Barry John Faulkner hoped someone would write a book about his life but the death of Australia’s most notorious conman didn’t make the news.
For more than 50 years Faulkner impersonated a doctor, a CIA agent, a pop star and US military officials, while his most regularly assumed identity was as a commercial airline pilot.
Since at least 2015, Faulkner claimed to have gone straight but he never gave up his criminal ways and spent his final months in Sydney’s Long Bay Jail due to illness.
On Monday, a coroner found that the 71-year-old died after suffering a heart attack on January 25, 2020, at the Kevin Waller Unit for the Aged and Frail.
Barry John Faulkner hoped someone would one day write a book about his life but Australia’s most notorious conman never even revealed his death. Faulkner impersonates a doctor, a CIA spy, a US military officer and an airline pilot (above).
Faulkner suffered from schizophrenia, diabetes, asthma, deep vein thrombosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, epilepsy, depression and anxiety disorders.
A few months before he died, he suffered a stroke, hernia, shortness of breath, dizziness, convulsions, paralysis on the left side of his body, headaches, slurred speech and fainting.
Faulkner’s death went unnoticed and unpublicized at the time for a man whose criminal exploits had been in the media spotlight for decades.
The closest Faulkner got to real fame is being compared to the lead character in the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, in which Leonard DiCaprio played a fake pilot.
During his career as a shyster, Faulkner was confined to Victoria, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, as well as New South Wales.
Claiming to have an IQ of 160, Faulkner appeared regularly on the television program Australia’s Most Wanted and at one point was the subject of arrest warrants in five states.
Since at least 2015, Faulkner (above) claimed to have gone straight but he never gave up his criminal ways and spent his final days crippled by illness in Sydney’s Long Bay Jail.
He had more than 80 convictions and died while awaiting trial on three counts of using a carriage service to access child pornography.
Daily Mail Australia interviewed Faulkner several times over the years, hearing his strange stories and witnessing his physical decline.
Faulkner’s first known scandal was in the late 1960s when, aged 19, he posed as a gynecologist at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and examined two pregnant women.
He later posed as a US Air Force and Marine Corps colonel, a photographer, a FedEx courier and an Olympic official, all for financial gain.
Perhaps his most daring con was pretending to be The Monkees musician Mike Nesmith, an act Faulkner claimed fooled even music guru Molly Meldrum.
But Faulkner’s most common deception was to promise unsuspecting travelers benefits like cheap duty-free goods for cash while pretending to be a pilot.
She told Daily Mail Australia that she chose the profession as her favorite disguise ‘because it’s glamorous’.
Faulkner’s forged airline resume includes piloting every passenger plane from the Boeing 777 to the Airbus A380, the helicopter gunship he flew during the Vietnam War.
Faulkner had more than 80 convictions and was facing a District Court hearing on three charges of using a carriage service to access child pornography when he died.
He maintained that he knew Richard Branson from his fictional time as chief pilot with the British tycoon’s Virgin Airlines.
In August 2015 he pleaded guilty to dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception and impersonation to commit an undisclosed offence, when he appeared in Sydney’s Waverley Local Court.
Police arrested Faulkner wearing a fake pilot’s uniform with an Emirates photo ID at a cafe in the eastern suburbs after he offered to upgrade his flight.
Faulkner bragged to managers about driving the A380 around a hotel, even without a driver’s license.
Outside court on that occasion Faulkner told Daily Mail Australia that his arrest was all a mistake and that he was in uniform because he was going to a fancy dress party thrown by Zoo Weekly magazine.
‘I’m completely retired,’ said Faulkner. ‘I regret what I have done. I probably have 18 months to live. I haven’t done anything since 2006.’
Despite his disfigured appearance in later years, Faulkner said he had a lot of money ‘but I can’t access it because it’s the proceeds of crime’.
Faulkner impersonated a pilot (left) from airlines including Emirates and Virgin Blue. He is pictured as The Monkees guitarist and songwriter Mike Nesmith in 1978.
Faulkner then said his biography would be a bestseller and as a young man said he blamed his career on deceiving people by saying he would never amount to much.
‘I wanted to prove them wrong, I could do anything,’ he said.
Faulkner claimed he consulted with American conman Frank Abagnale – whose autobiography was adapted into Catch Me If You Can – with DiCaprio, who cast him in the film.
Two years later Faulkner again said he was ‘retiring’ and settling down to ‘live a life within the law’.
By then he was sharing a first-floor flat with girlfriend Louise in the notorious Northcote public housing block in Sydney’s Surry Hills.
‘I was a pilot, I was part of the CIA, I was a surgeon – I did a lot of things,’ he told Daily Mail Australia at the time.
‘It took a lot of work but I did it because people said it was impossible, and it was exciting.
The closest Faulkner got to real fame was being compared to the lead character in the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, in which Leonard DiCaprio played a fake pilot.
‘Nothing irks me more than to see a frivolous scam, someone who didn’t do the job but gets away with it.’
Faulkner hoped young people would learn from his mistakes and avoid a life of crime.
‘They just don’t listen when you tell them what it’s going to cost them in the long run, that it’s not worth it,’ he said.
Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee heard that on the day Faulkner died he had given two sausage rolls to another inmate because he was not hungry.
His cellmate called for help around 1.30am when he woke up to find Faulkner gurgling in bed. ‘Barry can’t breathe properly, he’s fit,’ the cellmate told prison officers.
Faulkner was wheeled from cell 14 to the unit’s medical clinic but suffered cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at 2.22 pm after CPR failed.
Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee found Faulkner’s cause of death to be heart disease, with chronic pulmonary disease a contributing factor.
Faulkner’s sister spoke to the court by telephone, thanking the paramedics and prison staff who looked after her brother in his final hours.
‘I believe they did everything they could,’ she said. ‘I just want to say thank you for the care that was taken.’