In 2019, when William Woods, who was homeless at the time, learned that someone had accumulated debt under his name and reported his concerns to a bank, he was accused of identity theft himself. William Woods then spent more than a year in prison and a mental institution. He was released on the condition that he no longer use his own name.

Woods’ misery was caused by Matthew Keirans, who was the same age. He stole William Woods’ identity in 1990 and was only exposed decades later – partly due to mistakes by American authorities. 58-year-old Keirans now faces a lengthy prison sentence.

The case began in 1988: Matthew Keirans and William Woods met as work colleagues at a hot dog cart in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Guardian reports. In fact, the two people of the same age are visually similar. In 1990, Keirans obtained a fake ID card with Woods’ name and date of birth on it.

There is no record of Keirans ever using his own name or Social Security number again after 1988. He began publicly adopting the name William Woods in 1990, according to court documents. What prompted Keirans to change his name in this way is unclear, according to an authority spokesman. However, the records reportedly indicate that he had a difficult childhood. He is said to have run away from home at the age of 16, traveled across the country, stole a car in California and was arrested in Oregon. But he never had to go to court.

Over the years, Keiran got his life together as William Woods: He got married, had a son and got a well-paid IT job at a university hospital in Iowa. His wife and son also bear the name Woods. Keirans even used a genealogy website to research William Woods’ family history. He then used this to obtain a copy of William Woods’ birth certificate.

He also applied for loans totaling more than $200,000 using the stolen identity, the Associated Press news agency (AP) reported. When the real William Woods found out about the debt in his name in 2019, he went to the bank in Los Angeles and said he didn’t want to pay it off. He presented his Social Security card and his California ID. Since there were significant amounts of money in the accounts, the branch manager asked him a series of security questions. He couldn’t answer that, so the branch manager called the police. Woods was arrested.

Keirans – who has been performing as Woods for decades – told police that he had not given anyone in California permission to access his bank accounts. The real William Woods was then accused of identity theft and false identification. A California judge found him not mentally competent to stand trial and sent him to a state mental institution where he received medication.

After 428 days in the county jail and 147 days in a psychiatric hospital, Woods was released on the condition that he no longer use the name William Woods. But William Woods continued to struggle to reclaim his identity. He eventually turned to the University of Iowa Hospital, where Keirans, aka Woods, earned more than $100,000 a year. When Keirans found out about this, he claimed in an interview that the victim was “crazy” and “needed help and instruction.”

However, Woods didn’t give up: a detective found the biological father and arranged for a comparison of DNA samples, which confirmed that he was the real William Woods. When police confronted Keiran with the DNA evidence, he simply stated, “My life is over” and “Everything is gone.”

The news shocked Keiran’s family and friends. In letters written to the court on his behalf, he was described as a good father, kind and trustworthy. “I believe Matthew’s motivation was simple: to create the family and home that he did not have when he was young,” his wife Nancy wrote.

Matthew Keirans was eventually charged with aggravated identity theft and making false statements and confessed. He now faces up to 32 years in prison for the fraud offenses. The sentence is pending.

Quellen: “Guardian”, “Associated Press”