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The World

Old Czech Mates Say They Know Unnamed Pianist

The mystery musician found in Britain is a pal from Prague, they claim after viewing photos.

May 31, 2005|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — British health officials are investigating a possible breakthrough in the enigmatic case of the "Piano Man," the silent musician whose identity has remained a mystery since he was found wandering confused in the rain on a British isle in early April.

Several musicians from the Czech Republic believe that the forlorn figure, who has not spoken to the doctors caring for him but has played at a piano for hours, is Tomas Strnad, a keyboardist from Prague who yearned to become a star and had spoken of going abroad to seek his musical fortune.

Some of Strnad's Czech acquaintances say there is a strong physical resemblance between him and the photographs of the Piano Man released by the Kent National Health Service, which has taken charge of the man since he was found on the Isle of Sheppey.

They say the unusual musical ability and emotional difficulties of the man as described in newspaper accounts also correspond to their memory of Strnad, a classically trained musician known for long, solitary sojourns at the piano playing the works of Rachmaninoff and other composers from memory.

The possible connection came to light more than a week ago, when an old friend of Strnad now living in Ohio contacted The Times, as well as other newspapers, after an appeal by British medical authorities for information about their patient, who they believe may be suffering from amnesia.

Richard Kryspin, 38, who immigrated to Columbus in the late 1980s, had seen photographs of the Piano Man in the press and said he immediately thought of Strnad, with whom he had made music nearly two decades before. Kryspin called his twin brother, Klaudius, who also had been in the band.

Klaudius Kryspin, now the drummer of Prazski Vyber (Prague Select), the Czech Republic's best-known rock band, was skeptical at first. But after studying a photo of the patient standing on the hospital grounds, he became convinced that the man was Strnad.

Klaudius flew to Britain on Monday, his brother said, hoping to be allowed to see the patient, whom hospital officials call "Mr. X."

Besides the Kryspin brothers, at least one other person believes, based on the photo, that the Piano Man is Strnad. Michal Kocab, the lead singer of Prazski Vyber, who was also an important figure in the 1989 Velvet Revolution against Communist rule and later became an advisor to former President Vaclav Havel, told The Times last week that he had recently seen Strnad in person.

Kocab said he had stopped at a gas station and was startled by Strnad, whom he almost did not recognize because he looked "like a homeless man."

He was not sure of the date of that encounter in the Czech Republic but believed that it was April 10. If the recollection is correct, then the Piano Man could not be Strnad, who was found in Britain several days earlier.

At the gas station, Kocab recalled, Strnad had said he intended to leave the country to launch his career.

Richard Kryspin said he sought no attention for himself and alerted authorities and his brother and other friends in Prague to help Strnad.

He had difficulty getting through to the hospital because of the hundreds of other tips the case has generated.

"I sort of understand," Kryspin said. "I was just one of thousands."

Until Sunday, hospital authorities had not commented on the possible Prague connection, but after stories ran in the British press this weekend, the hospital issued a statement saying it was a noteworthy development in the investigation.

The statement, attributed to a spokesman from the Kent and Medway National Health Service Trust, read: "At this stage it is not possible to confirm the identity of Mr. X, but it is fair to say this is a significant lead. The trust will, however, continue to work with the police to review and investigate the rest of the information that people have supplied.

"The trust now plans to bring in a Czech interpreter. Mr. X continues to be cared for by the trust, his physical health remains good and his mental health continues to be assessed."

Meanwhile, Kocab said, Strnad's acquaintances in Prague have been trying to contact his parents, without success. He added that Strnad's relations with his family may have been strained.

"I really believe that is who the person is," Richard Kryspin said.

Special correspondent Marie Drapalova in Prague and staff writer Janet Stobart of The Times' London Bureau contributed to this report.

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