1950, June: Rudolph Fentz' Death

As the story is told, it was a Captain Hubert V. Rihm of the New York City Police Department who reported the odd incident that happened in June of 1950. Rihm was interviewed about a year or so after, which was also after he had retired from the force. The whole matter had left a bad taste in his mouth.

        For Rihm, the story started with the body of a man who had been struck and killed by a car, whom was delivered to the morgue that evening. The victim was thought to be in his thirties, and the first thing everyone noted was that this unfortunate man was dressed very strangely. He wore checkered pants with a short coat and vest. The collar of his shirt had been starched into an upright hug around his neck. In addition, his shoes were buttoned, and he was delivered with a tall, "stove pipe" hat. All of that coupled with the man's unusual mutton-chop style sideburns gave the impression that he had stepped out of the middle of the Victorian Era.

        The contents of the man's pockets did nothing to dismiss this impression. He had about $70 in cash; but it was in bank notes, not bills, and none of his coins were dated newer than 1876, though they all looked new. Among the coins was a three cent piece that was no longer in use. The man also had a bill from a livery stable for the care of a horse and a carriage washing, and a coin worth five cents at a saloon no one had heard of. The most useful thing for the police were business cards that read "Rudolph Fentz," presumably the man's name, along with an address on fifth avenue; there was also a letter from Philadelphia marked for delivery to the same address. But the address was that of a business, and no one there knew of a Rudolph Fentz.

        Rihm, getting irritated with the case, asked for more about the circumstances of the car accident.

Rudolph Fentz
Rudolph Fentz [Larger version here]

He was told that Fentz had first been noticed standing in the middle of one of the city's larger streets around 11:15PM, staring around at the buildings, lights, and cars as if confused; it was this behavior that made people first notice him. A moment later, the lights changed and cars started to move again... but instead of standing still and waiting for everything to stop again, Fentz made a mad dash for the sidewalk through the now moving traffic, and was hit and killed almost instantly.

        When it became clear that no one was going to contact the police looking for the missing man, Rihm doubled down on his investigation, digging through progressively older phone books to see if he could find Fentz's home and family. After much searching, the officer found the name of a Rudolph Fentz Jr. in a phone book dated from 1939; and, having no other lead, Rihm contacted the superintendent of the building. Fentz Jr. had moved out in 1942. He had been in his sixties at the time, and retired from working at a local bank. Rihm soon located the right bank, and discovered that Fentz Jr. had retired in 1940, and had died around 1945. His widow was still alive and living in Florida.

        Still not sure if Fentz Jr. was somehow connected to the dead Fentz, Rihm contacted the widow to ask for more information about her husband and his family... and what he found out he never officially reported. He couldn't.

        Sometime in the mid 1870's, when Fentz Jr. was just two years old, his father went out one night at 10:00PM to stroll while smoking a cigar -- his wife didn't like the smell -- but he never returned. Rihm later dug through old police records until he found the missing persons reports from the 1870's... and there he found a report for a Rudolph Fentz, who went missing one night in 1876. Fentz had been 29 years old with mutton-chop sideburns, and when last seen was reported wearing a dark coat, checked pants, and a tall silk hat...

Did It Happen?

        The story of Rudpolph Fentz -- and it is a story -- was first published as part of a short science fiction tale written by noted author Jack Finney [1911-1995], and presented in the September 15, 1951 edition of Collier's Weekly magazine. The tale, entitled "I'm Scared", is written from the point of view of an older man who has started to investigate strange occurrences that suggest to him that time is starting to fragment; and the story of Rudolph Fentz is the longest such account he presents within the story. This part of the story, in fact, is what the title page art was based on... which is what I present above as my illustration of Rudolph Fentz.

        The short sub-story of Fentz's fate is presented in the larger tale as the older man interviews a retired police Captain named Hubert V. Rihm which then presents roughly the story above, though more as a dialogue between the two characters. Sometime after the publication of Finney's story, the sub-story about Fentz started to be circulated as a "strange but true" sort of account, now presented as the facts of an actual interview with an actual Captain Hubert V. Rihm.

        I personally never ran across this story previously here in the United States; but apparently it became a much repeated story in Europe, often referred to by paranormal 'researchers' there as actual proof of time travel. As such, it was investigated in 2000 by Chris Aubeck, who just wanted to know if the story actually was true (a practical thought!). Aubeck tracked the story, as it was being presented in Europe, back to a 1953 American Sci-Fi book called A Voice from the Galaxy. At the time, Aubeck thought this was the original starting point for the tale; but after he published his results, Aubeck was contacted by Pastor George Murphy who alerted him to the existence of Jack Finney's story, which was apparently copied for the 1953 book. And so ended the quest for the supposedly true time traveler Rudolph Fentz.

Still, It's Such a Good Story...

        I've seen this before; it's hard to stop a good story, and facts are, well... optional.

        On January 26, 2013, the website Cool Interesting Stuff put up an article on Rudolph Fentz's death which briefly listed off the details of the story as given above, then also acknowledged that the story was 'claimed' to have been written by Jack Finney and published in Collier's Weekly... and then they muddied up the waters, stating:

"No copies of the story have ever been found, and Finney died before he could be questioned."

Just to be clear here: I have links to the Collier's Weekly magazine story in my sources... so the story has most certainly been found.

        The website then followed up this statement with the explosive claim that an unnamed researcher working for the Berlin News Archive in 2007 discovered a newspaper article about Rudolph Fentz's strange death in an unnamed periodical dating from April 1951, with all the relevant details of the story, which was published months before Jack Finney's short story had been published. Furthermore, the site claimed, additional unnamed researchers had found evidence of the actual existence of Rudolph Fentz, and of his disappearance at the age of 29 in 1876. And, by way of proving this new evidence -- because the website doesn't give any sort of source for their claims, nor do they show the evidence they claim exists -- they include a photo of a man at the top of the page labeled as "The real Rudolph Fentz"!

Not Rudolph Fentz...

        The picture is of the author Jack London [1876-1916], not "Rudolph Fentz." And he doesn't even have mutton-chop sideburns. oy.

         Nevertheless, many websites to this day continue to repeat the unproven claim of an earlier article being found in the Berlin News Archive in 2007... no one, so far, has also re-posted the Jack London picture. Instead, starting at least as early as January 2014, someone selected a different picture to label as 'Rudolph Fentz.' Ironically, the earliest site I can find with this new image explains the story is false -- but also gives no clue as to where the new picture came from, or why it's labeled as "Rudolph Fentz." But the picture was soon picked up as new 'evidence,' and by June 2015, it had been coupled with some sort of certificate emblazoned "Dr. Rudolph Fenz senior" in a German-looking typeface, and then presented with essentially a copy of the text from Cool Interesting Stuff, including the false claims of new evidence.

Rudolph Fentz?
Rudolph Fentz? [Picture sources here]

        Please note three things: I can't find a larger resolution of this image, so it seems likely no one was ever supposed to be able to read anything but the name on the 'certificate.' This man does not have mutton-chop sideburns, as Fentz was reported to have. This man's collar is contemporary to the 1900's, not the 1800's. Despite these obvious problems, this man's picture now features prominently in many "Rudolph Fentz" websites, along with a thin implication that either Finney's short story doesn't actually exist or that it was a form of "cover-up" for true facts... but the story does exist, and anyone who reads it will see right away it's not part of a cover-up.