Kristine L Ming

Who was the abandoned man with no memory?

Press reports about Roger Curry

Police and social services were baffled when an elderly man with an American accent was found lost on the streets of the English city of Hereford. He didn’t know who he was or have any ID, and he was dressed in brand new clothes from Tesco. The quest to find out who he was had results that nobody could have predicted.

It was 7 November 2015 when the man was found in a bus station car park. Tests at the county hospital showed why he wasn’t able to reveal his identity – he had dementia.

Sgt Sarah Bennett, from West Mercia police, was tasked with finding out who the mystery man was.

She initially assumed it would be a formality. Dementia patients regularly go missing and most are found in hours. But when she checked missing persons’ reports locally she couldn’t find anybody listed matching his description, so she expanded her search nationwide.

Image caption

The abandoned man in hospital

Police trawled through CCTV, launched an appeal through the press appeal, contacted the national crime agency and Interpol.

Missing persons’ databases in the UK and abroad were checked and the Canadian and US authorities were contacted. Nothing.

While in hospital the man was repeatedly asked his name. Once, and once only, he replied “Roger Curry.” The police were aware it might not be his name at all – it might, for example, be someone from his past.

Find out more

Watch Panorama: The Mystery of the Unknown Man on Monday 30 January at 20:30 on BBC One. You can catch up after broadcast via the iPlayer

Even so, he was called Roger by staff of the residential nursing home he was moved to while investigations continued.

Months passed, but the police still had no idea who Roger really was. They looked at a number of possibilities. Was he being cared for by someone locally and something happened to the carer? Had they died and Roger simply wandered off?

“We have a person. We have a possible name but we have nothing else. We have no identity documents – no indication of where he’s from,” said Sgt Bennett.

Image caption

Amanda Bow with Roger in the nursing home

One afternoon in March 2016 I visited Roger at the nursing home. He looked content, even though he was clearly lost in his own world. I asked him his name and where he was from. But the questions, never mind the answers, were beyond him. He seemed a gentle sort, just very lost.

Roger was clearly well looked after. Staff had fallen in love with this gentleman who enjoyed chocolate muffins and the odd sherry at night.

Amanda Bow, the manager of the nursing home, said that they’d learned nothing about Roger since he arrived there.

“He’s a blank canvas, completely blank,” she told me. But she said tears would be shed if he was eventually identified and had to leave. “It’ll be devastating, because he’s our Roger. We’ve adopted him.”

Image caption

Darragh MacIntyre with Jim – a former classmate of Earl Roger Curry – and his wife Helen

Shortly after, a BBC Midlands news bulletin put out a fresh appeal.

It led to the first breakthrough.

The report had a big response from viewers and inspired a small army of social media sleuths to investigate. One post on a BBC Facebook page was particularly intriguing.

A woman called Debbie Cocker posted a photograph of a man called Earl Roger Curry, from a 1958 US high school yearbook. The photograph was of an 18-year-old man. He looked a bit like Roger and was about the same age.

Image caption

Roger Curry in his 1958 high school yearbook

The yearbook picture was from Edmonds High School. Edmonds is just north of Seattle, in the northwest state of Washington.

I travelled there to meet a woman called Helen who looked after the web pages for the class of 1958 Edmonds High School. Helen was in the same school year as Roger, and her husband Jim was in the same class.

Both Helen and Jim believed that young man in the yearbook picture was the same person as the unknown man in the English nursing home.

Over the next weeks, I traced Earl Roger Curry down the US west coast to a house in Los Angeles, in an area called Whittier. It’s a classic American suburb (the movie Back To The Future was filmed there), and the street where I believed Roger lived was the very picture of middle-class respectability.

But Earl Roger Curry’s house stood out – an eyesore in an otherwise prosperous area. It had been badly damaged by fire and abandoned.

Image caption

The Currys’ fire-damaged house

Jerry Maiques lives opposite the old Curry home. I showed him pictures of Roger taken in the nursing home in England.

“That’s Roger.” No hesitation. “No question about it. No doubt.” Another neighbour also recognised Roger.

It was the end of the search, but it marked the start of another mission – to find out how Roger was apparently abandoned halfway around the world. No-one here imagined that he could have travelled to England on his own.

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