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In 1910 Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula), published a book of nonfiction called Famous Impostors which deals with the subject of exposing various impostors and hoaxes. A complete PDF version of the book can be downloaded from Bram Stoker Online.


  • Frank Abagnale, who passed bad cheques as a fake pilot, doctor and lawyer.
  • Cassie Chadwick, who pretended to be Andrew Carnegie‘s daughter.
  • David Hampton, who pretended to be the son of Sidney Poitier.
  • Frederick Emerson Peters, US celebrity impersonator and writer of bad checks.
  • James Reavis, who claimed he owned Arizona.
  • Christopher Rocancourt, a US fake Rockefeller.
  • Tichborne Claimant, claimed to be the missing heir Sir Roger Tichborne.
  • Wilhelm Voigt, the “Captain of Köpenick”.
  • Lobsang Rampa, who claimed to be a deceased Tibetan Lama possessing the body of Cyril Hoskins and wrote a number of books based on that premise.
  • Aleksey Vayner, star of the “Impossible Is Nothing” video résumé, who pretended to be the CEO of a capital management company and a charity in order to gain an entry level job at UBS.
  • Michael Sabo, who was known as a “Great Impostor” with over 100 professional aliases listed with the FBI.
  • Mark Whitacre, who collaborated with the FBI to expose lysine price-fixing at Archer Daniels Midland and other corporations, even as he defrauded ADM out of $9 million. His bipolar disorder allowed him to harbour the delusion that he would somehow be later rewarded for his whistle-blowing by being offered the CEO position at ADM.

Race/ethnicity impostors


Royal impostors

  • Bardiya, ancient ruler of Persia, widely regarded as an impostor but may have been genuine.
  • Anna Anderson, who may have really believed she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
  • Alexis Brimeyer, a Belgian who claimed connection to various European royal houses.
  • Harry Domela, who pretended to be an heir to the German throne.
  • Eugenio Lascorz who claimed connection to the royal house of the Byzantine Empire.
  • Eugenia Smith, another woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia.
  • Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne of England.
  • Pierre Plantard, the mastermind behind the Priory of Sion hoax who claimed to be Merovingian, a pretender to the throne of France.
  • Charles Stopford, an American man who has claimed to be an English nobleman since 1983, using the name of a dead infant.
  • Count Dante is the real name of John Keehan. Many don’t recognize his rationale for assuming the title, and allegedly rightful, name of Spanish nobility. In his campaign to promote his system of martial arts, he also claimed victories in various secret deathmatches in Asia, and mercenary activity in Cuba, none of which carried documented proof.
  • Mary Carleton who was, amongst other things, a false princess and bigamist.
  • Frederick Rolfe, who is better known as Baron Corvo.
  • False Dmitriy I, False Dmitriy II and False Dmitriy III, who all impersonated the son of Ivan the Terrible.
  • False Margaret, who impersonated the Maid of Norway.
  • Terence Francis MacCarthy, an Irishman, who has claimed to be a Prince of Desmond
  • Andrew Lee, an Australian who claimed to be Lord Leitrim, alternatively Lord Battenberg and has even claimed to be Prince Philip’s love child.[2]
  • Lambert Simnel, a pretender to the throne of England.

Academic impostors

  • Dr Charlotte Bach, fringe evolutionary theorist, who was neither a doctor nor a woman.
  • Marvin Hewitt, who became a university professor without real credentials.
  • James Hogue, who most famously entered Princeton University by posing as a self-taught orphan.
  • Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions at MIT and a best selling author who claimed advanced degrees in science fields. After ten years in the post, she was revealed to have only a high school diploma.
  • Lana Nguyen, who became a university professor with the credentials of her husband. She resigned when students complained of her lack of knowledge on the subject she taught.[3]
  • Brian MacKinnon, who went back to being a teenager in order to re-enter medical school.
  • Azia Kim, who posed as a Stanford University student for eight months, before finally being caught.

People who pretended to be Native-Americans

Multiple impostors

  • Jerry Alan Whittredge, dubbed the “Great Astronaut Impersonator” pretended to be an Astronaut, CIA Regent for Life, Medal of Honor winner and Top Gun Trophy winner, according to the affidavit of the arresting agent Joseph Gutheinz. In 1998 he was arrested after talking his way into NASA’s Mission Control during a Space Mission, after being given VIP tours of two Navy bases and after receiving information about the space shuttle. He claimed his attorney was President Bill Clinton.[4][5][6]
  • Ferdinand Waldo Demara, “The Great Impostor”.
  • Stanley Clifford Weyman.
  • Laurel Rose Willson, who has claimed to be victim of satanic ritual abuse “Lauren Stratford” and Holocaust survivor “Laura Grabowski” (see also Binjamin Wilkomirski).
  • Frederic Bourdin, “the French Chameleon”.
  • Barry Bremen has entered multiple sporting events pretending to be an MLB umpire, an NBA All-Star, and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, among other things.
  • Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, German who claimed to be a member of the Rockefeller family among other things.

Women who lived as men

Many women in history have presented themselves as men in order to advance in typically male-dominated fields. Not all were transgender in the current sense. See also: Crossdressing during wartime.

  • James Barry, who successfully lived as a “male” British military surgeon.
  • Frances Clalin, who served in Missouri artillery during the United States Civil War.
  • Catalina de Erauso, Basque nun-soldier under Spanish colonial army.
  • Dorothy Lawrence, an English journalist who wore uniform during World War I.
  • Deborah Sampson, a female soldier during the American War of Independence.
  • Mary Anne Talbot, an Englishwoman who became a sailor during the Napoleonic wars.
  • Billy Tipton, jazz musician.
  • Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who supposedly was a Confederate soldier under the name Harry T. Buford.
  • Nadezhda Durova, a woman who became a decorated soldier in the Russian cavalry during the Napoleonic wars.
  • Hua Mulan, who disguised herself as a man to join the Chinese army, when her father was too old for it.
  • Stanisława Walasiewicz, a Polish athlete who became an Olympic champion by competing among women, even though it was later learned that Walasiewicz had ambiguous genitalia and could not easily be identified as either biologically male or female.

Military impostors

Several people who have never served in the military have claimed service, often with decorations or membership in highly selective units. Others have actual military service, but embellished or exaggerated their accomplishments.

  • Mark Anthony Ruddy, of Christchurch Dorset England. Served three years with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and was discharged with a leg injury. Although he claims the IRA burst into his house shooting wild he was hit in the leg his non-existent 6-year old son was killed. Since then he has claimed to be a US Navy Seal, A CSM of the Special Air Service (22 SAS) and (21 SAS the Artisan Rifle a TA unit), and served with C Squadron of the Rhodesian SAS with service in Vietnam with the Australian SAS. He also pretended to be an ex para and stole a large sum from a charitable fund FOC (funds for Chandler) – a charity fund to raise money for a disabled child of a real Para. He also claimed to be the holder of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, A Military Medal, A US Silver Star, Bronze Star and two purple hearts plus other decorations he is not entitled to wear. He claims he has served in Northern Ireland, The Falklands, Gulf War 1, Columbia, Panama, Rwanda, Iraq 6 times and Afghanistan 3 times and a military adviser to the Chinese.
  • Barry Symkins, (nickname stumpy) spent 4 years in the Royal Engineers and while drunk fell through a glass table resulting in amputated fingers. He claims his injury was while flying a helicopter in Iraq and continually wears military dress uniform and a great deal of medals he is not entitled to wear. He has also portrayed serving in the French Foreign Legion and has previously been exposed by the daily mirror but he continues his waltering.
  • Raymond Webb, professes to be related to Capt Webb who was the first person to swim the English Channel. Other claims are that he served as a Lt Commander in the Royal Navy as Clearance Diving Instructor; to have served in the Falklands and with the US Navy Seals; and having dived to the Russian submarine the Kursk to rescue the trapped submariners.
  • Douglas Nicolas Gow, portrays living in Queensland Australia after being transferred from the RAF to the ARAF as a Wing Commander Medical Doctor. He claims to have earned his Para wings after just three jumps and was the station MO at RAF Akotiri, RAF Aden, and RAF Oman before being posted to RAF Ely as CO of Tropical Medicine. In actual fact Gow served as a RAF medic and emigrated to New Zealand after 6 years service.
  • Joseph A. Cafasso, former Fox News military analyst who claimed to have been a highly-decorated Special Forces soldier and Vietnam War veteran. He actually served in the U.S. Army for only 44 days.
  • Wes Cooley, a former US Congressman who claimed to have fought in the Korean War. He served in the U.S. Army for two years, but was never in Korea.
  • Brian Dennehy, a famous American actor who claimed to have fought in the Vietnam War; he served in the United States Marine Corps for four years, but never in Vietnam.
  • George Dupre, who claimed that he had been working for the SOE and the French Resistance during World War II. Dupre served in World War II, but was never in France or with the SOE.
  • Joseph Ellis, American professor and historian who claimed a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. He served in the military during the war, but never left the U.S.
  • Jesse Macbeth, anti-war activist who claimed to be an Army Ranger ordered to execute innocent civilians in Iraq. He had been discharged from the Army as unfit for duty before completing basic training.
  • Alan Mcilwraith, a call centre worker from Glasgow who, among other things, claimed that he was a decorated captain in the British Army. An investigation proved that he had no military service.
  • Micah Wright, an anti-war activist who claimed to be an Army Ranger involved in the United States invasion of Panama, and several other covert operations. He was an ROTC student in college, but never took a commission and did not serve in the military.
  • James Shortt, (born 1953), British, SAS/Para impostor, Baron of Castleshort, DG International Bodyguard Association. His only military service was a few months as a medic with the Territorial Army (the British Army reserves).
  • Robert Stanley, who has commited identity theft of actual Navy SEALs and others, and frequently states and posts claims (along with his wife Jennifer L Stanley) that he was and is a Navy SEAL.


  • Bampfylde Moore Carew, a Devonshire man whose popular Life and Adventures included picaresque episodes of vagabond life, including his claim to have been elected King of the Beggars.
  • Chevalier d’Eon, who lived the second half of his life as a woman.
  • Robert Hendy-Freegard, bogus MI5 officer.
  • John Howard Griffin, who darkened his skin and travelled in the American South as a black man in 1959, to write Black Like Me.
  • Pavel Jerdanowitch, father of the Disumbrationist movement.
  • Ashida Kim, believed by many to be Caucasian author and self proclaimed ninja Radford Davis (alternate pen name Christopher Hunter), who wrote numerous books on ninjutsu during the ’70s and ’80s, noted for refusing to provide details about his teachers, or the lineage of the martial art in which he claims expertise.
  • Louis de Rougemont, who claimed to be an explorer.
  • Steven Jay Russell, who has impersonated judges.
  • Treva Throneberry, who became a younger Brianna Stewart.
  • Arnaud du Tilh, who took the place of Martin Guerre in the 16th century and lived with Guerre’s wife and son for three years before being discovered when Guerre returned.
  • Binjamin Wilkomirski, a fake Holocaust survivor.
  • Enric Marco, who presided over an association of Spanish survivors of the Nazi camps, when in fact he went to Germany to work in the Nazi war industry.
  • Alan Conway, who impersonated Stanley Kubrick during the early 1990s.
  • Graham Tumber, who (despite looking nothing at all like him) impersonated Status Quo frontman Francis Rossi for a whole year, duping Dover council into providing free hospitality and transport services after promising to appear at a charity concert in the town.[7]

In fiction



The Associate (1996) dir: Donald Petrie. An African-American woman (Whoopi Goldberg) disguises herself as a white man to get a job on Wall Street.

Big Fish (2003) dir: Tim Burton. Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), a former traveling salesman from the Southern United States with a gift for storytelling, is now confined to his deathbed. Bloom’s estranged son, a journalist (Billy Crudup), attempts to mend their relationship as his dying father relates tall tales of his eventful life as a young adult (played by Ewan McGregor).

Big Momma’s House (2000) dir: Raja Gosnell. Martin Lawrence disguises himself as a rotund grandmother.

Coming to America (1988) dir: John Landis. A rich African prince (Eddie Murphy) pretends to be poor in order to meet a woman who will love him for himself.

The Crying Game (1992) dir: Neil Jordan. About the main character Fergus’ (Stephen Rea) experiences as a member of the IRA, his brief but meaningful encounter with Jody (Forest Whitaker) who is held prisoner by the group, and his unexpected romantic relationship with Jody’s partner, Dil (Jaye Davidson) whom Fergus promised Jody he would protect.

Dave (1993) dir: Ivan Reitman. A look-alike (Kevin Kline) fills in for the President.

Europa Europa (1990) dir: Agnieszka Holland. A Jew (Marco Hofschneider) escapes persecution by the Nazis by masquerading as an Aryan.

Face/Off (1997) dir: John Woo. An FBI agent (John Travolta) and a terrorist (Nicolas Cage) assume the physical appearance of one another.

House Guest (1995) dir: Randall Miller. A con man (Sinbad) pretends to be a rich dentist.

The Informant! (2009) dir: Steven SoderberghMark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a rising star at Decatur, Illinois based Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s, blows the whistle on the company’s price-fixing tactics, after his wife (Melanie Lynskey) forces him. Then, headlines around the world report that Whitacre had defrauded $9 million from his own company during the same time he was secretly working for the FBI and taping his co-workers. He still hopes to be elected as CEO following the arrest and conviction of the remaining upper management members.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) dir: Dennis Dugan. Two straight firefighters, Chuck and Larry (Adam Sandler and Kevin James) pretend to be in a gay marriage so that Larry (a widower) can get life insurance, with Chuck as a prime beneficiary who will care for Larry’s kids, in the event of his death.

Just One of the Guys (1985) dir: Lisa Gottlieb. A female high school reporter (Joyce Hyser) poses as a man to advance her career.

Juwanna Mann (2002) dir: Jesse Vaughan. A male basketball player (Miguel A. Núñez, Jr.), dresses as a woman in order to play in the WNBA

A Knight’s Tale (2001) dir: Brian Helgeland. A peasant (Heath Ledger) poses as a nobleman to compete in a jousting tournament

Little Man (2006) dir: Keenen Ivory Wayans. A diminutive, but adult, criminal (Marlon Wayans) pretends to be an infant

Moon Over Parador (1988) dir: Paul Mazursky. Jack Noah (Richard Dreyfuss) is filming in the small, fictional South American country of Parador (obvious portmanteau of Paraguay and Ecuador) when the Paradorian president-for-life suddenly dies of a heart attack. Not wanting to lose his position in power, the president’s right-hand man, Roberto Strausmann (Raúl Juliá) forces Jack to take the ‘role of a lifetime’ – that of the dead president, as the two men look so much alike.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) dir: Chris Columbus; (Trailer) (Robin Williams) plays Daniel Hillard, an unemployed actor whose ex-wife gets custody of their children in the divorce settlement.  His only way to see his children is to pose as their elderly housekeeper.

The New Guy (2002) dir: Ed Decter. A high school geek (DJ Qualls) poses as a dangerous criminal to be more popular.

Osama (2003) dir: Siddiq Barmak. A young girl (Marina Golbahari) in Afghanistan under the Taliban disguises herself as a boy, Osama, in order to support her family.

Overboard (1987) dir: Garry Marshall. A poor carpenter (Kurt Russell) tricks a rich heiress (Goldie Hawn)  into believing that he is her husband

Pinky (1949) dir: Elia Kazan. The story of a young woman (Jeanne Crain) of mixed African American and Caucasian heritage passing as white.

She’s The Man (2006) dir: Andy Fickman. A female soccer player (Amanda Bynes) pretends to be a boy to play on the boys’ team.

Sister Act (1992) dir: Emile Ardolino. A Reno lounge singer (Whoopi Goldberg)   pretends to be a nun

Some Like It Hot (1959) dir: Billy Wilder. After witnessing a heinous crime, in order to hide from Chicago gangsters, two men (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon)  pretend to be women playing in an all-girl musical band.

Soul Man (1986) dir: Steve Miner. To qualify for an African-American-only scholarship at Harvard Law School, a white man (C. Thomas Howell) undergoes treatment to appear to be black.

The Secret of My Success (1987) dir: Herbert Ross. A kid from the mail room (Michael J. Fox) pretends to be an executive.

Tootsie (1982) dir: Sidney Pollack  Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), an unemployed actor with a reputation for being difficult, disguises himself as a woman to get a role in a soap opera.

Transamerica (2005) dir: Duncan Tucker. Bree, a transsexual woman (Felicity Huffman), goes on a road trip with her long-lost son Toby (Kevin Zegers).

Tropic Thunder (2008) dir: Ben Stiller. Robert Downey, Jr. plays an Australian actor that undergoes a “racial transplant” to play an African American role.

Two Much (1995) dir: Fernando Trueba. A man (Antonio Banderas) wants to date two different women, so he pretends to have a twin brother

Victor/Victoria (1982) dir: Blake Edwards. A woman (Julie Andrews) poses as a drag queen

Wedding Crashers (2005) dir: David Dobkin. Two party crashers (Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn) trick a wedding party into believing they were invited

While You Were Sleeping (1995) dir: Jon Turteltaub. A subway fare collector (Sandra Bullock) fools a family into believing she was engaged to their comatose son

White Chicks (2004) dir: Keenen Ivory Wayans. Two black men (Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans) disguise themselves as young white women in order to save their jobs as FBI agents.

Working Girl (1988) dir: Mike Nichols. A secretary (Melanie Griffith) takes the role of her boss (Sigourney Weaver), a player on Wall Street, to put forward her boss’ idea for a merger deal.

Yentl (1983) dir: Barbra Streisand. The odyssey of a Jewish girl (Streisand) in Poland who decides to dress and live like a man so she can receive an education in Jewish Talmudic Law after her father dies. Based on the play Yentl by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Zelig (1983) dir: Woody Allen. A man (Woody Allen) yearning for social acceptance and greater social status develops the ability to imitate features and habits of the persons around him.


Achilles  was dressed in women’s clothing by his mother Thetis at the court of Lycomedes, to hide him from Odysseus who wanted him to join the Trojan War.

Athena often goes to the aid of people in the guise of men in The Odyssey.

Hervor from Hervarar saga. When Hervor learnt that her father had been the infamous Swedish berserker Angantyr, she dressed as a man, called herself Hjörvard and lived for a long time as a Viking.

Leda and the Swan: According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. As the story goes, Zeus took the form of a swan and raped or seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband, King Tyndareus.

Odin dressed as a female healer as part of his efforts to seduce Rindr.

Thor dressed as Freyja to get Mjölnir back in Þrymskviða.

See also


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