There’s no denying that 2022 has become the year of the scammer. On the streaming networks and podcasts, audiences have been gripped by the tale of Anna Sorokin, a Russian truck driver’s daughter who took New York by storm by pretending to be a wealthy socialite, and Simon Leviev, the "Tinder Swindler" who conned young women out of their life savings by pretending to be a billionaire.
The latest tale about a jaw-dropping scam is told in the podcast Chameleon: Wild Boys from Campside Media, the storytellers behind the recent Suspect.
It tells the story of William Green, 22, and his brother, Tom, 15, who in 2003 walked half-starved out of the wilderness surrounding the small Canadian town of Revelstoke in British Columbia, with a story of modern-day survival that drew in the entire community.
“The only problem?” the podcast points out. “The boys weren't who they said they were.”
No school, birthdays or outside influences
Dubbed the “bush boys”, the pair were both underweight when they were found, with Tom weighing only 38 kilograms at an almost two-metre height.
Among the stories they told the people of Revelstock were the fact they had never been to school, never eaten birthday cake and had never been to a big city.
The boys claimed they had been brought up in the Canadian wilderness by their parents, Mary and Joseph, who had decided to remain in isolation. They also claimed that because of their parents’ wishes, they could not pinpoint where they had grown up, in order to protect their anonymity and desire to live self-sufficiently and cut off from society.
The only information concerning their provenance that they would give was, they were born about an hour’s hike east of Revelstoke. Tom told locals that the Green family had made yearly trips to the town for supplies. However, no one in the town with a population of 10,000 remembered ever seeing them.
As the brothers lacked any form of identification or official documents, a local mother called Tami took pity on them and rallied the community to help take care of them. She would later find out their names were not William and Tom, but rather Kyle and Roen Horn. And they didn't come from Canada.
Conspiracy theories and a deep distrust
Tom was a strict fruitarian, who ate only fruit, raw food and nuts, avoiding even root vegetables, which contributed to his being severely underweight. He told the townspeople that his diet had led to him and his brother leaving their parents, as there had been a disagreement about food. It would later transpire that he suffered from an eating disorder, one that would later land him in hospital.
Told over eight episodes, the podcast features interviews with people of the Revelstock community, including police who tried to find official records concerning the boys, and Tami, the local mother who expended time, money and compassion on the boys, and tried to protect them from law enforcement and the media once their story got out and started making national headlines.
What emerges is a riveting yet concerning tale of two troubled young men raised on a diet of mistrust and conspiracy theories, culminating in an end-of-series interview with the brothers when podcast host, Sam Mullins, finally tracks them down.
Chameleon: Wild Boys is available to download now