June 15, 2012 -- Now that he's been identified and his story debunked, "forest boy" is in trouble with the German police which could result in steep fines and even jail time.
Twenty year old Robin van Helsum - who had been known only as Ray - emerged in Berlin last August claiming he had been living in a German forest with his father for five years and that he had no clue as to his identity.
After months of investigative work that included DNA scans and consultations with international police organization Interpol, police released his photo to the public this week. Only days later he was identified by his stepmother as Robin van Helsum from the Dutch town of Hengelo – about 100 miles east of Amsterdam. van Helsum was 19 when he went missing nine months ago, German police confirm to ABC News.
"We are 100 percent certain that he is this 20-year-old boy, because his stepmother positively identified him," a police spokeswoman told Die Welt newspaper. "We have made contact with his family and friends. A photo where you could see him with a chain round his neck showing his name provided the proof. We are very glad that he has been found."
With his story now revealed as a hoax, officials in Germany say van Helsum has run afoul of the law and could face fines totaling up to $40,000 which would cover part of the costs of his living expenses over the past nine months and funds exhausted in the search to discover his identity. German police estimate that some $100,000 has been spent since Van Helsum emerged outside city hall last siummer.
"This is no joke anymore," Berlin police spokesman Michael Maaß told Die Welt. "He made right fools of us. The costs could come down to him." Criminal charges could come as early as next week, according to various media reports in Germany.
Van Helsum is still living in social care housing in western Berlin but may be forced to vacate the facility as early as tomorrow. Because he is not a minor German officials say will not be forced to return to Holland. Though he doesn't seem to suffer from any mental problems, police still have no idea what his motives were with the hoax.
"Forest boy," as van Helsum came to be known in the German media, wandered into the German capital nine months ago, carrying only a tent and a backpack. He told police he had been walking for five days to get to Berlin. He called himself Ray and told authorities that both of his parents were dead.
Authorities went to painstaking lengths to identify van Helsum, having checked his DNA with international missing person lists, made public appeals, and sent his fingerprints around the world, all to no avail. It was only this week that he allowed his photo to be released.
"There were things that did not fit with his story -- he was relatively clean and the tent he had with him did not look like it had been used for five years," Thomas Neuendorf of the Berlin police told German news website The Local.
German police said van Helsum insisted that he buried his father before starting his five-day trek that landed him in Berlin. But he didn't know where his father died, police say.
Because he spoke English with an accent, German investigators thought that one or both of his parents could be American or British.