In the history of military service, there are some who seem to represent great valor, but are actually among the most despicable of society’s criminal ranks. Others are simple frauds, fakes who sometimes manage to trick society’s most influential. We profile those noteworthy service personnel who were either criminals on another level, sophisticated imposters claiming extra honor despite unremarkable service, or common crooks seeking to carve out a cushy existence with bizarre fabrications.
10. Russell Williams
Formerly a respected family man, decorated Canadian Air Force Pilot, colonel and commander of Canada’s largest military air base, English-born Russell Williams was also found to be one of Canada’s most vicious and twisted criminals. A sex offender, serial killer, and home invader, Williams was convicted on a staggering 88 charges, including murdering two women, committing sexual assault during a home invasion two times, and repeated instances of underwear collection from homes. All of his medals were stripped, he was sentenced to prison, and he was removed from the Air Force under “service misconduct,” considered the most serious level of breach.
He broke into, or attempted to break into, 82 residences, even assaulting a new mother with a baby in one case. He was considered so disgraceful that the millitary police made a point of burning his uniform. Williams’ receipt of his military pension and the amount to be awarded to surviving victims through lawsuits have caused considerable legal upheaval in Canadian politics, victims advocacy groups, and the courts. Sentenced to two concurrent life terms without parole for 25 years, which some might still see as lenient but is the maximum parole ineligibility term in Canada, Williams had been highly honored and held great responsibilities, even flying royalty including Queen Elizabeth II. While in custody he attempted suicide with a stuffed toilet paper role.
9. M. Larry Lawrence
Real estate developer, apparent veteran war hero (based on his bold and admirable claims), and also the American ambassador to Switzerland, M. Larry Lawrence was a noteworthy ex-serviceman, except for a little problem – his claim to fame was quite false. The lie was so bad that Lawrence’s body was dug up; that is, disinterred after the fraud was found out.
He had been buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery based on his professed service in World War II as a seaman, first class with the merchant marine. Yet, such a title was not one given to merchant mariners. When Lawrence passed away from medical causes in 1996, President Bill Clinton gave his eulogy as he was buried at Arlington, which was the place reserved for the most honored of American service personnel. On December 12, 1997, Arlington National Cemetery was visited by gravediggers, who removed the tombstone adorned with false claims, and the body of Lawrence.
8. Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt
German imposter extraordinaire Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt was born in 1849 in Tilsit, Prussia, which became Sovetsk, Kaliningrad Oblast, part of modern-day Russia. Voigt was actually a shoemaker with a history of theft and forgery, yet he portrayed himself as a prestigious officer of the Prussian military. With his bogus qualifications and pretense of militant authority, Voigt did not just seek recognition like many military imposters.
Instead, pretending to a captain, which led to his dubious title “Der Hauptmann von Köpenick,” or The Captain of Köpenick, Voigt embarked on a heist that could only be described as audacious and spectacular. Claiming his military authority backed by a flea market-sourced captain’s uniform, he did not just rob the town of Köpenick, but made arrests under bogus authority, detaining the treasurer and mayor, then making off 4,000 marks from the treasury. He became a folk hero in later years, after serving a small amount of prison time despite the significance of the crime due to a pardon by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Voigt remains immortalized by a statue in the community where the crime took place.
7. Jack Livesey
Jack Livesey advised filmmakers on military depiction excellence best practices and wrote history literature, all based on his 20-year history as a parachutist with the British Army. Except that, while he did indeed serve, he was simply a cook. We will let you decide whether jumping over enemy territory or stirring soup better qualifies one to write and speak authentically from the perspective of a war hero. Livesey was described by the BBC as a historian who boasted about his exploits through the use of a website. Based in Cambridgeshire, Livesey stated on his website that he “joined the Army, where, thanks to his shooting skills, he found himself in the Parachute Regiment.”
The bogus exploits took him far enough to be interviewed by BBC at the time when Britain was engaged in the 25th anniversary honoring of the Falklands War. His further claims consisted of winning the Military Medal while in the Parachute Regiment, unsurprising given the embellished description of excellence in the first place. His website went on to declare, “This was his life for the next 20 years, including five tours of duty in Northern Ireland, where he won the MM, and the Falklands War, where he served with the 2nd Battalion.”
6. George Dupre
George Dupre was a Canadian who claimed he had been a British Special Operations Executive who was deployed in World War II. He also claimed to have worked with the French Resistance. Yet that was quite far from the truth. His claims were extraordinary and they centered on his supposed personal crusade against the Nazi regime. Allegedly, the brave Dupre went up against the Reich disguised as a “village idiot,” and suffered torture from the German Gestapo as his punishment.
Only… there was no Gestapo encounter for Dupre in his life. The story had been broadcast widely in Canada and told to scouts and service clubs, fascinating audience members of all ages. The story of Dupre as an agent had been made into a book by former war correspondent Quentin Reynolds in 1953, titled “The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk.” Sales took off, but when the hoax was exposed, the desire to take the book out of circulation was not there. So, enterprising publishers simply moved the book into the fiction category… and it continued to sell well!
5. Joseph Ellis
A well-liked American professor, Joseph Ellis won a Pulitzer Prize as a historian and writer. Yet, he had been trying to inspire students with stories of his time as an American soldier in the Vietnam War while teaching at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts. He authored his book “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation,” which won him the Pulitzer; yet it only took a couple of months before an article written in the Boston Globe revealed the phony stories of military service peddled by Ellis.
The punishment for the charade came through his academic overseers and included one year of suspension from teaching without pay. His course lectures had even been filled with stories offered firsthand of paratroop platoon leader experience, when his military service had only involved three years of history instruction completed at West Point. The questionable sessions were part of his course, “Vietnam and American Culture.”
4. Richard Fancy
Richard Fancy may have had military experience, but this Canadian veteran made himself out to be deserving of decorations significantly fancier than he was actually entitled to wear. Fancy was a veteran — a retired warrant officer to be exact — but he put on medals that he had never received while participating in a 2014 Remembrance Day ceremony. The creative and questionable things people will do to get just a bit more attention than they deserve never fail to intrigue.
Fancy was honored originally by legitimately being appointed to the Order of Military Merit, but that was not enough to satisfy him. He wanted more. Fancy pleaded guilty at court martial in 2016 to three counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for wearing the Somalia Medal, General Campaign Star South-West Asia Medal, and also the operational jump wings in the role of Squadron Sergeant Major of the Halifax Rifles on Remembrance Day. Not one of those three medals were his to wear. As a result, Fancy was stripped of his Military Merit in the ensuing legal proceedings by Governor David Johnston.
3. Kenneth James French
Sometimes getting dates of service wrong sends up a red flag. Wearing medals that are too historic can only further heighten suspicions. A certain RCMP officer, who was also a veteran himself from the Afghanistan conflict, was on his honeymoon but still had policing on his mind. He noted a strange veteran by the name of James French, whose service was described in a media article, accompanied by a photo which, of course, displayed his medals.
Yet the officer was struck by the discrepancy between the dates of service claimed by Mr. French and the dates that should apply to the medals in the article photo. Upon investigation, French was charged under what are popularly termed “Stolen Valour” legal provisions and ordered not to wear the bogus decorations. French was alleged to have even applied to receive subsidized housing services via his claims of veteran status in addition to mooching petty amounts from local legions on two occasions.
2. Peter Toth
In one of the strangest cross-border cases of war heroes who simply weren’t, Peter Toth, an Alberta, Canada man claimed to be an American army veteran holding high honors. He claimed that he was a wounded veteran despite having never actually been in combat. Eventually, the enterprising Mr. Toth was caught in the lie and charged with sentenced for his crimes to a hefty 18 months of probation as well as 200 hours of community service.
Veterans in Canada cheered for the arrest, seeing it as a huge insult to legitimate veterans who served and either risked or gave up their life and well-being. The Red Deer resident entered guilty pleas to charges of unlawful use of military medals as well as the holding of a false military certificate. Duty Counsel Mark Daoust stated to the court the following about Toth: “He knows it was wrong. He accepts responsibility.”
Stolen Valour Canada was the organization that first identified Toth as a potential fraud. No less than 10 veterans were at the hearing to see justice served.
1. Jonathan Keith “Jack” Idema
Few fake war hero stories are as strange and pathetic, yet fully nefarious as that of Jonathan Keith “Jack” Idema. He was indeed a U.S. Army Reserve special operations officer (non-commissioned), yet he engaged in atrocious behavior as a sort of self-proclaimed terrorist hunter. Acting like a terrorist himself, Idema captured and tortured targets under the auspices of his self-created role as the overseer of a secret prison camp he established himself. He was allegedly hostile towards Afghan people in general, broadly using the terrorist label.
The game was up when Idema was tried and found guilty of torture of Afghan citizens and operating the private prison. While the Afghan government imprisoned him for a term that was to be 10 years, President Hamid Karzai pardoned him in 2007. The initial scene discovered had been horrific, with captives hung upside down, tied to chairs, and beaten. These crimes were justified by Idema under what was found to be a blatantly false claim of U.S. military authorization.