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Germany's 'Forest Boy' is a hoax

Jessica PhelanGlobalPost.com

BERLIN, Germany — A 10-month-old mystery has finally been solved, police said today: Germany has identified its mysterious "Forest Boy."

The young man who turned up in Berlin last September, claiming to have lived in the woods with his late father, was recognized by relatives in the Netherlands from a photo released earlier this week, Die Welt reported.

He has been named as 20-year-old Robin van Helsum, from the Dutch town of Hengelo near the German border. According to Die Welt, his family reported him missing on Sept. 2, 2011 – just three days before he appeared in Berlin.

"Forest Boy," who called himself Ray and claimed to have no idea where he was from, has since confirmed the reports.

"The young man known as 'Ray' was confronted with the results of the investigation," according to a police statement cited by the Associated Press. "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."

Van Helsum showed up at Berlin's city hall last Sept. 5. He told police that he was around 17 years old, that he and his father had lived in the forest since the death of his mother five years earlier, and that he had survived on his own after his father died in August 2011.

Officers soon picked up that parts of his story did not fit, a police spokesman told The Local earlier this week: for example he was relatively clean, and his tent didn't look like he'd been using it for five years.

"There is something strange about this whole story," spokesman Thomas Neuendorf told the news site. "Whenever we want to go into details with him, he breaks it off, saying both of his parents are dead, and that no one else knows him. He seems to have an astounding lack of interest in finding out who he is."

All that now makes sense – as does van Helsum's reluctance to allow authorities to release a picture of him. The first photo was published on Wednesday, and his story quickly unravelled.

Those who knew him in Hengelo have speculated that he was simply seeking to make a fresh start, according to Der Spiegel. "He had personal problems and that was his way of beginning a new life," a school friend is quoted as saying.

Nonetheless, van Helsum may face charges for wasting police time and resources. 

"This is no longer a joke," police spokesman Michael Maas told Die Welt. "If he deliberately fooled us, he would be liable for any costs."