The Kaspar Hauser Mystery (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

The rumours of Kaspar's true identity began to fly. The most persistent story was that he was actually a son of Grand Duchess Stephanie of Baden who had somehow been stolen away as an infant (several people commented on the resemblance). Although Kaspar didn't actually encourage the stories, he began to act more like a prince in exile and adapted quickly to his new social role. Whatever enjoyment Kaspar 417Kb6mJo9L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ had in all the attention he received faded as it became apparent that people were becoming less interested in him. He stopped being such a novelty and stories about his being deceitful and manipulating began to spread. This was when the "attempts" on his life started.

On October 17, 1829, Kaspar was found crouching in the cellar of the house where he lived.  He was bleeding from a cut in his forehead which, though slight, kept him bedridden for two days.  He later said that he had been attacked by a man with a black handkerchief across his face who struck him with a knife and told him that he was going to be killed.  Kaspar said that he recognized the man as being the one who had first held him prisoner.  Despite questions over how someone could have entered the house without anyone else noticing, a police investigation found no trace of the mystery attacker. Given the implausible nature of the story and questions about Kaspar's credibility, skeptics accused him of making up the attack.

Kaspar was placed under police observation and was watched by two officers on a regular basis whenever he left the house. Professor Daumer asked that Kaspar be sent somewhere else to live.  Not only was Daumer tired of the scrutiny, he had come to believe that Kaspar was a compulsive liar.  In one letter, Daumer stated that "Kaspar Hauser's nature had lost much of its original purity and that a highly regrettable tendency to untruthfulness and dissimulation had manifested itself".  He also added that he and Kaspar had quarreled on the same day of his supposed attack due to Kaspar neglecting his studies.  After leaving the Daumers, Kaspar became the official ward of Baron von Tucher and was placed in the home of a Nuremberg trader named Biberbach.

His stay with the Biberbachs didn't last long since they became even more disgusted by Kaspar's lies and laziness than the Daumers were.  On April 30, 1830, after a particularly nasty quarrel with the Biberbachs, police guarding the house were startled by the sound of a gunshot.  Kaspar was found bleeding from a wound on the right side of his head.  Although he passed it off as an accident, the circumstances seemed implausible and the Biberbachs asked for him to be removed from their house.  He was returned to the von Tucher household where he lived for another eighteen months.  von Tucher became increasingly disenchanted with Kaspar whom he felt had been "morally corrupted" by the attention he had received when he first discovered.  

It was also around this time that Kaspar's case began attracting international attention.  A series of pamphlets about "the remarkable Nuremberg foundling" were published, some skeptical of his claims while others speculated on his origins. An English nobleman, Lord Stanhope took a formal interest in Kaspar and arranged to meet him in 1831.  Despite Stanhope's own skepticism about some of the inconsistencies in Kaspar's story, they became friends and Stanhope even posted a reward for information on whoever had imprisoned Kaspar (it was never claimed).  In 1832, legal scholar Paul Johann Feuerbach published History of a Crime against a Human Soul in which he eloquently described the tragedy of Kaspar Hauser's story. Feuerbach became a fervent supporter and later, one of Kaspar's guardians.

Stanhope followed up every lead and even took Kaspar to Hungary based on his vague memory of a few Hungarian words.  Kaspar enjoyed the attention and von Tucher wrote a letter to Stanhope complaining that  his ward was becoming more vain and conceited than ever.  The burghers of Nuremberg cancelled Kaspar's annual pension and hinted that Stanhope should take charge of him instead.  They were certainly delighted when Lord Stanhope agreed to make Kaspar his ward and placed him in the care of a schoolmaster named Meyer.  While Kaspar enjoyed this new status, whatever hopes he had of Stanhope taking him to England were short-lived.  Stanhope returned home alone.

The search for Kaspar's birth family continued and he began claiming that he was the son of a Hungarian countess.  When Stanhope returned to Nuremberg, he launched a new investigation and sent agents to Hungary but, like before, no proof was found that Kaspar had ever been there.  Stanhope also became exasperated by reports from Professor Meyer that Kaspar wasn't studying properly as well as new complaints of lying.  He eventually made arrangements to have Kaspar become a clerk since he didn't seem capable of any other profession.  On December 9, 1833, Kaspar had a terrible argument with Meyer and openly dreaded what Stanhope would say when he arrived a few days later.  

Five days later, Kaspar rushed into the room where Meyer and his wife were sitting.  He was out of breath and pointed to a wound in his chest where someone had stabbed him.  He dragged Meyer to the nearby public gardens and gasped out, "went-Hofgarten-man-had knife-gave bag-stabbed-ran as hard as could".  Meyer took him back home to be treated.  Although doctors initially believed the wound to be shallow, his condition worsened drastically. Police questioned him and he told them that he had been lured to the Hofgarten with a fake message and stabbed. Aside from an odd note found in a silk bag near where Kaspar was found, no other clues to the attack were ever found.  Kaspar Hauser died on December 17, 1833. 

An autopsy raised questions about Kaspar's attack and his own version of events.  The medical experts who examined the evidence were split on whether Kaspar's wound was self-inflicted or whether he had been killed by an unknown assailant.  Although some supporters suggested that Kaspar had been assassinated to prevent him from proving his royal origins, skeptics countered that Kaspar had actually stabbed himself to stir up public interest in his story (while misjudging the depth of the knife wound).  The knife was never found (and may have been thrown into a nearby brook).  A formal investigation concluded that no murder had taken place and that Kaspar had stabbed himself.  Lord Stanhope later wrote that he agreed with the findings and stated that "I may be the only man that ever wrote a book to prove himself in the wrong".  

The controversy dragged on with supporters insisting that Kaspar had been assassinated to prevent him from discovering his true origins.  Pamphlets were  published denouncing Stanhope and accusing various people in Kaspar's life of covering up the murder.  Years later, Professor Daumer wrote a book in which he insisted that Stanhope had masterminded Kaspar's assassination himself.   Stanhope's daughter, Catherine Powlett Cleveland published a book on the case in 1893 which is still available online.  Long after his death, Kaspar Hauser's story continued to inspire movies, books, and plays based on his life and questions about his origins and the strange circumstances of his death are still being raised.

But what can we say about Kaspar Hauser?  Even though certain aspects of his story can be dismissed as exaggeration (he learned to talk and walk suspiciously quickly given his claims of growing up in a cell), there is little question that he suffered from abuse and neglect in his early childhood.  The scars on his body and the psychosocial dwarfism he experienced (which is still known as the "Kaspar Hauser syndrome") seems testimony enough for that.  DNA studies have since ruled out his being part of the Baden royal family although questions remain about his true identity.  This continuing mystery may be a fitting legacy for a   strange foundling who enjoyed attention.

 

           

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