The Imposter on Netflix: is it a true story, what’s it about, where is Nicholas Barclay now?

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The 2012 documentary The Imposter has been added to Netflix’s ever-growing true crime selection

Netflix has added the jaw-dropping true crime documentary The Imposter to its streaming service. The film, which originally came out in 2012, follows the story of a missing boy in the US and whether or not he truly is who he says he is.

The film was directed by Bart Layton and mainly includes interviews with members of Barclay’s family, as well as archive television news footage and reenacted dramatic sequences.

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The BAFTA award-winning is a suspenseful, multi-leveled and twist-filled docu-film about 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay, who is found three years after having disappeared. However, things didn’t quite turn out to be that simple.

So what is The Imposter about and who is Nicholas Barclay? Here’s everything you need to know:

Is The Imposter a true story and what is it about?

The Imposter is a true story based on the 1997 case of a French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin, who pretended to be Nicholas Patrick Barclay, an American boy who had disappeared in Texas at the age of 13 in 1994.

Still of Nicholas Barclay (Madman Films / YouTube)Still of Nicholas Barclay (Madman Films / YouTube)
Still of Nicholas Barclay (Madman Films / YouTube) | Madman Films / YouTube

Barclay disappeared after a game of basketball in San Antonio back in 1994, with the police assuming that he had been murdered or kidnapped. As no body had ever been found, the search was called off.

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Unexpectedly, the family are then eventually contacted by authorities in Spain claiming that their son was on another continent. At first, they were elated by the news, but quickly discovered that some things were a bit different. Their son was a blonde-haired and blue-eyed child from Texas, but this kid was brown-eyed, had dyed hair, and spoke with a French accent.

Frederic Bourdain still from trailer (Madman Films / YouTube)Frederic Bourdain still from trailer (Madman Films / YouTube)
Frederic Bourdain still from trailer (Madman Films / YouTube) | Madman Films / YouTube

Bourdin, who turned out to have a long record of impersonating various children, embellished his claim to be Nicholas Barclay by alleging that he had been kidnapped for purposes of sexual abuse by different military personnel and transported from the US to Spain. His impersonation fooled several officials in Spain and the US, and he was apparently accepted by many of Barclay’s family members, even though he was seven years older than Barclay.

The impersonation was eventually discovered as a result of the suspicions of a private investigator, Charles Parker, and an FBI agent, Nancy Fisher. Bourdin was arrested and Interpol confirmed he was Bourdin, was 23-years-old and had a long criminal record.

In custody Bourdin told the police that the family killed the real Nicholas and that is why they accepted him - as it hid the crime. The main suspect is his brother Jason who had already died by this point.

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Where is Nicholas Barclay now?

The case has largely gone cold and Nicholas Barclay has sadly never been found, although private investigators appear to be actively working on it. It is suspected that there was foul play involved, with his Jason as a possible suspect, but as he’s dead we may never know what happened to Nicholas.

Jason developed a drug problem after his disappearance and died of a cocaine overdose later in 1998, and with his death the investigation stalled.

Nicholas has never been located and his case remains unsolved, with many agencies continuing to classify him as a runaway. According to the Charley Project, which profiles over 14,000 “cold case” missing people mainly from the US:

  • He was a small-built, 13-year-old white boy, with blue eyes; light brown hair that looked almost blonde; and a gap between his front teeth.
  • His height was 4’8” at the time of his disappearance, and he weighed somewhere around 80 pounds.
  • On the day he went missing, he was wearing a white t-shirt, black shoes, pink backpack, and purple trousers.
  • Perhaps most important are the home-brew tattoos: the letter “J” on his left shoulder, a “T” between his left thumb and forefinger, and the letters “LN” on the outside of his left ankle.
  • Barclay was also diagnosed with ADHD.

Where is Frédéric Bourdain now?

Bourdin spent six years in prison for his crime. Hepleaded guilty to passport fraud and perjury and was sentenced to six years in prison, reports KSAT. But even while in prison, Bourdin tried to maintain the story he’d created with Barclay. According to Indie Wire, he regularly talked to at least one journalist in hopes of garnering the public’s sympathies with his exclusive story.

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According to The New Yorker, after serving five years in prison, Bourdin was deported to France in October 2003 and continued to live other peoples’ lives for a time. His notoriety apparently led to his wife finding him in 2007. They have five children together, although it’s unclear if they’re still together as of 2022.

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