Experts Weigh In

Dialect expert Carmen Fought meets with Benjaman. She begins by asking him to define the words puffer and fourteener.


"As soon as I heard Benjaman's voice, I knew, for example, that he wasn't from the Deep South, from parts like Georgia, or Savannah, where he had been found," Carmen says. "I could also tell that he was not from the east. He was not from the East Coast, someplace like New York City or Philadelphia or even New England. In addition, I could tell he was not from the north or the northern part of the Midwest; not from Chicago, not from the Great Lakes area. It didn't sound to me like he was from the West, either " California, Oregon, Seattle " definitely not. That's my dialect. That's where I'm from, so those are all places that right away I was able to rule out."


Carmen says that when she heard Benjaman's dialect, she believed it to be an inland southern dialect. "The states that it would include would be Oklahoma, parts of southern Indiana, Kansas, southern Missouri maybe, maybe parts of Texas. So that's the area that I'm mostly focusing on, in terms of trying to determine where he's from," she explains.

As the tape ends, Dr. Phil asks Benjaman, "Does that stimulate anything with you?"

"I think we could rule out Texas," he says. "I don't know why. I just don't feel like I've ever been to Texas."

Dr. Phil asks Carmen, "How can you rule all those states out and rule certain states in? What is it about his patterns?"

"Linguists have put together maps of the United States that show how people pronounce different words in different places," she says. For example, when Ben says the word fire, he says it differently than a person from the East Coast or south. She focuses on the pronunciation, including the way he pronounces the vowels he stresses.

Dr. Phil also put private investigator Harold Copus on the case to see what he could uncover. He meets with two Richmond Hill police officers to discuss the night Benjaman was found. He also speaks with United States Congressman Jack Kingston.

"Our office is open 24 hours a day to try and help this guy," Congressman Kingston says.

FBI agent Bill Kirkconnell tells Harold he contacted a crime reporter with the Savannah newspaper, and the story got picked up by the Associated Press. "I began to receive telephone calls from various newspapers and news stations, particularly in some of the cities that Benjaman had some recollection of being associated with. But to date, we've simply not been able to identify him," Bill says.


In studio, Dr. Phil turns to Harold Copus and asks, "Did you find anything at the Catholic schools that was suggestive that he had been a student?"

"They're still checking on that, even as we speak, because we're working with fragments of information," Harold says, adding that the archdiocese is looking through baptismal records. 

Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Barbara Knowlton, a professor of psychology at UCLA who has studied and done extensive research on amnesia. "Tell me what needs to be thought about or considered in unraveling this ball of yarn with Benjaman," he says to her.

"Benjaman is a very unusual case, but there have been other cases like this in the past that we know about," Dr. Knowlton says. "It's not that the memories have been erased, but probably that they've been blocked, perhaps because of some traumatic experience. It's sort of like a defense mechanism; it's so painful to have those traumatic memories that the mind kind of puts them off to some extent."

Dr. Phil asks Dr. Knowlton to explain the psychological mechanism of dissociative unplugging of the brain. "A lot of people have painful experiences, and they don't block who they were and where they've been," he says.

"People who are susceptible to this kind of what's called dissociative amnesia, often there has been a history in the past of maybe some mental illness, depression, difficulty dealing with events in your life, some kind of vulnerability, and then, perhaps some kind of traumatic instance happens " perhaps the attack where you were beaten before you were found " triggers this blocking," Dr. Knowlton explains. "We can't really see any changes in the brain that would suggest that part of the brain isn't working, and we can't get these memories out. The brain looks healthy and normal, so it doesn't seem to have a brain structure cause or damage to the brain."

Dr. Phil asks Benjaman if he feels like he's blocking out part of his past.

"Sometimes, it seems like there's something right at the tip of my tongue and that it will come out, but it doesn't," Benjaman says.

Dr. Phil notes that Benjaman was evaluated by a highly-regarded physician in Atlanta with the hopes of finding out what may be occurring in Benjaman's brain. "One of the main things we learned from this evaluation is that you didn't have brain damage," Dr. Phil says to Benjaman. "Have you thought about the possibility " or maybe it's all you think about " that you may never connect with all of these past decades that you've been in in this world and that you may have to just be who you are in this moment?"

"Yeah," Benjaman says, shrugging his shoulders. "The thing that worries me is that without a social security number, you don't exist."

"If there were things that you could do to get more comfortable with what might be intimidating to you now, would you do those things, if you had the professional help to maybe open up this wall to your past and see what's there?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Sure. I'd try," Benjaman says. "I have to find out my past." He says he needs information so he can get a social security number to obtain a full-time job.

"If they can't find your old one, can't you just get a new one?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Nope," Benjaman says. "They told me if I claimed to be an illegal alien, they could give me a social security number."