“He faked his own death!” is an exclamation normally reserved for movie watchers and conspiracy theorists. Leaving it all behind, changing your name, and starting a new life a few thousand miles away is not a plan anyone really puts into practice. Or is it?

When life became too much for Bennie Harden Wint, he set into motion a scheme he’d spent a lot of time thinking about. He thought no one would ever find out who he planned to become — or that a simple mistake would uncover his motive for leaving everything behind.

It was September of 1989 on the sunny shores of Daytona Beach. A young couple was strolling along the beach when the man decided to take a dip in the ocean. He swam out past the breakers…and disappeared.

Angie Saycheez / Vintage Daily

Bennie Harden Wint was lost in the surf that day, leaving behind his fiance, Patricia Hollingsworth, and a four-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Hollingsworth reported him missing, launching a massive manhunt.

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Beach Patrol Officer Scott Petersohn was working on September 24th, 1989, the day Wint went missing. He recalled the day well, even decades later. “Everybody feels it,” he said of someone going missing. “Everybody takes it personally.”

Jim Tiller / Daytona Beach News Journal

An average of ten people die every day from drowning, and the lifeguards on one of the busiest beaches in United States know this more than anyone. But that’s one of the reasons Mr. Wint’s reported drowning stuck out to those on duty — something was off.

“Even back then, it struck everybody as odd that we didn’t recover the victim,” Petersohn said. “That almost never happens.” Normally if victims don’t get immediately recovered by a lifeguard, their bodies wash up on the shore within a week. But, not Wint.

Unbeknownst to everyone on the beach that day, including Wint’s fiance, this was the first step in an elaborate plan to completely change his life — by ending it himself. But not in the way you might think.

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Bennie Harden Wint died that day, but William James Sweet took over right where he left off. He emerged from the water and ditched town, leaving behind all he knew. While the beach patrol searched for Wint, Sweet was halfway to Alabama.

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But Bennie Wint was not forgotten by those who loved him. Two decades after his run into the ocean, his abandoned daughter, Christi McKnight, took to the internet to find her missing father.

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She posted online to find her dad in hopes of saving her dying grandmother, Wint’s mother. “Doctors say she should have been dead a year ago, but they say she’s holding on to one thing, and we believe that she is holding on to my father,” McKnight wrote. 

She didn’t get an answer — for a while. But a year later, North Carolina’s Sgt. Stacy Wyatt noticed a car with a license plate light that was out. He flashed his lights, pulling over the vehicle in what would be an anything but routine traffic stop.

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As protocol dictates, Sgt. Wyatt asked the driver for identification. The driver did not have an I.D. on him, but claimed to be William James Sweet. This was a major red flag for the North Carolina officer, so he decided to bring Sweet in for questioning.

Weaverville Police

What unfolded next was described by Officer Wyatt as “kind of like a movie.” Back at the station, Sweet was questioned about his identity, or lack thereof. There was no Brian Sweet on record anywhere that fit the man’s description.

While under police custody, Sweet told the truth about who he was, admitting his real name was Bennie Harden Wint. Twenty years ago, he explained, he walked into the ocean and faked his own death. Officers didn’t buy the story.

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After all, there were very few ways to corroborate this absurd story, as Wint had discarded all of his personal identification before starting his new life. Besides, what motive did he have to leave his life and family behind?

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Wint had an answer for that, too: he had to leave everything because he was involved with a drug ring. At the time, Wint believed he was wanted by the authorities and on a hit list for some of his illegal activities. He saw no way out.

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“It was merely paranoia,” Wyatt said. “He was running because of the prior life he lived.” Paranoia, indeed as the authorities confirmed Wint was not a wanted man in any state. He was running from nothing for all these years!

Weaverville Police

Meanwhile, Christi McKnight may have never known the truth had Sgt. Wyatt never pulled Sweet over for his minor offense. Neither his former fiance or his daughter could be reached for official comment on the shocking news regarding Bennie Wint.

Weaverville Police

Additionally, Wint/Sweet made it clear he won’t be interviewed on the subject unless he is compensated. Those invested were no doubt hungry for details; they knew from past headlines how wild stories of missing identities could be.

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They saw Benjaman Kyle sit stiffly under the warm studio lights of the infamous Dr. Phil stage. As the mustachioed T.V. doc went on in his southern drawl, Kyle stared blankly. His posture was distinctly uncomfortable, and his suit looked too big for him.

Kyle was out of place in front of the cameras. He was out of place almost everywhere he went. Mostly because the man had no idea who he was. Not figuratively or in a philosophical sense. He was not trying to find himself in a yoga retreat way.

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He didn’t know who he was in that he remembered nothing about his past, save for the date he was born. He didn’t know his real name, where he was from, or any members of his family. Even his earliest memory was disconcertingly recent.

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In the summer of 2004, an employee at a Burger King in Richmond Hill, Georgia, noticed a naked man laying down in front of the restaurant’s dumpster. He had a bad sunburn, and his body was crawling with angry fire ants that left behind crimson bites on his skin.

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The police were called and the man was taken to the hospital to be evaluated. An incident was filed, citing the man as a “vagrant.” Despite his dire appearance, doctors confirmed the middle-aged white man was in good health.

Dr. Phil / CBS Television

Good physical health, that is. With the exception of an advanced stage cataracts in his eyes, he was physically able. His mind, however, was a very different story. The man wouldn’t speak, refused food, and began to lash out at the doctors and nurses.

Finding Benjaman / FSU College of Motion Picture Arts

The man accused them of being “devils” and “demons.” He then asked to see a priest, and became even more agitated when he arrived, calling him an “imposter.” Based on the symptoms, he was diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia.

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Following a dose of anti-psychotics, he found himself at the psych ward. When they asked him questions about who he was and where he was from, he explained he didn’t have a single clue. His memory offered only a fuzzy recall of very vague details.

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Although unsure, he thought he might be from Indianapolis. He thought he might have some brothers, but didn’t know their names or faces. He remembered buying a grilled cheese at the State Fair for a quarter once. Other than that, he was a blank slate.

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The only thing he was sure of was his birth date, August 29, 1948. That he knew for a fact. His condition was particularly odd because of how lucid and reasonable he appeared. His doctor suspected he might be faking amnesia.

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He had been going by the name “B.K. Doe” short for Burger King Doe, a reference to where he was found. Eventually, he decided he thought his real name might be Benjaman. With two As. He chose Kyle as a surname.

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Thus, Benjaman Kyle was born. He was declared sane and transferred to a homeless shelter in Savannah, Georgia, where lived and worked for years. He gained favor with some of the nurses who worked at the facility because he worked extremely hard.

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One nurse in particular, Katherine Slater made it her mission to find out who this man really was. Interestingly, Kyle had become detached from the idea of ever discovering the truth. Instead, he buried himself in his maintenance work and sci-fi / fantasy novels.

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Slater became obsessed. Even with the police, journalists, online sleuths, and the FBI on the case, no one ever acknowledged knowing who Kyle was. Millions of people viewed his picture on TV screens and internet posts, but not a single lead came about.

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One day Slater received a call from Dr. Phil, and the pair flew out to Los Angeles, hoping their appearance on the hit show would reach someone, anyone from Kyle’s past. He told his story in front of the wide-eyed audience. One particular detail struck a chord.

Dr. Phil / CBS Television

Kyle had recently received cataracts surgery with the help of a local charity, and he described the moment he got a good look at his face in the mirror. Where he expected to see a man in his 30s, he was greeted by a much older man.

Dr. Phil / CBS Television

He explained he had no idea he had gotten so old. The audience audibly sighed with empathy. Unfortunately, even the appearance on Dr. Phil didn’t help him in his quest to discover his identity. Kyle became more and more discouraged.

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When “genealogical detective” Colleen Fitzpatrick came into Kyle’s life, he was in a bad place. He had left his job at the shelter because of a wage dispute. He was mowing lawns to get an income. Without a Social Security number, he could only work off-the-books.

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Kyle didn’t exist in the eyes of the government, rendering him incapable of holding a job or receiving much needed government assistance. Fitzpatrick thought she could help Kyle by analyzing his DNA in a different way.

Duke University Department of Physics

Using a 23andMe kit, Fitzapatrick cross checked Kyle’s DNA against a new pool of samples. The FBI had previously used their public database, but not the private one offered by the service. The results were extremely promising.

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Kyle shared characteristics with a family by the last name of Powell. Fitzpatrick began to reach out to the family to collect their DNA and sent pictures of Kyle to see if they recognized him. After years of searching, it seemed like the answer was around the corner.

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That’s when Kyle left. He moved from Georgia, leaving everything he knew. He cut off contact with Slater and Fitzpatrick and began walking to Florida. A police officer gave him a ride to the state line, and he found himself in Jacksonville.

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Kyle ended up working in a restaurant called Crazy Fish, where he washed dishes. It’s hard to say why he left Georgia and the promise of finally finding out who he really was. He tried to explain his feelings to Slater.

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“I’ve been in this identity, Benjaman Kyle, for a long time,” he told her. “And even if they figure out who I am, I’m probably going to feel like Benjaman Kyle.” So, Kyle he was. Though people kept trying to help him.

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A filmmaker set up a website for Kyle, but it was another dead end. The restaurant he worked at closed down, and he lost purpose. He became more and more antisocial. It had been ten years since his discovery, and depressing resignation was beginning to sink in.

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Then, out of the blue, he got a call. Genealogist CeCe Moore had found him. His name was actually William Brent Powell of Lafayette, Indiana. Writer Matt Wolfe described his reaction: “I’m so relieved,” Kyle said. Then he was quiet for a while, and it sounded like he was crying. 

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This news put Kyle/Powell in contact with his brother Furman, who offered some details about his life and information about his parents and other family members. They had been searching for him for years and assumed he had died.

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Then came time for him to reunite with his family and return to his childhood home. Everyone was in disbelief as he greeted old relatives and friends. At first, Powell was anxious about what they would say, but he was relieved upon hearing their memories.

David Bangert / Journal and Courier

“I said all along that I wasn’t an ax murderer. And, so far, I’ve heard nothing to contradict that,” said Powell. He decided it was best for him to return home to Indiana to be with the family he had left, particularly his ailing brother.

Settling into his old life, he continued to wrestle with the duality of his identity. Slowing in bits and pieces, he remembered more about his past. “I’m worried about what the memories will be when they come back,” he told writer Matt Wolfe.

Toronto Star

“I’m sure they won’t all be good,” he said, nervously. Nevertheless, Powell continued on the long road of reconciling who he really was with the identity of Benjaman Kyle. It wouldn’t be easy, but it seemed better than not knowing at all.

Not every missing person case has an ending like Mr. Powell’s. In the case of Nicholas Barclay there is no happy ending. In fact, the case is one of the strangest on record. He was a troubled young boy from Texas and fought with everyone in his life.

Nicholas had even gotten himself into enough trouble that he had a court hearing scheduled due to his disruptive behavior. Little did his family know, however, Nicholas would never make it to the hearing.

The night before Nicholas was scheduled to appear in court, he went out to play basketball with a few friends. After the game was over, the boys all returned home, but Nicholas was never seen again…

Nicholas’s family initially assumed he ran away to avoid the court hearing, but as time went on, they realized he was missing. Nearby counties were alerted, and flyers were distributed, but sadly no one was able to offer any clues as to his whereabouts.

Finally, on an otherwise normal morning in 1997—a full three years after Nicholas went missing—the Barclay family received a phone call from authorities that left them stunned. The police said they’d found Nicholas!

They explained that a young man claiming to be Nicholas was found in a small town in Spain. It was the miracle the family had been awaiting for three exhausting years. Nicholas was immediately put on a plane and sent back to Texas to reunite with his eager family.

Both the family and police desperately wanted to find out what happened three years earlier. Nicholas claimed that he’d been kidnapped and immediately put on a plane to Europe where he was sold into a child sex-trafficking ring. Police in Spain found him, he said, only after he’d escaped.

It’s understandable that such a traumatic event would change a person, but the boy’s mother immediately noticed some off: his hair and eye color were, oddly, different. Nicholas claimed his captors dyed his hair and medically changed the color of his eyes to hide his identity.

As unusual as the differences were, his family firmly believed their son had returned home, even if some family members had their doubts. However, one private investigator named Charlie Parker found the whole story suspicious…

Charlie didn’t believe the kidnappers were physically able to change the boy’s eye color. Also, if what Nicholas said was true, the horrific events he lived through would have most certainly caused him to become withdrawn—but that wasn’t the case at all.

Charlie and other investigators closely examined photos of Nicholas before and after his alleged kidnapping. Besides the eye and hair change, he noticed one more difference that resulted in an alarming breakthrough…

It was the ears! Ears, like fingerprints, are completely unique to an individual, and this young man’s ears didn’t match the boy who disappeared three years earlier. But, if the person they found wasn’t Nicholas Barclay, who exactly were investigators talking to?

It was actually a 23-year-old Frenchman named Frederic Bourdin who was posing as the 16-year-old boy. Frederic was also known as “the Chameleon” by Interpol, the world’s largest police organization.

Frederic was a wanted criminal who impersonated missing children, and over the course of his life, he had masqueraded as hundreds of different personalities—his most recent being Nicholas Barclay.

Frederic apparently got the idea to impersonate the missing boy when the Spanish police who found him said he bore a striking resemblance. That was all he needed to hear to pull off his next stunt.

Charlie Parker immediately told the Barclay family what he and the rest of the investigators discovered. They were in complete dismay at the news. How had they not realized this grown man wasn’t actually Nicholas?

Nicholas’s uncle Jason apparently began to doubt the authenticity of his “nephew” after he arrived home; shortly before Jason was interviewed, however, he’d passed away. After Frederic’s outing by police, the Frenchman proposed his own outrageous theory…

Frederic claimed the Barclay family knew he wasn’t their son all along, and the reason they accepted him was to cover up his murder! As absurd as it was, Charlie Parker still wanted to investigate the claim. Was the young boy’s aggressive nature too much for his family?

Charlie never found conclusive evidence that the Barclays had a hand in Nicholas’s disappearance. He even want as far as digging through the Barclays’ backyard in search of a body, but he came up empty-handed.

Even though he hadn’t found any substantial evidence, Charlie didn’t quite believe the Barclay family was completely innocent in Nicholas’s disappearance. The family, of course, said otherwise, but with all the mysterious circumstances surrounding the case, no one could be sure…