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The Imposter has landed on Netflix and tells the tale of the infamous Frédéric Bourdin and the family he convinced he was their missing relative.
It might have first come out over ten years ago now, but The Imposter’s arrival on Netflix has reminded many people of the astonishing and chilling case of Frédéric Bourdin. Inserting himself into the lives of the Barclay family in 1990s Texas, Bourdin convinced them he was missing teenager Nicholas Barclay in a turn of events that is almost unbelievable. If you found yourself wanting to know more about how Bernie Madoff got caught after Monster of Wall Street or couldn’t help researching after learning the Vatican Girl true story then The Imposter is every bit as shocking.
Here we reveal what The Imposter is about, what Frédéric Bourdin did and what we know about where he is now…
*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
What is The Imposter about and what did Frédéric Bourdin do?
Whilst it might sound almost too bizarre to be true, The Imposter is a documentary that first landed back in 2012 that focuses on conman Frédéric Bourdin, who impersonated a missing boy, Nicholas Barclay, and was successfully accepted by his family before being found out. Now on Netflix, true crime fans are being reminded - or in some cases introduced for the first time - to this tragic and mysterious case thanks to the BAFTA-winning film.
The Imposter features interviews with Bourdin and members of the Barclay family as well as news footage and reconstructions. The Texas-based Barclays received a call three years after their thirteen-year-old son Nicholas went missing in 1994.
They’re told that Nicholas had been located and was waiting for them to come and collect him from Europe. Although they were delighted by the news, they found him to be a very different boy than they had known. Nicholas had brown eyes and not the blue ones he’d had when they last saw him, his hair was dyed blond and he spoke with a French accent.
Regardless of this, many members of the Barclay family are understood to have welcomed him with open arms, fully prepared to accept that they’d finally been reunited with him. However, in reality Nicholas Barclay hadn’t been found at all and French impersonator Frédéric Bourdin had stolen his identity.
According to an article published in the The New Yorker (opens in new tab) back in 2008, Bourdin himself told writer David Grann in the fall of the previous year that he’d been at a youth home in Spain when he’d been asked by a child-welfare judge to provide proof that he was actually a teenager or his fingerprints would be taken. Knowing that he had a criminal record he came up with a plan - to steal another identity.
He reportedly used the phone in the home and used it to call up offices in America asking about missing children. Having given his own description and hearing about Nicholas Barclay who matched what he’d said, Bourdin decided to use Nicholas’ identity. He managed to convince the center to send him more information about Nicholas including a picture and set about transforming himself to look like the light-haired, blue-eyed missing teenager who had a distinctive tattoo.
It was him who reportedly made the call to America to tell the officer in charge of Nicholas’ case that he’d been “found”. He created a story to explain why “Nicholas” had been missing for 3 years and as per The New Yorker, Bourdin had said he’d been abducted, flown to Europe and had been abused.
Eventually, as The Imposter shows, Bourdin’s lies were untangled. A private investigator called Charlie Parker and FBI agent Nancy Fisher each began to have suspicions and looked into Bourdin’s story. Nancy eventually obtained his fingerprints which were sent to the State Department.
Interpol later came back with a match on his fingerprints and a warrant was issued for Bourdin’s arrest, whilst he reportedly admitted to Charlie he was Bourdin. After his arrest he alleged that the Barclays were responsible for whatever happened to the real Nicholas and claimed that this was why they had accepted him.
In 1998, Bourdin pleaded guilty to perjury and to obtaining and possessing fake documents and he was sentenced to 3 years in prison. It emerged that Bourdin was an expert at adopting the identities of other children and had done so multiple times.
Where is Frédéric Bourdin now?
True crime enthusiasts who found themselves wondering how John Darwin got caught after watching ITV’s fictional show, The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe or where Sally McNeil and her children are now after seeing Killer Sally might also be intrigued as to where Bourdin is now. After serving his sentence, Frédéric Bourdin was released from prison in 2003 and returned to France.
Bourdin, whose crimes were the focus of The Imposter, went on to adopt the identities of several other boys - including missing French boy Leo Balley and Spanish orphan Francisco Hernandez Fernandez. Writing in The New Yorker, David Grann reflected upon the last time he’d spoken to Bourdin in the spring of 2008.
At the time Bourdin was married to a woman named Isabelle whom he’d supposedly met in 2006 and they were expecting a child together. David wrote that Bourdin had later rung him to tell him that they’d welcomed a daughter and was asked if he’d turned over a new leaf and become a new person as a result.
“No, this is who I am,” the master impersonator reportedly responded at the time. Although The Mirror (opens in new tab)reported back in 2012 - the year The Imposter was released - that he’d supposedly vowed not to impersonate anyone again. In 2017, according to The Scotsman (opens in new tab), Bourdin posted on Facebook that he and his wife had separated and this is thought to be the last time he’s been heard from publicly.
What happened to Nicholas Barclay?
Nicholas Barclay whose identity had been adopted by conman Frédéric Bourdin has sadly never been located. The teenager went missing in 1994 and almost three decades later it’s still not clear what happened to him the night he disappeared after a game of basketball. Nicholas’ body was never found although reports have suggested that private investigators might still be working on the case.
His older brother Jason is said to have been a suspect and Bourdin cast suspicion upon the family too. However, Jason passed away in 1998 and he has never been confirmed to have had anything to do with Nicholas’ disappearance at all. Whilst some people believe Nicholas has passed away others reportedly think it’s possible he could’ve been a runaway and be alive and well, living somewhere else.
Emma is a Senior Lifestyle Writer with six years of experience working in digital publishing. Her specialist areas including literature, the British Royal Family and knowing all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and every streaming service out there. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, you can find Emma cooking and watching yet more crime dramas.
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