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Notorious US conman says DNA proves he's son of IRA chief

By Claire McNeilly

Published 12/02/2016

Jeremy Wilson says he now wants to be known as Jeremy Keenan, after the man he claims is his father, Brian Keenan
Jeremy Wilson says he now wants to be known as Jeremy Keenan, after the man he claims is his father, Brian Keenan
Brian Keenan
Leonardo DiCaprio as confidence trickster Frank Abagnale Jr in the movie Catch Me If You Can

A notorious US conman has insisted he is the son of late IRA chief Brian Keenan.

Jeremy Wilson, whose prowess as a confidence trickster has seen him likened to Frank Abagnale Jr -immortalised in the hit Hollywood movie Catch Me if You Can - also claims to have been an active member of the Provisionals.

The 42-year-old, currently awaiting trial in New York on forgery charges, said his American mother, Patricia Clark, had an intimate relationship with high-profile republican Keenan, beginning in 1972.

Swatragh-born Keenan, the former IRA quartermaster general and principal organiser of the mid-1970s London bombing campaign, was understood to be on the run at the time.

Wilson, who now refers to himself as Jeremy Keenan, said he learned the truth from his mother as a teenager and developed an "epistolary relationship" with the Belfast-based former IRA army council member, who was jailed for 18 years in 1980 for his involvement in the deaths of eight people, including that of Guinness Book of Records co-founder and editor Ross McWhirter, who was shot dead outside his north London home in 1975.

Keenan, who was released from prison in 1993, later used his influence to persuade the IRA high command to embrace the peace process and was central to the moves that led to the 1994 IRA ceasefire.

He died, aged 66, from cancer in Cullyhanna, Co Armagh eight years ago.

Manhattan prosecutors claim Wilson has invented dozens of aliases over a 25-year career as a professional imposter and identity thief, but American immigration lawyer Stephen Ure believes his claims about being Keenan's biological son are true.

Ure said that he received DNA samples five years ago that, according to accompanying documents, had been taken from Keenan - who had six children with his wife, Chrissie - two years before he died.

The samples, Ure added, were sent to a reputable California laboratory, with the results proving conclusively that Keenan was Wilson's father.

The New York Times recently obtained the documents, which formed part of a 2011 lawsuit Wilson filed asking a federal judge to declare that he was not an American citizen and should be deported to the UK.

This week, the newspaper reported that the genetic expert who did the DNA test confirmed that it had been done, and that the results were accurate.

Even so, Wilson's Irish-American lawyer Edward Hayes resigned this week, stating that he could not take the chance that he was being made a fool of by the confidence trickster, who is currently in New York's Rikers Island prison, awaiting trial.

"I go to Ireland all the time, that's where my ancestors are - I don't want to be embarrassed," said Hayes, who agreed to represent Wilson following his arrest on January 4 this year.

A mere six weeks earlier, Wilson had been released from a federal prison in New Hampshire, where he had served six years for identity theft after posing as a Jeremy Clark-Erskine.

It was discovered he had more than 27 aliases in five states, and that his birth certificate had been altered several times.

In the past, Wilson portrayed himself as a Scottish-born disc jockey, a Cambridge-trained thespian, a special forces officer and a professor at MIT, the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He has also posed as executives from Microsoft, British Airways and Apple, and even pretended to be a soldier seeking asylum in Canada to escape anti-Semitic attacks in the US.

Not only that, he once maintained an Northern Irish accent so well and for so long that his cellmate in an Indiana jail was convinced that he was an Ulster native. Given the number of times he has been caught, however, it is hard to call Wilson's criminal career a success.

In the mid-1990s, he served prison sentences in Ohio and Pennsylvania for forgery and theft. US immigration authorities detained him for several months in 1999 after he attempted to enter the States from Canada, and two forged passports - one Irish and one Canadian - were found in his car.

In 2001, he was sentenced to eight years in prison in Indiana after being caught running up bills of $7,400 at strip clubs and hotels on credit cards he had fraudulently obtained.

And although he managed to escape from a work-release programme in Indiana in 2006 and fled once again to Canada, he was recaptured the following year after attempting to slip over the border to visit his dying mother.

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