updated 11/18/2008 3:59:16 PM ET 2008-11-18T20:59:16

The reappearance of man who was officially dead has shaken and outraged some in Chile, a nation that mourns 1,196 other political prisoners who vanished in the hands of a military dictatorship.

Human rights judge Carlos Gajardo said Tuesday he was questioning German Cofre, who turned up alive this month — and with a second family in Argentina.

Soldiers surrounded Cofre's house in 1973 and led him away to a secret prison. His wife never saw him again before she died in 1997.

An employee of the city street cleaning department and a Communist Party member, Cofre was one of thousands of leftists rounded after the 1973 military coup.

Some, like current President Michelle Bachelet, were eventually released. Many others were known to have been killed. And some just vanished — presumably tortured, killed and buried in clandestine graves or tossed into the sea.

He established a new family
But Cofre apparently was released and fled to the Argentine city of Mendoza, where he established a new family.

Back in Chile, his wife had him declared legally dead in 1991. A funeral was held in 1995 after experts wrongly identified as his remains found at a local cemetery. Deputy Interior Minister Felipe Harboe said the family received a government stipend granted to victims of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

There is no evidence that the Chilean family knew Cofre was still alive, but an organization of relatives of the "disappeared" says that if Cofre lied to take advantage of the government compensation, he should be severely punished.

"We won't hide situations like this," said Lorena Pizarro, who leads the organization of relatives of the missing. She asked for a full investigation of the case.

Harboe said the case isn't likely to cast doubt on other cases of the missing because so many have been carefully studied over the years.

No one was ever been tried on charges of killing Cofre because the circumstances of his case were unclear.

"What we want is to fully clarify this case, to determine exactly what happened and make sure a case like this does not happen again," Harboe said.

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