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'Forest Boy' who hoaxed police was running from his troubles, friend says

A friend of "Forest Boy" Robin van Helsum, seen here, the Dutch man who hoaxed German authorities for nine months, has shed new light on the troubled background that may have led to his elaborate deceit in an interview with NBC News.

Robin van Helsum, the "Forest Boy" who hoaxed German authorities for nine months with a fantasy about living rough in the woods, was running away from a troubled background and financial concerns, a friend of his told NBC News.

Ray van Ravensberg, Robin's childhood friend, shed new light on the Dutchman whose story -- and supposed mystery identity -- flummoxed police in Berlin and attracted headlines around the world. 


Van Helsum's scam was exposed last week after he was identified by his stepmother in The Netherlands following the distribution of a police photograph. 

Van Ravensberg said van Helsum, who ran away from home in Hengelo, a Dutch town near the border with Germany in September, came from a broken home, did not get along with his stepmother and fought constantly with his father, who was very strict.

"He started to stop with school and stop with work, and the only thing he did was sitting on the computer and, yeah, just screwing around."

'Forest Boy' mystery solved: Man admits lies over identity

Van Ravensberg said van Helsum moved out of the house and went for "room training" -- a Dutch program in which teenagers with problems at home are put into a government care program and live with groups of people their own age from similar backgrounds -- a type of youth hostel.

But then van Helsum got into more trouble, becoming a loner, spending hours on the computer and arguing with the owners of the hostel because he could no longer pay his bills.

"His life was really complicated," van Ravensberg said as he struggled to explain his friend. "He doesn’t have anything like I do -- he doesn’t have parents who will cover [him] if [he's] in financial debt, like I do. [My parents] will help me, I can talk to them."

Van Ravensberg went on to explain that a young woman whom van Helsum dated a few times, perhaps for some financial help, became pregnant.

"First she said she was a few weeks pregnant, but she was already pregnant for a longer period of time, and he didnt want to have the child, and she wanted to keep it."

That might have been the turning point for van Helsum. Shortly afterward, he ran away, determined to escape and start a new life somewhere, somehow.

'Forest boy' mystery: Stumped German police release photo

Van Ravensberg said van Helsum is really smart and proved it by staying nine months in Germany without getting caught.

When he arrived in Germany, van Helsum told the police his name was Ray and he was a 17-year-old orphan -- that’s all he could remember.

The act was convincing. The Germans were intrigued by his story and provided him with care. The fantasy about living rough for five years in the German forests was so heart-rending that he became an international sensation. No one thought he could have made it up. But he did.

Van Ravensberg defended his old friend. "It started with his own life. He already had complications, and it became more and more -- financial, girlfriend, child and, yeah, his bucket was way too full.

"He just wanted to have a new bucket."

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