August 20, 2009

Seattle’s mystery man identified as University of Wisconsin grad


Edward Lighthart was found in Seattle park.  MIKE SIEGEL/SEATTLE TIMES

Edward Lighthart was found in a Seattle park. MIKE SIEGEL/SEATTLE TIMES

The man who woke up in a Seattle park with $600 in his sock but with no memory of his identity is Edward F. Lighthart, who graduated in 1984 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a French degree.

Within hours of posting his story and photo on The Seattle Times Web site, e-mails started coming in from old friends and colleagues identifying Lighthart, who apparently suffered amnesia.

Lighthart, who was born in December of 1955, told Seattle authorities he knew almost nothing about himself or his past, but he did remember studying at UW and marrying his wife, Tina, during his time at UW. He reported that she died in Chicago in 1985 because of complications from a miscarriage.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism helped The Times contact UW professors Lighthart might have studied under, and searched death records and university records for a woman who fit the description Lighthart provided.

If you have additional information about Lighthart, please contact the Center at 608-262-3642 or amorrell@wisconsinwatch.org.

Records show that Lighthart, who is fluent in English, French and German and has professional knowledge of European cultural history, also studied at Columbia University. A friend said Lighthart was a high-caliber chef in New York, and Lighthart remembers attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Read The Times’ report, which is reprinted with permission, below. Or see the newspaper’s full coverage here.

Readers recognize man with apparent amnesia

The man who wandered out of Discovery Park three weeks ago suffering from apparent amnesia is Edward F. Lighthart, according to friends and family who recognize him from his photograph published in The Seattle Times.

Friends have e-mailed photographs of Lighthart, and he acknowledges that the man in the photographs is he.

“The name isn’t ringing a bell, but the image is definitely me,” said the man who had been at Swedish Medical Center as Jon Doe since he walked out of the park.

Lighthart has a sister in Las Vegas and she told The Times today that he lived with her for a year and a half, but left last month after her roommate said he could no longer stay without paying rent.

He had been in Calgary, Alberta, before moving to Las Vegas.

“He just disappeared,” said his sister, who asked not to be identified for personal reasons. She tried to report his disappearance to the police, without success.

She said he didn’t have a car and left his belonging behind, including his computer. “We never got along very well,” the sister said. “He would disappear for eight or 10 years at a time and then pop back up. It’s obvious he’s got issues.”

She said Lighthart, 53, is very intelligent but had emotional problems.

Until contacted by The Times, she didn’t know where he had gone and had no idea why he’d come to Seattle.

“Financially I can’t support him,” she said. “He has all the skills it takes to work and he won’t. I simply can’t support him.”

Lighthart today said none of the information from the woman sparked any recollections. “It’s am sort of stunned by it,” he said. “I need to let it sink in.”

Within hours of posting the story online, a reader identified Jon Doe as Lighthart, an English teacher he knew in China. The reader, David Akast, said Lighthart taught at English schools in China and “had an incredible knowledge of European cultural history.

“We had a coffee at Starbucks soon after a meeting and he talked incessantly about European history,” Akast said in an e-mail today. “He really has an astonishing knowledge. He was eccentric, to say the least, but completely harmless. Who knows what has led him to be where he is, but from the very short time I knew him, I can’t imagine him being violent or aggressive.”

Another friend, Randall Snyder of Columbus, Ohio, said he knew Lighthart from the mid-1990s when they attended the Union Institute in Cincinnati together.

He said Lighthart was a high-caliber chef in New York but left that profession following an accident. He then moved to Cincinnati to attend the Union Institute.

Snyder, who hasn’t seen Lighthart since the late 1990s, said Lighthart left the school without graduating and moved to Europe.

He said he had a huge art collection. “He is a very, very brilliant man and knows art like nobody I know,” Snyder said.

Lighthart learned he’d been identified when a nurse showed him a picture and other information about his past. He was flustered at first, he said, and asked the nurse to continue calling him “Jon.”

“I guess there’s a little bit of relief and at the same time a lot of anxiety,” Lighthart said a few hours later during an interview. “I’m still not sure quite what to make of it all.”

Dressed in navy sweat shirt and sweatpants, Lighthart said the tidbits of his life that are surfacing make sense. “It’s starting to click,” he said. “It all sounds about right.”

But that hasn’t made it any less overwhelming. Given the name and phone number of a man who said he was a friend, Lighthart said, “I want to contact these people, but at the same time I’m very hesitant because I don’t know what I’m going to find out. This morning, it’s feeling like I’m starting to come out of a fog, but it’s still there. I still don’t have perfect clarification.”

Other records show that Lighthart, born in December 1955, graduated in 1974 from a high school in Tucson.

Seattle police said now that they have Lighthart’s birth date, they’re trying to find family, friends and colleagues, said Tina Drain, with Seattle Police Department missing person’s office.

Police also said they are working with Interpol to find his European contacts.

Drain said that Lighthart entered the U.S. in March 2008 from Calgary.

John Lucas, a spokesman at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Lighthart graduated in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in French. Prior to attending the university he attended the University of Arizona at Tucson, and the Pima County Community College in Tucson. He also attended the Culinary Institute of America.

When he left with the University of Wisconsin, he gave them an address in Vienna, Austria.

Istvan Deak, a professor at Columbia University, said records show that Edward Lighthart was a student in the General Studies section of Columbia University, and that he took a single class with him entitled, “History of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1815-1918.”

In that class, Lighthart gave a special lecture entitled, “Viennese art of the fin-de-siecle” for which he earned an “A”; overall, his grade for the course was “B+”.

“His memory is as sharp as can be,” Deak said.

The man known only as Jon Doe wandered out of Discovery Park wearing pressed khakis and had $600 in his sock. He said he didn’t know who he was or when he was born. He is fluent in English, French and German and has a professorial knowledge of European cultural history.

He remembered attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York and being a chef.

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