Stories of Impostors

Individuals who adopt a new identity or create a fictitious past make for intriguing narratives, especially in the true crime genre. Con artists, tricksters and impostors have claimed royal lineage, impersonated doctors and pilots, and have fraudulently sold historical buildings. The reason for their shams vary from greed to narcissism. Check out these absorbing stories of impostors.

In The Impostor, Javier Cercas tells the story of Enric Marco, a prominent and vocal Spanish Holocaust survivor, who addressed the Spanish Parliament and was president of an association of Spanish survivors of the Nazi camps before his lies were exposed.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is about Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who arrived in America from Germany at 17 and assumed a number of identities over a 30-year period, including that of Clark Rockefeller, a fictitious descendant of the famous Rockefeller family. Gerhartsreiter was quite successful in his ruse, managing to talk his way into jobs at Wall Street firms and marry a Harvard Business School graduate. For a more personal look at the story, check out Walter Kirn's memoir Blood Will Out.

Frank Abagnale started off with bank fraud as teenager and managed to impersonate an airline pilot, doctor and attorney. Abagnale's captivating criminal run is told in his autobiography, Catch Me If You Can, which was adapted into a film by the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Woman Who Wasn't There recounts the story of a Spanish woman who claimed to be a survivor of the 9/11 attacks, who was frequently interviewed and became the president of the World Trade Center survivors' network, until the New York Times questioned the validity of her claims while researching a story.