Category Archives: The World’s Great Mysteries Solved

The Spine-Chilling Tale of the Chase Vault

What terrifying secret is sealed within an old family tomb in Oistins, Barbados?

Nestling in the idyllic range of islands making up the Caribbean is the island of Barbados. The most easterly of them, Barbados is also the newest, having been created a mere million years ago when the oceanic plates of the Atlantic and Caribbean collided and a volcanic eruption formed new land in the clear blue sea. First discovered in 1492 by the Portuguese, who were on their way to Brazil, the island was named Isla de Los Barbados (‘island of the bearded ones’) by explorer Pedro a Campos after noting that the fig trees along the coastline gave it a beard-like appearance.

The island was first settled in 1511 by the Spanish, who enslaved the natives. But when outbreaks of smallpox and tuberculosis – the European diseases they had brought with them – led to the Caribs dying out completely, the Spaniards abandoned the island. The English then arrived, on 14 May 1625, in the shape of one Captain John Powell, who claimed the land in the name of King James I, and a few years later Captain Henry Powell (no relation) landed with a group of eighty settlers and ten slaves. The island then remained under British rule until its declaration of independence in 1966.

From the seventeenth century onwards, the nobles of England who had been awarded land on the island began importing thousands of African slaves to work the newly formed tobacco, sugar and cotton plantations. Over the next century, Barbados dominated the world’s sugar industry and the plantation owners became powerful and successful figures throughout the British Empire.

It was one of these landowners, the Honourable Thomas Waldron, who in 1724 built an elegant family burial vault in the cemetery of the parish church in the town of Oistins. It was intended for his married daughter and her family. Seven feet wide and twelve feet deep, and made out of carved coral, the vault was large enough to accommodate the entire Waldron family. The first person to be buried in it was Richard Elliot, the husband of Elizabeth Waldron. He was also the last of the family to be interred there.

Nobody has since been able to explain why Elizabeth failed to join her husband in his final resting place, and nor why the next occupant, Mrs Thomasina Goddard, was a non-family member (unless she was a descendent of the Elliots or the Waldrons by marriage), but what is known is that when the tomb was opened on 31 July 1807 to bury Mrs Goddard, it was found to be empty. The absence of Richard Elliot’s body  was not considered particularly odd at the time, being put down to the work of grave robbers and looters. Rather more unusual was that, soon after Thomasina’s death, the Elliot vault passed into the hands of yet another family after being purchased by Colonel Thomas Chase, one of the most hated men on the island

A plantation owner of unstable mind and volatile temperament, Chase wasn’t popular even with his own family. Within a year of the purchase of the vault tragedy befell the Chase family with the death of the youngest daughter, two-year-old Mary Anna Maria Chase – the result, or so rumour had it, of a fit of violent temper by her father. Nothing, however, was proven, and islanders were left to draw their own conclusions about how the baby had died. On 22 February 1808, the vault was reopened and her tiny lead coffin gently placed on the shelf below the wooden coffin of Thomasina Goddard. Once the funeral was over, Chase ordered his slaves to seal the tomb with a large marble slab set in concrete.

Four years later, on 6 July 1812, the family were back at the crypt for the burial of their teenage daughter, Dorcas Chase, who had died of starvation. While some suggested the young girl had committed suicide to be free of her unpleasant father, others claimed he had locked her in an outbuilding and starved her to death himself. Either way, the marble was cut away and Dorcas’s heavy leaden casket was placed alongside that of her sister inside the family vault.

Just over a month later, Thomas Chase himself committed suicide – although there were claims that his slaves had carried out their often repeated threat to murder him. In a land of cruel employers, Chase had been particularly notorious, and there was no shortage of offers to carry his heavy lead coffin, which would have weighed about 500 pounds, to its final resting place. Presumably people wanted to make sure he had actually gone for good.

Eight slaves carried the casket down the steps of the Chase family vault. As they stepped inside, the men suddenly froze with fear. By the flickering light of their candles they could see that little Mary Anna’s coffin was now upside down, standing on end at the opposite side of the chamber from where it had originally been placed. Dorcas’s had also moved to the opposite side of the vault and only Thomasina’s coffin remained in its former location. The men inspected the vault and could find no sign of forced entry or any other disturbance. The coffins of the two girls were replaced in their previous positions and their father’s casket was settled on the opposite side of the vault. Once the service was over, the men checked for secret passages or other means of entrance before cementing the heavy marble slab back into place, this time using double-strength concrete lest the colonel himself should rise from the dead.

The disturbance was blamed on slaves with a strong grudge against the Chase family. Plantation and slave owners on the islands particularly feared revenge attacks upon their dead, which is why such strong family vaults were built in the first place. In fact, the reverse would have been true: fearing that the evil spirits they called ‘duppies’ might be at work, slaves would stay a long way from cemeteries and graveyards, especially one housing the Chase tomb.

Four more years passed before the next death, a young Chase relative, Samuel Brewster Ames, who died just before his first birthday. On 25 September 1816, workman once again broke open the marble seal, but this time they were unable to push open the wooden doors at the vault entrance. A group of the strongest men on the island were called for and after much effort they managed to force the door open. Thomas Chase’s 500-pound lead coffin had been standing on one end with the top resting against the doors, blocking them. The girls had also been disturbed again while only Thomasina remained peacefully in place.

When the tomb was re-opened a month later, for the funeral of the earlier boy’s namesake, another Samuel Brewster – killed by slaves during an uprising – it was, once again, in complete disarray, with no obvious signs as to how the disruption had been caused.

The next time the tomb was opened was during in 1819 to receive the body of Thomasina Clark, Mrs Goddard’s daughter. By now the mystery of the Chase Vault had spread far and wide, and a crowd of nigh on a thousand curious onlookers were squeezed into the churchyard. The presiding clergyman, the Reverend Thomas Orderson, was accompanied by Viscount Combermere, the governor of Barbados, who was keen to solve the mystery of the disrupted vault, and by island dignitaries such as Major J. Finch, the Honourable Nathan Lucas, Mr Rowland Cotton (a trusted relative of Combermere) and Mr Robert Boucher Clarke. The viscount ordered a thorough inspection of the exterior of the tomb until all present were satisfied it had not been breached. Two masons were then ordered to remove the concrete seal of the marble slab and, accompanied by eight pallbearers, the dignitaries descended the steps.

As the door was pushed open, there was a loud grating sound from inside. This time Dorcas’s coffin was found wedged into the doorway. Little Mary Anna Maria’s casket had been thrown so violently against the wall it had gashed a chunk from the smooth surface. The other lead caskets had been so chaotically disturbed that Thomasina’s wooden coffin appeared to have been smashed in the process and bits of her skeleton lay strewn around the vault.

Chase Vault

It was a horrifying sight: some of the slaves fainted while others were violently sick. Combermere and his shocked party were determined to solve the mystery, however. Lady Combermere recorded the subsequent events in her diary:

In my husband’s presence, every part of the floor was sounded to ascertain that no subterranean passage or entrance was concealed. It was found to be perfectly firm and solid and not even a crack was apparent. The walls, when examined, proved to be perfectly secure. No fracture was visible and the sides, together with the roof and flooring, presented a structure so solid as if formed of entire slabs of stone. The displaced coffins were rearranged, the new tenant of that dreary abode was deposited and when the mourners retired with the funeral procession, the floor was sanded with fine white sand in the presence of Lord Combermere and the assembled crowd. The door was slid into its wonted position and, with the utmost care, the new mortar was laid on so as to secure it. When the masons had completed their task, the Governor made several impressions in the mixture with his own seal, and many of those others attending added various private marks in the wet mortar.

Lord Combermere reasoned that anything disturbing the coffins, even flooding, would leave telltale signs in the layer of sand on the floor. Then a few months later, a woman who had been visiting the cemetery reported a loud cracking noise coming from within the Chase Vault, accompanied by an audible moaning. Her horse became so distressed that it began foaming at the mouth, later needing sedation. Other horses tethered in the churchyard broke free and galloped away in fear, straight into the sea, where they were drowned.

On 18 April 1820, Viscount Combermere and his witnesses all returned to inspect the vault. The ground had not been disturbed in any way. The seals they had made in the cement remained intact and there was no sign of any foul play. But when the marble slab was removed and the heavy vault door slowly pushed open, a scene of complete devastation was revealed.

This time even the lead casket of Dorcas Chase had been smashed and her bony arm hung out through a gash in the side. Once again there was no sign of forced entry, or of someone having gained access via a secret passage, nor had the sand scattered on the floor not been disturbed in any way. There were no footprints.

Combermere wisely decided to give up trying to solve the mystery, such was the hysteria building up across the island and throughout the empire This time he ordered that all the bodies be removed and reburied in separate sites in different churchyards. At the same time, a thorough search was made for the coffin of James Elliot, the first inhabitant of the Chase Vault nearly a century earlier, but it was never found. The tomb has remained empty ever since.

Later on that evening of 18 June, one of the members of the funeral party, Nathan Lucas, was – like Lady Combermere before him – moved to record the events of the afternoon:

… and so I examined the walls, the arch and every part of the Vault, to find every part old and similar. A mason in my presence struck every part of the bottom with his hammer and all was solid. I confess myself at a loss to account for the movements of these leaden coffins. Thieves certainly had no hand in it; and as for any practical wit or hoax, too many were requisite to be trusted with the secret for it to remain unknown; and as for negroes having anything to do with it, their superstitious fear of the dead and everything belonging to them precludes any idea of the kind. All I know is that it happened and that I was an eye-witness …

Over the following two centuries, much has been made of the events at the Chase Vault: every possible reason has been considered. At first it was thought to have been straight vandalism, such was the dislike among the community of Thomas Chase, but as the heavy coffins would take at least six men to move them around, let alone throw them about, and the vault simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate that many people, this was ruled out. The absence of footprints or any signs of entry, forced or otherwise, also appears to rule out human interference.

Earthquakes have been considered, especially as Barbados sits on a seismic fault line, but no quakes had been reported during the period in which the vault was disturbed and there was no evidence of any other damage caused, either in nearby vaults or elsewhere on the island. Some prefer the idea that unseen magnetic forces were at work, especially as the coffins were usually found to be facing in the opposite direction to the one in which they were placed, suggesting they had rotated on their own axis. This may also explain why the wooden casket of Thomasina Goddard remained unaffected until it was smashed to pieces by the others. But lead is not a magnetic material. Furthermore, if such forces had been at work, locals would have noticed its effect on other metals in the graveyard such as iron headstones or steel plaques. The church bell would surely have kept ringing too.

The wildest theory about what had caused the disturbances in the Chase Vault actually came from the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, maybe unsurprisingly appears to crop up in a number of mystery stories (including two in this book – ‘Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden’, page 000, and ‘Whatever Happened to the Crew of the Mary Celeste?’, page 000). Conan Doyle believed supernatural forces had been at work but was unable to offer any further explanation except to suggest that the coffins had been moved by the spirits of the two family members who had apparently committed suicide and were therefore ‘cursed and restless’ and in conflict with each other. Indeed, since Dorcas and her father have been separated, there have been no other signs of disturbance at any of the new grave locations.

Gas emitted from the decomposing bodies was considered but soon ruled out as incapable of disturbing a heavy lead coffin. The only other suggestion that comes close to fitting the facts would be a flood. Natural flooding of an underground vault would disrupt the coffins, causing them to float around and come to rest in a different place as the water subsided. But that wouldn’t explain why the coffins were standing on end; nor was there any evidence of water damage each time the vault was re-opened. It seems that the mysteries of the Chase Vault have never been adequately explained, and probably never will be. I think we’re going to have to mark this one ‘unsolved’.

Albert Jack’s Mysterious World

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Robert Maxwell – The Bouncing Czech

Mystifying Death of a Media Mogul

Who finally stopped the bouncing Czech? The extraordinary life and death of Robert Maxwell.

In 1940, Jan Ludvik Hoch did what many young Jews in Eastern Europe were doing at that time, and ran away to England to fight the Nazis. The seventeen-year-old refugee then fought his way from the beaches of Normandy to the centre of Berlin. After the war he went on to become a publisher, a Labour MP, a football club owner, company chairman, owner of the Mirror Group Newspapers, owner of the New York Daily Times, embezzler and fraudster, before finally slipping from the back of his yacht and into oblivion. The official autopsy report concluded the cause of death had been ‘accidental drowning’, but, as in life, mystery shrouded the death of Jan Ludvik Hoch, a man who courted controversy from the moment he arrived in England and changed his name to Ian Robert Maxwell.

Maxwell joined the British army under a series of aliases, presumably because the War Office had suggested refugee soldiers should serve under invented names in case they should be captured. Because he went by the name of Jones and du Maurier, in addition to Maxwell, it is hard to find out much about what he got up to in the Second World War, although he did earn himself a medal. This was in January 1945 when his unit, the 6th Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment, were based at the River Mass in Holland. He had recently been promoted to second lieutenant and his men were tasked with clearing a block of flats occupied by German soldiers. Maxwell led the assault and charged straight for the building, drawing heavy fire. Luckily for him, although not so luckily for his future employees, every bullet aimed at him missed. It was an act of bravery that won him the Military Cross.

But not all of his wartime exploits were quite as distinguished. His authorized biographer, Joe Haines, reveals how Maxwell’s unit attempted to capture a German town by calling for the mayor to meet with Maxwell in a neutral location. He then told the mayor that the German soldiers would have to surrender or face destruction by mortar bombardment. In a letter to his wife, published in Haines’s book Maxwell (1988), he wrote: ‘But as soon as we marched off a German tank opened fire on us. Luckily he missed so I shot the mayor and withdrew.’ Maxwell showed no remorse at killing an unarmed man in cold blood, and it was a sign of things to come.

As the war drew to a close, Robert Maxwell found himself working for the Control Commission, an Allied organization formed to manage the economy, state industry and government of the defeated German people. His natural intelligence and gift for languages had been noticed by the High Command of the Allied forces, and he soon found himself organizing various sections of the West German services, including the national newspapers. Back in Britain, his entrepreneurial spirit was quickly in evidence and he became a shareholder in a London import and export company originally owned by a German, but Maxwell was soon in sole command.

Two years after the end of the war, Robert Maxwell’s company was distributing scientific literature and manuals to both Britain and America after a deal was hatched with the German publishing heavyweight Springer Verlag (later Axel Springer) that established Maxwell in the market place. Another two years would pass before he launched his own publishing company, Pergamon, after securing heavy investment from Springer. Such was his initial success he was able to buy Springer out of the contract and take over as sole owner, while settling into the business of becoming seriously wealthy during the 1950s.

In 1959 he became the Labour candidate for Buckingham and won the seat in 1964 as the new Labour government led by Harold Wilson swept into power. He remained an MP until 1970 when the Conservatives under Ted Heath defeated Wilson at the general election of that year. Maxwell also lost his seat but, by then, had already realized that true power lay in journalism: the pen really was mightier than the sword. In 1969 Maxwell had unsuccessfully tried to buy the News of the World, having been beaten to it by the Australian entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch. Maxwell did not take defeat well and accused Murdoch of ‘employing the laws of the jungle’, claiming he had made a ‘fair and bona fide offer which has been frustrated and defeated over three months of cynical manoeuvring’. In response Murdoch stated that News of the World shareholders had judged him on his record of newspaper ownership in Australia and were confident in his ability. This was a clear slight on Maxwell’s character as well as the start of a bitter and lifelong rivalry between both men.

In 1969 Maxwell had opened negotiations with American businessman Saul Steinberg, who had declared an interest in buying Pergamon Press Ltd (PPL) on the understanding that the company was making vast profits. Discovering this to be untrue, the American, despite months of negotiations, abruptly pulled out of the proposed purchase. An investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry followed, in which inspectors revealed how transactions between private Maxwell companies had been used to inflate the PPL share price. Steinberg issued legal proceedings against the former MP and in 1974 it was discreetly announced in New York that he had received a payment of $6.3 million from Maxwell and his investment bankers. In their 1970 report the DTI inspectors had concluded: ‘Notwithstanding Mr Maxwell’s acknowledged ability and energy, he is not, in our opinion, a person who can be relied upon to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company.’

He lost control of Pergamon and so the company’s investment bankers appointed a new chairman in the shape of Sir Walter Coutts who, with three independent directors, reversed the fortunes of Pergamon spectacularly and returned control of the company to Maxwell in 1974. Naturally, the ‘bouncing Czech’ as he had become known due to his questionable integrity and to his ability to bounce back from adversity, claimed the credit for the successful turnaround of his company. Coutts was later quoted by a biographer as saying: ‘Maxwell has an ability to sublimate anything that stops him getting what he wants. He is so flexible he is like a grasshopper. There is no question of morality or conscience. Maxwell is Number One and what Maxwell wants is the most important thing and to hell with anything else.’

Building on the success of Pergamon, Maxwell bought Mirror Group Newspapers from Reed International for £113 million on 13 June 1984. Behind the scenes, he had already built up a mini empire consisting of, among other things, a record label, Nimbus Records, a printing company, a book publishing house, half of MTV Europe, 20 per cent of Central Television in Britain, a cable television company and two newspapers, the People and Sporting Life. As his empire, now called Maxwell Communications Corporation PLC, grew so did his interest and influence in politics, especially as one of his various companies published the speeches of Chernenko, Ceausescu, Brezhnev, Andropov, Kadar, Husak and other Eastern European leaders. He also published sycophantic biographies of world figures and used the opportunity to meet and interview them, which caused him to be ridiculed at home but strengthened his links with several totalitarian regimes.

Maxwell also claimed to have influence in Israel and during a magazine interview for Playboy he boasted that it was he who had been responsible for persuading Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to exercise restraint in the face of Scud missile attacks from Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. What’s more, he also boasted of close ties with the Israeli secret service, Mossad; indeed after his death it was revealed that Maxwell had worked with the organization for many years and was known to a handful of elite Mossad agents by his codename ‘the Little Czech’.

Journalists would later point out how Maxwell’s companies would invariably take a downturn financially whenever Mossad was engaging in expensive covert operations, leading to speculation he was an important source of funds. Mossad was even rumoured to have funded Maxwell’s first big business venture, prompting suggestions that the whole of Maxwell’s business empire was in fact a Mossad fundraising venture. Stranger things have happened.

But in early 1991, the Little Czech was beginning to lose his bounce. A recent Panorama documentary for the BBC had drawn attention to the DTI’s conclusion in the 1970s and suggested Maxwell had been bolstering the MCC PLC share price through transactions with secretly owned companies in Lichtenstein and Gibraltar. The inevitable libel writs were issued but a number of biographers followed with similar accusations. During the summer of 1991, Maxwell’s relations with Israel soured when his repeated requests to Mossad to apply pressure on Israeli bankers to refinance his business were ignored. By now even the British Parliament were also keeping a close eye on Maxwell’s international business dealings.

Ministers had known for a long time about Maxwell’s influence with the various world leaders he had connections with. After all, it had been Maxwell who had liaised between Moscow and Tel Aviv during the August Coup of 1991, in which the former head of the KGB, Vladimir Kryuchkov, and other hardline Communists had attempted to oust Mikhail Gorbachev from power. (Who can forget the images being broadcast live by satellite during the early days of Sky Television of Boris Yeltsin standing on his tank with a loudhailer, organizing the defence of the White House in Moscow.) Maxwell had been involved in arranging a meeting between the Israeli secret service and high-level KGB officials, including Kryuchkov, to discuss Mossad support for the plot to replace Gorbachev, the first Russian president to show any sign of being about to work closely with Western governments.

But then, according to the sworn testimony of former Mossad agent Ari Ben-Menashe, Maxwell had made the mistake of threatening Mossad with revealing information about the meeting unless they supported him financially. According to Ben-Menashe, both Maxwell and the Daily Mirror’s foreign editor were long-time Mossad agents, and it had been Maxwell who had informed the Israeli Embassy in London that Mordechai Vanunu had revealed details of Israel’s nuclear capability to the Sunday Times. Vanunu was immediately lured from his Sunday Times-provided safe house in London to Rome where he was snatched by Mossad agents. He was later returned to Israel, convicted of treason and spent the next eighteen years protesting his innocence from prison before finally being released in 2004.

On 21 October 1991, two members of Parliament, Labour’s George Galloway and Tory Rupert Allison, were persuaded to bring up the Vanunu affair, and Maxwell’s part in it, in the House of Commons. Protected by parliamentary privilege, in which they could make allegations without fear of litigation, newspapers began to report a wide range of Maxwell-related intrigues and mysteries.

The Israeli secret service were also concerned by the whole Robert Maxwell situation. And as soon as he began to threaten them, his fate was sealed. Agents quickly agreed to the meeting of ‘great urgency’ called for by a now cash-strapped Robert Maxwell. They were well aware that Israel’s reputation in the West, particularly with America on whom they were heavily reliant, would be severely tarnished should it become known that they were in any way connected with the attempt to prevent democracy in the Soviet Union. Mossad could not longer afford to take any further risks with the Little Czech.

According to Ben-Menashe, in his book The Profits of War published in 1992, Maxwell was instructed to travel to Spain the following day where arrangements for a money transfer could be made. His orders were to sail his yacht to Madeira and wait on it there to receive further instructions. Maxwell breathed a sigh of relief as he left England for Spain, believing his recent growing financial problems were about to be solved and, on 31 October, he boarded the Lady Ghislane at Gibraltar and berthed at Madeira, where he dined alone.

The following day a specialist Mossad team, in Spain to cover a series of Middle Eastern peace talks, were sent south. Maxwell then received a message instructing him to meet instead on the island of Tenerife on 5 April. It is then alleged that Mossad agents boarded the boat near the Canary Islands during the night of 3 April, removed Maxwell to another vessel, interrogated him throughout the following day and then killed him by injecting air into his veins, which would have induced a heart attack.

But that’s not the end of the story, because Ben-Manashe had also claimed that he personally delivered the CIA share of the profits from an earlier arms deal between Iran and Israel to Robert Maxwell in London who, in turn, was supposed to forward it on to America. Instead, the money disappeared into the gaping hole in Maxwell’s balance sheet. Ben-Manashe alleged that Maxwell threatened the CIA with ‘damaging disclosures’ should they press him for the return of the money. Now, I’m no expert in world politics but when it comes to the wrong groups to annoy, the CIA and Mossad are two key ones to avoid, let alone blackmail.

It later transpired that as Robert Maxwell left for the Canary Islands he had also been told he was under investigation by the police for war crimes connected to the revelation about shooting that unarmed mayor in 1945. In March 2001, it was revealed, under the Freedom of Information Act, that weeks before he died detectives had started questioning members of Maxwell’s former platoon but had yet to find any witnesses to the shooting. The former lieutenant was advised six months prior to his death that he faced a possible sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty. The Metropolitan Police file notes: ‘The reported circumstances of the shooting gave rise to an allegation of War Crimes. To some extent, the reporting of the shooting incident was confirmed by Mr Maxwell in an interview he gave in 1988 to the journalist Brian Walden on 30th October 1988.’ Quite clearly there had been two shootings: by boasting of his wartime exploits, Maxwell had shot himself straight in the foot.

Following his death, Maxwell’s body was released to the Israeli authorities, who performed a second autopsy, revealing that the injuries to the body were not consistent with falling off a yacht and that he ‘had probably been murdered’. He was then afforded the honour of a Mount of Olives funeral, the resting place of Israel’s most respected heroes. During the service televised worldwide, the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir cryptically announced that Maxwell ‘had done more for Israel than can today be said’. A remark that could simply be seen as a nod towards his fundraising efforts for the Israeli secret service – or rather more.

Before the dust had, quite literally, settled on Maxwell’s grave, calls of foul play could be heard. Maxwell’s own daughter, Ghislane, announced on television that his death had ‘not been an accident’. Others insisted he had committed suicide to escape the shame of his collapsing empire, not to mention the jail sentence that would certainly have followed if he had been found guilty of fraud. But his life insurance company quickly paid out a thumping £20 million, indicating that they, at least, were certain Maxwell had not jumped. So, if his insurers had apparently ruled out suicide (and it was very much in their interests, after all, to prove that he had taken his own life), only two options are left to consider. Did Robert Maxwell have a heart attack and fall overboard, or was he murdered by the Israeli secret service? There is further suggestion – put forward by those ever-busy conspiracy theorists – that Maxwell did not die but quietly slipped away from his problems, leaving another poor soul in the water to be found, misidentified and then buried on the Mount of Olives.

Either way, his death was followed by repeated revelations into his controversial business methods and accusations were made with impunity. It began to emerge that Maxwell had used £1 billion from his companies’ pension funds in order to service his debt liability and fund his flamboyant lifestyle. MCC PLC filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992 and Maxwell’s two sons, Ian and Kevin, were declared the world’s largest bankrupts, with debts of in excess of £400 million. In 1995 they were charged with fraud but acquitted in 1996. No doubt neither man was too impressed with his father’s legacy.

Perhaps the final word should come from Lady Coutts, whose husband had rescued Maxwell all those years earlier. After dinner at Headington Hall, Maxwell’s country house and business headquarters near Oxford, the newspaper man was bidding his guests goodbye in some of the nine languages he, by then, boasted he could speak. When it came to Lady Coutts, she deliberately spoke to him in a language Maxwell had no knowledge of, Swahili: ‘Kwaheri ashante sana sitaki kukuona tena’, which means: ‘Goodbye and thank you very much. Now I never wish to see you again.’ And fortunately for her, she never did.

Albert Jack

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Mystery 1 – The Missing Lighthouse-Keepers of Eilean Mor
Mystery 2 – The Mary Celeste Mystery
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Mystery 6 – John Dillinger – The FBI Did Not Get Their Man
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Mystery 9 – Who was the Real Mona Lisa
Mystery 10 – The World’s Strangest Unsolved Crimes

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St Valentine’s Day Massacre

Who was really behind the notorious mass shooting in Prohibition era Chicago?

On the evening of 14 February 1929, Chicago police made a grisly discovery. Inside a garage complex at 2212 North Clark Street lay the bodies of seven well-dressed men, who had all been brutally executed.

The investigators were puzzled. The victims were all mobsters with violent reputations who worked for the Irish bootlegger George ‘Bugs’ Moran. As Moran’s gang were known to be feuding with other gangsters, they should have been heavily armed and fully prepared for one of the shootouts that were becoming increasingly common in Prohibition era Chicago. How had so many of them ended up unarmed in a run-down warehouse in the back streets of the city? And why had none of them fought back – indeed, how could such experienced criminals have been led so tamely to their fate? It was a mystery to the police and a mystery to Bugs Moran. The American press and public wanted to know what could have possibly led to the horrific events of that bleak winter’s night.

The place to start in any murder investigation is motive: finding out who would benefit most from the killing. The motive in this instance was obvious, and the person likely to benefit most from the killing seemed pretty obvious too. It was the height of the Prohibition years and many mobs and gangs were competing for the lucrative (and illegal) trade in alcohol, drugs, gambling and prostitution. Bugs Moran had formed an impressive smuggling and supply racket in Chicago. He also had a small army of followers, mainly from the Irish community. Taking on the Irishman would be akin to going to war, which ruled out all the small-time operators. For a suspect, the investigators kept returning to one name and one name alone, Al ‘Scarface’ Capone.

Capone’s gang of Italian mobsters were well known to the authorities. His network of prostitutes, gambling dens, smugglers, bootlegging of illegal alcohol and his protection rackets had created an impressive empire and he was estimated to be worth in the region of $65 million, a staggering sum of money in 1929, worth approximately $7.2 billion today. He was a force to be reckoned with in Chicago and his policy of expansion through killing his business rivals placed him top of the list of suspects. It seemed obvious that he was behind it. But he denied all knowledge. His rival, Moran, had neither been killed nor even threatened, and the men lying dead in that garage were mere foot soldiers whose death could not have benefited Capone in any way. He had also been in Florida on Valentine’s Day.

Even the single eyewitness to the shooting couldn’t shed any light on the identity of the perpetrators. The police had found Frank ‘Tight Lips’ Gusenberg lying amongst the carnage and choking on his own blood. He was rushed to hospital and, on finally regaining consciousness, was immediately asked who had shot him. Gusenberg carefully looked around the room before replying, ‘Shot? Nobody shot me!’ He died soon afterwards and the general belief was that he had recognized somebody in the room, although his silence hadn’t helped him survive.

The police returned to the scene and tried to piece together the events leading up to the shooting from what little evidence they had. It was statements from the inhabitants of North Clark Street that provided their first real breakthrough. Several residents confirmed they had heard gunfire but swore they had then seen two uniformed policemen leading two civilians away at gunpoint. The two ‘suspects’ had been handcuffed and bundled into a police car and then driven away. Reassured that the police were already present and everything appeared to be under control, no one made any effort to report the matter to the authorities. But the Chicago police had no record of any shootings or arrests made in North Clark Street on the night of 14 February. The investigators followed up every clue and lead they had, but they were all dead-ends and no convictions were ever secured for the brutal murders in the warehouse on that cold February night.

Despite the fact that there was no proof linking Capone to the massacre, Bugs Moran had got the message. He promptly moved his gang out of the North Side, leaving all business in that area for the Italians. But he had already made a major error by commenting publicly to a journalist, ‘Only Capone kills like that.’ These five short words were a serious breach of the gangster code of silence, after which even his own gang members began to lose respect for their boss.

Moran became an increasingly marginalized and desperate figure. In 1946 he was finally arrested for robbing a bank messenger of $10,000, a far cry from the high-level crime and luxurious lifestyle he had enjoyed during the Prohibition years. Moran was sentenced to ten years imprisonment but immediately rearrested on his release. He was given another ten years at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, where he died of cancer in 1957. His body lies in a pauper’s grave within the prison walls.

The St Valentine’s Day Massacre also led to the downfall of Al Capone himself because it brought his activities to the attention of the Federal government. Despite no evidence being found to connect him to the killings in North Clark Street, the gangster was soon convicted on charges of income tax evasion and, in 1931, sentenced to eleven years at the notorious high-security prison at Alcatraz.

While in prison, Capone’s mental health began to deteriorate: towards the end he was convinced that the ghost of James Clark, one of the St Valentine’s Day victims, was haunting him. It was the only clue he ever gave of any involvement in the killings. After his release, Capone spent the last five years of his life quietly in his luxury estate in Miami, Florida. On 25 January 1947, he died of a heart attack thought to have been caused by the third-stage complications of syphilis.

Meanwhile the garage on North Clark Street – the site of the infamous events – was demolished; the area is now a landscaped car park for a nursing home. The infamous wall Moran’s men were shot against was dismantled, sold at auction and shipped to Canada where it was rebuilt in the toilets of a Vancouver theme bar, the BanjoPalace. When that business closed down, each brick of the famous wall was sold off, as macabre souvenirs.

The St Valentine’s Day Massacre itself remained a mystery until recently. The true events of that fateful night were discovered long after the deaths of everybody involved. In January 1929 Jack ‘Machine Gun’ McGurn, one of the Capone mob, was making a telephone call on the street when Peter and Frank Gusenberg’s car drew alongside. When the two Moran mobsters recognized McGurn, they opened fire, but missed him, which was to prove to be a major error for the brothers. Both Capone and Bugs Moran were struggling for control of the bootlegging business in Chicago and the tension between them had begun to degenerate into street warfare. But with many other mobsters muscling in on the action, it was sometimes unclear who was responsible for which act of violence. This time there was no mistake; McGurn knew exactly who had tried to kill him.

Capone was already aware of the might of Moran’s army and a month or so earlier had secretly discussed with an associate how to eliminate the ‘Moran risk’. When he was allegedly warned he would ‘have to kill a lot of people to get to Bugs Moran’, Capone joked that he would send plenty of flowers. So when ‘Machine Gun’ McGurn approached his boss with a plan to avenge the phone-box shooting, Capone saw the perfect opportunity to start eliminating Moran’s gang, from the bottom upwards.

With the boss’s authorization, McGurn created a six-man team headed by Fred Burke with the intention of luring the Gusenbergs, with as many of Moran’s other henchmen as possible, into a trap. Burke, a little-known Capone man at the time, invited the brothers to a warehouse meeting, claiming to have many crates of hijacked bootleg whiskey for sale.

Both Capone and McGurn left town to make sure they had watertight alibis. The meeting was to take place on the night of 14 February and, with more of Capone’s men placed as strategic lookouts along the surrounding streets, the plan swung into action. Four of McGurn’s gang pulled up at the deserted garage, watched by Moran’s lookouts who, deciding the coast was clear, signalled for the seven-strong Gusenberg gang to approach. But after they were inside, two more of McGurn’s gang dressed as Chicago police officers approached in a stolen patrol car. Moran’s lookouts fled the scene, fearing a police bust, while Capone’s remained in place, on standby in case the real police should arrive.

Inside the garage, the fake patrolmen found the suspicious-looking group and ordered them to drop their weapons. All of the gangsters complied, McGurn’s men believing their captors were the relatively harmless police force, many of whom were already on the mob’s payroll anyway. However, as they lined up, Capone’s four men peeled away, leaving the seven Moran men alone against the wall. Within a split second the gangsters dressed as policemen had opened fire using two Thompson submachine guns. They were quickly joined by the remaining gangsters, who pumped bullets into their surprised and defenceless rivals. All seven – James Clark, Adam Heyer, Johnny May, Al Weinshank, Frank and Peter Gusenberg and Dr Reinhardt Schwimmer – were left either dead, or bleeding to death, on the garage floor. The gunfire had attracted the attention of other residents in the street, but they were soon comforted to see two uniformed policemen in a patrol car ‘arresting’ those responsible. But when neither of the policemen were ever seen again, it led to one of the bloodiest murder mysteries the world has known and, ultimately, not a single conviction was ever secured.

Extract from Mysterious World

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Weird and Wonderful World

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Mystery 1 – The Famous Aurora Spaceship Mystery
Mystery 2 – Beware of the USOs
Mystery 3 – Try to See It from My Angle: The Bermuda Triangle
ystery 4 – The Magnetic Strip
Mystery 5 – The Strange Case of Kaspar Hauser
Mystery 6 – The Piano Man
Mystery 7 – The Terrifying Affair of Spring-heeled Jack
ystery 8 – The Dover Demon
ystery 9 – It’s Raining Frogs
Mystery 10 – The Men Who Cheated Death

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Mystery 1 – Bigfoot
Mystery 2 – Crop Circles
Mystery 3 – Who Killed Marilyn Monroe?
Mystery 4 – The Loch Ness Monster
Mystery 5 – The Death of Robert Maxwell
Mystery 6 – Will the Real Paul McCartney Please Stand Up
Mystery 7 – The Awful Fate of Edgar Allan Poe
Mystery 8 – The St Valentines Day Massacre
Mystery 9 – The Chilling Tale of The Chase Vault
Mystery 10 – Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden

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Does Bigfoot Exist?

What made the oversized tracks found in Bluff Creak, California, and other parts of America? A giant ape or just a big jape?

In 1924, a group of miners working in the Cascade Mountain Range in the state of Washington were startled to see a huge simian creature staring at them from behind a tree. Panic-stricken, one of the men fired at it and although the bullet appeared to hit the giant ape in the head, the beast ran off, apparently unharmed. Soon afterwards another of the miners, Fred Beck, spotted it again on the edge of a canyon and again fired, this time hitting the creature in the back. The group watched as it fell over the ridge. They scrambled at once down into the canyon below, but could find no trace of the creature’s body.

However, that evening as it grew dark, the men heard strange scratching noises outside their log cabin and saw shadowy gorilla-like faces at the window. The terrified miners barricaded the door but soon the creatures were hammering at the roof and walls. Heavy rocks were thrown and the cabin rocked from side to side. The men began shooting through the walls in all directions but still the hammering continued, only ending as the sun rose the next morning. The miners packed up at once and left the cabin, vowing never to return.

It was only after Eric Shipton famously photographed a giant footprint on the Menlung Glacier of Mount Everest in 1951, putting his pickaxe alongside to show its size, that interest in giant apes began to gather pace. During the 1953 expedition to Everest, when Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing were the first to successfully climb the mountain, both men reported seeing oversized footprints. Although Hillary later disputed that these were yeti tracks, there was so much interest in finding out more that the Daily Mail sponsored a ‘Snowman’ expedition in the Himalayas the following year. Keen to discover more about America’s very own yeti-style legend, John Green tracked down Fred Beck in the late 1960s and interviewed him for his book On the Track of the Sasquatch, and the Bigfoot mystery took even firmer root in America.

The word ‘Sasquatch’, applied to the large, hairy hominid in its North American manifestation, was first coined much earlier – in the 1920s – by J. W. Burns. While working as a schoolteacher at the Chehalis Indian Reserve on the Harrison River, he had learned that Native American Indians used the words soos-q’tal and sokqueatl to describe the various ‘giant men’ of their legends. To simplify matters, Burns decided to invent one name to cover all such creatures, and through one of his articles – ‘Introducing British Columbia’s Hairy Giants’, published in MacLean’s Magazine in 1929 – ‘Sasquatch’ passed into wider use.

As the public fascination for the giant apeman grew, the media began to report sightings on a regular basis. In 1958 road construction worker Ray Wallace was amazed when his colleague reported finding huge footprints in the dirt at Bluff Creak in northern California, the area they were working in. The local press descended and soon the story was front-page news all over America. Casts were made of the prints, which experts declared genuine. The first newspaper to carry the story, the Humboldt Times of Eureka in California, used the name ‘Bigfoot’ in their headline, and the word has since become synonymous with America’s favourite mystery creature. When more tracks were found, Sasquatch hunters flocked into the now famous Bluff Creek area to see what else they could discover.

It wasn’t until Ray Wallace’s death, in December 2002, that the mystery was revealed. Members of Ray’s family requested that his obituary should announce that, with his passing, Bigfoot had also died. Ray Wallace immediately became one of the most controversial characters in Bigfoot history when it was revealed that he (along with a handful of his close friends and co-workers) had made the tracks. Investigators soon found out that all of the tracks appeared in areas Ray had worked in. In the early days that had been in Washington State, where the first footprints had been found, while over twenty years later discoveries were being made further south, in California. Bigfoot had not been on the move, Ray Wallace had. Family members produced dozens of different oversized foot moulds made out of wood or clay that Ray would have spent weeks crafting and honing.

His buddies, by then rather elderly pranksters, showed in television documentaries how they had created the vast footsteps: holding on to a rope tied to the back of a logger’s truck being driven very slowly had enabled them to take the giant steps that had so fooled expert analysis. In much the same way as crop-circle makers simply enjoy confounding the experts (see page 000), so did Ray and his pals.

Bigfoot Hoaxers at Work
However, despite The New York Times running the news as a headline story, many Bigfoot researchers have discounted the revelation (not altogether surprising – cynics might say – when their credibility was on the line) and even tried to discredit the Wallace family, threatening them with legal action. One poor haunted soul who spent his adult life in search of Bigfoot evidence wondered why anybody would put so much time into ‘messing with people’s heads’. The answer, of course, is because it is fun. Fun, and surprisingly easy.

Nonetheless, a number of scientists and leading members of the Bigfoot Field Research Centre (BFRC) are, instead, stating that the footprint moulds produced by the pranksters are themselves the fake, not the tracks. In a bizarre piece of reverse logic, some are insisting the Wallace family must prove their claims. John Green, described as one of America’s foremost Bigfoot researchers, loftily remarked of Wallace that if he had revealed the footprint mould during his lifetime he ‘would, of course, [have been] called upon to prove himself’. I am unable to see how anybody can become a ‘foremost researcher’ when they have discovered exactly the same amount of genuine evidence of Bigfoot as I have – that is, absolutely nothing.

It was, after all, John Green who interviewed Albert Ostman in 1957 and fell for his tall (in more senses than one) story. Ostman said he had been looking for gold in British Columbia during the gold rush of 1927, when he had been kidnapped by an adult male Sasquatch. The beast gathered up the man in his sleeping bag and carried him several miles. He was then dumped on the ground and realized, shortly afterwards, that he was being held by a family of four who would not let him leave their camp. After six days of captivity, he concluded he was being considered as future husband material for the young female, so he fired his rifle into the air, distracting the family for long enough to make his escape.

When Green asked why Albert had not told his story before, the ageing gold prospector replied that he thought nobody would have believed him. And few did, except John Green and his vast fan base of Bigfoot believers ready to leap to his defence on every issue. But Green did finally concede, in 2007, that he ‘would not believe the story if he were told it today’.

Take another established piece of ‘proof’ – the footage of a female Sasquatch filmed by Roger Patterson in Bluff Creek. The story goes that in October 1967 Patterson and his friend Bob Gimlin were riding through the creek when their horses reared up and they were both thrown to the ground. As they picked themselves up, they noticed a ‘huge, hairy creature walking like a man’ about thirty yards ahead of them. Patterson grabbed his cine-camera and began filming the beast as she loped away, pausing only once – and looking directly into the camera lens as she did so – before disappearing from view. The film has become world famous and has been studied by zoologists, crypto-zoologists, palaeontologists, biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. And you will be unsurprised to hear that opinion is divided about whether it is genuine footage (Bigfootage?) or not.

Leading scientists did, however, conclude at the time that there was ‘nothing in the film that leads them, on scientific grounds, to suspect a hoax’. Having now made my own detailed study of the film, using ultra-slow, frame-by-frame-pausing technology obligingly provided by Sony (namely, the DVD player in my front room), I can now add to the debate. To my albeit untrained eye, the creature looks suspiciously like a man in a monkey suit on his way to a fancy-dress party.

Seasoned Bigfoot researchers nevertheless regard the film as a significant piece of evidence, saying that to suggest that it was a hoax would be ‘demonstrably false’ – that old double-negative rhetoric again. But even non-researchers, including the physical anthropologist Grover Kranz, confirm the film does depict a ‘genuine unknown creature’. Another prominent primate expert, John Napier, is still not entirely convinced but once revealed: ‘I could not see the zipper then and I still can’t. Perhaps it was a man dressed up in a monkey costume; if so it was a brilliantly executed hoax and the unknown perpetrator will take his place with the great hoaxers of the world.’ So does this mean if he can’t see the zip, it can’t be a monkey suit? Or had the hoaxer compounded his/her cleverness by inventing an early form of Velcro?

In 2004, Greg Long revealed in his book The Making of Bigfoot that the grainy clip was in fact an elaborate hoax. Long claims he had managed to trace the monkey suit to costume maker Philip Morris, a gorilla suit specialist from North Carolina. In the book, Morris states he sold the suit to Roger Patterson for $435, and when he saw the Bigfoot photos on the television and in the newspapers a few weeks later, he recognized the suit as the one he had made. Morris claims never to have revealed this information before because to break ‘client confidentiality’ in such a public manner would have lost him customers. It might have saved millions of research dollars, though.

Greg Long revealed the man in the suit as Bob Heironimus – a friend of Patterson’s – who subsequently told the Washington Post: ‘It’s time people knew it was a hoax. It is time to let this thing go … I have been burdened with this for thirty-six years, seeing the film-clip on television numerous times. Somebody’s making lots of money out of this, except for me. But that is not the issue, the issue is that it is finally time to let people know the truth.’

John Green, of course, immediately went on the offensive, calling him a liar and declaring Greg Long had made ‘a fool of himself’. And while Heironimus was a known associate of Patterson and has passed two lie detector tests and Greg Long has found several independent, but supporting, witnesses, John Green still has yet to provide a single piece of evidence for his case that the film is of a genuine, if as yet unidentified, hairy giant.

Step forward, then, Roger Patterson himself. Unfortunately, he can no longer be called upon as he died in 1972. However, the other witness to the Bigfoot sighting, Bob Gimlin, is still alive. Bob no longer speaks personally about the film as he is ‘fed up with the whole Bigfoot thing’, but his solicitor, Tom Malone, issued a statement to the Washington Post in response to their story about Heironimus’s revelation: ‘I am authorized to tell you that nobody wore a gorilla suit or monkey suit and that Mr Gimlin’s position is that it’s absolutely false and untrue.’ Which seems clear enough, but it is quite possible Gimlin didn’t know about Patterson’s hoax and was simply used to increase its credibility. Even if he was in on the act, Gimlin has always maintained the film to be genuine and so any revelation now, forty years after the event, would be somewhat embarrassing for him.

In 1969, another set of tracks was reported – in Bossburg, Washington – that, on closer inspection, revealed the giant beast’s right paw was in fact club-footed. Experts argued that this indicated that the tracks were very likely to be the first genuine piece of evidence to support the existence of the Sasquatch. Professor John Napier, whose book Bigfoot was published in 1973, wrote: ‘It is difficult to conceive of a hoaxer so subtle, so knowledgeable – and so sick – who would deliberately fake a footprint of this nature. I suppose it is possible but so unlikely I am prepared to discount the idea it is a hoax.’ Straight from the school of ‘If I couldn’t think of it then nor could anybody else’, and with such imaginative minds on the trail of Bigfoot, it is hardly surprising he has managed to elude us for so long.

Despite sightings of Bigfoot reported in every American state except Hawaii and Rhode Island, the creature’s natural habitat is said to be the remote woodlands and forests in the Pacific Northwest of America and Canada. The Rocky Mountains have provided many sightings, as have the Great Lakes. But if this is the case, how could he have got to Florida, California and other southern states? The Sasquatch would have had to leave the cover of his remote woodland hideaway, and it is difficult to imagine how such a creature could travel so far without leaving behind at least some credible evidence. You would certainly spot him in the Greyhound bus queue.

But, unfortunately for the wonderfully named Texas Bigfoot Research Center (TBRC), it turns out that most of the evidence found, such as blood or hair samples, footprint casts or photographs, usually turn out to be fake and never, as yet, from an unknown creature. Investigators at TBRC say they receive reports of over one hundred sightings each year in Texas alone, while on the homepage of their website Janet Bord states: ‘If the skeptics are right and there is no such creature as Bigfoot, then it is a fact that thousands of Americans and Canadians are either prone to hallucinations, or are compulsive liars or unable to recognize bears, deer and vagrants.’ Quite how tramps became involved is anybody’s guess.

Also on the homepage of the TBRC website is something that bears further examination. One Rick Noll is quoted, stating his reasons why no firm evidence for the existence of a big, hairy, part-man, part-simian-type monster has been found:

  1. No one is spending enough time in the woods,
  2. Not many people know what to do in searching, overlooking things, or vice-versa, seeing things that aren’t significant [sic] to the task,
  3. There are not many of these animals around,
  4. They, like most animals in the forest, know how to camouflage themselves quickly and easily,
  5. Most encounters with humans are probably mistakes on the part of the Bigfoot, yet researchers are trying to fill in the picture with them as to being something significant.

So there you have it. Those are the reasons the TBRC claim there is, to date, still no credible evidence of the existence of Bigfoot. So how is it then that, despite the use of the whole spectrum of technology – from heat-seeking cameras with night vision to thermal imaging – nobody has confirmed the existence of Bigfoot?

Bigfoot enthusiasts apart, the group of people keenest to obtain as much information as possible of the apeman’s existence would be the US government. And as they have surveillance equipment that can detect a small nuclear warhead buried in the desert somewhere near Baghdad, it is fair to assume they would have picked up one of the thousands of Sasquatch that have to exist if all the Americans and Canadians who claim sightings are not lying.

Such a large number of sightings does suggest that Bigfoot, or a relative of his, could well be out there; indeed I, like Janet Bord, refuse to believe that so many people can be lying. But hundreds of small, circumstantial and improvable reports do not add up to a single, solid fact. It is like pouring thirty separate measures of Jack Daniels into a large glass. Added together they do not make the drink any stronger in flavour; it still tastes exactly the same. But if you drink it all – as I have discovered through experimentation for this very investigation on your behalf – you will fall over. Scientifically speaking, weak evidence should not become any stronger just because there is lots of it, although it can affect your judgement in the end.

But the Texas Bigfoot Research Centre is not the only organization dedicated to finding firm evidence: there are many others throughout America. On 27 December 2003, for example, the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society (PBS) hosted their fifth annual East Coast Bigfoot Conference (ECBC), and the keynote speaker, Stan Gordon, veteran researcher and the founder/director of the Pennsylvania Association for the Study of the Unexplained (PASU), concluded his opening speech linking Bigfoot sightings with known UFO activity in the same areas – although he stopped short of announcing: ‘Bigfoot is a spaceman.’ Which I would have done, just for the headline.  leave in ‘There is no doubt the evidence suggests there is something out there,’ he assured the audience, as they sat there hanging on his every word, then continued: ‘We just don’t know what it is.’

Another speaker at the conference, Paul Johnson, a chemistry professor at Duquense University in Pittsburgh, thought he knew: ‘Bigfoot is a quantum animal that moves freely between the real world as we know it and a quantum world outside the reach of conventional laws.’ He went on to explain how that, in quantum physics, electrons do not follow the normal rules of physics. Although he admitted his ideas were unconventional, he also noted (contradicting himself in the process) that nothing as large as Bigfoot could behave like an electron in reality, which was a relief because everybody knows that a living being is unable to dematerialize and then reappear in perfect working order in another place. Unless, of course, you are travelling on the starship Enterprise,and then you can.

Another speaker at the ECBC, Janice Coy from Monroe County, Tennessee, claimed her family had developed a relationship with a family of Bigfoot (or should that be ‘Bigfeet’?) since 1947. Her grandfather, having stumbled across an injured Bigfoot, had bandaged its broken leg and allowed it to recover in a barn at the family farm. She claims to have even held a baby Bigfoot in her arms and explained that for years she had tried to obtain photographic evidence, without success. She picked up on Paul Johnson’s quantum theory and suggested that was the reason none of her photographs ever returned to her with images any clearer than a ‘shapeless fuzz’. And no one likes to see a shapeless fuzz now, do they.

On one occasion the Sasquatch family, realizing the camera was present on a nearby tripod, used long sticks to retrieve food from a place out of range of the lens. On another occasion, the roll of film Janice submitted to a commercial processing lab returned to her after the film had been mysteriously overexposed, and every image lost for ever. She also claimed she was trying to obtain DNA evidence to provide comprehensive proof of the family’s existence; no one asked her why she didn’t just pinch a couple of hairs from the baby she had held in her arms. That would have been enough to prove her bizarre claims. But that’s enough about the ECBC, so let’s move on.

Where DNA testing has been carried out on purported evidence, none has been proven to come from an unknown beast. Usually Bigfoot hairs are found to have come from bison or other common animals. The absence of fossil evidence is another powerful argument that Bigfoot does not exist, although believers counter this by suggesting that the absence of fossil evidence is not yet evidence of fossil absence, and so it goes on and on and on. But the fact remains that not a single hair, bone, tooth, nail or claw has ever been found that belongs to a giant hairy man-like being that cannot be explained, and yet there is plenty of evidence found in similar areas that bears, moose, deer and even dinosaurs and hairy mammoths have left their traces behind them. So why not Sasquatch, if there is one?

The late professor Grover Krantz, a reputable anthropologist, was one of few scientists to state publicly that he believed in Bigfoot. He personally interviewed hundreds of witnesses, studied film footage and photographic evidence and inspected many plaster casts of footprints and other imprints. He estimated that between 200 and 2,000 Bigfoot lived in the Pacific Northwest of America and dedicated his life to proving it, but he never turned up any credible evidence that could be regarded as anything approaching proof. However, the professor was unabashed, once suggesting that most animals hide before they die and their bodies are quickly devoured by scavengers, noting that he had ‘yet to meet anyone who has found the remains of a bear that was not killed by human activity’. Which is a fair point, but then he hasn’t met everybody yet, has he?

It was Grover Krantz who announced to the world that the club-footed prints had offered the ‘first convincing evidence that the animals were real’. He also said of other tracks he had studied that a ‘push-off mound’ was ‘impressive evidence’ to him. This was a small mound of soil, present in some Bigfoot tracks, that Krantz had decided was created by the ‘horizontal push of the front foot just before it leaves the ground’. He stated with authority that no artificial rubber or wooden mould would leave such an impression.

More recently, in 2005, a story was told of a young Bigfoot that had been accidentally caught in a bear trap. A boy and his father had taken the beast back home and put him in a cage, but when the Bigfoot became distressed, the boy’s father let it go. In a world where everybody now has video cameras, even on their mobile telephones, it is a hard to believe that their first instinct wouldn’t be to take a close-up picture of the creature. Quite frankly, although this story is reported as genuine, if it turns out to be true, then I will shave my head and become a French monk.

So, in summary, what is still needed is a carcass. That would be ideal, although any Sasquatch fossil or bone would do – just something more convincing that the plaster mould of an oversized footprint made by a carved wooden or plastic shape strapped to the foot of a prankster being pulled along by a slow-moving truck to help create the effect of giant footsteps that ‘man could not possibly have made’. Even the apparently genuine footprints look suspicious to me. Look again at the assessment of the small mound of earth focused upon by the expert Dr Grover Krantz – caused ‘by a horizontal push of the front foot just before it leaves the ground’. Now go and have a walk across your living room like I just did, and notice how your front foot never leaves the ground, until the other one passes it of course, but by then it is your back foot. So what is he talking about?

As every single apparently credible piece of material evidence of Bigfoot has turned out to be a hoax, then there is nothing else for it – we do need a carcass. Indeed Krantz himself believed this would be the only way to finally remove any doubt in people’s minds as to the existence of Bigfoot, and he called for hunters to bring one in. But that also worries me, because what if the one that is shot turns out to be the only one? Hold your fire after all, fellas …

Either way, the search, for some, will continue and groups of people known by their initials, including Central Ohio Bigfoot Research (COBR) and the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization (GCBRO), will continue to flourish and attract new members and devise new acronyms. I might even start my own group and call it the Time Wasters And Tricksters Society, of which I am told by some that I am perfectly qualified to be the president. Because if enough people continue to insist Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, is alive and well somewhere in the wilderness, there will always be hoaxers leaving clues for them to find. In reality, it will remain as impossible to prove Bigfoot does not exist as it is to prove you do not have a invisible, silent, pink lion standing in your garden, looking at you right now and thinking, ‘Lunch.’ You can’t prove there isn’t one, you know. After all, any absence of evidence for invisible, silent, pink lions is not yet evidence of their absence.

Albert Jack – President TWAT

Extract from Mysterious World

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