This page considers some identity fraudsters who might
be characterised as compulsives or merely desperate.
It covers -
The preceding page highlighted incidents where conmen
and conwomen have engaged in identity crime on an apparently
rational and cold-blooded basis, motivated by profit ...
albeit spiced by contempt for their victims and gratification
in successful achievement.
What of people who appear to have acted out of some deep,
although sometimes obscure, psychological need? Not all
identity crime is driven by the offender's desire to make
an easy dollar. Some offences have not had a financial
aspect. Others appear to have been founded on reinforcing
the offender's ego, with financial benefits being a welcome
but not necessary extra.
Emmanuel Carrère's The Adversary: A True
Story of Monstrous Deception (London Picador 2001)
profiles Jean-Claude Romand, who murdered his family when
he could no longer maintain the fiction - as he had assiduously
done for most of his adult life - that he was a senior
World Health Organization bureaucrat.
Australian scammer Barry Faulkner came to police attention
in 1968 when he posed as a doctor at Royal Brisbane Hospital,
conducting bogus examinations on pregnant women. He subsequently
purported to be a US Air Force colonel, a US Marine Corps
officer, Mike Nesmith of the Monkees, a CIA agent, a gynaecologist,
an Olympic official and pilots for Virgin Blue, Ansett,
Canadian Airlines, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and
In 2008 Faulkner was reportedly sought by police in Queensland
and NSW over scams in which he posed as an employee of
an airport-based courier firm, using forged documentation
to persuade victims that he could supply cheap motorcycles,
perfume and jewellery. In 2006 he was reportedly sentenced
to 16 months' imprisonment for fraud and failing to report
to police as a child sex offender.
Barry George, released from a UK prison in 2008 after
successfully appealing conviction for the murder of Jill
described by the Independent as
of the most bizarre defendants ever to stand in the
dock of the Old Bailey's Court No 1. His life lurched
from the pathetic to the ridiculous, the laughable to
the sinister. He claimed to be everything from the cousin
of the Queen singer Freddie Mercury to a police officer
and a stuntman.
He stole the names of men as different as the shamed
rock star Gary Glitter and the SAS Iranian siege hero
Thomas Palmer. He conned a local newspaper into printing
a piece about his fantasy triumph at a karate championship,
persuaded a promoter to set up his disastrous attempt
to roller-jump over a string of buses and, at one point,
could be seen directing traffic near his west London
But the comic was laced with the brutal. On two occasions,
his pestering of women led to sexual assaults, and he
was convicted of attempted rape. His life was marked
out by his strange attempts to gain approval by adopting
endless different identities and – from everyone
bar his mother and older sister – almost universal
rejection. A handwritten note in his chaotic flat read:
"I have difficulty handling rejection."
Serial imposter Frédéric Bourdin recurrently
posed as a teenager. In 2005, at age 31, he was exposed
after spending a month at a French school in the guise
of a 15 year old - supposedly a Spanish orphan named Francisco
Hernandez-Fernandez - with forged identity papers. The
headmistress explained he "appeared a bit older than
his friends - two or three years at most".
Bourdin had previously served a six-year prison term in
the US after posing as a long-lost son (living with the
supposed parents for three months before his deception
was exposed by a journalist and confirmed by a DNA test)
and claiming in 2004 to be a boy of 14 who disappeared
near Grenoble in 1996 at the age of six.
He was deported from
Spain after he claimed to be Ruben Sanchez Espinosa, whose
mother supposedly died in the Madrid train bombings of
March 2004. He also posed as a tiger tamer, a rich British
holidaymaker, a businessman and a college lecturer. His
life is discussed in 'The Chameleon: The many lives of
Frédéric Bourdin' by David Grann in the
New Yorker of 11 August 2008 and in Grann's The
Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and
Obsession (New York: Doubleday 2010).
32 year old Brian MacKinnon duped teachers and pupils
at Glasgow's Bearsden Academy into believing that he was
17 year old Canadian Brandon Lee. He had studied at Bearsden
13 years earlier. After matriculating from Bearsden he
started a medical degree at the University of Dundee,
being discovered when his passport was found during a
holiday in Tenerife.
22 year old US sex offender Joshua Gardner less successfully
posed in 2005 as 17 year old Caspian James Crichton-Stuart
IV, supposed fifth Duke of Cleveland. If he had adopted
a less glittering persona - how many dukes go to Minnesota
high schools - he might have got away with it.
29 year old convicted sex offender Neil Rodreick attended
an Arizona public school for four months in the guise
of Casey Price, supposedly a seventh grader, and Oklahoma
schools in 2005 as a supposed 12 year old. Rodreick was
arrested in 2007.
28 year old drifter James Hogue, portrayed in The
Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical
Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue (New
York: New Press 2008) by David Samuels, persuaded the
Princeton University admissions committee that he was
16 year old self-taught orphan cowboy and athlete Alexi
Hogue gained admission to Princeton, along with US$30,000
assistance, but was rumbled by a spectator at an athletics
event in his sophomore year. He was arrested for defrauding
Princeton of the financial aid, served a short sentence
and then turned up at Harvard before engaging in a range
of crimes under different names. At sentencing in 2006
the judge mildly said the 10 year sentence was an attempt
to get Hogue's attention.
the odour of sanctity
preceding page of this guide highlighted the severity
of traditional punishments for pretending to be a member
of the clergy (particularly where there was an established
church) or claiming an ecclesiastical authority to which
the offender was not entitled.
That assertion might be that the offender was divine -
for example Christ or the Jewish Messiah - or might be
more modest, for example that the offender was a displaced
patriarch, visiting cardinal or priest.
It reflects the opportunity for scammers to exploit the
good faith of the pious (or merely leverage the state's
respect for religious dignitaries) or evade punishment
for some crimes (in regimes where there was 'benefit of
clergy'). It also reflects the psychology of some identity
offences, in which putting on clerical robes variously
secures for the respect - even love - of ordinary people
and brings the offender closer to the deity, a sort of
holiness by osmosis.
Daniel Vasconi in The Onion naughtily claimed
in 2002 that
admired priests all my life. Whenever a priest walked
into a room, everyone seemed to look at him with respect
and admiration. I always thought it'd be great to be
a priest, but the thought of going through years of
vocational training and having to stop screwing women
was too much for me. It was a glorious moment, indeed,
when I realized I didn't need to do all that to become
To become a priest, all you really need is a priest
outfit from a costume shop, a Bible, and the right attitude.
If you can remember to stop swearing, be discreet ...
and wash the stench of pot smoke out of your clothes,
you're home free. Who knew it would be so easy?
The thing you have to realize is, when you dress up
like a priest, people want to believe you're a priest.
I recently visited a small town in Missouri where no
one knew me and started walking around in my priest
outfit. Within a few hours, I was invited to a week's
worth of home-cooked meals. Man, did I eat good! And
you know what? Not a single person asked me to show
my priest ID card before serving up the roast turkey
and mashed potatoes.
Religious identity fraud is not entirely a thing of the
past, although arguably less common because of secularisation
in Western economies. It is often bizarre and involves
German carpenter Gerhard Vilsmeier spent 25 years in the
guise of a Roman Catholic priest. During the mid-1980s
he was accepted in the Tyrolean parish of Schwarz as missionary
priest 'Axel Kolbe'. Detection forced embarrassed religious
authorities to redo the weddings and christenings at which
Vilsmeier had officiated.
He moved to Berlin, claiming to be a doctor of ecclesiastical
law and a Bavarian priest on sabbatical. He was detected
after six months of service, with the church belatedly
requesting to see his documentation.
Unabashed by a £1,400 from a Berlin court for false
use of a title, he spent the closing months of 2005 in
Austria as a priest, having persuaded the presumably pious
folk of Neukirchen an der Enknach that he was an organist
from a nearby parish and then a priest without a parish.
A diocesan spokesperson explained "the man was extremely
well-versed in all things theological".
We trust that there would be a somewhat more searching
examination of fraudsters who appear to be extremely well
versed in all things legal or medical.
Musician Massimiliano Muzzi more benignly toured the world
in the guise of the Pope's organist, with his promoters
claiming that he was a virtuoso who performed at private
masses in the papal chapel and at organ at St Peter's
Basilica. In 2008 Italian police revealed the arrest of
a man who had posed as a priest and sought to hear confessions
in St Peter's. The imposter used had clerical robes and
documents, including what appeared to be an authentic
Raffaello Follieri, sentenced in 2008 to 54 months in
a US prison, enjoyed an equally high-profile life before
pleading guilty to wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.
As CEO of the Follieri Group he raised millions from investors
by claiming that special connections with the Vatican
allowed him to buy church properties at below-market prices
and redevelop them for 'socially responsible purposes'.
His lawyer portrayed Follieri as a well-intentioned businessman
whose miscalculations spun out of control, a "fundamentally
good person with a generous spirit". The judge appears
to have accepted the argument that Follieri was a sophisticated
swindler operating a Ponzi-style scheme.
Australian scammer James Crouch (1830?-1891) "assumed
the garb of whichever religious denomination suited his
purpose", posing as a cardinal in Rome in 1855, as
lecturer Rev Arthur Mereton in England in 1857 (meanwhile
committing frauds for which he was sentenced as Edward
Morton) before absconding to Australia in 1859 as a chaplain
with forged credentials. In 1861 he appeared at Braidwood
as Rev Montague Mereton, conducting an illegal marriage
and stealing £100 of gold.
In 1870, as Rev Thomas Oscar Roland Keating, he was active
as a scammer in the USA - depicted in Trial and Persecutions
of Miss Edith O'Gorman, Otherwise Sister Teresa de Chantal
of St Joseph's Convent (1878), a shocker in the style
of the 'Maria Monk' propaganda.
In 1872 he was sentenced to five years penal servitude
and seven years police surveillance in the UK for forging
documents purporting to be issued by the bishop of Bath
& Wells. His impostures in various ecclesiastical
roles recurred in Dublin after release from prison, before
he moved to Sydney in 1890 as Rev Theodore Oswald Keatinge.
More recently 'Father Giustino Visconti', supposedly a
lecturer in canon law at Fordham University in New York,
was charged with criminal impersonation and grand larceny
for bilking a widow of her retirement savings. Visconti
- in reality John Fortune (an unemployed man with no religious
training) - had performed a baptism, said as many as five
Masses and heard confessions in the Fordham section of
next page (stolen honour)