Ferdinand Demara: One of the Greatest Imposters the World Has Ever Seen

In 1957, Ferdinand Demara appeared on the cover of Life magazine. Unlike other icons who have appeared on the cover of the weekly magazine, Demara wasn’t an astronaut, actor, hero or politician. In fact, his 23-year career was rather varied. He was, among other things, a doctor, professor, prison warden and a monk. The fact is, Ferdinand Demara was “The Great Imposter” — a charming rogue who tricked his way to notoriety. At just 16 years old, with a desire to become a member of a silent order of Trappist monks, Demara ran away from his home in Lawrence, Mass., lying about his age to gain entry. When he was found by his parents, he was allowed to stay because they believed he would eventually give it up. He was ultimately forced out of the monastery at the age of 18 because his fellow monks felt he lacked the right temperament. He joined the Army when he was 19, but that wasn’t his thing either, so then he joined the Navy. It was there that he posed as a surgeon aboard a Navy destroyer in the Korean War and was forced to perform surgery on 16 people. He proceeded to speed-read a textbook on general surgery and was able to successfully perform all the surgeries without killing anyone. It wasn't long before he faked his own death and went on the run. He managed to create a new identity and began working as a prison guard at Huntsville Prison in Texas, eventually being put in charge of the maximum security wing. Unfortunately, he was recognized by a prisoner, who notified prison officials. Demara chose to run again, but was caught a year later and served a 6-month prison sentence. After his release and making the rounds of several television shows, he struggled to escape his past notoriety. He eventually returned to the church, getting ordained using his own name, and worked as a counselor at a hospital in California until his death in 1981.