'Forest boy' hoax ends after he is identified as a Dutch runaway

Angry German police say 20-year-old will have to pay for his 'teenage' care by social services

Berlin

A mystery "forest boy" who duped German police and social services into believing he was alone in the world and had been living rough in the woods of central Europe for five years was identified yesterday as a 20-year-old Dutchman last seen in Holland in September.

Police in Berlin said relatives had identified the man, who claimed he only knew his first name was "Ray", as Robin van Helsum from the town of Hengelo, near the border with Germany. Police released his photograph for the first time on Wednesday. "Ray admitted his real name is Robin under questioning on Friday morning. We are 100 per cent sure because his stepmother identified him," a police spokeswoman said. "Nothing in his story was true."

A friend told police Mr van Helsum left Holland because of "personal problems". He had turned up at Berlin's city hall on 5 September last year, sporting a pageboy haircut and a brown T-shirt. He looked well-fed and was carrying a rucksack, sleeping bag and a two-man tent. His first words to officials were reportededly: "I am all alone in the world."

"Ray" claimed he had been living in forests south of Berlin for five years with his father, whom he named as Ryan. He said his father had only recently been taken ill and died in the forest. He claimed his mother, Doreen, was killed in a car accident when he was 12, and that since then, he and Ryan had slept in caves and in their tent.

He told detectives he had buried his father beneath a pile of stones in the woods. His father's last words to him were said to have been: "Walk north until you reach civilisation and then ask for help."

Police were baffled by the is tale because much of it did not add up. The tent and sleeping bag, for example, were almost new and there was little evidence of a supposed vagrant existence, as Mr van Helsum's clothes were relatively clean and he had a haircut. Whenever police asked him his surname and where he originally came from, he claimed he did not know or could not remember. "Ray" told police his first language was English, yet investigators could not identify his accent. Efforts to identify him included an attempt to find his father's body.

As the boy said he was 17, police had no option but to place him under the care of social services. His claim that his 18th birthday was due next week prompted police to release his photograph last Wednesday.

Until yesterday, the "forest boy" mystery was being compared to the legendary story of Kaspar Hauser, the 16-year-old German who turned up in Nuremberg in 1828 hardly able to speak. His identity could never be established and he was murdered under mysterious circumstances five years later.

But now the modern mystery has been laid bare as a hoax. "He was very reluctant to have his picture circulated," said police spokesman Michael Maass. "This is no joke: he appears to have deliberately tried to fool us and he will be asked to pay for the costs of his upkeep."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn