It’s absolutely devastating anytime someone goes missing. In order to keep their hope alive, friends and family will believe just about anything to fill the void, even if it’s extremely unlikely. That’s exactly what happened when 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing in 1994. His family was obviously distressed over his disappearance, but when he was found in a different country many years later, his family was ecstatic. They would soon realize that not everything is as it seems.
Even as a young teen Nicholas had some issues. People who knew Nicholas well have said that they got into frequent arguments with his teachers and parents, and he would constantly act out in aggression towards people around him. He had carved several different tattoos into his fingers and was even known to get violent. In fact, he was ordered to go to court for his unruly behavior. Nicholas would never make it to that court day, though, but why?
Beverly, Nicholas’s mother, had given Nicholas $5 to go to the park with some of his friends to play basketball the day before he was supposed to go to court. Later that evening, Nicholas called his mother to ask for a ride home. His brother, Jason, answered the phone because Beverly had worked all night so she was sleeping. Jason wouldn’t wake up his mother and told Nicholas that he needed to walk home. But Nicholas wouldn’t make it home that night. He wouldn’t return the next day, either.
At first, Nicholas’s family thought that he ran away so he didn’t have to go to court, but as time passed, they believed that he was missing. Considering how much trouble that he had been in, people assumed he had just run away, or worse, that he joined a gang. Counties nearby were informed, and fliers were passed around, but there were no clues as to what happened to Nicholas. It would be three whole years before anything about the case would present itself.
In 1997, the authorities called the Barclay family with some unbelievable information. They thought that they had found Nicholas. The family was obviously elated, but there were certain details that they needed to hear. A man at a youth shelter in Spain said that there was boy named Nicholas Barclay from America that had escaped from a child trafficking ring. He said that the boy had gone through unspeakable abuse during his time away. Nicholas had also learned to speak French and even had an accent.
Carey, his sister, immediately hopped on a plane to Spain to see if it really was Nicholas. As soon as she saw him, she was convinced that it was him. The spent some time together looking at family photos, but Carey said that he had forgotten a lot about his childhood. After that, the boy was put through a series of different tests to prove that he was Nicholas. He was shown pictures of his family and he correctly identified nine out of 10 pictures. Even though he was allowed to go home, something wasn’t quite right.
The family was obviously happy to have their son back, but they were a bit confused. A traumatic event could definitely change someone, but Beverly immediately realized that something was wrong, and not just the French accent. His eyes and his hair were a different color. Her son had blond hair and blue eyes, but this boy had brown eyes and brown hair. Nicholas claimed that, in order to hide who he was, his captors medically changed the color of his eyes and dyed his hair. Could that be true?
Even though they still had some questions, the family was just overjoyed to have Nicholas back that they didn’t worry about the differences. But some of them still doubted the boy. “Nicholas had changed so much it was mind-boggling, but he’d been through so much, he was going to be different,” said his mother. But there was just something a bit off about him. When he came back, he was put together and very quiet, the complete opposite of how he was before he left.
That’s when private investigator, Charles Parker, was hired by the show “Hard Copy.” Parker didn’t believe that captors could change the color of the boy’s eyes. In fact, he didn’t believe his story at all. Nicholas may have had an explanation for the different hair and eyes, but Parker noticed something else. His ears were different, too. And just like fingerprints, ears don’t just change. At this point, everything was being questioned.
Parker was convinced that they were not talking to the real Nicholas Barclay, so who were they talking to? Parker went to Beverly and to the FBI, but neither of them were convinced. In order to gather some real evidence, Parker spent months following Nicholas around. The FBI eventually said that they needed proof that this was the real Nicholas. They said that they wanted DNA samples from Nicholas so they could get to the bottom of it all. They needed a swab and fingerprints. How did the family react?
The family didn’t want to cooperate. They were content believing that the boy that came home was their Nicholas. Beverly said that she would not give permission for her underage child to have the DNA testing done, so the FBI went to court to get an official order for the DNA. The court eventually sided with the FBI and ordered DNA testing to be done on the boy. So was this the same boy that disappeared more than three years ago?
You may not be surprised, but the answer is no. The boy was actually a 23-year-old Frenchman named Frederic Bourdin that was posing as Nicholas. Interpol, the largest police organization in the world, knows Bourdin as “the Chameleon.” Bourdin was wanted for impersonating missing children. Throughout the years, he pretended to be hundreds of different people – his most recent impersonation was that of Nicholas Barclay. This “hobby” of Bourdin’s would prove to be costly.
Bourdin believes that there was no way possible that the family didn’t know he wasn’t Nicholas. His sister Carey still can’t believe how very wrong she was. Bourdin did tattoo his fingers like Nicholas did when he was a child, and he did have gapped teeth, but those were the only similarities. Maybe the family’s grief made them believe it was him, which turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Bourdin. But how did he do it?
In an interview, Boudin said that in order to get the initial information about Nicholas he just called different American police departments until he got lucky. Once he reached the missing children’s database, he was able to find Nicholas’s name. The San Antonio police department sent him Nicholas’s file, which he studied vigorously in order to be able to pull it off. Eventually, Bourdin was charged with passport fraud and perjury of the court system. He was sentenced to six years in prison. So what about the real Nicholas?
There are many theories about Nicholas’s death that have involved the family. Beverly was addicted to heroin. She was given two polygraph tests. She passed the first, but failed the second. Bourdin said that he believes that it was Nicholas’s brother, Jason, who killed him. Parker interrogated Jason, who didn’t even defend himself, but nothing could be done about it because Jason was found dead from substance abuse in his apartment. We may never know the truth about what happened to Nicholas, but Parker will continue to try to find out.