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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

There are treasure hunters for all sorts of things, especially old vinyl records. Dori Hadar is one of them. On weekends he scours second-hand stores and junk markets. On one expedition, he happened on a treasure trove of albums by a guy named Mingering Mike. He's a soul superstar of the '60s and '70s who has released over 50 records in just 10 years. Never heard of him? Neither had Dori until that day.

Our tech contributor Xeni Jardin has more.

XENI JARDIN: Dori Hadar works as a criminal investigator in Washington, D.C. by day. He's a DJ and vinyl-collecting crate digger nights at weekends. He remembers the morning he stumbled into the biggest mystery he'd ever encountered, flipping through record crates fresh off the truck at a local flea market.

Mr. DORI HADAR (Vinyl Record Collector): I thought they are real when I first started pulling them out, but it quickly became clear as I opened them and realized that they were handmade.

They contained actual cardboard records, circular pieces of cardboard painted to look like records, but they were definitely not real records. I really was dumbfounded. I had absolutely no idea what these things were but I knew I had to have them.

JARDIN: He bought what he could and rushed off to work. Later, he scans some of the hand-drawn album covers to share with fellow vinyl junkies on a soul record Internet forum called Soul Strut. "Can Mingering Mike Stevens Really Sing!" read one album title.

There was an imaginary sickle cell anemia benefit record, and soundtracks for made-up movies like "You Only Know What They Tell You", and a Bruce Lee-style funk action concept album, "Brother of the Dragon." On another, the track list reads, "She's Not a One-Guy Girl," then "Come on Back," followed by "Frustrations of an Angry Young Man."

I'm very concerned with the growing rates of suicide, threats, killings, alcoholism, addicts, prostitutes, fakes, frauds, Mike writes in one fantasy liner note, and the success of this album.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HADAR: Everyone on the forum just had to know more. But when you listen to the recordings and you hear his voice and the passion, you know, as he sings, I mean you can really picture him just sort of isolated in his own fantasy and it just adds another dimension to the whole thing. And really, he just instantaneously had a huge fan base. All of a sudden, Mingering Mike was a star.

JARDIN: Word spread fast throughout the Internet. Millions wanted to see these fantasy album covers for themselves. But all of a sudden the images vanished. Dori explains.

Mr. HADAR: It became more and more clear how personal these things were. They really are like diaries and, you know, the more I thought about it and the more attention it started receiving, I realized, hey, how would I like it if someone posted my diary on the Web for a million people to see? And so I actually took the pictures down at one point so that I could try to find him first and make sure, you know, that this was all okay with him.

(Soundbite of recording)

JARDIN: Who was Mingering Mike? Was he still alive? Had he thrown his stuff away? Was it stolen from him? Dori wasn't the only one obsessed. It was like the whole Internet wanted to know too. At the urging of emailers, Dori -remember his day job as criminal investigator - tracked him down.

Mr. HADAR: At first I went to an address in Maryland - Mike actually lives in D.C. - and I spoke to a cousin there who turned out to be one of Mike's fictional musical artists named Audio Andre. And I knocked on his store and I asked if he knew who Mingering Mike was and he just started laughing hysterically.

JARDIN: Dori had more detective work to do before he would finally find the imaginary soul superstar.

For NPR News, I'm Xeni Jardin.

COHEN: Tune in tomorrow for part two of the mystery of Mingering Mike and go to npr.org to see the album covers and hear some more of his music.

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