For two Italian hikers, it all started as an ordinary expedition in the woods. They were looking for mushrooms, but as they decided the venture off the regular trails, they discovered something strange. The Maremma region is a coastal area filled with greenery and tasty mushrooms.
Looking for the famous mushrooms in the outskirts of Tuscany was one of the favorite activities among the local hikers. Little did this group know that what they were about to witness was one of the most mysterious and unsolved cases in Europe!
Close to Italy’s Maremma Regional park near Tuscany, two hikers were exploring the woods and looking for the prized mushrooms. But their search yielded no results, so the foragers decided to take a detour.
They went off the marked trail and hoped that the deeper they would get into the wild, the more chances they would have to find edible mushrooms.
Miles away from any sign of civilization, the pair trekked deep into the forest. They were walking through the thick brush, looking for a good catch.
What these foragers didn’t know was that their favorite activity would thrust them into the most mysterious case in Europe!
Looking all around them, the hikers didn’t seem to have any luck. Maybe another group had been there and picked all the mushrooms, they thought.
But off the marked trail, they had a better chance at finding some tasty fungi. However, instead of finding mushrooms, these hikers discovered something else! That was a rare sight…
Deeper into the woods, the foragers found something completely strange. They were very far away from the closest town, yet the ground was littered with garbage!
There were food wrappers, plastic, empty bottles and other kinds of trash on the ground. How was that even possible?
It began obvious that someone spent some time there. But as the two pressed on, they saw a tarp used as a make-shift tent.
Close by, there were jugs of water and some more garbage. A few steps away from the tent, there was a ramshackle hut. Some tin cans were hanging from trees to hold rainwater…
It was clear that this campsite hadn’t been made by campers. By the looks of it, someone had spent some time here.
The hikers didn’t want to know more about this place. It was creepy, but it soon got creepier as they heard a rustling noise!
It was too late for the hikers to leave this place before the mystery camper returned. Right behind them, a figure emerged from the thick brush.
As the figure approached them, the hikers realized they were looking at a middle-aged man. His unkempt beard and shaggy appearance was indication that this man hasn’t groomed himself or bathed for quite some time…
Not knowing exactly how to react seeing the man with the “dirty face and large beard,” the hikers backed away at a safe distance, fearing for their safety.
Still, the mushroom pickers were curious about the man, so they ran back to find some park rangers and tell them what they saw.
After finding a park ranger, the hikers were asked about the exact location so that they could go back and learn more about this man, maybe he needed assistance.
With a couple of rangers on their side, the group ventured back into the forest. They had no idea they’d discover a mystery dating back to 1997!
The local authorities asked the disheveled man his name. The man told them “I am Spanish, my name is Carlos and I have lived here for since 1997.”
What was Carlos doing in a forest in Italy and why did he live for nearly 20 years in the woods? Was he in trouble? Was he a dangerous man? The man was anxious when he was approached by the group…
The Spaniard didn’t agree to the group photographing him, but accepted to show some documents to prove that he was Carlos.
Rummaging through his hut, he came back with two documents dating back to his youth. Caked with dirt, the authorities could still see what was written on them. They had no idea this man was THAT Carlos!
The two documents were a library card and a school ID. Both cards had been issued by the University of Seville, in Spain. Apparently, this man had been a medical student!
He looked a bit like his young self, thought the foragers that got to see the IDs. The name of the man was Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar. What he said next stunned the men!
Carlos then slowly backed down and pretended he was going for a walk. Everyone was stunned and didn’t expect to hear the man say these words…
What shocked the men was that Carlos told them “you found me,” as if he was hiding from someone. He carried on, shouting from the distance “now I’m leaving, leave me alone.” Now what?
The park rangers couldn’t force the man back into the closest village. He wasn’t guilty of anything, so the rangers and hikers went back to the village.
Of course, neither of the men could sleep peacefully that night, knowing that a stranger was roaming the forest and had been doing that for almost 20 years. Soon, they would find out why Carlos was living in the forest.
Carlos’ photos were uploaded to social media and to the police so that the origin of the Spaniard and his backstory would be revealed.
Shortly after the photos appeared online, several connections were made. A man with the same name disappeared from Seville in 1996.
It turned out that the missing person was around the same age as Carlos. The park rangers and the authorities went back to talk with the stranger that had been missing for two decades.
But as they reached the campsite, aside from some supplies, clothes and the tent, there was no trace of Carlos. The rangers recalled how the man shouted to be left alone, saying that he was leaving. He had escaped once again!
To learn why Carlos was trying to elude not only the authorities but his family as well, we need to look at his early years. It turned out that Carlos was born in Bilbao, Spain but spent most of his youth in Cazalla de la Sierra, Seville.
Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar had three younger siblings – two sisters and a brother, and he was interested in pursuing a career in medicine.
Carlos’ father was a teacher and a council member of the Andalusian Party. The young man was very intelligent, so studying medicine at the University of Seville was a good choice.
Interested in psychology and psychiatry, Carlos would have had a bright future ahead in terms of career opportunities. But something went wrong…
After he graduated, Carlos became a licensed psychiatrist in Spain. Responsible and intelligent, he was a “gifted doctor,” highly regarded by his patients.
However, Carlos’ exterior didn’t show that he was suffering from depression. Although specialized in mental health science, he kept his depression a secret.
In November 1996, Carlos disappeared. The 26-year-old missed work and he simply vanished. His favorite bike was also gone.
Nobody knew that Carlos was trying to escape from that life. Months passed and his family finally heard from him through a letter.
Travelling through Europe on his bike, Carlos sent some letters to his family. He even called them from a Russian city. Spanish newspaper El Mundo revealed that Carlos assured his parents that he “was fine.”
However, he told them not to look for him. The cryptic phone made his family want to reach him even more, so they finally contacted the Spanish authorities in 1998.
That’s when Carlos became a missing person. The last strange phone call was from Russia, and Carlos’ parents were concerned something bad happened to their son.
No leads and no letters or phones could help them find where Carlos was. Years passed and the case was closed. Carlos was legally declared dead since he hadn’t been found after 10 years of search.
Even with this heartbreaking news, Carlos’ mother still felt that her son was alive. In 2009, his mother asked the authorities to open the ten-year-old case and search for her son once again.
Nobody knew where Carlos was travelling since the last call from Russia, so it was now believed that he may have set up camp in the Maremma forest in Italy.
Patrizio Biagin, a director of a nearby agricultural complex, said that “if you [go] up there [the woods], you become invisible.”
Even mushroom pickers that went into that forest needed to be rescued once, and it took rescuers nearly two days to find them although they knew the location… Which is why Carlos had been so well hidden.
Park rangers that got to Carlos’ campsite were impressed with his skills of surviving in the woods. He took advantage of the natural food sources in the woods and was able to collect rain water.
Carlos also probably traveled during the night to areas outside the park to look for cans of food. After finding Carlos in that forest, the story reached a Spanish organization called SOS Desaparecidos (disappeared).
The organization SOS Desaparecidos reached out to a similar organization in Italy and they located Carlos’ family to let them know the man’s last location.
The family was shocked to hear that Carlos was indeed alive and they immediately took a plane to Italy to try and see him.
“When they told us it was him it was as if our son had been reborn,” Carlos’ parents told reporters. But now their son was again missing and hadn’t been seen for two weeks.
Carlos’ mother wished she could see him once more “…then if he wants we will never see him again,” she told reporters.
“He’s alive and that is the important thing. We will respect his wishes and his freedom, but we won’t go home until we have at least given him a hug, even for a few moments,” said Carlos’ mother Amelia.
The family learned that their son wanted to live off the grid, but they only wished to see him and then they “will leave him quiet.”
Carlos’ sister thanked the two organizations that were involved in the case, saying that they gave “hope to the families suffering from these tragedies.”
Marcello Stella, mayor near the Scarlino said that they will “keep an eye out in the forest but we won’t be actively searching for anybody. This is not the responsibility of the council and after all, he is hiding of his own free will.”
The Spanish hermit was so popular that his story reached international media. Journalists traveled to the small towns close to the forest where Carlos had been found.
Locals told journalists that the man was occasionally seen looking through garbage, probably for food or clothes. A biker recalled seeing Carlos as well…
“He was shy and wasn’t happy that someone had interrupted his loneliness,” recalled the biker. Park rangers had seen him a few times as well…
They recall that the man was quiet and “did not want to talk,” so they kept their distance. Carlos’ story has baffled an entire world.
According to the Spanish government, Carlos is dead. He is probably still alive, living an another European forest. Meanwhile, his family is still working with the Italian authorities…
They want to know that Carlos is still alive and well and wish to see him for one last time. Missing persons’ advocate in Italy Nicodemo Gentile said they will continue to look for him.
“We will continue to follow this case and help [Salazar’s] family with the hope that one day they can embrace the son who left them… all those years ago,” said Nicodemo.
Carlos’ sister Olga said that they still wait him on Christmas eves.
Some people decide to disappear and start a new life somewhere else, but what about their families that are left behind, in pain and wondering whether the disappeared person is still alive or not?
Carlos Sanchez Ortiz de Salazar may have successfully disappeared and survived a life off the grid, but he was lucky. Take for instance a similar case in the USA…
An American hiker named Christopher McCandless decided one day to leave his family behind and disappear in the wilderness in Alaska. Christopher was also an accomplished student, but unlike Carlos, he wasn’t able to survive in the wild.
He was found half a year after going missing in an abandoned bus. Christopher’s decomposed body showed signs of starvations. His story ended in tragedy.