In our age of information, the likelihood that one could travel the world without leaving any sort of footprint is next to none. However, one man—currently incarcerated in Ontario, Canada—seems to have done just that. For clarity’s sake, this article will refer to him as the Unknown Person. However, at the time of his arrest, he was using the false name Herman Emmanuel Fanken.
Incarcerated since 2013, the Unknown Person has refused to cooperate with Canada’s Border Services Agency (CBSA), giving no indication as to his origins. He is in a legal limbo; whereas most criminals in his situation would simply be deported to their home countries, he remains in a maximum security prison, as authorities simply don’t know what else to do with him.
October 28, 2012: “Herman Emmanuel Fanken” Arrives in Canada
In October of 2012, a man bearing a fraudulent French passport arrived in Montreal from Cuba. He claimed that he was visiting Canada to attend the funeral of his friend’s sister. Despite not having a legitimate passport, he was somehow given a 10-day visitor visa. Six months later, he was arrested for scamming.
The Unknown Person and four unidentified individuals pulled what’s called a black money, or, “wash wash” scam. They began by responding to a Toronto man’s Craigslist ad to purchase a commercial property. Then they claimed that they would pay him in cash that was arriving from South Africa, the bills painted in a black coating to avoid customs.
In order to remove the black coating, they said, the victim would need to buy them an expensive chemical that could wash the bills. The victim agreed, handing the Unknown Person and his co-conspirators a large sum of money to purchase this non-existent chemical. Claiming to have “washed the bills,” the scammers then paid the victim in fake money for the property. When he finally became aware of the scam, the victim was out roughly $450,000.
April 9, 2013: “Herman Emmanuel Fanken” Is Arrested
The Unknown Person was soon arrested. He was initially charged with two counts of fraud and personation. But when authorities realized that he was living in Canada on an expired visitor visa, CBSA became involved.
The legal solution was to deport him to his home country, though authorities soon came to realize that his documents were all fake. No one knew this man’s name or where he was from. And he himself was quite reticent to answer these questions.
He insisted that he was French, but there was no way to prove this true. Any time investigators brought up the question of his identities, he would become angry, shouting obscenities at officials and claiming that they had “kidnapped” him.
What We Do Know About the Unknown Person?
Interpol has worked closely with the Canadian police to solve the Unknown Person’s case. And while the world is no closer to learning his true identity, some shocking discoveries have been made.
- In 2009, French police busted a forgery ring that would sell fraudulent passports for 750 euros each. One sold passport bore the name Herman Emmanuel Fanken. This proves that the Unknown Person was in France in 2009, purchasing the passport from the busted forgery ring.
- A man carrying the aforementioned passport—almost 100% likely the Unknown Person—was once arrested at a French airport for attempting to use fraudulent documents. The reason for his release is unknown. And it makes even less sense that authorities allowed him to keep the illegal documents.
- Fingerprint records matched the Unknown Person to four other false identities, two being from Cameroon, one from Haiti, and one of an unknown origin.
- One of these identities, Bouon Emmanuel Febile, spent eight months in prison in London (for fraud charges, as one might guess).
What We Can Assume About the Unknown Person?
So where does this leave us? At the end of the day, all we truly know about the Unknown Person is that he is a traveling serial fraudster. By some stroke of luck, he has managed to evade being identified even by the highest authorities of law enforcement.
One must wonder why he doesn’t reveal himself, as doing so is his key to leaving a maximum security prison. Perhaps he doesn’t want to leave. As miserable as a life in prison is, it is at least safe. Considering his history of scamming, he likely has more than a few people who wish him harm. For him, a deportation could be a death sentence.
The Unknown Person’s presence has been both costly and irritating for Canadian authorities. In 2018, an Immigration Refugee Board of Canada adjudicator ordered his release, citing the case’s unnecessary complications.
However, Judge B. Richard Bell ruled that he would remain imprisoned, stating, “During the course of the hearing before me, both counsel observed that this matter is complicated for all concerned. I disagreed. It may be complicated for detention review officers, lawyers, judges, and CBSA officials. It appears not to be at all complicated for the Unknown Person… This court’s impression is that the Unknown Person considers himself to be the director of a play and Canadian authorities are but actors subject to his direction.”
Perhaps this is the Unknown Person’s greatest scam of all: watching authorities scramble to identify someone unidentifiable, all the while remaining safe from those who wish him harm.