“The Chameleon,” a French conman who became infamous for impersonating children, and eventually ended up serving six years in federal prisons in the United States for posing as a missing child from near San Antonio, Texas.
My buddies mentioned their idea to make a documentary film about him, and said they might be coming to France at some point in the future to meet him and shoot some footage.
Shortly after arriving in Paris in September, I spent an evening at a bar near here called La Caravane reading the piece and sipping rosé. This experience was memorable mostly for the fact that the music playing in the bar was Henry Mancini’s theme for the “Pink Panther.”
Last week I got an email from my buddies asking me if I would be willing to deliver $3,000 cash to the Chameleon and have him sign a contract (in triplicate) saying that they have the rights to his story for a period of five years. I agreed.
They said the Chameleon would be coming from near Le Mans and wanted to meet me at the Montparnasse train station. I hedged on that a bit and decided to have him meet me at La Coupole instead. It is near the train station, and I prefer their coffee.
The next day, I went to a Western Union office, picked up the money, and biked to Montparnasse. When I arrived on the Boulevard, there was some kind of typical French street protest going down. People were lighting flares and the whole street was filled with smoke.
I was about 30 minutes early for my rendezvous so I decided to walk around the protest and kill some time. As I was walking away from my locked bike, I saw a man to my left wearing a fedora who also happened to be staring right at me. Having only seen one photo of the Chameleon, I thought to myself that it could possibly be him, but he’s the Chameleon, so how the hell would I know? I mean, for all I knew, he was going to show up in drag or have on a fake moustache or something. Plus, there were hundreds of people in the street, so I didn’t give it another thought and moved on.
About 20 minutes later, I returned to La Coupole and started looking for the Chameleon. After having an awkward stare down with a man sitting by the front door, I saw the man in the fedora sitting across the room.
PT: Are you Frédéric?
FB: I saw you earlier and I knew it was you.
PT: Oh. How?
FB: Because you are tall and bald ... and by the way you looked at me when you first saw me.
PT: O ... K.
FB: I just ordered a kir. Would you like to change tables?
We did. To a private booth. We sat. He signed the contracts and I gave him an envelope filled with cash. It was a cinematic moment.
We talked for about an hour, mostly about him. One of the first things he asked me was whether or not I thought he was a monster. I told him that I did not think he was a monster and applauded his considerable acting skills. He seemed relieved by this and then let me ask him a lot of personal questions which he answered without hesitation.
He claims the mother of the missing boy from San Antonio never believed he was her son and that she went along with his scheme because her daughter was devastated after the disappearance of the boy, and the daughter wanted to believe that her brother was alive so badly that the mother thought it prudent to let a Frenchman live with them instead. But that’s what heroin and doughnuts do to your brain after awhile, so I’m not sure if it’s really her fault or not.
He didn’t do it for the thrill. He did it because he came from a broken home, grew up in foster care, and didn’t know what else to do or where else to go once he became an adult. He stressed numerous times that it wasn’t like he had killed someone.
He told me that he had spent time in six federal prisons, one of which is in El Reno, Oklahoma. He said some of the people there are pussies. And then he told me that he won money in prison betting on the Oklahoma Sooners football team in 2001 or 2002... but I think maybe he means 2000. We covered the spread every single week that year.
He said that prison was the best thing that ever happened to him. He now has a wife and child with another on the way. Sometimes, he gets the urge to grab his wife and steal away to Tokyo, but he resists. He is a huge soccer fan and his favorite team is Nantes.
His youtube page is really something else. A sampling:
I can’t wait to hang out with him again.