Boy Spent His Life Locked In A Room, But The Story Of His Escape Was Hard To Believe

Boy Spent His Life Locked In A Room, But The Story Of His Escape Was Hard To Believe

In the 1820s, the jaw of a German policeman dropped when an unexpected visitor appeared. It was a boy who claimed that he’d been imprisoned almost his entire life. His story seemed outlandish, yet his own body was evidence of some sort of grim predicament. The public was fascinated by the mystery, and thus, elaborate theories emerged about who the boy really was. But it wasn’t until recently that a DNA test finally confirmed his true identity.

Strange Sight

On May 26, 1828, a silhouette was seen stumbling and shuffling down a street in Nuremberg, Germany. To anyone who saw him, they might have thought the individual was drunk. One shoemaker thought so. Georg Weickmann approached the figure, hoping to help.

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Appearance

The boy was short, standing at 4’8″ with broad shoulders. His feet were torn and bloody, as if he’d made a long journey without proper footwear. The shoemaker judged him to be about 16 years old, though it was hard to tell. Weickmann then noticed something else. Of two letters the boy was holding, one had an address. Would taking the boy there reunite him with his relatives?

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Bitter Meal

Once the two arrived at the residency of Captain von Wessenig, they learned the captain was out. The servants attempted to offer a meal to the boy. Upon tasting beer and sausage, the boy had an outburst, repulsed by what it tasted like. Any attempts to get the boy to speak, were futile as well. Then Captain von Wessenig arrived.

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Horse!

The captain had no idea who the boy was. His social cues were limited. Allegedly, he had a vaccination mark on his arm, a potential sign of being in the upper class. With little other choice, the boy was brought to the police. One officer produced a coin that captured the boy’s full attention. Transfixed by the ordinary coin, the stranger excitedly shouted, “Horse!”

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Next Attempt

It seemed as if the boy had next to no education or knowledge of modern society. But then another officer had an idea to help the situation. After being handed a pen and paper, the boy scrawled out his name. The police eagerly watched as letters took shape.

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Mysterious Possessions

Kaspar Hauser was what the boy wrote. Although that piece of information led to many more questions, it was a start. When the officers looked through the items Kaspar had with him, the mystery deepened. A small envelope in his possession had gold dust inside. There was a handkerchief with his initials, KH. And the two letters Kaspar had in his possession revealed a grim backstory.

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Reading Material

One letter seemed to explain what had happened to Kaspar Hauser. Supposedly, he was captured as a child and imprisoned, and the only reason Kaspar left his prison was because his captor wanted him to join the military. The other letter was allegedly from Kaspar’s mother.

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No Love in Sight

Kaspar’s mother wrote that the boy’s deceased father had been a cavalry officer. With no other place to put him, the police sent Kaspar to the Vetsner Gate tower. That was where Kaspar met Andreas Hiltel, his jailer. After being observed for several days, Kaspar was soon relocated to a lower floor. Whether Kaspar realized it or not, it had not been a coincidence that the boy was moved.

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Limitations

Kaspar had made a sympathetic friend in Hiltel. The jailer’s family lived on the lower floors, and his children befriended Kaspar. In close proximity, Hiltel came to understand many of the boy’s eccentricities. Kaspar thought every animal was a horse, and he knew nothing of the distinction between “men” and “women.” Soon, authorities brought in a physician to examine Kaspar and his two letters.

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Lack of Interaction

The physician came to the conclusion that Kaspar had been completely removed from all social activity. Meanwhile, outside the boy’s confinement, public interest around the boy grew and grew. Many people theorized that the boy was a “feral child.” As for the letters, they revealed one major truth.

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Same Hand, Different Story

Upon inspecting the handwriting, the authorities discovered the same person had penned them, despite the contents attempting to credit two separate writers. Was Kaspar hiding a secret? They questioned the boy’s past, but Kaspar himself was the indicator that something unnatural had been done to him. But what exactly?

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Victorian Ad-Libs

Theories sprouted. Such a strange story proved too good for the public to leave it alone. The most popular theory had it that, based on his vaccination mark, Kaspar Hauser was the abandoned child of a royal. What if Kaspar was the son of Grand Duke Carl von Baden, husband to the adopted daughter of Napoleon? But when Kaspar Hauser finally started to speak, his words presented a very different kind of story.

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Backstory

As the boy’s vocabulary grew, he described the grim setting he left behind. He had been imprisoned in a small room. Two windows that might have offered sunlight were completely boarded up. A straw bed served as his mattress. His diet consisted of black bread with water, revealing why he had such a strong response to sausage and beer. Trapped in the darkness, he never saw his captor.

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Health Questions

That captor led him to Nuremberg, where they boy was promised to meet his father. Then, the man left him. But there were inconsistencies in Kaspar’s story. Surely, years of imprisonment would leave him much weaker and paler, given that he was never exposed to sunlight. Kaspar hardly gave these questions any thought. As the public’s interest in him started to affect him mentally, a new ally arrived by his side.

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A New Treatment

The authorities had nowhere else to take the investigation until Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, a famous criminologist, intervened. He understood Kaspar had to be treated more humanely and managed to get the mayor to release the boy to the care of a university professor. Kaspar now looked forward to the possibility of a new life.

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Better Upbringing

Professor George Friedrich Daumer’s educational background made him the ideal mentor for young Kaspar. Under the professor’s care, the boy became healthier and finally developed as an individual his age should have. Learning German came quite easy for Kaspar, almost as if he had already spoke it prior to his imprisonment. The boy’s senses made him even more remarkable.

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Extreme Matters

Kaspar Hauser had extraordinarily keen senses. His vision in the dark was better than average. Loud sounds caused him to have convulsions. The smell of wine was said to make him drunk. Even more odd, he had an intense relationship to metals, including strong reactions to magnets. These features earned Kaspar even more admirers, as well as some enemies.

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Friend or Foe

Hauser made a powerful new friend in Lord Stanhope of England, who was close to the Baden family, the nobles that many people theorized were relations of Kaspar. Stanhope journeyed with the boy all over Hungary, in the hopes that the local scenery would help Kaspar retrace his lost life. The mystery man couldn’t remember a thing, however; and that wasn’t even the worst news.

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Many Ways to Die

Three attempts were made on Kaspar’s life. He survived being struck in the head by a mysterious assailant, and later a gun shot nearly killed him in his bedroom. Fearing for his life, Kaspar detached himself from the public. After the two alleged assassination attempts, some members of the public grew bored with the boy. Even Stanhope gave up on him. What if he was harming himself for attention? But the third attempt proved fatal.

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Finding Proof

Even Kaspar Hauser couldn’t survive a knife between the ribs. He was only 21 years old. With so much unknown about Kaspar, the theory of his royal ancestry gradually faded away, though a century and a half after his emergence, modern scientists attempted to crack the mystery.

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DNA Tests

For generations, many came to the conclusion that Hauser made up his dark life story for attention, even to the point of faking his death. A DNA test in 1996 couldn’t explain everything about the boy, but in comparing his genetic material to modern-day nobles, scientists could finally tell whether or not he was the discarded son of the House of Baden.

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Conflicting Results

The 1996 results showed no match with the Badens, though admittedly the scientists weren’t sure if they were actually using Hauser’s DNA. A subsequent examination in 2002 used more reliable samples, but proved to be inconclusive. It showed that a relation was possible, but by no means assured. Since then, Kaspar’s evolved into even more of an enigma.

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Who Are You?

Just as Kaspar’s identity crisis had captured public attention, so did the disappearance of a young wealthy traveler named Roger Tichborne. In 1854, four days after Roger left on a trip around the world, a man came across the wreckage of his ship, the Bella. Clearly, Roger hadn’t made it very far. And when he seemingly returned from the dead years later, people were suspicious.  

Is Roger Dead?

In the wake of Roger’s disappearance, his mother, Lady Tichborne, placed an ad in the newspaper out of desperation. Given the scattered remains of his ship across the Brazilian shoreline, with no visible survivors, the Tichbornes prepared themselves for an unpleasant reality: Would they ever see Roger again? And if not, who would take care of the family?

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The Psychic’s Message

Panicking for her family’s future, Lady Tichborne sought out a clairvoyant. Whatever Lady Tichborne was hoping to get out of a psychic reading, we highly doubt she expected to hear what the clairvoyant had to say. “Your eldest son,” she told a mystified Lady Tichborne, “is alive and well.” And with those words, seeds of hope were planted.

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Keeping Hope Alive

The psychic’s message came at a time when the public was eager for news about the Bella wreck. Rumors were already swirling that some of the crew had been rescued by a passing ship; now that a psychic claimed it was so, people couldn’t help but keep hope alive…especially Lady Tichborne.

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Lady Tichborne’s Advertisement

Refusing to grieve any longer, Lady Tichborne immediately sprung to action. She took to the papers, advertising a “handsome reward” to anyone who knew anything about where Roger could be. And when it came to possibly seeing her son alive, she didn’t hold back in the ad.

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A “Most Liberal Reward”

She not only described in detail who Roger was and what he looked like, but also how he was the heir to his deceased father’s vast estate. She mentioned how people could study the ship’s roster themselves, and reiterated how a “most liberal reward” would be given to anyone with information. Despite causing a stir, it would be a decade before she uncovered any promising leads.

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Meanwhile in Wagga Wagga…

10 years later, a man from Wagga Wagga, Australia, found himself in a bind. He was a butcher named Thomas Castro, and his debts were crushing him. Pressed for cash and for time, the desperate butcher made a shocking claim: he was a survivor of a shipwreck.

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A Fateful Connection

Castro also claimed that he owned several properties in England. Still, it wasn’t until he held up his pipe — which was engraved with the initials “RCT” — that his lawyer made the connection between his client and the long lost son of Lady Tichborne.

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Everything Changed

Castro’s lawyer pleaded with his client to come clean about being Roger Tichborne, but the butcher wouldn’t budge. It was almost as if he didn’t remember the shipwreck or his past life as an almost-Baronet at all! But when his lawyer mentioned Lady Tichborne, everything changed.

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Back from the Dead

Almost as if someone had flicked a switch in his brain, Castro finally admitted that he was, indeed, the believed-to-be-dead Roger Tichborne. When Lady Tichborne heard the news, she immediately reached out to him. It wasn’t long before Castro/Tichborne was en route to England.

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Not-So-Subtle Differences

When Roger Tichborne left for Jamaica, he was tall and lean and spoke with a French accent; now he was squat, nearly 400 pounds, and spoke with a hybrid British/Australian accent. The differences raised a few eyebrows, but not Lady Tichborne’s, who was desperate to see her son in the flesh.

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“Roger’s” Story

And when Lady Tichborne first laid eyes on her long-lost son, she immediately knew it was him, despite the apparent changes. Since her other son Alfred had recently succumbed to alcoholism, finally finding Roger alive and well was a relief…even if his story didn’t make much sense. 

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Ready for Duty

Castro/Roger claimed that he’d been rescued by a ship called the Osprey and had ended up in Australia. Still, he was ready to resume life as the 11th Baronet of Tichborne, he told his mother — even though he’d spent the previous ten years living as somebody else for no discernible reason. 

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Roger’s Last Will & Testament

With that, “Roger” made arrangements to move to England permanently. He was a little strapped for cash, but his mother had no problem lending him some, and she also wasn’t bothered by her son’s insistence on creating a will, something he’d shown no interest in doing before. 

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Hannah/Henrietta

The will, which “Roger” wrote up at the urging of the same lawyer who discovered him, was filled with odd details that some people couldn’t help but question. For instance, the will contained notes about family properties that didn’t exist, and Roger even referred to his mother as Hannah Frances, which was weird, considering how Roger’s mother’s name was Henrietta. 

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Providing Specific Details

But Lady Tichborne, a few family friends, and even the family doctor all agreed that the man standing before them was the real Roger. It helped that Castro/Roger was able to provide very specific details about Roger’s childhood, such as his favorite fly fishing tackle and the name of his childhood dog.

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So Many Reasons for Suspicion

Still, there were details beyond his weight gain and accent that got under people’s skin. Besides not knowing his mother’s first name — a reason for suspicion if we’ve ever heard it — “Roger’s” letters were also filled with too many spelling and grammatical errors for such a well-educated man. 

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A Simple Explanation

When forced to converse with his French family and friends, he could barely manage the simplest French phrases, despite having been raised in Paris. Any memories about his boarding school days, which he’d once held dear, were all but gone. Whenever someone brought up these irregularities, however, Roger had a simple explanation. 

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A Mother’s Intuition

The shipwreck had been so traumatic, he explained, that his mind had never been the same. That’s why he couldn’t remember key details about his childhood, and that’s why he treated people he’d once known like strangers. Besides, his mother believed he was who he said he was. Why would anyone question a mother’s intuition?

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Order in the Court

Well, this excuse was only viable for a few years before Roger’s only real advocate — his mother — died in 1868. Now alone in the world and backed up against a wall, “Roger Tichborne” was forced to prove in court that he was truly the lost Baronet of Tichborne.

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Who Is This Guy?!

As it turned out, the Roger Tichborne sitting in a courtroom trying to prove his identity wasn’t as smart as the Roger Tichborne who’d departed on the Bella. It didn’t take long for residents of Wagga Wagga to talk to investigators and identify Tichborne as someone else other than Roger Tichborne or even Tom Castro. 

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Meet Arthur Orton

They referred to him as Arthur Orton, the London-born son of a butcher who’d at one point moved to Australia and taken the name Tom Castro. When he saw the posters about Lady Tichborne’s search for her son, he had an epiphany.

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A Daring Plan

Orton/Castro had seen the advertisements and decided this would be a great way to raise his social standing. He’d paid — or, more likely, promised to pay — two former Tichborne servants in exchange for specific information about the real Roger’s life. Even with all this out in the open, however, “Roger” refused to admit defeat.

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Finally Caught

He claimed in court that he didn’t know anyone by the name of Arthur Orton. The court prepared to compile more than 200 witnesses to Orton’s identity theft, but in the end, it wasn’t even necessary: a quick doctor’s examination proved that the real Roger had had tattoos that the fake Roger didn’t possess.

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What’s the Verdict?

The ensuing perjury trial ended up being the longest ever in English court history (188 court days) and there was more than enough evidence to prove that Orton had been lying from the start. The jury met for just 30 minutes before unanimously deciding that Orton was guilty.

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“Roger” ‘Till the End

He served 10 years in prison, but even prison life didn’t quench Orton’s thirst for notoriety. During that decade, he only admitted once that his real name was Arthur Orton, and he only did it because a journalist paid him to do so. 

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Much-Needed Closure

In fact, he continued to claim that he was Roger Tichborne for the rest of his life. Though he died a poor man, the Tichbornes placed a plaque on his coffin, forever identifying him as “Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne.” For them, some semblance of closure was better than none at all.

Historic St. Luke’s via Atlas Obscura