The Greatest Hoax on Earth: Catching Truth, While We Can
Catch Me If You Can, the 2002 film directed by Steven Spielberg, is a semi-autobiographical thriller based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., a self-confessed conman. The film depicts the extraordinary exploits of Abagnale from the launch of his criminal career through to his impersonations of various professionals and onto his eventual imprisonment. According to the film, he was so good at check fraud he was recruited by the FBI. But what if Abagnale’s confession is the real con?
In The Greatest Hoax on Earth, Alan C. Logan exposes Abagnale’s greatest deception and proves that while he was certainly a conman, he was not the master criminal he pretends to have been. What’s more, rather than being a loveable rogue who limited himself to victimless crimes, Logan asserts that Abagnale was always out for what he could get, never caring who got hurt along the way.
In addition to mining court records, newspaper accounts, and other documentary evidence, Logan’s key informants when writing the book were Paula Parks and Mark Zinder, both of whom were well placed to know the “real” Abagnale. Parks is a former Delta Airlines flight attendant who knew Abagnale before he started publicizing his life, while Zinder served as Abagnale’s booking agent during the late 1970s/early 1980s. The motivation for Parks and Zinder to expose Abagnale is clear, and the reasoning behind Logan’s interest in Abagnale and the post-truth world is equally interesting.
In terms of Abagnale’s alleged cons, Logan explains how journalists have been exposing the exaggerations and outright lies since he first started telling his tall tales. Yet the truth failed to stick. Part of Abagnale’s success is likely due to the fact his self-publicizing heyday occurred prior to the advent of the Internet, which meant information was shared much less widely. Still, after numerous exposés, it’s strange that Abagnale was able to keep peddling his stories. Perhaps people just didn’t want to know the truth?
The information presented in The Greatest Hoax on Earth is mindboggling. In many ways, Frank Abagnale was a terrible conman, and Logan certainly provides evidence that Abagnale’s grifts were grubby rather than glamorous. Abagnale did pass dodgy checks, did have some limited experience masquerading as a pilot, and did once escape from a jailhouse, but the rest is pure flimflam. Abagnale exploited the trust of good people, and his actions definitely had consequences. Given the similarities between Abagnale’s supposed escapades and the life of Ferdinand Demara, he also seems to have stolen much of his biography. It’s not even clear how much of that con was Abagnale’s own work since it seems more in keeping with the style of Stan Redding, the coauthor of the original Catch Me If You Can.
The Greatest Hoax on Earth is a compelling and shocking read. Abagnale is still making a lucrative living based on claims that can and have been easily disproved. His success doesn’t seem to be down to any particular skill, but rather to the media’s appetite for a good story and the public’s desire for an (anti)hero, which is probably the saddest aspect of the whole story.
|Page Count||471 pages|
|Publisher||Alan C. Logan w/ Glass Spider Publishing|
|Bookshop.org||Buy this Book|