The Real Jackal
“For the first time Lyndsey tells her extraordinary story.” – Mail on Sunday
Bogus lord who stole baby’s identity is former US seaman
A bogus lord who stole the identity of a dead baby has been identified as a missing US seaman. The father of the man who calls himself Christopher Buckingham said that he was “100 per cent positive” that he is the son he last saw in Florida in 1983. Detectives in Kent, where the man is being held by the Immigration Service, are awaiting DNA evidence before confirming his name. Buckingham has refused to reveal his true identity since being arrested for travelling across the Channel on a false passport last year. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison – reduced to nine months on appeal – for using the method described in the book The Day of the Jackal to steal the identity of the real Christopher Buckingham, who died in 1963 aged eight months.
Buckingham was carrying headed notepaper bearing the Duke of Buckingham’s coat of arms, last used in the 17th century, when he was arrested in Dover. He has now been identified by Barbara and Charles Stopford, from Orlando, Florida, as their son Charles. “I’ve seen the photos and I know it is him,” Mr Stopford told Sky One for its programme The Real Jackal, which is broadcast tomorrow. “I am 100 per cent positive. Charles always had an obsession with the English. “My first feeling on seeing the pictures was relief that he was alive. I knew he travelled a lot and I always feared the worst. Then I felt confused – what is all this about? “On the one hand I hope he comes back to the United States. On the other hand I want him to be happy and live his life as he wants. I do want to see him.”
Jody Doe, Buckingham’s ex-wife, who was married to him for 13 years without knowing his true identity, said his deceit was “an incredibly cruel act to comprehend”. The couple met in Germany and married before having two children. They divorced in 1997. He was working as an IT consultant in Switzerland when he was arrested. Charles Stopford disappeared at the age of 21 in 1983, the same year that Buckingham adopted the dead baby’s identity. His family said they still did not know why the former US Navy intelligence unit serviceman suddenly vanished. It also emerged that Buckingham was convicted of possessing explosives in 1983. He was placed on probation but was imprisoned for 60 days when he breached the terms of his licence.
THE 16-WORD E-MAIL THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
The end of Lyndsey Buckingham’s search for the real identity of her father came last Wednesday in an e-mail just 16 words long. Checking her inbox during a break from lectures, the 20-year-old drama student clicked on a message from an unknown sender. Junk mail, she thought – then froze as she read the compelling subject line: ‘Your father – I know him.’
As she scrolled down, she sat speechless as the computer screen filled with a family photograph of a young man surrounded by eight siblings. The man was her father. For Lyndsey this was the moment she had been waiting for since the extraordinary revelation 17 months ago that her father was not who he said he was and had spent 23 years living under an assumed identity.
Known as Christopher Buckingham, he was arrested in January last year after his passport was found to be false. It was later discovered that in 1982 he had stolen the identity of a dead baby and used the child’s birth certificate to get a National Insurance number and passport. He also styled himself as the Earl of Buckingham – a title extinct for more than 300 years.
He was jailed for passport fraud, leaving Lyndsey, her brother Edward, 17, and mother Jody, 40, bemused and distraught. But he has since steadfastly refused to say who he really is. Not even the resources of the police and security services could uncover his past. And then came the e-mail from an American, Aaron Stopford, who said that Buckingham was his brother Charles, who disappeared from his grandparents’ home in Florida in 1983. Kent police are currently carrying out DNA tests.
Now for the first time Lyndsey tells her extraordinary story: of her childhood with a strange, distant father; of the horrible realisation that she never really knew him; of her search for his identity, and of the turmoil this latest twist has burdened her with. For Lyndsey it is just the latest blow to her already shattered childhood. She was born in Germany and the family moved to Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, when she was a child.
She said: ‘We were never a particularly affectionate family. There were no cuddles from Dad that I can remember. ‘I don’t recall ever going on bike rides or day trips. My mum worked weekends so Dad would look after us. He would sit at his computer and we would go and play at our friends’ houses. I think sometimes he really didn’t have a clue what to do with us. ‘The most attention I’d get from him was when I sat on his knee at the computer. He would let me play with the keyboard and he made me a webpage. ‘He worked for Reuters in London and commuted every day – we wouldn’t see him in the week.
‘He would almost never talk about his childhood. I remember once I went through a phase of being really into Sixties pop music. I used to dress in Sixties clothes. Dad thought it was cool and told me he used to dress in flares when he was younger. He said his friend’s mum had a lava lamp that he thought was great. ‘That was probably the nearest he came to telling the truth about his past. I wonder now if that was in Florida – I always assumed it was England.’
Buckingham’s lies have had a devastating effect on Lyndsey. Barely 5ft 4in tall and looking far younger than 20, she appears vulnerable when talking about her father. And as she tries to paint a picture of her childhood with him, she struggles to think of any happy memories that include him. She said: ‘ I have a really empty feeling when I think of my childhood. It’s not a warm feeling. I’m sure there are some happy memories there but there are also a lot of sad ones.
Thinking about it I sometimes think I never really knew my dad at all.’ Lyndsey’s parents divorced when she was nine and after the breakup Buckingham vanished. She said: ‘Dad left home and we didn’t hear from him for a year. I called him three times a day for that whole time – my mum showed me the phone bill and all the calls were listed. It was quite sad to see how desperate I’d been to find him. I left messages but he never called me back.’ When he did reappear, with no explanation to his children of where he’d been, Lyndsey was unable to shake the fear he may vanish again.
As a comfort, she carried round his photograph. ‘I’ve got a photo of him from his graduation. I wanted to keep it so even if I didn’t see him for a while I would always have his picture. Because he disappeared once I suppose I always thought he might do it again. As I got older I got on better with Dad. He would ask me about my friends and what I wanted to do when I left school. ‘We’ve got quite similar senses of humour. He used to send me joke e-mails – the last one I got was in September. It was a picture of a flood in Africa that had devastated a village. George Bush is in the foreground holding up a fish, like he caught it. Dad wrote, “Eugh, wouldn’t eat that fish.”‘
When Lyndsey was 14 Buckingham moved to Switzerland and she and Edward visited him frequently. By now he was using the title Lord Buckingham. ‘He told us he was a lord but I didn’t really believe him. I thought it was just Dad being a bit mad, although I must admit I did like to imagine it was true – that would have been great. ‘He certainly didn’t live like a lord – in a castle or anything.
We would go and visit him in his flat for long weekends or during school holidays but it was pretty dull. ‘We would drive to places and shop. Then we would sit and watch films in the flat – Monty Python, which he loved, or Black Adder. Or I would flick through music channels while he sat on his computer – just like when I was little. ‘It was OK, though, because we were spending time together. He had his flaws – if he didn’t like a question he would just ignore you – but that was just Dad.’
But when he was arrested, Lyndsey was no longer able to dismiss her father’s behaviour or silence about his past. She said: ‘When he was first arrested a little bit of me thought it must be a mistake. But it all began to make sense. ‘When we were in Switzerland he would avoid crossing the border into Germany in the day. He would wait until last thing at night or early morning when the guards would have their feet on the desk and just wave us through. ‘His passport was revoked in 2003 but I never knew that. I used to laugh at his photo and the House of Lords wallet he kept his passport in. ‘Little did I know that a few months later I would be looking at his passport photo in the newspapers.’
She admits to realising his whole identity was a lie – but she was too scared to confront him. She said: ‘I think I knew from early on that he had taken this birth certificate. Between his arrest and the trial it didn’t really bother me because my dad was still around. ‘I could pretend it wasn’t happening. My dad was doing the same thing – pretending it wasn’t happening. I never asked him outright about it. I would say, “How’s the passport thing?” and make out I thought it had just expired or something.’ She last saw Buckingham in September, 2005. ‘He came to Huddersfield where I’m studying at university. I needed some furniture so we went to Ikea and then he put it together for me. When he left I gave him a hug and a kiss in the car. We said we’d speak soon but I’ve not heard from him since.’
Two months later he was jailed for passport fraud and she said: ‘It didn’t really hit me until November when he was jailed. I remember that being the toughest point because until then I could pretend it wasn’t real. After that, the whole world knew.’ His silence has left Lyndsey frustrated at not being able to get any answers about his life – or her heritage. And desperate to find the truth she resorted to investigating his life.
Along with RedBack Films – who have made a TV documentary about his extraordinary life – she discovered a PO Box and storage room belonging to Buckingham in Milton Keynes. She said: ‘It was bizarre. He had this German identity card with the name Hans Schmidt or something. He also had documents with Alexi Ruminov printed on them with his PO Box address. ‘I just thought, “My dad is insane.” I just couldn’t work out what he was doing with all these IDs – has he got a multiple personality disorder or something? How many different lives is he living? How many identities does he have? ‘I can’t begin to get inside his head to work out what he was doing. I sometimes feel like I never knew my father at all. ‘In his storage room he had a practice target for pellets and an air gun which looked like a Walther PPK which James Bond uses. The shots on the targets were all dead centre. I never saw him shoot but Mum said he was a crack shot.’ Then a few months after discovering his other aliases, another more crucial breakthrough came.
The Stopford family in Florida, who had been searching for their son Charles since he vanished in 1983, found a picture of the mysterious ‘Lord Buckingham’ on the internet and quickly realised it was him. They found Lyndsey’s e-mail address through an internet search and last week got in touch.
Lyndsey, who hopes to join the Royal Shakespeare Company after finishing university, said: ‘I went to check my e-mails in a break from lectures. I sometimes get random emails from weirdos so I ignored the first one in my inbox because I didn’t recognise the address. ‘I noticed an e-mail with the subject “Your father – I know him.” I opened it and saw it was from a man saying he was my dad’s brother. He sent me the family portrait and all I could see was my dad’s face taking over the screen. ‘I just burst into tears. It was so overwhelming seeing a family photo of him with other people – his family.’
Then she received a third e-mail from her ‘grandfather’. ‘It said he was my dad’s father. He asked if me and my brother were OK and said he wanted to get to know us. He signed it “Grandad” which felt strange – I’m not used to having grandparents on my father’s side. ‘I replied and asked what my dad’s real name and birthday were and also information about his childhood and why he left. ‘He told me my dad was intelligent, smart and considerate. He said he was fascinated with England and The Beatles. He’d been in the US Navy but he was discharged. ‘Apparently, he wasn’t sailor material, whatever that means. I guess these are things I’ll have to find out. And now there’s someone who is willing to talk.’ Among the revelations will be the circumstances around his disappearance from America.
Charles, then 21, had been in trouble with police while working in an Orlando Burger King restaurant. After a row with his boss, he tried to blow up his car with a pipe bomb. He was put on probation. Last night Buckingham’s mother Barbara McKay said: ‘I’m sure the thing that really changed him was our separation. ‘Charles was devastated when our marriage broke up. He idolised his father and they were very close, but he blamed him. I think all my children did. Charles brooded on it and within three years, he had vanished.’ The irony that Buckingham could be American is not lost on Lyndsey. ‘He hated Americans – he said they were stupid and loud. My mum’s great-uncle was married to an American and Dad didn’t like her because of that. But he did love Reese’s peanut butter cups – I was practically raised on them.’
She smiles for the first time in the interview at the childhood memory. Lyndsey is now hoping to get to know her father’s family. She is convinced DNA tests will show he is their son – and finally provide her with answers about her own identity. Lyndsey said: ‘I’ve got no intention of changing my name – to quote Shakespeare, what’s in a name? ‘At the end of the day I am who I am because of the things I’ve experienced. My name doesn’t mean anything. It’s on my birth certificate so it’s legally mine. ‘I want to hear who he is from my dad, but if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll ever see Dad when he’s let out of prison. He will just want to avoid any questions. ‘I find that incredibly hurtful that my father is willing to cut us off because he doesn’t want to answer a simple question – why.’
BOGUS LORD IS OUR SON, SAY FAMILY OF MISSING U.S. SPY
These are the pictures which could unmask the man who has pretended to be an aristocrat for more than 20 years. ‘Lord Christopher Buckingham’ has been behind bars since January 2005 when he was arrested as he entered the country at Dover using a fraudulent passport.
He claimed to hold a peerage which has been defunct since 1687. He cannot be deported as he refuses to reveal his true identity – even to his own ex-wife and children. Theories about him include claims that he is a former East German spy. But now an American family has come forward to claim he is in fact former American naval intelligence officer Charles Stopford.
Photographs obtained for a Sky One documentary due to be broadcast on Sunday appear to show a resemblance between the young Stopford and Buckingham. Stopford disappeared, aged 21, from his grandmother’s home in Orlando, Florida, in 1983 – a year before ‘Lord Buckingham’ first surfaced in Germany, claiming to be a 21-year-old English aristocrat. His family say he dreamt of being a royal, had perfected an English accent, and briefly contacted them several years later to say he was in Europe living under the name Christopher Buckingham. He said he had a wife and a baby was on the way. Buckingham’s ex-wife is said to possess a photo given to her by her husband which is identical to one treasured by Stopford’s family. Kent Police last night confirmed they were talking to Interpol and the U.S. authorities to obtain fingerprint and DNA records of Charles Stopford. An officer was also talking to the American’s family.
The missing man’s father, also called Charles Stopford, said last night that he was ‘100 per cent positive’ that Christopher Edward Buckingham was my son. ‘Charles always had an obsession with the English – maybe because he knew that my ancestry is English,’ he said. ‘My first feeling on seeing the pictures was relief that I knew my son was alive. Then I felt confused – what is all this about? That will remain the biggest question – why would he do this to us?’
Also bursting with questions are ‘Buckingham’s’ ex-wife Jody, of Northamptonshire, whom he divorced in 1997 after 14 years together, and their children Lyndsey, 20, and Edward, 17. She said last night: ‘If it’s established that Chris is a member of the Stopford family then it’s exciting for Lyndsey and Edward. They’ll have a whole new family to embrace.’ ‘Lord Buckingham’ created his identity using the technique made famous by the Frederick Forsyth novel The Day of the Jackal – by obtaining a copy of a dead British child’s birth certificate, and using it to get a passport. His choice was the identity of Christopher Edward Buckingham, who died aged eight months in August 1963 – and it was under that name that Buckingham met Jody Doe, a Canadian, in Germany. He told her he was the orphan of British diplomats killed in a plane crash, educated at Harrow and Cambridge, and they set up home together in Britain. After their divorce, he worked as a computer consultant in Switzerland. He even boasted a coat of arms. His lies came to light only when a security check at Calais last year queried his passport. He was jailed for passport fraud, and since his sentence ended has been held at an immigration centre near Heathrow.
Then, on Wednesday, Barbara Stopford in Florida received a silent call from an unknown number. Wondering if it was her missing son, she asked a daughter to search for the name ‘Christopher Buckingham’ on the Internet – and swiftly found the mysterious Lord Buckingham’s picture. The Stopfords then found Lyndsey Buckingham via the Internet, and contacted the authorities.
Charles Stopford was the eldest of nine children. He was born in 1962 in New Jersey, before moving to Florida with his family, and after leaving school at 18 joined the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer. After two years’ service, during which time he became increasingly secretive, he was discharged and returned to Orlando – before suddenly disappearing. A spokesman for the family said that one of the last occasions he was in touch, Charles had told them he was living in Europe under the name Christopher Buckingham.
Buckingham’s daughter Lyndsey said last night: ‘I have contacted the Stopfords and have been incredibly touched by their kindness and the information they have been able to provide me with.’ The photographs of Stopford were obtained by RedBack Films for the Sky One documentary The Real Jackal, due to be shown tomorrow.
US couple: mystery ‘earl’ is our son
An American couple has came forward claiming to be the estranged parents of a “bogus earl” who commited a Day of the Jackal-style identity theft. The couple from Orlando, Florida, said they recognised pictures of the self-styled Earl of Buckingham, who was jailed in England for 21 months in November for stealing the identity of a baby who died in 1963. Theories about the true identity of the man without a past have circulated since he was convicted last year under his assumed name of Christopher Edward Buckingham.
One story claimed that he was a spy in the former East Germany who secretly defected to the west. Another said that evidence of his true identity was kept in a Swiss safe deposit box, an echo of the plot of the thriller The Bourne Identity.
But, according to Charles and Barbara Stopford, he is in fact an anglophile American citizen who was living with his grandmother before disappearing without explanation in 1983.
The couple contacted the Times newspaper after seeing a photograph of Buckingham on the paper’s website and noting a striking resemblance to their son. “I’ve seen the photos and I know it is him,” his father told Sky One, in a programme to be broadcast at the weekend. “Charles always had an obsession with the English, maybe because he knew that my ancestry is English.
“My first feeling on seeing the pictures was relief that I knew my son was alive. I knew he travelled a lot and I always feared the worst. Then I felt confused – what is all this about? That is the biggest question and will remain the biggest question – why would he do this to us?”
Kent police have asked Interpol to check his DNA and fingerprints against the records of the Stopfords’ son, who was named Charles Albert Stopford. But the suggestion of espionage has not yet been eliminated. Mr Stopford also said that his son had worked for US naval intelligence before his disappearance at the age of 21.
He is thought to have taken the name Christopher Buckingham from the headstone of a baby who died on a caravan holiday in 1963. After his arrest, police found notepaper in his car describing him as Lord Buckingham of Little Billing, Northamptonshire, and in his initial interview with police he claimed to have a seat in the House of Lords.
During his long period of living under his assumed identity he worked as an IT consultant, married a Canadian woman and had two children. His former wife, Jody Doe, told the programme that his double life was “incredibly cruel”. “I can’t even begin to understand why Chris isolated us and himself from his family for all those years, or denied his children the opportunity of growing up with an extended loving family,” she said.
His passport was revoked in 2003 after a security trawl for documents that matched existing death certificates, but he was not arrested until Kent police noticed him using the cancelled passport when he attempted to enter the country at Dover last January.
A BOGUS aristocrat was named yesterday as a former US Navy spy who vanished 23 years ago. The silent mystery man, who styles himself the Earl of Buckingham, has refused to reveal his true identity since he was jailed in November last year.
But he has now been named as Charles Stopford – the eldest of nine children of Charles and Barbara Stopford – who left Florida in 1983. Mr Stopford, who saw photos of his 44-year-old “son” on a UK newspaper website, told Sky One yesterday: “I’m 100 per cent positive it’s him. “Charles was always obsessed with the English. “My first feeling was relief that he was alive. I’d feared the worst. But the biggest question is why would he do this to us?”
His daughter Rebecca added: “My brother liked to speak in an English accent. I think he always wanted to be English.” The family claims Buckingham was once a member of a US Navy intelligence unit. Buckingham’s former wife Jody Doe – mother of his two children Lyndsey, 20, and Edward, 17 – was stunned. She said: “This is an incredibly cruel act to comprehend, and one which will take a long time to forgive. “I can’t begin to understand why Chris isolated us and himself from his family for all those years.”
Police said yesterday they were in contact with Interpol and US authorities to obtain fingerprints and DNA checks. But a spokesman said: “It would be wrong to leap to conclusions before we have firm evidence.” Buckingham vanished from the US aged 21 while living with his grandmother in Orlando. The following year, now an IT consultant, he turned up in Germany where he met Jody. They moved to Northampton and divorced in 1997.
Buckingham’s web of deceit unravelled after a passport check last year.
He was arrested at Dover where he told police he was Lord Buckingham. Though he produced headed notepaper, the title has not existed since 1687.
It later emerged he had copied an idea from the best-seller Day of the Jackal and stolen the identity of Christopher Buckingham, whose name he found on a tombstone.
Baby Christopher, of Westminster, died aged eight months in 1963. Buckingham was jailed for 21 months in November for passport fraud. His sentence was cut on appeal. In February, he was released into the custody of the UK Immigration Service. Since then, he has been held at Elmley jail, Kent.