German ‘Wild Boy’ Sentenced for Fraud

October 3, 2013

In 2011 a young man wandered into a German police station and told office workers, "I'm all alone in the world, I don't know who I am. Please help me." He claimed he had amnesia and had been living alone in the forest for at least five years. I wrote a piece about it for Discovery News; you can find it HERE.

According to MSNBC, "The boy, who authorities say is in good health and calls himself Ray, showed up in Berlin on Sept. 5 carrying a backpack and sleeping bag, police spokeswoman Miriam Tauchmann told msnbc.com. He said he was 17 and told officials he and his dad were living in tents and huts until his father died recently. 'He has no identity card, no papers, no passport, nothing,' Tauchmann told msnbc.com.'" Ray, who spoke fluent English and a few words of German, said he remembered nothing else about his family or early life except that his mother died in a car accident. He buried his father in the forest two weeks before setting off, under his late father's instructions, to seek help in Berlin.

Ray became world-famous as the mysterious "forest boy," though authorities grew suspicious of his story as weeks and months passed with no new leads to support his story. For example Ray was unable to lead investigators to the forest where he claimed to have lived for five years, despite (apparently) having walked to Berlin from those woods just weeks earlier. After nearly a year of searches by both German and international police operating on the assumption that Ray was an endangered minor the truth was finally revealed: According to The Local, Ray "was actually 21-year-old Robin van Helsum from Hengelo in the Netherlands, who was bored with his internship at a telecom company and reportedly confused about the direction his life was taking....people in Holland recognized a picture of him circulated by the German police. Soon after that he was charged with fraud, with Berlin authorities saying they had spent €30,000 [over $40,000] looking after him." Van Helsum, who was described by a former roommate as a shy man who liked to play computer games, smoke marijuana, and watch Family Guy, avoided jail time by pleading guilty and was sentenced to complete 150 hours of community service. 

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