A parent’s worst nightmare is to go pick up their child from the bus stop, but the kid never gets off the bus. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than reporting your child missing and have to start an extensive search to bring them home. Well, that’s exactly what one family lived through when their 15-year-old son, Aubrey Carroll, disappeared in 2016. The family was heartbroken, and no one had a clue where to find him.
High school is a tough time for many children around the world. There is the pressure of getting good grades, impressing your teachers, and fitting in socially. On top of all that, there is the added stress of SATS and getting into college. The pressure turns you into the person you will eventually become, but it isn’t always easy. The stress of high school really got to 15-year-old Aubrey Carrol.
New School, New Life
After his parents divorced, Aubrey was forced to move to Spalding County in Georgia with his mom, Danielle. His father, Michael, stayed on the other side of the state in Jones County. Despite the huge change and the trauma of the divorce, Aubrey seemed to be making the best out of his situation.
He started attending Spalding High School. Although switching schools was an adjustment, Aubrey slowly started making friends with some of his classmates. He had a particularly strong relationship with his great-aunt Gina, who he nicknamed, “Big Mama.” He appeared to be getting used to his new life, and for a while, things seemed to be going smoothly.
The Custody Battle
However, things didn’t stay peachy for long. The custody battle between Aubrey’s parents, Michael and Victoria, got really intense. The young boy who had no control over what was going on was stuck in the middle of their war. He hated the fact that his parents fought over him so much. He wasn’t old enough to make his own decision of where he wants to live, and it was a heartbreaking situation all around.
Ultimately, Aubrey’s dad Michael won the messy custody war. It meant that Aubrey had to return to Jones County, right in the middle of the school year. Since he already went through so many changes in a short period of time, his parents agreed to let him commute to Spalding High School to finish off the rest of the school year.
A New Routine
Aubrey was so excited that he didn’t have to switch schools once again, especially not in the middle of the school year. However, this also meant that there was a one hour drive to the bus stop every morning and a long ride home. Michael and his new wife, Leah, made sure to drop Aubrey off and pick him up every day.
Michael took care of the morning drive, and Leah picked him up at the end of the day. That arrangement seemed to be working pretty well for a while. Despite the long commute, Aubrey got used to the new routine pretty quickly. He was always on time and really appreciated his father driving him to the bus stop every day.
Rules and Restrictions
Even though Aubrey was grateful for his dad’s help, Michael ruled his home with an iron fist, and it started to get to Aubrey. Michael was extremely strict when it came to his son’s social life, and often limited the time he spent with his friends. It wasn’t easy for a socially-oriented teenager.
The fifteen-year-old slowly started to resent his father and his restrictions. Aubrey didn’t like his disruptions and felt like he was suffering because of it. As Aubrey started getting more resentful of the situation, the tension in the house started to grow. Aubrey’s behavior started getting more unpredictable, and eventually, he started to disobey his father’s rules.
Naturally, the more his rebellious son disregarded his father’s rules, the stricter Michael was towards him. Aubrey felt like he was being extremely controlled and didn’t like it at all. His defiance quickly started getting him into trouble with the police. This seemed to be very out of character.
Aubrey was always well-behaved before moving in with Michael. His aunt Gina said, “He was a good kid and never got in trouble. He was very witty and fun to be around.” But then, according to Michael, a “small incident” got the high schooler in hot water with the cops. But this was just a sliver of what was coming in the next few days.
An Ordinary Day
May 24th, 2016 was a seemingly normal day. Michael drove Aubrey an hour away to the bus stop, as he did every morning. “I dropped him off that morning, and everything seemed fine,” Michael explained to a news outlet during an interview. Aubrey just got out of the car and waited for the bus.
Michael still had a long trip back and needed to get to work. As he drove away, his son was getting smaller and smaller in his rearview mirror. At the end of that typical Tuesday, it was time for Leah to pick her step-son up like she did every day. So, she made her way to the bus stop.
Where is Aubrey?
Leah was waiting for Aubrey and watched the yellow school bus pull up. She watched all the students get off, chat with each other, looking at their phones, and walking home. Leah didn’t expect her stepson to be the first to jump out of the bus, so she waited. However, when he wasn’t showing up, she started getting impatient.
She wondered what was taking him so long. But then, the yellow bus shut its doors and drove off. Aubrey never got off of it. Leah had no idea where he was. Was he just having a fun day off? Playing hooky with his friends? What can he possibly be doing? They figured he would be back.
He’ll Be Back…
At first, Michael and the investigators thought that Aubrey ran away and would be back in a few days. He would either get bored or run out of money at some point. But those days turned into weeks, and Aubrey still didn’t come home. Michael started to get extremely worried. What if he never ran away, and he was taken?
Michael tried to remain calm and put his faith in the Spaulding Country Sheriff’s department. Shockingly, Michael refused to mention anything to Aubrey’s mother. He said, “We did not think it was necessary to notify that side of the family right away. At that point, we felt like we were going to find him, and everything was going to be okay.”
I would think notifying the mother would help find him, but what do I know? Police were working on the investigation and put together a comprehensive timeline of what they believed happened. Their report stated that Aubrey left school with a friend named David. The following day, the teenager was at Cameron’s house – another friend.
When Cameron’s mom found out Michael was looking for Aubrey, she sent him home. She believed she was doing the right thing by not allowing him to stay there. She figured Aubrey wouldn’t have anywhere else to go and reluctantly return to his dad and step-mother’s home, or at the very least, give them a call. Aubrey didn’t do either.
In Tremendous Pain
Aubrey’s family was in tremendous pain. They couldn’t find their son, and things were particularly hard during the holidays and special occasions. He wasn’t there when his grandmother Jill passed away. The family had to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year without him. Then his 16th birthday rolled around and still nothing.
There was no break in the case; it was like he just vanished. Gina (AKA Big Mama) was angry when he didn’t call her on her birthday. They were really close and hoped he would find a way to contact her. Gina thinks his disappearance had to do with an event that took place one week before he went missing.
Aubrey’s Side of the Story
Gina expressed, “I just wish I knew what happened at home that weekend.” She was sick of hearing Michael’s version and wanted to know “Aubrey’s side of the story – not his father’s.” Sadly, the following months passed in silence. There was still no sign of Aubrey, and his family began to wonder if he would ever come home.
In April 2018, the police finally made a break in the case. Investigators came across a picture on Facebook that had an uncanny resemblance to Aubrey. Even though the name was different, you couldn’t deny the huge similarities between both of their faces. Is it possible that this is the missing teen?
They Found Him
The Sheriff instructed the media team to show Aubrey’s family the pictures they discovered on that newly-created Facebook profile. Even with the long hair and bushy beard, it was clear that this was Aubrey. He couldn’t hide his blue eyes and distinctive smile. The family confirmed to Sheriff Dix that this was definitely Aubrey, without a shadow of a doubt.
While meeting with the family, the investigators were closely monitoring the Facebook page and assured them that Aubrey was safe and well. They were obviously relieved but had so many questions for the investigation team. But they knew that Aubrey was alive and not in any danger; that’s the most important thing.
The Long-Awaited Phone Call
The separation was getting to be too much, and a family member sent Aubrey a message on Facebook. Surprisingly, he responded, and he was encouraged to give his mom a call. At this point, it has been two years since she lost saw him and she missed him like crazy. He decided maybe it was time to call her up.
During the emotional phone call, Aubrey told his mom he would come home. However, his return came with some terms and conditions. He didn’t want to be controlled. Aubrey’s mom was just happy that her son was on the other end of the line. She was waiting for such a long time to hear the sound of Aubrey’s voice.
Traveling with Hippies
Sheriff Dix claims that Aubrey has been all over the country. He has been to California, Denver, Utah, Kansas, and Wyoming. For months, he was roaming around with a group of hippies and loved living off of the grid with them. He didn’t face any charges because, according to the law, he technically didn’t do anything wrong. It was his choice to leave his strict Georgia home and experience a new way of life.
Aubrey started a relationship with a girl while he was off the grid, and she drove him back to Georgia since they were both in Chicago at the time. Sheriff Dix said that Aubrey was well aware of the pain he was causing his family when he chose to leave, two years prior. He planned to leave school that day and disappear from their lives.
Even though it would take time to get reacquainted, the family was just happy that Aubrey was back, and that he was safe. Sheriff Dix was asked to comment on the pain, and sorrow Aubrey caused when he left. He said, “He understands the magnitude of it. He understands some people were hurt, but the big thing now is the fact that it’s over.”
The Sheriff released a video on his Facebook page. Aubrey shows up with a huge smile saying, “I’d like to tell y’all- thank y’all so much for all your prayers and looking out for my mama. I appreciate y’all so much. I’m all right. I’m okay. I’ve been smiling, and y’all should do the same.” A lot of healing is going to be needed, but for now, Sheriff Dix is happy that Aubrey is “safe, healthy and unharmed.”
Kids go missing all the time. Sometimes, they run away to live a free life, and other times they are taken away from their families. There is nothing more difficult for a parent than to have their child go missing. They are desperate to get their child back and try to stay hopeful, even when the doubts are against them.
When Nicholas went missing from Texas in 1994, his family was heartbroken. But he was miraculously found a few years later, in a different state. As it turns out, it wasn’t Nicholas at all. It was a complete child, posing as the missing child and took advantage of a distressed family who so deeply wanted this person to be their missing son.
In 1994, a boy from Texas named Nicholas Barclay went missing. Three years later, the boy-turned-teenager was found in Spain. He was reunited with his family, but not all was as it seemed. Something was off, and no one could really believe that it was really Nicholas. The sudden and miraculous discovery of the troubled teen just seemed too good to be true. And when it feels that way, it usually is too good to be true.
Nicholas was 13-year-old went after a basketball game with his friends at a neighborhood park. Frederic was a 23-year-old young man from France who grew up in a home without love or affection. He took up a life crime to keep himself afloat and essentially to feel wanted. This is the incredible and very true story of a boy, his assumed kidnapping, his spine-tingling “return,” and an imposter’s performance for the history books.
Nicholas Barclay, a Boy From Texas
Nicholas Barclay was born on December 31st, 1980, and raised in San Antonio, Texas, by a single mother, Beverly Dollarhide, who was battling her own drug addiction. She worked the “graveyard shift” at a local convenience store. Beverly had two older kids from a previous marriage, a daughter named Carey, and a son named Jason. Both of Nicholas’ half-siblings were much older than him.
Nicholas was a troubled little boy and had his share of run-ins with the law, despite his young age. He managed to accumulate a juvenile criminal record for felonies like breaking and entering, stealing, truancy, and threatening his school teachers. Nicholas was also known to be verbally and physically abusive toward his mother. Eventually, Beverly asked her eldest son, Jason, to help her with Nicholas.
His Step-Brother Came into the Picture
Jason was in his 20s at the time that he came to live with her and Nicholas. Beverly was hoping that Jason could help her take control of her son that was continuously acting out. This wasn’t necessarily the best thing Beverly did, though, as Jason himself was battling a cocaine addiction and had a violent temper of his own.
Police had been repeatedly called to the home on calls of domestic disturbances. Needless to say, the cops knew Nicholas and his mother pretty well. Nicholas was scheduled for a court appearance on June 14th, 1994, which could have led to the possibility of him being sent to a group home. Obviously, the thought of being sent to a group home and losing his freedom didn’t sit well with the boy.
The Exact Date is Up for Debate
Nicholas was last seen playing basketball in June of 1994, but there’s speculation as to the exact date. His mother reported him missing on the 13th, despite the reports made that stated that Nicholas was last seen on the 10th. Apparently, it wasn’t unusual for Nicholas to be away from home for a day or so, which could explain why she waited three days.
The park that Nicholas was playing basketball at was about a mile or two from his house. He reportedly called home to see if his mother could pick him up when he was done his game, but Jason answered the phone instead. He told Nicholas that their mom was still asleep, and he didn’t want to wake her up. (Let’s remember that she worked the night shifts and slept during the days).
A Small Boy for His Age
Jason told Nicholas that he was going to have to walk home. Jason was the last person to ever speak to Nicholas. On June 13th, Beverly called the police to report her son as missing. Given Nicholas’s reputation with the police and his scheduled court appearance, they were slow to respond. They assumed that he was just running away from the inevitable.
The cops told Beverly that it was likely that Nicholas would show up in a day or so. They were given a description, however, as to what Nicholas was wearing that day. The boy, who was small for his age at only four-foot, eight-inches, and weighed only 80 pounds, was wearing a white shirt and purple pants. He was carrying a pink backpack, too.
A Strange Disappearance
With such a description, the police probably thought that the boy would be hard to miss and would be found and brought home before long. But they were mistaken. Nicholas was carrying on him only $5, and he wasn’t known to be carrying any extra clothing. His family figured, if he had been planning to run away, he would probably take more personal items with him. Rather, he had left everything behind.
Police then opened a missing person investigation, but there were no leads as to where Nicholas could have gone. With only $5 to his name, the chances of him buying a ticket on public transportation were low. So was the possibility of finding room and board somewhere. The only explanation at the time was that he hitchhiked somewhere of town, which meant there was even less hope of finding him.
Three Years Later…
Then, three months later, in September of 1994, police received a phone call from Jason Barclay. He claimed that he saw Nicholas trying to break into their garage. When the police arrived, Jason told them that they were too late – Nicholas had already fled. That incident was the only lead in the case up to that moment, which ultimately was a dead end.
Three years later, just as the Barclays were losing hope, they received an unexpected phone call. They were told that Nicholas had been found, he was lost and scared in a Spanish village. The boy was immediately flown back to the United States and reunited with his family. Sounds wonderful, right? But this story is far from a fairytale ending…
A (Not So) Convincing Cover Story
The story the new Nicholas told the police was that he was kidnapped by high-ranking government officials that were running a child prostitution ring. He claimed that he, and other kids, were subjected to sexual abuse. He claimed that he was part of bizarre experiments, which, as he explained, caused his blue eyes to turn brown and his hair to grow darker, making him unrecognizable.
Nicholas’s half-sister Carey was flown out to Spain, believed that she was going to rescue her baby brother. She then came with him back to San Antonio, and at first, had him stay in her home and share a bedroom with her son. He was then placed back in his mother’s home.
A Tale of Two Nicholases
Nicholas’ family welcomed the now teenager back with open arms. His mother had kept his room just as he had left it, as she had been anxiously waiting for his return. It could be said that his mother missed her son so much that she didn’t notice the completely obvious inconsistencies between her son who went missing and the teenager who was now in their home.
Keep in mind that the Nicholas, who went missing in 1994, was a blond-haired blue-eyed boy with a violent temper and an attitude problem. The Nicholas who was found in Spain in 1997, was a dark-haired brown-eyed 16-year-old who was creepily calm and made anyone around him uncomfortable. Despite the blatant discrepancies, the Barclay family insisted, without a doubt, that this boy was indeed their son.
Day In, Day Out
The disturbing story of the Barclay family’s pain and the too-good-to-be-true Hollywood ending made national headlines. The story of a missing boy reunited with his family drew news crews and reporters to the Barclay home day in and day out. But news reporters weren’t the only ones interested in getting the full story.
Investigators were also determined to find out what happened to Nicholas Barclay during the three years he was missing. That is if it was even Nicholas who returned. After hearing the story, private investigator Charlie Parker got suspicious. The hair and eyes claims that the new Nicholas reported were way too suspicious. It was highly unlikely that his supposed kidnappers went to such lengths to alter his eye color. That’s to say that such a thing is even possible.
The Truth Comes Out
Parker was also put off by the clear difference in personality. Though it is possible that such a traumatic experience can result in a more subdued personality where the victim withdraws into him or herself, Parker felt that it was above and beyond that. The new Nicholas didn’t seem withdrawn; he seemed more mature – older than his reported 16 years of age.
Something was fishy, and Parker knew that the circumstances were too strange to be believable. Then Parker found out that his instincts were on the mark. This new Nicholas Barclay wasn’t 16, but rather 23. In fact, it wasn’t Nicholas at all. Months after his “return,” Nicholas was exposed for who he really was, a 23-year-old French citizen named Frédéric Pierre Bourdin – a notorious con artist.
But before we get into who Frédéric Bourdin is…
The Question Is…
Were Beverly and her family really convinced that this was the same boy? Or were they hiding something? Partly because of Bourdin’s claims after finally being arrested for posing as Nicholas Barclay, many people believed that Nicholas’s family is responsible for what happened to their son. Some speculated that Jason might have murdered him.
After his arrest, Bourdin told the police that he didn’t believe that the family’s grief was real. While in custody, he proposed a rather disturbing theory that could potentially explain why the Barclay family accepted him into their home so willingly. That they opened their home to a young man who was so clearly not their biological son. But then again, this is coming from a serial imposter…
“I don’t have any confessions. There’s no body. Murder is very simple and very basic,” Frederic Bourdin said. “I think something happened inside that house, but I can’t prove it.” Bourdin’s theory was that Nicholas’ own family took his life – that one or all of the family members had killed Nicholas and only adopted Bourdain because it was a way to cover it up. Private investigator Charlie Parker bought into Bourdain’s theories and has been working on proving them ever since.
Using the evidence collected from initial investigations as well as others that were opened after Bourdain’s imprisonment, Parker put together a rather compelling case. He claims that Nicholas Barclay’s rage came to a boiling point and pushed a family member over the edge.
Pointing the Finger
While there is no body, and no confession other than that of a known criminal, Parker is still confident that the Barclays have something to do with it. The idea was that if Jason did it, then Beverly, trying to protect her older son, helped him cover it up. Not long after Bourdin’s arrest, Jason died of a drug overdose (whether or not it was accidental is unknown).
But for many, it seemed suspicious. Did Jason feel some sort of guilt? But whether or not he took Nicholas’ life, he must have felt some remorse as he was the one who told his little brother to walk home by himself the day he vanished.
All Theory, No Proof
Jason was questioned multiple times, both by the police and private investigators, but no conclusion was ever made as to his involvement. His reported sighting of Nicholas in September also seemed very suspicious to those following the case. Some people even pointed the finger at Beverly, saying she knows more than she ever let on.
She showed major resistance when it came to DNA testing. But that could also be explained by her drug addiction. There’s also the chance that she was simply in denial and heartbroken. Maybe she knew deep down that this teenager wasn’t really her son, but her grief made her chose to believe that it was him. She was given three polygraph tests, all on the same day. The first two she passed, but the third she failed.
Now, for the imposter…
Frédéric Bourdin, aka The Chameleon
He managed to fool the Spanish authorities, the FBI, and even the Barclay family themselves, keeping up the charade for three and a half months. But Jason Barclay’s death raised suspicions even more, and Frédéric Bourdin was eventually outed to the family. Bourdin was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison, which was double the recommended time.
Frederic Bourdin, who is also known as “The Chameleon” by Interpol, is a criminal and serial imposter. He was born on June 13th, 1974, in France. Bourdin was raised by his grandparents until he ran away and moved to Paris. He never knew who his father was, as his mother stated that she married an Algerian immigrant named Kaci.
Keeping Up the Charade
Bourdin began his impersonations as a child, and he has claimed to have assumed at least 500 false identities throughout his life (he is now 45). Three of those identities were of real missing teenaged boys. He had been wanted by Interpol for years. Bourdin is clearly an experienced criminal. He has even written something as creepy as this: “When you fight monsters, be careful that you do not become one.”
When Bourdin heard the story of a distraught American family looking for their son, he easily slipped into the persona. But it wasn’t even his initial idea. Bourdin later admitted that he got the idea when a Spanish cop said that he looked like the missing boy from Texas. He then went down a dark and slippery path. A path he was all too familiar with…
On May 3rd, 2005, in France, someone called an emergency hotline for missing and exploited children, saying he found a 15-year-old boy who was alone and scared. Short and thin, with pale skin and shaking hands, he wore a scarf around his face, and a baseball cap pulled over his eyes. He had no money on him and carried just a cell phone and an ID.
His ID revealed that his name was Francisco Hernandez Fernandez, born on December 13th, 1989, in Cáceres, Spain. He eventually started talking, saying that his parents and younger brother were killed in a car accident. The crash had left him in a coma for weeks and, upon recovering, he had to live with an uncle who abused him.
Like a Typical Troubled Teen
Francisco was then placed in a state-run institution that held about thirty-five boys and girls, most of whom were from dysfunctional families or abandoned. He was then enrolled at a local high school with kids from mostly tough neighborhoods. Although the students were forbidden to wear hats, the principal made an exception for Francisco, who said he was scared he would be teased about his scars on his head.
Francisco looked like a typical teenager, but he seemed to be deeply traumatized. He would never change his clothes in front of the other boys in gym class and refused to do a medical exam. He spoke softly, kept his head down, and recoiled if anyone tried to touch him.
The Popular Kid in School
With time, Francisco became one of the most popular kids in school, impressing his classmates with his knowledge of music and American slang. “The students loved him,” a teacher remembered. “He had this aura about him, this charisma.” But one day, everything changed. Francisco was about to exposed for who he truly was.
On June 8th, 2005, an administrator from the high school rushed into the principal’s office. She told her that she watched a TV program the night before about one of the world’s most infamous impostors. They were talking about Frédéric Bourdin, a 30-year-old Frenchman who continually impersonated children. The administrator told the principle: “I swear to God, Bourdin looks exactly like Francisco Hernandez Fernandez.”
The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Grow Up
Claire Chadourne, the school principal, was skeptical. At age 30, it would mean Francisco was older than some of the teachers. She searched online for “Frédéric Bourdin,” and hundreds of items came up about him as “king of impostors” and the “master of new identities.” He was likened to Peter Pan, the boy who “didn’t want to grow up.”
She then saw a photograph of Bourdin that looked too much like Francisco. The similarities were undeniable – the chin, the gap between the front teeth, for example. Chadourne then called the police. An officer asked her: “Are you sure it’s him?” She replied: “No, but I have this strange feeling.”
Caught, Yet Again
When the police arrived at the high school, Chadourne sent Francisco to be called out of his classroom. As Francisco entered Chadourne’s office, the police grabbed him and thrust him against the wall. Chadourne panicked, feeling doubtful, that maybe they were arresting an abused orphan. But then, while handcuffing the supposed orphaned teenager, the police removed his baseball cap.
No, there were no scars on his head as he once claimed. Rather, he was going bald. “I want a lawyer,” Bourdin then said, his voice suddenly dropped to that of a man. Yes, Chadourne was in shock. At police headquarters, he admitted to being Frédéric Bourdin, and that for the past decade and a half, he invented all kinds of identities, in more than 15 countries and five languages.
And What an Actor
There were reports that Bourdin even impersonated a tiger tamer and a priest. But for the most part, he almost always played a similar character: the abused or abandoned child. He was remarkably good at transforming his appearance, including his facial hair, weight, walk, and mannerisms. “I can become whatever I want,” is something he liked to say.
In 2004, he pretended to be a 14-year-old French boy, and when he was medically examined at the request of the authorities, the doctor concluded that he was, indeed, a teenager. A police captain noted, “When he talked in Spanish, he became a Spaniard. When he talked in English, he was an Englishman.” Principal Chadourne said, “Of course, he lied, but what an actor!”
Why Does He Do It?
Over the years, Bourdin found himself in youth shelters, orphanages, foster homes, high schools, and children’s hospitals. His trail of scams took him to countries like Spain, Germany, Belgium, England, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Bosnia, Portugal, Austria, France, Sweden, Denmark, and America – to name a few. He became a wanted subject of Interpol, the international criminal police organization.
The US State Department referred to him as an “exceedingly clever” man who tends to pose as a desperate child to “win sympathy.” Bourdin himself said, “I am a manipulator. My job is to manipulate.” In France, authorities started an investigation to determine why a 30-year-old man would even want to pose as a teenage orphan. But they found no evidence of sexual deviance or pedophilia. And surprisingly, they didn’t even uncover any financial motive, either.
Unsure How to Punish Him
“In my twenty-two years on the job, I’ve never seen a case like it,” Eric Maurel, a prosecutor, said. “Usually people con for money. His profit seems to have been purely emotional.” After his con as Francisco was exposed, Bourdin moved to a village 25 miles away. As often happened with Bourdin’s deceptions, authorities weren’t sure how to punish him.
Psychiatrists had determined that he was sane. “Is he a psychopath?” one doctor asked. “Absolutely not.” The thing is that no statute seemed to fit his unique crime. Ultimately, Bourdin was charged with obtaining and using a false ID, and received a six-month sentence. On his right arm, police discovered Bourdin’s tattoo. It said, “caméléon nantais,” which translates to “Chameleon from Nantes.”
How He Became Nicholas Barclay
There is a whole backstory to Bourdin, as we can see, and specifically to his choice of becoming Nicholas Barclay. In October 1997, Bourdin was at a youth home in Spain. A child-welfare judge gave him 24 hours to prove that he was indeed a teenager. If he didn’t, she would take his fingerprints, which were on Interpol records.
Bourdin knew that as an adult with a criminal record, he could easily face prison. Rather than invent an identity, he chose this time to steal one. He took the persona of the missing sixteen-year-old boy from Texas. Bourdin, at 23, not only had to convince them that he was an American teenager; he also had to convince the missing boy’s family.
Concocting His Plan
According to Bourdin, his plan came to him in the middle of the night. He asked to use the telephone in the shelter’s office and chose to call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia, searching for a real identity. Speaking in English, he said his name was Jonathan Durean and that he was a director of the shelter.
He told them that a frightened child turned up with an American accent. Bourdin gave a description of the boy that also matched himself — short, thin, a prominent chin, brown hair, and a gap between his teeth. He asked the center if they had anyone similar in their database. Bourdin said that a woman at the center said that there was a boy named Nicholas Barclay who was reported missing in San Antonio.
Making the Call
Bourdin then asked if the woman at the center to send him more information regarding Barclay. She faxed him Barclay’s missing-person flyer, and while the printout was hard to make out, the photo of Nicholas wasn’t far off from how Bourdin looked. He then called back the center and told the woman, “I have some good news. Nicholas Barclay is standing right beside me.”
The woman gave Bourdin the number of the officer in charge of the investigation at the San Antonio Police Department, and he called, pretending to be a Spanish policeman. He told the officer about the details he learned from the woman at the center, like his pink backpack. Bourdin probably didn’t fully think through what he was about to unleash.
A Crazy Tale
The next day, Bourdin got his hands on the clean copy of Nicholas Barclay’s missing-person flyer. Bourdin stared at it and said to himself, “I’m dead.” Nicholas had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a tattoo of a cross on his hand. Bourdin acted quickly: he burned the flyer, bleached his hair blonde, and had a friend, using a needle and ink from a pen, draw a makeshift tattoo resembling Barclay’s.
But there was still the matter of Bourdin’s brown eyes. He came up with the cover story about being abducted and tortured, thinking it would serve the purpose of explaining the eye color. What about his Texas accent? Well, he would say that with three years of captivity, he was forbidden to speak English. Oh, and how did he escape? He would say that he escaped from a locked room when a guard carelessly left the door open. It was a crazy story.
The Perfect Pawn
A few days later, Carey Barclay arrived, accompanied by an official from the US Embassy. Bourdin wrapped his face in a scarf and put on a hat and sunglasses. He was sure that Carey would immediately realize that he wasn’t her brother. But instead, she rushed up to him and hugged him. Apparently, Carey happened to be the perfect mark.
According to her mother, Beverly, “My daughter has the best heart and is so easy to manipulate.” And even though Bourdin called her “Carey” rather than “sis,” as Nicholas always had, and even though he had a bit of a French accent, Carey said that she had very little doubt that it was Nicholas. And let’s not forget, this man was a pro.
According to authorities in Madrid, Spain, Carey swore under oath that Bourdin was her brother and, indeed, an American citizen. He was then granted a US passport and was on a flight to San Antonio the next day. For a moment, Bourdin had the chance to fantasize about becoming part of a real family, but midway to America, he began to “freak out,” as Carey put it. He was shaking and sweating.
When the plane landed on October 18th, 1997, Nicholas’s family was waiting at the airport. Bourdin recognized them right away from Carey’s photographs that she showed him on the plane. Beverly, Carey’s then-husband, Bryan Gibson, their son, Codey, and their daughter, Chantel. Only Jason, the recovering drug addict, was absent.
A Family Reunion
A family friend videotaped the reunion, where you can see Bourdin bundled up, his hat pulled down, his brown eyes covered by sunglasses, his fading tattoo covered by gloves. While Bourdin thought Nicholas’s relatives were going to “hang” him for what he’s done, they embraced him, saying how much they missed him. But while everyone was emotionally crazy, Beverly hung back, looking skeptical.
But eventually, she greeted him, too. They all got in Carey’s Lincoln Town Car and stopped at McDonald’s for cheeseburgers and fries. As Carey recalls it, “He was just sitting by my mom, talking to my son,” saying how much “he missed school and asking when he’d see Jason.”
Becoming Nicholas Barclay
Bourdin went to stay with Carey and Bryan at first, in their cramped trailer home, which wasn’t exactly the vision of America that Bourdin imagined. He shared a room with Codey and started to do some reconnaissance. He secretly rummaged through drawers and picture albums and watched home videos. Whenever Bourdin discovered a small detail about Nicholas’s past from a family member, he would repeat it to another.
Various members of the family later said that when Bourdin seemed standoffish than Nicholas ever was or spoke with a strange accent, they figured it was because of the terrible treatment he said he suffered. As Bourdin was becoming Nicholas, he was amazed by what he thought were uncanny similarities between them. For instance, Nicholas was reported missing on Bourdin’s birthday, and they both came from poor and broken families.
Enter Charlie Parker
Then, on November 1st, just as Bourdin was settling into his new home, private investigator Charlie Parker was sitting in his office in San Antonio when his phone rang. It was a producer from the tabloid show ‘Hard Copy,’ who heard about the extraordinary return of Nicholas Barclay and wanted Parker to help investigate the kidnapping. Parker agreed to take the job.
Parker, who was then in his late 50s, had always dreamed about being a P.I. but had only recently become one. In 1995, he received his license as a private investigator, leaving his life in the lumber business behind. Parker easily traced Nicholas Barclay to Carey and Bryan’s trailer. By November 6th, Parker was at their doorstep with the producer and a camera crew.
Zoom in On His Ears
While the family didn’t want to talk to the producer, Bourdin, who had been there for nearly three weeks, agreed to talk. “I wanted the attention at the time,” he later explained. “It was a psychological need. Today, I wouldn’t do it.” Parker stood off to the side, listening as the young man told his story. “He was calm as a cucumber,” Parker recalled. “No looking down, no body language. None.”
But Parker was curious about his accent. He also didn’t buy that this was the same boy as the photo he was looking at of Nicholas. Having once read that ears are as distinct as fingerprints, he went up to the cameraman and whispered: “Zoom in on his ears. Get ’em as close as you can.”
“The ears were close, but they didn’t match,” Parker said, he also called several ophthalmologists and asked if it was possible for eyes to be changed from blue to brown by injecting chemicals. Obviously, the doctors said no. Parker also spoke to a dialect expert who told him that even if someone was held in captivity for three years, he would regain his native accent quickly.
Parker passed on his suspicions to the authorities, despite the fact that the San Antonio police already declared that “the boy who came back claiming to be Nicholas Barclay is Nicholas Barclay.” Worried about a dangerous stranger living with the Barclay family, Parker called Beverly and told her what he discovered. “It’s not him, Ma’am. It’s not him.”
The Gig is Up
“What do you mean, it’s not him?” she asked him. Parker then explained about the ears, the eyes, and the accent. In his documents, Parker wrote, “Family is upset but maintains that they believe it is their son.” Parker then got an angry phone call a few days later from Bourdin, asking Parker, “Who do you think you are?”
When Parker told him his thoughts, Bourdin shot back: “Immigration thinks it’s me. The family thinks it’s me.” Beverly was renting a small room in a run-down complex at the time, and Parker started to follow Bourdin when he went to visit her. “I thought he was a terrorist, I swear to God,” Parker says.
After two months of being in America, Bourdin started to fall apart. He was moody, aloof, and “weirding out,” as Codey put it. He stopped going to his classes and got suspended. In December, he took Bryan and Carey’s car and drove to Oklahoma. The police pulled him over for speeding, and he was arrested. He was brought back to his “home,” but he was missing his own mother.
According to his real mother, Ghislaine, he had called her in Europe. Despite all of their disagreements, Bourdin still seemed to long for her. He wrote her a letter once, saying, “I don’t want to lose you. If you disappear, then I disappear.” Ghislaine said that Bourdin confessed that he was living with a woman in America who believed that he was her son. She got so upset that she hung up the phone.
She Smelled a Rat
Shortly before Christmas that year, Bourdin went into the bathroom, grabbed a razor, and began to mutilate his face. He was then put in a psychiatric ward for several days of observation. It was after this visit that he wrote in a notebook, “When you fight monsters, be careful that in the process, you do not become one.”
Meanwhile, the authorities were starting to doubt Bourdin’s story. Nancy Fisher, an FBI. agent interviewed Bourdin after he arrived in the United States, and immediately she “smelled a rat.” And when she interviewed Beverly, she was “surly and uncooperative.” Fisher Bourdin him to see a forensic psychiatrist in Houston, who concluded that he couldn’t be American, and was most likely French or Spanish.
The FBI shared these results with Beverly and Carey, but they still insisted that he was Nicholas. Fisher believed that Bourdin was a spy, and contacted the CIA, explaining the potential threat and asking for help in identifying him. But they told her that until she can prove that he’s European, they can’t help her.
When Fisher tried to persuade Beverly and Bourdin to give their blood samples for a DNA test, they both adamantly refused. Beverly said, “How dare you say he’s not my son.” By the middle of February, four months after Bourdin arrived, Fisher was able to obtain warrants to force them to cooperate. “I go to her house to get a blood sample, and she lies on the floor and says she’s not going to get up,” Fisher says. “I said, ‘Yes, you are.’ ”
The End of the Road
On March 5th, 1998, as the authorities were closing in on Bourdin, Beverly called Parker to tell him that she now believed that Bourdin was an impostor. The next morning, Parker took Bourdin to a diner. After a meal of pancakes, Borudin blurted out, “She’s not my mother, and you know it.” Parker then asked, “You gonna tell me who you are?”
“I’m Frédéric Bourdin, and I’m wanted by Interpol.” Parker went to the washroom and called Nancy Fisher, who just received the same information from Interpol. “We’re trying to get a warrant right now,” she said to Parker. “Stall him.” After about an hour, Parker took Bourdin to Beverly’s apartment. As Parker left, Fisher and the authorities came in. Bourdin surrendered quietly. Beverly wasn’t as calm. She turned and yelled at Fisher: “What took you so long?”
To this day, Nicholas Barclay’s whereabouts are unknown.