Why would any self-respecting journalist believe such a story? Because he was THAT good. He has already convinced a mother he was her missing teenage son, along with international child protection authorities and the FBI. Concocting a credible story about a a cabal of kidnapping perverts was a remedial assignment for an honors-level liar like Bourdin.
For the better part of a year, Bourdin collect called me regularly on his cell-block phone to discuss new developments in his case and to regale me with horror stories about being held captive by a bunch of sick sadists in a city of lost children. I was a single mom at the time and he often warned me in grave tones to never let my son out of my sight, whether we were at the park or in our own back yard.
I had secured a contract to write the piece for Rolling Stone and was planning my trip to Spain when I got a call from a 20/20 producer who called me and asked if I had seen the story by an enterprising journalist in a small Irish newspaper. The piece painted a portrait of Bourdin as a calculating criminal who was wanted by Interpol for impersonating a slew of missing children. Oh, and he had never been abducted by pedophiles or anyone else.
Despite Bourdin’s history of mendacity, I still somehow bought the fantastic fabrication he was selling at the moment. What’s worse, like a sucker, I still felt the sting of betrayal when I discovered I was just his latest mark. When confronted, Bourdin immediately came clean and apologized like a drunk recovering from his latest binge: Lying is something he’s constitutionally compelled to do and sometimes he just can’t help himself. He kept calling but gave up after a few weeks when I stopped picking up the phone.
I decided to return the call as much to fact check the reality of that strange episode in my life, which, at times, had felt like something out of an anxiety dream. Bourdin caught me up on the headlines (literally) from his life: After doing hard time in Texas, he was deported to Europe where he resumed his impersonation business, until he was collared and finally decided it was time to retire. He was now married and living in a small city in Brittany. Oh, and David Grann from the New Yorker had been interviewing him for a profile he was writing about Bourdin. The contents of that conversation all turned out to be true.
Even as someone who heard most every incredible beat of Bourdin’s story firsthand, I was still thrilled and amazed as each jaw-dropping twist and turn was revealed to the crowd gathered for the "The Imposter"’s Sundance premiere last January. It was especially chilling to watch the footage filmmaker Bart Layton had gathered of Bourdin working the jailhouse pay phone to win the public’s support via the media.
After the filmmakers fielded questions for nearly an hour after the screening, I took some comfort in the realization that I was now permanently woven into the baroque tapestry Bourdin had been weaving all his life, along with anyone else he had duped. In a backhanded way, Bourdin’s lies had become the connective tissue creating strained and emotionally charged links to anyone on the receiving end of one of his fictions.
So, in a sense, I had unwittingly become a member of Bourdin’s de-facto extended family, which, if Bourdin is to believed (and, of course, he’s not) was the original impetus behind his lying spree. Contrived or not, I felt as though I had finally found a satisfying ending to this slippery saga.