mystery man

The Strange Case of B. Traven, the Most Mysterious Writer Who Ever Lived

Today, most present-day authors are very well known to us. Whenever someone’s work has been published, more often than not they use their real name. If a pseudonym is used, we usually eventually find out their identity. And almost everyone is on social media, hyping their work. That is not at all the case with B. Traven. This particular author has remained elusive his entire life; never giving any personal information whatsoever.


However, this is not at all the case with B. Traven. This prolific author remained elusive his entire life; never giving any personal information whatsoever.


There are many theories about who really was B. Traven. And when I say “many” I mean many.  Let’s start at the beginning:


1. His First Works as B. Traven




Image via B. Traven



B. Traven’s first publication seems to have been February 28th 1925. It was a short story printed in the Social Democratic Party of Germany’s newspaper in Berlin. The next year, Traven’s first two books were published: The Cotton Pickers and The Death Ship. However, his next work would lead to immense commercial success in his later years. 


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is possibly Traven’s most successful and remembered work. The book would later be adapted by Warner Bros. in 1948; twenty-one years after its publication. This specific work would lead into fans and critics realizing just how reclusive this author really was.



2. The Movie Deal and Hal Croves




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While Traven’s book was being adapted into movie form, it was alleged that he hired a man named Hal Croves, a translator from Acapulco and San Antonio, to be his intermediary during all work on the film. The man refuted rumors that he was actually B. Traven the whole time, but Warner Bros. helped to cash in on any rumors and speculations about the author since it would bring them even more profit than their award-winning film. Even more curiously, the author continued to relay communications and letters through a post office in Mexico.


Many people accused Hal Croves of using the pen name, but the mysterious man would continue to reject all notions of him ever being the author. After the movie was finished, Hal Croves disappeared almost entirely. Quite mysterious don’t you think?


3. The Introduction of Ret Marut



ret marut

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Now, we backtrack. As the identity of B. Traven was still uncertain in the 1940s and 50s, one of the first and most commonly accepted theories as to who he was arose the same year that his first books were published. Erich Mühsam was a German writer, journalist, and anarchist who met and worked with a man by the name of Ret Marut.


During the years before World War I, Ret Marut was a journalist and actor who performed in various German or European theatres. Mühsam met Marut while the pair worked together as leading anarchists in Germany. However, Ret Marut fled Germany sometime after 1919 since he was executed due to his antiwar sentiments. Ret Marut however escaped. Mühsam realized in the years that followed Marut’s escape that Marut’s writing matched up with the writing of the rising author, B. Traven. 


Mühsam believed that Ret Marut was definitely B. Traven, and he isn’t the only one. The Ret Marut theory is one of the most common theories out there on who B. Traven really is, but it doesn’t exactly stop there, because Ret Marut’s date of birth and parents are not actually known. It seems that this man just materialized out of thin air one day and decided to write award-winning works. But who issRet Marut? And if this really is B. Traven, how exactly did he get to Mexico?



4. Ret Marut or Hermann Otto Albert Maximilian Feige?




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Now it seems that we’re tracking a mystery through another mystery doesn’t it? Since no information about Ret Marut’s early life has ever been officially recovered, some researchers decided to do even more digging in the late 1970s. What they came up with proved to answer some questions, but also added even more confusion.


It was discovered that Ret Marut had at one point been imprisoned in London for trying to travel without proper documentation. When interrogated, Ret Marut revealed that his real name was Hermann Otto Albert Maximilian Feige. He also maintained that he was born in Schwiebus, Germany on February 28th 1882; facts that would all line up when checked through various archives. The name was real, and the birth dates matched accordingly. Furthermore, when shown pictures of Marut and Traven, Feige’s real family members acknowledged the likeness to their brother.


This is the other most believed theory about Ret Marut, and in turn B. Traven. But, alas, the plot thickens even further!



5. The Return and Revelations of Hal Croves




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Hal Croves returned to the literary scene in Acapulco as B. Traven’s writer and alleged assistant about a decade after B. Traven’s first adaptation. Sadly, after about another decade in 1969, Hal Croves died.


When Croves died, he ordered that his wife, Rosa Elena Luján read his will. When she did, the world was blown away. It turned out, in his will, Hal Croves revealed that he really was B. Traven. His wife read his full will over the next few years and it revealed the author’s possible childhood and cultural roots. Apparently, B. Traven/Hal Croves’ parents were of Norwegian and Anglo-Saxon descent. 


This theory is supported by many diaries kept by Croves. Specifically, one contains a sentence on the page that simply reads: “The Bavarian of Munich is dead”. Rosa told her husband’s story of how he was born in Chicago but moved back to Germany shortly after his birth. There, he adopted the name Ret Marut; the very same Ret Marut we now know.



That doesn’t completely answer who B. Traven really was, however. Critics have discovered discrepancies in every theory. Whether it’s the dates not matching up, or the lack of key details regarding the various potential B. Travens, no one can be sure who he really was. B. Traven remains a complete enigma. We may never get the full uncut truth about who this cryptic author may have been, but we can still enjoy his works!




Featured Image Via Picmelon