By Dawna Friesen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/8/2006 7:31:05 PM ET 2006-05-08T23:31:05

For years, he lived as a British aristocrat. His family crest was proudly embossed on his stationery. He was Lord Buckingham — educated at Cambridge, with a flawless British accent.

Then in January 2005, while he was taking a ferry from France to Dover, British immigration officers ran a check of his passport. They were shocked.  His details matched those of a baby with the same name who died in 1963.

It had all been a lie.

Like in the movie “The Day of the Jackal” he was an imposter who'd stolen a dead child's identity.

He was convicted of passport fraud and jailed in a Kent prison. The man who claimed to be Christopher Buckingham fooled everyone, including his British wife and children.

“I never, ever thought that he wasn't who he said he was,” says his ex-wife, Jodi.

When his daughter and ex-wife began searching his belongings, they found a replica James Bond gun and more alter egos, including one for a “Hans Peter Schmidt.”

Then last week, after much media attention, there was a breakthrough.

An American family recognized him, and on Monday, police matched his DNA with an American: Charlie Stopford, a former Navy intelligence officer who disappeared from Orlando, Fla., in 1983 after he was convicted for trying to blow up his boss’s car.

“We didn't know where he had gone,” said his father, Charles Stopford, who appeared on NBC’s “Today” show. “It's been 23 years of worrying and concerning and deeply hoping that someday we would find him.”

He was, his father says, fascinated by things British — especially the Beatles — and was a perfect mimic of the British accent.

All along, Stopford has kept silent, revealing nothing about how and why he assumed a dead baby's identity. And since his arrest, he's had no contact with his own children — returning their letters unopened.

“It's just a big letdown,” says daughter Lindsey, “when you find out your dad has been lying to you all your life.”

But why did he do it? Only he knows.

He'll take his secret back to the U.S., where it's expected he'll be sent soon.

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