People going missing without explanation, reasoning, or a trace is one of the most terrifying things that can happen. But what happens when one of those missing people turns up...without an explanation? On May 26, 1828, Kaspar Hauser became one of those people. While walking down a road in Nuremberg, Germany he began to attract attention...and questions.
Kaspar was a teenager and when he appeared in Nuremberg, he was wearing outdated, tattered clothing and carrying an envelope containing two strange letters. One of these letters was addressed to the captain of a local cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessing, requesting that they take on Kaspar as a charge. This letter was written by a poor man who claims that he had taken the boy in, instructed him in Christianity...and never allowed him to leave the house. The other letter, which was dated 1812, appeared to be written by his mother saying she could no longer take care of him, his father was dead, and he was being sent to Nuremberg in order to join the army. These letters, later, would be questioned as they both looked to be written in the same hand and it would be speculated that Kaspar wrote them himself...but, we’ll get to that.
But what did Kaspar have to say about these letters and how did he make his way to Nuremberg? No one quite knows. It seems Kaspar had limited understanding of reading and writing when he was initially interviewed, which would mean he didn’t even know the information contained in the letters. Furthermore, he appeared quite confused as to where he was, and even who he was.
When taken in, he stated only his name and was not sure where he came from. When he was being medically examined, there were several oddities that the police discovered. The soles of his feet were oddly tender for a boy of his age, suggesting he had never walked a significant distance on them or done hard work. Furthermore, the bone structure of his knees and legs was abnormal and weak, suggesting that he had spent most of his life quite sedentary. When offered food, he refused almost everything with the exception of bread and water. Despite these strange abnormalities, he appeared to be in good health.
As the days wore on and he remained in police custody, Kaspar began to tell the police about the terrible life he led before coming to Nuremberg. He said he was confined for most of his life in a dark room with little to no contact with other humans or the outside world at large. He was held in captivity and this led to him being somewhat of a feral child, which scientists instantly found captivating. Scientists and others visited him to speak, write and read beyond the child-like level this teenager exhibited. As the weeks passed, he had some successes and was in a near-constant state of astonishment to the everyday things he came into contact with.
Kaspar began to flourish and turned into a bit of a celebrity. Rumors of his identity swirled, some believing he could be a love child of infamous political, others believed it was all an act by the very clever young man, and others suggested he was the true Prince of Baden, who was swapped at birth with a dying baby by Countess Hochberg to assure her sons’ succession to the throne.
Soon, Kaspar was taken in by a university professor who he lived with for some time after he was released from police custody. This was not the first place he would call home and as the months and years went on, he would stay with other Nuremberg elites and intellectuals.
Although his home rarely remained consistent, one thing did: he was incredibly accident-prone. He got into several strange situations, including surviving a knife-swipe to the forehead by a random intruder. He also gained a negative reputation with several of his homes that he was a liar and liked to play tricks on those who offered up their homes. Some people believed this was evidence that his whole life story had been a yarn to become rich and famous.
His celebrity continued to rise as articles, books, and magazine exposes were written about him. In fact, the story gained so much traction it traveled all over Europe and even America.
Sadly, nearly five years later Kaspar’s short life would come to a tragic end. He was brutally attacked, inexplicably, one cold December night in 1833. At the time, he was staying with a schoolmaster in Ansbach. When he returned home after his attack, he came back with a fatal chest wound. Kaspar claimed he had been stabbed a total stranger who simply left him a letter. The letter was a cipher, written in mirror writing, that read: “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.”
However, some believe this was Kaspar’s last effort to make sure his story remained in the minds of people for years to come. Police believed that the writing had similar spelling and grammatical errors that were consistent with samples of Kaspar’s writing. Some believed he might have even have stabbed himself, staging the entire ordeal.
Kaspar died on December 17th, three days after he was stabbed. His headstone reads, “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious. 1833.”
Debunking the story began almost instantly with his death. The coroner confirmed that the wounds may have been self-inflicted, although this was never confirmed or stated as the cause of death. Later, a psychiatrist said that a child that had endured the upbringing Kaspar had would have been much more significantly stunted, unlike Kaspar who seemed to have caught up exponentially.
It is believed, largely, that Kaspar and his strange life were an invention by Kaspar himself. However, there are a few loose ends that refused to fit into the nice and tidy bow - why were Kaspar’s legs and feet strangely misinformed, where had he truly come from, and why did he feel a need to keep going with this story, even if it led to his death?
The above image, "Hier ruht Kaspar Hauser ein Rätsel seiner Zeit unbekannt seine Herkunft geheimnisvoll sein Tod." - Grabinschrift von 1833, is liscensed in the public domain by Michael Zaschka.