off, he was 23, French, and didn’t even share the boy’s eye color. He has been said to have over 40 cons in 16 different countries. Incredibly smart, and persuasive he has convinced people he was a teenager when he was 30, and has also posed as a tiger healer, a tourist, and a long list of missing children. His story inspired a 2010 French film, The Chameleon, and a 2012 documentary film, The Imposter.
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