Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Frédéric Bourdin, The Chameleon

It's like a French version of the movie, "Catch Me If You Can." A middle school in Pau recently discovered one of its 15-yr-old, eighth grade pupils was actually a 31-yr-old imposter. The culprit was Frédéric Bourdin, alias "The Chameleon." Here is an article about the case in the French newspaper, Sud Ouest, in French, of course. As you might guess from the fact that he is already called "The Chameleon," this is not Mr. Bourdin's first impersonation. Reportedly, he has done this at least 39 times before.

In this case, Bourdin was posing as a Spanish ophan, under the name Francisco Hernandez-Fernandez. He claimed his parents had been killed in a car accident. He had actually just been thrown out of Spain for another impersonation, where he claimed to be a child orphanned by the Madrid bombings.

He got away with it at the Pau school for a month, and was only caught as the prefect happened to be watching a French TV show about compulsive liars. The show mentioned the "career" of "The Chameleon," and she recognized him.

The London Daily Telegraph reports:
"A balding 31-year-old Frenchman nicknamed the Chameleon fooled social workers and fellow pupils into believing he was a teenage orphan and spent weeks at a school before being unmasked, it emerged yesterday.

Frédéric Bourdin passed himself off as an imaginary 15-year-old Spaniard, Francisco Hernandez-Fernandez. He is said to have previously assumed 39 other false identities. This time he dyed his greying hair blond, meticulously shaved his beard, applied facial hair remover and covered his bald patch with a baseball cap to achieve the desired effect."
Impersonating lost children, particularly those of rich parents, is a specialty of Bourdin's. He was arrested and sent to prison in Texas in 1997 for passing himself off as a son who had disappeared three years earlier. Amazingly, despite his French accent, looking nothing like the missing child, and having brown eyes instead of blue, he convinced the mother and sister. He got away with that for 3 months before the FBI got him a special, six year "visa extension" in the pen.

He achieved notoriety in France in 2004 by impersonating Léo Bailey, a boy who had vanished 8 years earlier at age 7. The police believed his story until DNA tests showed he was an imposter. He then spent several months in preventative detention in that case.

In the Pau case he was released on his own recognizance with a requirement to return to court in September. Oh, yeah. He'll definitely be there for that.

UPDATE: New Bourdin post here.

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