When 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay phoned home for a ride in his San Antonio, Texas neighborhood, his older brother refused to help him. He would disappear following the call, never to be seen again. Until, three years later he called for help again—only this time he was calling from Spain.
The day that Barclay disappeared was like any other day. The young boy was playing basketball with his friends on June 13, 1994. Barclay’s mom, Beverly, was sleeping from working a night shift when he called home for a ride, and his brother, Jason, refused to wake her.
When Barclay never came home, the family grew worried; however, the police believed the boy had run away on his own accord.
Barclay had run away in the past, and he wasn’t an angel. He had anger issues and often physically and verbally abused his mother. He had a criminal record for breaking into a convenience store, stealing shoes, and even threatening a teacher. He was set to appear in court for his actions the day after his disappearance, and he was facing time away at a home for troubled boys.
Police believed the boy left home to avoid being punished, but how could a 13-year-old survive with no money to live?
There were no real answers in the case, and more questions arose as time went on. In the months following the boy’s disappearance, the police were called to the Barclay home on multiple occasions. Most of the calls were due to fights between Beverly and Jason, whose relationship grew volatile after the disappearance of Nicholas.
Then three months later, one of the calls from the Barclay home claimed that Nicholas had returned.
When police arrive to investigate, Jason claimed he saw his younger brother attempting to break into the family garage. Upon a search of the premises, no sign of Nicholas was found anywhere. Police didn’t believe the boy had returned, and they were almost certain that Jason did not see him.
While the occurrence was strange, the case took an unbelievable turn just three years later.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia received a call from a person in Linares, Spain in October, 1997. An American boy showed up in a youth shelter claiming he escaped a sex trafficking ring. After exchanging a description of the boy and positively identifying him from a “Missing” person’s poster, he was declared to be Nicholas Barclay.
The authorities became involved and notified Barclay’s family. Barclay’s sister, Carey, immediately flew to Spain where she confirmed the boy was indeed her brother. He was given an American passport, and he went back home to San Antonio, Texas to reunite with his family.
Through the touching reunion and happiness, something was off about the situation. The most obvious concern was that the boy from Spain looked nothing like the boy who had disappeared in 1994. Nicholas Barclay had blonde hair and blue eyes—but this Nicholas had brown eyes and brown hair.
He also had a French accent.
Nicholas told everyone his eyes were changed from chemicals his captors put into his eyes daily, and his hair was chemically treated too. His French accent was something he developed from living in Europe for so long. His family believed him. It was their son.
Despite the family’s acceptance of the boy, others remained skeptical. Private investigator Charlie Baker heard about the case and showed up alongside a TV crew at the Barclay home for an interview. The Barclay family didn’t want the attention from the media; however, Nicholas relished in it. He soaked up every minute, and divulged his experiences in captivity with ease.
During the interview, Baker spotted a photo of Nicholas when he was 13. He stared at the man being interviewed and couldn’t help but compare the two. He noticed the alarming differences in the boy’s physical appearance—especially the boy’s ears.
Ears are like fingerprints—and Baker knew it. They are fully formed when you’re born, and they never change as you grow older. When the investigator compared photos of the boy from his past to his appearance in the TV interview, the ears did not match.
The boy wasn’t Nicholas.
The imposter lived with the family as their son for 6 months before the FBI got a court order to test his identity. After taking fingerprints and a blood sample they determined that the person living with the Barclay’s wasn’t Nicholas; the person was then-23-year-old Frederic Bourdin—a French con-man.
Bourdin, dubbed “The Chameleon” by the French media, had used over 40 false identities before taking on the identity of the missing Nicholas Barclay. Choosing Nicholas as his next identity happened by chance, and luckily for him, the boy’s family fell for his ruse.
After his identity was revealed, Bourdin made claims that the family really knew he wasn’t Nicholas all along, and they were just putting on a show for police. He insisted that they killed the boy, and hid his body.
He told media the family fed him vital, personal information to help him learn exactly who Nicholas was. In doing so, they helped keep the lie alive.
Bourdin went even further as to point fingers at Nicholas’ brother Jason, insisting he knew Bourdin wasn’t his brother because he had killed him. He stated, “It was clear that Jason knew what had happened to Nicholas.”
After the truth was revealed about Bourdin, he was sentenced to 6 years in jail. The police turned their suspicions to the Barclay family, but there was no substantial evidence to support they had harmed Nicholas.
Parker questioned Jason about his brother’s disappearance, and even stated he knew he was involved somehow. According to Parker, Jason just stared at him without offering a defense. Days later, Jason was found dead of a cocaine overdose.
While it’s hard to believe anything a pathological liar like Bourdin says about the family, it’s difficult to see how they believed he was their son. Could their grief and hope have blinded them so badly that they truly believed he was Nicholas? Or were they afraid to admit he wasn’t Nicholas because they had killed him?
The story is detailed in the fascinating documentary THE IMPOSTER, but it leaves you with an empty feeling by the end of it. There are still no answers for what happened to Nicholas that day, and there most likely never will be. What’s worse is that the life of Nicholas was used as a part of a crazed man’s game, and a family was forced to relive the horror of losing him all over again.