A mysterious teenager shows up on the streets of Nuremberg one day, claiming to have spent his life isolation. It was speculated that hes the young Prince of Baden, who was rumored to have been swapped at birth, to change the line of succession. Was this mysterious teenager really the lost prince of Baden? DNA tests solve the mystery.

Who was Kaspar Hauser?

Kaspar Hauser

In 1828, Kaspar Hauser appeared as a teenager on the streets of Nuremberg, Germany. He carried an anonymous letter that said he was given over to his ‘captor’ as an infant with instructions to teach him reading, writing and religion, but not allow him to “take a single step out of [the] house.”

The letter addressed to Captain von Wessenig in the cavalry regiment, requested him to either turn the boy into a cavalry man as his father, or to hang him.

Hauser had a limited vocabulary. He was able to write his name, read a little and say a few prayers. When brought to Captain von Wessenig, he simply kept repeating two phrases in an old Bavarian dialect; “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” and “Horse! Horse!”

Nuremberg Castle
Nuremberg Castle

Hauser was initially imprisoned at Nuremberg Castle as a vagabond, because he couldn’t identify himself. He claimed to have spent most of his life alone in a small dark dungeon, fed just bread and water by a masked man who was his only human contact.

Rumors that Kaspar was the true Prince of Baden

Stephanie de Beauharnais
Stephanie de Beauharnais

His tale generated much excitement, which gained Hauser international attention and frequent visits from curious callers. Around the same time, rumors arose that he may be the son of Grand Duke Carl von Baden and Stephanie de Beauharnais.

Their eldest son had died shortly after birth. However, it was speculated that the true Prince was exchanged for a sick child in an attempt to change the succession to another branch of the family.

If the young prince had really survived, he would have been around the same age as the mysterious Hauser.

A series of alleged attacks

Pencil drawing by Kaspar Hauser, 1829
Pencil drawing by Kaspar Hauser

Hauser had many different caregivers over the next five years. At each home, the relationship between Hauser and his caregiver started off well. But, each relationship quickly deteriorated because Hauser was an excessive liar.

Then there was a series of alleged attacks. Each attack coincided with a disagreement between Hauser and his caregivers for lying. The first “attack” took place in 1829. Hauser was discovered with a cut on his forehead in the cellar.

In his version of the incident, Hauser was attacked by the hooded man from the dungeon. However, others believed the wound was self inflicted.

The fatal attack 

The final fatal “attack” happened in December 1833, when Hauser returned home with a deep stab wound in his chest.

The note from the 'attacker' in mirror writing
The note from the ‘attacker’ in mirror writing

As the story goes – Kaspar was lured to the Ansbach Court Gardenby a stranger, where he was stabbed and given a bag. Police found this bag and an incomplete note allegedly from his attacker indicating where he may be found.

Hauser’s history of lying lead investigators to examine the note closely and identified a spelling error, a grammar error, and a specific triangular folding pattern, all typical of Hauser. Therefore it was determined that Hauser had written the note himself.

The investigators also concluded that Hauser may have stabbed himself, in a bid to revive public interest in his story, but had inadvertently stabbed himself too deeply. Hauser died three days later on 17th December 1833.

Many claimed Kaspar’s “assassination” supported the belief that he really was the Prince of Baden. At the time, there was no way to prove or disprove this rumor, but in 1998, DNA analyses provided that opportunity.

Kaspar Hauser’s grave
Kaspar Hauser’s grave (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Genetic analyses of Hauser’s bloodstained clothing

DNA analyses require authentic material from the study subjects, ideally from human remains. It was unknown whether Hauser’s gravestone was still above the correct grave, due to disturbances during the war.

So, researchers elected to use a section of fabric from the blood soaked underpants that Hauser was wearing during his alleged assassination. This clothing was originally seized by the court after the stabbing. It was later given to the Historical Society of Ansbach.

Mitochondrial DNA analyses

Simplified lineage of Stephanie de Beauharnais
Simplified lineage of Stephanie de Beauharnais showing the proposed relationship between the two reference samples (great-great-great granddaughters) and Kaspar Hauser. (Figure from Weichhold GM et al. (1998) Int J Legal Med.)

Researchers chose mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analyses, because there are multiple copies of the mtDNA genome per cell. This increases the likelihood of obtaining quality DNA, especially from degraded samples.

MtDNA is inherited in a strict maternal pattern (mother to child). It’s useful for tracing maternal lineages, even when the subject and available references are several generations apart.

In this case, researchers acquired two reference samples from living maternal descendants of Stephanie de Beauharnais – the putative mother of Hauser if he was indeed the Prince of Baden.

These two descendants will share the same mtDNA profile as Stephanie de Beauharnais and any of her children.

A mere pathological liar

Two independent laboratories generated identical mtDNA profiles from the bloodstained fabric of Hauser. In both cases this mtDNA profile differed significantly from the profile of the two references, confirming that Hauser didn’t belong to the House of Baden.

The true identity of Hauser is still unknown. It’s now believed that he was just a pathological liar with a hysterical and attention-seeking personality.

The DNA tests conducted in this study have defined the mtDNA profiles of Kaspar Hauser and Stephanie de Beauharnais. If you have taken the DNA Maternal Ancestry Test, you can compare your mtDNA against these individuals to see if you may have descended from the same maternal lineage as either a pathological swindler (Hauser) or German nobility (de Beauharnais).

Reference:

Weichhold GM et al. (1998) DNA analysis in the case of Kaspar Hauser. Int J Legal Med. 111(6):287-91.