Who were these mysterious people with no past? Paranomal Braintrust writer Ryan Sprague asks.
In August of 2004, in Savannah, GA, a man was found sunburned and brutally beaten behind a dumpster outside of a Burger King restaurant. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors were able to save his life. But when the man finally awoke, he had no memory of what had happened. But even scarier, he had absolutely no idea where he’d come from or who he was. The man in question, Benjamin Kyle, had been diagnosed with retrograde amnesia, which occurs often after an injury or onset of disease. With very little to go on, Kyle found himself in a purgatory of life, seemingly lacking an identity, family, and a past. Upon recovery, Kyle spent many years on the streets, not being able to obtain employment due to his not being able to remember his social security number.
The entire incident caught the attention of many news outlets and afternoon talk shows, and through the generosity of viewers, and other sources, Kyle was able to find employment at a restaurant in Florida, where he took up residence in a small home. Eventually, Kyle was able to match his DNA through an online resource and found several family members. He was slowly piecing the puzzle back together again by finding relatives, but continued to struggle with who he truly was. But he took solace, knowing there was still hope of discovering the life he’d once led. “Looking at all these names, all these people, kind of gives me a sense of belonging,” Kyle stated in an interview with ABC News. “I have a history. I’m not just some stranger that materialized out of thin air.”
The idea of someone appearing out of thin air is actually more prevalent than one may think. There have been many others who have lived lives shrouded in mystery, drifting in and out of the world in the most obscure of fashion. And as we’ll see, they disappeared into thin air just as mysteriously.
Riddle of His Time
On May 26th, 1828, a teenage boy was found wandering the streets of Nürnberg, Germany. His clothes tattered, he tightly clutched two letters in his hands. One of the letters was addressed to the captain of the cavalry regiment, requesting that the boy be left in his possession, supposedly written by a poor laborer who’d raised the boy but could no longer afford to. The second letter was written by what was apparently the boy’s mother, and this letter stated that her husband had died and she herself couldn’t raise the boy alone. Her hope was that the boy would join the military.
The young boy was asked by local authorities to write down his origins, but he seemed very confused, and couldn’t read or write. The only thing he could recall was his name, Kaspar Hauser, which he scribbled down on paper. When some in the town tried to feed the boy, he requested nothing but bread and water, eventually explaining that these were the only form of subsistence he was given, having been held in a cell all alone for an undetermined amount of time and severely abused by an unknown captor. Pity, generosity, and curiosity led locals to take the boy in and try to educate him.
Astonishingly, within weeks, he’d learned to read and write. Word began to spread about this apparent idiot savant, and the curiosity of his origins only heightened. He became an overnight sensation, and countless books, magazines, films, and plays were eventually written about him. Such theories surrounding the true identity of Hauser ranged from a deranged epileptic who’d been passed on by caregivers to the dramatic theory that he’d been the rightful heir to a royal throne, but was stashed away in a cell so that someone else could take power. While many scholars today refute this theory, it fueled many to find some sort of political intrigue behind the boy’s origins. No matter the case, Hauser’s fame would lead to his untimely death, when in the winter of 1833, he returned to the house of Lord Stanhope, with whom he’d been taking up residence with at the time. He staggered into the home with a deep stab wound in his chest. He eventually died, a police investigation turning up a small violet purse with a note in its contents. The note, having been written in German, was translated as the following:
Hauser will be
Able to tell you quite precisely how
I look and from where I am.
To save Hauser the effort,
I want to tell you myself from where
I come _ _ .
I come from from _ _ _
the Bavarian border _ _
On the river _ _ _ _ _
I will even
tell you the name: M. L. Ö.
While M.L.Ö was never detained, let alone found, the mystery behind the death of Hauser was just as elusive as his life itself. While much contention remains on who this young man was, he has become a legend in the eyes of many, having been buried in the world famous cemetery, Stadtfriedhof, amongst many scholars and even those who’d been granted the Nobel Peace Prize. Hauser’s life was known to no one else except he himself, and it will remain that way for the rest of eternity. It could best be concluded with what was etched on his gravestone, eloquently stated in Latin: “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious. 1833.”
A Tragic Tale of Persian Poetry
It was the first day of December in 1948. On the beach of Somerton, just south of Adelaide, Australia, the body of a man was found laying on top of the sand. Within his possession was an unused train ticket, a comb, gum, and a few loose cigarettes. The man was in peak physical condition, and no sign of illness or ailments seemed to be the cause of death. He was dressed in a very well-tailored suit, but mysteriously, no labels could be found anywhere on his clothing. In a hidden pocket of the suit, a small piece of paper simply read: “Taman shud”, which in Persian, means: “finished.” No identification of the man could be found.
While the tragedy of this man’s death was obvious, the intrigue behind his possession of the piece of paper is what struck most who had heard about the case. The piece of paper seemed to have been torn from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, an extremely rare 12th century poetry book by the Persian poet. Police soon conducted a search for the book, and came across an anonymous man who said he’d found a copy in the backseat of his car around the same time the body had been found on the beach. When the police examined the book, they noticed that the book was indeed missing the exact words that were found on the man. Even more bizarre, the book had random capital letters throughout the poem circled, prompting investigators to theorize that this was some sort of code, perhaps one that could lead them one step closer to discovering who this man was.
Another big mystery was how exactly this seemingly healthy man had died. The prevailing theory was that he must have been poisoned, yet no trace of any type of poison such could be found in his system. But the pathologist who’d performed the autopsy believed it was possible that some sort of soluble barbiturate could have been responsible, which would have completely dissolved within a day. While this was contentious amongst other pathologists, even more contentious was a theory on breaking the code that the poetry book supposedly held. One theory was that the strong of circled letters, ITTMTSAMSTGAB, actually stood for, “It’s Time To Move To South Australia Moseley Street.” This crack in the code was only strengthened when a phone number was found in the book which belonged to a former army nurse who just so happened to live on Moseley Street. The woman, who also remained anonymous, confirmed that she’s in fact given a copy of this rare poetry book to a lieutenant Alfred Boxall, whom she’d met while in service. Many believed that Boxall was in fact the dead man, but in 1949, the actual Boxall came forward, stating that he held a fully intact version of the book in his possession, and clearly was alive and breathing. But some were suspicious of him, wondering if during his service, he was actually working for an intelligence program, and had in fact discovered the dead man was a Soviet spy, and had poisoned him. This was rather outlandish in the eyes of Boxall himself who once stated that this theory was “quite a melodramatic thesis”, claiming that he was no more than an engineer for a water transport company during his service.
The case remained unsolved for many years. But a possible break occurred in 2009 when Derek Abbott, a professor at the University of Adelaide, theorized that the supposed coded letters in the poetry book were a one time pad code, meaning that it’s based solely on one document being the key, in this case the book itself. But because the book was so rare, and no copies can be found today, the code is in essence, unbreakable, rendering Abbott’s theory unprovable as well. But this didn’t stop him from pursuing the identity of the man. Working off of the frustration of lost autopsy reports and a reluctance by the government in exhuming the man’s body, all Abbott had to go on were grainy photos of the dead man right before the autopsy. This is when Abbott made a very striking discovery. In the photo, the dead man had an unusual shape to the upper half of his ears. This formation could only be found in about two percent of caucasians, and he also had a condition known as hypodontia, in which one or more teeth fail to develop, present in less than two percent of the entire population. Abbott had spoken to the anonymous nurse who’d known Boxall, and discovered that her son had the same ear features and also had hypodontia, the same conditions of the Somerton man. The chances of two unrelated individuals with these conditions were one in ten million, prompting Abbott to postulate that they were possibly biological father and son.
In 2013, in an interview with the television news show, 60 Minutes, the nurse came forward as one Jessica Thomson. Her daughter, Kate, was also interviewed, stating that her mother did indeed know the Somerton man, and that she believed that her mother and the man were both spies, and that her late brother, Robin, was quite possibly the love child of the Somerton man. Kate went so far as to petition the Australian government to exhume the body to collect DNA evidence to make the connection between her brother and the man, but they remain steadfast on that not happening. The reasons remain quite conspiratorial, but the theory of both her mother and the Somerton man having been spies at the time could be one of those many reasons.
The Somerton man case remains unsolved, and hundreds of identities have been presumed of who this man may have been. As time lingers on, it is possible that perhaps a connection could be made to unravel this mysterious death in 1948. But for now, all we have is a modest gravestone that lay in Australia’s West Terrace Cemetery simply stating: “Here Lies The Unknown Man Who Was Found At Somerton Beach.”
For the Room
He checked in to the Lake Quinault Inn on September 14th, 2001. It had only been three days since the unfathomable tragedy struck the World Trade Center in New York City. And the entire country was on edge. The same could be said on this very day when a young man known as Lyle Stevik checked in to the inn, paying cash. He headed to his room, and didn’t leave for almost two days, requesting no cleaning of the room or any disturbance. He requested extra clean towels being left at the doorstep, and nothing else.
On September 17th, the housekeeper knocked on the door.It was past checkout time, so she needed to clean the room. There was no answer. After a few more knocks, she took it upon herself to open the door. There, she found the young man kneeling in an alcove in the corner of the room. His back was to the door, his arms by his side, and his head tilted back. It seemed as though he were praying, but he was completely unresponsive to the innkeepers entrance and apologies. This is when she phoned the owner of the inn, who made the long trek almost ninety miles away, to come see what was happening. When she arrived, the two approached Lyle hesitantly. Upon closer inspection, the owner noticed a leather belt wrapped snuggly around his throat, the other end attached to a coat rack on the other side of the room. It was now clear that he’d hanged himself. And while this site was gruesome, the events were about to become much more curious.
On the nightstand in the room, a comment card rested innocently with the words, “For the Room” scribbled on it. Inside, eight twenty dollar bills were present, a generous tip included. Soon, law enforcement was brought in and the body brought to the local coroner. Back in the room, police had also discovered, in the trash can, a crumpled piece of paper with the word: Suicide, scribbled on it. Investigators found no identification for Lyle on his person or in the room. For weeks, the police waited to hear any reports of the man missing. None turned up. They also ran Lyle’s DNA, dental information, and fingerprints in every database they could, finding nothing. A home address he’d left at the front desk merely belonged to a Best Western Inn located almost six hundred miles away in Idaho. When the police inquired with the owner of the Best Western, who’d been there for over six years, he could not confirm that anyone under that name or description had stayed there. After searching countless databases, phone directories, and community outreaches, nothing whatsoever turned up on the man known as Lyle Stevik. He, in essence, had never existed.
The search for the man’s identity widened, and many theories were thrown about. In Lyle’s room, two copies of the Daily World News were found, endless articles about the September 11th attacks filling the pages. Many speculated that perhaps he had something to do with the terrorist attack. While absolutely no evidence could solidify this theory, it remains on the table until today. Others believe he was a severely ill individual, as he seemed like he had recently lost a large amount of weight. The front desk clerk had noticed that his belt was much longer than it should have been, assuming it used to fit him much better before he’d at least arrived to the inn.
Many other theories centered around young men who’d been reported missing many years prior, but none of them matched the description of Lyle in the slightest. Perhaps even more intriguing was his name, which most likely was an alias, resembling all too strikingly that of the tragic character, Lyle Stevick in the classic novel, You Must Remember This, by Joyce Carol Oates. In the book, the character took his life as well. This easily could have been a cryptic way of this unknown man wanting to end his life in the shadow of the character of the book. Either way, the case remains unsolved until today, the man’s legacy living on in complete mystery, leaving many indeed remembering him long after his life was cut all too short at his own hand.
The mystery behind each of these men captivated many throughout their almost non-existent lifetimes. But perhaps even more captivating was the fact that even with today’s modern technology, it is quite possible that there are those who can walk through life and leave no identity or past behind, as we saw with Lyle Stevik. And while Kaspar Hauser became a celebrity of his time, the sad thought lingers that he never fully knew who or where he came from before he was murdered. Or did he? Could each of these men, in one way or another, have conducted a social experiment of epic proportions? Hiding their true identities to see if the world could somehow crack the code? Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this all is that each of these men were laid to rest by strangers who barely knew them, and that even in death, humanity and respect for the deceased reigned supreme. And even if they seemed to have no past, a questionable present, their futures cut far too short, their stories remain, whether they truly wanted them to or not.
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Ryan Sprague is a professional playwright & screenwriter in New York City. He is also an investigative journalist, focusing on the topic of UFOs. He is the author of the upcoming book, “Somewhere in the Skies: A Human Approach to an Alien Phenomenon”, published by Richard Dolan Press. He is the co-host of the critically acclaimed podcast, Into the Fray, available on iTunes & Stitcher. His other work can be found at somewhereintheskies.com