Authorities baffled over the identity of mystery 'forest boy'


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The Independent Online

The German woodland where an English-speaking "forest boy" claims to have spent the past five years living rough is a landscape of tree-covered hills rising to 3,000 feet, where valleys are dotted with fields and cut by rushing streams.

They were once regarded as impenetrable, but that was 800 years ago and before the region was plundered for its iron.

It is from this forest that a 17-year-old boy, known only as "Ray" (he cannot remember his last name) is believed to have emerged. He says he had been roaming there with his father until he died. The boy told authorities that he buried his father in a shallow grave and covered his body with stones. Then, heeding the advice given to him, the boy took out his compass and headed north, eventually arriving in the centre of Berlin some 200 miles to the north about two weeks later.

Police remain baffled as to his true identity. He had no passport, no identification papers. Many others are sceptical about his story of life as a forest forager.

Yesterday, those dense woods – above the town of Schlettau in German's Ore mountains that run the length of the country's south eastern border with the Czech Republic – felt eerily remote and dark even at midday because of the acre upon acre of towering fir trees which shut out the light.

At first the silence of the forest was broken only by the sound of the wind swishing through the treetops and the sound of spotted woodpeckers hammering on their trunks. But the sensation of being alone was cut short every 20 minutes or so by the crunch of hikers' boots on forest paths and the clack of their aluminium walking sticks.

Jens Nixdorf, an Ore mountain forester for more than 30 years who knows the region like the back of his hand, doubted that anyone could live rough and undetected for long periods of time in the forests.

"If there are not hikers in the woods there are hunters. They would notice anyone camping out in the wild very quickly and I or one of my colleagues would be informed about it," he told i yesterday.

Yet, the authorities are no closer as to discovering "Ray's" true identity. Berlin police nevertheless suspect that he must have spent time roaming the forests of the Ore mountains or those just over the border in the neighbouring Czech Republic. Calculating the time that he spent walking, they believe he must have come from the forests along Germany's borders with the Czech Republic, which include those of southern and northern Bohemia where the Ore mountains are located.

Linguistic experts have interviewed him extensively and say they cannot establish whether he is a native English speaker or simply learned the language at some stage. All they can say is that he speaks broken German.