August 11, 2012

Frédéric Bourdin, the Frenchman who persuaded an American family that he was their lost son

'It’s rare,’ Bart Layton, the director of The Imposter, said, 'to happen upon a story that if it were a work of fiction would feel far-fetched.’

The Imposter is just such a story – and it is one of the most astonishing documentary films that you will see this, or any other, year. It begins with a 13-year-old American boy, Nicholas Barclay, who in 1994 disappeared near his home in San Antonio, Texas.

Three and a half years later, he turned up in Linares, Spain, telling how he had been abducted on the streets of his home town, flown to Europe, and then systematically abused by a paedophile ring before finally making good his escape. Traumatised by his ordeal, Nicholas, then 16, was collected by his sister and flown back to America, and into the welcoming bosom of his family.

But the boy was not Nicholas. Nor was he 16. In fact he was a 23-year-old Frenchman, Frédéric Bourdin, who had a long history of masquerading under false names and identities. So persuasive had Bourdin been that he had fooled the Spanish authorities, the US consulate, the FBI and – incredibly – Nicholas Barclay’s own family.

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