Frank Abagnale, the Man Who Fooled Us All
Were you one of those fooled?
Many people have heard the name, Frank Abagnale. If you have watched, ‘Catch Me If You Can,’ then he is the character Leonardo DiCaprio plays. He even has a small cameo appearance in the film.
Abagnale was a master conman. He impersonated an airline pilot and travelled millions of miles. But, he didn't stop there; he impersonated a doctor and lawyer, among others. When finally caught, he was put into federal jail to be released early to work with the FBI on catching white-collar crimes.
Few people know of the biggest con he pulled, because this one Abagnale is less willing to admit. The victim of this con is all of us. Evidence has been uncovered that Abagnale lied about most of his story, including working for the FBI.
One of the stories that Abagnale talks about is when his parents divorced. He states that he was taken to a courtroom where a judge expected him to choose which parent he lived with after the divorce. He could not decide, so he ran away. This was, he said, the start of his criminal career.
Researcher Alan C Logan states that this is not accurate. The divorce happened earlier in the young Abagnale's life and he lived with his father. Whether this was his choice or that of his father is not clear.
Abagnale did run away from his father and start his criminal career, but this was because he stole considerable money from his him, writing fraudulent checks.
Abagnale has always stated that he is the modern Robin Hood. He never stole from single people but rather big corporations. Stealing from his father calls this claim into question.
Airline Pilot for PanAm
Most of Abagnale's speaking is centred around the story that he impersonated an airline pilot and used the jump seat on airlines to travel millions of miles around the country. He used this movement to cash several false cheques, costing PanAm millions. This was all carried out whilst he was a teenager.
However, this can't have happened. Between the ages of seventeen and twenty, Abagnale was incarcerated for stealing from another family he lived with.
After Abagnale fled his home Logan found evidence that he did pose as a TWA pilot, where he met flight attendant Paula Parks. Parks states that despite being told she wasn't interested, Abagnale followed her wherever she went, stalked her, to be more precise.
He travelled along the Eastern Seaboard, following her, so much so that he ended up at her parent's home in Baton Rouge. He charmed her parents by taking them to dinner and buying them gifts, all with their own money. He stole $1200 by cashing bad cheques from them.
PanAm stated that they extensively investigated his claims of stealing millions from them and impersonating one of their pilots and found no evidence this was true. The most they believe he stole was $1500. Abagnale counters that PanAm wouldn't admit this due to the security issues it brings to light.
Only Arrested Once
This criminal activity and the many times he was arrested also shine a light on another of Abagnale's lies. He states that he was detained only once in France, which was the only prison time he served.
In fact, he was arrested and incarcerated many times for petty crimes. Records show stays in many prisons for cashing bad cheques. Being arrested after stealing from the Parks family was the first of many times he spent in jail.
Once released from prison, Logan found evidence that he travelled to Texas, where he was again arrested and imprisoned for petty crimes.
Escaping Jail and the FBI
One of the best scenes in the film is where Abagnale goes to the toilet whilst on the plane with Tom Hanks and disappears down the toilet. This never happened.
Abagnale also tells a story of impersonating a prison inspector and walking out of the high-security Atlanta Federal Prison.
There is a tiny vein of truth in this story, he did escape prison once, but it was Cobb County Jail, a building with far less security. Abagnale could walk out of the front door when the guards looked elsewhere; he was quickly caught and returned to jail.
The FBI never had multiple teams of officers tracking him because he was never out of prison long enough apart from a three-month chase.
As for working for the FBI to gain early release, the FBI has never confirmed that he works for them.
The Real Frank Abagnale
The true story seems to be that he was a petty criminal who produced some bad cheques at the expense of many hard-working men and women. He never robbed big corporations as he didn't have the skills. He was a young man in and out of prison for his crimes.
After being arrested in Texas and imprisoned for petty crimes, he was paroled in 1974. It was here he was sold the idea of the changed man and started doing some small talks about his life.
The stories of impersonating a doctor in Georgia, a lawyer in Baton Rouge and cashing millions of pounds of bad cheques are all lies, as are being chased by a team of FBI agents across twenty-six countries.
In 1977, he was invited onto a program called ‘To Tell The Truth,’ where three contestants told the same story; the panel had to guess who was telling the truth. The producers of that show suggested he sensationalised his story a little, which he did. He went on to win the show, fool the panel and gain the prize money of $500. It was these stories that became his story.
Reports of Fraud
Alan C Logan stumbled on this information whilst researching another case. However, he is not the only investigator to question the lies Abagnale told.
After appearing on ‘To Tell The Truth’ in 1978, Abagnale was a guest on Johnny Carson, telling the story of an ingenious bank robbery he pulled off in Boston that netted him thousands of pounds.
Stephen Hall, a journalist, saw the show and had many questions about the crime. When he investigated, he discovered it was all lies and published his findings.
Two months later, Ira Perry with The Daily Oklahoman checked some of the more significant claims, including the PanAm robbery of millions. She spoke to representatives from the company who found no trace of any of it happening.
The problem was that Abagnale's star was rising as these reports were released. His fame overshadowed the words of two rookie journalists. No one since then has investigated the claims; they seem to take it all at face value, even it appears Stephen Spielberg when he directed ‘Catch Me If You Can.’
If Logan is correct in his research, it appears the biggest con that Frank Abagnale pulled, we are all part of. He has made us believe that a petty thief who cashed a handful of bad cheques is a criminal mastermind. Now at least, he has made millions from all of us buying into his lies.