Frank Abagnale Jr.
Frank Abagnale Jr. was an infamous check-forger, imposter, and con-artist who committed his crimes primarily between the ages of 16 and 21. He was arrested numerous times in multiple countries, spending several months in jail in both France and Sweden, and finally 2 years in a US prison in Petersburg, Virginia.
While Abagnale is also famous for his prison escape in 1971, his story may not be as spectacular as we were made to believe. In 2020, 40 years after the release of Abagnale’s tell-all biography Catch Me If You Can, a new book by journalist Alan C. Logan titled The Greatest Hoax on Earth: Catching Truth While We Can debunked many of the daring and dazzling tales from Abagnale’s past.
Abagnale’s Story – Abagnale claimed to have escaped from a high-security Atlanta Federal Prison. While being transferred into the prison by a United States Marshal, the Marshal forgot to give the prison Abagnale’s detention commitment. This struck the administration as unusual, and lead the guards to believe that he was a prison inspector sent by the FBI. Using this information to his advantage, Abagnale used his phone call to ask his friend, Jean Sebring, to forge a business card to back up the story. Sebring used a business card given to her by FBI Agent Joe Shea and altered it to include Abagnale’s information. Once in his possession, Abagnale presented the card to the guards and told them that he was, in fact, an inspector sent by the FBI and that he had to exit the prison to talk to his fellow FBI agent. The guards laughed and boasted about how they knew all along and were difficult to fool, ultimately allowing Abagnale to leave the facility.
The Real Story – Contrary to his claims, Abagnale actually escaped from Cobb County Jail in Georgia, which was a local, low-security facility. He simply walked out of the front door when the deputies were looking elsewhere, but was caught in New York City shortly afterwards and was sentenced to 12 years at a Federal Correctional Institution. He ended up only serving around 2 years of his sentence and was released in 1974 on parole in Houston, Texas.
Abagnale also claimed that the federal government released him early to work with the FBI and help catch like-minded con artists. However, there is no evidence to corroborate this, and the FBI has never made a public statement about what Abagnale has or hasn’t done for them.
Abagnale has remained in the spotlight over the years, attempting to turn his life around by opening his own private financial fraud consultancy company named Abagnale & Associates, becoming a motivational speaker, appearing on talk shows, and even making an appearance in the movie Catch Me If You Can, which was based on his now debunked life. As more and more information has been released about what really happened during Abagnale’s supposed crime spree, it’s easy to wonder if his life’s narrative may be his biggest hoax yet. Nevertheless, Abagnale’s current net worth is $10 million. Who says crime doesn’t pay?