Quiet Man On the Run: The Story of Frank Abagnale, World-Renound Con-Artist

Frank Abagnale holding a picture of himself. | Courtesy of AARP.

Without a thought, he cashed in the fraudulent checks that he had been faking for years. As his only source of money, this is the one crime Abagnale could not stop committing. Wanting to settle down, he faked a diploma and convinced everyone that he indeed had credentials. As he “retired” from a life full of con schemes and trickery, Frank Abagnale took on the job of a small-town physician. He proceeded to pretend to live out the typical life of a bachelor in the American dream, filled with having a small apartment, a dream job, and peace and quiet all around. However, his simple life was about to be turned upside down when the Feds came knocking on his door.1

Frank Abagnale as a pilot in the cockpit of commercial airplane | Courtesy of Speilberg

Frank William Abagnale had been in the criminal world for a long time before he decided to finally settle down. From minor crimes like lying about his age, to major ones, like creating a fake Airplane pilot license, he did it all.2 At his core, he craved the thrill that came with always being ahead of the law. However, when he realized that his risks had become too much for him to handle all at once, he began to consider the benefits that a relatively normal life offered. After some internal debate, Abagnale decided to move to France and finally make a life for himself outside of the criminal world. He considered abandoning his life of crime mainly because he found no satisfaction from running from the law anymore. He wanted a normal life, the one always seen as the American Dream.3 Although he had all but abandoned crime, he was not prepared for the ironic turn that his life was about to take.

As Frank Abagnale prepared to move to France to finalize his decision to straighten out, the FBI was hard at work trying to figure out who he was. Having heard many things about an emerging con-artist, they realized that they needed to act soon, as their perpetrator had great potential to slip through their fingers. The investigator on the Abagnale case quickly contacted other Bureaus in countries that Abagnale had committed crimes in, and put up wanted posters that could help citizens identify him. At the height of the case, agencies in France, Sweden, and the United States all cooperated in hunting Abagnale down. Despite their best efforts, however, all hopes of finding Abagnale began to fade. He had completely disappeared from their radar, and the agencies were running out of options.4

Miraculously, a young woman was able to answer their questions before the investigation faded into obscurity. A name was never mentioned in reports, but she was later confirmed to be a stewardess for Air France and the ex-girlfriend of Frank Abagnale. She had seen one of the wanted posters that the international agencies had posted and ultimately decided to turn him into the authorities. Many theories mentioned her as the ex-girlfriend that wanted revenge, but this could never be confirmed. This was the first time that the FBI had gotten ahead of Abagnale.5 Using the newfound tip, the three countries were able to compile enough information to make an official arrest in 1969, when Abagnale was just twenty-one and living in a small town in Southern France.6

At the time, Abagnale thought that treatment in European prisons was inhumane. Abagnale was kept in a dark cell, with no electricity, heating, proper sanitation, or bed. The situation was so pressing that the young criminal would later claim that his time in the local Perpignan prison was one of the hardest periods of his entire life. By the end of his stay, he went from one-hundred ninety-eight pounds to just under one-hundred and ten pounds.6 When he was transferred to a Swedish prison, he found it largely similar in treatment. It was in that cold and dark Swedish prison that Abagnale truly gave up hope. Lying on that cold, steely floor, he finally realized that he had lost everything. Although it was never truly his, losing his sense of freedom and the idea of living a normal life deeply affected Abagnale. He spent about six months in France and another six months in Sweden. After his tour of European prisons, he was extradited by the United States in 1971 to serve his last sentence. Once in the United States, a federal judge sentenced Abagnale to twelve years in federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time, it seemed like Abagnale would never get a happy ending.8

Frank Abagnale now gives oral presentations as part of the FBI. |Courtesy of CRN 2017.
Frank Abagnale giving an oral presentation for the FBI | Courtesy of CRN 2017

Everything changed, however, when the FBI came knocking on Abagnale’s prison cell door in 1986. After four years in federal prison, he was offered a new sentence: If he were to help the FBI in solving crimes similar to his, they would allow him to serve the remainder of his sentence and finish his parole conditions with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.6 In the end, Abagnale got what he always wanted: a normal life filled with uncomplicated things. After Frank Abagnale served his sentence with the FBI, he decided to continue working for the agency. He’s been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for forty years following his release, and now gives conferences on how to stop cybercrime, fraud, and identity theft.

Frank Abagnale’s collection of novels | Courtesy of Abagnale and Associates

As an honest civilian, he married his wife, Kelly Anne Welbes Abagnale, who he’s been happy with for over thirty years. Together they had three children, Sean, Scott, and Chris Abagnale. He became a professional writer, and he even got his life etched out in a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.10 He accomplished his life goals, through legal processes of course, and much more. In the end, his capture by the FBI was not the end of his life, but rather, it was the beginning.

  1. Frank Abagnale Frank and Stan Redding, Catch Me If You Can: the True Story Of A Real Fake (London: Mainstream Digital, 2011), 72.
  2. Frank Abagnale Frank and Stan Redding, Catch Me If You Can: the True Story Of A Real Fake (London: Mainstream Digital, 2011), 22.
  3. Patrick Lynch, “Catch Me If You Can: The Real Story of Frank Abagnale, Jr.” History Collection, July 2017, http://historycollection.co/catch-can-real-story-frank-abagnale-jr/
  4. Patrick Lynch, “Catch Me If You Can: The Real Story of Frank Abagnale, Jr.” History Collection, July 2017, http://historycollection.co/catch-can-real-story-frank-abagnale-jr/
  5. Frank Abagnale Frank and Stan Redding, Catch Me If You Can: the True Story Of A Real Fake (London: Mainstream Digital, 2011), 89.
  6. FedScoop, “Frank Abagnale – FedTalks 2013,” YouTube, June 20, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJIc16aqpO8.
  7. FedScoop, “Frank Abagnale – FedTalks 2013,” YouTube, June 20, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJIc16aqpO8.
  8. Frank Abagnale Frank and Stan Redding, Catch Me If You Can: the True Story Of A Real Fake. (London: Mainstream Digital, 2011), 244.
  9. FedScoop, “Frank Abagnale – FedTalks 2013,” YouTube, June 20, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJIc16aqpO8.
  10. Frank Abagnale Frank and Stan Redding, Catch Me If You Can: the True Story Of A Real Fake (London: Mainstream Digital, 2011), 24-37.

Tags from the story

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This article was really interesting to read because I have never heard much about any con-artists or read much about them. The article kept me entertained and the sequence of events it follows was an attention getter. Although he was a con-artist, the conditions he underwent while in prison were scary, especially the physical ones. In the end, I’m glad he was able to live a happy life while helping out others.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu