The Unknown Man

“I don’t care what you do, you can go to hell. That’s all I have to say to you. Go to hell”

– The Unknown Man

For over six years, he has been in a maximum security prison in Canada. Nobody knows who he is, or where he comes from. Police have searched for any trace of him in several countries, but to no avail. For now, the man calling himself Herman Emmanuel Fankem remains The Unknown Man.

It was October 28th, 2012, and Trudeau International in Montreal was heaving with people. At customs, a seemingly average looking man had landed from Cuba and handed over his French passport for inspection. HERMAN EMMANUEL FANKEM was the name on the passport, and he chatted amiably to airport security whilst routine checks were performed. Amid the usual questioning, he explained to the clerk that this wasn’t his first visit to the country and that he originally came to Canada six months earlier. Tragically, he shared, he was returning to attend a wake after his friend’s sister had died unexpectedly. Presenting evidence such as his hotel room reservation, $3,000, and his flight return ticket, airport security were happy Herman wasn’t suspicious and welcomed him back with a 10 day visitor’s Visa.

He didn’t leave in 10 days though. Authorities would learn that six months later, when Toronto police arrested him for a merciless scam, and this is where our mystery begins to unravel.

The scam was simple, but effective: Fankem and four associates responded to a Toronto man’s real estate advert for a commercial property. Fankem and his cronies (who remain unnamed) told the man they had a large sum of money arriving from South Africa, but the money had been covered in a black security coating to get it out of the country and needed to be cleaned with a special chemical. They persuaded their oblivious victim to buy the “chemical” for a cut of the cash. The shipment of black money turned out to be fake and the victim was $450,000 out of pocket before he even knew what hit him.

A kit used to make “black money,” seen during a press conference at Toronto Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto, Ont. Monday April 15, 2013. ERNEST DOROSZUK/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

Despite his arrest, he was not convicted. So why has he been imprisoned for over 6 years? It’s because nobody knows who he is.

His French passport turned out to be fake, and despite extensive enquiries in 11 countries on three continents, the mystery remains unsolved. This puts him in a bizarre state of limbo: Until Canadian officials know his identity and nationality, they cannot deport him; until they can deport him, they don’t want to release him. So what do we know about him? All that is clear is that he is roughly 40 years old, speaks fluent French and limited English. His accent suggests he is from a Francophone African country, but linguists have failed to come to an agreement on this. At his first hearing on August 22, 2013, the Unknown Man stated that “I am French, but I work in England.” No evidence suggests that he has ever set foot in the United Kingdom. During his time in prison, he has been completely uncooperative, even hostile, toward Law Enforcement. The Unknown Man demanded to stand trial for the fraud allegations, stating that he didn’t do anything wrong. He has repeatedly asked for his freedom, although he seems to comprehend that he cannot obtain freedom unless he starts cooperating. Unsurprisingly, we are only left with theories as to who he is.

The most believable theory is that he is hiding; Whatever or whoever he is running away from, it must be much worse than a stint at a Maximum Security Prison. He can’t get out, and nobody can get in to harm him. Another possibility is that he is indeed a conman, or at least mixed up in something dodgy, but has suffered a traumatic brain injury making his behaviour erratic and unusual. There have been several cases where an unidentified person has suffered from amnesia and cannot remember their true identity. Is The Unknown Man one of them?

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