'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

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The Independent Online

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."