Everybody likes to pretend to be more than they are on occasion. For instance, I like to pretend sometimes that I am a funny and talented writer. But some people take the fantasy a little too far and start making outrageous claims about being long lost legends. Why do they do it? Is it for the notoriety, the possible fortune, because their normal lives just suck? Or do they just start off messing around and quickly find themselves in over their heads? Whatever the reasons, the one thing the following seven people have in common – other than very likely being completely nuts - is that they all claimed to be long lost legends.
Claimed to Be: Billy the Kid
In 1948, an old dude named Brushy Bill Roberts came forth claiming to be legendary outlaw Billy the Kid. The only problem with the story was that Billy the Kid was shot and killed in 1881. Naturally, his claims were met by skepticism, but several of The Kid’s old running buddies swore that Brushy Bill was their dude since he had all the same scars as The Kid and many of the same characteristics. Of course, at one point Brushy Bill also claimed to have been a member of the infamous James Gang, but I guess people were willing to overlook that previous foray into Tall Tale Town. Brushy Bill tried to get a pardon long promised to The Kid by the Governor of New Mexico back in the day, but the current Governor told him to go screw and he died of a massive heart attack in 1950. Eventually, this was all memorialized in Young Guns II, although if Brushy Bill knew that Emilio Estevez was going to play him he probably would have just denied the whole story.
Claimed to Be: Jesse James
Much like Brushy Bill Roberts, J. Frank Dalton decided in the last years of his life to start telling everyone he was a famous outlaw, this time Jesse James, who like Billy the Kid was shot and killed over 50 years earlier. And again, like Brushy Bill, Dalton had many of the same scars as Jesse James and several prominent Jesse James fanboys were all too willing to believe him. Of course, Dalton’s stories didn’t add up when he was questioned by the famed outlaw’s relatives but hey, nobody’s perfect. Dalton’s story was so convincing – apparently, even the name “J. Frank Dalton” seemed to be an alias that fit with the Jesse James legend – that when he died his death certificate said “Jesse James” and so does his tombstone. Naturally, this led to fun things like court ordered DNA testing, lawsuits, and grave desecration because what better way to honor a legend than by digging up his bones?
Claimed to Be: Jason Presley, Elvis’ long lost son
At some point, Ernest Young decided to say to hell with it (and by it, I mean sanity) and started calling himself Jason Presley, the son of the late lamented King. But he didn’t stop with slinging bullshit to his friends and neighbors. Oh no. Ol’ Ernest eventually kicked things up a notch by filing lawsuits declaring himself Elvis’ rightful heir and demanding his share of the King’s fortune. His whole basis for his suit? “I look a lot like him.” Indeed. Eventually, after getting his lawsuit thrown out he was arrested for threatening judges who refused to hear his case. But since as the son of the King, Ernest had to be the Crown Prince of Crazytown, he tried to take his case to the Supreme Court. That’s the United States Supreme Court by the way, and not just a bunch of dolls he lined up and called the Supreme Court. Naturally, they laughed at him, told him to GTFO and he skulked back to Nutball Farms where I’m guessing he’s regrouping so he can make claims he’s actually the Ernest from the Ernest movies.
Claimed to Be: Wyatt Earp’s long lost grandson
In 2002, the town of Goldfield, Nevada celebrated its centennial with the help of special guest Wyatt Earp, grandson of the famed lawman and expert on his life. One problem – Wyatt Earp never had any children. Whoops! Naturally, when people heard there was a Junior Earp masquerading as the heir to the name, he was confronted by Earp historians. As a show of confidence in his story, Earp the Younger did the obvious thing and… ran like hell out of town. Well, okay then. Later, he claimed that Wyatt the Elder and his wife Josie secretly gave birth to a son – this Wyatt’s supposed father – on an Indian Reservation, and kept it quiet because Earp had a bounty on his head or some such bullshit. Of course, Wyatt Earp would have been 70 when this supposedly happened and his wife a very post-menopausal 58 but those are just mere details. As for the people of Goldfield, they were said to be shocked that he wasn’t the real deal. Because apparently they are all idiots.
Claimed to Be: Richard, Duke of York, one of the famed Princes in the Tower
Prior to becoming King, Richard III locked his young nephews in the Tower of London, where they presumably died since they were never seen again. After Richard III was killed by Henry Tudor – later Henry VII – it wasn’t long before pretenders claiming to be one of the young princes began to emerge. The most famous of these is probably Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Prince Richard, the Duke of York. His claim was taken so seriously that he got the backing of several major European Powers and was even used as an excuse by King James IV of Scotland to invade England. Eventually, Warbeck was captured by Henry VII, and after being tortured Warbeck admitted he made the whole thing up. He then tried to escape, was caught and then hanged because they just didn’t suffer that kind of bullshit back in the day. In the end, Warbeck’s lies nearly led to major warfare, led to his own death and nearly bankrupted the new King of England. Go big or go home I guess.
Claimed to Be: Louis Charles aka Louis XVII of France
After the French Revolution resulted in the deaths of King Henry XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette and their young son, Louis Charles, it wasn’t long before people started popping up claiming to be young Charlie. The most intriguing of these was the famous naturalist, John J. Audubon. What’s intriguing about Audubon’s case – aside from the fact that he was famous in his own right – was that he never actually claimed himself that he was the lost prince. Instead, he let people do it for him. It was a tempting rumor to believe since Audubon was exactly the right age, had lived in Paris as a child and was adopted around the same time as young Louis Charles was said to have escaped from prison. However, it was later revealed that Audubon was born in Haiti, the illegitimate son of some random French dude. But still, this would be like Kanye claiming to be the son of Malcolm X or something, which you just know idiots would run wild with. Oh shit, I think I just gave him an idea.
Claimed to Be: Princess Anastasia
Anna Anderson is possibly the most famous impostor in history. A mental patient from Poland, she somehow managed to convince several European nobles that she was their cousin Anastasia, the famed daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the final Romanoff ruler who along with his entire family, including young Anastasia, was infamously shot and killed by Russian Revolutionaries as the Soviet Empire dawned. Most people who knew the real Anastasia saw through Anna’s bullshit, but there was always somebody who was willing to believe – especially old rich dudes, because, well, obviously. A Duke even gave her a castle to live in for a while. Her story became so famous that it eventually inspired plays, ballets, and movies, most notably the animated Disney film Anastasia and the 1956 film of the same name which won Ingrid Bergman an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Anna. Eventually, DNA evidence proved beyond a doubt that the real Anastasia was killed along with the rest of her family, but there are still people who believe, which is a testament to both the power of myth and the need for people to believe in miracles, if only because the actual truth is usually so grim.