The Real Frank Abagnale
Both the film and musical versions of ‘Catch Me If You Can’ are based on true events, and bring the character of Frank Abagnale to life. On screen he was portrayed by the dashing Leonardo DiCaprio who effortlessly managed to show the multiple sides of Frank’s personality. Not much was known about the real Frank Abagnale until after his ‘story’ was completed. He held positions as a pilot, teaching assistant, doctor and attorney before being arrested in 1969 after he was recognized by an Air France stewardess. He had committed fraud in a total of 12 countries who fought for his extradition, but served an initial prison sentence in France. As he was finally deported back to the United States, he was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for forgery. In 1974, after less than 5 years in prison, he was released by the authorities under the condition that he helped them investigate crimes. After his parole was completed he took on a number of legitimate jobs before offering his services to a bank as a security consultant. He went on to found Abagnale & Associates, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a company that advises others on security and fraud issues.
Many people around the world have had encounters with Abagnale, either during his time on the run or within his new position. Many were conned along the way and fell for his scams and multiple guises. We recently heard from Paul J Holsen II, a pilot who encountered Frank during his early career. He shared his experience with us and his personal meeting:
I had been flying during the 60’s with AIR AMERICA (CIA) when I took a break to attend the University of Arizona. I was called to the Dean’s office when he told me a someone from PAN AM would visit to interview girls for a position at PAN AM as a stewardess and he wanted to give my name for a pilot position. I was the only male. When the day came I reported and met numerous beautiful girls seeking a position. They asked if I was looking to be a Purser, but I replied “Nope – Pilot so I can fly you girls!” Walking in sat Frank [Abagnale] in a corner, who said to me “Want to see my pictures flying a 707?” which I felt odd from a pilot in uniform doing an interview… “Things are slow, I am a Doctor, Lawyer and pilot, PAM AM felt I could do all in the field.” I spent a good half hour chatting in my interview and was told to call New York in 3 weeks to schedule a trip to meet officers. Three weeks later I called. “Did you meet with Frank” they asked me. “Yes”, I replied. “May we have an FBI agent from Tucson give you a call, he will explain and we could use your help…”
What really upset me later in life, I being a CIA agent, how did I not catch Frank at his game? Yes, I was suspicious and I did ask him a few questions, but he was sharp and always had an answer. I grew up with PAN AM pilots in Honduras later flew as a pilot with several of them on other flights.”
Captain Paul J Holsen II was lucky enough to meet Frank Abagnale later in life, by which time his story had become more widely known thanks to the ‘Catch Me If You Can’ franchise. Since the film, Frank has made multiple media appearances and has contributed to many publications, including ‘The Art of the Steal’, ‘Real U Guide to Identity Theft’ and ‘Stealing Your Life’.
Have YOU ever met the real life Frank Abagnale? If so, we would love to hear from you. Contact us through the About Us page of our website.