On June 13, 1994, 13-year-old NIcholas Barclay disappeared from a friend’s home in San Antonio, Texas. Known as a troublemaker at the center of family disputes that often ended in calls to the police, the Barclay family assumed that Nicholas had run away and would return home, but he never did.
Three years into his disappearance, the Barclays received a call from a shelter in Spain claiming that their son was living at a shelter following an escape from a child sex ring. Nicholas’s sister immediately flew to Spain and brought him home to Texas. Despite having dark hair, brown eyes, a significant French accent, and looking much older than sixteen, the Barclay family believed that their son was finally home. Nicholas claimed that his abductors had altered his hair and eye color, and he had picked up the accent on his own.
After a media frenzy, people grew suspicious that this man was not Nicholas Barclay. He refused to give fingerprints or participate in DNA tests to prove his identity, yet the Barclays defended their son. In 1998, the FBI received a court order to obtain the man’s fingerprints, revealing that the man was not Nicholas, but Frederic Pierre Bourdin, a 23-year-old French citizen with a history of similar crimes. Bourdin was taken into custody and eventually sentenced to six years in prison.
Authorities began investigating the Barclays for Nicholas’s disappearance after Bourdin’s sentencing and knowledge of familial violence and drug abuse surfaced. Some believe that the family was so quick to accept Frederic Bourdin as Nicholas because they had killed him and his “return” would cover their tracks. Though claims have been made, nothing has been proven and Nicholas’s case is still unsolved.
(Side note: A documentary titled The Imposter profiles the case and features the story from Frederic Bourdin’s perspective. It’s available online and Netflix.)