Tale of ‘feral forest boy’ turns out to be a complete fairytale
THE mystery of the “forest boy” who showed up in Berlin claiming he had lived wild in the woods for five years has been solved, after he was identified as a 20-year-old from the Netherlands.
The tale of the feral teenager who turned up at Berlin city hall nine months ago, speaking flawless English, generated worldwide interest, particularly in Britain, where police forces were asked to check their records for missing children.
The boy, thought to be 17, said his name was Ray and that he had been foraging in the wild with his father after his mother died. Now his father was dead too, he said, which was why he was handing himself over to the German authorities.
Police conducted exhaustive inquiries but failed to verify his story. Yesterday they explained why: it was all fabricated. “Ray” is, in fact, Robin van Helsum, 20, from the Dutch city of Hengelo, close to the German border.
He had been reported missing last September, just days before turning up in Berlin. His true identity was revealed after police published his picture earlier this week and several people, including a former girlfriend, identified him.
When van Helsum was told he had been recognised, police said he admitted he had lied.
A spokesman for Berlin police said: “The young man known as ‘Ray’ was confronted with the results of the investigation. He then confirmed his real personal details and admitted that the previous story – that he had lived for years in the woods – had been invented.”
“When we first saw him, he told us he was called Ray and he was 17, but now we know his real name is Robin, that he is 20 and comes from the Dutch city of Hengelo. We never believed his story. He definitely didn’t look like a person who had just spent five years in the forest.”
The case made international headlines and the young man was dubbed “forest boy” when police revealed how he had turned up at Berlin’s city hall last September asking for help.
He told staff he had wandered through woods with his father, using maps and a compass, since losing his mother in a car crash. He also claimed his father had died the month before and that he had buried him under a heap of stones in the woods.
Police had become increasingly sceptical about the youth who could speak little German. Attempts were made to find out who he was using DNA tests, while officers contacted international police agency Interpol to ask if his identity matched that of any known missing person.
His picture was released by police and published by a range of foreign media on Tuesday. The following day, Dutch police contacted officers in Berlin to say several people had recognised him as van Helsum.
Dutch police spokeswoman Chantal Westerhoff said officers there contacted his stepmother, who confirmed his identity.
She added that the young man’s father, who had reported him missing, had been very sick and had since died.
According to a Dutch website on missing relatives, van Helsum was born in 1992.
He had left a farewell note and was last seen travelling with a friend to Berlin.
Police said his disappearance had not been investigated because there was no evidence of foul play and he was an adult.
Dutch officers are now checking whether van Helsum could be charged with fraud.
The mystery of what motivated him to invent his story remains.
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