Desperately Seeking Rudolf. Part One

Chris Aubeck
Magonia 79, October 2002
This article describes my attempts to trace an incident of `time travel’ or ‘teleportation’ that allegedly took place in New York many years ago. The paper trail that led me to the original source is a classic example of how labyrinthine such searches can be. Oddly enough, the paper trail begins not in New York but in Spain.

An untimely death

I first became aware of the case of Rudolph Fentz when I read an article in the Spanish magazine Más Allá. “Regreso al futuro en el corazon de Manhattan” (Back to the Future in the Heart of Manhattan) was a six-page report written by researcher Carlos Canales, co-author of two well-researched books dealing with supernatural themes in folklore and legend. [1] The article told one of the most amazing stories of ‘teleportation’ I had ever read. The gist of it was as follows:

It was about 11:30pm on an unspecified day in June, 1950. The night was warm and the streets of New York were still full of people as they made their way home after an evening at the cinema, at the theatre or dining in one of Manhattan’s fine restaurants.

One young man, however, stood out from the rest. He was dressed elegantly enough, but in a style that looked old-fashioned, even archaic. Walking quickly, the strange figure seemed preoccupied by everything he saw around him, as if he were lost and looking frantically for something he could recognise. He was also quite oblivious to the passing traffic, as became immediately apparent when he dashed across a busy intersection near Times Square and was hit almost instantly by an automobile. The impact was such that the man was killed outright. A crowd of horrified pedestrians gathered on the curb to see his limp body, his peculiarly tailored clothes no doubt spattered with blood, until the police arrived to take him away.

Nothing about the dead man’s appearance looked normal. He had been wearing a long black coat and an impeccable waistcoat that not even the old-timers would be seen wearing – and this gentleman had probably been in his late twenties. The cloth from which his clothes was made was uncommonly thick, especially for that time of year. More disconcerting than this were the shoes on his feet: narrow, pointed at the toes and with a metal buckle, the people at the morgue had never seen anything like them. But the oddest thing was what they found in his pockets. The deceased was carring an amount of money – antique bills – and several business cards bearing the name “Rudolf Fenz.” There was also a letter, addressed to someone of the same name with a New York address … but postmarked in 1876! Naturally, they presumed the dead man was himself Rudolf Fenz.

A team of specialists were employed to find out who Fenz was. First they checked for his name in the records, but to no avail, there was nobody of that name living in the address on the cards and on the letter. The telephone directories listed no Rudolf Fenz and he was not a registered driver. Even more bizarrely, the name did not appear in any medical or dentist records. The fact that ‘Rudolf Fenz’ was a German name led them to contact the immigration services but still they found no trace of him. The Federal Republic of Germany could not offer any clues, and nor could the Swedes or the Austrians.

A few weeks after the accident, the name of ‘Rudolf Fenz, Jr.’ was found in a phone book dating to 1939. Hoping this person would turn out to be a relative of the deceased Mr. Fenz, the police investigators went to the address that appeared in the directory, but there they were told that Rudolf Fenz, Jr., had died some years before. In any case, this Fenz would have been more than 70 years old at the time of the accident and the body they found was that of a young man.

Progress was made finally by Hubert V. Rihn of New York’s Missing Persons Bureau. He managed to track down Fentz Jr.’s widow. She was able to tell him that her deceased husband’s father had disappeared in 1976 when he went out for a smoke (Mrs. Fentz had not shared her husband’s fondness for tobacco). He had gone out for a walk and simply never came back. Nothing was ever heard of him again. After this, Rihn checked his department’s files for the year 1876, and there he found a document relating to the disappearance of Fenz and a photograph of the same. Rihn could not believe his eyes. The young man in the photo was identical to the one that had died nbar Times Square!


The article by Canales was not a literary invention or, regrettably, an original investigation, but rather the synthesis of a variety of sources, including several internet articles in Spanish. Two Spanish books mentioned the case prior to Canales’ article, and these also provided him with further details for his report: Enigmas Sin Resolver (1999), [2] written by journalist Iker Jiménez, and Los Enigmas Pendientes, by the late Joaquin Gómez Burón. [3] The latter was the earliest source, but it was published twice: first in 1979 and then in 1991.

Over a period of twelve months I managed to collect nine or ten summaries of the Fentz case from the internet but I soon discovered that information about the story was scarce outside the World Wide Web. None of the popular books dealing with time travel or teleportation that I would usually consult made any reference to Fenz at all, and enquiries to some of the major UFO and Fortean journals revealed that the case was practically unknown outside Spain. [4]

This was a strong indication that the whole incident was likely to be a piece of fiction, for a paranormal incident in which the evidence included a police report, a corpse (and presumably a burial), authentic documents and a photograph, would very quickly become famous and hotly debated, at least in esoteric circles. In fact, it would be irrefutable proof of the scientific reality of time travel. There would be whole books devoted to the case, perhaps even a museum.

But no, as I found out early on, the Rudolf Fenz case had seemingly come out of nowhere to be published in Spain in 1979. Even the one article written in English, In The Wink of an Eye: Mysterious Disappearances (1996) by Scott Corrales, had based its summary of the Fentz case on Burón’s book. And, like Carlos Canales after him, Joaquim Gómez Buron provided no source for his information (the short ‘bibliography’ being just a list of titles by popular authors such as Bergier and Kolosimo, without dates or names of publishers).

For some time it looked doubtful that an earlier source would emerge until I had traced all of Gómez Buron’s sources. Meanwhile I was able to compare and contrast the different versions available to me. Reading through the texts that I found on the internet I began to see that, although a great deal of agreement existed, the inconsistencies between one account and another gave the impression that each writer had contributed something new.

In one version, Fentz is seen running along the Fifth Avenue to his doom; in another, he materializes in the middle of the street in front of the car. In some versions the time was 11:30pm, in others 11:15pm, and in another 11:10pm. In his pockets Fenz either carried coins or dollar bills, or both. Sometimes the FBI is called in, sometimes it was a matter for the Missing Persons Division alone.

There are versions in which Hubert Rihn is the only investigator, and others in which teams of criminal experts use the latest technology to look into the case. In some renditions of the story Rihn visits the address given on the envelope and finds it is a store, in others it is a house. One article holds that when Fenz vanished in 1876 his family spent a great deal of money searching for him. In a few accounts Rihn solves the case when he sees an antique photograph of the young man, though most versions say that all he finds is a written description of the clothes Rudolf Fenz had been wearing the night he disappeared.

More agreement exists on the issue of the witnesses to the accident. Iker Jimenez writes that “scores of evewitness reports” were gathered by the police, though unfortunately he does not quote from any. [5] Burón does not claim there were so many witnesses but he does note that one of them said they had seen the dead pedestrian “attending… the last performance of the day” at one of the theatres a short time before. Canales nods in agreement and adds that, with this one exception, all the witnesses were unanimous in their statements – “Fentz seemed confused, as if he had suddenly appeared in a strange, remote place,” he writes. [6]

The article written by Canales is particularly interesting because he contributes an item of news unknown to everyone else: “The recent discovery of a letter addressed to the late Fentz from a trader in Pittsburgh, in the state of Pennsylvania (USA), has strengthened the theory [involving time travel] about what happened on New York’s Fifth Avenue in the last days of spring, 1950, and it is possible that it will one day enable us to understand our still mysterious world.” [7]

Unfortunately, that letter has never been published. In fact, as Canales admitted to me later, it was only ever mentioned during an internet ‘forum’ in Mexico – not the most suitable of sources for a datum of such importance. But was it a mere flight of fantasy? The answer to this question will be become apparent below.

One of the most interesting areas of disagreement concerns the spelling of the names of the ‘time traveller’ and of the police officer who led the im-estigation. Was it Rudolf or Rudolph? Fenz or Fentz, or possibly Fens? Hubert Rihn – or Rihm, or Rhin? Each of these names has been used at some time. This would be less significant if we were not looking for authentic information about supposedly real people. However, the writers who present the case as fact never mention this inconsistency.

A search for names

My first port of call was the United States Social Security database, available on line at various locations. I fist checked the database for the name “Rudolf Fenz.” It produced an immediate result: RUDOLF FENZ. Residence: 60645 Chicago, Cook, IL. Born: 5 March 1909. Died: April 1976.

Unfortunately, the dates did not fit. The Fenz of our storv had been 29 in 1876, and died in 1950, so we would logically expect to find a birth date of c.1847. A search in a different direction revealed that there is also a Rudolf Fenz, an engineer, alive and well and living in Germany today. Then I checked various databases for the name ‘Rudolph Fenz’ but there were no results at all. I tried again using ‘Rudolf Fentz’ and ‘Rudolph Fentz’ but there was nothing to be found. The surnames had existed but not attached to those Christian names. In a file of ‘Marriage Registers, Extracts from Manhattan (1869-1880) [8] 1 did come across a Franz Rudolph who lived in Manhattan and who married one Fridricka Winner in 1869, but I decided this was unlikely to be connected with the case.

I next sought references to Hubert Rihn, the man supposedly in charge of the police investigation in New York. There was no reference to anyone of that name. I tried Herbert Rihn (just in case), and then combinations of these names with Rihm, Rhin and Rhim. Nothing. Going through all the names attached to Rihn and Rihm one by one I did find a possible candidate by the name of Herman Kihm: Last residence: Ridgeview Ave., Cincinnati OH. Birth: 14 December 1912 in Mannheim, Germany Death: 23 June 1993 in Cincinnati, Hamilton Co. OH.”

The dates seemed okay, but that was about all. There was a little extra information in the file, which dispelled any doubt I had at that moment: “Medical Information: Cause of Death: Carbon monoxide poisoning. Married: 16 May 1919 [to] Emma Kopp b: 3 November 1916. Note: Herman and Emma met while working at a German newspaper in Cincinnati. Herman was a linotype operator, Emma was an editorial assistant. The newspaper, Die Frie Press [or rather, Die Freie Presse] (The Free Press) disbanded at the outset of World War Two.”
This Rihm was not a policeman but a linotype operator. [9] I made a mental note to check up on the number of German newspapers published in the United States, but not in connection with the Fenz case. In fact I was wondering whether any of the members of the Project 1947 group, who systematically scanned the early press for UFO reports, had examined the German newspapers printed in the USA.

This failure to trace either Fentz or Rihn through the official records is an important indication that neither man ever existed, at least in the time frame established in the narrative. It goes without saying that there was no ‘Rudolf Fenz Junior’ listed anywhere, either, for any period between 1850 and 2002 (alternative spellings included).

In April 2002 1 received confirmation from both the New York Public Library (Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Room 121, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, New York NY 10018-2788) and the New York State Library (Albany, NY 12230) that neither Hubert Rihn/Rihm nor, Rudolph/Rudolf Fentz/Fenz were listed in any New York telephone directory between 1939 and 1941. In May the same year I received a communication from Walter Burnes of the New York Police Division telling me that after searching their database they had been “unable to find any information on a Captain Hubert V. Rihm having served with the NYPD and/or the Missing Persons Bureau.”

Early sources

After six months of research and enquiries I finally came upon a book predating Gomez Burón’s wherein Rudolf Fenz is mentioned. It turns out that Jacques Bergier and Georges H. Gallet discuss the case at some length in their Le Livre du Mystere, a typical collection of enigmas and supernatural experiences published in Paris in 1975. To his credit, Gomez Burón did include this book in his general bibliography but there had been no reference to it in the main text and I had not been able to track it down. Partly this was because this book by Bergier is not very well known, but also because it is extraordinarily difficult to obtain particular out-of-print titles in Spain. In any case, I eventually did manage to obtain it, first in Spanish (1977) [10] and later in French (1975). [11].

The version given by Bergier and Gallet concentrates mostly on the investigations carried out by ‘Captain Hubert V. Rihm’ of the Missing Persons Division. Now retired, they write, Rihm no longer has access to the police report he once filed but can remember enough details to describe most of the ins and outs of the case. In most respects this version corresponds with those we have already seen, though not entirely. The time of the accident is given as “approximately” 11:15pm. “Rudolph Fentz” is first seen in the doorway of a theatre in the middle of a large crowd, although paradoxically “nobody saw him go down the street.” He is next seen in the middle of the road, where he is hit by a taxi. A policeman spotted him from the street corner but could not reach him on time. The dead man’s fingerprints were taken but did not match with any known to specialists either in New York or in Washington.

More details about Rihm’s investigation are provided. After finding Rudolph Fentz Jr. listed in the 1939 telephone directory Captain Rihm goes to the address given and there finds out that Fentz had been around 60 years old in 1939 and worked at a local bank. He had retired in 1940 and moved away. At the bank Rihm was informed that the man had died in 1945 but that his widow was still living in Florida.

A letter from Fentz Jr.’s widow told Rihm that her father-in-law had disappeared when he went out one night for a smoke, and that the family had spent a great deal of money trying to locate him, in vain.

This version was now the earliest I had seen. The Spanish translator of Le Livre du Mystere, Marisa Olivera, had rendered the name of the missing man ‘Rudolf’ to make it more familiar for Spanish readers (a common but regrettable practice), while Hubert Rihm’s name was not altered. This meant that the name ‘Rihn’ had originated as a mistake in Burón’s book, as did the name ‘Fenz’, leading other writers to make the same mistake in later years. The only North American reference to the case, we recall, is in Scott Corrales’ In the Wink of an Eye, that also has ‘Rudolf Fenz’.

The next question was, of course, What was Bergier’s and Gallet’s source’? Fortunately, this was not a difficult question. Their book had been pieced together mainly from articles published in an Italian magazine, Il Giornale dei Misteri, and the Fentz article had been published there.

The paper chase

Bergier and Garret drew their information from Il Giornale dei Misteri, an Italian magazine devoted to these kinds of matters. A quick enquiry to the research group to which I belong and have mentioned above, Project 1947, produced a response from researcher Bruno Mancusi telling me the precise edition of the magazine: number 36, March 1974, p.24. I now have a copy of that article in my possession, thanks to Edoardo Russo at CISU.

But that is not all. The article in the Italian journal contains a brief but important bibliographical reference: ‘Fakta. no. l, 1973'.

At the time I had no idea what this referred to. Was there an Italian magazine with that name’? A French journal? Ole Jenny Braenne of UFO-Norge came to my rescue. Fakta? (‘Facts?’) was a Norwegian magazine! Braenna informed me that on pages 11-12 of Fakta? number 1. 1973, there was an article entitled “Uforklarlige forflytninger og forsvinninger,” which translated means “Unexplained teleportations and disappearances.” I have a copy of this article in my possession, now, too.

Page 12 is devoted to the ‘Rudolph Fentz’ story – note the spelling. ‘Rihm’ is the spelling of the policeman’s name (“Kaptein Hubert V. Rihm”). These are the original versions of their names, as we shall see. Another curious addition was the information that the letter Fentz carried in his pocket was “poststamplet juni 1876 i Philadelphia” – that is, it was postmarked “Philadelphia 1876.” Was this the origin of the supposed “letter addressed to the late Fenz from a trader in Pittsburgh, in the state of Pennsylvania” that Canales had read about in the internet forum? It is worth considering, as there is no way such a letter could have been “discovered recently”. Unless it had been addressed to Mr Rudolf Fenz (1909-1976) of Chicago, Illinois!

On page 11 the article deals with a mysterious disappearance in Nanking (1939) and the story of the ‘mass teleportation’ of a whole regiment in Gallipoli in 1915, a well-known but untrue tale. More interesting than this, however, was the bibliographical reference ‘Arcanum, January 1973.’

Was Arcanum another Norwegian magazine? No, it turns out that Fakta? had taken the article from a Swedish magazine of that name. So far I had been able to trace the story of Rudolph Fentz from Spain to France, from France to Italy, then to Norway. Now it seemed the story may have originated in Sweden…

Anders Liljegren came to the rescue. Mr Liljegren is a UFO researcher but also the archivist for AFU-Sweden (Archives For UFO Research), one of the largest UFO libraries in Europe. In an e-mail he told me that issue 99 of Breveirkeln Arcanum, January 1973, contained an article entitled “Into unknown country,” which, of course, discussed the same ‘teleportation’ cases as the Facta? article. The author of the 4-page article was Lennart Lind, an occultist and ufologist. Lind interpreted the three stories in an esoteric way, with theories about “the 4th dimension” and “time holes” from Ralph M. Holland, Marian Harthill and -Mvron.’ No references to sources were provided in the article, but there were quotes from the journal of the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation (BSRF), and Liljegren felt that the information had probably come from there.

The BSRF is based in California. The paper chase had apparently taken me back to an English language source, where one automatically supposes a story set in New York and involving the New York police should be.


In 1945, occultist theorist N. Meade Layne (1883-1961) [left]founded the Borderland Sciences Research Associates (later ‘Foundation’) and a quarterly publication called Round Robin, a booklet dedicated to the examination of supernatural phenomena. Layne is acknowledged to be one of the first theorists on ufological matters, making public statements about the phenomenon in 1946 in the wake of a sighting in San Diego on October 9th that year.
Before the world’s press began publishing reports on `flying saucers’ in the summer of 1947, Meade and his colleague, medium Mark Probert (d. 1969), had already proclaimed the objects were “ether ships” from the “fourth dimension.” Technically speaking, therefore, the BSRF is the oldest flying saucer group in existence, though according to a letter written by a much later director, James Borges, the group de-emphasised UFOs in their work in the 1970s in order to focus on scientific experimentation. [12]

The term ’round robin’ had been used for years in a slightly different context. It originally referred to a creative game in which one person starts a story and other people take turns adding to it, with no fixed plot. Although this was not what Meade Layne had in mind for his journal, it is, ironically, the simplest possible description of the process by which many tales, like Fentz’s, are developed. In 1959 the name of the publication was changed to The Journal of Borderland Research. The organization, which is still active today, describes the publication as “an information resource for scholars and researchers on the frontiers of science and awareness.”

As there was no reference to a particular issue of Round Robin or the Borderland Journal it seemed it was going to be a long job to find one article amongst almost thirty years of publication history. There was no guarantee that the Fentz story had come from there, either. I was, therefore, delighted when Anders Liljegren wrote and told me that he had located the issue in question. Fortunately it was not such an arduous task, as it had been published in the May-June 1972 edition of The Journal of Borderland Research (Volume 28), on pages 15 to 19. Was this the earliest version of the Fentz story? Anders sent me a copy of the article a few days later.

A Voice from the Gallery

The report consisted of two parts of unequal length. Pages 15 and 16 dealt with Fentz while the rest discussed the esoteric significance of such mysteries, introducing three cases that had not been mentioned in the articles published in Norway and Sweden. We will look at these later. The most significant detail, however, was the way the story of Fentz was presented. The heading of the article was: 'The Voice from the Gallery: By the late Ralph M Holland. From Colliers'.

This seemed to indicate that the article had been taken directly from the popular American magazine Collier’s, but as no date or issue number was mentioned I was unable to trace it. But I decided that this was probably not necessary, as another source was mentioned: A Voice in the Gallery, number 4, 1953.

The Borderland writer – Vincent H. Gaddis – states that “From Holland’s ‘A Voice in the Gallery,’ No.4, 1953 until March 1969 we had to wait for the occult explanation of the Fentz disappearance and reappearance,” so I suspected that the Collier‘s article would have been identical to the Borderland Journal version. The inclusion of an exact bibliographical reference, plus the fact that Ralph M. Holland is presented as its author, implied that the text about Fentz was copied verbatim from the original.

Unfortunately, editions of A Voice from the Gallery (the correct name of the booklet, according to a reliable source I will cite below) are very rare and I have yet to see any of them. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the earliest published source, and the ‘paper trail’ lead me to the inevitable conclusion that all later renditions of the story stemmed from this one. The following is a transcription of the article precisely as presented in The Journal of Borderland Research:
One night in June 1950 an oddly dressed man was seen in Times Square in New York City -which eventually led to the most baffling mystery in the history of the New York Police Department.

Captain Hubert V. Rihm was in the Missing Persons Bureau at the time, and took an active part in the investigation. He is now retired and, since he does not have the records of the case in his possession, could not quote exact dates and addresses in all instances. He did, however, remember the main details. It was somewhere near the middle of the month, about 11:15 p.m., right at the height of the after-theatre traffic rush.

The man appeared to be about 30 years of age. His most noticeable feature, aside from his clothing, was a luxuriant set of mutton-chop whiskers, which went out of style many years ago. He wore a high silk hat, a cutaway coat with cloth covered buttons at the back, and a high cut vest with lapels. The trousers were black and white checked material, rather tight, without cuffs and pressed without a crease. He wore high button shoes.

No one saw him walk out into the street. Witnesses first noticed him standing in the middle of the intersection ‘gawking at the signs as if he’d never seen an electric sign before’. Then he seemed to become aware of the traffic and began to make frantic movements to dodge it. The police officer at the corner saw him, and started out to lead him to safety. Before he could reach him, the man made a sudden dash for the curb. A taxicab hit him, and he was dead when they picked him up.

The attendants at the morgue took the whiskers and the clothing in their stride. One meets some odd characters during 20 or 30 years on the force, some of them much odder than he. When they began to search his pociets [sic], their brows began to wrinkle. ‘One brass slug, good for one 5 cent beer’. The name of the saloon was unfamiliar even to the old timers.

One bill from a livery stable on Lexington Ave.: ‘to the feeding and stabling of one horse, and the washing of one carriage; $3.00', The name of the stable did not appear in the directory. ‘About $70 in currency, all old style notes, and including two gold certificates.’ ‘Cards bearing the name ‘Rudolph Fentz’ and an address on Fifth Ave., with a letter to the same name and address, postmarked in Philadelphia June 1876' None of the items showed any signs of age.

The Fifth Ave. address was a store. So far as the present occupants knew, it had always been a store. None of them had ever heard of ‘Rudolph Fentz’.

The name did not appear in the directory. A fingerprint check, both in New York and Washington brought no results. No one ever called, or made enquiries at the morgue. Capt. Rihm continued to investigate the case. He checked back through old phone books, looking for the name ‘Fentz’. Finally, in the 1939 directory, he found a ‘Rudolph Fentz Jr.’ with an uptown apartment address. They remembered Fentz at the apartment: a man in his 60s, who worked at a nearby bank. He had retired in 1940 and moved away. They had not heard from him since.

At the bank, Rihm learned that Fentz had died about 5 years before, but that his widow was still alive in Florida. In reply to Rihm’s letter, she said that her husband’s father had mysteriously disappeared sometime during the spring of 1876. it seems that Mrs. Fentz, Sr. didn’t like to have him smoke in the house. She thought it smelled up the curtains. So it had been his custom to go out for a walk every evening about 10 and enjoy a final cigar before retiring. One night he went out as usual and never returned. The family spent quite a bit of money trying to find him but he was never seen or heard of again.

Capt. Rihm found Rudolph Fentz listed in the Missing Persons file for 1876. The address given was the same as that appearing on the cards and letter, so the place was evidently a private residence at that time. He was 29 years of age, and wore mutton chop whiskers. The description of the clothing which he was wearing when last seen agreed exactly with that worn by the mysterious traffic victim. The case was still listed as `’unsolved’.

Captain Rihm never wrote the results of his private investigations into the official records. He didn’t dare! They’d have had him in the ‘nut factory’ for a mental checkup in nothing flat! After all, a man can’t just walk out into thin air in 1876 and then suddenly turn up, unchanged in any way, 74 years later! No one would believe a tale like that. He didn’t believe it himself, “but give me some other explanation which will make sense.

Continue to Part Two (including references)