Decoying, or the use of body doubles by political and military leaders, has been in practice for a long time. It is when lookalikes are employed to deceive enemies, have someone appear at different places at the same time, and even to deceive people into thinking a leader is healthy while he is bedridden. You know, like the movie Dave.
Many conspiracy theorists have championed the difference in looks, height, and weight as evidence that a person is a decoy. However, as we’ll see in this list, the act of decoying is complicated, intriguing, and extremely mysterious.
10. The Invisible Osama
Following the 9/11 attack on the US, the capture or death of Osama Bin Laden became the primary focus of the war against terror. In a November 2001 interview with Al Hayat, a London-based Arab newspaper, an Al-Qaeda spokesman disclosed that for years, Osama had been preparing for attacks from the West by recruiting as many as 10 decoys in Afghanistan. He boasted that aside birthmarks, there were no physical differences between them and Osama.
Although getting lookalikes for Osama may seem challenging because of his height, it was not difficult finding exceptionally tall men willing to join the organization’s cause in the Middle East.
Hamid Mir, a noted Osama biographer, echoed a similar sentiment when he stated that during his interview with Osama, he seemed like a different person because he sounded more aggressive than he had been in their previous meetings.
However, despite his supposed invisibility, Osama was eventually killed in May 2011. Perhaps to be sure that it wasn’t one of his decoys, a DNA test (which confirmed his identity) was conducted.
9. The Other Monty’s Double
In one of the most famous cases of decoying, the British tricked the Germans into thinking Sir Bernard “Monty” Montgomery was in Gibraltar by employing M.E. Clifton James to stand in for him while he prepared for the Normandy invasion. However, not many people know Monty had a double while serving in the Middle East – a daring British soldier named Keith “Tex” Banwell.
In the late 1930s, Tex was offered the chance to become Monty’s double after his striking resemblance to the military leader was noticed. At that time, Tex was recovering from the injuries he sustained when his boat ran out of fuel and drifted towards North Africa during his second escape from German captivity.
To successfully deceive the enemies, Tex had to be seated in a vehicle at all times due to his larger body size. He served in this capacity for awhile before his complaint about the boredom associated with the job got him a transfer to another unit.
Unable to live a life devoid of adventures, Tex would be captured two more times, forced to face a Gestapo firing squad twice, and taken to Auschwitz, where he was until the war ended.
8. The Real Saddam
A 2013 study revealed that over the next four decades, the war in Iraq could cost the United States up to $6 trillion. According to Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary at that time, the war should have only cost a bullet had any Iraqi been brave enough to take down Saddam Hussein. Fleischer, however, did not take into account that Saddam was perhaps as cunning as he was ruthless.
While examining hundreds of pictures and videos of the dictator in 2002, Dr. Dieter Buhmann, a German forensic pathologist, discovered that Saddam had as many as three political decoys. These decoys, according to him, appeared at public functions but rarely spoke. He observed that they only shot rifles, smoked cigars, and waved at crowds. They were not easily distinguishable from Saddam himself because of the plastic surgeries and make-up that likely helped perfect their looks. Buhmann also believed they may have been undergone training in order to act like him.
7. Himmler’s Suicide Conspiracy
The secrets surrounding the suicide and burial of Heinrich Himmler have given rise to many conspiracy theories. The most common among them is that the man who committed suicide in British custody was a decoy.
In his book SS-1: The Unlikely Death of Heinrich Himmler, surgeon and forensic expert Hugh Thomas supported this claim by highlighting the physical differences between the “decoy” and Himmler. One of the alleged differences is their nostril – one of the double’s nostrils was larger than the other, as opposed to that of Himmler, which were symmetrically shaped. The most obvious giveaway, according to the book, was that the double had no dueling scar, a ceremonial cut on Himmler’s face.
The book explained that Himmler had struck a deal with the Allies after realizing defeat was imminent for the Nazis and that’s why he was allowed to escape and eventually lead the “Fourth Reich” in South America.
Although some facts in Thomas’ book are true (such as the early doubt about Himmler’s suicide by some members of British intelligence), it was panned by historians because of its other ludicrous claims and conclusions.
6. The Resurrections of Shekau
Since his emergence as the leader of Boko Haram in 2009, Abubakar Shekau has been a thorn in the flesh of Nigerian military forces. Aside from orchestrating the infamous kidnapping of over 200 girls, his group has been responsible for the death of thousands of people in Northern Nigeria and neighboring countries.
Nonetheless, few people rejoiced when the Cameroonian military forces released the pictures of his body in 2014, claiming they had killed him.
This was because although Shekau had reportedly met his end twice in the hands of the Nigerian military forces, he has managed to come back from the dead. The Nigerian military explained this by claiming the real Shekau died in 2009, and that the ones executed after were lookalikes employed by the group.
Although security analysts agreed with the military that Shekau may have doubles, pointing at the differences in mannerisms, complexion, and posture of the “Shekaus” in the group’s video as evidence, they disagree that he is dead, arguing that the real Shekau is still very much alive.
Since 2014, he has been reportedly killed two more times, only to appear in videos months later bragging and taunting the military.
5. Hillary Clinton’s Mysterious Double
In September, 2016, the Democratic Party presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, abruptly left the 9/11 memorial service after she appeared to have slumped. Later that day, she was seen walking out of her daughter Chelsea’s Manhattan apartment in good spirits. Conspiracy theorists immediately began suggesting that Hillary hired a body double to deceive the public about her health status.
The hashtag #HillarysBodyDouble began trending on Twitter. Twitter users pointed out that despite being sick hours earlier, Hillary suddenly looked perfectly healthy. They compared the looks of Hillary to that of Teresa Barnwell, a popular Hillary lookalike, who many believed was the double.
The conspiracy gained more traction after Teresa herself posted a picture she took outside Chelsea’s apartment with a caption that suggested that she was in New York. However, she soon took it down after realizing that many people were taking it seriously. She explained that the picture was taken weeks ago and that she was actually in Los Angeles.
4. The Devil’s Double
In the early 1990s, a man named Latif Yahia became a sensation after coming out to claim he served as Uday Hussein’s decoy. According to him, he declined when first offered the chance to serve as Uday’s double during the Iraq-Iran war. However, he was forced to agree after he was imprisoned and his family was threatened. To perfect his guise, he had to undergo surgery and mannerism training.
Yahia claimed he stood in for the murderous leader at social gatherings and political functions, while witnessing many of his atrocities. During this period, he managed to survive several assassination attempts meant for Uday. He fled to Europe in 1991 after Uday shot at him in a fit of rage over a woman.
Soon, critics began questioning his story because he provided no evidence to back it up. Members of Hussein’s inner circle denied knowing him. Yahia’s other tales, such as how he smuggled diamonds from Amsterdam, or his love affair with a Saudi Arabian princess who was later beheaded, made it more difficult to believe he was once Uday’s decoy.
3. The Dead Soldier (Turned Dictator)
In 2008, Felix Dadaev, an 88-year-old World War II veteran, was permitted by the Russian government to publish an autobiography about the time he served as Joseph Stalin’s double, thereby confirming one of the myths surrounding the dictator.
According to the book, Felix’s resemblance to the Soviet leader caught the attention of the NKVD while he was recuperating from an injury during the Second World War. They told his family he was dead and subsequently took him to Kremlin where he was to serve as one of Stalin’s political decoys – Stalin reportedly had three others.
Although he was 40 years younger, the strains of war and make-up made Felix look so much like Stalin that even close associates of the leader could barely tell the difference. He impersonated the Soviet dictator at public functions across the country and even traveled to Yalta for the conference to divert attention from Stalin, who traveled there in secret.
To perfect his mannerisms, Felix watched propaganda movies and speeches of Stalin. He also may have been trained by Alexei Diky, an actor who played Stalin in movies.
2. Is It El Chapo?
According to a poll conducted after the capture of El Chapo Guzman in 2014, 40.7% of Mexicans believed the man captured was not the notorious drug lord, compared to 42.2% who thought it was him. The poll, run by a pro-government polling agency, highlighted the distrust of the people with their government.
In his documentary Is It Chapo?, filmmaker Charlie Minn presented alleged evidence that proved the man arrested was indeed a double.
First, he disagreed with the official report that the Sinaloa cartel boss was arrested at a cheap hotel with just one bodyguard, arguing that a billionaire with access to hundreds of guards wouldn’t be found at such a place with so little protection. He also pointed out that after the capture of a drug lord there is usually an increase in gun violence in the country. However, none of that happened after Chapo’s arrest.
Asked why millions would be spent to free an alleged double after El Chapo’s escape in 2015, Minn speculated that the double may have threatened to reveal the truth after spending more time than agreed in jail. Minn dismissed DNA tests, fingerprints, and photographs that the authorities presented as proof that the man captured was El Chapo, stating they could be manipulated.
The most important argument Minn put forward was that both the US and Mexican governments knew where El Chapo had been since his first escape in 2001. He believed they chose to collude with him in order to get information about the other cartels. Another filmmaker, Angus Macqueen, agreed with Minn, stating that it was easy locating El Chapo during an interview for a documentary.
1. Hitler’s Unfortunate Double
As we have seen so far, historical villains are the most likely employer of doubles. It is therefore expected that the most prominent of them all would have his own entry.
Adolf Hitler’s paranoia during the Second World War led him to employ doubles for his safety. Among the alleged many he had, the most prominent was Gustav Weler. However, not much is known about him aside from the fact that he was hired by Hitler to serve as his cook and double.
His body was misidentified as Hitler’s by the Red Army after he was found dead in the Reich Chancellery, with a gunshot to his head. They took photographs and filmed him, not knowing that Hitler had been cremated at that time.
A servant eventually told them the body belonged to a cook. He speculated that Weler may have been killed because of his likeness to the dictator and perhaps to confuse the enemies while Hitler escaped. His body was then taken to Moscow, where it was identified and buried.