The year was 1968, and John Hartley Robertson, a 36-year-old US Green Beret who worked in a top-secret unit, was in a chopper over the jungles of Laos when a Vietcong rocket shot into the sky and straight into the helicopter, which plummeted and exploded in a valley. Robertson's body was never recovered and he was presumed dead, as Matthew Shaer explains in a deep dive for Atavist, but his story was far from over. In 2008, 40 years after Robertson's disappearance, a Christian missionary named Tom Faunce started hearing rumors of a man from South Vietnam by the name of Dang Tan Ngoc—a man who claimed he was Robertson, despite a declaration by a 1993 Senate committee that there was "no compelling evidence" any MIA Americans could still be alive in Southeast Asia.
Faunce met with the man claiming to be Robertson, as did a recruit who'd trained under him, Robertson's sister, and documentary filmmakers who put together a movie about him—and they all insisted it was him, despite muddled forensic evidence and the fact he couldn't speak English (supposedly due to his trauma). Then, a shocker: "Robertson" was exposed by POW investigators as a fraud. When Shaer went to Vietnam to talk to locals, he found out Ngoc was a Vietnamese native raised in Saigon and, in a bizarre twist, he'd acted in a film in the part of an American pilot who was shot down. He'd latched onto the details from that role to formulate a fictitious life—"the type of fiction that … [allowed people] to locate in it a piece of themselves," Shaer writes. Atavist's fascinating read here, including how Faunce refused to believe the evidence against "Robertson." (A Hong Kong tycoon has vanished.)