feral child

Kaspar Hauser - An Unsolved Mystery

Part 1  | Part 2 | Part 3

Lord Stanhope

In May 1831, Stanhope returned and began to visit Kaspar regularly. He showered him with gifts and compliments about his supposed royal parents, and publicly made extravagant promises about taking him to England, to his home at Chevening Castle, Kent. Unfortunately, this had the effect of cutting Kaspar off from Tucher and other people who really wanted to help him. Soon Stanhope and Hauser became close friends, and the English Lord provided money to the city for the upkeep of the boy. He also applied to the city authorities to become the boy's guardian, and the request was granted. One peculiarity of Stanhope's intense interest in Hauser is that he never once mentions him in his letters home to his family of this period, of which there are many.

But Stanhope soon became bored of Kaspar, and on 10 December 1831, obtained permission to leave him in the town of Ansbach, about fifty miles away from Nuremberg, to be tutored by his friend Dr Meyer. Kaspar was unhappy and lonely in Ansbach, Meyer was mean-minded and distrustful, a strict schoolmaster who shouted at him for not concentrating on his lessons, and told him constantly that he was telling lies.

Meyer was determined to make Kaspar into a devout Christian and threatened him with damnation if he didn't follow his religion. After a while Kaspar relented and was confirmed in the Christian faith by Pastor Fuhrmann. Stanhope left Ansbach on 9 January 1832, promising to adopt Kaspar and bring him over to England. But they never saw each other again. 

Stanhope actually went to see Stephanie, the Grand Duchess of Baden, at Mannheim. She wept when she read it and was desperate to meet Hauser. Stanhope said he would arrange for them to meet, but he never did. While staying with Meyer Hauser began working as a copying clerk in a law office. On December 9 Meyer and Hauser had a big argument, Meyer saying that Kaspar had been behaving oddly the whole of December. On 11 December Kaspar said he had to meet a friend to watch the boring of the artesian well in the park, the gardens of the disused palace. 

The Assassination

On the afternoon of 14 December, Kaspar left his work at noon, and after lunch went to his spiritual guide Pastor Fuhrmann. He told Fuhrmann that he was meeting a young lady friend, but instead went to the park.

Hauser later said he was tricked into going alone to the deserted gardens with the promise of information about his mother. He waited by the artesian well, but no one came, so he went across to a monument in the park, where a man was waiting for him. They walked together in the freezing cold for a while, then the man made as if to give Hauser a document and suddenly stabbed him in the side, puncturing his lung and piercing his liver, and then ran off. 

Kaspar managed to stagger into the house saying 'man . . . stabbed . . . knife . . . Hofgarten . . . gave purse . . . Go look quickly . . .' But Meyer was not convinced of the seriousness of the wound and did not call a doctor immediately. Later the police searched the park but couldn't find the weapon, but did find a black wallet or purse. Inside the wallet there was a note written in mirror writing. It said:

'Hauser will be able to tell you how I look, where I came from and who I am. To spare him from this task I will tell you myself. I am from . . . on the Bavarian border . . . My name is MLO.' Police questioned Hauser, wondering why, when there had been a previous attempt on his life, he had gone to the gardens alone. Kaspar couldn't identify his attacker, all he could tell them was that a workman had brought him a message which told him to go to the park as someone had news about his mother.

When he got there, a tall, bearded man in a long, black cloak had asked him if his name was Kaspar Hauser. When Kaspar nodded, the stranger handed him the wallet or purse and thrust a knife into his ribs at the same time. As Kaspar lay dying he said, enigmatically: 'Many cats are the death of the mouse,' and finally: 'Tired, very tired, still have to take a long trip.'

He died on 17 December, at 21 years of age. A huge reward was offered by the king of Bavaria for information leading to the arrest of his killer, but nothing was ever found out.

Meyer had always been suspicious about Kaspar and it seems to have been him who started the rumours about Hauser's death being suicide. Soon others began to suspect Kaspar's story. Only a single set of footprints was found in the snow at the  park, and they were Kaspar's; people suggested that Hauser may have stabbed himself in a despairing cry for attention. Stanhope later said, in his book written three years after Hauser's death, that it was accidental suicide, and that Kaspar was an imposter who got trapped in the role and was forced to keep it up for years, and made comparisons with the English impostor princess, Caraboo. But the physician who performed the autopsy, Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Heidenreich,  thought that due to the size of the wound, Kaspar could not have done it himself. 

Strangely, Stanhope had actually written a last letter to Hauser, from Munich on 16th and 17th December, and postmarked on the 25th, when he must already have known of what had happened, and probably also knew that Kaspar was dead. Local newspapers carried the story from the day of Kaspar's death on the 17th, and  the Munich newspapers from the 20th onwards. Was he trying to show, if questioned later, that he wasn't involved in the murder?

On 26th December Stanhope visited the prince of ttingen-Wallerstein, Bavarian minister of the interior, and tried, unsuccessfully in the end, to convince him Hauser was a fake. He also went to the trouble of meeting with all of the people in Nuremberg who had seen Kaspar in his first few days in the city, including Daumer, and getting them to change their stories to say that Hauser had invented the whole thing. He also visited other public figures throughout Europe saying Hauser was a fake who'd committed suicide. 

Kaspar was buried in a quiet country churchyard where his gravestone read:
'Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious.' 

A Prince of Baden?

But who was the mysterious Kaspar Hauser? Was he the rightful prince of Baden?

It was Feuerbach who was officially in charge of the investigation into the first murder attempt. He was initially skeptical of royal claims, but later changed his mind and argued that Hauser was indeed the legitimate heir of the Duke of Baden, son of Stphanie de Beauharnais, adopted daughter of Napoleon.  He later presented the results of his investigations in a private letter to the queen mother of Bavaria, Karoline. This was published after his death by his son, but was still subject to a restraining order by the Baden family. Karoline herself stated that it was the 'unanimous opinion of many people (that) Hauser was one of the sons of my poor brother.' King Ludwig of Bavaria notes in his diary that he believed Hauser to be the 'rightful Grand Duke of Baden.' Indeed Mayor Binder had received a letter to this effect as early as July 1828. 

A May 1832 letter from Feuerbach to Stanhope mentions proof about Hauser's royalty in the form of an 8 page report. It was unfortunate that the letter was to Stanhope, the one person Feuerbach trusted that he probably shouldn't have. Feuerbach's book about Hauser caused a sensation when it was published in 1832, and newspapers all over Europe published accounts of Kaspar Hauser's life and possible origins. 

However, on May 29,1832, on his way to meet a man called Klber in Frankfurt to discuss the matter of Hauser's royal connections, Feuerbach died suddenly, aged fifty-eight. Before dying he said he thought he'd been poisoned on the orders of someone in the royal house of Baden, because of his discoveries about Hauser's origins. His son Ludwig was sure of this. There was even supposed to be a note that he wrote saying that he had been 'given something.' It was believed by Feuerbach's grandson that at least three members of the Feuerbach family were poisoned because of links to Kasper Hauser.

The 'prince theory', in essence, is that the son Stphanie de Beauharnais, wife of Grand Duke Karl of Baden, gave birth to in 1812 was Hauser, and it is he who would have inherited the throne. She gave birth to another son in 1816, who also died. But she had three daughters that all lived. The countess of Hochberg, second wife of Karl's father, the founder of the dynasty, would have been the one to benefit from these deaths. Karl himself died in 1818, under mysterious circumstances believing he and his sons had been poisoned. Now nothing stood in the way of the son of the Duchess of Hochberg, who was supposed to have smuggled a dying child of a peasant woman into the palace and managed to exchange it with the baby prince - supposedly Kaspar Hauser. The countess wanted her own son, Leopold, to come to the throne, which he did in 1830. Hauser was then given to a Major Hennenhofer, who put the child in the care of an ex soldier. It was said by some that when questioned about this Hennenhofer confessed. 

Apparently Kaspar was kept hidden away in a dungeon for twelve years. He was supposed to be killed, but the plan went wrong, and he was kept alive in prison by whoever had been ordered to murder him, possibly in order to bribe the royals later on, or perhaps out of sheer compassion. When the secret couldn't be kept hidden any longer, Hauser had to be brought disguised as a beggar to Nuremberg. Perhaps they hoped he'd be put in a lunatic asylum or sent away as a soldier. 

It's possible that the place where Kaspar Hauser was imprisoned was the Schloss Pilsach, a large house close to Nuremberg, where there was a secret dungeon, and a small white wooden horse like the ones Hauser played with was discovered during renovations. Admittedly, much evidence, the frequent attempts on Kaspar's life, the participation of Stanhope, and the Baden family's attempts to keep the story quiet, seem to indicate some truth to this prince story. Unfortunately when Hennenhofer died, his private papers were all destroyed, so that avenue, as with many in the story of Kaspar Hauser, is closed.

If the prince theory all sounds a bit too much like a fairytale, and if Hauser's death was not the accidental suicide of a desperate impostor, perhaps he could have been murdered, not for being a lost prince of the house of Baden, but because people thought he was - and he thus became a dangerous focus for discontent that needed to be removed.

DNA Evidence

In 1996, DNA analysis of bloodstains found on Hauser's clothes was undertaken at the laboratories of Forensic Science Service in Birmingham, England, and in the LMU Institute of Legal Medicine in University of Munich. The attempt to match Hauser's DNA to living descendents of the Baden family proved beyond reasonable doubt  that there was no link between the two. Apparently, Kaspar Hauser was not the Prince of Baden. However, in 2002 it was discovered that the original samples used for the testing had not been from Hauser's clothes at all. New samples were obtained from the boy's hat, trousers and hair curls, in the Feuerbach collection of Hauser artifacts, and this time DNA tests were positive. Results showed a  95% match to the DNA of Astrid von Medinger, a descendant of Stephanie de Beauharnais. In this dramatic reassessment of the case the DNA evidence would seem to show that Kaspar Hauser was indeed a descendant of the House of Baden.

According to Jeffrey Moussaieff  Masson (writing in 1996), there have been more than 3000 books and at least 14,000 articles written on the strange case of Kaspar Hauser. Perhaps in the light of this new DNA evidence, we are a step closer to solving the enigma and discovering the real identity of the mysterious Kaspar Hauser.

Sources and Further Reading

Bondeson, J. The Great Pretenders: The True Stories Behind Famous Historical Mysteries. W W Norton & Co Ltd. 2005.

Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff  Lost Prince: The Unsolved Mystery of Kaspar Hauser. The Free Press, New York, 1996.

Newton, M.  Savage Girls and Wild Boys. London, Faber and Faber, 2002. 

Copyright 2002 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.


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