Ferdinand Demara is known by a nickname that says a lot about his craft. He was called The Great Impostor. And he surely lives up to his name, as he is one of the most notorious identity thieves who ever lived. Using different identities stolen from different people, Demara had posted as a teacher, a zoology graduate, a doctor of applied physics, a Pennsylvania dean, both Trappist and Benedictine monks, an assistant warden at a Texas Prison, a civil engineer, a lawyer, and much, much more.
Much of Demara’s success as whatever identity he was stealing was his immense memory and out-of-this-word IQ. A lot of people actually believe Demara to have true photographic memory. Because of these gifts, Demara is able to memorize entire textbooks, absorb their techniques, and make them as his own. He primarily worked by two rules: (1) that the accuser shall always have burden of proof, and (2) that when in danger, attack.
Demara has impressed a lot of people, in both sides of the law, and was hailed as an audacious, unschooled but amazingly intelligent pretender who always wanted to be a somebody, and succeed in being a whole raft of somebody elses by Time Magazine in 1957.
Known as Fred, Demara was born in Massachusetts in 1921 from parents who both worked in motion picture. They were known to be rich as his father owned theaters, but suffered from financial insolvency and soon had to move out to a poorer section in the city. This was pivotal in Demara’s life because this triggered his departure from home to Rhode Island, eventually to the army.
In 1942, Demara stole the identity of a certain Anthony Ignolia, an army buddy and went AWOL from the army. He soon joined the navy, but didn’t get promoted enough to the position he wanted, so he had to fake his suicide and stole another identity — Robert Linton French’s. Using this name, he became a psychologist and taught at Gannon College in Pennsylvania. Eventually, the FBI was able to sniff him up, and served 18 months in prison for deserting the army.
After his stint in prison, he stole another identity, studied law, and taught in Maine.
In Maine, he met Joseph Cyr. Soon, he stole Cyr’s identity and worked as a trauma surgeon abroad. This was Demara’s best exploit as he was able to successfully (because bold face isn’t enough toe emphasize how awesome this is) perform surgeries, and used lots of penicillin to avoid infection. What he became known for was his feat with 16 Korean combat casualties. As everyone turned to Demara who was the only remaining surgeon on board, he became sure that there are several of the injured who will most likely die if not given a major surgery.
This is where it gets exciting.
When he realized this, Demara asked all the injured to a ship’s operating room, and he locked himself with a textbook on general surgery and read the books in an amazing speed. He then performed the surgeries, and not a single person died. All of the operations he did were successful, and he ended up getting some newspaper coverage.
His luck ran off, as the same newspaper reached the mother of the real Joseph Cyr. At this time, Cyr was in Brunswick practicing medicine. This buzzed so much news that it soon reached the camp. Captain James Polmer, who was the head of the troops refused to believe that the doctor who actually saved lots of lives is a fraud, but the truth soon came out.
In gratitude for his heroics, Demara was just deported back to the US, facing no charges at all.