On May 17, 2006, a man dressed nicely in a stylish black jacket, white shirt and tie was found dripping wet near the ocean on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent (about 5 miles east of London). The man spoke not a word. All labels had been removed from every item of clothing that he wore. He had no identification. He was immediately taken to the maritime Hospital in Gillingham.
Officials questioned the man for hours but he would simply stare blankly at the wall. When they approached him, he would roll himself into a ball and crawl into a corner. Someone had the idea of leaving a blank piece of paper with him and leaving the room. When they returned, they found he had drawn an elaborate picture of a flag and a grand piano.
Figuring they had at least learnt a bit more about the man, they took him to the hospital chapel where there sat a small grand piano in a corner. The “Piano Man” sat down and began playing masterpieces. Seemingly oblivious to those around him, the Piano Man’s fingers danced on the keyboards as he rolled and rocked his head to the tune of Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. He even through in a few of his own compositions.
“When you see him normally he avoids eye contact with you,” Camp said. “You can’t get within a few yards of him without him moving away from you to the other end of the room. But on the piano he is unaware of anyone around him.”
He seemed relaxed and happy.
Officials theorized that he must have suffered a trauma of some sort. His picture was placed in area newspapers, a picture of a sad man clutching a plastic folder containing sheet music, was featured in newspapers across the country. The TV stations were filled with pleas for any information the public could provide. People across the country talked of the virtuoso piano player who would not speak.
For weeks the man returned to the chapel to play. He would play for hours and sometimes had to be physically removed when he refused to stop playing.
“Playing the piano seems to be the only way he can control his nerves and his tension and relax. When he is playing he blanks everything else out. He pays attention to nothing but the music.”
Eventually the Piano Man was transferred to a psychiatric unit in Dartford. The psych unit also had a piano and the Piano Man was granted access to it. Patients, doctors, and visitors would gather around as the Piano Man entertained them with complex pieces and elaborate compositions. Four months later he began to speak.
He stumbled and stammered but police managed to get a name – Andreas Grassl. 20 years old, from the German village of Prosdoft near the Czech border, he had apparently been on his way to Britain on a train with the intention of committing suicide. How or why his attempt failed has never been determined.