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Police: 'Forest Boy' story is a hoax

From Frederik Pleitgen, CNN
updated 11:49 AM EDT, Fri June 15, 2012
  • NEW: German authorities say they are angry, may sue the man for "social fraud"
  • A female acquaintance saw the hoaxer's photo and told Dutch TV who he was
  • Police say he's from the Netherlands and never lived in the forest
  • German authorities had been trying to establish the man's identity for months

Berlin (CNN) -- The story of the so-called Forest Boy -- a riddle that has perplexed people in Germany and elsewhere for months -- is a lie, police in Germany said Friday.

The 20-year-old hoaxer, who claimed he was 17 and lived in the German woods for five years, is actually from Hengelo, in the Netherlands. He never lived in the forest and made his way to Berlin some time last year, police said.

He had been declared missing in September when he was 19. But because he was an adult and could determine where he wanted to live, there was no further investigation by Dutch authorities, police in Germany said.

Police say the man has admitted his story is a lie and confirmed his identity. He will have to leave a Berlin city youth home since he is not under age.

The hoax ended after German police released a photograph of who they said was a 17-year-old known only as "Ray" who turned up at Berlin City Hall last year after claiming to have been living in the woods for five years.

Police say that not long after the first pictures of the man were published, a female acquaintance recognized him and told a Dutch TV network. The network informed the Dutch police, who then notified authorities in Berlin.

Ed Koch, a spokesman for the youth services office of Berlin's Tempelhof-Schoeneberg district, where the young man has been staying in the youth home, told CNN he is very angry about the hoax.

"He received funds from us for seven months that could have gone to other people in need," he said.

Koch says that the man will be given a notice to leave the youth home but will not be kicked out immediately.

"He will get some time to prepare. We might also just put him on a train to the Netherlands. We are not sure yet," he said.

Koch confirmed that authorities are looking into legal action against the man for "social fraud," for illegally getting housing and board for months, as well as a German language course, a cell phone, clothes and other items.

The release of the photograph, along with details of his appearance and scant possessions at the time of his discovery, was part of an effort by German authorities to unravel the mysterious identity and family background of a young man who spoke English and a little German.

According to authorities, he claimed to know only his name, his date of birth of June 20, 1994, and his parents' first names.

After months of investigation, German authorities said they were stumped.

The man told authorities upon his discovery last September that he had been living in the woods with his father, Ryan, but decided to leave after his father died, investigators said. He couldn't explain why his father died.

Ray was unable to name or show the place he buried his father in the forest underneath stones, officials said, so investigators couldn't find the body.

"They were hiking with the help of maps and a compass only and stayed in tents or caves overnight," Berlin authorities cited the boy as saying, in a statement released Tuesday.

Ray provided police with "some vague information" about his mother, saying her name was Doreen, and he wore a gold-colored necklace around his neck that held a pendant with the letter "D," police said.

He claimed that his mother had died in a car accident when he was 12 years old, but he didn't remember the details of the accident, authorities said. He said he presumed the accident caused the scars on his face.

After his father died last August, he said, he roamed north for five days until he arrived at Berlin City Hall and asked for help last September 5, authorities said.

He couldn't "specify anything about cities, countries or regions him and his father had traveled through," they said in a statement.

A guardian was appointed, and German authorities tried to establish his identity through Interpol.

"The Youth Office and the Berlin Police have great doubts on the boy's story. That is the reason why the Youth Office now decided to publish a photo of 'Ray' and ask for your help," authorities had said in the statement.

The story was compared to that of the "Piano Man," who was found wandering near a beach on the isle of Sheppey, Kent, in southern England in 2005. He was wearing a waterlogged dinner suit with all its labels cut out and a tie. It initially was reported that he stunned witnesses with a "virtuoso performance" on the piano.

The man was identified as a 20-year-old German national from Bavaria after telling staff at a hospital that he had been attempting suicide when found by police, the Times of London reported in August 2005. The man could not play the piano as well as initially reported, the newspaper said.

The man, whom authorities did not identify because of confidentiality laws, flew back home to Germany, the Times said.

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