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10 Strange Cases Of People Pretending To Be Doctors

by Robert Grimminck
fact checked by Jamie Frater

At some point in some everyone’s lives, they lie about what they do for a living. For most people, it’s just for fun or to get out of an awkward conversation, but for others, it’s part of a scam or con. Not many grifters assume the identity of such highly trained professionals, yet these 10 individuals were able to convince people they were doctors, sometimes with devastating results.

10 Leander Tomarkin

Born in 1895 in Switzerland, Leander Tomarkin never really tried hard in school. His marks were lackluster, and he dropped out of university while studying chemistry—that was the extent of his education and medical training. He spent most of his time trying to invent potions and other cures in his father’s laboratory. One of the medicines he developed was called “Antimicrobum” and was meant to fight pneumonia.

He gained international recognition in 1922 when he offered to cure Pope Benedict XV of his pneumonia. The pope died before Tomarkin could treat him, but the offer made him famous. This led him to treat the cousin of Victor Emmanuel III, who was suffering from pneumonia. Victor was so impressed by Tomarkin’s treatment that he made him the family’s personal physician.

After his success, Tomarkin traveled to the United States and started the Tomarkin-Foundation Chemistry Research. He planned and organized conferences in 1930 and 1931, when Albert Einstein stepped in as honorary president and presided over the meeting. In 1939, industrialized antibiotics became the norm and there was no need for Antimicrobum. Tomarkin attempted other inventions but never succeeded.

9 Kristina Ross

breast exams
In late 2009 and early 2010, in at least two separate incidents at bars in Boise, Idaho, a “plastic surgeon” named “Berlyn Aussieahshowna” approached two different women and offered them free breast exams. She used medical terms and even gave them a number to call for a follow-up. The women consented to the exam, and one even exposed her breasts to the “doctor” in the washroom. However, when they called the phone number Aussieahshowna gave them, the employees at the real plastic surgery center to whom the number belonged said they had never heard of her and contacted the police.

The police interviewed the two victims, which led them to Kristina Ross. Upon her arrest, the police made an interesting discovery: Kristina Ross had a criminal record. She had served two years for aggressive battery in a maximum security prison—for men. It turns out that Ross was born a man and was actually a transgender woman. She was charged with practicing medicine without a license and given 360 days in prison.

8 Francisco Rendon

For some people, going to the dentist is one of the most terrifying rituals of contemporary life, and the dentistry practice that was run by Francisco Rendon was a living nightmare. Going into his “office,” things looked suspicious. For starters, it was located between an auto body shop and a scrap metal facility. The office had two rooms: a waiting room and the examination room. When performing an examination, he asked his patients sit down on a leather office chair and spit into a garbage can instead of a sink.

When police raided the office, they found he was keeping syringes and painkillers there. One of his tools was described as similar to a machine used to polish metal. Even crazier, they found five people waiting to see Rendon in the waiting room. He claimed to have a dental license from Mexico, but he was charged with providing medical services without a license.

7 Nora Zacardas

Some people aren’t just in it for the money—they desperately want to be someone different. Nora Zacardas of New South Wales, Australia seems to be one of those people. She started off by pretending to be a psychiatrist in the ‘90s and charged “clients” thousands of dollars in fees. She was arrested and convicted of those crimes, but she was just getting started. Things got much more serious in the late 2000s, when Zacardas wanted to “feel special.” She told her friends and neighbors that she was a medical intern, and there appeared to be no reason not to believe her. She even performed examinations on her friends, going as far as giving one person drugs.

When she accompanied her friends to the hospital, she convinced doctors at two different hospitals that she was a medical student, and they allowed her to watch the procedures. She even convinced her own physician of 15 years, who said she would set Zacardas up with a job once she finished medical school.

Her web of lies wasn’t destroyed until one of her friends and the mother of one of her “patients” called the Medical Board of New South Wales and discovered that she had no medical training whatsoever. In 2011, she was sentenced to nine months in prison.

6 Ernest Addo

In February 2012, Agape Senior Primary Care hired Ernest Addo as a physician. Over the span of the next six months, Addo saw over 500 patients at nursing home facilities in Georgia and South Carolina. There were no complaints or suspicions about him until he quit his post suddenly on August 21, 2012. That is when things completely fell apart.

Addo quit because he received a phone call from the wife of a friend. (This friend happened to be a real physician.) While she was going through her husband’s mail, she found a credit card bill that didn’t belong to him, so she called and asked Addo about it. When confronted, he admitted to stealing his friend’s identity in order to practice medicine. He was able to practice without suspicion because he had studied medicine in Belize but never graduated. He pled guilty to identity theft and fraud.

5 Keith Allen Barton

When it comes to terminal illness, people can get desperate. If someone calls themselves a doctor and claims to have a cure for your disease, you may be willing to believe anything they say. Such was the case with Keith Allen Barton in Le Mesa, California. Barton, who had no medical training, told people that he could cure serious diseases like cancer and HIV. He claimed to have 200 doctors on staff and surgeons located in Tijuana. The closest he came to being a doctor was having the same name as a doctor who was practicing in California.

Preying on some of the most vulnerable people in society, Barton convinced a woman who was suffering from an auto-immune disease to have her teeth and part of her jaw surgically removed (not by him, thankfully). He then gave her a treatment called “dendritic cellular therapy,” which gave the woman nothing but a $32,000 bill. In another case, he told a woman that he could cure her and her two children of HIV. She paid him $18,000, and her nine-year-old daughter died from not getting proper treatment.

The police finally caught up with him when an undercover officer met with Barton and the fake doctor claimed on videotape that he could cure the officer’s recurring colon cancer. He was convicted of practicing medicine without a license and fraud and given a six-year sentence.

4 Gerald Barnbaum

In 1958, Gerald Barnbaum graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy. He worked as a pharmacist until 1976, when his license was revoked after he and 10 other people were arrested for Medicaid fraud. That same year, he changed his name from Gerald Barnbaum to Gerald Barnes, which was the same name as a practicing orthopedic surgeon, and moved to California. In 1978, he got a job as a physician at the Pacific Southwest Medical Group in Irvine. He worked for over a year until December 26, 1979, when 29-year-old John Alfred McKenzie went to see Barnbaum. McKenzie complained of dry mouth, suddenly weight loss, dizziness, and insatiable thirst. These symptoms point to uncontrolled diabetes, but instead of sending him to the emergency room, Barnbaum told him to go home and not to eat candy. McKenzie’s body was found two days later, after he died from complications related to diabetes.

Barnbaum was arrested and sentenced to three years for involuntary manslaughter and spent 18 months in prison. One would think that killing a patient and going to prison would be enough for him to stop the charade, but once he was released on parole, he started practicing medicine again. He was arrested twice more for practicing medicine without a license and identity theft and was sent back to prison.

In 1995, he was out of prison and landed a job working at Executive Health Group doing physicals and checkups, where many of his patients were FBI agents. He was exposed within a year and arrested. He pled guilty to mail fraud and was given 10 years. However, during a prisoner transfer, Barnbaum escaped from the van, and again took up medicine while on the lam. He was arrested weeks later and another two and a half years were added to his sentence. He is currently set for release in 2018.

3William Hamman

William Hamman is one of those people who seemed to be larger than life. Not only was he a commercial airline pilot, but he was also a highly respected cardiologist. He claimed he had a PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and 15 years of experience in the field.

Hamman spent most of his working career as a pilot for United Airlines. In his spare time, he spoke at medical conventions and taught doctors about issues like patient safety and how to use operation simulators. He spoke to some of the most well-respected cardiologists in America and impressed them. Over the span of his career as a doctor, he even managed to publish six papers. Hamman was impressive on almost every level to people who had been doctors for years.

Hamman’s multi-decade deception came to an end when he applied for a grant. The facility looked into his background and found he was missing a little piece of credential doctors need: a medical degree. The Associated Press followed up on the investigation of Hamman’s credentials and found that not only did he not have an MD, he never completed a residency or a fellowship, let alone the 15 years of experience he claimed to have. He did go to medical school for a few years but dropped out.

The revelations shocked the medical community, and United Airlines grounded him even though his credentials as a pilot weren’t in question. After he was outed as a fraud, the American Medical Association agreed at first to allow him to continue leading seminars but change his credentials to read “Captain” instead of “Doctor.” However, media scrutiny and intense pressure forced them cancel his scheduled appearance. Luckily, there is no evidence that he performed on any patients.

2 Oneal Ron Morris

Some people are so desperate to change their appearance that they will go to extraordinary lengths in order to achieve the look they want. One group of women were so desperate for feminine-looking curves that they took a massive risk and went to Oneal Ron Morris.

Morris, a transgender woman who went by the name Duchess, was specializing in giving women injections to enhance their curves. Duchess would visit the women equipped with scrubs and a stethoscope and inject what authorities believe was a mix of Fix-a-Flat, rubber cement, mineral oil, and caulk. She closed their wounds using superglue and cotton balls. Despite the immense danger of her procedures, she was operational from 2007–2011.

One transgender woman, Rajee Narinesingh, paid Duchess $3,000 to inject the toxic concoction into her face. Her face swelled and developed a massive pus-filled blister. She said she looked like “a monster” and was afraid to go outside. Since the “procedure,” she has undergone softening injections and laser treatments but is still permanently scarred. Another woman, 31-year-old mother Shatarka Nuby, went to see Morris for injections in her buttocks and breasts. About a month after the injections, Nuby died from massive systemic silicone migration.

Morris was arrested for practicing medicine without a license and manslaughter. She was given a sentence of one year for destroying Narinesingh’s face and is awaiting trial for manslaughter, for which she faces 14 years in prison.

1 Jean-Claude Romand

To all his friends and family, Jean-Claude Romand was a doctor who worked for the World Health Organization and specialized in a heart condition called arteriosclerosis. The problem was that Romand never passed his first-year medical exam. Instead of retaking it, Romand just told everyone he passed and pretended to go to school. He even completed all of the same reading and assignments as the other students, but he wasn’t enrolled in the classes.

Without a medical license, Romand never had a job as a doctor, anywhere, let alone the World Health Organization. Even so, after taking his kids to school every day, Romand drove to what he claimed was his office. Instead of working, he wandered around, read in his car, or hung out in cafes all day. He got free information from the local WHO facility in Prevessin-Moens, France, where he lived. He used this information to appear knowledgeable when discussing his work with friends and family. Sometimes, he would say he was traveling to a medical conference, but would just stay in a hotel in Geneva, which was a short drive away. In the hotel room, he read medical textbooks and informational books about the places he was supposed to be visiting. He did this for an astonishing 18 years, including pretending to be in medical training for 12 years.

In order to survive and support his lifestyle, Romand convinced his wife’s parents to sell their apartment and give him the money to “invest.” He also told his own parents and mistress about these good investment opportunities, who contributed their life savings to fund his lies. In late 1992, his mistress demanded her money back, but he had spent most of it. In desperation, Romand hatched a bloody plan. On January 9, 1993, he beat his wife to death with a rolling pin in their home as his children slept. When his two children woke up, he spent the day with them before shooting them in the head that night. The next day, he drove over to his parents’ house, ate with them, and then shot them and their dog dead. That night, he met with his mistress and attacked her with tear gas and a stun gun. She was able to convince him to stop, and he tried to explain that he was acting out because he was sick. Romand dropped her off and returned home to the house that contained the bodies of his family, where he took a handful of weak sedatives, set the house on fire, and fell asleep.

Romand survived the fire and the attempted overdose. He was arrested, convicted, and given a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 22 years. He is eligible to apply for parole in 2015.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian crime-fiction writer. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertGrimminck and Facebook or visit his website.

fact checked by Jamie Frater