GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
Now then, we live in a technological age, a world where it is becoming increasingly impossible to hide. There are cameras on every corner, facial recognition technology, credit card records, optic scanners, Internet fingerprints. Ask yourself - if you wanted to disappear, to hide your identity so that no one you ever knew would be able to find you, could you do it? Could you find a place in our America where nobody knows your name? SNAP JUDGMENTS's Nick van der Kolk has the story.
BENJAMAN KYLE: I was found naked behind a dumpster at a Burger King in Richmond Hill, Georgia; that's a suburb of Savannah. I have no idea how I got there. The cleaning woman at the Burger King, she was taking out the trash in the morning. She called the police. The police and the ambulance took me to the hospital. I really don't remember that part. They asked me my name. I told them it was Benjaman. They asked me a last name. I told him I didn't know.
NICK VAN DER KOLK, BYLINE: Benjaman could only remember little scraps of information. He couldn't remember anything about his friends or his family. He had three wounds on his head caused by some kind of blunt object. There was no ID nearby, and he was almost totally blind. The whole world was in a yellow fog.
KYLE: The ward clerks at the hospital, they'd had come in every shift change, and they'd demand to know a last name - I want your last name. I wanted them to leave me the hell alone. They were calling me BK Doe because I was found behind a Burger King. The only name I could think of that began with a K was Kyle so I became Benjaman Kyle then. They asked me in a hospital what my birthday was. I told them it was August 29, 1948. They said, how do you know that? I said because I was born 10 years before Michael Jackson, to the day. Michael Jackson was born August 29, 1958.
VAN DER KOLK: If you found yourself in Benjaman's situation, this is the part of the story where your friends or family would show up. They'd have gone around to various hospitals in the area, looking for you in a panic, but no one came forward to claim Benjaman that day. He was totally alone at the hospital and broke.
KYLE: When you go into the hospital and if you don't have insurance, if someone's not paying for this, everyone there knows it and they treat you like excrement. I was in three different hospitals and two clinics, plus a homeless clinic in a period of three months. They kept shifting me around. Everyone was trying to get rid of me because they couldn't bill Medicaid or Medicare anyone because I couldn't give my Social Security number.
VAN DER KOLK: While Benjaman bounced around different hospitals and homeless shelters, his vision problems meant he couldn't read or watch TV.
KYLE: I could make out large shapes. I could not see well enough to cross the street. I wouldn't see a car coming up on me until was like, you know, four or five feet away from me.
VAN DER KOLK: So he kept his mind occupied by cleaning the floors of the shelter he was living at. He couldn't see much more than the outline of the mop so he just moved it across every bit of floor space again and again, until he figured it was clean. It wasn't until a year later when he was finally diagnosed with cataracts.
KYLE: When I had the cataract surgery, about a week after that surgery I was getting ready to shave. And I looked at myself in the mirror, and I just could not believe that that was me that I was looking at. I was so old. I felt like I should be in my 40s, and here I'm looking at an old man in the mirror.
I've said all along, ever since I was found, that my brain's not working right. I've always had a problem with numbers, remembering numbers. I'm thinking that my brain should be like, 40 years old and operate like it's 40 years old. But instead what it is is my brain is actually working normal, it's just that it's a 60-year-old brain now. And actually when that hit, I really think I started feeling older, then.
VAN DER KOLK: Usually in amnesia cases like this, some memories do eventually return. And this was no exception.
KYLE: Some of my memories started coming back. Like I remembered being in Denver.
VAN DER KOLK: If Benjaman could remember a key detail about his life before the accident, maybe it would lead him to someone - anyone - who could tell him who he was.
KYLE: My memories of Denver seem to have been in the middle '80s because there was talk about building the light rail system. But it was kind of a pie-in-the-sky, and they never had it. And they have it now. I'm pretty well convinced that I was raised in Indianapolis and that I went to a Catholic school. I'm always examining my reactions to certain things. So when I think of Catholic schools - you normally think of nuns, and the picture of all those Disney movies that had, you know, these happy-go-lucky nuns and everything in it - that's not my feeling of nuns. I get the distinct impression that they're not nice people.
VAN DER KOLK: He couldn't remember anything about the specific people from his past life. The only thing he could remember were about places and skills. Eventually, when he started a new job at a restaurant, it was like he had been there before.
KYLE: I walked into that dish room. I just knew what to do. I knew how to operate the machine. I know how to store the pans, how to clean. I just knew everything. I didn't have to think about it. I just did it. It's just like the skills are there and that when I need them, they're there and I use them. I've said all along that I worked in the restaurant industry and, in fact, actually, I think I've managed restaurants. Despite all my other problems, I have to work. I have to live. I have to figure out a way to live. I need a social security number so I can become legal. Obviously, I paid into the Social Security Administration somewhere. So I've got retirement benefits. Medicare and Medicaid. I have no government benefits, whatsoever. Social Security says the presumption is since I'm an American citizen, they cannot issue me another social security number. The owner of the restaurant, he says he doesn't give a damn. He'll just tell them he's paying me out of his pocket. He doesn't care who knows it.
VAN DER KOLK: The restaurant owner who had hired him had heard about Benjaman's story in the local paper. Another good Samaritan also gave him a place to live in Florida. By 2008, his story was getting picked up by bigger and bigger media outlets.
KYLE: Every single reporter or news organization that I talked to has sworn up and down, yes. We're going to solve this. Our audience is so great. So super.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DR. PHIL")
PHIL MCGRAW: Today on "Dr. Phil," imagine having your memory totally erased. Could you hold the key to his past and possibly his future?
VAN DER KOLK: "Dr. Phil" is probably the biggest audience Benjaman has ever spoken to - over three million people. And after this segment aired, the floodgates opened. People recognized Benjaman and got in touch. Unfortunately, most of them went something like this.
KYLE: There's a woman. She's in California. She swears up and down that I'm her father. The man living in her father's house is not her father. Someone did plastic surgery and everything, and they had him substituted for her father. She was so insistent upon this, she bought a paternity test from Walgreens, mailed it to me. So I took this paternity test, hoping that she would become unfixiated on me.
VAN DER KOLK: The test came back negative.
KYLE: So now she says that our brains were transplanted - switched. I'm still getting emails from her. I'm ignoring them now. We certainly didn't get anything useful to speak of from the "Dr. Phil" show.
VAN DER KOLK: The rest of his media appearances haven't been helpful either.
KYLE: I think, maybe, there's a little bit of hubris involved there and with the media overrating their reach.
VAN DER KOLK: He's had his fingerprints compared with military and government personnel databases and the FBI criminal database. He's had DNA tests, facial recognition comparisons with the Indiana DMV, private investigators, hypnosis. And even though Benjaman doesn't believe in things like clairvoyance, he even visited a psychic out of desperation. Nothing has worked.
KYLE: There's some people out there that will say that I am insane, and I'm just making this up. But no one can produce any reason as to why I'm doing it. I'm certainly not getting rich over it. You know what? If I won the lottery - and of course, there's a question upon how I'm going to collect from it. But if I won the lottery, I would never do another interview again with anyone. I'm doing this one right now because I feel that I need to. Maybe someone will hear it and give me some sort of clue, other than being kidnapped by aliens or something.
VAN DER KOLK: This is, like, setting an awkward question, but I wonder if you think about friends and family who are out there. Just did you ever think like, Jesus - like no one cares?
KYLE: I guess so. I think, mostly, I just - I blocked that part out. And I just don't think about that. You know, you've got to remember that, you know, I have to earn a living. So I spend a lot of my time just thinking about work. I don't even think about the situation that I'm in.
VAN DER KOLK: So what's your hope and your plan moving forward?
VAN DER KOLK: Yeah.
KYLE: I'm going to die. (Laughter) People hate it when I say that. They do. But long term, I'm going to die. I'm 65. In another 10, 15 years, I'm going to be dead. That's my long-term plan. You know, most people are looking forward to retirement. I'm not going to retire. What happens if I become physically disabled and I can't work? Well, I don't know, and I don't think about it because there's not a damn thing I can do about it.
WASHINGTON: Benjaman Kyle - or whoever this man really is - lives in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. He still does not have a social security number. And he is still unable to recollect his own past. We'll have Benjaman's picture and current information on our website, snapjudgment.org. Maybe you can help him out. You're listening to SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Identity Crisis" episode. When the program returns, we want to discover a very, very, bad thing. We're going to have an emotional breakdown at the worst possible place. And we're going to witness a miracle, for real, when SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Identity Crisis" episode continues. Stay tuned.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE QUESTIONS")
MOS DEF: (Singing) Why do I need ID to get ID?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don't know. Beats me. Beats me.
MOS DEF: (Singing)If I had ID, I wouldn't need ID. Man, I don't know. I don't know.
COMMON AND MOS DEF: It's the questions. What? It's the questions, boy. It's the questions. It's just my questions, boy. Come on. Some questions. It's the questions, y'all. It's the questions. What? It's the questions. Come on. Talkin' 'bout the questions. It's the questions, girl. It's the questions. Yeah. It's the questions. Come on.
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