6 People Who Got Away With Living an (Implausible) Lie
You shouldn't lie, that's one of the first things they teach you in school. Work hard and you'll get ahead. Lie and you'll get caught and it will be bad.
We think, anyway. The following examples provide some pretty stark evidence to the contrary...
Unknown Frenchman Pretends to Be Asian
In 1703, England received her first ever exotic traveler from Formosa (Now Taiwan): a charming man who enjoyed telling everyone all the crazy and foreign things he and his "people" did from the faraway land. One problem? That man was named George, he was white with blond hair. He was actually from France, had never been to Formosa and the people he was telling it to were thick as shit. (OK, that was actually several problems.)
He was about as Asian as Ryan Seacrest.
Bearing in mind, this was a time when general population saw light rain as a sign from God, they lapped up the stories from the "faraway traveler" and quizzed him about his fake home for years while he hung around and got high on opium.
How Did He Do It?
George Psalmanazar was no dumbass. He was top of his class, fluent in Latin by seven-years old and had a knack for philosophy. Born and raised in France, Psalmanazar decided to see the world but, more to the point, he decided he didn't want to pay for it. So, how do you get a bunch of strangers to let you into their homes for free? By posing as an exotic, otherworldly Japanese man.
Even Seacrest wouldn't do this.
He started off in Rome, pretending to be Japanese by eating strange foods and sleeping upright in a chair (like the Japanese) and talking in gibberish (like the Japanese). Sure enough, the Italians laughed at him.
Storming off and jumping ship to a more impressionable England, Psalmanazar switched to being Taiwanese. He talked in a made-up language, followed a foreign calendar and generally acted like a lunatic to seem more "exotic," and the English ate it up. He was so famous in England, he even wrote a hugely successful book about Formosa which of course was utter bullshit, complete with ridiculous claims about social behaviors, language and geography.
How Was He Caught?
You'd think it would have something to do with the fact that he looked nothing like other Formosans, but no, he sidestepped that tricky issue by explaining how upper-class Formosans rarely get sun because they sleep underground.
Instead, he just eventually confessed, and, oddly enough, there was never any major fallout. Psalmanazar was still basically liked and respected until his death, even when his stories became more transparently ridiculous and even when actual Formosans started poking holes in everything he'd ever said. Just goes to show you, there's nothing wrong with blatantly lying to people and taking their money.
Marvin Hewitt (a.k.a. Julias Ashkin, a.k.a. Georg Hewitt, a.k.a. Kenneth Yates) Teaches Physics
What happens when a high school drop out, with no qualifications and no credentials, wants to be a university physics teacher? Well, he mostly gets told to fuck off.
But that didn't stop Marvin Hewitt, who decided the only way he'd get to be a teacher was to lie and fake his way into it, which is exactly what he did. Five goddamn times.
How Did He Do It?
A brilliant physicist at an early age, Hewitt had big dreams of becoming a teacher, but even bigger dreams of not going to school and devoting himself to a career in full-time bullshitting.
In 1945, he heard about a famous aerodynamics professor, stole the name and applied for a teaching position. He got the job, but colleagues soon found him out, probably because he took the name of a famous teacher.
"Hi there, my name is Professor Einstein Q. Science, and I'd like to teach you science."
Defeated, but not disheartened, Hewitt tried again, taking the name of a less well-known professor; Julias Ashkin. He was accepted into a teaching job in a Philadelphia college, and then another in Minnesota. He enjoyed years of fraudulent activity, and appeared to be successful, as he gained skills and fame. Eventually, he got too famous and the real Julias Ashkin wrote him telling him to knock that shit off, probably saying "No one gets to be a famous and respected Julias Ashkin except me, you understand? Also, I'm not going to be famous and respected."
Since then, Hewitt has taken on various identities in several colleges, each time eluding exposure for years at a time.
How Was He Caught?
As you read, he was caught several times throughout his career, but his final outing followed his fifth teaching job, where he assumed the identity of "Dr. Kenneth Yates" for a few years. As it turned out, the real Yates was working for an oil company, and when word got out, Fake Yates's colleagues demanded he be fired.
However, in the way that no one cared when Psalmanazar's secret was exposed, Hewitt received mostly positive recommendations from everyone he'd worked with and his last administrator went out of his way to emphasize that Hewitt was fired for "fraudulent qualifications," and not incompetence. He was even approached by The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the British Admiralty Office, but he turned them down.
So, again, for the kids reading at home, nothing bad ever happens when you drop out of school and lie.
Margaret Bulkley Mans Up for Medicine
In 1865, world-renowned doctor James Barry died of dysentery. The man had been one of the first to successfully perform a Caesarean section, and had once been the personal doctor of Napoleon's son. His fame and skill had made him the top-ranked doctor in the British army. But when the nurses did an autopsy on his body, it looked like they'd have to award him with another title: first female doctor in Britain.
That's right, James Barry was a woman and she had spent her life fooling the world.
How Did She Do It?
Born Margaret Bulkley, she decided that she wanted to become a doctor, a dream that met a major roadblock in the form of her vagina. After years of damning her glorious curse, Buckley decided to take her uncle's name, masquerading as a man to study to be a surgeon.
She pulled it off too, by wearing a long overcoat to hide her curves and telling everyone her voice was just "high pitched," and that her penis was just "vagina-like in mannerisms and appearance." She quickly rose through the ranks in the British army, healing famous people and generally putting all the men to shame. Barry padded herself with towels to make herself look more genuine, and somewhat amazingly developed a reputation as a "ladies man."
How Was She Caught?
Well she was never caught in her lifetime. Even after she stated that she absolutely did NOT want anyone to inspect her body after she died, nurses thought "fuck it" and looked anyway, discovering that Barry had been a woman all along, even noticing faint stretch marks on her skin, indicating she had once given birth.
When high-ranking officials learned of the shocking revelation, they decided to keep it secret, and sealed all records for 100 years so no one would ever find out. We assumed that this, like most vows of secrecy, came with the typical "But it's OK if Cracked talks about it" clause, so we went ahead and wrote this article.
Arthur Orton Lies His Way Into a Will
In 1853, French born Roger Tichborne died at sea. His wealthy and widowed mother, beside herself with grief couldn't accept the death and sent inquiries all around the world, desperate to find her lost son.
Eventually she got a letter back from a man from Australia, claiming to be her heir, whom she immediately welcomed back in open arms, though some other members of the family found it suspect that the man didn't match the description of Tichborne at all. Where Tichborne was a skinny, black-haired youth, the impostor was basically just a fat, light-haired man who didn't even speak a word of French. You would think that would be a prerequisite.
Subtle differences in appearance.
How Did He Do It?
Regardless of what her family thought (not to mention her eyesight, common sense, etc), the mother genuinely believed she had found her son. The impostor was Arthur Orton, and he got away with it by basically just telling the distraught woman anything she wanted to hear. Whenever he was asked a "do you remember when..?" question from a concerned relative, Orton's answer was completely wrong, but mother wouldn't hear anything of it, and the fact he didn't speak French didn't bother her at all. Blind-retardation is evidently contagious, as other people began to accept Orton as Roger Tichborne as time went on and, before he knew it, he had a whole mess of new old friends.
How Was He Caught?
When his "mother" died two years after his arrival, Orton inherited the family fortune, but with his biggest supporter now dead, other family members were quick to point out his deception, support grew and the matter was eventually taken to court. Orton lost the case, obviously, and after seven years of playing Tichborne, he confessed and went to prison. Ready to hear about some large balls? The first thing Orton did when he finished his 10-year prison term for stealing Tichborne's identity was go out in the world and again try to convince people that he was Tichborne. He was less successful and died alone but, still. Balls, man.
Frederic Bourdin Is the Smartest Man at School
When a shy little boy named Franisco Fernandez turned up at a French school, claiming to be a 15-year-old orphan, the teachers had no hesitation in enrolling him in class, because that's what teachers do. Problem: That boy's real name was Frederic Bourdin, and he was actually a balding 31-year-old man with a pretty serious Peter Pan complex.
How Did Do It?
Bourdin had pulled off the ruse by dressing as a teenager, slumping his shoulders and hiding his bald spot with a baseball cap. He would dress himself in secret and never, ever remove his hat. He had told his teachers that the hat hid scars from abuse from his (fake) parents.
Boudin didn't shy away from being social however; he quickly became popular among the other children and was well liked by his teachers, some of whom were actually younger than he was.
"I should have known those cigarettes weren't for medical purposes."
How Was He Caught?
A whole month went by without anyone suspecting at the school, and Frederic probably could have gotten away with it, if he hadn't already been pulling this stunt for years. Bourdin in fact had a history of pretending to be a lost teenager, a quirk that earned him some jail time, the nickname "Chameleon" and some media attention. When a teacher recognized his face on TV in a story about an asshole who likes pretending to be children, she dramatically unmasked him like a bad Scooby Doo episode and he was sent to prison for four months. He now has a child, who we're not entirely unconvinced isn't also Bourdin in disguise, somehow.
The Great Impostor Does Some Terrific Pretending
This is a list of fakers and con artists, but Ferdinand Demara is the only one officially nicknamed "The Great Impostor." Demara has pretended to be (among others): a civil engineer, a sheriff's deputy, an assistant prison warden, a hospital orderly, a lawyer, a child-care expert, a Benedictine monk, an editor, a cancer researcher, a teacher and, most disturbingly, a fucking surgeon under the stolen name of Joseph Cyr.
Yes, Demara just wasn't happy with one fake life. He wanted ALL OF THEM.
Demara's shiftiness, clearly portrayed in this painting of him as a youth.
His most famous deception was pretending to be the ship's doctor on board the HMCS Cayuga, taking the name of an already respected doctor, Joseph Cyr. This was bad news for the crew.
How Did He Do It?
Despite having absolutely no medical training whatsoever, Demara actually did a good job, managing to improvise several surgeries, which, admittedly, is the last thing you want your doctor to do.
"Uh, then, now we'll just reconnect this femur back onto the labia."
After nervously flicking through a few medical textbooks, Demara even completed a complex and major chest operation on a wounded crewman.
How Was He Caught?
He kept a relatively low profile on the ship, but when his captain saw his work, he decided to offer him a nomination for decoration. Demara declined, not wanting to get in the public eye.
But after he saved another wounded man's life by successfully removing a bullet, his name appeared in the newspaper. The real Joseph Cyr's mother, apparently confident that her son wasn't that good a doctor, called bullshit.
"Son, it says here that you're a famous life-saving doctor."
"Yeah? Nice. I told you I'd kick ass."
Cyr contacted the authorities, who removed Demara from the ship and threw his ass in jail. Wait, what's that? No jail, he just sort of hung around giving lectures? And then they made a movie about his life starring Tony Curtis? Huh. Seriously, kids, we're positive there's something wrong with lying. Uh... OH, he eventually died of diabetes. Guess he couldn't impostor his way out of that one. So there's the lesson kids. If you lie, you will get diabetes.
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For more people with balls the size of Jupiter, check out The 5 Ballsiest Con Artists of All Time and The 5 Ballsiest Lies Ever Passed off as Journalism.
And stop by our Top Picks to see Swaim trying to convince the cops he's their sergeant.