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The Great Imposter
March 17, 2009 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr was a prison warden, a monk, a lawyer and a religiously-oriented psychologist, and yet he was actually none of those things. Now known as "The Great Imposter", Demara held many careers as he faked his way through life, but his most famous exploit was to masquerade as surgeon Joseph Cyr aboard the HMCS Cayuga, a Royal Canadian Navy destroyer, during the Korean War.

During his time as a surgeon on the Cayuga, Demara managed to improvise successful major surgeries and fend off infection with lots of penicillin. He performed surgery on 16 Korean combat casualties who were loaded onto the Cayuga.

The way he pulled off this deception was as impressive as it was dangerous for his patients. Apparently after ordering personnel to transport injured patients into the ship's operating room to prep them for surgery, Demara would disappear to his room with a textbook on general surgery and proceed to speed-read the type of surgery he was to perform, including major chest surgery. Amazingly, none of these patients died as a result of his surgery.

Ironically it was because of his skill as a surgeon that Demara was exposed. According to this article, the removal of a bullet from one wounded soilder made the papers, and when the mother of the real Dr Joseph Cyr read that her son, who operated a civilian practice, was now in the war, she rang him only to be assured by her son that he was indeed still in civilian practice. She then contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Demara was exposed for the fraud that he was.

His life and exploits would go on to inspire a movie and the name of a band. When asked to describe why he did what he did, Demara is said to have responded "Rascality, pure rascality."

Ferdinand Demara died in 1982.
posted by Effigy2000 (22 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
People who think there are no trolls in RL, observe this man.
posted by localroger at 6:07 PM on March 17, 2009


But he wasn't a troll. His point in life wasn't just to fuck things up, but to be true to his impulses.

Anyways anyone know any good books about the great imposters.
posted by Allan Gordon at 6:29 PM on March 17, 2009


Allan Gordon - Frank Abignale's Catch Me If You Can is very good (never saw the movie so I can't compare).
posted by djb at 6:33 PM on March 17, 2009


Great story. And my oh my! doesn't Bernard Schwartz look good in that first link.
posted by tellurian at 6:45 PM on March 17, 2009


My mother-in-law was one of Demara's nurses when he was in the hospital in Boston for evaluation. Said he was one of the most charming people she ever met.
posted by waitingtoderail at 7:08 PM on March 17, 2009


Wasn't the TV show, The Pretender, also based on DeMara?
posted by jonp72 at 7:26 PM on March 17, 2009


Alaln Gordon, what is the difference between being 'true to your impulses' as you troll online and being 'true to your impulses' as you troll RL?
posted by localroger at 7:26 PM on March 17, 2009


Definitely one of Tony Curtis's better films. Good post.
posted by briank at 7:33 PM on March 17, 2009


"Rascality, pure rascality." Gotta love it....
posted by lukievan at 7:53 PM on March 17, 2009


Ferdinand Demara died in 1982.

Rather, it's claimed he died in 1982. :-)
posted by Malor at 7:54 PM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


>Alaln Gordon, what is the difference between being 'true to your impulses' as you troll online and being 'true to your impulses' as you troll RL?

Trolling is about angering or otherwise provoking strong reactions, primarily disagreement, disgust, or some other negative emotion, in others.

This guy's deceptions don't seem to have much, if anything, in common with trolling.
posted by Nonce at 9:29 PM on March 17, 2009


People who think there are no trolls in RL, observe this man.

We mock what we don't understand.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:22 PM on March 17, 2009


Anyone who deceives other people by pretending to be a doctor should be forced to perform on himself whatever procedures he performed in others or something equally painful. I don't care if you save any lives, real doctors spend a lot of time and money in school, and then they have to build a reputation, and that takes more years and money. If someone pretends to be a doctor, no matter how skilled and how many lives he saves, he is literally taking bread from the table of real doctors, who made big sacrificies (grater than soldiers and firefighters I would say) to get their diplomas.
posted by dirty lies at 11:06 PM on March 17, 2009


If someone pretends to be a doctor, no matter how skilled and how many lives he saves, he is literally taking bread from the table of real doctors
Only if he pretends to be a doctor at, say, a Medical School Alumni Bread Banquet.
posted by bunglin jones at 11:27 PM on March 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Damn, I literally meant figuratively.

I gave it some thought, and almost every time I have been trolling in real life, it has been with people who claim to be doctors. One time with my dentists father in law, another time with a friend's eye surgeon husband, another with my orthopedic surgeon uncle. They were really good at trolling, one time we caught a swordfish, another time we filled the boat with red snappers.

I enjoy fishing more when you float placidly with the engine off, but trolling can be exciting too.
posted by dirty lies at 11:39 PM on March 17, 2009


A sacrifice grater than cheesus?
posted by tellurian at 11:47 PM on March 17, 2009


Cheesus.
Grater.
posted by dirty lies at 11:53 PM on March 17, 2009


Thanks for this post. When I was about eight or nine I had an Ashton Scholastic book called "Great Imposters" which had me obsessed with Demara and Abegnale and others like them. I'd forgotten about Demara until this showed up today.
posted by bunglin jones at 1:18 AM on March 18, 2009


If someone pretends to be a doctor, no matter how skilled and how many lives he saves, he is literally taking bread from the table of real doctors, who made big sacrificies (grater than soldiers and firefighters I would say) to get their diplomas.

Whoa, what a strange and contorted opinion. He is ethically violating his patients, who he deceived and endangered, whose trust he violated. The community of doctors is not at all ethically violated, for he has done little more than one additional doctor entering the economy would.

There isn't much of an ethical violation in general to economic competition, and I'd argue that doctors of all people should be least concerned, as they should be going into medicine for a combination of medical curiosity and desire to help people, not being in it for the big bucks.

To put it another way, if I turn out to have a knack for fixing cars and study a bunch of repair manuals and then fix up my friends' cars, while I do reduce demand for the services of a mechanic, I have definitely not violated ethics. This man violated the trust of his patients, the Navy, and the man whose identity he took on, but the community of doctors at large has right only to be upset that he might cast doubt on those of their profession, not that he might take "bread" from their tables.
posted by explosion at 4:38 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Impulses don't lead you to pretend to be someone else. Maybe some other profession (someone who didn't get accepted to the police force buys a police uniform and directs traffic around accidents). But still, the word "impulse" is wrong. Impulse is a quick reaction, not requiring much (if any) forethought. Perhaps you meant "true to his desires"?

As for his impersonating another doctor:
[FWD Jr, impersonating Cyr] hinted that if the navy couldn't use him, the Army or RCAF would be glad to accept him. At this stage of the Korean War and with Canada's new NATO commitments, qualified medical officers were desperately needed by all three services, and no time was lost in processing this valuable recruit.

"Cyr's" credentials were accepted without verification, and three days after his visit to the recruiting centre, he was commissioned into the RCN as a Surgeon-Lieutenant. The normal two-month enlistment process took about one day.

Had a thorough background investigation been conducted, the authorities would no doubt have discovered that "Doctor Joseph Cyr" was none other than the ubiquitous Fred Demara, whose medical experience was limited to a few weeks as an unskilled hospital orderly in the United States.
His rascality did endanger people, but he was also trying to work where there was a shortage of help. He wasn't stealing from real, trained doctors.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:25 AM on March 18, 2009


"...good books about the great imposters."

"The Island of Lost Maps," by Miles Harvey is about *Gilbert Bland, Jr.,* a man who posed as an antique dealer and many other things but turned out to be an antique map thief.

"The Professor And The Madman," by Simon Winchester is about Dr. W. C. Minor, who didn't actually misrepresent himself, but turned out to be someone utterly different than the OED editors expected.
posted by metacurious at 8:39 AM on March 18, 2009


One time I was trolling at metafilter, a lame attempt at an object lesson, when I caught an explosion.

I apologize.
posted by dirty lies at 3:03 PM on March 18, 2009


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