Why The Story Of Nicholas Barclay Remains A Mystery

Why The Story Of Nicholas Barclay Remains A Mystery

Not the typical missing-child case...
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So for this week, I considered talking about gun control, the transgender bathroom controversy, or the Trump v. Clinton trainwreck situation. But then I thought to myself, “Do I really feel like getting any hate today?’ So those idea got tossed. Then I thought maybe I could discuss my latest existential crisis, but I thought “Nah. I have one every other week, I’m sure a more interesting one will come up.” And then I thought I’d ramble about the writing process in a half-crazed interview with myself, but then I said “Oh wait I did that last week, that simply won’t do.”

So I thought to myself, “What’s something that internet people such as myself tend to enjoy? Oh! I know!”

...I then learned that it’s VERY difficult to write about cat-videos. So I’ve decided to go for my second idea: Creepy things.

Listen, everybody loves a good serial-killer story or a nice unsolved kidnapping... Well, maybe ‘love’ and ‘nice’ aren’t the best words but you know what? It’s fine. We’re fine. I'm not crazy. So today, we're going to discuss one of the most unsettling and surprisingly little-discussed missing-child cases of the last 50 years: The disappearance of Nicholas Barclay.

Background

Nicholas Patrick Barclay was born on December 31st, 1980 to Beverly Dollarhide. He was the youngest in his family, with an older sister named Carey and an older brother named Jason. The family resided in San Antonio, Texas, where Nicholas was known for being 'troubled.'

Now, for the most part, thirteen-year-olds are jackasses. But even with that in consideration, Nicholas wasn't exactly considered a 'good kid.' He was occasionally physically violent or verbally abusive toward his mother, and police had been called to the house to calm him down a number of times. He often skipped school, and was usually in trouble whenever he actually went. And he already had a juvenile criminal record, having stolen a pair of shoes, threatened one of his teachers, and broken into a convenience store.

He also had three illegal tattoos, which had pretty much been carved into his skin with an un-sterilized sewing needle by another kid, probably around his age.

Basically, he was a 4'8, 80 pound adorable little thug who you didn't want to run into in an alleyway. He'd mess you up.

This is perhaps why no one took it seriously when Nick Barclay vanished into thin air.

The Disappearance

On June 13th, 1994, Nicholas' mother gave him $5 to go and play basketball with some friends down at the park a mile or two away from their home. He later called to ask for his mother to pick him up, but Beverly worked late at night and slept during the day. It was his older brother Jason who picked up the phone, and he refused to wake her, telling Nicholas he'd need to walk. It was the last time they heard from him.

This wasn't the first time that Nicholas had disappeared. He'd run away from home a number of times, but always came back within a day. He also had a court hearing scheduled for June 14th, the day after his disappearance, in which it would be decided whether he would stay with his family or be sent to a rehabilitative group home for juvenile criminals, which he was opposed to. Because of this, the police were slow to respond.

When the cops finally got the investigation in gear, there was an assumption that with just $5, he couldn't have gotten very far on his own. Spotting him during the search should have been fairly easy, as he had been carrying a pink backpack and wearing purple pants when he was last seen, and, as far as I've found, hadn't packed any other clothing when he left. But within a few days of searching, it was easy to tell that Nick Barclay was gone, and wasn't anywhere nearby. Beverly Dollarhide believed that her son may have taken a ride from a stranger.

Oddly, Three months later, his brother Jason called police and told them Nicholas was breaking into their garage, but when police arrived, they were told Nicholas had run off after seeing that he'd been spotted. They searched the neighborhood, but found no sign of him. Police believed that Jason hadn't seen Nick at all. But why would he lie about such a thing?

3 Years Later...

Police in San Antonio received a call from a man working in a youth shelter in Linares, Spain in October of 1997. He had news that was both wonderful and horrifying: Nicholas Barclay was found alive. He had escaped a child sex ring operation run by high-ranking European political and military officials, and it was believed that he had been abused for the last three years. But he was alive and relatively healthy, and during his time in Europe had even learned French, as well as the basics of a few other European languages.

Obviously overjoyed despite her horror, his older sister Carey flew to Spain to identify him. At first, Nicholas remained in his room, afraid that she wouldn't recognize him. However, to his relief, she quickly confirmed that this was her brother. They then sat together and looked through dozens of family photos, since Carey had been told he had forgotten almost everything.

"Remember?" she would ask, "This was the house we lived in before we went missing. Remember? This is when you were playing with Scotty."

Gradually, his memories seemed to be returning. And he soon wanted to know 'if grandpa was still an asshole.'

Despite remembering, Nicholas was very quiet. This hadn't come as a surprise to anyone, given the torture and abuse he had been through in the last few years.

Before Nicholas could be sent home, they needed definitive proof that he was who he said he was. It was arranged for family photographs that he had never seen before, but taken of people he knew, to be sent for him to identify. Having only made one mistake, he was sent home to a family that was overjoyed to have him back.

There was, however, one problem: He wasn't Nicholas Barclay.

Wait what?!

The family was overjoyed, and yet they couldn't help but question how Nicholas' eyes had gone from blue to dark brown, how his hair had darkened and his complexion had changed. According to Nicholas, the men and women who'd run the sex ring operation had chemically dyed his hair, eyes and skin to make him unrecognizable. They believed him. His personality was different: he didn't like to be touched, was very quiet and stand-offish. Again, he said it was all because of what had happened. They believed him.

But still, distant family members and friends continually pointed out their suspicions. And, admittedly, it was a little difficult to believe that this:

Could, in just three years, turn into THIS:

This is not how aging works, people!

Strangely enough, a private investigator actually used Adobe Photoshop and pictures of 13-year-old Nicholas and the 'rescued Nicholas' to compare their EARS. Apparently, ears are like fingerprints, and the investigator found that they didn't have the same ears.

I mean they didn't have the same ANYTHING, but whatever. They got to the right conclusion eventually.

After a long struggle and numerous disputes from 'Nicholas,' the family, and everyone else who believed his story, a court ordered fingerprints and DNA tests to be taken. The result? This was not Nicholas Barclay, but 23-year-old, French-born Frédéric Bourdin. Bourdin, who claimed to have been raised without any love or affection, has taken on the identities of missing people throughout much of his life, and may have had up to 500 identities up until now. Nicholas was the first of three missing children whose identities would be taken by Bourdin. During his time as Nicholas, Bourdin had spread the story of lies about the sex ring, garnering as much media attention as he could to make Nicholas 'more real,' and to make people 'love him even more' to know what had happened.

Despite being told that he was an imposter, the family actually tried to keep Bourdin in their family. Which, understandably, baffled investigators. Were they crazy, completely convinced that this was Nicholas, or was it something else altogether...? And what the hell happened to Nicholas?!

Actually, Bourdin himself has a theory on the matter. And it is NOT a pretty one.

Bourdin's Theory: Jason?

The family seemed to be wholly convinced that this boy they'd taken in was Nicholas, but the only person 'Nicholas' hadn't yet met was his older brother, Jason. Bourdin stated "When he came to see me, he didn't look at me like Nicholas. He didn't pretend to look at me like Nicholas. And he said 'Good luck' to me, and he left."

Investigators noted that their view on the family went from being 'grieving' to 'suspicious.' There was no reason knowingly to keep a stranger in their house. Unless they had something to hide.

"They knew I was not Nicholas," Bourdin said, "They didn't believe a word that I said. But they were good at not showing it. I remember in Spain, Carey did everything for me. When I didn't know something, she told me. That's the house we used to live in. That's my daughter, your niece. Do you remember that? Remember that, remember that, remember that, over and over again. She wanted to put it in my head so I would never forget. She couldn't say that I wasn't her brother. Did she believe it or not? If you ask me, no. She did not believe for a second that I was her brother. She decided that I was going to be her brother."

As investigators continued to study the family, they took note of the phone call Jason had placed to police in September of 1994. According to them, this type of thing is not uncommon in murder cases: it's the kind of call made to convince police that someone is alive.

"They killed him. Some of them did it, some of them knew about it, and some of them choose to ignore it. I wasn't worried about Nicholas coming back no more."

When it was clear that there was no getting away from the impersonation, Bourdin himself called the police to report Nicholas Barclay murdered. Before he could be questioned, Nicholas' older brother died from a drug overdose, which may have been intentional. The case has largely gone cold, although private investigators still seem to be actively working on it. It is suspected that there was foul play involved, with Jason as the prime suspect. But he's dead, so we may never know what happened to Nick Barclay.

Bourdin spent six years in prison for his crime. After that, he went back to Europe and continued to live other peoples' for a time, but married and started a family in 2007, and apparently hasn't taken over any lives since. He is still convinced that Nicholas Barclay was murdered.

Unless another Nicholas Barclay--hopefully the real one this time--comes along, we'll probably never know what happened. Jason is dead, Bourdin, given his habits of taking over lives, is a massive liar, and the rest of the family seems unwilling to acknowledge the possibilities.

If you'd like to learn more about Nicholas' story, you can watch the documentary The Imposter on YouTube.

Cover Image Credit: The Charley Project

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