Germany's mysterious 'feral child' is neither

Forest boyBERLIN -- Call it the case of the Lying Dutchman.

Nine months ago, a young man calling himself Ray showed up at Berlin’s city hall, claiming that he had been living in the woods for the past five years. He and his father had begun their nomadic sylvan existence after his mother died, he said, and now his father had passed away too. He spoke little German but fluent English, said he was about 17 years old and didn’t know his last name.

The press and the German public were captivated by the story of the feral child, which brought to mind European folk tales involving children raised in the forest, as well as the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a youth who appeared in Nuremberg in 1828 claiming an isolated childhood in a dark cell. Hauser's story was immortalized by filmmaker Werner Herzog in "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" in 1974.

Only Ray’s story isn’t true. He isn’t even Ray.

Berlin police said Friday that a Dutch television viewer who saw the young man on TV and a former roommate had both identified him as a 20-year-old Dutchman named Robin. Citing privacy laws, German and Dutch police did not reveal his full name, but a Dutch state broadcaster identified him as Robin van Helsum, from the Dutch town of Hengelo.

“Ray has confessed that he’s Robin,” said a Berlin police spokesman, according to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. “Nothing about his story is true.” 

“Ray” had claimed that he and his father had roamed through the woods for about five years with a map and compass, sleeping in holes and tents. His father, he said, had died in August, and Ray had buried him under some stones in the forest.

A Robin van Helsum, born in 1992, was listed as missing since Sept. 2 –- three days before "Ray" showed up in Berlin -- on the Dutch website Vermist.nl, according to the Associated Press. Robin "left after leaving a farewell note. He was last seen traveling with a friend to Berlin. Since then every trace of him is gone," the entry says.

Earlier this week, Berlin police released a photo of "Ray" hoping to produce leads to his identity. Reports said that he was in the care of child services, was going to school and used a cellphone and laptop computer with no problem.

"Everything gives the impression that he was not far away from civilization for years," a police spokesman was quoted as saying.

Police are looking into possible fraud charges against the man.

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-- Aaron Wiener

Photo: A police photo of "Ray," the young man who showed up in Berlin last August claiming to be a teenager who had lived in the forest for five years. Credit: Police handout / EPA

 
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