Life can be hard, so why not try being someone else for a change? The people on this list went to great lengths to change their identities and some of them paid a heavy price for it. As common as this type of fraud was, it would be impossible to impersonate someone today (with all of the medical advancements that have been made), so let’s take a look back at some of the people who almost succeeded in pretending to be someone else.
1. Jeanne Calment
Jean Calment became somewhat of a household name when she was announced as being the oldest woman in the world. When she died at 122, a group of investigators stated that Calment was not being truthful about her age. According to a group of Russian researchers consisting of a mathematician and gerontologist, the real Jeanne Calment died when she was 59 and that the imposter was none other than her daughter, Yvonne. The group believed that Yvonne took up her mother’s identity to avoid paying inheritance tax. They also found it odd that Yvonne’s husband chose to live with his mother-in-law rather than getting remarried. Additionally, they found that Yvonne’s death certificate was issued without a coroner’s confirmation and that when interviewed, she answered several questions incorrectly. The only way to truly determine she was really 122 is to have her body exhumed and no one is willing to go through such lengths.
2. Natalya Bilikhodze
Despite dying along with the rest of her family when the Bolsheviks toppled the Romanov dynasty, there were several rumors that Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, managed to escape the revolution. One of the most well-known “impersonators” was Natalya Bilikhodze, a woman who had been living in Georgia and was preparing for her Moscow “homecoming”. A committee had been formed to restore her name and the billion-dollar inheritance attached to her name once her identity was confirmed. What made Natalya’s case unique is that at the time that the preparations were being made, she was already dead; someone had impersonated the departed impersonator. The committee who had been fighting for her restoration dissolved almost immediately and she was buried without a state funeral.
3. Martin Guerre
One of the most famous imposters of all time is arguably Martin Guerre, a peasant from France who after being accused of stealing from his father ran away in the middle of the night. He was gone for six years before showing up to an understandably angry wife. Although there were a few people who doubted his identity, the new Martin looked like the old one and he spent 3 years with his family before suing his uncle for the inheritance he did not receive. Unfortunately for him, his uncle didn’t believe that it was him and neither did his wife. Court proceedings turned ugly until the real Guerre turned up and the fraudster was identified as Amaud du Tilh. As punishment, Tilh was sentenced to breathing his last breath.
4. Countess of Derwentwater
In 1857, a woman later revealed to be Lady Amelia Matilda Mary Tudor Radcliffe, claimed that she was the granddaughter of the (heirless) 4th Earl of Derwentwater who departed some 120 years prior. According to her, he abandoned his family before faking his death. She went on to provide a family tree, family portraits and family jewels in order to regain claim over her family’s land, which was now controlled by hospital trustees. She made numerous attempts to gain public favor including breaking into the Derwentwater mansion, collecting rent from its tenants, and selling off the hospital’s livestock. Upon receiving a 500 pound fine, she sold her family “heirlooms” and disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared.
5. Roger Tichborne
Roger Tichborne, the eldest son of one of England’s wealthiest families was believed to be lost at sea when his ship sank in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. His mother, Lady Tichborne was one of few who believed that he was not gone, and for years, posted ads around the world for information on her lost son. Ten years had passed when she received a letter from a man in Australia, claiming to be her son. The man in question was different from her son in more ways than one; rather than having a French accent, he had an Australian accent and he was also much shorter than Roger. The determining factor, however, was Roger’s deformed nether regions which the mystery man also had. Lady Tichborne immediately declared him to be her son until witnesses claimed that he was actually Arthur Orton. He was sentenced to14 years of hard labor.
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