The new Investigation Discovery’s show He Lied About Everything tells the story of a man who appears to be perfect on the surface, but is hiding nefarious, sinister — and sometimes deadly — secrets. Watch the premiere of He Lied About Everything on Wednesday, February 14 at 8/7c on Investigation Discovery!
From financial fraud and faking identities to kidnapping and murder, here are five criminals whose entire lives were based on lies.
The Serial Imposter Who Claimed To Be A Missing BoyOn June 13, 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas “Nicky” Barclay went missing after playing basketball at a park in San Antonio, Texas.
In October 1997, the San Antonio police called the boy’s mother, Beverly Dollarhide, and told her that Nicholas had been found — in Spain. But the man claiming to be Dollarhide’s missing son wasn’t Nicholas.
He was Frédéric Bourdin, and he had a long track record of impersonating more than 500 children all over the world. But Dollarhide believed his story — and summed up the change in “Nicky’s” personality to his traumatic experiences.
However Bourdin’s scheme took a hit after the TV show Hard Copy started filming the family, and a crew member saw the differences between Bourdin and Nicholas. The crew member called a San Antonio private detective, Charlie Parker. Parker soon became fixated on the case, even though Dollarhide and Nicholas’ older sister refused to believe that the person they took in was not Nicholas.
Parker began following Bourdin, and invited him to breakfast. Bourdin actually confessed to Parker, saying “My name is Frédéric Bourdin, and I’m wanted by Interpol.”
Bourdin was arrested and sentenced to six years behind bars. After his release, he returned to France and reportedly continued to impersonate various missing teens for years. [CrimeFeed]
The Fake Rockefeller
Clark Rockefeller claimed to be a wealthy descendant of one of America’s most prominent families, but turned out to be a con artist, kidnapper — and killer.
Investigators discovered that Rockefeller’s real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, and he was born in Germany before moving to the U.S. and claiming, at various times, to be an actor, director, bond dealer, art collector, physicist, and an English baronet — complete with a family crest.
Author Bryan Burrough wrote in The Counterfeit Rockefeller that “Rockfeller“ used aliases including Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, and Chip Smith, and duped people across the country.
In 1995, he married a successful businesswoman, and the couple had a daughter. But his wife became suspicious when, despite her husbands’ claims of vast family wealth, they continued to live entirely on her income. Eventually, she grew tired of his controlling ways and secretive behavior, and filed for divorce. With the help of an investigator, she discovered that he had fabricated his name and his family background.
The couple divorced, but in 2008, Gerhartsreiter dramatically abducted his seven-year-old daughter during a supervised visit. He was arrested on August 2, 2008, and convicted of custodial kidnapping.
But this wasn’t Rockefeller’s darkest secret: Police had been seeking him since 1985 as a suspect in the disappearance of a married couple, and he ended up being convicted of the murder of a California man. He is now serving 27 years to life for the murder in a California prison. [CrimeFeed]
The Faux FinancierOn the surface, Bernard “Bernie” Madoff was a mega-successful stockbroker — but, behind the scenes, he was a consummate conman who eventually confessed to perpetrating a Ponzi scheme that is considered the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.
Prosecutors estimated the size of the fraud to be $64.8 billion, based on the amounts in the accounts of Madoff’s clients in 2008.
Madoff founded the Wall Street firm Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960, and was its chairman until his arrest. At the firm, he employed his brother Peter as senior managing director and chief compliance officer and Peter’s daughter Shana Madoff as the firm’s rules and compliance officer and attorney.
He also hired his sons Andrew and Mark to work for the family business. On December 10, 2008, Madoff’s sons told authorities that their father had confessed to them that the asset management unit of his firm was a massive Ponzi scheme, and quoted him as describing it as “one big lie.”
The following day, FBI agents arrested Madoff and charged him with one count of securities fraud. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had previously conducted multiple investigations into Madoff’s business practices, but had not uncovered the massive fraud.
On March 12, 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies, and admitted to turning his wealth-management business into a massive Ponzi scheme, which he claimed he began in the early 1990s. However, federal investigators believe the fraud began much earlier — and in the end, the amount missing from client accounts, including fabricated gains, was almost $65 billion.
Peter has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Mark committed suicide by hanging exactly two years after his father’s arrest. Andrew died of lymphoma on September 3, 2014.
On June 29, 2009, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison. [CrimeFeed]
The “Catch Me If You Can” Con ArtistFrank William Abagnale Jr. became one of the most famous imposters ever when, between the ages of 15 and 21, he claimed to have assumed the identities of eight people including an airline pilot, a physician, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons agent, and a lawyer. He escaped from police custody twice, and eventually began working for the federal government. Currently, he runs Abagnale & Associates, a financial fraud consultancy company and also lectures at FBI field offices.
While posing as a Pan Am pilot, he forged a Harvard University degree and passed the bar exam. He was eventually arrested in Montpelier, France, and served time in a French prison before, after a complicated extradition battle between several countries, he was sent back to the U.S. to serve his 12-year sentence in federal prison.
In 1974, after he had served less than five years of his 12-year sentence at Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, Virginia, the United States federal government released him on the condition that he help the federal authorities, without pay, investigate scams.
After his release, Abagnale tried numerous jobs, including cook, grocer, and movie projectionist, but he was fired from most of these after it was discovered he had been hired without revealing his criminal past. Finally, he approached a bank and offered to speak to staff about how to spot cons — which launched his career as a security consultant.
Abagnale’s life story inspired the autobiography and movie Catch Me If You Can, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent chasing him. Abagnale has since admitted that some of the exploits detailed in the book and movie were exaggerated. [HistoryvHollywood]
Perfect Husband; Perfect Murder
On September 21, 1986, Cheryl Keeton, a 36-year-old lawyer in Portland, Oregon, was found dead inside her Toyota van on the Sunset Highway by a passing motorist. At the time of her death, she was going through a long bitter divorce and custody battle over her three sons with her husband, Bradley Cunningham.
Cheryl was Bradley’s fourth wife. Investigators soon discovered that he was already dating Sara Gordon, a wealthy surgeon who would become wife number five.
Digging deeper, they discovered a pattern in his courtships: After an idyllic beginning where he swept them off their feet and appeared to be the perfect man, Cunningham became possessive, controlling, and physically abusive. He would then tell the next woman that his exes had been promiscuous, irresponsible, and unfit mothers.
True crime writer Ann Rule wrote in her book Dead by Sunset that Cunningham was a diabolical man with multiple personality disorders who spent his life manipulating women. Rule interviewed women Cunningham had dated, who revealed that he had told them that he was a real estate entrepreneur with millions in the bank — when in reality, his projects failed, and he was heavily in debt from overspending.
Cunningham was found guilty of bludgeoning Keeton to death in January 1995, and is serving a life sentence behind bars. In 2005, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld Cunningham’s conviction. [The Seattle Times]
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Main photo: Frederic Bourdin in 2008 [Francparler (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons]