Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mystery man detained in Halifax tells his life story to GQ Magazine

RICHARD DOOLEY

Mister Nobody is a somebody, but nobody he wants to be.

The man who tried for years to become a permanent Canadian citizen and made international headlines when he was detained at the Burnside jail by immigration officials in 2004, turns out to be a Romanian impostor.

The man Canadians knew first as Philip Staufen, then Keith Ryan and Sywald Skeid, confirmed to reporters who tracked him down in Portugal that his real name is Ciprian Skeid and he was born 36 years ago in Timisoara, Romania.

"I come from Romania, a place I loathe," he told a reporter for GQ Magazine in a story to run next month. "I'd rather be a fake nobody than the real me. At first I tried to be anyone at all. Then I tried to become someone-and then someone better."

It's a sad coda to an international mystery that's perplexed people for nearly a decade.

The mystery of Mister Nobody began eight years ago when a man claiming to be mugged showed up in a Toronto hospital with facial injuries and no identification.

With an upper-crust British accent that fooled linguistics experts, the man claimed to have no memory of who he was. The aristocratic looking young man read Latin sonnets, insisted on sipping tea from bone china and said his name might be Philip Staufen.

Staufen moved to Vancouver the next year after living free of charge with various good Samaritans in Toronto and Montreal and met lawyer Manuel Azevedo, who agrees to help Staufen obtain Canadian citizenship.

Passport was stolen

In 2002, the publisher of a gay magazine in London produces pictures of a French model named George Lecuit, who looks very similar to Staufen. It's subsequently revealed the real Lecuit's passport was stolen in 1998.

Eventually, Staufen marries Azevedo's daughter Nathalie Herve. The couple travel to Halifax where Herve looks for work as a legal secretary. Staufen, now calling himself Sywald Skeid, is detained by immigration officials who doubt his amnesia claims.

Skeid goes on a hunger strike demanding his release from jail and citizenship. When he's released from jail, Skeid who previously courted the media to call attention to his case, shunned the spotlight saying he just wanted to go home with his wife.

The couple eventually returned to the West Coast before settling in Portugal.

Eric Slone, one of Skeid's lawyers in Halifax, said he's surprised his former client is back in the news.

"But it's not exactly a shocking revelation," Slone said. "It was always a possibility I allowed for that he had a memory and he was playing this for some other reason."

Slone recalls Skeid as an "acutely intelligent" man who was deeply unhappy.

Slone said the whole matter is tinged with sadness.

"I don't think I will really ever understand his psychology," Slone said. "There are lots of people who reinvent themselves without pretending not to remember."

rdooley@hfxnews.ca

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