British Detain a Nowhere Man
Saturday, May 6, 2006
LONDON, May 5 -- In January last year, a prosperous man with a posh English accent boarded a ferry in Calais, France, for the quick run across the channel to Dover. Immigration officials did a computer check on his passport and discovered something startling: The man's particulars matched those of an infant who had died in August 1963.
He was arrested in Dover on suspicion of false identity. From there his tale grew ever more intriguing: He had passed himself off as Lord Buckingham in British society for close to 20 years, marrying, fathering two children, writing notes on stationery bearing a family coat of arms.
Last October, he pleaded guilty to lying to obtain a passport under a false name. But if he is not Lord Buckingham, who is he? Held in British jail cells for close to a year, he has refused to say.
Now British authorities think they probably have the answer: He is Charlie Stopford, an American from Orlando. Stopford family members in Florida have come forward to say that Charlie disappeared 23 years ago, remembered for his large collection of Beatles records and ability to perfectly mimic British speech.
"I am 100 percent sure" of the identification, based on photographs of the man in prison, said a Stopford family member, who was interviewed by telephone from Florida on condition that he not be identified. There is so far no independent confirmation, but police in Kent, a county south of London where the man is being held, are in touch with the family in an effort to confirm the identity through DNA, fingerprints and military records.
The family member spoke vaguely of Stopford having been in trouble. The London newspaper the Times reported Monday that he fled the United States after being convicted of trying to blow up the car of his supervisor at a Burger King restaurant in Orlando.
In his jail cell, the mystery man remains stubbornly silent about his origins. "He continues to call himself Christopher Buckingham," said Kent police spokesman Jon Parker.
According to the family in Florida, Charlie Stopford was born in 1962, the eldest of nine children. He served for a short time in the U.S. Navy, and was once stationed at a Navy training center in Orlando. British culture was his passion. "He had every Beatles album," the close family member said.
The family last saw Charlie in 1983, according to the family member. For a time he kept in touch with his mother and even told her he was using an alias -- Buckingham -- the relative said.
British authorities say that he stole the identity of Christopher Edward Buckingham, who died as an infant in Britain in August 1963. The prisoner apparently took information from the child's tombstone and used it to obtain basic documents of life as a British subject-- a criminal technique made famous in the classic thriller "The Day of the Jackal" by British novelist Frederick Forsyth. That has led people in England to call him "The Real Jackal."
For the next two decades, he lived as Christopher Buckingham here and in Germany. According to a documentary to be aired Sunday in Britain on the Sky One television network, he married an English woman, Jody Doe. They had two children and led a life in which he styled himself an aristocrat, frequently flaunting a Buckingham coat of arms. She divorced him several years ago.
At the time of his arrest, police said, he had been working as an information technology security consultant in Switzerland. He showed them stationery with a coat of arms.
He pleaded guilty to the passport falsification charge, served a sentence and was released, but was immediately picked up again on immigration charges, because police had no idea of his real nationality.
Extensive searches of fingerprints, school and medical records in Britain failed to turn up a match, police said. A check with the registry of coats of arms showed that his had not been in use legitimately since the early 1700s.
Over the years, family members in Florida had searched for their brother using his name, but recently one did an Internet search using the name "Buckingham" and spotted a story in the London Times about a jailed man in England calling himself Lord Buckingham. They got in touch with British authorities.
Old family photos resemble the jailed man, the relative said, and have been given to the Kent police.
The man's former wife and two children are reported to be overwhelmed and confused by the revelations. The British and American families are now in touch with each other, and all were eager to talk to the jailed man who so far has refused all visitors, the relative said.