Digg.com recently posted an article originally from The New Yorker – on a French man who, who no apparent reason – no psychological disorder, no sexual deviancy, no desire to con anyone out of money – tricked authorities in many towns in Europe (in at least 5 languages) into thinking he was an abandoned, abused child – well into his thirties…
“On May 3, 2005, in France, a man called an emergency hot line for missing and exploited children. He frantically explained that he was a tourist passing through Orthez, near the western Pyrenees, and that at the train station he had encountered a fifteen-year-old boy who was alone, and terrified. Another hot line received a similar call, and the boy eventually arrived, by himself, at a local government child-welfare office.
Slender and short, with pale skin and trembling hands, he wore a muffler around much of his face and had a baseball cap pulled over his eyes. He had no money and carried little more than a cell phone and an I.D., which said that his name was Francisco Hernandez Fernandez and that he was born on December 13, 1989, in Cáceres, Spain. Initially, he barely spoke, but after some prodding he revealed that his parents and younger brother had been killed in a car accident. The crash left him in a coma for several weeks and, upon recovering, he was sent to live with an uncle, who abused him. Finally, he fled to France, where his mother had grown up.
French authorities placed Francisco at the St. Vincent de Paul shelter in the nearby city of Pau. A state-run institution that housed about thirty-five boys and girls, most of whom had been either removed from dysfunctional families or abandoned, the shelter was in an old stone building with peeling white wooden shutters; on the roof was a statue of St. Vincent protecting a child in the folds of his gown. Francisco was given a single room, and he seemed relieved to be able to wash and change in private: his head and body, he explained, were covered in burns and scars from the car accident.
He was enrolled at the Collège Jean Monnet, a local secondary school that had four hundred or so students, mostly from tough neighborhoods, and that had a reputation for violence. Although students were forbidden to wear hats, the principal at the time, Claire Chadourne, made an exception for Francisco, who said that he feared being teased about his scars. Like many of the social workers and teachers who dealt with Francisco, Chadourne, who had been an educator for more than thirty years, felt protective toward him. With his baggy pants and his cell phone dangling from a cord around his neck, he looked like a typical teen-ager, but he seemed deeply traumatized. He never changed his clothes in front of the other students in gym class, and resisted being subjected to a medical exam. He spoke softly, with his head bowed, and recoiled if anyone tried to touch him.
Gradually, Francisco began hanging out with other kids at recess and participating in class. Since he had enrolled so late in the school year, his literature teacher asked another student, Rafael Pessoa De Almeida, to help him with his coursework. Before long, Francisco was helping Rafael. “This guy can learn like lightning,” Rafael recalls thinking.
One day after school, Rafael asked Francisco if he wanted to go ice-skating, and the two became friends, playing video games and sharing school gossip. Rafael sometimes picked on his younger brother, and Francisco, recalling that he used to mistreat his own sibling, advised, “Make sure you love your brother and stay close.”
At one point, Rafael borrowed Francisco’s cell phone; to his surprise, its address book and call log were protected by security codes. When Rafael returned the phone, Francisco displayed a photograph on its screen of a young boy who looked just like Francisco. “That’s my brother,” he said.
Francisco was soon one of the most popular kids in school, dazzling classmates with his knowledge of music and arcane slang—he even knew American idioms—and moving effortlessly between rival cliques. “The students loved him,” a teacher recalls. “He had this aura about him, this charisma.”
During tryouts for a talent show, the music teacher asked Francisco if he was interested in performing. He handed her a CD to play, then walked to the end of the room and tilted his hat flamboyantly, waiting for the music to start. As Michael Jackson’s song “Unbreakable” filled the room, Francisco started to dance like the pop star, twisting his limbs and lip-synching the words “You can’t believe it, you can’t conceive it / And you can’t touch me, ’cause I’m untouchable.” Everyone in the room watched in awe. “He didn’t just look like Michael Jackson,” the music teacher subsequently recalled. “He was Michael Jackson.”
Later, in computer class, Francisco showed Rafael an Internet image of a small reptile with a slithery tongue.
“What is it?” Rafael asked.
“A chameleon,” Francisco replied.
On June 8th, an administrator rushed into the principal’s office. She said that she had been watching a television program the other night about one of the world’s most infamous impostors: Frédéric Bourdin, a thirty-year-old Frenchman who serially impersonated children. “I swear to God, Bourdin looks exactly like Francisco Hernandez Fernandez,” the administrator said.
Chadourne was incredulous: thirty would make Francisco older than some of her teachers. She did a quick Internet search for “Frédéric Bourdin.” Hundreds of news items came up about the “king of impostors” and the “master of new identities,” who, like Peter Pan, “didn’t want to grow up.” A photograph of Bourdin closely resembled Francisco—there was the same formidable chin, the same gap between the front teeth. Chadourne called the police.
“Are you sure it’s him?” an officer asked.
“No, but I have this strange feeling.”
When the police arrived, Chadourne sent the assistant principal to summon Francisco from class. As Francisco entered Chadourne’s office, the police seized him and thrust him against the wall, causing her to panic: what if he really was an abused orphan? Then, while handcuffing Bourdin, the police removed his baseball cap. There were no scars on his head; rather, he was going bald. “I want a lawyer,” he said, his voice suddenly dropping to that of a man.
At police headquarters, he admitted that he was Frédéric Bourdin, and that in the past decade and a half he had invented scores of identities, in more than fifteen countries and five languages….”
There is much, much, much more (murder, suicide, CIA, FBI, Interpol, etc) to the amazing full original New Yorker article by David Grann here