Fake Teens VI: Online Teens

One of the following two stories ends in tragedy. The other ends somewhat happily for everyone. But both shine a bright light into the depths of online deception. I see these cases not so much as suspense thrillers (like the documentaries made about them), nor cautionary tales (as the media presents them), but as reminders of just how far a few people will go for attention.


Four years ago, two families and two innocent young people fell victim to the fantasy lives of two incredibly manipulative, unbalanced chat addicts.

In 2002, college student Brian Barrett began working at the Dynabrade factory in Clarence, New York, to help pay his tuition. A quiet and good-natured former athlete with wholesome good looks, the 18-year-old wanted to become a shop teacher. By 2006 he was studying industrial arts at Buffalo State.
Brian had an unlikely friendship with one of his co-workers, 45-year-old former Marine Thomas Montgomery. Tom had left the Marines as a young man with a drinking problem. When Brian Barrett met him, though, Tom was a dry, thoroughly reliable family man who taught Sunday school, volunteered on his daughters’ swim team, and had not so much as a speeding ticket on his record. He found his work as a machinist monotonous and uninspiring, but the pay was decent.
The only problem in Tom’s life was that he felt disappointed in himself, and craved more adventure. He started gambling and gaming online, and in mid-2005 he began chatting with a 17-year-old girl from West Virginia who called herself “Talhotblond” [sic]. Jessi sent him a few sexy photos of herself, and she was indeed tall, hot, and blond – perfect in every way.
Tom, who called himself “Marinesniper“, sent Jessi a 30-year-old photo of himself in uniform and told her he was 18-year-old “Tommy”, heading off to boot camp.

Jessi was an intriguing blend of woman and girl. She was an outrageous flirt and sent “Tommy” slideshows of herself posing provocatively in miniskirts and bikinis, but she lived with her parents and brother in the little town of Oakhill, West Virginia, where she played softball and basketball.
She and Tommy had cybersex and talked to each other on the phone daily.
Tom quickly fell in love. Not only with Jessi, but with his own online persona. He had given Tommy the Marine a chequered backstory: He hadn’t felt real love since his mother’s untimely death, and became a Marine to assuage his guilt over raping a girl when he was younger. Sometimes he felt suicidal.
Letters Tom Morgan wrote to himself in early 2006 indicate he was fantasizing about becoming the “good looking, battle hardened” Tommy, with a fake birth certificate and Social Security Number. Tommy would look like a redheaded Harrison Ford, sport a 9-inch penis, and have $2.5 million in the bank. He would have a black belt in karate.
Jessi called him her “sweet, sexy Marine”. On Christmas Day 2005, just six months after they met online, Tommy told her he was shipping off to Iraq and asked her to marry him on his return. She said yes.

Bizarrely, Tom also pretended to be “Tom Senior”, Tommy’s military dad. He chatted with Jessie online when his son was unavailable in Iraq, and shipped Jessi’s snail mail to him via “military contacts”.
When Tommy flipped out over Jessi flirting with other guys online, Tom Sr. was angry with her too, because his son really cared for her and would believe her “lying ass”. He remained angry with Jessi long after his “son” forgave her.

When Tommy, facing death in Iraq, lapsed into suicidal depression, Jessi coaxed him out of it.

By the summer of 2006, the guilt was getting to Tom Montgomery. He had an anxiety attack that he mistook for a heart attack. He tried to stay offline, but that made him even more anxious.
His wife of 17 years, Cindy, had been suspicious for a while, asking questions about who Tom was chatting with for hours. He gave her vague, reassuring answers that comforted neither of them.
Then Cindy discovered one of Jessi’s photos, sent by mail along with a pair of panties, and the jig was up. She was deeply weirded out that her husband was posing as a soldier (and a soldier’s dad) to seduce a girl not much older than their daughters.
She fired off a letter to the girl, explaining that “Tommy” was a 46-year-old married man. She warned Jessi to be more cautious online so she wouldn’t again be hurt by someone who had “mastered the art of manipulation and lies”. She enclosed a Montgomery family photo.

Jessi was just as shocked and wounded as Cindy. She demanded to know why Tom had deceived her. Incredibly, though, their relationship didn’t end. Jessi either wanted to learn more about the real Tom, or she wanted to get even: She turned to one of Tom’s online friends – Brian Barrett (“beefcake”). Soon, she began sending Brian photos of herself and calling him “Sexy”, an instant replay of her romance with Tommy. They fell in love, sort of.
Jessi threw her new “relationship” with his young coworker in Tom’s face, praising Brian’s honesty. Of course he realized she was trying to make him jealous, but as soon as she re-initiated contact, Tom knew he wanted her back. He apologized for his lies again and again, pleading for a second chance.

On the surface, Brian and Jessi were a good match. They both loved playing sports, and he was just a few years older than she was. Best of all, Brian wasn’t a middle-aged dad posing as a suicidal teenager. But Jessi craved drama and risk, just like Tom. She finally agreed to resume her relationship with Tom, on one condition: He had to continue pretending he was the 18-year-old Marine she had agreed to marry. “Don’t let Tommy die,” she begged him. At first, Tom refused. That’s when Jessi and Brian began taunting him in the online game chats, calling him a loser and a predator. The harassment amused Brian for a while, but then he began to feel Jessi was taking it too far. He could see a vindictive, manipulative side to her that didn’t appeal to him at all.

By this time, of course, the camaraderie between Tom and Brian was at an end. Brian was creeped out by Tom’s pursuit of a girl young enough to be his daughter, and Tom was extraordinarily bitter that Brian had chosen Jessi over their friendship. More than that, he was threatened. How could he possibly compete with a single guy in his early twenties? He was anchored to a home and family, while Brian could do pretty much as he pleased.
This hit home hard when Brian accepted Jessi’s invitation to visit her in West Virginia. Tom wrote to him, “tell ur little whore to stay the fuck out of my life.”
Before Brian packed his bags, however, Jessi broke it off. She accused him of only being interested in sex. She drifted back to Tom and tried to woo him, but he was still furious with her. “You mean shit to me these days,” he wrote.
She was finally able to melt him somewhat by writing, “U and only U are my connection to Tommy and I will love him till I die.”
Their renewed friendship was an uneasy one, clouded by Tom’s overwhelming hatred for Brian. In one chilling exchange, Tom claimed he had come very close to actually murdering Brian.

Tom: “I hate him with a passion and for 10 cents I would eliminate him.”
Jessi: “that’s a little drastic isn’t it”
Tom: “payback is a motherfucker, Jessi. I am the ultimate weapon. I am a Marine.”
Jessi: “what are u going to do?”
Tom: “Let’s just say ur piece of shit boyfriend came with a hair of dying… the day after U 2 assholes told me you were fucking with me… had I pulled a little harder he would gone… Brian will pay in blood.”

Now for the average person, declarations like “he will pay in blood” would be alarm bells. Not for Jessi. Tom’s fury and threats of homicide only drew her closer to him. She pledged never to betray him again, and began having cybersex with “Tommy” again.
But Jessi’s promises didn’t last long. Very soon, she was flirting with other guys on the online chats right under Tom’s nose.
Finally, Tom had enough. He ordered Jessi to leave him alone, or he’d physically harm her and her mother. (Earlier, he had threatened to post Jessi’s home address online so “the niggers can find you”.) This is when Jessi’s mom appeared online for the first time. She told Tom to keep away from her daughter. He agreed.
Two weeks later, Jessi was back in his life. “I have totally defied my ma to be with you,” she wrote.

While renewing her ties with Tom, Jessi began writing to Brian again, too. Tom discovered this through Myspace and was enraged. He wrote to her, “U will pay now bitch. U better be very afraid now. I told u what would happen if u and Brian got together.”

Jessi informed Brian that Tom was furious with both of them, and that’s as far as it went. Authorities weren’t notified about the repeated threats against Brian, Jessi, and Jessi’s mother at any time. Privately, though, Jessi and Brian expressed concern about Tom’s anger. Brian mentioned that Tom had tried to hit him with his car in the Dynabrade parking lot.

Jessi: “Brian I am really afraid of him.”
Brian: “Yea me too he’s crazy”

On September 15, 2006, Tom phoned Jessi to scream in an incoherent rage. She hung up on him.

That night, Brian finished work around 10:00 PM and headed out to his truck. When he was in the driver’s seat, Tom snuck up on him from behind and fired three shots from a .38-calibre rifle through the window. Because it was a Friday, Brian’s body remained undiscovered for two days.

When police learned about the sick love triangle and couldn’t locate Tom Montgomery, they feared the worst: He could be on his way to West Virginia to harm Jessi. Erie County Lieutenant Ron Kenyon phoned the girl immediately, informing her of Brian’s death and warning her to be cautious. Then he dispatched West Virginia police to her home.When Officer J. L. Kirk and a partner arrived at the little white house in Oakhill, Jessi’s mother answered the door. Mary Shieler already knew about Brian’s murder and seemed distressed about the situation, yet claimed her daughter wasn’t home.
“She was just here,” Kirk pointed out.
Something about Shieler’s attitude triggered his suspicion. After some fruitless back-and-forth, he asked her bluntly if she was “Jessi”.
The woman explained she did have a teen daughter named Jessi, who really wasn’t at home. But, yes, she was the Jessi known to Tom Montgomery and Brian Barrett.
Later, Mary would claim she never had any intention of disrupting her “happy” marriage for either of these men. With her kids nearly grown and Tim at work, she was lonely and bored. She cast herself in something like a heroic role, telling reporters she played along with Montgomery merely to keep him away from actual teen girls. And Brian Barrett? Well, he just got caught in the middle.

Mary Shieler was a 45-year-old housewife, known in her community as a devoted wife and mom. She went to all of Jessi’s games and volunteered at her daughter’s school. Mother and daughter were reportedly quite close, shopping and getting manicures together. Mary was clearly very proud of her lovely daughter, and spared no expense when it came to Jessi.
No one knew that the photos she continuously took of Jessi were being distributed to strangers over the Internet. Her husband, Tim, was mortified when he learned what she had done. He quickly filed for divorce.
Jessi was equally appalled. Mary never apologized to her, nor attempted to explain her actions. Jessi severed all ties with her mother.

Tom Montgomery, as it turned out, didn’t head for West Virginia. He remained at home, and on September 18 was taken in for questioning by Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Weiss and Detective Charles Tirone. He was shocked and upset to learn that his beloved, virginal Jessi was really a 45-year-old mother of two.
Tom said he took his two daughters, 12 and 14, out to dinner on the night Brian was murdered, and returned home at 10:15. His daughters supported his alibi, but Lisa Montgomery stated Tom arrived home around 11:00. That left plenty of time for Tom to go to the plant in Clarence and shoot his rival.
Worse yet, Tom’s cell phone records placed him near the plant around 10:00.
He denied owning a .38 rifle, even though a photo of it was discovered in his home along with a .38 handbook.
His DNA was found on a peach pit left near Barrett’s vehicle. He had purchased a bag of peaches shortly before the murder.

Charged with Brian’s murder on September 27, Montgomery pled not guilty. Initially, he said Brian had several other enemies who made threatening phone calls to him at work.
But he had no real defense other than the word of his two young daughters. In July 2007, he took a plea deal: 20 years for manslaughter.
He attempted to change his plea again at his sentencing.

Brian Barrett’s parents, Dan and Deb Barrett, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Montgomery, Shieler, and Dynabrade. After the suit was dismissed, they campaigned for the development of “Internet accountability laws”.

In 2009 the documentary TalHotBlond, produced and directed by reporter Barbara Schroeder, aired on MSNBC. The instant message excerpts above were taken from that film.
Some of the more disturbing details were left out of the film, including Montgomery’s impersonation of “Tom Senior”, Montgomery’s racist threat to Jessi, and “Tommy’s” confession of raping a cheerleader.

Other Sources:

– “An IM Infatuation Turned to Romance, Then the Truth Came Out” by Nadya Labi. (Wired issue 15.09)
– “Thomas Montgomery: Bizarre Love Triangle” by Kristal Hawkins (TruTV.com Crime Library)

Online Teens Part II

Spoiler warning: Part II of this post contain complete spoilers for the film Catfish.

Fake Teens V: Serial Teen Frederic Bourdin

This case bears some resemblance to Arthur Hutchens‘ 1928 impersonation of the missing Los Angeles boy Walter Collins, but there are darker twists to the tale.

A Changeling in Spain

13-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing from San Antonio, Texas, in 1994. On June 10, he phoned home to ask for a ride after playing basketball with his friends. His 24-year-old half-brother, Jason, told him to walk home.
Their mother, Beverly Dollarhide, was a heroin addict who worked the graveyard shift at a doughnut shop. She was having a hard time managing Nicky. He had ADD and was developing criminal tendencies along with a larger-than-average dose of teen hostility. Earlier in the year he had been caught breaking into a convenience store, a crime for which he was to be sentenced on June 14, and Beverly was tempted to hand him over to foster care. His father had no involvement in his life. Jason was a coke addict.
It wouldn’t have surprised too many people if Nicholas ran away from home. Perhaps that’s why Beverly didn’t report him missing until June 13.

Nicholas was an unusual kid. He had letters home-tattooed on various parts of his body: A T near his left thumb, a J on one shoulder, an L and an N on his ankle. He carried a pink backpack to school, which couldn’t have done him any favours socially. And he looked much younger than his 13 years, weighing just 80 pounds. He could have been easily spotted and identified in a restaurant or gas station. But no one reported seeing him.

Beverly became a meth addict, and Jason’s coke addiction worsened. In the two months after Nicky’s disappearance, police were summoned twice to break up violent arguments between them.
On September 25, according to Jason, Nicholas crept up to the house and attempted to break into the garage. He ran off when Jason tried to confront him. This would remain the only sighting of Nicholas Barclay for three years.

In October 1997, Beverly received a call from the police. A boy staying at a youth home in Linares, Spain appeared to be her son. He said he had been abducted by members of an international pedophile ring, smuggled to Europe, and imprisoned in one room of a safehouse. His captors forced him to speak only their own language, French. He was subjected not only to sexual abuse, but to bizarre medical experiments. One day a guard left a door open, and he dashed to freedom.
Nicky’s 31-year-old half-sister, Carey Gibson, flew to Spain to pick him up.

Chameleon from Nantes

Carey’s arrival triggered a mixture of exultation and panic in the boy. Exultation, because he had gotten away with it again. Panic, because he didn’t know how long he could get away with it. After all, he didn’t look much like Nicholas Barclay. His hair was dark brown and thinning, not sandy and full like Nicky’s. His eyes were brown, not blue (this was the result of a chemical experiment conducted by his captors, he would explain). His English was good, but a trace of his French accent lingered. He would just have to say his Texas accent had faded after three years of speaking a foreign language, and hope these Americans believed him.

Frederic Bourdin was 23 years old. He was born outside Paris in 1974 to an 18-year-old factory worker, Ghislaine Bourdin, and reared near Nantes by Ghislaine’s parents until he was 12. By that time, his petty thefts and acting-out had landed him in a series of homes for troubled youth. At 16, Frederic ran away to Paris and attempted his first known impersonation, telling a police officer he was a missing English boy named Jimmy Sale (there doesn’t seem to be such a person). He was shipped back to the children’s home when authorities discovered he didn’t even speak English. It was an unimpressive start, but in time, Frederic would pull the abandoned-boy stunt in 5 languages and 15 countries.
He often pretended to be mute, or amnesiac, or abused – a runaway or the victim of a horrible accident. He was usually caught by doctors who examined him, but the authorities rarely pressed charges. By his eighteenth birthday he had posed as an abandoned child a dozen times. Once, he faked his death in Germany. By 1995, he was known throughout France as a chameleonic con man, and made the first of many appearances on French TV.

One of Bourdin’s French TV appearances

Proud of his notoriety, he got a tattoo on his arm: “Chameleon From Nantes“. This pride – and his growing audacity – belied his insistence that he just a lost, lonely soul looking for the love and acceptance he had never known as a child. It became increasingly clear over the years that Bourdin was not just a parasite – he was a predator, always on the hunt for soft-hearted people who would take him in, clothe him and feed him, take pity on him. When he was done with them, he moved on without a backward glance.

In Linares, a child-welfare judge insisted Frederic either produce evidence that he was a minor, or be fingerprinted. Usually, when backed into a corner like this, Frederic simply fled or confessed. This time, he decided to take a new risk: He would impersonate a real missing boy, one who lived very far away. He phoned the U.S.’s National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and posed as a staff member of the Linares shelter, trying to identify a young American boy. Did they have a short, brown-haired boy with a gap between his front teeth in their database?
This description roughly matched Nicholas Barclay. Bourdin requested a missing person flyer. He learned Nicholas was a blonde, with a cross (actually a letter T) tattooed on one hand, so he asked a friend to ink him and dyed his hair. He informed San Antonio police that the boy found in Spain was indeed Nicky Barclay, still carrying his pink backpack.

When Carey arrived at the U.S. embassy in Madrid, Frederic donned sunglasses and a ball cap and swaddled himself in a scarf, but the disguise turned out to be unnecessary; Carey instantly and unequivocally accepted him as Nicky, despite the difference in eye colour and the slight French accent. He seemed to recognize photos of family members, he had the tattoo on his hand, and he even had their Uncle Pat’s largish nose. The Spanish authorities remained skeptical until Carey swore under oath that this was her brother.

On October 18, everyone in Nicky’s family assembled at the San Antonio airport to greet him, with the notable exception of Jason. Jason had kicked his coke habit and was working as a peer counselor at a rehab centre. For some reason, he avoided Nicky for a month and a half.
Beverly said she didn’t want Nicky to be home alone while she worked nights, so it was arranged for Nicky to live with Carey, her husband Bryan, and their two kids (10-year-old Chantel and 14-year-old Codey, who was extremely excited to see his uncle again). The Gibsons lived in an isolated, wooded area north of the city, in a trailer home. Nicky shared a room with Codey.
For the first two months, Nicky adjusted remarkably well. He did his homework, played video games with the kids, and spent time with his mother at every opportunity.
Knowing he had been through a traumatic ordeal, everyone avoided discussing the previous three years of his life.

FBI Agent Nancy Fisher was assigned to investigate Nicholas’ case. After three years in close quarters with the pedophile gang, he would certainly be able to provide detailed descriptions of the men and some of the other children they had abducted.
Nicholas described his captivity and abuse in detail, but to Fisher’s bafflement and frustration, he flatly refused to tell her anything about the perpetrators. He was terrified they would return to Texas.
Fisher was unnerved by something else: Nicky’s voice. He just didn’t sound like a Texan, and it seemed unnatural to her that his childhood accent and diction hadn’t returned. Also, his blond hair was starting to grow darker at the roots.

San Antonio P.I. Charlie Parker was even more suspicious of Nicholas. He had been hired by producers of the tabloid TV show Hard Copy to investigate the boy’s amazing return, and it hadn’t taken him more than a few heartbeats to realize there was something seriously wrong with this kid. Why did he still sound so European? Could eye colour really be altered with chemicals?
The clincher, for Parker, was the ears. He knew that the shape and position of our ears remain the same throughout our lives, and Frederic’s ears looked nothing like Nicky’s.
Parker stockpiled evidence that “Nicholas” was an imposter. An opthamologist told him that no chemical could turn eyes from blue to brown, and a Trinity University dialect expert informed him that Nicky should have retained his native accent if he was abducted at 13.
The family refused to accept Parker’s findings, even though he expressed concern the guy could be dangerous, maybe even a terrorist.

In December, Nicky began acting out. He was suspended from school for cutting class. He fought with Codey. He stole Carey and Bryan’s car and drove it to Oklahoma before being apprehended.
Frederic had found American life to be far short of his expectations, and apparently couldn’t cope. He even called his real mom in France and told her what he was doing.
Around Christmastime, he slashed his face with a razor and was sent to a psych ward for observation.

By March 1998, Agent Fisher’s doubts had cemented into a certainty: The brown-eyed European kid with dark roots wasn’t Nicholas. A psychiatrist had rendered the opinion that his accent was Spanish or French. She obtained blood samples from an extremely reluctant Beverly and “son”.

Bourdin had begun to suspect that Jason knew what really happened to his brother. After finally visiting “Nicky” a month and a half after his return, he seemed wary and standoffish. He said nothing about the contradiction between his September ’94 sighting of Nicky and Frederic’s tale of being spirited away by pedophiles three months earlier. And he didn’t visit again.
Fisher began to wonder about Beverly, too. Surely, she must realize that this stranger wasn’t her child. Was she hiding something?
Beverly was given two polygraph exams. She failed the second, which indicated she was being untruthful when she stated she didn’t know what happened to Nicholas. Later, she told writer David Grann she had never fully accepted Jason’s story about glimpsing Nicky three months after his disappearance.
A polygraph administered to Frederic was, not surprisingly, inconclusive. He surrendered his fingerprints and a blood sample only under court order.
Jason spoke to Agent Fisher with great reluctance, muttering vague answers to questions about his brother. He died of a cocaine overdose a few weeks after being questioned.

Frederic continued to sow seeds of destruction in Texas, and soon his grasp extended to Germany. Desperate to keep the FBI off his back, he told Agent Fisher that one of the other children kidnapped by the pedophile ring in 1995 was named Till Kratzsch. This boy, 13, had gone missing from Berlin.

Till Kratzsch, 13. He disappeared from Berlin on June 14, 1995.

March 5 was the critical day. Beverly phoned Charlie Parker and admitted she no longer thought Frederic was her son. She and Carey so desperately wanted to believe he was Nicky that she ignored her initial reservations about him. When he moved in with her, however, she could no longer avoid the evidence that he wasn’t her child. A friend told her Nicky had shown no recognition when they drove through his old neighborhood.
Interpol received Frederic’s fingerprints from the U.S. State Department, and relayed his colourful background to the feds.
Meanwhile, Claudia Kratzsch, mother of Till Kratzsch, arrived in San Antonio to meet with Nicholas. In the presence of Charlie Parker, she asked Nicky to identify any scars he had noticed on Till’s body. Nicky obligingly drew a diagram showing marks on the boy’s knees and arms. What he failed to draw was a highly visible scar on Till’s forehead.

Bourdin was backed into a tighter corner than usual. Stuck in the boonies on foreign soil, he had little choice but to confess everything to P.I. Parker.
He told the authorities that Beverly and Jason knew he was an imposter from the beginning, but played along with him because they knew what happened to the real Nicholas. Federal prosecutor Jack Stick and Agent Fisher didn’t take his word for it, but they did find Beverly’s uncooperative attitude perplexing. She seemed completely uninterested in finding out who had taken her son, and wasn’t eager to have him live in her home. During questioning, she had rushed from the room and shouted at Fisher, “This is so typical of Nicholas. Look at the hell he’s putting me through.”

In jail, Bourdin reverted to his fondest habit: Lying through his teeth. He claimed he really had been abducted by a pedophile ring, in Madrid, and Nicholas was one of the kids he encountered in captivity. They grew very close, like brothers, and Nicholas asked him to take his place in Texas so that his family could heal. Frederic was then rescued by a “very famous American” who wished to remain anonymous.
Needless to say, no one bought it. Reporters pointed out that Nicholas would have given Bourdin contact information for his mother, while in reality Bourdin had phoned the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and San Antonio police.
Finally, he broke down and told the true story of how he had scammed his way to America. He also revealed that he visited a center for missing children in San Antonio to gather details about Till Kratzsch.

Carey suffered a nervous breakdown after Frederic’s arrest, and denounced him as a liar in court. He was convicted of perjury and obtaining and possessing false documents. After sentencing him to six years in prison, the judge likened him to a killer.

At the time, it was believed Bourdin was the first person to successfully impersonate a missing child in the United States. We’ve since learned about the Arthur Hutchens case, but there’s no doubt that Bourdin’s ruse lasted much longer; while Hutchens was outed within a fortnight by a disbelieving mother, Frederic Bourdin fooled Nicholas’ entire family for over five months.

The Chameleon’s Return

Upon his release in 2003, Bourdin returned to Europe and continued his way of life. In Grenoble he stole the identity of Leo Balley, a 14-year-old who vanished on a camping trip in Isere eight years earlier. He was busted by a DNA test. In May 2005 he appeared at a child welfare office in Orthez, swaddled in a scarf with a ball cap pulled low over his face. He said he was Francisco Fernandez, a 15-year-old from Spain. His mom and younger brother had died in a car crash, leaving him in the care of an abusive uncle, so he ran away to France. He insisted on wearing his hat at all times, supposedly to hide burn scars from the crash. In reality, his hairline was receding.

Childhood picture of Leo Balley. He disappeared from Isere, in the Taillefer Mountains, on July 19, 1996.

Francisco was placed in the St. Vincent de Paul youth shelter in Pau, and enrolled at College Jean Monnet, a small local high school. He became very popular among the students, and delivered a dead-on Michael Jackson impression at the school talent show.
On June 8, a distressed school administrator informed the principal that she had seen the notorious impersonator Frederic Bourdin discussed on a TV show, and he looked just like Francisco. They phoned the police.

Once again, Bourdin confessed. He was sentenced to a six-month suspended sentence for obtaining and using fake ID in the Balley case.

The End?

In 2007, Bourdin announced he was going straight. He had recently wed a law student named Isabelle, who contacted him after seeing him on TV. They were expecting a child when David Grann interviewed them for his New Yorker story, and had a girl named Athena one month later.

Earlier this year, Gaumant released Jean-Paul Salome’s thinly fictionalized movie The Chameleon.

Perhaps capitalizing on the movie’s release, Bourdin recently posted a few videos on his YouTube channel, “Francameleon“.

No one was ever charged in the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay. He remains missing, as do Till Kratzsch and Leo Balley.

Fake Teens IV: Serial Teen Treva Throneberry

The next two fake teens in this series were “serial teens”, people who posed as teenagers over and over again in multiple locations for reasons that are barely comprehensible.

Treva vs. Brianna

In the spring of 1997, a teenager turned up at Glad Tidings Church in Vancouver, Washington. She was a tall, solidly built girl with brown hair plaited into old-fashioned braids. She said her name was Brianna Stewart, she was 16 years old, and she was homeless. She had been on her own for two or three years, hitchhiking from state to state in search of her biological father. All she knew was that he lived somewhere in the Northwest.
Her mother had been murdered when she was just a small girl, Brianna said (later, she told a boyfriend her stepfather was the killer). This left her in the care of her tyrannical, sadistic stepfather, a Navajo Indian who tortured her, molested her, anf forced her to appear in child porn he produced. Thanks to his close ties with local police, he was beyond the law. That’s why Brianna ran away from Alabama.
This story moved the heart of a church secretary, Debbie Fisher. She and her husband, Randy, immediately offered Brianna a place in their home. That autumn, Brianna enrolled as a sophomore at Evergreen High School, where she gained sympathy and respect as a former street kid with a dark, violent past. Aside from the unusual braids and her habit of wearing bib overalls, Brianna seemed like a wholly normal teen. She was a bit klutzy and awkward. Her grades weren’t remarkable. She joined the school tennis team, hung out at the mall, and won a walk-on part in the Evergreen production of Man of la Mancha. She loved Romeo + Juliet and moony poetry. Soon she had an adoring boyfriend, 15-year-old football player and aspiring actor Ken Dunn. He accompanied Brianna to Glad Tidings with her foster family every Sunday morning, drove her wherever she wanted to go in his ’78 El Camino, and listened for hours to stories of her troubled life. He described their love as “the perfect teenage romance.” For Christmas, he gave her a silver ring engraved with “I love thee”.

Brianna and Ken at an Evergreen school dance

The stories Brianna told the Fishers were astonishing to a straight-laced, Christian couple. Her stepfather was the high priest of a Satanic cult outside Mobile, and before she broke away from him he had been training Brianna to become the high priestess. He impregnated her when she was barely a teen, and she miscarried after he shoved her down a flight of stairs.
Somewhere in the Midwest, she had volunteered to work on a senator‘s re-election campaign. That man also got her pregnant.
Brianna told Ken that some of her stepfather’s cronies knew her whereabouts and were following her, which terrified him.
She also told stories of her stepfather running guns from the Ivory Coast and trafficking in drugs. She talked of an albino grandfather from Romania. She said she had found a man named Michael Stewart living in Aloha, Washington, and contacted him in the hope he was her real dad. He wasn’t, and he turned out to be almost as deranged as her stepdad. He kept Brianna prisoner in his home for two months, drugging her with crack.
Her greatest desire, Brianna told everyone, was to finally have a normal life.

Brianna was too afraid of her stepfather to report his crimes, but she would see justice served for one horrific event in her life. Shortly before she found Glad Tidings, Brianna had reported being raped by a middle-aged security guard named Charles Blankenship.
In March of 1998, Blankenship would be convicted and sentenced to a year for statutory rape.

Brianna’s normal new life in Washington was nearly perfect until the middle of her junior year. That’s when the first suspicion about her age was voiced, by a dentist who found it odd that Brianna’s wisdom teeth were already gone. Ken and the Fishers confronted her, and she responded with such angry indignation that they left the subject alone.
She became accusatory toward the people around her, showing a strong paranoid streak; friends were spreading rumours behind her back, teachers weren’t giving her the grades she deserved, Ken thought he was too good for her after snagging the lead in Fiddler on the Roof. All of her relationships eroded. She argued viciously with the Fishers over chores. They asked her to leave their home in May 1998. She was placed in foster care. Again, a dental exam led to questions about her true age, and social worker Jan Shaffer confronted her. Brianna responded with the same fiery indignation, firing off a letter to the state Department of Social and Health Services. She wrote, “I feel that remaining in foster care is not safe for my physical, mental and emotional well-being. I feel that I have been abused by the very system that I asked for help.”

In the autumn of ’98, Brianna was taken in by another local family, David and Theresa Gambetta. Five months later, her paranoid streak re-emerged with a vengeance. She accused David of placing mini-cameras in the lightbulbs to spy on her. Gambetta was cleared of any wrongdoing, and Brianna was homeless once again.

In May, Portland, Washington police officer Richard Braskette and his wife Virginia took Brianna into their home. Just like the Fishers and the Gambettas, they were moved by her helplessness and felt they could give the girl some of the stability she needed to succeed in life. After all, she wasn’t your average street kid. Throughout all the turmoil of her junior and senior years, Brianna had tenaciously held on to her dreams. She wanted to become an attorney and a children’s rights advocate, so she would have to earn her way through college. That meant finding some way to acquire a Social Security Number, without a birth certificate or any other form of government ID. She wrote letters to reporters, victims’ rights advocates, even the governor and Montel in search of assistance. Because Brianna didn’t know her place of birth, no one could help. She said the FBI had tried and failed to find any proof of her identity (which turned out to be false). Finally, she sued the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, demanding they issue her a birth certificate.

In late 1999, still desperately seeking proof of her identity, Brianna traveled to a town she suspected could be her birthplace: Daphne, Alabama. Friends donated money for the trip. She said that her memories prior to age 4 were extremely hazy, and she wasn’t entirely sure Brianna was her true name. Some therapists suspected she was suffering some form of traumatic amnesia. Brianna herself suspected she may have been abducted by the people she knew as her parents.
A local police officer toured Daphne with Brianna, helping her search for places she might remember. A few spots looked familiar to her, but no relatives or documents surfaced. The trip was a bust.
Brianna also traveled to Montana to investigate the possibility she was a girl who had gone missing in 1983.
Throughout this trying time, Brianna received strong moral support from her school counselor, members of her church, and Evan Burton, an advocate at a Portland drop-in center called Greenhouse.

In June 2000, Brianna joyfully graduated from Evergreen High with the rest of her class. She began scouting prospective colleges, though her identity issue was far from resolved.
For help with that, she turned to the law. A Vancouver lawyer petitioned the government on her behalf, while Portland attorney Mark McDougal apparently worked on her case pro bono, perhaps happy to do a favour for a plucky, hard-luck kid.

Excellent news came from the Vancouver attorney: A deputy state attorney general said the state wouldn’t oppose Brianna’s petition for a birth certificate, if she appeared at a court hearing scheduled for March 2001. The end of her long, hard-fought battle was in sight.
Then the other lawyer, McDougal, made a simple request that should have been made much earlier in the game; he asked that Brianna be fingerprinted so he could submit her prints to the FBI.

The results of that one simple request brought Brianna Stewart’s tireless campaign to a halt…almost. Her fingerprints matched those of Stephanie Danielle Lewis, a woman arrested in Altoona, Pennsylvania in 1996.
And “Stephanie Lewis” was really Treva Joyce Throneberry, a 31-year-old Texas native.

Brianna insisted the FBI had made a mistake. Frustrated and angry, she went to Greenhouse and told Evan Burton the whole story.
Burton had stood by this girl during her struggle to make a normal life for herself, but now the vague doubts at the back of his mind burst to the fore. Something was very wrong with this picture. Brianna did look much older than 18. And if she was in her 30s, as the FBI claimed, that meant Charles Blankenship had been convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a full-grown woman.
Burton called the police.

Detective Scott Smith, the same officer who arrested Charles Blankship two years earlier, was assigned to the Brianna Stewart case. Piece by piece, he put together the story of a fragmented life that began in Electra, Texas and traced a jagged trail through numerous states before landing in Vancouver, Washington. Nothing about this life was simple.

Unlike Brianna Stewart, Treva Throneberry was not from Alabama. She had siblings. She knew her natural father.
Treva was born to Carl and Patsy Throneberry in 1969, the youngest of five kids (one son, four daughters). They were raised in Electra, Texas, where Carl made a modest living as an oilfield truck driver.
As a teen, Treva played on the high school tennis team and waitressed part-time at the Whistle Stop drive-in. She was quiet, sweet, good-natured. She was also unusually devout, reading from her Bible at every opportunity and attending services at a Pentacostal church that her parents considered cult-like.
She occasionally exhibited signs of paranoia or a deceptive nature even then. Her niece recalled Treva waking her in the middle of the night with a strange story about a gun-toting intruder lurking in the house, which wasn’t true at all.
In December of 1985, 16-year-old Treva walked into the Electra police station and reported that Carl had raped her at gunpoint. This was the first of many rape allegations she would make.
Treva’s sisters and niece say they, and Treva, were sexually abused for years by their late uncle, but insist Carl Throneberry would never have done such a thing. Carl and Patsy believed the “cult” had somehow manipulated the girl into accusing her father.
The three older girls married as teens, putting themselves beyond their uncle’s reach.

Treva was placed in the foster home of Witchita Falls schoolteacher Sharon Gentry. She appeared deeply disturbed, knocking her head against walls in her sleep and speaking frequently of suicide. She also told bizarre tales of being abducted by a Satanic cult, lashed to a stake, and forced to witness the ritual sacrifice of cats and dogs. She would later tell similar stories to her sister, Kim, but replaced the animals with human babies.
Treva was soon committed to Witchita Falls State Hospital. She never received a definite diagnosis. After six months of treatment, she was placed in the Lena Pope Home for Girls in Fort Worth, and enrolled as a senior at Arlington Heights High. She graduated in June ’87.
The charges against Carl Throneberry were ultimately dropped for lack of evidence.
Treva briefly visited her sisters the year after her graduation. They wouldn’t see her face again for 13 years, when it appeared on TV and in newspapers.

During that time, Treva wandered from state to state, depending on the charity of strangers for shelter and food. Only two things remained constant in her life: She never used the same name twice, and she was always a runaway teenager. The details of her sad, disturbing stories varied, but there was always hideous family violence and rape involved. Sometimes there were cults that butchered children and animals. Detective Smith charted her peregrinations as thoroughly as he could, but there would always be gaps in the record of Treva’s odd existence.

– 1992: 19-year-old “Keili Smitt” lived with a family she met at a church in Corvallis, Oregon. She told police she was on the run from her father, who had caught up to her once and raped her in his car. Keili left town before the man was located.
– 1993: A teen girl surfaced in Portland, Washington and reported that her father, a local police officer, had raped her. She vanished before the investigation was complete.
– 1994: “Cara Leanne Davis” arrived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, after fleeing her father’s violent Satanic cult.
– 1995: 16-year-old “Kara Williams” told social workers and police in Plano, Texas about her life in a Satanic cult. She had been forced to pray to Satan every night, and was told she would someday drown in a lake of fire. Most of her childhood friends had been ritually sacrificed. Her father, a Colleyville police officer, had gotten away with murdering her mother. “There was nothing in her behavior or presentation to suggest that she was knowingly misrepresenting the facts,” a psychologist observed.
Kara was placed in several foster homes and youth shelters while social workers scoured the area for her monstrous father. She attended three different high schools. In an effort to help her settle down to something resembling normalcy, her caseworker bought a new tennis racket for her.
In September, a youth home staff member grew suspicious of Kara and uncovered the fact that she was 26-year-old Treva Throneberry. Despite her tearful protests that she was not Treva, a court discharged her from government care.
– 1996: 16-year-old “Emily Kharra Williams” told police in Asheville, North Carolina, she was running from a Satanic cult in Texas.
Later that year, 16-year-old “Stephanie Lewis” told an assistant district attorney in Altoona, Pennsylvania that she was on the run from an abusive Satanic cult to which her father belonged. She was lodged in a local youth home, where a caseworker discovered papers linking her to people in Texas and to her true identity. Charged with giving false information, Treva spent nine days in jail.

Back in Texas, a weird rumour surfaced that Treva had been killed in the Branch Davidian conflagration. Sharon Gentry sent her dental records to Waco to ascertain if Treva was among the dead.

On March 22, 2001, just days before the court hearing that would help make Brianna Stewart a legal adult, Treva Throneberry was arrested at the Portland YMCA and charged with theft and perjury. She had defrauded the foster care system, the courts, and Evergreen High for nearly four years.
Her former classmates, teachers, and caregivers were stunned. She had seemed so average: average grades, average tennis skills, average tastes. Ken Dunn, then employed at Disney World, was boggled to realize that his Sadie Hawkins date had been pushing 30. He had begun to doubt Brianna’s incredible stories when she accused David Gambetta of spying on her with cameras, and he had gently questioned her about her age after that first suspicion was aired by Brianna’s dentist, but he had no idea she wasn’t a teenager.
Charles Blankenship was probably relieved. The “minor” he had confessed to having sex with had really been 28, and his conviction was erased.

Once again, Treva vehemently insisted she was not Treva Throneberry. She rejected every piece of evidence. She insisted on a DNA test to prove she wasn’t the child of Carl and Patsy Throneberry, which of course showed an extremely high likelihood (99.93%) that she was. Even this result she denied. She refused a plea deal that would have given her a short sentence (2 years) in exchange for a confession. Nor would she allow her court-appointed attorneys to argue that she was delusional; she fired them rather than use such a defense.

At her November trial, Clark County senior deputy prosecutor Michael Kinnie argued that Treva was far from delusional. She was a skilled, cunning conwoman.
Kenneth Muscatel, the psychologist hired by the court to examine Treva, concluded she was disturbed yet competent to stand trial.
Treva’s mission in life remained the same: To prove she was Brianna Stewart, 19. In her Clark County jailhouse cell, she hit the law books hard.

“Brianna” often showed up for court with her hair in two braids. She represented herself to the best of her ability.

Sharon Gentry traveled from Texas to testify for the prosecution. She presented photos of a younger Treva and herself on vacation, and Treva examined them before calmly declaring it wasn’t her. She then asked her former foster mother what Treva was like. Gentry’s heart turned over as she described a polite, hard-working, “wonderful” young woman. It seems Treva couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn what others thought of her.
“Was Treva smart?” she asked.
Gentry replied that Treva studied hard and received good grades.
Other witnesses testified to Brianna’s eagerness to establish her identify so she could get an education and become financially independent, but no one testified that she was who she said she was. No one, except perhaps Treva herself, believed that.

Treva was convicted, and judge Robert Harris regretfully sentenced her to three years. He would prefer to send her to a state hospital for treatment, he explained, but the Washington prison system was already overtaxed with mentally ill prisoners.

Treva’s family had more or less given up on her. They found their own ways to comfort themselves after her story hit the media. Patsy firmly believed that Treva had attended her grandmother’s funeral in 1998, disguised as an old woman. Carl claimed that Treva had phoned him a few times over the years, pretending to be someone else, just to touch base with him.

Upon her release from prison in 2003, Treva remained in Washington as Brianna Stewart and continued her fight to be recognized as the girl she had created. She appeared on ABC’s Primetime program, sans braids, to explain that the DNA tests had been flawed.

“Brianna” has not spoken publicly since then, but online comments such as one by “concerned friend” argue that the court covered up evidence of Brianna’s identity. It is entirely possible that “Brianna Stewart” herself wrote them.

Fake Teens Part III: Predatory Fake Teens

Our next four fake teens had darker motives than just recapturing their lost youth.

Two-Time Mormon

In 1994, a young Mormon known (by request) only as Jessica was serving her church mission in Santa Monica when she met a sad and bedraggled homeless boy, 15-year-old Scott Davion. He said he had left his home state, New York, to travel the country. Someone in the Dakotas had advised him to go to L.A., he said.
Jessica’s family in had taken in needy people before, as good LDS members are wont to do, so Jessica told her new friend Scott to go to SLC and call on her mother, Charmayne.
Charmayne and her husband became surrogate parents to the boy, enrolling him Cottonwood High. He was an excellent student, as well as a popular one. He dated several girls and went to the prom. He was also baptized into the LDS church. His foster family helped him procure a Social Security card so he could get a job, and in 1998 he got his own apartment and began work at a computer company called Elite Systems. By the middle of 2000 he had worked his way up to the sales floor. He had a steady girlfriend.

This is where Scott’s life went off the rails. Before the end of the year, everyone in his circle of adopted family and friends knew he was really 32-year-old Kenneth Lickiss from Lethbridge, Alberta. He had already been a Mormon long before meeting Jessica; he served his own mission in Poland.
Elite Systems employees had discovered that computers were being sold out of the shop on the sly, and it didn’t take them long to figure out that Scott was the likeliest culprit. As soon as the police caught on, “Scott” convinced his girlfriend to move with him to his parents’ home in Lethbridge. Needless to say, she figured out he was a lot older than 19 and that his name was not Scott Davion. She returned to SLC solo.

Kenneth remained on the run for a year. Then, in 2001, he confessed his entire scam to a co-worker at a tire store in Mason County, Washington. He was hastily extradited back to Utah to face an array of theft and forgery charges, but there were no charges for posing as a teenager for four years.
In the comments section of this post, someone identifying herself as Lickiss’ sister-in-law informs me that Lickiss never worked at a tire store in Mason County. Rather, he turned himself in after spending time with his family in Canada. A Deseret News story of December 8, 2004 states that Lickiss was arrested in Mason County and was “reportedly” employed at a tire store there.

A Sweet Boy

In 2003, 16-year-old Pia Marcelo of Renton, Washington, began chatting online with an 18-year-old boy named Mark Villaneuva. He was sweet. He had soulful dark eyes and pouty lips. He cried over sad songs and seemed a lot more sensitive than your average teenage boy. Maybe that was because he had suffered so much in his short life; his dad had killed himself, his mom died of cancer. In 2005, Pia convinced her mother to let him live with the Marcelo family, and he became like a brother to Pia and her siblings. Everyone teased him about how shy, modest, and awkward he could be. Then they saw a less cuddly side of Mark. He never seemed to repay loans, and even stole some blank checks. Finally, the Marcelos tired of his scamming and turfed him.

In late 2005, a 13-year-old girl in Everett, Washington began dating a cute older boy. He was cool. He liked hip-hop and was a mall rat. He said he was all alone in the world, without a home; his dad killed himself, and his mom died of cancer. So the girl convinced her mother to let him live in their duplex. He shared a room with her younger brother.
The relationship quickly turned violent. Mark was jealous and abusive, hitting or biting his girlfriend on a routine basis. Perhaps to make sure she didn’t spend time with any other guys, he showed up at her middle school every afternoon and waited patiently for her in the office so he could drive her home in his secondhand car.
Mark was charged with fourth-degree domestic assault for biting and punching her, but the charges were dismissed when he agreed to undergo domestic violence treatment.
The young couple had unprotected sex.
In April 2005, when they had been dating for about 18 months, Mark was pulled over by a police officer at a gas station. Sgt. Robert Goetz peered into the car and asked the girl, who was in the passenger seat, why she was with “this woman”.
“That’s my boyfriend,” the 14-year-old replied.

“Mark” was promptly arrested. Not only was he driving on a suspended license, which is why Goetz pulled him over, but he was not actually a 19-year-old boy. He was Lorelei Corpuz, a 29-year-old woman who drifted from household to household, writing bad checks and mooching cash. (She also received handouts from her mother, who was alive and well.)

The Duke

At the start of the 2005-06 school year at Stillwater Area High School in the small town of Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, a strange English kid visited the school several times. He said he was the Fifth Duke of Cleveland, Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, resident of Falkland Castle and personal friend of the royal family. Princess Di used to babysit him. He spoke of hobknobbing with Josh Hartnett and Hilary Duff, and breezily mentioned that he was considering joining the plebes by transferring to Stillwater, presumably from some posh UK boarding school.
You might think think this kid’s Google finger was broken, because Wikipedia clearly states that the Fourth Duke of Cleveland’s titles “went extinct upon his death without issue” in 1891. But skeptical student reporters for Stillwater High’s Pony Express newspaper found that someone had created a Wikipedia page for Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, and that person was Joshua Gardner.
Joshua Gardner, it turned out, was a 22-year-old who had been convicted of criminal sexual conduct with an underage girl two years earlier, and was still on parole.
In jail, Gardner told The Today Show, “Becoming Caspian, I was given respect, and people… don’t look at you in that way that they would look at a sex offender.”
Clearly, Gardner doesn’t have the mental agility to successfully impersonate…well, anyone. The most disturbing aspect of the incident is that Stillwater High staff accepted his story at face value and gave him tours of the school, introducing him to students as a 17-year-old duke. Apparently their Google fingers were broken.

The Bait

One of the most complex and disturbing fake teen cases is that of Neil Rodreick II. Unlike every other “teen” you’ll see in this series, he did not act alone.

In January 2007, staff at Mingus Springs Charter School in Chino Valley, Arizona, were growing deeply alarmed about the transcripts of a new student, 12-year-old Casey Price. On some of the documents provided by his grandfather, Lonnie Stiffler, his name was misspelled “Casy”, and much of the information about his educational background had been fabricated. Though his birth certificiate was supposedly German, it didn’t feature metric measurements. Stiffler had listed his attorney as W.A. Drew Edmondson, then Attorney General of Oklahoma. And he had misspelled the name.
Though Casey spoke and behaved like any other seventh grader, everyone at Mingus Springs thought he looked much older than 12.
Fearing that Casey could be an older, abducted child, the school notified the sheriff’s department. Casey was taken out of class by a deputy.

Casey lived with his grandfather, uncle, and cousin in a three-bedroom trailer home in Chino Valley, where he set up a ramp for skateboarding and rode his bike up and down the street. Before enrolling at Mingus Springs, he attended Imagine Charter School in nearby Surprise for four months, and was expelled for poor attendance. His schoolwork had been mediocre, his manner shy and withdrawn.

Detectives Ross Diskin and Tom Buvik of the Chino Valley Police promptly paid a visit to the trailer home on Del Rio Drive, accompanied by Yavapai sheriff’s deputies. Cousin Brian, Uncle Robert, and Grandpa Lonnie were all at home, watching porn together.
Though the men lived in modest circumstances, Casey’s room was stocked with a flat-screen TV, DVD player, game system, and personal computer. He looked like one spoiled kid.
Lonnie Stiffler explained he had legal custody of his youngest grandson, Casey. His oldest grandson, Brian, was 34. Robert Snow was his nephew. He awkwardly insisted that the documents he handed over to the school were authentic, even when the investigators pointed out misspellings and the names of nonexistent people.
“Uncle Robert”, 43, gave confused and confusing answers to questions. He said he wasn’t sure if he ever had custody of his nephew Casey or not. “I have been told that I have and I’ve also seen paperwork that looks just like that indicating that I supposedly had custody of him,” he told the investigators, who were already aware Snow was an unregistered sex offender. They were planning to arrest him.
Snow explained, in a vague and rambling manner, that Linda Price (living in Germany) had handed custody of her son over to the family to protect him from a “large group of sexual predators”, a “special group of people” who had apparently been pursuing Casey since he was a young child. For this reason, Casey had been enrolled at one Arizona school under the name “Casey Rodreick”.
The story gradually meandered into even weirder territory. Snow admitted that he and Lonnie Stiffler weren’t related to the boy at all. They had met Casey online while Casey and Linda were living in Oklahoma, and offered to take care of him when Linda decided to move back to Germany two years earlier. The custody changeover had been facilitated, bizarrely, by a U.S. Marshall named Mike Masters, described by Snow as “a friend of Casey”. Stiffler and Snow never met Linda or Casey’s brothers.
Stiffler then admitted Casey was not his grandson. He was, indeed, an Oklahoma boy he and Robert Snow had met online, and Linda Price had given him permission to visit his “friends” in Arizona.
Ultimately, both Snow and Stiffler confessed to committing sexual acts with 12-year-old Casey.

“Cousin Brian’s” story was much different. He claimed he began taking care of Casey three or four years earlier, while he was attending college in Oklahoma. The boy’s father, Neil Rodreick, had abandoned him. In 2004, Casey ran away from their home in El Mirage to live with Stiffler and Snow. Brian followed.
Brian Nellis, too, was an unregistered sex offender, convicted of molesting a 7-year-old, but denied molesting Casey.

Meanwhile, Casey confided to a deputy he felt uncomfortable around Snow because “he acts gay around me”. He feared that Robert was taking advantage of him sexually while he was asleep. Child Protective Services was summoned to the trailer.
That’s when Brian Nellis blurted out that Casey wasn’t a boy at all – he was a 29-year-old man.

It sounded like the stupidest story yet, but it was true. The investigators learned that “Casey Price” was Neil Rodreick II, a 29-year-old ex-con from Oklahoma. He was released from prison in 2002, having served 7 years of a 10-year sentence for making lewd and indecent proposals to two 6-year-old boys when he was 18.

Rodreick lived rootlessly after his release, drifting from Oklahoma to his an aunt’s home in California. She kicked him out after just two months because, she said, he used her computer to access child porn. He returned to Oklahoma and became roomies with another ex-con a few years older than himself, Brian Nellis. Nellis had done 3 years for lewd molestation. The two pedophiles allegedly worked as a team to observe and attract little boys, lurking around playgrounds and schools in their spare time. At some point, one or both men came up with the idea of having the youthful-looking Neil, then in his mid-20s, pose as a kid.
Rodreick first tested this out at a church in El Reno, Oklahoma, pretending to be a 12-year-old named Casey. The ruse was successful; he befriended at least two young boys, spending the night at one child’s house and taking a trip to the Grand Canyon with an 11-year-old under the supervision of his “Uncle Brian”. He allegedly molested this boy.

In 2005, the duo came under investigation by El Reno police when their computer was repossessed and the new owner found a huge cache of child pornography on the hard drive; 150 videos and over 1,000 images were recovered.
By the time Lieutenant Van Gillock learned about the church imposture, Rodreick and Nellis were already on the road. They had convinced Lonnie Stiffler to take them in. Rodreick had been communicating online with Stiffler and his companion, Robert Snow, for a couple of years. They had been trolling for young boys on the ‘Net, and Rodreick presented himself to them as a preteen boy. Stiffler sent money to Rodreick on several occasions.

To this day, it isn’t known if Stiffler and Snow realized the “boy” they lured to Arizona with his “cousin Brian” was really a grown man, or if they were fully aware of his age and planned to use him as bait to lure actual kids. Though Stiffler had no record of sex offenses, Snow had one conviction in California.
Rodreick and Nellis set up housekeeping with the two older men, and they all agreed to pose as a family. Neil entered into a sexual threesome with Stiffler and Snow.
Shortly after their arrival, Neil enrolled as Casey Price at the Shelby School in Payson. He was a student there for 21 days. He tried to enter a Prescott Valley school before being enrolled at Imagine Charter School by an “uncle”. He would later be charged with assaulting one girl at this school.
After his expulsion, someone made the fateful decision to enroll him in the Chino Valley school, where his smooth face didn’t pass muster and his wonky transcripts immediately raised suspicions.

When they were arrested, Stiffler and Snow both expressed outrage and shock that Neil wasn’t really a kid. They professed to believe he was a parentless boy.

Little is known of Neil Rodreick’s real background. His California aunt has told reporters he was molested as a child, and his mother died when he was 14.

All four men were arrested and slapped with numerous charges, including fraud and failing to register as sex offenders. Child porn was found in the house they shared.
Rodreick pled guilty to child exploitation, assault, failure to register as a sexual offender, and fraud. Last year, he received the maximum sentence of 70.5 years. Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Thomas Lindberg commented that he should have been given an even longer one.

Fake Teens Part II: Brian MacKinnon and Other Fake Students

Close, but no degree

Like the career criminal James Hogue, Brian MacKinnon of Scotland tried to recapture lost opportunities by impersonating a high school student. He just wasn’t terribly good at it.

From boyhood, Brian wanted to be a doctor. And at the age of 18 he was on his way, leaving Bearsden Academy in East Dunbartonshire to enroll in the medical course at Glasgow University. The year was 1980.
MacKinnon claims he became very ill with mono and coxsackie his first winter at university. Fatigued, he fell behind in his studies and failed all his major exams the following spring. He also claims Dean Edward McGirr kindly offered him a second chance, but McGirr wasn’t dean until 1992. At any rate, neither his health nor his grades showed any improvement the following term. MacKinnon was expelled.
In 1986 he began working toward a science degree, in the hopes of successfully re-applying for med school. Those hopes were smacked down when he failed an important chemistry exam. He continued to study, living with his mother and terminally ill father in a Bearsden council flat.

By 1993, 30-year-old MacKinnon despaired of ever getting back into med school by conventional means. His own account of his troubles reads like something out of Dickens; illness, poor circumstances, horribly unfair professors. He had been banished most cruelly from the halls of learning, without recourse.
So it was only fair that he forge some transcripts and re-enroll at Bearsden Academy as a 17-year-old boy.
While MacKinnon’s tale brims with the sadness of the dejected scholar, the details of his fraud show the distinct mark of the Hollywood-obsessed fantasist. He chose the name “Brandon Lee”, and made Brandon’s late father a professor of zoology, his mother an opera singer. Fortunately for MacKinnon, no one at Bearsden checked his background too carefully; his references included an English zoologist and a Canadian schoolteacher named Marsha Hunt – both fictitious. If his Canadian accent lacked authenticity, no one noticed.

Unlike James Hogue, MacKinnon made serious mistakes. First of all, he didn’t really look like a teenager. His classmates quickly, and aptly, nicknamed him “Thirtysomething“. Secondly, he took the risk of enrolling at the very same school he attended in the ’70s, where many of the same teachers were still employed. Lucky for him, he hadn’t been a conspicuous presence back then, and no one recognized him.
On one occasion, MacKinnon slipped up by commenting that he could recall the day Elvis died. Pretty odd for a kid born in 1977. The other students looked askance at him but said nothing.
His mother, May, knew Brian had returned to school. She just didn’t know it was high school.

MacKinnon didn’t take the wallflower route. He captured the lead in the school’s production of South Pacific, worked on the school magazine, and made a lot of friends. His life as the son of a traveling opera singer probably didn’t hurt; even late headmaster Norman McLeod presumed Brandon had a “cosmopolitan background”, which accounted for his mature confidence and good manners. All in all, he was a model student.

Brandon Lee graduated from Bearsden in the spring of 1994 with straight As and an acceptance to the medical course at Dundee University. If anyone found it odd that his jet-setting mother attended neither his stage premiere nor his graduation, they politely said nothing to him. The ruse had succeeded.

The first half of his freshman year at Glasgow University was equally successful, aside from a family illness that forced him to leave school in December. He was set to return in the fall of ’95. Jubilant, Brandon arranged to take a summer holiday to Tenerife with three female school chums. That was his fatal mistake. One of the girls caught a glimpse of MacKinnon’s real passport, and a call was made to the school.
May MacKinnon turned on the TV one day to learn that her 32-year-old son had posed as a teenager for two years, directly under her nose.

Rather pitifully, MacKinnon insisted he would make a good doctor. In 2002, he was reported to be living in his car.

The Stanford Two

In 2007, Stanford officials discovered that a pretty 18-year-old named Azia Kim had been living in a Stanford dorm and studying biology even though she was not (and had never been, and probably never will be) a Stanford student. At the start of the first semester of ’06, Kim told Kimball Hall residents Jenssy Rojina and Missy Penna that she was desperately in need of housing due to some mix-up, and Rojina offered to let her crash in their room until it was straightened out. Rojina and Kim became friends and even traveled to San Francisco together on winter break.
At the start of second semester, Kim sought out a new roomie at another dorm, Okada. She told Amy Zhou that she didn’t like her old roommate. Zhou spent most nights with her boyfriend, so she had no clue that Kim had to crawl through their window night after night because she didn’t have access to the building. This might have gone on longer if Kim hadn’t told a resident advisor she lived in another dorm, Otero. The subject came up at an RA meeting, sparking an investigation.

The whole point of Kim’s ruse is rather murky, as she didn’t speak to the press after being caught. She apparently didn’t attend any classes, and she had never actually applied to the university. She did, however, con her way into Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) courses by pretending to be enrolled at another school, Santa Clara University.
Kim graduated from Troy High School in Fullerton. She reportedly told friends she planned to attend a community college and transfer to Berkeley, but never enrolled anywhere. Instead, she announced at Christmas break that she had gotten into Stanford. Kim’s parents and sister. evidently believed this, too.
Kim considered herself a devout Christian and was regarded as a sweet, studious girl. Her only known bad habits were, you know, breaking into dorm rooms and joining a rigorous military program under false pretenses. So I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, and tentatively conclude that she is not hardened-criminal material. Maybe she even got into a good school by the front door, and put those impeccable study habits to use.

Of course, it was quite embarrassing for Stanford to have an imposter actually living on-campus for a full 8 months, and many students were spooked (Zhou had a chain installed on her window after Kim was “evicted”). But that embarrassment and unease mushroomed when another young Asian woman was found to be living at Stanford.

Perhaps due to the Azia Kim incident, students and staff were becoming more observant on campus and within a week of Kim’s ousting a second intruder, thirtysomething Elizabeth Okazaki, was rooted out. For at least three years, she had been posing as a grad student in physics, hanging around the lab and sometimes claiming to be an assistant to famed string theorist Leonard Susskind. Not only had Susskind never heard of Ms. Okazaki, but a student by that name had never been enrolled at Stanford. She did attend physics seminars, though, which indicates she could have been an aspiring physicist without the background needed to study at a major university. Students reported that she often puttered around the Varian Hall Physics Lab, making tea or simply hanging out. One university official wildly speculated she was looking for a “sugar daddy” in the physics lab, which would make about as much sense as searching for pearls in a lobster.

It’s beyond ironic that these two girls became, for a brief period in 2007, Stanford’s most famous students. Kim even has a sort of cult status; fans argue she’s actually far brighter and more inventive than your average Stanford student. Stanford alum and author Jeremy Iverson, who went undercover as a student to write his book High School Confidential, said of Kim, “I’m really proud of her for pulling it off as long as she did. I hope she had a great time at our college, and I hope they go easy on her. I salute her.”

But I’m Not a Cheerleader

In August 2008, a cheerleader failed to show up for classes at Ashwaubenon High School in Wisconsin, though her parents hadn’t called in sick for her. Truant officers went in search of the errant blonde 15-year-old and unexpectedly found the girl’s mother, Wendy Brown, in county lock-up. She had been charged with check fraud.
And she was about to be charged with a few other kinds of fraud, because 33-year-old Wendy had stolen her own daughter’s identity to enroll at Ashwaubenon High that summer. The girl was living with her grandmother in Nebraska at the time, oblivious to her mom’s weird scheme.
Brown gave police a sob story about wanting to relive her teen years, but her long criminal record showed she was not just a sentimental fool. She was a career petty criminal who had carried out thefts, forgeries, and frauds for a number of years.
Cheerleaders and teachers commented that the new girl had seemed very mature-looking, but hadn’t raised any red flags with her behaviour.
One wonders how long a thirtysomething woman, only moderately fit, could have kept up with teen cheerleaders without giving herself away.

Brown struck a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to identity theft “by reason of mental disease or defect”. She was committed to a mental health facility for three years.

She wasn’t quite as criminally savvy as the former cheerleader who led a team bank robbers in Fullerton. What is it with these Fullerton girls, anyway?

Fake Teens Part I: James Hogue

“You ever come across anything like time travel?”
– Uncle Rico, Napoleon Dynamite

James Arthur Hogue, now 51, was possibly the first high-profile fake teen. Unlike the “serial teens” we’ll meet later in this series, his reasons for impersonating a high-schooler weren’t terribly complex: He wanted a second shot at athletic glory, and he felt entitled to grab it by any means necessary. He became a career criminal… with an Ivy-League education.


In the mid-’70s, Hogue set national records as a runner with the cross country team at Washington High in Kansas City, Kansas. But at the University of Wyoming, he unexpectedly choked. His performance was so lackluster that after just one meet, he left the team. Before finishing his sophomore year, he dropped out of school and returned to Kansas City. He never competed under his own name again.

After brief stints at a community college and the University of Texas at Austin, Hogue turned to petty thievery. It isn’t known if this was a habit he picked up in earlier years, but conning and stealing quickly became his way of life. In 1983, at the age of 24, he was convicted of theft and sentenced to three years of parole. He violated it freely, drifting first to Colorado and then California.

The Orphan

In September 1985, a wiry 16-year-old boy enrolled at Palo Alto High as a senior. He had a lean, impish face and super-straight brown hair chopped in an awkward bowl cut. Jay Mitchell Huntsman explained to school officials that he was a Swedish-born orphan. After his parents died in Bolivia, he was raised by friends on a commune near Elko, Nevada. Though he had been barely been homeschooled, he seemed to be of average intelligence.
The mysterious Swede told his classmates he would earn a track scholarship to Stanford, and he wasn’t screwing around. Just one month after starting high school, he won the Stanford Invitational Cross Country Meet.
Jason Cole, a reporter for the Peninsula Times-Tribune, was intrigued by the so-called Mystery Boy of Palo Alto High, and suspicious of his colourful background. He began researching the orphan’s history. It didn’t take him long to learn that no commune existed in or around Elko, Nevada. Palo Alto police discovered that the “orphan” was a 25-year-old Kansas native with a police record, who had stolen the identity of a baby boy deceased at birth. Weirdly, they didn’t charge him with any crime.

Hogue “dropped out” of Palo Alto, of course, but remained in the area. The following May, he was nabbed for forging checks and sentenced to 90 days in jail. Upon his release he promptly broke parole and made his way to Colorado and posed as a bioengineer with a doctorate from Stanford. The phantom credentials didn’t get him far, though; he ended up as a running instructor at the Cross Training Clinic in Vail. He worked there until the early summer of ’87, when a co-worker exposed him as a fraud, then drifted back to California and attached himself to custom bike-builder Dave Tesch in San Marcos. He lived in Tesch’s home and helped him with his bikes until October. That’s when his criminal tendencies overwhelmed his common sense again. He swiped a cache of pricey bike parts from Tesch’s workshop and fled to Utah.

The Orphan, Take Two

That November, Princeton University received a most unusual application from a young man in St. George, Utah. 18-year-old Alexi Indris-Santana was a ranch hand at the Lazy T Ranch. Mostly self-educated, he had scored 1450 on his SATs and seemed like an all-around upstanding citizen. He excelled in sports, particularly running, and read the classics. His mother, a sculptress, lived in Switzerland. His references included the owner of the Lazy T.
In March 1988, this remarkable cowpoke traveled to New Jersey and toured the famous Ivy League campus. He told track coach Bill Ellis that if accepted, he would love to join the team.

Indris-Santana was offered a scholarship to Princeton, but James Hogue wasn’t so lucky. He was arrested for stealing bike parts. Police were disturbed to find high-school track trophies and fake applications to Ivy League schools among his possessions. Hogue pled guilty to theft, receiving a 6-month prison sentence. That put a serious crimp in Indris-Santana’s college plans. Hogue had little choice but to ask Princeton for a one-year deferment. His mother the sculptress was dying of leukemia, he explained, and he had to travel to Switzerland to be by her side. Princeton granted the deferment.

Two Men Go to Princeton

In June 1989, Hogue once again broke parole. He went to Princeton and became Alexi Indris-Santana, orphan ranch hand. Throughout the summer he worked on a grounds crew and attended orientation courses, gaining his footing on alien territory. Now 28 years old, he hadn’t been in a classroom since his “expulsion” from Palo Alto High 4 years earlier.
Just before the school year began, the Trenton Times profiled Alexi in a story titled “A Different Path to Glory”. When classmates asked about his famous background, he told stories of riding through the Mojave Desert on a horse called Good Enough. He certainly looked the part: He still had the bowl-cut hair, the ropy physique. No one would have mistaken him for a child of privilege. If he sometimes reverted to prison slang or spoke of things that the average 19-year-old wouldn’t know about, nobody noticed.

For the next two years, Indris-Santana was a solid performer both in the classroom and on the track. Whatever had stymied him at the University of Wyoming years earlier was no impediment at Princeton, alma mater of Alan Turing and Richard Feynman. He was even admitted to the university’s oldest, boys-only eating club, the Ivy. He hung out with other runners and had a girlfriend, a student from a well-off family.

His freshman and sophomore years passed without a hitch. Utah authorities had no idea where he was, and thanks to scholarship money he wasn’t stealing (or at least wasn’t stealing often enough to get caught). Then, in February 1991, someone recognized “Alexi” at a Princeton-Harvard-Yale track meet in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale senior Renee Pacheco later said she would have recognized that bowl haircut anywhere; it belonged to a former classmate at Palo Alto High, the “boy” known as Jay Huntsman. She knew he was really James Hogue.
Pacheco phoned Palo Alto’s track coach, Paul Jones, to tell him of her sighting. Jones alerted Peninsula Times-Tribune reporter Jason Cole, the man who had pegged “Jay Huntsman” as too good to be true.

Within two days, the details of Alexi’s true identity were in the hands of Princeton officials and police. There was no Lazy T Ranch in Utah. Hogues‘ mother was alive and well in Kansas.
James Hogue was arrested in a Princeton geology lab and charged with forgery, falsifying records, and wrongful impersonation. He initially pled not guilty, and somehow managed to post his own bail. One year later, however, he faced the futility of fighting the massive evidence against him and accepted a plea deal; 3 years in jail, 5 years probation, and 100 hours of community service. Not a bad rap for defrauding Princeton of over $20,000.

Two Places At Once

Hogue appealed his sentence. He did this from Massachusetts, because he had enrolled in an extension program at Harvard. Really. Crazy as it seems, the court had granted him permission to continue his studies, and Harvard accepted him on the strength of his Princeton grades. He got a job as a cataloguer at the Harvard Mineralogical Museum and rented an apartment in Somerville.
In December 1992, New Jersey authorities ordered Hogue to finish out his prison sentence. The following May, Harvard museum curators realized that $50,000 worth of gemstones were missing. Bizarrely, though Hogue had supposedly been locked up in the Mercer County Correctional Center in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, from December ’92 to early May ’93, he had somehow managed to appear for work at the mineralogical museum several times in February and March. Sgt. Samuel Gordon insisted he couldn’t have slipped away to Massachusetts. This mystery was never adequately solved, it seems.
The gems, along with a microscope and other lab equipment stolen from Harvard, were found in Hogue’s apartment. More jail time for larceny, then for parole violation. He ended up spending more time behind bars than he had in the classroom.

Deja Vu

Is this the end of Hogue’s story? Of course not. In 1996, Hogue was arrested on the Princeton campus for trespassing, trying to pass himself off as a grad student.
Now his story runs almost in reverse. In 1997, he returned to Colorado, adopted the name James Haag, and stole a bicycle in Aspen. He was charged with resisting arrest. In 1998 he received community service for swiping food and Rogaine from an Aspen supermarket. An employee at the Aspen Daily News filed a restraining order against him for trashing her car and harassing her with phone calls. He was arrested for theft again in 2000.


In 1999, one of Hogue’s Palo Alto classmates began making a movie about him. Naturally, Jesse Moss had never forgotten the “new kid” from Nevada who was exposed as a twentysomething thief just one month into the first semester of his senior year. He tracked his subject to Colorado, where Hogue was living his usual rootless existence, drifting from town to town doing construction work and occasionally being arrested for theft. He had no real insight into his own behaviour, other than viewing it as a sort of hopeless addiction for which no cure has been found. He ultimately settled on a ranch in the southern part of the state, bringing at least one small part of his fantasy life into reality by legal means.
Moss’ Con Man was released in 2001.

Deja Vu Again

In 2006, a police raid on Hogue’s house in San Bernardo, Colorado uncovered $100,000 worth of goods he had stolen from Telluride and Mountain Village homes, probably over a period of several years. A month later, U.S. Marshals tracked him to Tuscon, Arizona. He struck another deal, pleading guilty to one count of felony theft in exchange for the dropping of other charges. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In phone calls to his nephew, he suggested that someone tell his Russian fiancee he was killed in a car crash.

Other Sources:

– “The Runner” by David Samuels. The New Yorker. Sept. 3, 2001. (subscription required)

The Girl in the Fire

On the night of November 19, 1995, a fire broke out at the Town Hall in the village of Wem, not far from Shrewsbury, Shropshire. The building was engulfed in flame when a local man named Tony O’Rahilly stood across the road and snapped a photo of the front entrance, capturing what is inarguably one of the eeriest ghost images of all time.

In the developed black and white photo, a young girl is standing behind a railing, inside the burning building. A loose, slightly old-fashioned white dress falls to her knees. She gazes out into the night with an unreadable expression, seeming to stare directly at the camera.
O’Rahilly and villagers who were standing near him when the photo was taken claimed they didn’t see the girl at all, and by all accounts there was no one inside the Town Hall as it burned. O’Rahilly denied any trickery. Dr. Vernon Harrison, a former president of the Royal Photographic Society, concluded the image had not been doctored after examining the photo and its negative. Like many skeptics, however, he surmised that the “girl” could be an optical illusion created by smoke and shadow.
Experts at the National Museum of Photography declared the photo a fake.

Others considered O’Rahilly’s photo evidence of the afterlife, and set to work figuring out who the girl in the fire could be. Some came to believe she was 15-year-old Jane Churm, the girl responsible for accidentally started another famous fire in Wem in the year 1677. On the night of November 3, Jane set the thatched roof of her home on fire by carelessly placing a candle too close to it. As it was dry and windy, the flames spread rapidly and devoured numerous other cottages in Wem. One man tried to hide beneath his house, and it collapsed on top of him.
Now, more than three centuries later, Jane had returned to Wem to haunt another fire.

For the past 15 years, the girl in the fire has appeared on virtually every list of the most chilling, and the most convincing, ghost photos. Wem even added “Ghost Town” to its sign.

In May of this year, the Shropshire Star newspaper included a 1922 Wem postcard in its “Pictures of the Past” feature. The black and white photo showed a street lined with shops, and outside one of those shops stands a solemn young girl in a loose-fitting white dress and a frilled white bonnet. She looked much like the girl in the fire. Reader Brian Lear of Shrewsbury alerted the paper to this eerie resemblance, which turned out to be more than coincidental: Both the girl in the fire and the girl in the postcard wear black neckties of exactly the same width and length, the blouses of their dresses are wrinkled near their waists in precisely the same spot, the frills of their bonnets cover their hair in the same places, and their faces are identical.

As an overlay demonstration by computer programmer Richard Deeson shows, the two pictures are the same.

But why the photo was faked may forever remain a mystery. Tony O’Rahilly died in 2005.

Psychic Detectives

Part I: Intro/Gerard Croiset and Peter Hurkos
Part II: Dorothy Allison and Noreen Renier
Part III: Sylvia Browne, Psychic Clown
Part IV: Other “Notables” (including Allison DuBois)
Addendum: Uri Geller

Pants Afire Awards

The Pants Afire Award goes to the least credible people I’ve written about here on Swallowing the Camel.
And the lucky winners are…

Benjamin Fulford, saving the world with Freemasonic ninjas

Larry Sinclair – Obama’s gay lover and his murder allegations

James Frey – Bad writer, no Pulitzer!

Sylvia Browne, the whiskey-throated emodiment of epic FAIL

Dr. Deagle – taking WTF to whole new levels

Al Bielek – He survived the Philadelphia Experiment only to be zapped back to infancy. Never trust the government, folks.

Casey Anthony – Whether she’s guilty of killing her daughter or not, this girl has got to be one of the least competent liars in the history of lying.

Richard “Iceman” Kuklinski – He became the world’s most infamous Mafia hitman without actually working for the Mafia or being a hitman.


  • David Wilcock, the possible reincarnation of Edgar Cayce who almost predicted a nuclear strike on the U.S. back in the ’90s, told the world that at least one member of a race of benevolent, humanoid aliens would be revealed by Obama himself on national television this year. So go ahead and fire up the TiVo, ’cause I’m sure this will happen within the next two weeks.
  • It’s not that I thought there was ever any factual information in the “testimony” of intrepid Satanist-fighter Debra Hunter Pitts, but I just read in Bill Fawcett’s fine compendium You Said What?: Lies and Propaganda Throughout History that the song “Layla” was probably inspired by the classic Persian tale of a man who lost his mind with love for Layla or Leyli, the woman he was forbidden to marry. He came to be known as “Majnun Layla”: “crazy for Layla”. Ms. Pitts claims she wrote it as a teenager, cleverly disguising a Satanic murder ballad as a love song.
  • Marc Zackheim, the psychologist married to Anthony Godby Johnson hoaxer Vicki Fraginals, passed away in November. In March of this year, he pled guilty to Medicaid fraud, having falsely billed over $100,000 to Indiana Medicaid.