The Great Loch Ness Con Trick

If the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist, how come there have been so many pictures and sightings? And is Nessie really Nellie?

The first documented sighting of a monster inhabiting Loch Ness was by Saint Columba in AD565. According to this, the Christian missionary was travelling through the Highlands when he came across a group of Picts holding a funeral by the loch. They explained that they were burying a fellow tribesman who had been out on the loch in his boat when he had been attacked by a monster. Columba immediately ordered young Lugne Mocumin, one of his own followers, to swim across the loch to retrieve the dead man’s boat.

Detecting lunch was on its way again, the great beast reared up out of the water, at which Columba held up his cross and roared: ‘Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed!’ And with that, the terrified monster apparently turned tail and ‘fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast’.

The group of Picts, very impressed by all this, converted to Christianity on the spot. However, as evidence of a monster living in the loch for the last 1,500 years, this account seems about as reliable as the story of the tooth fairy. Not least because St Columba also claimed, a tad implausibly, to have had various other successful run-ins with Scottish monsters, once even slaying a wild boar just with his voice. Nevertheless, many were convinced by the Loch Ness tale.

Then there was silence on the monster front until some strange sightings were reported in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But the Loch Ness Monster, as we have come to know and love it, it wasn’t really ‘born’ until much later – not until 1933, in fact, when (prosaically enough) the A82 trunk road had finally been completed along the western shore of Loch Ness, connecting the western town of Fort William with the busy port of Inverness on the North Sea. Providing easy access for tourists and industry alike, the road also offered a route past the picturesque loch for the first time.

Nearby Inverness had a long-standing and hugely popular tradition of hosting an annual circus. In 1933 Bertram Mills took his circus to Inverness along the new A82 for the first time, where his road crew would have stopped along the banks of Loch Ness to rest and feed the animals. Coincidentally that was when the sightings of the Loch Ness Monster began.

Bertram Mills, ever the entrepreneur, quickly used the local story to his advantage by offering the £20,000 (nearly £2 million pounds today) to anybody who could prove that they had seen the great beast. It was a sum Mills seemed suspiciously unable to afford to pay out. But the public flocked to the area nevertheless, sightings soared and more people than ever before attended his shows in case the monster might make an appearance.

But how could Mills have been so sure nobody could legitimately claim the reward? My theory is that he must have seen the famous photo of a plesiosaur-like creature taken in 1933 near Invermoriston by a Scottish surgeon and had known that it was no monster. At the time, sceptics claimed the photograph was a fake: the creature it showed must be an otter or maybe vegetation floating on the surface of the loch. It was even said to be an elaborate hoax created using a toy submarine. But Bertram Mills had seen an elephant swim before and must have realized the photograph taken was most likely of one of his animals bathing in the loch. Although the financial benefits of staying silent about this were obvious.

Soon afterwards, on 14 April 1933, a Mr and Mrs Mackay claimed that they had seen a ‘large … whale-like beast’ idling in the loch and which had then dived under, causing ‘a great disturbance’ in the water. They had immediately reported the sighting to local gamekeeper Alex Campbell. Campbell, conveniently enough, also turned out to be an amateur reporter for the Inverness Courier. His embellished account of the sighting, entitled ‘Strange Spectacle on Loch Ness’, appeared on 2 May 1933 and brought him instant fame. The world’s monster hunters, not to mention the media, then descended on an remote area of the Scottish Highlands, only previously known for its fishing.

The dial of Loch Ness Monster excitement was then cranked up even further by the Daily Mail, when they sent in a professional team of monster hunters headed by the wonderfully named big-game hunter Marmaduke Weatherall. The Mail ran a daily piece on his efforts to lure the monster from its lair and to bag the beast. And within just two days, the headlines announced he had found unusual footprints on the shoreline.

A cast was sent to the BritishMuseum for identification and the Scots were revelling in the global attention their country was receiving. But the following week they were hanging their heads in shame when the cast proved to be the imprint of a stuffed hippopotamus foot, probably an umbrella stand from some local hostelry or tavern. Weatherall denied any mischief making and it was never proven whether it had been hunter or hoaxer who had laid the false tracks.

The two most compelling photographs of the ‘monster’ are world famous. One depicts a creature with a long greyish neck that tapers into an eerie thin head rising out of the water, followed by two humps. Roy Chapman Andrews, an American explorer and director of the American Museum of Natural History upon whom Indiana Jones was based, went on record in 1935 arguing that he had seen the original picture and that it had been ‘retouched’ by newspaper artists before being published. He firmly states the original picture is of the dorsal fin of a killer whale.

Most other experts disagree. As do I: to my mind, it is clearly the trunk of an elephant, with the first hump being the head and the second its back, almost certainly one of Bertram Mills’s, taken as the circus elephants swam in the loch. Hugh Gray was the photographer: ‘I immediately got my camera ready and snapped the object which was then two to three feet above the surface of the water. I did not see any head, for what I took to be the front parts were under the water, but there was considerable movement from what seemed to be the tail.’ This photograph has been declared genuine by photographic experts and shows no signs of tampering, unlike so many of the others. And that is because, in my view, it is a genuine photograph – of a genuine elephant. No retouching

The Loch Ness Monster
But the best-known photograph is the one taken by surgeon Robert Kenneth Wilson on 19 April 1934. Indeed it must be one of the most instantly recognizable pictures ever taken. From a distance of two hundred yards what has come to be known as the ‘Surgeon’s Photograph’ shows a grey ‘trunk’ of around four feet protruding from the water with a hump directly behind it and clear disturbance in the water around. Once developed and declared genuine, the picture was bought and published by the Daily Mail and the Loch Ness Monster industry was properly born.

Curiously enough, when asked what he thought he had seen, Wilson claimed to have been too busy setting up his camera to take proper note, but thought there was certainly something strange in the loch. The next question then should have been: ‘Why didn’t you wait around for a while to see if it returned?’ because then he may well have seen the elephant surfacing, as it would have had to sooner or later. Then again, perhaps he did, but greed rather than valour influenced the better part of his discretion.

As recently as March 2006, Neil Clark, curator of palaeontology at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, has stated (thus confirming something I have believed for many years): ‘It is quite possible that people not used to seeing a swimming elephant – the vast bulk of the animal is submerged, with only a thick trunk and a couple of humps visible – thought they saw a monster.’ Dr Clark also notes that most sightings came around the time of Bertram Mills’ reward offer for evidence of the monster. He himself believes that most other the sightings could probably be explained away by floating logs or unusual waves.

But just as it seemed the eminent professor was about to finally blow the Loch Ness Monster out of the water, so to speak, he was asked by the BBC whether he believed there was a large creature living in the loch. To which he responded: ‘I believe there is something alive in Loch Ness.’ And he’s not wrong, is he? There must be ‘something’ alive in the loch; in fact there are lots of living things swimming around in it. But at least he didn’t go on to say it was a 1,500-year-old sea monster, which it would have to be, as that is the premise upon which this whole story has been constructed.

But to be fair to Dr Clark, the Loch Ness Monster is big business for Scotland. Consultants have estimated it to be worth in the region of £50 million per annum and rising. More that 500,000 tourists travel to the area every year in the hope of sighting the beast, despite Bertram Mills’ reward expiring with him. Some claim the industry has even created 2,500 new jobs. And the Monster Spotting Tour comes in at £15 a head. Dr Clark would not be popular in his home country if he finally dispelled the myth many love and even more rely upon.

Since the elephant-heavy 1930s there have been dozens of sightings of objects of varying shapes and sizes. Even if paddling pachyderms are no longer the likeliest explanation, other theories are possible. Loch Ness is actually a sea lake, fed from the Moray Firth in the North Sea via the River Ness. Furthermore, the Moray Firth is one of the areas of British seawater most frequented by porpoises, dolphins and whales.

Indeed seals and dolphins have been filmed in the loch many times. If the mind wants to see a monster, three partly submerged dolphins swimming in a row could easily provide the illusion of a thirty-foot, three-humped creature in the gathering gloom – especially after a few drams of the local malt. I have myself encountered a few three-humped monsters after a lively evening out before now.

The BBC has used sonar and satellite imagery to scan every inch of the loch and found ‘no trace of any large animal living there’. But, as it has always been the case with myths, legends and fables, while it is possible to prove the positive by producing irrefutable evidence, it is never possible to prove the opposite argument.

We could dam Loch Ness and drain it. We would then be able to take everybody still perpetuating the myth down into this vast new dry valley and show them every nook, cave and rock cluster, but still the hardcore believers would reply: ‘Ah, but Nessie may well be out in the North Sea at the moment just limbering up for another appearance.’ But of course that is not the reason at all. Everyone from Columba (who told that miraculous story, embroidered or otherwise, which led to his canonization) onwards has profited from retelling the tall tale of Loch Ness.

The only surprise is that so many people have, and still do, strongly believe there is an unidentified prehistoric monster living in a Scottish loch. Some argue that is a historical fact; I know it’s just a hysterical one. I’m here to inform you, kids – there is no such thing as the Loch Ness Monster. Just don’t tell anyone it was me who told you.

Extract from Mysterious World

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The Missing Men of Eilean Mor

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Lighthouse Keepers of Eilean Mor – What drove three experienced lighthouse keepers to abandon their post one calm day?

It was a cold and gloomy afternoon on the Isle of Lewis and the watchman strained to see the Eilean Mor Lighthouse, located on one of the FlannanIslands, through the mist and rain. Situated on a major shipping route between Britain, Europe and North America, the rocky Flannans had been responsible for so many shipwrecks over the centuries that the Northern Lighthouse Board had finally decided to build a lighthouse there to warn sailors of the peril.

It had taken four long years to build. But on 16 December 1900, just a week after construction had been completed, a report came that the light had gone out. Roderick MacKenzie, a gamekeeper at Uig, had been appointed as lighthouse watchman and his duty was to alert the authorities if he was unable to see the light. He noted in his logbook that the light had not been visible at all between the 8 and 12 December; he was so concerned, in fact, that he had enlisted the help of all the villagers to take it in turns to watch out for the light, until it was finally seen on the afternoon of 12 December.

But when another four days went by and the light failed to appear yet again, MacKenzie alerted assistant keeper Joseph Moore. Moore stood on the seafront at Loch Roag on the Isle of Lewis and stared west into the gloom, looking for the smallest flicker of light, but he also saw nothing. The notion that the brand new lighthouse might have been destroyed in the recent storms seemed highly unlikely and at least one of the three resident keepers should have been able to keep the lamp lit, so Moore summoned help.

The following day, due to high seas, Moore was unable to launch the Board’s service boat, the Hesperus, to investigate. It would be nine agonizing days before the seas calmed sufficiently for the anxious assistant keeper to leave for Eilean Mor.

Finally, at dawn on Boxing Day, the sky had cleared and the Hesperus left Breasclete harbour at first light. As it approached the lighthouse, the boat’s skipper Captain Harvie signalled their approach with flags and flares, but there was no acknowledgement from the shore. As soon they had docked at Eilean Mor, the assistant keeper jumped out, together with crew members Lamont and Campbell.

Hammering on the main door and calling to be let in, Moore received no reply. But it was unlocked so, nervously, Moore made his way inside, to be greeted by complete silence and absolutely no sign of life. The clock in the main room had stopped and everything was in its place, except for one of the kitchen chairs, which lay overturned on the floor.

Moore, terrified of what he might find, was too frightened to venture upstairs until Lamont and Campbell had joined him. But the bedrooms were as neat and tidy as the kitchen and nobody (or indeed ‘no body’) was to be seen. The three lighthouse keepers, James Ducat, Donald McArthur and Thomas Marshall, appeared to have vanished. Ducat and Marshall’s oilskin waterproofs were also gone, but McArthur’s hung alone in the hallway, in strangely sinister fashion.

Moore saw this as evidence that the two men had gone outside during a storm and that perhaps McArthur, breaking strict rules about leaving the lighthouse unmanned, had raced outside after them. Moore and his fellow crew members then searched every inch of the island but could find no trace of the men. Three experienced lighthouse keepers had seemingly vanished into thin air. Captain Harvie then instructed Moore, Lamont and Campbell to remain on the island to operate the lighthouse. They were accompanied by MacDonald, boatswain of the Hesperus, who had volunteered to join them.

With that, the Hesperus returned to Breasclete, with the lighthouse keepers’ Christmas presents and letters from their families still on board, where Harvie telegraphed news to Robert Muirhead, superintendent at the Northern Lighthouse Board: ‘A dreadful accident has happened at the Flannans. The three keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the Occasional [McArthur in this instance], have disappeared from the Island. The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to rescue a crane [for lifting cargo into and from boats] or something like that.’ It had been twenty-eight years since the Mary Celeste had stirred the public’s imagination and now there was a baffling new mystery to puzzle the world.

In the seventh century ad, Bishop Flannan, for reasons best known to himself and perhaps his God, built a small chapel on a bleak island sixteen miles to the west of the Hebrides on the outer limits of the British Isles. The group of islands were known to mariners as the Seven Hunters and the only inhabitants were the sheep that Hebridean shepherds would ferry over to graze on the lush grass pastures. But the shepherds themselves never stayed overnight on the islands, fearful of the ‘little men’ believed to haunt that remote spot.

The lighthouse on Eilean Mor, the largest and most northerly of the Seven Hunters, was only the second building to be erected on the islands – over a millennium later. Designed and built by David Stevenson, of the great Stevenson engineering dynasty, the building had been completed by December 1899 and Superintendent Muirhead of the Northern Lighthouse Board had selected 43-year-old James Ducat, a man with over twenty years’ experience of lighthouse keeping, as the principal keeper at Eilean Mor. Thomas Marshall was to be his assistant and the men were to spend the summer of 1900 making preparations to keep the light the following winter.

During that summer, Muirhead joined them for a month and all three men worked hard to secure the early lighting of the station in time for the coming winter. Muirhead later reported how impressed he was by the ‘manner in which they went about their work’.

The lighthouse was fully operational for the first time on 1 December 1900 and on 7 December Muirhead returned to Eilean Mor to inspect things for one final time. Satisfied that all was well, he then returned to the Isle of Lewis. Although he was not to find out until a few weeks later, the light went out only a day after he had left the island.

When Muirhead returned to join Joseph Moore and the relief keepers on 29 December, he brought the principal keeper from Tiumpan Head on Lewis to take charge at Eilean Mor and then he began to investigate the disappearance of the three men. The first thing he did was to check the lighthouse journal. He was very perturbed by what he read.

In the log entry for the 12 December, the last day the lighthouse had appeared to be working, Thomas Marshall had written of severe winds ‘the like I have never seen before in twenty years’. Inspecting the exterior of the lighthouse, he found storm damage to external fittings over 100 feet above sea level.

The log also noted, somewhat unusually, that James Ducat had been ‘very quiet’ and that Donald McArthur – who had joined the men temporarily as third keeper while William Ross was on leave – was actually crying. However, McArthur was no callow youth, but an old soldier, a seasoned mariner with many years’ experience and known on the mainland as a tough brawler.

In the afternoon Marshall had noted in the log: ‘Storm still raging, wind steady. Stormbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding foghorn. Could see lights of cabins.’ This was distinctly odd: no storm had been reported on 12 December and what could possibly have happened to upset an old salt like McArthur?

The following morning Marshall had noted that the storm was still raging and that, while Ducat continued to be ‘quiet’, McArthur was now praying. The afternoon entry simply stated: ‘Me, Ducat and McArthur prayed’, while on the following day, 14 December, there was no entry at all. Finally on the 15 December, the day before the light was reported for the first time as being not visible, the sea appeared to have been still and the storm to have abated. The final log entry simply stated: ‘Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.’

Muirhead puzzled over what could have frightened three seasoned veterans of the ocean so greatly, and also what was meant by that last sentence, ‘God is over all.’ He had never known any of the men to be God-fearing, let alone resort to prayer. Equally troubling was where such violent storms had come from when no poor weather, let alone gale-force winds, had been reported in the vicinity at any point up to 17 December.

Muirhead also wondered how nobody on Lewis could have known of such a frightening storm when the lighthouse was actually visible (bad weather would have obscured it during the day), and for that matter how the passing boat Marshall recorded on the 13 December had managed to stay afloat in such a gale. Equally, if it had sunk, why had no boat been reported missing?

Finally, Muirhead wondered if a three-day hurricane raging over such a localized area was too unrealistic to consider, or simply if one or even all of the lighthouse keepers had gone mad, which might explain the unusual emotions recorded in the lighthouse log and the men’s subsequent disappearance. He could think of no other reason for them to disappear on the first calm and quiet day following the alleged storm. If they were going to be swept out to sea, surely that would have more likely to have happened during the gale, if they had been foolish enough to have ventured outside, rather than during the spell of calm weather reported in the final log entry.

One interesting thing to note was that the log that week was written by Thomas Marshall, the second in command and youngest of the three men. That is not so unusual but for him to be making insubordinate comments about his principal in an official log is certainly out of the ordinary. Especially as the log was bound to be read at some point by the Northern Lighthouse Board and, of course, James Ducat himself. And to record the aggressive McArthur as ‘crying’ when he would also certainly have read the log himself once the storm had passed seems strangely foolhardy. Yet there it was, in black and white, in the official lighthouse log. The whole point of such a record is to note times, dates, wind directions and the like, not to record human emotions or activity such as praying. The investigators were baffled by this.

Clearly the men on the island had been affected by a powerful external force of some kind, however, and so Superintendent Muirhead turned his attention to the light itself, which he found clean and ready for use. The oil fountains and canteens were full and the wicks trimmed, but Muirhead knew the light had not been lit at midnight on 15 December because the steam ship Archtor had passed close to Flannan Islands at that time and the captain had reported he had not seen the light, when he felt sure it should have been clearly visible from his position.

The kitchen was clean and the pots and pans had been washed, so Muirhead concluded that whatever had happened to the men had taken place between lunchtime and nightfall, before the light was due to have been lit. But there had been no storm on that day, as evidence from the both the lighthouse log and from the Isle of Lewis confirms

Muirhead then decided to make a thorough search of the site and, despite high seas, was able to reach the crane platform seventy feet above sea level. The previous year a crane had been washed away in a heavy storm, so the superintendent knew this to be a vulnerable spot, but the crane was secure, as were the barrels and the canvas cover protecting the crane.

But curiously, forty feet higher than the crane, 110 feet above sea level, a strong wooden box usually secured into a crevice in the rocks and containing rope and crane handles was found to be missing. The rope had fallen below and lay strewn around the crane legs and the solid iron railings around the crane were found to be ‘displaced and twisted’, suggesting a force of terrifying strength. A life buoy fixed to the railings was missing but the rope fastening it appeared untouched and a large, approximately one-ton section of rock had broken away from the cliff, evidently dislodged by whatever it was that had caused the rest of the damage, and now lay on the concrete path leading up to the lighthouse.

Muirhead considered whether the men could have been blown off the island by the high winds but decided this would have been impossible during the calm weather of 15 December. Further inspection revealed turf from the top of a 200-foot cliff had been ripped away and seaweed was discovered, the like of which no one on the island could identify. Muirhead thought that a mammoth roller wave could have swept away the two men in oilskins working on the crane platform but such a freak wave had never been reported before.

Unable to come to a definite conclusion, Muirhead returned to Lewis, leaving a very uneasy Joseph Moore with the new principal keeper, John Milne, and his assistant Donald Jack. In the report he made on 8 January 1901, a sad and baffled Muirhead noted that he had known the missing men intimately and held them in the highest regard. He wrote that ‘the Board has lost two of its most efficient Keepers and a competent Occasional’. And he concluded his report by recalling: ‘I visited them as lately as 7th December and have the melancholy recollection that I was the last person to shake hands with them and bid them adieu.’

At the subsequent Northern Lighthouse Board enquiry, also conducted by Robert Muirhead, it was noted that the severity of the storm damage found on Eilean Mor was ‘difficult to believe unless actually seen’. The enquiry concluded:

From evidence which I was able to procure I was satisfied that the men had been on duty up until dinner time on Saturday the 15th December, that they had gone down to secure a box in which the mooring ropes, landing ropes etc. were kept, and which was secured in a crevice in the rock about 110 foot above sea level, and that an extra large sea had rushed up the face of the rock, had gone above them, and coming down with immense force, had swept them completely away.

But this pathetic attempt by the Board fails to explain why McArthur was there without his oilskins and does not account for his disappearance, unless the Board believed he had run to the cliff top and, on finding his colleagues in the sea, thrown himself in after them wearing just his smoking jacket and carpet slippers. The enquiry also makes no reference to the fact that the damage to the railings and landing platform could have been caused after the men had gone missing on the 15th, possibly even during the heavy storms and gales recorded on the 20 December. Nor does it consider how the heavy rock might have fallen on a calm, still day, knocking two of the men to their deaths.

Later, it came to light that a further piece of evidence had been submitted to the enquiry, but which it had failed to make public. Two sailors who were passing Eilean Mor on the evening of 15 December claim to have been discussing the lighthouse, and why it should be in complete darkness, when they noticed a small boat being rowed frantically across the sea by three men dressed in heavy-weather clothing. By the light of the moon, they watched as the small boat passed closely to them and they called out to the men. Their calls were ignored, however, and the boat made its way past them and out of sight.

Over the years, all the usual theories have been trotted out – yes, including sea monsters and abduction by aliens, not to mention the curse of the ‘little men’ – but staying within the realms of reality and based upon observations made at the time, only two explanations seemed feasible.

The first is that the west landing at Eilean Mor is located in a narrow gully in the rock that terminates in a cave. During high seas or storms, water forced into the cave under pressure will return with explosive force and it is possible that McArthur, noticing heavy seas approaching, rushed out to warn his two colleagues working on the crane platform, only to become caught in the tragedy himself. This would explain the overturned chair and the reason he was not wearing his oilskins. Even so, it seems somewhat unlikely that, while in such a tearing hurry, McArthur would have paused on his way out to carefully close both of the doors and the gate to the compound.

The second theory is that one man in oilskins fell into the water and the other rushed back to the lighthouse to call for help. Both men then fell in while attempting to rescue the first. But once again this explanation fails to explain the closed doors and gate, and is not consistent with the sighting of three men in a boat by moonlight. In 1912 a popular ballad called ‘Flannan Isle’ by William Wilson Gibson added to the mystery by offering all sorts of fictional extras, such as a half-eaten meal abandoned in a hurry – conjuring up images of the Mary Celeste. But this only clouds the very real tragedy of three men losing their lives on a bleak, windy rock in the North Sea, by working to prevent others from losing theirs.

Following the terrible and mystifying events, the lighthouse nonetheless remained manned, although without incident, by a succession of keepers, and in 1925 the first wireless communication was established between Eilean Mor and Lewis. In 1971 it was fully automated, the keepers withdrawn and a concrete helipad installed so that engineers could visit the island via less hazardous means for annual maintenance of the light. Nobody has lived on Eilean Mor since.

The most plausible theory arose by accident nearly fifty years after the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers. In 1947 a Scottish journalist called Iain Campbell visited the islands and, while standing on a calm day by the west jetty, he observed the sea suddenly heave and swell, rising to a level of seventy feet above the landing. After about a minute the sea returned to its normal level. Campbell could not see any reason for the sudden change. He theorized it may have been an underwater seaquake (see also ‘Whatever Happened to the Crew of the Mary Celeste?’, page 000) and felt certain nobody standing on the jetty could have survived. The lighthouse keeper at the time told him that the change of level happened periodically and several men had almost been pulled into the sea, but managed to escape.

Although this seems the most likely fate of the men on 16 December 1900, it is by no means certain and still fails to explain several known clues, such as why the third man disappeared wearing his indoor clothing after carefully closing and latching three doors behind him, or who the three men in the rowing boat could have been. Nor does it account for the strange logbook entries or why the light appeared not be operational for a number of days. The only thing we know for certain is that something snatched those three brave men off the rock on that winter’s day over a hundred years ago, and nothing was seen or heard of them since.

Extract from Gone Missing

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Murder, Mafia and The Vatican

The Mysterious Death of God’s Own Banker

Did Roberto Calvi, head of a bank with close connections to the Vatican, take his own life or was there a more sinister reason why he was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge?

Early in the morning of 18 June 1982, in a scene redolent of a real-life Da Vinci Code, the body of Roberto Calvi, chairman of one of Italy’s most influential financial establishments, the Banco Ambrosiano, was found hanging from scaffolding under London’s BlackfriarsBridge by a passing postman.

Calvi’s pockets were full of stones and, bizarrely, a brick had been pushed into the zip of his trousers. The smartly dressed banker was carrying nearly £10,000 in cash in three different currencies in his jacket pocket – lire, Swiss francs and pounds sterling. The man who provided banking facilities for the Vatican, earning him the media nickname of ‘God’s Banker’, had, apparently taken his own life. It seemed pretty clear to most people that he had committed suicide, but had he? Others were far more doubtful, especially on discovering that Calvi was supposed to have been in Milan at the time. Indeed his passport was back there, and he had made no plans to travel to London at all.

Milan was where Roberto Calvi had been born, on 13 April 1920, just as Europe was recovering from the aftermath of the Great War. It was at the end of the Second World War that Calvi joined the Banco Ambrosiano, becoming gradually promoted within the organization and, in the mid 1960s, acquiring the patronage of an important shareholder,  Sicilian-born Michele Sindona, known to his associates as ‘the Shark’.

Sindona had begun his working life as a tax accountant, but he soon switched to less law-abiding pursuits and began to assist his Sicilian associates in their smuggling operations. When he moved to Milan, he quickly impressed Mafia bosses with his tax-avoidance skills and in 1957 started work with the Gambino family by managing their growing profits from heroin smuggling. By the end of the first year, Sindona had not only actually bought his first bank, but he had also become firm friends with Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, who was among those who grew to rely upon the Sicilian’s financial acumen, profiting considerably from it.

By the time Montini became pope in 1963, Sindona had enlarged his Mafia-related banking empire. In 1968 he began moving vast sums through the Vatican Bank, which operated outside Italian law, to secret Swiss bank accounts. He had made himself indispensible to the Mob while somehow managing to retain an air of innocent respectability, even being named ‘Man of the Year’ in 1974 and widely regarded as the ‘saviour of the lira’. Throughout this time, Sindona had been grooming Calvi as his natural successor. He even introduced him to Propaganda Due, a powerful Masonic lodge, also known simply as P2, before Calvi was appointed chairman of the ailing Banco Ambrosiano in 1971. And with that appointment, Roberto Calvi had joined the Shark in highly infested waters.

The maverick P2 Masonic lodge in Milan was formed in 1877; by the 1960s and 70s it was regarded by some as something of a state within a state, and by others as a shadow government. Its members formed an elite of nine hundred influential Italians, including forty-three members of parliament, nineteen of the top judges and magistrates, fifty-eight university professors, forty-eight military generals, the heads of the Italian secret service, key banking regulators, important civil servants tasked with running government enterprise, and leading Italian businessmen, including the man who was to become the most powerful Italian since Julius Caesar, Silvio Berlusconi.

During the Cold War, members of P2 genuinely believed they could form an underground government in opposition should Communism take hold of their country. Vatican officials and the Mafia were also thought to have a large representation at the lodge. Now, not wishing to wake up with a horse’s head in my bed, I am going to proceed with rather more caution from here onwards.

Through his association with P2 and its grand master, Licio Gelli, Calvi began to transform the small-time Milanese bank into a big player of international repute, and he soon found himself dining with princes and kings. With such influential and powerful new friends, Calvi took very little time in establishing the Banco Ambrosiano as an important financial institution. Beneath its respectable surface, however, Calvi’s bank was taking the lead in an international money-laundering business. During the early 1970s, it began establishing shell companies all over the world, moving vast sums of money between them in a range of deals brokered by Gelli for his P2 network.

As the profits from drug smuggling grew and the money flowed in, Roberto Calvi’s laundering activities increased while the powerful Gelli kept a watching brief, making deals and keeping records. Then in 1974 disaster struck. In April that year, a sudden and unexpected stock market crash, known as ‘Il Crack Sindona’, destroyed most of Sindona’s banking empire, with profits falling by as much as 98 per cent in some cases. Sindona personally lost over $40 million and he was struggling to keep control of his network when one of his investments, the Franklin Bank, was declared insolvent.

Charges were then brought against Sindona relating to fraud, mismanagement and poor loan policies. When Francesco Mannoia, a Mafia member turned police informer, testified that much of Sindona’s money consisted of the proceeds of heroin trafficking, the Gambino family, determined to see the return of their ill-gotten gains, turned to Calvi and his Banco Ambrosiano and put pressure on them. Further intrigue followed when the Holy See, part of the Vatican business organization, was said to have lost $40 dollars themselves during Il Crack Sindona, placing the Vatican quite clearly in the same boat as the Mafia drug lords, whether they realized it or not.

By the close of the 1970s, Roberto Calvi was in the thick of the action, and busy setting up shell companies in Panama and the Bahamas. In 1980, no doubt in recognition for his good service, Calvi was enrolled in P2 as a full member and immediately began atoning for the mistakes of his predecessor Michele Sindona in an attempt to return some of the money lost during the banking disaster of 1974.

Banco Ambrosiano became a clearing house for politicians and businessmen alike who wanted to buy protection from government officials or American law enforcers, who were, by now, taking a close interest in Italian drug traffickers. Licio Gelli acted as deal broker and Roberto Calvi was tasked with finding a means of spiriting millions of dirty dollars away from the reach of investigators and returning them as legitimately earned income. The aborted takeover of the Rizzoli Group during 1980 was in fact a cover for one of these money-laundering deals.

The idea was that Calvi, Gelli and other powerful members of P2 would buy up a controlling number of Rizzoli shares and deposit them with Rothschild Bank in Zurich. Calvi then arranged for his bank to lend $142 million to a Panama-based company called Bellatrix. The mysterious company, which later turned out to exist in name only, then bought Rizzoli shares at ten times their value, generating a huge income for P2 members and investors and filling their Swiss accounts. When Rothschild executives realized what exactly was going on, they were alarmed to find they had been caught up in the transaction without their knowledge. According to one executive director, he was told by a senior board official that ‘we have to find a way out of this or I may end up in LakeZurich’. But within a few days, the windfall profits had been released into the accounts of the P2 organizers of the deal that Roberto Calvi had facilitated, at which some of them, key Calvi allies, immediately fled Italy, financially secure for life.

Calvi was now heavily involved in the banking/political/ religious/criminal melting pot that featured in every part of the Italian way of life during the 1960s and 70s, and many mysterious disappearances that took place during that era have remained unsolved. Indeed, knowing he knew something about everything, Calvi was becoming increasingly concerned for his own safety, paying up to 4 million lire a day for a personal armed guard and bullet-proof car. He had become further alarmed when, in 1978, Pope Paul VI died and was replaced by Pope John Paul I. By then Vatican officials had resolved to clean up their image. As soon as Pope John Paul I had taken office, he took the unprecedented step of ordering Vatican books and records to be opened for scrutiny, pledging to end corruption and fraud.

He also announced he intended to modify the Catholic Church’s position on the use of contraception. Sadly, John Paul I died within thirty-three days of becoming pope, officially of a heart attack, although many believe that he was poisoned in an attempt to keep the Vatican ‘on side’. All of which, of course, was strenuously denied by Vatican officials. Despite the suspicious circumstances of his death and calls for an autopsy, John Paul’s body was embalmed within one day. It was claimed at the time that a papal autopsy was prohibited under Vatican law, overlooking the fact that an autopsy had been carried out on Pope Pius VIII on his death in 1830, also allegedly of poisoning.

When John Paul II, the first Polish pope, assumed control following the sudden demise of his predecessor, funds from the Vatican and CIA began to be channelled via Banco Ambrosiano to Poland to support the burgeoning Solidarity Movement headed by the revolutionary shipyard worker (and later president) Lech Walesa. Pope John Paul II made many speeches that were supportive of the Polish people, who were still, at that time, caught in the iron grip of the Soviet Union. As chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, the perceived conduit between the Vatican and the Polish revolutionaries, Calvi may well have made important enemies in Russia during this time. After all, shortly afterwards an assassination attempt was made on the Pope himself in Vatican Square, thought to be a direct result of his interference in Eastern Europe.

Calvi, realizing he was in it up to his nail bag, is reported to have commented to a friend at that time: ‘The only book you’ve got to read is The Godfather. That’s the only one that tells you how this world is really run.’ But the net was finally closing in on organized crime in Italy. The Bank of Italy produced a report on an investigation into the activities of Banco Ambrosiano, concluding that bank officials had illegally exported several billion lire. During the subsequent trial in 1981, Roberto Calvi was found guilty, fined nearly 20 million lire and given a suspended four-year prison sentence for siphoning 27 million lire out of Italy in violation of currency laws.

His P2 connections facilitated Calvi’s release on bail pending appeal and, remarkably, he even kept his position as chairman of Banco Ambrosiano but the banker insisted he was innocent of all charges and was being manipulated by others. During his spell in prison in 1981 prior to being tried, Calvi is known to have taken the unusual step of asking to see the magistrates hearing his case in the middle of the night. The men duly obliged and Calvi said he would volunteer information about the funding of Italy’s political parties and their connection with both organized crime and the Roman Catholic Church. But he limited his information to a $21 million loan to the Socialist Party, and claimed he needed more time to gather further information and supporting evidence. So at a stroke Roberto Calvi had made enemies of the Italian Socialist Party, organized crime and the Vatican, not forgetting the Russians, who viewed somewhat dimly his financial arrangements with Lech Walesa and his Solidarity Movement.

The following year, in June 1982, Banco Ambrosiano dramatically collapsed after it was discovered that between $700 million and $1.5 billion had been spirited away, much of it via Vatican sources and their Institute for Religious Works (commonly known as the Vatican Bank). Following the bank’s collapse, it came as no surprise that the Vatican agreed, in 1984, to pay $224 million in compensation to the 120 creditors of the failed bank.

Most of the compensation found its way to the island of Sicily, perhaps very wisely too in the circumstances. Extraordinarily, the Vatican managed to remain out of the scandal, citing its compensation payment as ‘recognition of its moral involvement’ in the bank’s collapse. Calvi himself was by now exceedingly twitchy, stating in a rare interview for La Stampa that he felt threatened. ‘In this sort of atmosphere any barbarity is now possible. Many people have a lot to answer for in this affair,’ he said to the newspaper, before announcing cryptically, ‘I am not sure who yet, but sooner or later it will all come out.’ He went on to confide in his lawyers: ‘If the whole thing ever does come out, it will be enough to start the Third World War.’ Clearly a reference to the anti-Communist activities of the Vatican and P2 members.

Shortly afterwards, on 10 June 1982, Calvi disappeared from his Milan home, having shaved off his trademark moustache and acquired a false passport in the name of Gian Roberto Calvini. He was armed with cash in three currencies, including Swiss francs, indicating his intention to travel to that country, and a single black leather briefcase stuffed with documents. A Calvi confidant from Sardinia, Flavio Carboni, who had recently been paid $11 million by Calvi to provide ‘security’ arrangements, then spirited the banker out of Italy using a speedboat, helicopter, eight private planes, three false identities and fourteen separate safe houses. Roberto Calvi must have been exhausted by the time he checked into Chelsea Cloisters residential hotel in London on 13 June. He was found hanging under the bridge only five days later.

Against this background of intrigue on an international scale, it is extraordinary that a British coroner concluded that – despite the middle-aged banker suffering from vertigo and requiring the agility of an Olympic gymnast to reach the position he was found hanging from under Blackfriars Bridge – Calvi must have committed suicide. The fact that the only time anybody, short of said athlete, could reach that part of the bridge was at high tide, and by boat, seemed not to trouble the coroner; and neither did the bricks found in Calvi’s pockets, nor the small matter of his hands being tied behind his back.

And that’s not all. Any dust or other bits of debris that would have clung to Calvi’s clothing as a result of Calvi clambering along the scaffolding under the bridge was not taken into account. And neither was the medical evidence of Professor Keith Simpson, despite being the man who had pioneered forensic investigation, who concluded that Calvi had been strangled and not hanged, as there was no evidence of the type of neck injury associated with a drop. The fact that police officers found enough barbiturates to fell an elephant in Calvi’s room at Chelsea Cloisters – suggesting that the banker could have committed suicide, painlessly, sitting comfortably in bed in his pyjamas and dressing gown, had he wanted to end his life – was also overlooked. Quite rightly, a second inquest overruled the first, but even this one only provided an open verdict. So, what did happen to him then? And why was all this evidence seemingly overlooked?

Towards the end, Calvi hadn’t known which way to turn. He had made many enemies, albeit without intending to, and, in Mafia terms, knew exactly where all the bodies were buried – perhaps quite literally. As we have seen, Calvi had become the financial link between the Mafia, the Vatican, P2 and the Italian state. Even the Russians wanted information from the banker. And those who didn’t need his help any more and felt he knew too much preferred him to be silenced for ever. He was a wanted man, whichever way he faced.

During the weeks prior to his death, Calvi had certainly been keeping dubious company, dangerous enough for investigators not even to glance in the direction of the Vatican to begin with. But Roberto Calvi had been a close associate of the powerful American archbishop Paul Marcinkus, head of the Vatican Bank and heavily involved in the international money movement effected by Banco Ambrosiano. Marcinkus had been criticized by many in the Pope John Paul II’s inner circle and they had called for his removal. The Pope had swiftly closed ranks around Marcinkus, enabling the Vatican’s diplomatic status to protect him. Even when Italian authorities later issued arrest warrants for Marcinkus and two senior Vatican officials, declaring them ‘socially dangerous’ and demanding that, if apprehended, they be denied bail to prevent them fleeing the country, the limitless immunity of the Vatican gave them safe sanctuary.

Five days before his own disappearance, on 5 June 1982, Calvi wrote in desperation to the Pope. In a letter made public during recent years by Calvi’s family, the banker pleaded with the pontiff, declaring him to be his ‘last hope’. He also gave a thinly veiled warning that the collapse of his bank would ‘provoke a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions in which the Church will suffer the gravest damage’. Calvi used the opportunity to remind the Pope, or perhaps inform him for the first time, of the assistance his bank had provided the Vatican in funding both political and religious dealings with power makers in the East and West and of the banks in south America he had created to channel Vatican funds to help halt the expansion of Marxist ideology on that continent. Calvi felt betrayed by the Vatican, claiming he had been abandoned by ‘the authority for which I have always shown the utmost respect and obedience’. He ended by informing the Pope of financial irregularities in Vatican bookkeeping, presumably manipulated by Archbishop Marcinkus.

Could that letter, tacitly threatening to reveal Marcinkus’s fraud, have effectively signed Calvi’s death warrant, while investigators were all looking in other directions, at the Mob and Propaganda Due? Casting blame upon P2 does make a great alternative conspiracy theory. After all, P2 members were believed to have addressed each other as ‘friar’. Could this be why the ‘Black Friar’ (‘black’ because he had betrayed his fellows Masons) was found hanged at BlackfriarsBridge in London? The bricks in his pockets were certainly a Masonic symbol. Furthermore, new members are warned that betrayal of P2 secrets would result in death by hanging and the cleansing of the corpse by the tides.

Certainly Calvi had suggested to investigators that he was prepared to peel back the clandestine layers of P2’s skin. But would ‘punishing’ one of their number so publicly, in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities, and with such overt symbolism, be worth the risk? Possibly not, as the Italian government disbanded the Masonic lodge shortly afterwards. At a stroke, the century-old secret society vanished, although many believed this was simply a cover-up for the Calvi killing as plenty of P2 members were also members of Parliament.

The Mafia were also heavily implicated in Calvi’s death. Indeed they had lost the most in his money-laundering disaster and mobster Flavio Carboni featured as a key figure during the final stages of Calvi’s life. From the beginning of 1982, the little Sardinian, who once boasted he would become the richest and most powerful man in Italy, became his constant companion and security adviser. The relationship renewed Calvi’s access to real power, via Carboni’s secret-service connections, and the banker felt it could afford him some protection. He understood the advantages of hidden power, such as the Mafia and Propaganda Due possessed, but was also well aware of the downside of losing favour. As the infamous American Mafioso informer commented to US officials when he broke the omertà (Mafia code of silence): ‘It is time I left our government and joined your government.’ Calvi was on the brink of doing the same, and expected Flavio Carboni to be the man who could enable it.

On 27 April 1982, the deputy chairman at Banco Ambrosiano, Roberto Rosone, left home for his office at 8 a.m. As he stepped into the street, a man with a pistol emerged from a doorway and fired directly at him, wounding Rosone in each leg. But armed guards posted at the Rosone residence had been alert to the possible danger and immediately returned fire, killing the would-be assassin outright.

Was Calvi trying to rid himself of those around him who knew too much about his activities, or, instead, was the net closing in on him? What is known is that the banker rushed to the hospital bedside of his deputy with the customary bunch of grapes – in this case trodden, fermented and presented in a bottle – and is reported to have exclaimed: ‘Madonna! What a world of madmen. They are trying to frighten us, Roberto, so that they can get their hands on a group worth 20,000 billion lire.’ Calvi was said to be shocked to hear later that the would-be murderer had been identified as the feared Roman gangland figure Danilo Abbruciati, who emerged as a key Carboni ally when it later became known that, the day after the shooting, Carboni had paid an associate of Abbruciati, Ernesto Diotavelli, $530,000.

Flavio Carboni was soon in possession of a Calvi-funded cool $11 million, safely hidden away in a Zurich bank account, and a cigarette smuggler called Silvano Vittor was then employed as Calvi’s personal bodyguard. Vittor, Carboni and Calvi all met up in Zurich five weeks after the shooting and Calvi was smuggled to Austria where he boarded a private jet to London disguised as an executive of Fiat Motors. In London, Calvi thought he would be safe and would be able to meet with the Italian magistrates to provide them with detailed information about the international money laundering by both the Mafia and the Vatican Bank in return for immunity from prosecution. But, instead, the very men he had paid to look after him delivered the banker into the hands of London Mob boss Francesco De Carlo, a seemingly respectable banker otherwise known as Frankie the Strangler.

Ironically, it was the Mafia themselves who would eventually solve the mystery of the death of ‘God’s Banker’. During the bloody Mafia war of 1981–3, as in-fighting rose to new levels of viciousness – entire families being wiped out to avenge acts of disloyalty both real and imagined – several high-ranking mobsters in both Italy and America, once safely under arrest, became valuable informers. In July 1991, one of these, Francesco Marino Mannoia, testified by video link from America (where he was living on a US witness protection programme) that he had been told on two separate occasions that the death of Roberto Calvi was murder, not suicide:

‘I remember I was on the run at the time and hiding at a villa in the countryside when news of Calvi’s suicide in London appeared on the television. With me at the time was Ignazio Pullara [a member of the Mafia] who told me in a very excited manner that he knew Calvi had been murdered. Then, a while later when I was in jail in Trapani, Sicily, I spoke to Ignazio’s brother Gio who also told me Calvi had been murdered by the Mafia. When I asked him why, I was told it was because he had been given a large amount of money from drugs and contraband cigarette sales to launder but he had failed to do so. After that he was considered to be no longer reliable and Cosa Nostra [the Sicilian Mafia] could not trust him any more.’

The Italian police subsequently re-opened the case and in 1998 they exhumed the body of Roberto Calvi. In 2002 new forensic methods confirmed the banker had indeed been killed and Roberto Calvi’s family were finally able to claim the $10 million the banker’s life had been insured for. By then Frankie the Strangler was already in prison, but for other crimes. He had been given a 25-year jail sentence at the Old Bailey in 1987 after being captured following Britain’s largest-ever heroin smuggling bust. As he began his sentence in a maximum-security British prison, he listened in horror at the stories filtering back about the true extent of the Mafia war in the early 1980s, including the slaughter of women and children. It was at this point that Frankie finally decided to start cooperating with anti-Mafia prosecutors. As he later told the court, ‘I just don’t want to be a part of Cosa Nostra any more.’

Other Mafia supergrasses, known as pentiti (‘those who have repented’), then came forward; one was another senior Mafia member called Antonio Giuffre, who confirmed to the police that the reason for the Mafia murdering Calvi was ‘poor money laundering’ and offered other information that directly led to the arrest, in 2004, of five people for the murder of Calvi. These were Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Calo, a convicted gangster; Flavio Carboni and his former girlfriend, Manuela Kleinzig, who was charged with providing Carboni with a false alibi; Silvano Vittor (Calvi’s bodyguard in London); and Ernesto Diotallevi, the head of the most dangerous criminal network in Rome and the man paid $530,000 the day after Calvi’s deputy had been shot in Milan.

Carboni immediately protested to the Italian newsagency Apcom that Roberto Calvi had close links to the Vatican and suggested the financier may have been killed on orders from the Church. Pointing the finger of blame directly at Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, he stated, ‘Perhaps the Vatican would have wanted him [Calvi] dead, but I didn’t.’ However, by the time of the arrests, Paul ‘the Gorilla’ Marcinkus was back in America leading a quiet life and still protected by Vatican diplomatic immunity. He has never spoken about his time in charge of the Vatican Bank. In fact, Marcinkus never said a word about anything right up until his death in 1990 – of ‘undisclosed causes’.

At the pre-trial hearings in December 2005, De Carlo, speaking from behind a security screen, explained how at the time of Calvi’s death he had been travelling from London to Rome: ‘A few days before Roberto’s death I heard that Bernardo Brusca [a leading Sicilian family member] wanted to see me. I also heard Pippo Calo wanted me to “do something for them”.’ He continued: ‘But when I saw them a few days later they told me things had been taken care of and they didn’t need me after all. I didn’t ask what they had wanted me for, it didn’t seem necessary. Calo just kept saying that a problem had now been resolved. That is how it works in the Mafia. We never said anybody had been killed, we just say a job has been taken care of.’

So, a quick recap then. We have the murder of Roberto Calvi following the collapse of Italy’s leading independent financial institution; we have the shooting of the bank’s deputy chairman, Roberto Rosone, and the death of his would-be assassin, the Roman gangster Danilo Abbruciati. Then we have the payment, the day after the shooting, of $530,000 to Abbruciati’s lieutenant Ernesto Diotavelli by Calvi’s friend Carboni, who both now stand accused of murdering Rosone’s boss. In addition, we have characters such as Frankie the Strangler and Marcinkus ‘the Gorilla’.

Other elements of the story include the Vatican’s involvement in international money laundering and even in the suspected murder of Pope John Paul I, who may have threatened to reveal the truth. In 1986 Calvi’s black leather briefcase, containing all his secrets, turned up and the Vatican bought it without explanation – for $40 million. A London-based Italian antiques dealer, said to be about to reveal the identity of Calvi’s killers to London police investigators, was himself murdered in 1982. We have Propaganda Due, the secret Masonic lodge whose members – including prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was certainly involved with Roberto Calvi – benefited from the fraud Calvi assisted the Vatican with. At the time of writing, the only defendant in court to hear the charges being presented has been Flavio Carboni, who later told Sardinian journalists: ‘I know as much about Calvi’s murder as I do about the killing of Jesus Christ.’

On June 6, 2007, after nearly two years of hearing evidence, argument and the detailed defence of the five standing trial, the presiding judge, Mario Lucia d’Andria sensationally drew an end to the proceedings when he three the case out of court, arguing ‘insufficient evidence.’ However, the court did rule that Roberto Calvi’s death should be treated as murder and not suicide. A conclusion that asked more questions than it answered. Legal experts argued that there were many people, including senior mafia members and Vatican officials who had a clear motive for Calvi’s murder and who would benefit fro his silence. Observers also noted that as twenty five years had passed, since the hanging banker had been discovered, prosecutors had found it almost impossible to present a credible case. After all, key witnesses had been either unwilling to testify, unable to be found or were no longer alive.

The Calvi family’s private investigator, Jeff Katz, claimed that senior figures, both commercial and political, had escaped attention and to bring evidence against them would be impossible. He also conceded that it was ‘likely’ that the Mafia had been involved but suspects were either dead or missing. The surprise verdict failed to put an end to the matter as the Roman prosecutor’s office opened a second investigation naming others, some of whom were already serving life sentences on unrelated matters. On May 7 2010 there were further acquittals due to lack of evidence and on November 8 2011 the Court of the Last Resort, better known as the Court of Cessation, confirmed the acquittals and closed the files. There is now very little, if any chance at all, that the mysterious death of the financier found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge miles from his native land, will ever be solved. Although we all have our own suspicions, don’t we.

Try to See It from My Angle: The Bermuda Triangle

What is it about this infamous stretch of ocean (and sky) that causes ships and planes to vanish without a trace?

At ten past two in the afternoon of 5 December 1945, five US Navy Avenger torpedo bombers took off from the naval air station at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The commander of Flight 19, Lieutenant Charles Taylor, had been assigned a routine two-hour training flight of fifteen men on a course that would take them out to sea sixty-six miles due east of the airbase, to the Hen and Chicken Shoals.

There the squadron would carry out practice bombing runs, then fly due north for seventy miles before turning for a second time and heading back to base, 120 miles away. Their plotted flight plan formed a simple triangle, straightforward to execute, and Lieutenant Taylor and his four trainee pilots headed out into the clear blue sky over a calm Sargasso Sea. Even though everything seemed set fair, some of the crew were showing signs of anxiety. This was not unusual during a training flight over open water. Less usual was the fact that one of the fifteen crewmen had failed to show up for duty, claiming he had had a premonition that something strange would happen on that day and that he was too scared to fly.

And, within a few minutes after take-off, something strange did happen. First, Lieutenant Taylor reported how the sea appeared white and ‘not looking as it should’. Then, shortly afterwards, his compasses began spinning out of control, as did those of the other four pilots, and at 3.45 p.m., about ninety minutes after take-off, the normally cool and collected Taylor contacted Lieutenant Robert Cox at Flight Control with the worried message: ‘Flight Control, this is an emergency. We seem to be off course. We can’t make out where we are.’

Cox instructed the pilot to head due west, but Taylor reported that none of the crew knew which way west actually was. And that too was highly unusual as, even without compasses and other navigational equipment, at that time of day and with the sun only a few hours from setting, any one of them could have used the tried and tested method of looking out of the window and following the setting sun, which will always lie to the west of wherever you find yourself.

Just over half an hour later, Taylor radioed Flight Control again, this time informing them he thought they were 225 miles north-east of base. His agitated radio message ended with him saying, ‘It looks like we are …’ and then the radio cut out. By then they would have been desperately low on fuel, but the five Avengers had been designed to make emergency sea landings and remain afloat for long enough to give the crew the chance to evacuate into life rafts and await rescue.

A Martin Mariner boat plane was immediately sent out to assist Flight 19 and bring the men back; but as it approached the area in which the stricken crew were thought to have been lost, it too broke contact with Flight Control. None of the aircraft and none of the crew were ever found and the official navy report apparently concluded that the men had simply vanished, ‘as if they had flown off to planet Mars’. To this day, the American military has a standing order to keep a watch for Flight 19, as if they believed it had been caught up in some bizarre time warp and might return at any time.

At least, that is how the story goes. And it would have had a familiar ring for some, as it wasn’t the first time a mysterious disappearance had been reported in the area. On 9 March 1918, the USS Cyclops left Barbados with a cargo of 10,800 tons of manganese (a hard metal essential for iron and steel production) bound for Baltimore on the east coast of America. The following day, Lieutenant Commander G. W. Worley, a man with a habit of walking around the quarterdeck clad in nothing but his underwear and a hat and carrying a cane, reported how an attempted mutiny by a small number of the 306-man crew had been suppressed and that the offenders were below decks in irons. And that was the last anybody ever heard from Captain Worley or any of his crew. The 20,000-ton Cyclops simply vanished from the surface of the sea, into thin air.

The conclusion at the time was the ship had been a victim of German U-boat activity, but when investigations in Germany after the end of the First World War revealed that no U-boats had been located in the area, that theory was ruled out. Instead, speculation ranged from the suggestion – proffered quite seriously – by a popular magazine that a giant sea monster had surfaced, wrapped its tentacles around the entire ship, dragged it to the ocean bed and eaten it, to the rumour, UFO hysteria in full swing (see ‘The Famous Aurora Spaceship Mystery’, page 000), that the vessel had been lifted, via giant intergalactic magnets, into outer space.

And then, in 1963, eighteen years after the disappearance of Flight 19, it happened again. The SS Marine Sulphur Queen was on a voyage from Norfolk, Virginia, to Belmont in Texas. On 3 February, the ship radioed a routine report to the local coastguard to give her position: she was, at the time, sailing close to Key West in the Straits of Florida. Shortly afterwards she vanished. Three days later the coastguard, searching for any sign of the missing vessel, found a single life jacket floating in the sea. Since then, no other evidence of the Marine Sulphur Queen, its cargo or the 39-man crew has ever been found.

Back in 1950, connections had already been made between the disappearance of Flight 19 and of the USS Cyclops: reporter E. V. W. Jones was the first to suggest mysterious happenings in the sea between the Florida coast and Bermuda. Two years later, Fate magazine published an article by George X. Sand in which he suggested that the mysterious events – thousands of them, by his calculation – had taken place within an area that extended down the coast from Florida to Puerto Rico and in a line from each of these to Bermuda, creating what he called a ‘watery triangle’. His views were shared by one Frank Edwards, who published a book in 1955 called The Flying Saucer Conspiracy in which he claimed that aliens from outer space were also operating in the same area; hence the sky was incorporated into the ‘watery triangle’, which became known as the ‘Devil’s Triangle’.

The Bermuda Triangle

In 1963, following the disappearance of the Marine Sulphur Queen, journalist Vincent Gaddis wrote an article for Argosy magazine in which he drew together the many mysterious events that had taken place within the triangular area of sea and sky. This proved so popular that he expaneded the article into a book, which he called The Deadly Bermuda Triangle, thereby coining the famous expression that was to become synonymous with unexplained disappearances the world over. Eleven years later, a book by former army intelligence officer Charles Berlitz, simply entitled The Bermuda Triangle, sold over 20 million copies and was translated into thirty different languages. In 1976 the book won the Dag Hammarskjöld International Prize for non-fiction and the world became gripped by Bermuda Triangle fever – and has been ever since. But it is worth noting that even as recently as 1964 the Bermuda Triangle, as we now know it, simply did not exist.

Geographically, the Bermuda Triangle covers an area in the western Atlantic marked by, at its three points, Bermuda, San Juan in Puerto Rico and Miami in Florida – although, on closer study of the locations of some ocean disasters attributed to the myth, it would be easy to extend that area halfway round the world. The Mary Celeste, for example (see page 000), has even been connected to the Bermuda Triangle, which would extend its boundaries closer to Portugal!

But could there be any truth in the myth – some more prosaic explanation to account for the seemingly paranormal events? Is there anything about the actual geography of the area that might cause so many ships and aircraft to vanish apparently without a trace?

To start with, the sea currents in the area are heavily affected by the warm Gulf Stream that flows in a north-easterly direction from the tip of Florida to Great Britain and northern Europe. The warm current divides the balmy water of the Sargasso Sea and the colder north Atlantic and is why the climate in northern Europe is much more moderate than might be expected, considering that Canada and Moscow are as far north as England. Once leaving the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Stream current reaches five or six knots in speed and this affects the heavy shipping in the area in many ways, including navigation.

Inexperienced sailors, especially in the days before radar and satellite navigation, could very easily find themselves many miles off course after failing to measure the ship’s speed with sufficient accuracy, especially in the days when this was calculated by throwing from the bow of the ship a log attached to a rope and timing the appearance of each of a series of knots in the rope as it passed the stern. Failing to do this often enough while sailing in the fast-moving Gulf Stream could quite speedily lead to the crew of a ship becoming hopelessly lost in the vast Atlantic Ocean. Another effect of the fast-moving current would be to scatter the wreckage of lost ships and aircraft over a vast area, many miles from the site of an accident, making it well nigh impossible for rescue teams to locate survivors.

Then there is the North American continental shelf which is responsible for the clear blue water of the Caribbean Islands. After only a few miles, the shelf gives way to the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean, an area known as the Puerto Rico Trench. And at over 30,000 feet deep, nobody has ever been down there to clear up any mysterious disappearances.

And furthermore, the continental shelf is home to large areas of methane hydrates (methane gases that bubble up through the water after being emitted from the seabed). Eruptions from any of these in the relatively shallow waters cause the sea to bubble and froth, affecting the density of the water and hence the buoyancy of vessels travelling on its surface. Scientific tests have shown that scale models of ships will sink when the density of the water is sufficiently reduced, which could account for the sudden disappearance of various craft within the area. Added to which, any wreckage might be carried away by the Gulf Stream and scattered across the Atlantic in no time at all.

The Bermuda Triangle is also known to be an area of magnetic anomalies, or unusual variations in the earth’s magnetic field. Indeed this area of ocean is one of the two places on earth where a magnetic compass points to true north (determined by the North Star) rather than magnetic north (located near Prince of Wales Island in Canada). The only other place where true north lines up with magnetic north is directly on the other side of the planet, just off the east coast of Japan, an area known by Japanese and Filipino seamen as the ‘Devil’s Sea’. In both these areas, navigators not allowing for the usual compass variation between true and magnetic north will become hopelessly lost, and mysterious disappearances are equally common in the Devil’s Sea. But locals there do not blame UFOs or sea monsters; they blame human error. Christopher Columbus, the famous fifteenth-century navigator credited with ‘discovering’ the Americas, was one of the first people to recognize the difference between true and magnetic north; and he wasn’t at all fazed by the odd compass readings he seemed to be getting as he sailed between Bermuda and Florida over five hundred years ago.

Magnetic anomalies are also thought to be responsible for the fog that appears to cling to aircraft and boats in the Bermuda Triangle and Devil’s Sea. In such cases, the fog gives the strange illusion that it is travelling along with the craft rather than that the vessel is travelling through it, creating a ‘tunnelling’ effect for the passengers on board. Many reports have been made of the disorientating effect of this curious fog. In one of the most celebrated instances, the captain of a tug towing a large barge reported that the sea was ‘coming in from all directions’ (due to methane hydrates, no doubt) and that the rope attached to the barge plus the barge itself, only a few yards behind the tug, appeared to have completely vanished, presumably shrouded in magnetic fog.

Another natural phenomenon that might be held responsible for the strange disappearances in the region are hurricanes, notorious in the area of ocean between Bermuda and the Gulf of Mexico, in the middle of which lies the Bermuda Triangle. These must take their fair share of the blame in bringing down small aircraft and swallowing boats, sending the wreckage to the floor of the Atlantic in minutes and leaving no trace of the craft on the surface.

So what really happened in the case of Flight 19, the USS Cyclops and the Marine Sulphur Queen? Let’s examine the first of these disappearances in a bit more detail. Squadron Leader Lieutenant Charles Taylor, although an experienced pilot, had recently been transferred to the air station at Fort Lauderdale and was new to the area. Added to which, he was a known party animal and had been out drinking the evening before the fateful day.

A very hungover Taylor then tried to find someone else to take over as leader of the training flight – the only point of which was to increase the flying hours of the four apparent novices – but no other pilot would agree to stand in at such short notice. Shortly into the flight, Taylor’s compass malfunctioned and, unfamiliar with the area, he had to rely on landmarks alone. After nothing but open sea, the aircraft eventually flew over a small group of islands Taylor thought he recognised as his home – Florida Keys.

Flight 19 was in constant touch with Flight Control and was told to head directly north which, Taylor thought, would take him straight back to base. But Flight 19 was not over Florida Keys in fact; it was over the Bermudan Islands – exactly where it should have been. Heading north simply sent the stricken aircraft out into the open Atlantic. Crew members were heard to suggest to each other they should immediately head west, as their compasses were actually working, but none of the trainees dared to contradict their leader.

With a storm gathering and the sun not visible through the cloud, Taylor refused to listen to his subordinates, accepting the instruction from Flight Control instead. But when told to switch to the emergency radio channel, Taylor declined, stating that one his pilots could not tune in to that particular channel and that he did not want to lose contact with him. As a result of this, contact between Flight 19 and Fort Lauderdale became increasingly intermittent.

After an hour of flying due north, and with no land in sight, Taylor reasoned he must be over the Gulf of Mexico, and with that made the right-hand turn, due east, he thought would bring his team back to the west coast of Florida. But instead, an hour north of Bermuda and flying over the Atlantic with Flight Control believing them to be close to the Gulf, this manoeuvre only served to take them further out to sea.

Flight 19, miles away from where anybody believed them to be, would then have run out of fuel, ditched into the sea beyond the continental shelf, and been broken within minutes by the storm. The Mariner sent to look for them was, in fact, one of two that were sent to assist. The first arrived back at base safely but the second exploded shortly after take-off. (The Mariners, notorious for fuel leaks, were nicknamed ‘flying gas tanks’.) Radio contact had been lost twenty-five minutes into the flight and debris floating in a slick of spilled oil was found in the exact location the plane was though to have come down.

In short, there was nothing mysterious about the accident after all. The official report at first stated that flight leader error was to blame for the loss of Flight 19, but this was then changed to ‘cause unknown’, giving rise to the mystery. Contrary to the fictitious version of events, nobody has ever stated, in an official capacity, that the aircraft simply vanished ‘as if they had flown off to planet Mars’.

The disappearance of the USS Cyclops does remain a mystery, however, although heavy seas and hurricanes were reported in the area at the time. It is now thought that a sudden shift in its eleven-thousand-ton metal cargo was to blame, causing the ship to capsize with all hands on deck and sink to bottom of the ocean.

In the case of the SS Marine Sulphur Queen, something Triangle enthusiasts rarely mention is that the cargo was made up of 15,000 tons of molten sulphur sealed in four giant tanks and kept at a heat of 275 degrees Fahrenheit by two vast boilers connected to the tanks via a complex network of coils and wiring. They also do not tell us that the T-2 tankers such as the Marine Sulphur Queen had a terrible record for safety during the Second World War and that within the space of just a few years three of them had previously broken in half and sunk. Indeed, a similar sulphur-carrying ship had vanished in 1954 under less mysterious circumstances, having spontaneously exploded before any distress call could be made.

But what clinches it for me is one particular detail: the fact that officers on a banana boat fifteen miles off the coast of San Antonia near Cuba reported a strong acrid odour in the vicinity. The conclusion at the time, but overlooked later by Triangle enthusiasts, was either that leaking sulphur must have quickly overcome the entire crew and a spark then ignited the sulphur cloud, causing a fire that the unconscious crew were unable to put out, or that an explosion had torn through the boat, depositing the crew in the shark- and barracuda-infested waters. Either way, investigators decided the ship must have gone down just over the horizon from the banana boat whose crew had detected the sulphurous odour.

In addition to natural phenomena, there are man-made ones to consider too when it comes to the Bermuda Triangle. Indeed, the Caribbean and southern Florida have long been a favourite haunt for pirates and it’s not exactly in their interests to report the ships they’ve sunk after looting their cargo or crew they’ve murdered in the process. Many unexplained disappearances would be far better explained by pirate activity than by extraterrestrial abduction or sea monsters lurking in the deep. The pirates of the Caribbean were not heroes but vicious murderers who took no prisoners and left no evidence of their piracy, and don’t let Johnny Depp or Keira Knightly seduce you into thinking otherwise.

The main explanation for the mysterious events of the Bermuda Triangle is sheer invention. Indeed there are many examples of writers bending facts to suit their stories (notably in the case of the Loch Ness Monster and the Mary Celeste – see pages 000 and 000 – or indeed pretty much every story I’ve covered in this book), which is hardly surprising since mysterious and ghostly goings-on can be very profitable (as I hope to find out), as everyone loves a good mystery.

One of my favourite examples of this is the story of the incident in 1972 of the appropriately named tanker V. A. Fogg that was said to have been found drifting in the Triangle without a single crew member aboard. Everybody had vanished apart from the captain whose body was found sitting at his desk with a steaming mug of tea in front of him and a haunted look upon his face. He had died from shock – or so the story goes.

The truth is rather different, although not lacking in drama. The V. A Fogg had just delivered a cargo of benzene at the Phillips Petroleum Depot at Freeport in Texas. As it returned through the Gulf of Mexico with its skeleton crew (and I mean that metaphorically in case you’ve still got those Caribbean fellows on your mind) cleaning out the fuel tanks, the ship suddenly exploded and sank. The blast created a 10,000-foot-high pall of smoke and, on further investigation, the US Coastguard found the vessel broken in two on the seabed, one hundred feet below the surface. Their photographic record, including the bodies recovered from the sea, is at complete odds with the story told for the benefit of the Bermuda Triangle mystery, plus, of course, the Gulf of Mexico is not even in the Bermuda Triangle. I don’t mean to be a mystery-buster, but we do need to get our facts straight.

To resolve the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle once and for all, I decided to adopt my fail-safe research method of getting to the bottom of things – finding out who has the most money at stake. I don’t mean documentary makers, newspapers or television companies; I’m talking about the insurance industry. Because it is very much in their interests to have carried out meticulous research into accidents at sea, we can be fairly certain that they will have looked into any so-called mysteries with considerable care.

Starting with the largest, and oldest, shipping insurance company in the world, Lloyds of London, we discover that they certainly did take notice of the Bermuda Triangle reports during the early 1970s and issued a statement to Fate magazine, published on 4 April 1975. The statement declared that ‘428 vessels have been reported missing throughout the world since 1955 and that there is no cause to suspect the Bermuda Triangle is swallowing more ships then any other section of the oceans’.

So if Lloyds of London believe there is no mystery to be found in the Bermuda Triangle, then nor should we. But, just in case people with minds immeasurably greater than ours are wrong, or even lying to us, then let’s do a few calculations of our own. We could start by considering that the surface of the earth comprises 71 per cent water, an area of 13,900,000 square miles. The Bermuda Triangle at its smallest – , depending on which author you believe, as many extend the area to cram as many disappearances into their version of the Triangle as possible – is around 500,000 square miles so that is about 3.6 per cent of the world’s sea area.

During the last century over fifty ships, large and small, and twenty aircraft of all shapes and sizes have come to grief in the Bermuda Triangle. If we use those figures and apply the same principle across the planet, we should expect to have lost around two thousand aircraft and boats in total over the last one hundred years, which sounds a little too high. But are twenty accidents per year, small or large, around the world, unreasonable to imagine? Are the events attributed to the Bermuda Triangle any greater in number than they would be in any other section of the ocean of comparable size?

Other mystery makers point to the statistic of one thousand craft lost in the Bermuda Triangle since records began. But they fail to remind readers that records began many centuries ago when Christopher Columbus first sailed west in 1492, which works out at an average of less than two disappearances per year. That sounds about right to me. That combined with the fact that coastguards have known the reason for the loss of a craft in almost every case – if people would only bother to ask them – should stop the fuss once and for all. This isn’t an unusually high percentage of accidents for this area at all in comparison with other parts of the world. The only real surprise is that Lloyds made any statement at all – if they’d kept quiet, they could have put their premiums up for shipping in that now infamous stretch of sea.

Extract from Weird and Wonderful World – Tales of the Paranormal


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The Famous Aurora Spaceship Mystery

Did a UFO really crash in a small town in Texas over a century ago?

When it comes to spaceships and and little green men from Mars, most people’s thoughts turn to the notorious events at Roswell, New Mexico, where in 1947 the US government apparently captured an alien who had crashed his flying saucer. US military personnel are then said to have quickly sealed off the area, removed all evidence and engaged in a complete cover-up.

After a thorough debriefing, presumably in sign language, the little green man sadly died. Much later the film of the top-secret autopsy supposedly carried out on him was sold on the black market, ending up nearly fifty years later, in 1995, on a prime-time TV documentary broadcast around the world. This programme, Alien Autopsy, caused a sensation and ‘Martiangate’ was back on the agenda with a vengeance. As is often the case, those who wanted to believe such a story inevitably did, while those of us really living on planet Earth could smell a rat. In fact, there were rats everywhere.

But it took eleven years before the programme maker Ray Santilli admitted that the autopsy had been staged, for the most part, in a flat in Camden Town, London. Strangely enough, he owned up to this two days before a humorous parody of his subject was due to be aired on television. He confirmed that his props had included sheep brains set in jelly, knuckle joints and chicken entrails bought from Smithfield meat market.

That should have knocked the Roswell mystery on the head for good, and all those UFO enthusiasts, who had been obsessing about the whole affair for years, must now be quietly licking their wounds in their garden sheds, or wherever it is they go to study their favourite subject.

But Roswell wasn’t the first time: aliens had been captured before. In 1897, Aurora, a small, unremarkable town near Dallas, Texas, became the site of an astonishing event.

On 19 April that year, ten-year-old Charlie Stevens was sweeping his yard when he looked up to see smoke trailing from a large silver airship flying overhead towards Aurora. Soon after it had flown out of sight, he heard an explosion and saw a thick plume of smoke rise into the air. He was about to rush off to see what had happened, when he was stopped by his father, who told him he had to finish his chores first. Just imagine that something truly momentous has just happened right in your sleepy little town: a strange airborne vehicle – something you have never seen before, maybe even a craft from another planet – crashes just a few hundred yards away from your own back gate and you are told: ‘Nope. You finish sweeping that there yard first, boy, and then come inside and help your ma with the breakfast.’

In fact Charlie wasn’t allowed to go at all. According to him, it was his father who had gone into town and seen the wreckage scattered about the place. Mary Evans, aged fifteen at the time, also claimed to have witnessed the crash, but stated that her parents wouldn’t allow her to visit the scene either.

As H. E. Haydon reported in the Dallas Morning News:

‘About 6 o’clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has been sailing around the country. It was travelling due north and much nearer the earth than before. Evidently some of the machinery was out of order for it was making a speed of only ten or twelve miles per hour and gradually settling toward the earth. It sailed over the public square and when it reached the north part of town it collided with the tower of Judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces in a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judge’s flower garden. The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one aboard and, while his remains were badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.’

Curiously, this story did not make even the front page. Instead it was buried on page five along with several other reports of UFO sightings. It would appear the flying saucer crash at Aurora was not particularly shocking in 1897 – run of the mill, you might say (in more senses than one) – even if it did destroy Judge Proctor’s flower garden.

The story then told by the people of the town is that the Martian pilot, as he was termed, was given a decent Christian burial in the town cemetery and his grave marked with a single stone. The remains of the spaceship were taken away to an unknown location by the authorities and the smaller pieces were thrown into Judge Proctor’s well. No other newspaper covered the story and, amazingly, the alien’s resting place in the Aurora cemetery went unremarked for nearly eighty years, the small town settling back into obscurity.

That was until 1973 when the founder of the International UFO Bureau, Hayden Hewes, announced to the Press Association that a grave in a small north Texan cemetery contained the body of an 1897 ‘astronaut’ whom the report at the time had identified as being ‘not … of this world’.

Newspapers all over America took up the story and interest in the alien grave rapidly gathered pace. Curiously, as the press hounds sniffed around Aurora, they found very few residents willing to discuss the events of 1897, but despite their reticence the town soon became a hive of activity as alien hunters from around the world descended en masse.

The International UFO Bureau claimed to have found traces of radiation at both the crash site and the grave, on top of which, they said, the grass glowed red. But they were soon barred from the graveyard by local administrators, who adamantly refused to allow them to start digging around. When the investigators attempted to obtain a court order to exhume the body, the small headstone marking the grave was removed and state troopers were placed at the gates of the cemetery to prevent unauthorized access.

Hayden Hewes, interviewed for a television documentary on the subject, condemned these actions as irresponsible, stating that there was now no way of locating the grave – a site, he claimed, that was of national importance. Interestingly, Bureau representatives have never explained why they just didn’t walk around looking for the red patch they had found only weeks earlier. Abandoning the grave, they turned their attention instead to Judge Proctor’s farm, now under different ownership.

In 1945 Rollie Oats (yes, his real name) had bought the place. He had removed the pieces of spaceship and cleaned out the well so that his family could drink the water. Twelve years later he developed severe arthritis in his hands and, convinced the well water was responsible, had it sealed over with a six-ton slab of concrete.

During the 1973 investigation, metal found on the farm was analysed at a laboratory, its name never disclosed, and found to be of a unique composition that could only have been produced by a very sophisticated refining process far in advance of what was possible in the 1970s, let alone the 1890s. This was held up as hard evidence of spaceship material and the UFO community howled for the government to reveal any information they had. In response the government ridiculed the amateur investigation, describing the Aurora spaceship story as a hoax. But of course they would say that, eh, UFO fans?

Today, amid renewed calls for a full enquiry and a thorough search of Aurora using the latest technology, some town elders now claim that the US military returned many years ago, back in the 1940s, and removed all trace of the spacecraft and its pilot. Others enigmatically refuse to talk about the incident at all. One elderly resident was interviewed for the television documentary in 1973 and clearly stated on camera that the whole affair had been true. (I saw it myself, and she said it all right – there’s no doubt about that, at least.) Her parents, she insisted, went to check the wreckage of the spacecraft and then told her all about it. But later, her great-granddaughter revealed she had been told the whole thing was a hoax and was puzzled why her great-grandmother would appear on camera to claim the accident had really taken place. The lure of the dollar possibly?

But if it was all a hoax, why play such an elaborate prank in the first place, let alone keep it up for over a century? There is one very good reason – to do with the town of Aurora itself. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Aurora had been a busy, bustling trade centre with a growing population and two schools. During the early 1890s, the Burlington Northern Railroad had been planning to build a route through Aurora to join the Western Railroad when disaster struck the town in the shape of spotted fever (a form of meningitis). As the new cemetery began to take in more and more residents, the town was sealed off and people were confined to their homes.

As a consequence, the railway abruptly stopped twenty-seven miles short of the town, construction never to be resumed, and Aurora’s business was devastated. Things became even worse when its major crop, cotton, was ruined by boll weevil infestation. Its fate was finally sealed by a fire that destroyed a major part of the borough. All this, within the space of a few short years, left Aurora facing ruin – that is, of course, until the spaceship conveniently flew into town. The resulting (albeit somewhat delayed) publicity led to Aurora, eighty years on, being declared a place of special interest and becoming one of the most famous towns in Texas, with legendary status among the worldwide UFO community. Even today it is rumoured that any unusual pieces of metal found locally are quickly confiscated by the authorities and mysteriously lost or accidentally destroyed.

One of the things that has always struck me about UFO sightings is how they always reflect the era they are reported in. For example, today we have grey aliens with over-sized heads who communicate telepathically, like the alien constructed for the Roswell hoax. During the 1970s all spacemen looked like the cast of Star Trek and prior to that they dressed like Buck Rodgers, complete with laser guns, and got in and out of their flying saucers by ladder.

So call me cynical, but when we hear of an interred alien whose cigar-shaped spacecraft crashed into a windmill in 1897, we don’t need to look too far to find out that cigar-shaped airships were first conceived in the 1890s and by 1897 were flying all over America, to the astonishment of country folk, some of whom hadn’t even seen a train before.

And Aurora was far from the only location for such sightings, as soon afterwards alien encounters were reported all over the US. Some people even ludicriously claimed they had been paid by aliens, in dollars, for spare parts for their space machines.

So imagine the scene with me. In 1897 old Farmer Gilly is standing out in his field raking the soil when a being from outer space strolls up. ‘Greetings, Earthling,’ he intones in that robotic style favoured by aliens the universe over, ‘but the satellite navigation control system on my intergalactic hyperspace craft is up the spout. Do you have anything to repair it?’ Farmer Gilly looks him up and down, takes off his hat and wipes the sweat from his forehead with a shirtsleeve. ‘Sure thing, buddy,’ he replies. ‘Cosmic navigation broken down, has it? Probably explains why you’re in Arkansas, son. Can’t think of no darned good reason why else you’d be all the way out here. Let’s go and see what we’ve got for you in that chicken shed over there.’ Presumably the alien pays in dollars for a roll of rusty hog wire, and is on his way back to Mars by sundown. Perhaps he even takes an old hoe with him too – as a souvenir. Now, you can believe that if you want to …

But why jump to the conclusion that it was a spaceship that had crashed? Even back in 1897, before planes were invented (or not ones that could fly very far), there could have been an alternative, rather more plausible explanation. Flying over Texas an early airship, not unlike a Zeppelin – or, for younger readers, the Goodyear Blimp – might have sprung a leak and lost altitude. It might then have crashed into Judge Proctor’s windmill and destroyed his flower bed. The resulting explosion would have melted the metal framework that then re-formed into new and unrecognizable shapes when it cooled. The poor pilot might have lost his limbs in the explosion and ended up burnt to a crisp, so that he didn’t look human any more. But no one in the UFO community would have bought this rather more down-to-earth explanation. Hayden Hewes can still now be seen on several television documentaries standing wistfully outside the cemetery or pictured pointing forlornly at the well, no doubt wondering how he is going to get the six tons of concrete slab lifted that stands between himself and his place in history.

The final word on the Aurora spaceship crash should go to the man who had the very first word, journalist H. E. Haydon. Years later Haydon, a notorious practical joker, admitted he had simply made up the story in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of his home town and to help the dying community. He certainly did that – even if publicity took some decades to arrive – as Aurora, the town we would otherwise have never heard of, is still talked about throughout the UFO hunting community as one of the most famous sightings of all time. They should put up a statue of him in the town square in Aurora, if there is a town square, that is.

Most UFO encounters can be explained as optical illusions, natural phenomena, meteors or hoaxes, but a good many remain unexplained. In cases of alien abduction, it is interesting to read reports of victims who have been hypnotized and who describe their ordeals in great detail while under hypnosis. Yet when we compare these reports with those of volunteers who do not claim alien abduction, but instead are asked simply to imagine it, their recollections under hypnosis are almost exactly the same. I think this says more for the power of the imagination than it does for the likelihood of alien encounters, but then again, ours is a big universe. Infinite, in fact. Only a fool would completely rule out the idea of life on other planets in other solar systems, the closest of which are so far away they would take us 75,000 years to get to in the fastest craft we currently have, which means unless aliens visit us, then you and I will never know if there is life out there. So maybe, just maybe, we are not alone after all …

Extract from Weird and Wonderful World – Tales of the Paranormal

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The Dreadful Demise of Edgar Allan Poe

The unexplained death of the master of Gothic horror.

It was election day in Baltimore, Maryland, on the east coast of America. Ryan’s Tavern, a popular saloon bar, had doubled up for the day as a polling station and men had been shuffling in and out to cast their votes since daybreak. Many stopped for some light refreshment before going about their business but few of them took any notice of the resident drunks slumped in the corners, propped against tables or generally scattered around the bar. Then, for reasons that are unclear, a voter called Joseph Walker went over to help one tramp. The man, in a state of confused desperation, called out random names until finally Walker recognized one of them and immediately sent a note to Dr Joseph Snodgrass, which read: ‘There is a gentleman, rather worse for wear, at Ryan’s Fourth Ward Polls, and who appears to be in great distress. He says he is acquainted with you and I assure you he is in need of immediate assistance.’

Just five days later, on 8 October 1849, the Baltimore Sun published a sombre notice:

We regret to learn that Edgar Allan Poe Esq., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of only four or five days. This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpectedly, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius and have sympathy for the frailties all too often attending to it.

Yet Poe wasn’t supposed to have been in Baltimore at all; he was meant to have been in Philadelphia for a business meeting, followed by a journey to New York to meet his former mother-in-law, Maria Clemm. But Edgar Allan Poe never arrived in Philadelphia, and Maria Clemm was never to see him again. The dark events and insecurities of his life were dramatized throughout Poe’s writings, and it’s possible that his mysterious death was connected with someone very close to him.

Edgar Poe was the son of travelling actors. He was not yet three years old when his parents died, within a few days of each other, and the three Poe orphans (Edgar had an elder brother and a younger sister) were separated and sent to live with different foster families in Richmond, Virginia. Edgar was taken in by John and Frances Allan, a wealthy, childless couple who raised him as their own. As a sign of respect for his foster parents, Poe later adopted their surname as his middle name and thereafter became known by the name for which he would become famous the world over: Edgar Allan Poe.

But a serious rift developed between Poe and his foster father when Edgar returned from university in 1827 with large gambling debts that John Allan angrily refused to pay. Shortly afterwards Poe joined the army, achieving the rank of sergeant major before returning, in 1829, for the funeral of his beloved foster mother, Frances. The following year John remarried and when the new Mrs Allan promptly produced three sons, she became openly hostile to the grown-up foster son she had inherited.

This reached crisis point in March 1834 when Poe discovered that John Allan was gravely ill. He rushed to his bedside, only to find the route blocked by the second Mrs Allan. When Poe angrily pushed past her, he was confronted by a furious John Allan, who cursed him from his deathbed, banishing him from the house. Poe then discovered, after Allan’s death, that the man whom he had once lovingly called ‘Pa’, and whose affections he had relied upon as a small boy, had changed his will, removing any mention of him.

Whilst Poe had been at university, losing at cards, he also began writing poetry, anonymously publishing his first collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems, in 1827. In 1831 he turned his attention to the short stories of mystery and the macabre that he was to become famous for. They were instantly popular. Before long Edgar had progressed from mere contributor to editor at the Southern Literary Messenger.

Throughout all this, his ties to his real family remained very strong and they became stronger when in 1836, aged twenty-seven, he fell in love with his thirteen-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. Despite Virginia being so young, the two married within the year, with the full blessing of his aunt (and mother-in-law) Maria Clemm, who then became the third mother figure in the young writer’s life.

In 1839 he accepted the job of both editor and contributor at Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in Philadelphia and, during his time there, wrote the macabre tales ‘William Wilson’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. It was the popularity of psychological thrillers like these that saw his personal reputation flourish, and in 1841 Poe had completed his most enduring tale, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, featuring, for the first time, his fictional detective Auguste C. Dupin. The story was truly unique in the sense that it introduced a new and popular genre where a series of seemingly unconnected clues are presented to the reader and not drawn together until the final scene, in which the murderer is unmasked in front of the other characters by the detective. The style had never before been used in literature and Poe’s sleuth is credited with being the first fictional detective in the history of storytelling, paving the way for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, among many others.

However, it was Edgar’s poem ‘The Raven’, published in 1845, that signalled his true rise to fame, with the public queuing up for Poe’s lectures just to hear the writer perform his work in person. The effect in 1845 was something like a modern songwriter or musician would achieve with a number one hit single these days. Other successful poems followed and Poe’s popularity continued to increase until disaster struck in 1847 when his beloved wife Virginia died. Edgar was heartbroken and his grief is believed to have inspired the short poem ‘Deep in the earth my love is lying / And I must weep alone.’ Her death was to mark the beginning of Poe’s downhill struggle leading to his own mysterious death only two years later – a period that was marked by alcoholism, depression, a suicide attempt and several failed romances. All of which was accompanied by a desperate attempt to raise funds to support his beloved mother-in-law and for the launch of his own publication, The Stylus. (Despite his literary success, much of own his money had been spent on drink.)

Then, during the summer months of 1849, things started to look up again. Poe, who was once again out on the lecture circuit, met Elmira Shelton, an old childhood sweetheart, back in Richmond and they rekindled their romance. With Elmira’s encouragement, Poe joined the Sons of Temperance movement and renounced alcohol. He wrote to Maria Clemm: ‘I think Elmira loves me more devotedly than anyone I ever knew and I cannot help loving her in return. We may get married before I start my next trip.’

And it wasn’t just his love life that had turned the corner. His lecture tour was also proving to be a great success and he had gathered over 300 annual subscriptions for his proposed new magazine, at $5 per year. This would mean Poe was in funds to the tune of at least $1,500, a considerable amount in 1849. He was due to leave Richmond for his next engagement in Philadelphia, where he had been commissioned by a wealthy piano manufacturer, John Loud, to spend two days editing his wife’s collection of poems. The fee was to be $100, a large sum for two days’ work, and Poe had eagerly accepted the commission. He then intended to leave Philadelphia and continue to New York. Here he would collect Maria Clemm and her possessions and bring her back to Richmond where he intended to settle down with Elmira.

Before leaving Richmond on 27 September, Edgar visited his physician Dr John F. Carter and, after a short conversation, walked to the Saddlers restaurant on the opposite side of the road, absent-mindedly taking Carter’s malacca cane instead of his own. There he met acquaintances at the restaurant, who later walked with him to catch the overnight boat to Baltimore from where he would catch the train to Philadelphia. They left him ‘sober and cheerful’, promising to be back in Richmond soon.

Poe had written to Maria Clemm advising her that ‘on Tuesday I start for Philadelphia to attend to Mrs Loud’s poems and on Thursday I leave there for New York’. He also asked her somewhat cryptically to write to him at the Philadelphia post office, addressing the letter to E. S. T. Grey Esq., and suggesting that, rather than turning up at her house, he should send for her instead on his arrival in the city. It is not clear why he needed to use a false name in Philadelphia or why he felt unable to visit the house in New York. Was he in debt, perhaps, or in some kind of danger?

Nothing more is known for sure about Edgar Allen Poe’s movements until he turned up dishevelled and disorientated at Ryan’s Tavern in Baltimore five days later on 3 October. Apart from his failing to keep his appointment in Philadelphia with Mrs Loud, that is. And there are various theories why he didn’t. One account claims he fell ill as soon as he arrived in Philadelphia and, on intending to catch another train to New York, boarded at the wrong platform and returned to Baltimore by mistake. A second account makes the same claim, but suggesting that he was drunk rather than sick.

When a guard on the train to Philadelphia claimed he had witnessed Poe being ‘followed through the carriages’ by two mysterious men, speculation arose that friends of Elmira Shelton, possibly her brothers, had followed the writer, suspecting he was having a liaison with another woman, and then had forced the writer back to Baltimore, beaten him into a stupor and left him on the street, where he wandered into the bar and was discovered. Meanwhile another theory suggests that Poe had been in regular correspondence with a lady with whom he subsequently argued. When Edgar refused to give back her letters, she sent the men to enforce their return and they then beat up her former lover. Were they the two men on the train and not Elvira’s brother – assuming the guard’s testimony is to be believed and there were any mysterious men in the first place?

Lending substance to this last claim is the suggestion that, prior to meeting Elvira again, Poe had been engaged to a wealthy widow after only a brief courtship in what some regarded as a callous attempt by the writer to gain funding for his new magazine. This was broken off after a violent confrontation between a drunken Poe and his terrified fiancée and it is possible that this lady had been the sender of the letters Poe had refused to return. In addition, rather than just being simple love letters, they may have contained a promise of funding that Poe intended to later claim as a contractual obligation. Hence the rather extreme measures the lady had to resort to in order to get them back.

Though varied and unreliable, each account is consistent with the idea that Poe did not stay in Philadelphia and possibly did not even leave Baltimore in the first place. He certainly failed to collect the letter from Mrs Clemm addressed to E. S. T. Grey because the post office, as was common practice, published receipt of it in the Philadelphia Public Ledger on 3 October 1849, the same day that he lay dying in the bar in Baltimore. Such was Poe’s devotion to Maria Clemm, it seems unlikely he would not have made straight for the post office to collect a letter he was expecting if he had arrived in Philadelphia as planned.

But while there were no confirmed sightings of Poe in Baltimore during the week prior to his death, the writer’s physical condition offers some clues as to what may have happened. Writing to Maria Clemm, Dr Moran (the doctor at the hospital to which Poe was admitted) noted:

Presumably [as] you are already aware of the malady of which Mr Poe died, I need only state concisely the particulars of his circumstances from his entrance until his decease. When brought to the hospital, he was unconscious of his condition, who brought him or with whom he had been associating. He remained in this condition from 5.00 p.m. in the afternoon, the hour of his admission, until 3.00 a.m. next morning. This was on 3 October.

To this state succeeded tremor of the limbs, and at first a busy, but not violent or active delirium, constantly talking, in vacant converse with spectral and imaginary objects on the walls. His face was pale and his whole person drenched in perspiration. We were unable to induce tranquility before the second day after his admission. Having left orders with the nurses to that effect, I was summoned to his bedside as soon as consciousness supervened, and questioned him in reference to his family, place of residence, relatives, etc. But his answers were incoherent and unsatisfactory. He told me, however, he had a wife in Richmond, which I have since learned was not the fact, that he did not know when he left that city or what has become of his trunk or clothing.

The most obvious clue lies in a reference to his clothing: Dr Snodgrass later described what Poe had been wearing at the time he was found:

His hat, or rather the hat of somebody else for he had evidently been robbed of his clothing, or cheated in an exchange, was a cheap palm leaf one. Soiled and without a band. His coat was of commonest alpaca [cheap camel fleece] and evidently second hand. His pants of grey cassimere [plain wool] were dingy and badly fitting. His shirt crumpled and soiled. On his feet were boots of coarse material, giving no sign of having been blackened for a long time, if at all.

Edgar Allan Poe had not been so attired when he left Richmond, so this is the first real evidence of foul play. Snodgrass wondered if Poe had not fallen off the wagon in spectacular style and sold or exchanged his own clothes for more liquor. A week-long drinking binge could well have had fatal consequences, but as Snodgrass did not know at the time, Poe had been in possession of a considerable sum of money when he arrived in Baltimore, which was now missing, and even he would have had trouble drinking through $1,500-worth of whiskey in a week. (I tried it at the time of writing – for experimental reasons you understand – and it is near impossible in 2007)

This theory of the demon drink reclaiming Poe has often been repeated over the years, but it is worth remembering that the main architect of such an idea is Dr Snodgrass himself, who later became famous during the 1850s for his temperance lectures and often used the famous writer as an example of what can happen should a person succumb to the evils of alcohol. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to look back at the now collected evidence and see that Snodgrass was not adverse to a little exaggeration. For example, in his written account, ‘The Facts of Poe’s Death and Burial’, published in May 1867 in Beadle’s Monthly, he transcribed the note he had first received from Joseph Walker. Where Walker describes Poe as ‘rather worse for wear’, Snodgrass changed the wording to ‘in a state of beastly intoxication’.

Dr Moran also made a career out his deceased patient by lecturing and writing about Poe for many years. He flamboyantly claimed in his Defense of Poe, published in 1885, that Edgar Allan Poe’s final words to him had been: ‘He who arched the heavens and upholds the universe has His decrees legibly written upon the frontlet of every human being and upon demons incarnate.’ While they certainly sound like the words of a delirious man, I am unable to decide who was the more so – Poe or the good Dr Moran. And this is completely undercut by Moran’s letter to Maria Clemm on 15 November 1849 that the writer’s final offering was ‘Lord, help my poor soul’, which would mean the only reliable information from Dr Moran was his initial description of how Poe had appeared in hospital.

In his first letter to Maria Clemm, Dr Moran refers to Poe’s trunk, which was discovered at a hotel a few days later. But Moran fails to mention Poe still had the key in his pocket, despite having apparently had his clothing stolen, or that he still had Dr Carter’s malacca cane, which Moran sent to Maria to be returned to the doctor in Richmond. And why would the thief hand Poe back the key to his trunk having presumably forced him to change clothes?

Even more suspiciously, there has been no mention of the large sum of money Poe was known to have had in his possession on his arrival in Baltimore. Some are puzzled by the revelation that Poe’s trunk was booked into a hotel, when the writer was only supposed to be passing through on his way to Philadelphia, but 28 September 1849 was a Friday and, in his letter to Mrs Clemm, Poe informed her he was travelling on Tuesday 2October, so it is quite conceivable Poe had checked into a hotel with the intention of meeting somebody in Baltimore for the weekend, although, as yet, nobody has been able to ascertain who that was.

Four days after Poe’s death, his cousin Neilson wrote to Mrs Clemm on 11 October 1849 claiming to have carried out an exhaustive enquiry as to Poe’s movements during that final week, but with no success: ‘Where he has spent the time he was here, or under what circumstances, I have been unable to ascertain.’ However, within a few weeks, Neilson had written to Poe’s first biographer suggesting he had acquired some information about Poe’s death, which was ‘known only unto me’.

This curious remark needs investigating. Because if Poe died at the hands of another, as the evidence tends to suggest, then how could Neilson be the only one who knew anything about it, unless he himself was involved? At the time, Neilson promised to write it all down in a ‘deliberate communication’, but nothing was ever sent to Poe’s biographer and Neilson is not known to have ever written anything about the death of his famous cousin.

It is interesting to note that this was the same cousin who raced to the bedside of Poe when he was taken ill, only to be refused entrance by Dr Moran, claiming Poe was too delirious to receive visitors; and yet Neilson claimed only a week later to Maria Clemm that he had no knowledge of Edgar’s presence in Baltimore. The question is, was he lying and was it Neilson whom Edgar had planned to meet over that weekend in Baltimore? Moreover, did Dr Moran suspect Neilson had something to do with Poe’s condition and that is why he refused him access

Election day, the day Poe was discovered, was a dangerous time during the mid nineteenth century as a practice known as ‘cooping’ was widely adopted by unscrupulous politicians and their supporters in many American cities. William Baird explained such goings on in a paper published in Baltimore during the mid 1870s:

At that time, and for years before and after, there was an infamous custom in this and other cities, at election time, of ‘cooping’ voters. That is, gangs of men picked up, or even carried off by force, men whom they found in the streets and transported them to cellars in various slums of the city, where they were kept under guard, threatened, maltreated if they attempted to escape, often robbed, and always compelled to drink whiskey, sometimes mixed with other drugs, until they were stupefied and helpless.’

At the election these miserable wretches were brought up to the polls in carts or omnibuses, under guard, and made to vote the tickets in their hands, repeatedly at different voting places. Death from the ill treatment was not uncommon. The general belief here is that Poe was seized by one of these gangs then ‘cooped,’ stupefied with liquor, dragged out and voted again and again, then turned adrift to die.

The cooping theory is one suggested by most Edgar Allan Poe biographies and accounts of his death. In those days Baltimore elections were notorious for corruption and violence, with political parties willing to resort to extreme measures to ensure the success of their favourite candidates. Poe was discovered on election day after he had been missing for five days and he was found lying in an apparently drunken stupor in a bar where the votes were actually being cast.

But, as with all the other theories about Poe’s death, the cooping hypothesis has an obvious flaw. Edgar was well known in Baltimore and therefore likely to be recognized by many people. Cooping being a dangerous and highly illegal activity, it is unlikely ‘coopers’ would risk holding Edgar Allen Poe with others who would later be able to identify him. The Whigs were the major political party, headed by Zachary Taylor, who had been elected President in 1848, and it turns out that a delegate of the eighteenth ward had been none other that Poe’s cousin, Neilson Poe.

Could Neilson have been involved in cooping his famous cousin? This would certainly explain why Poe had checked into the hotel for the weekend on the assumption that he would be spending an exciting few days with his politically active cousin in the run-up to an important election. Could Poe have been drugged by Neilson, who had then stolen his money? This would account for his incoherent state at the time he was found. But perhaps Neilson had no intention of killing Edgar. Maybe he assumed instead that Poe would regain normal consciousness in the bar, unaware of what had happened to him. Which would explain Neilson’s panicked dash to the hospital when he found out that Poe had been admitted, despite claiming later he could find no trace of Edgar in Baltimore all week. Or perhaps it had been more slightly more innocent and Neilson might have rescued Poe from the coopers for his own political party but, wishing to keep the matter a secret from the electoral authorities, simply left him to recover and be found by somebody else. He might have slipped the trunk key into Edgar’s pocket knowing he had a change of clothes stored somewhere in the town and could tidy himself up when he had recovered.

In a letter of 27 November 1874, N. H. Morrison claimed to J. H. Ingram (another of Poe’s biographers): ‘The story of Poe’s death has never been told. Neilson Poe has all the facts but I am afraid may not be willing to share them. I do not see why. The actual facts are less discreditable than the common reports published. Poe came to the city in the midst of an election and that election was the cause of his death.’ What Neilson really knew about the death of his cousin has never been fully established, but it is clear that he knew something.

Poe’s remains are interred next to those of his grandfather General David Poe Sr, the American Civil War hero, in Baltimore cemetery, and every year, on the anniversary of Poe’s birthday on 19 January, fans still assemble for a silent vigil. Every year since 1949 a smartly dressed hooded man leaning on a silver cane has approached Poe’s grave, knelt in respect, toasted the writer with a glass of cognac and left the bottle, along with three red roses, at the graveside. Poe enthusiasts have watched this ritual without ever attempting to identify the stranger. In 1993 a note was also left, stating that ‘the torch will now be passed’, and since then a younger, similarly dressed man has carried out the ritual.

Over time the debate about Poe’s death has served only to make his mystery seem more mysterious and his intrigue even greater. But the tragic event remains one of the most mysterious deaths in literary history, and one cannot help concluding that the great man might have been secretly pleased about that. He may also have had a few questions to ask of his cousin Neilson.

Extract from Mysterious World

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If Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Who Killed Marilyn Monroe?

Did the celebrated sex symbol take her own life or was something pushed up her bottom?

The fourth of August 1962 seemed an ordinary Saturday in the life of Marilyn Monroe, in so far as her life could be called ‘ordinary’ at this stage, the world-famous actress now beset by depression and paranoia. Despite daily therapy with her personal psychiatrist Dr Ralph Greenson, who lived nearby, Marilyn’s anxiety attacks and bouts of depression had worsened and she had accidentally overdosed, and her stomach had been pumped, on more than one occasion.

Marilyn had become increasingly dependent on Dr Greenson and she consulted him constantly about her troubled love life that, by this time, had included relationships with both Kennedy brothers, Frank Sinatra, baseball star Joe DiMaggio, playwright Arthur Miller and scientist Albert Einstein. She also believed both the Mafia and the FBI, not to mention the CIA, were keeping an eye on her in the wake of the Profumo scandal that summer, where Russian spies had compromised English cabinet minister John Profumo by fixing him up with a young prostitute. And she was right to worry, because Monroe’s relationships with both JFK and Bobby Kennedy – right in the middle of America’s crisis over the Soviet plan to base nuclear missiles in Cuba, within striking distance of the mainland – had led to her being considered a serious security risk.

Marilyn had spent the previous evening at home, and in good spirits, with her press agent and best friend Pat Newcomb, who had then stayed over. But when Pat arose the following day, Marilyn appeared ‘grouchy’ and claimed not to have slept very well. Her housekeeper Eunice Murray later called in Dr Greenson after Monroe asked her if there was ‘any oxygen in the house’. As the afternoon progressed, Marilyn’s condition deteriorated: she appeared increasingly drugged and lethargic. Greenson had been trying to break Monroe’s dependency on Nembutal, but knew she had received a new prescription the previous day. He knew, furthermore, that supplies of her favourite barbiturate were stashed around the house and that she could have taken these at any time.

Pat Newcomb left at 6 p.m. After another session of therapy, Greenson left at 7 p.m. At 7.15 Joe DiMaggio Jr, her ex-husband’s son, dropped by; Marilyn was happy to learn he was breaking off his engagement to a woman she did not like, and DiMaggio Jr later confirmed the actress was in high spirits by the time he left, as did Dr Greenson, whom she had rung shortly afterwards to inform him of the good news.

Then Eunice claims to have woken at 3 a.m. to see a light shining under Marilyn’s bedroom door and a telephone cable leading from a socket in the hallway into the bedroom, both of which were highly unusual. Finding the door was locked, the housekeeper telephoned Dr Greenson, who rushed over, broke into the bedroom via a window and, at 3.50 a.m., found the Hollywood actress lying naked, face down and clearly dead. However, the veracity of their account began to seem more questionable when it emerged later in the investigation that, not only would Monroe’s deep-pile bedroom carpet have ensured that no light could have escaped from the room, but that the door had no working lock. Then the plot appeared to thicken further when it was revealed that Arthur Jacobs, Monroe’s publicist, had been informed of her death at between 10 and 10.30 p.m. the previous evening: he could confirm the time as he had to leave a musical performance of another client to arrange the ‘press issues’. So we know that before poor Marilyn’s body was even cold, a tissue of lies had already started to be spun.

The autopsy, carried out by Dr Thomas Noguchi – who was later to conduct the high-profile autopsies on Natalie Wood and Robert Kennedy – concluded that Marilyn had died as a result of acute barbiturate poisoning. This led the psychiatric experts involved with the inquest to a conclusion of ‘probable suicide’. But Los Angeles County Prosecutor John W. Milner – who had attended the autopsy and who was privy to all the facts surrounding her mysterious death – was furious. He didn’t believe then that Monroe had taken her own life, either deliberately or by accident, and today, over forty years later, he still doesn’t. So what really did happen to the celebrated Hollywood actress?

Norma Jeane Mortenson arrived in the world at 9.30 am on 1 June 1926, at Los Angeles County Hospital. Her mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe Baker, had already walked out on Norma’s father (well, according to the birth certificate at least), ostensibly because he had become ‘boring’. Gladys was later diagnosed with hereditary paranoid schizophrenia, a mental condition that also afflicted her mother and father and which had contributed to the deaths of two of her grandparents.

Goodbye Norma Jeane

When Norma Jeane was only seven years old, her mother was committed to a ‘rest home’ and the little girl was then moved around various foster parents and institutions. With nowhere to live – her latest foster parents were moving to the East Coast and couldn’t take her with them – she got married, to James Dougherty, just two weeks after her sixteenth birthday.

When America entered the war in 1941, her new husband joined the navy and Norma Jeane went out to work. At just seventeen, she was already drinking heavily and suffering from depression. As a little girl, she had dreamed of stardom: ‘Even as a child I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night that there must be thousands of little girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But, I thought, I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.’ It must have seemed a faraway dream when she was clocking in at the munitions factory every morning at 7 a.m.

During the summer of 1944, Yank Magazine commissioned a feature on young American women at work for the war effort. Private David Conover had been moving along the assembly line taking pictures of the most attractive employees when he came upon a young blonde who was busy fitting propellers. Although her face was covered in dirt and grease, he stopped in his tracks, stunned by her unusual beauty. Private Conover immediately offered Norma five dollars an hour to model for him, and the resulting pictures attracted the attention of the Blue Book Modelling Agency. Within a year, Norma Jeane had featured on the front cover of no less than thirty-three national magazines, catapulting the young lady towards national stardom. Her first marriage proved an early casualty of her obsessive, meteoric rise.

In July 1946, one month after hertwentieth birthday, Norma Jeane secured a contract with 20th Century Fox. The studio wanted her to have a more glamorous name and, after a few duff suggestions, the casting director Ben Lyon came up with ‘Marilyn’, after his own favourite actress, Marilyn Miller. Then Norma Jeane offered her mother’s maiden name. The studio director wearily asked what it was, but his eyes lit up when she replied ‘Monroe’.

There then followed four years of success and failure in both her career and love life leading to, after the sudden death of a lover, her first real suicide attempt when she swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. Throughout the 1950s, Marilyn became more and more ubitiquous, appearing in hundreds of films, TV shows, musicals and radio broadcasts. By the end of the decade, Norma Jeane had become Hollywood’s golden girl, mixing with the rich, famous and powerful. But the recognition she craved didn’t make her happy. Her marriages to two much older men, each highly acclaimed in his field, clearly illustrated her search both for security and a father figure. Her short union with baseball star Joe DiMaggio was quickly followed by her third marriage, this time to America’s most celebrated playwright, Arthur Miller. It was after her divorce from Miller, in 1961, that things began to go badly wrong. Was it really a coincidence that this was when her affair started with the most powerful man in the world, President John F. Kennedy?

After the divorce, Marilyn, increasingly dependent on alcohol, barbiturates and Dr Greenson, became friends with English actor Peter Lawford and his wife Patricia, the sister of JFK. It was at one of their parties that she first met the Kennedy brothers. Unsurprisingly, this drew the attention of the FBI, whose head Edgar J. Hoover (see also ‘John Dillinger: Whatever Happened to America’s Robin Hood’, page 000) was obsessed with building a file on the growing sexual adventures of the President and his brother, the attorney general. The Mafia were also taking a close interest in the actress. The FBI among others believed that the Kennedy brothers’ father Joe had been a partner of the infamous Mafia don Frank Costello during the Prohibition years. It was said that decades later, when JFK stood for President, the old man had called on the Cosa Nostra to help buy votes. Some Mafia members believed the Kennedys then owed them a favour or two and expected a close, lucrative relationship with the Kennedy administration once John had taken office.

So they were furious when Bobby Kennedy, the newly appointed attorney general, made it his personal crusade to crack down on organized crime, making the wrong sort of enemies in the process, many of whom vowed revenge. Even so, most Mafia members realized the Kennedy family, the biggest mob of all of them, now had public opinion firmly on their side, not to mention all the state police forces and the US military at their instant beck and call. Any act of revenge on the Kennedys would have to be carefully thought out, more carefully than the customary sort of mob hit on a rival family member. In 1962, exposing their many infidelities to the press was thought the best tactic to diminish public support for the Kennedy brothers. Monroe had found herself in bed, so to speak, with some of the most dangerous people in the world, and still didn’t realize it. Instead she was naïvely dreaming of becoming America’s First Lady.

Marilyn’s love affair with the President became common knowledge among the American power set during the first six months of 1962, but remained unknown to the public. Edgar Hoover’s FBI were busily building a file detailing Monroe’s movements and had even, some believed, placed listening devices inside her home. Increasingly worried of her ‘chattering’ about their relationship, the President was even more alarmed by his brother-in-law’s discovery that she kept a detailed diary of their sexual encounters and what they had discussed. JFK abruptly ended the affair in July, using his brother Bobby as the messenger. Unfortunately for the administration, Bobby too then fell under the actress’s spell. Marilyn, still bitter from her rejection by the President, did not reciprocate his feelings but she embarked on a love affair with him nevertheless.

Marilyn had no intention of marrying the smitten younger Kennedy, however, even on one occasion asking Dr Greenson, ‘Oh, what am I to do about Bobby?’ Greenson was more concerned about the psychological damage such affairs were having on his client and about her personal safety. The international threat to America was from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the domestic problem was coming from the Mafia. And Marilyn knew too much about too many people, mobsters and politicians alike, and more than one group was worried that she might spill the beans. Her increasingly erratic behaviour had turned her from a trophy blonde to an outright liability. When Bobby unceremoniously broke off their affair by having the private telephone line he had installed for her disconnected, Marilyn was devastated. She bombarded the White House switchboard with telephone calls but was never connected with either Kennedy. Distraught, she had told friends – including Peter Lawford, JFK’s brother-in-law – that she planned to ‘come clean’ about her relationships with both brothers in revenge for the way she felt she had been treated by the pair.

However, in July 1962, during the final two weeks of Marilyn’s life, there were reports that she was feeling more positive about the future than she had been. She had received several new offers of film parts, her friends were many and supportive and, despite everything, she was still optimistic of reviving her relationship with the President.

In this frame of mind, she happily accepted an invitation from Frank Sinatra to a weekend at Cal-Neva Lodge on Lake Tahoe, believing the Kennedys to be behind the invitation. Accounts of this weekend differ but they are all highly coloured. One goes that she was taken aback to discover the brutal gangster Sam Giancana was there, apparently to warn her against creating problems for the brothers. Another version has Joe DiMaggio arriving unexpectedly at the lodge and becoming furious with both Sinatra and the Kennedys for luring his ex-wife there, plying her with drugs and alcohol and taking compromising photographs to be used as blackmail should she ever threaten to expose her affairs with John and Bobby. The following weekend Marilyn was found dead at her home in Brentwood, California, having apparently committed suicide, and the undisputed facts reveal mystery and intrigue involving some of the best-loved and most influential people on the planet.

According to the official version of events, after Joe DiMaggio Jr left at around 7.30 p.m., Peter Lawford then phoned Marilyn at 7.45 p.m. to invite her to a party. He testified Monroe sounded heavily drugged – somewhat contrary to the upbeat mood reported by DiMaggio – and that she failed to respond several times before shouting her own name repeatedly down the phone. Lawford then quoted how Marilyn had ended the conversation: ‘Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the President and say goodbye to yourself because you are a nice guy.’ She then hung up.

The next official evidence we have is the statement of Eunice Murray, the housekeeper, who claimed to have seen the light on under the bedroom door at 3 a.m. and telephoned Dr Greenson. He then confirmed he arrived and broke in through Marilyn’s bedroom window at 3.50 a.m. to find the actress dead, at which point he telephoned the police. At 4.25 a.m. Sergeant Jack Clemmons of the Los Angeles Police Department received a phone call from Dr Engelberg, Marilyn’s personal physician, who told him his patient had committed suicide. Given what we know about the evidence today, it would have been quite impossible for Engelberg to diagnose suicide at that stage, although Clemmons is adamant that that is what he was told.

When the police officer arrived at the scene, he noted three people with the body, Eunice Murray, Dr Greenson and Dr Engelberg, who led Clemmons to the body and made a point of bringing to his attention the bottles of drugs on the bedside table. Clemmons noted: ‘She was lying face down in what I call the soldier’s position. Her face was in a pillow, her arms were by her side, her right arm was slightly bent. Her legs were stretched out perfectly straight.’ The policeman’s immediate reaction was that she had been placed in that position. Having been at the scene of numerous suicides, he knew that, contrary to what most people believed, the victim of an overdose of sleeping tablets tends to suffer convulsions and vomiting before they die, often ending up in a contorted or twisted pose.

The testimony of the three witnesses convinced Sergeant Clemmons that they were lying. Publicly all three witnesses maintained their original story that the body was found at 3.50 a.m.; privately they stated the body had been discovered four hours earlier but they had been ‘not allowed’ to contact the police until 20th Century Fox had given them permission. Clemmons then noted that no light – let alone the telephone cable reported by Eunice Murray – was able to pass under the bedroom door and that it had no working lock. Crucially, there was no drinking glass in the room, or indeed any kind of receptacle that could have contained the water or alcohol Marilyn would have needed to swallow so many pills.

The police officer took a closer look at the window Dr Greenson claimed to have broken to gain access to the room, and found broken glass on the outside, consistent with the window having being broken from inside the room and not from the outside.

The autopsy conclusions were that, judging by the high level of sedatives – 8 milligrams of hydrate and 4 milligrams of Nembutal in her blood count and a much higher concentration, 13 milligrams of Nembutal, in her liver – and the absence of any foul play, Marilyn had taken her own life. These findings were soon disputed by some key forensic experts, however, who pointed out that no traces of Nembutal had been found in either her stomach or intestinal tract. There was also no evidence of the yellow Nembutal capsules, which would not have fully dissolved by the time the autopsy took place. An injection was ruled out because no needle marks were found and because such a high dose would have caused instant death plus residual bruising around the site of the puncture mark. So, as Marilyn appeared to have taken nothing orally and nothing directly into the veins, forensic experts concluded that the drug had been administered by way of an enema. This was consistent with the bruising on the victim’s lower back and would account for the ‘abnormal discoloration of the colon’. In other words, the drugs that killed her must have been introduced anally.

Now, I’m no expert, but I think most people would agree that to prepare a fatal cocktail of drugs and then push it up your own backside is an unlikely way to commit suicide. So despite Monroe’s famously erratic behaviour and ongoing depression, suicide has been ruled out by every mental-health professional reviewing her case. Indeed, it is alleged that detailed notes made of taped conversations with her psychiatrist only a week before her death reveal her as anything but suicidal. But those tapes, along with other vital evidence and statements, have all gone missing. John W. Milner has been consistently clear in his views: ‘Marilyn Monroe bears the stigma of suicide. This is wrong and must be corrected.’

So, if we are to rule out suicide then there are only two other possibilities for us to consider: accident or murder. But if Marilyn did die as a result of a rectally administered barbiturate enema, then it is hard to see how that could be an accident. Let’s be honest, who could claim that they pushed a poisonous drug up Marilyn Monroe’s rear by accident – and surely she would have noticed?

Marilyn’s psychiatrist Dr Greenson and doctor Dr Engelberg were working together to reduce the insomniac actress’s Nembutal dependency by substituting it for chloral hydrate, but taken together they are a powerful and dangerous mixture. One suggestion is that Engelberg had given Monroe a further prescription of Nembutal and forgotten to inform Greenson. As Engelberg was having serious marital problems at the time, other, more personal, matters may have occupied his mind.

Perhaps Marilyn – who once commented, ‘Yes, I enjoy enemas, so what’ – had been taking Nembutal throughout the day, explaining its presence in her liver and blood. Without knowing this, Dr Greenson could then have prepared a chloral hydrate enema to be administered by Eunice Murray, which became deadly on interaction with the Nembutal. Any doctor would be reluctant to admit to such a mistake, especially in relation to such a high-profile patient, and this would perhaps explain the many discrepancies in the stories of those who found the body and the apparent staging of the scene that the police were unhappy about. It would also explain evidence that the body was discovered at 10 p.m. and not 3.50 p.m., along with an ambulance driver’s account that Marilyn was taken to hospital in a coma before midnight where she died before the body being returned and ‘found’. Eunice Murray would certainly wish to stay quiet, as it would have been she who administered the fatal dose. So this is quite a powerful theory. But if it is true then the doctors involved would only be guilty of negligence, and certainly not murder.

But if not an accident, could it have been murder? Several witnesses have placed Bobby Kennedy at the scene on the day of the death. There is also reliable evidence that he removed Monroe’s diaries and other notebooks. Her angry telephone calls to the White House and the fear of her speaking publicly were a real problem for the Kennedy administration. Indeed, it would be a mistake to rule out certain governments at certain times taking drastic action to prevent a scandal. But as Bobby Kennedy approached most matters from a very high moral standpoint, it is hard to believe he would personally hold Monroe down and push barbiturates up her bottom to kill her. He made no secret of his visit to Monroe that day and was seen there by many people, including a policeman.

Are we to seriously believe he – or somebody he was with on that day – killed Monroe? After all Marilyn Monroe, the drunken actress who famously sang a very breathy ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ at Madison Square Garden in front of the world’s media, hardly posed a major threat to the most powerful government in the world. What classified information could she alone possibly have that no one else had access to? The promiscuity of the Kennedy brothers was well known in 1962. Might the government’s fear of the headline ‘I slept with the President by Marilyn Monroe’ have led to her assassination when the chorus of replies would probably have been: ‘Really.. well who hasn’t?’

The idea that the American government silenced Marilyn sounds like a classic urban legend, the kind of story that just grows over the years, so that the more times it is told the more true it appears to become. We know Marilyn died of a drugs overdose and we know it could not be suicide. So why prove that somebody pushed a killer drug up her bottom when a staged car accident, drowning, bullet in the head, or even a drugged drink that would leave residue in the stomach to make her death look like suicide, would have been a better option? If the Kennedy government intended to kill off everybody who had embarrassing information or who opposed their administration, then why should they start with a scatty film star?

And as for the idea that Marilyn Monroe was murdered by the Mafia, who staged it to make it look as if the Kennedys had been involved, seems even less likely when a cold, clear look at the evidence is taken. Nobody can explain why anybody trying to make a murder look like suicide would use a killer enema – it just doesn’t make sense. If the Mafia – who had perfected, by then, their concrete boots technique – had really wanted to get rid of her, then Marilyn is more likely to have vanished without trace, either swimming with the fishes or wrapped inside a motorway flyover.

Instead I think the biggest clue lies in a comment alleged to have been made on the night of Monroe’s death, by Dr Greenson: ‘God damn it, he has given her a prescription I didn’t know about.’ So it seems after all that the death of the most famous woman on the planet might well have been a simple, tragic accident caused by the people Marilyn most relied on.

Foot note: I have approved this anonymous comment (below) so that you, dear reader, can see for yourself the nonsense and double speak circumnavigating the internet conspiracy theory community these days. Note how one minute the Kennedy’s were ‘not involved in her murder’ and then a single sentence later; ‘it was Robert Kennedy who staged her murder.’ Note too all the other inconsistencies and unsupported claims made here that Occam would take his razor to. And so should you! For example, why (or for that matter how) would J J Angleton at the CIA persuade Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General of the United States, to personally arrange the murder of an actress? There’s more, but I can’t be bothered. Refer to Wikipedia indeed……!? AJ

Extract from Mysterious World

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Albert Jack’s Other Books – US   UK

Albert Jack’s Other Books – US   UK

Will the Real Paul McCartney Please Stand Up?

Did the famous ex-Beatle really die in a car crash back in 1966?

On 12 October 1969, Tom Zarski rang the ‘Uncle’ Russ Gibb’s radio show on WKNR-FM in Dearborn, Michigan, and announced that Paul McCartney had been killed in an accident in November 1966 and the Beatles had drafted in a lookalike to keep the band fully functioning. He backed up his argument with several pieces of credible circumstantial evidence, including the decision by the band in 1967 to stop playing live in order to concentrate on their studio recordings and film work.

Russ Gibb was so intrigued by the story that he then spent two hours on air mulling over the clues and playing Beatles records. When one caller urged him to play ‘Revolution 9’ (from The White Album) backwards, Gibb was amazed to find he could distinctly make out the words ‘Turn me on, dead man’ through his headphones. Despite the fact that Zarski had pointed out he didn’t actually believe Paul McCartney was dead, he was just interested in the theory, by the end of the programme networks across the United States were discussing the mysterious death of one of the world’s most famous rock stars and the events surrounding his demise. Hundreds of news journalists promptly flew to London and interviewed as many of the conspiracy theorists they could find, and from the reports that followed the only certainty is that many of them were experimenting with LSD, as none of it made much sense at all.

The story ran that on the evening of Tuesday 8 November 1966 Paul McCartney and John Lennon were working late into the night on the Beatles’ upcoming album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when a row developed over recording techniques and McCartney stormed out of the studio. Furious, he sped off in his Aston Martin and smashed into a van, dying instantly. The resulting fire prevented the coroner from positively identifying the body but the remaining band members were left in no doubt at all that McCartney had not survived. Another caller to Russ Gibb’s show claimed that McCartney had picked up a hitchhiker called Rita that night. When she suddenly realized who he was, she had screamed and lunged at her hero, causing him to crash into the van. Neither Rita nor the other driver were ever seen or heard from again.

The public mourned as shock in but there was one unavoidable question: if McCartney had died in 1966, who was the man that looked like Paul and who had been hanging out with the Beatles ever since? The explanation ran that Beatles manager Brian Epstein was so horrified at the thought of the world’s most successful band breaking up that he held secret auditions and persuaded John, George and Ringo to have all their photographs taken with a stand-in to keep the public unaware of the accident. When Epstein died only nine months later, after a battle with depression and drug abuse, his untimely demise was cited as another piece of evidence. It was said that he just couldn’t come to terms with the loss of McCartney. The Paul-is-dead mystery was also conveniently used to explain McCartney’s sudden split from long-term fiancée Jane Asher (because McCartney stand-in William Shears Campbell didn’t like her) and that his new relationship with Linda Eastman (later McCartney) was Campbell’s real love interest.

Another piece of supposedly compelling evidence is that for several years the other three Beatles had wanted to stop playing live shows because the audiences were screaming so loudly they couldn’t could hear anything, but McCartney had resisted. With Paul gone, the remaining three could do as they pleased – indeed the Beatles had last performed live on 29 August 1966, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, and played no more live concerts after that. Conspiracy theorists nodded and agreed that it all made perfect sense, while others, including the Beatles, laughed it off as a ridiculous urban legend.

And still the story continued. One American radio presenter had photographs of the singer before and after November 1966 scientifically compared and found there were obvious differences, one being that the nose was of a different length. A doctor from the University of Miami analysed voice recordings and concluded publicly that the recordings prior to August 1966 were different to those recorded afterwards. Paul McCartney, he claimed, did not sing on Beatles records after August 1966.

By now fans all over the world were beginning to look for their own clues in Beatles music and album covers, and the clues turned up in spades. Here then are some of them, and the evidence seemingly pointing to the fact that Paul McCartney was dead.

Sgt Pepper was the first album the Beatles released after the supposed accident, after recording began on 6 December 1966. When it reached the shops in June 1967, nobody noticed anything unusual about the artwork in connection with the Paul McCartney mystery, but in 1969 conspiracy theorists were able to detect a range of coded references to Paul’s demise. For a start the band appear to be standing at a graveside complete with flowers and wreaths. They are surrounded by famous personalities, who could be mourners, and one of them is holding an open hand above McCartney’s head, said to be a traditional Eastern symbol for death. The theorists looked closer and concluded that the yellow flowers at the foot of the picture are arranged in the shape of a left-handed bass guitar, Paul’s instrument, and one of the four strings is missing, signifying his absence. Under the doll’s arm on the right hand side there appears to be a blood-stained driving glove and the doll itself has a head wound similar to the one Paul was supposed to have died from and he is wearing a badge on his sleeve on the inside cover bearing the letters OPD, standing for ‘Officially Pronounced Dead’.

The open-palm gesture actually appears on the front cover of Revolver, twice in the Magical Mystery Tour booklet, twice in the Magical Mystery film and twice on the cover of the original Yellow Submarine sleeve, but, in reality, none of it means anything at all. There is no such gesture in Indian culture symbolizing death. The badge Paul is wearing on the inside sleeve does not read ‘OPD’, it has the initials OPP on it. The badge was in fact given to McCartney when he visited the Ontario Provincial Police in Canada during the Beatles’ world tour in 1965.

A statue of Kali, a Hindu goddess, also features on the front cover of the Sgt Pepper album, which the theorists maintain represents rebirth and regeneration, hinting that one of the Beatles has been reborn, or replaced. But Kali, from which the name of Calcutta is believed to derive, has traditionally been a figure of annihilation, representing the destructive power of time (kala being the Sanskrit word for ‘time’)

Also, the ‘O’ shaped arrangement of flowers at end of the band’s name has caused some theorists to speculate that the whole thing reads ‘BE AT LESO’ instead of ‘BEATLES’. This was taken as a sign that Paul was buried at Leso, the Greek Island the band had supposedly bought. But none of the Beatles had bought a Greek island and there is no such place as Leso.

There are many more pieces of ‘convincing’ evidence. I’ve just picked out some of my favourites.

The Beatles all grew moustaches at the time to help mask a scar on the lip of McCartney stand-in William Shears Campbell.

In fact McCartney did grow a moustache for Sgt Pepper as he was unable to shave at the time. Paul had fallen off his scooter on his way to visit his aunt and split his lip on a pavement, making it too painful to shave. He also lost a front tooth in the accident, explaining why he appears in the ‘Rain’ and ‘Paperback Writer’ promo videos missing one of his teeth. The accident also explains the scars seen during the White Album photograph sessions.

The number plate on the VW Beetle shown on the Abbey Road cover reads LMW 281F, taken to mean Paul would have been 28 ‘IF’ he had survived.

But Paul would have been only twenty-seven, and the VW Beetle had nothing to do with anyone at Abbey Road. The director of the photo sessions tried to have it towed away, but the police took too long to arrive so they went ahead with the picture anyway, leaving it in shot.

McCartney is wearing no shoes in the Abbey Road photograph.

His explanation was: ‘It was a hot day and I wanted to take my shoes off, to look slightly different to the others. That’s all that was about. Now people can tell me apart from the others.’ But the conspiracy theorists swore that the picture had been set up to look like a funeral march, with him as the corpse.

On the records Rubber Soul, Yesterday and Today, Help and Revolver there were said to be many more clues. The song ‘I’m Looking Through You’ on Rubber Soul was thought to be about discovering that McCartney had been replaced. Some fans took these blatant ‘clues’ as hard evidence while others quickly realized all of those records were made prior to 9 November 1966 and could not possibly have anything to do with the supposed accident.

But with hysteria mounting, even the thinnest clue came to look like definite evidence. In the lyrics to ‘I am the Walrus’, the line ‘stupid bloody Tuesday’ is taken by some to be John Lennon referring to the day of the accident that claimed his band mate. But when it was pointed out the alleged accident was supposed to have happened on a Wednesday morning, conspiracy theorists then claimed it was the Tuesday night that the two of them had fallen out before McCartney had stormed off, and to his death. Some believed it, while others dismissed it as an already thin lead being stretched even thinner. But then came the line ‘waiting for the van to come’, a supposed reference to the ambulance, and ‘goo goo ga joob’ – apparently Humpty Dumpty’s last words before he fell off that wall and bashed his head in, as Paul was supposed to have done.

The Beatles themselves very quickly became very irritated by all the speculation. And it was not long before the band, aware every lyric and photo shoot was now being studied, began to play up to the hysteria. After writing one complicated and seemingly meaningless song called ‘Glass Onion’ Lennon remarked, ‘Let the f**kers work that one out.’ But he included the lines ‘Well here’s another clue for you all / The walrus was Paul’. In no time at all, people were announcing the walrus was a symbol of death to some cultures and Lennon despaired. It wasn’t much fun being a Beatle any more and the band broke up soon afterwards.

So – to sum up – if the real Paul McCartney had died in his Aston Martin in 1967, and a replacement found in time for the photo shoots for the next album, then imagine the string of coincidences that needed to have taken place. For a start he had to look and sound just like Paul. Then he had to convince Linda or, if she was in on the plot, she had to like him enough to stay married to him for the next thirty years. And he would have had to learn how to play guitar left-handed, which is even less likely, I can assure you. John Lennon would have to have been fooled too, as it is unlikely he would want share song-writing credits and royalties with a stranger for the last three years of Beatles recordings, especially as Epstein wasn’t there to tell him to. And most of all, for the lookalike to have written and recorded songs of a McCartney standard for over thirty years would be hard to imagine.

Hang on a minute, I have just remembered ‘The Frog Chorus’ and ‘Mull of Kintyre’, and so my argument is beginning to wear thin, even to me. And another thing – would the real Paul McCartney have married Heather Wills, or whatever her name was? Perhaps Zarski was right after all – there must be an impostor …

Extract from Money for Old Rope Parts 1 & 2

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Albert Jack’s Other Books – US   UK

Not in the Mood: The Real Glenn Miller Story

The famous bandleader vanished without trace en route to entertain Allied troops in 1944, but what happened to him?

At the end of the 1930s, just as the Second World War was breaking out in Europe, Glen Miller’s band introduced America to the new, unique style of brassband music they had been working on for a number of years. It was a smooth, upbeat sound that struck an instant chord both with the middle-aged and an optimistic youth learning how to jive and swing.

Radio stations across America played Glenn Miller records all the time and Hollywood was quick to sign up the new star and his band. Two films were released:  Orchestra Wives in 1941 and Sun Valley Serenade in 1942. The Glen Miller Orchestra were the Beatles of their generation (or, for the younger reader, Oasis; and if you’re thinking of the One Direction, then you should be in bed by now). By early 1942, America had entered the fray, joining the Allied Forces in their efforts to repulse the Nazis. Miller enlisted later that year, on 7 October. On completion of his basic training, he transferred to the Army Air Corps: his first military assignment was to gather another orchestra, the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, with a brief to entertain Allied troops in Britain. He was delighted to be back in touch with his old Hollywood friend David Niven, whose job it was to arrange entertainment for the troops across Europe.

Eighteen months later, the D-Day landings signalled the start of the liberation of Europe and by November 1944 Paris was finally free of German soldiers. Even though Allied Bombers were still pouring across the English Channel on their way to tackle targets further into Europe, the Parisian party was now in full swing. David Niven organized a six-week tour for the Glenn Miller Band that was to begin in the French capital on 16 December 1944. The band were due to arrive on the 16th, but Miller wanted to travel a few days early to attend what he called a ‘social engagement’. Arrangements were duly made for him to fly from the airfield at Twinwood Farm near Bedford in a small American-built, propeller-driven craft called a ‘Noorduyn Norseman’ that would be piloted by John R. Morgan. Lieutenant Don Haynes, a show-business agent drafted into the US Air Force to manage the Glenn Miller Orchestra while on tour, drove his famous charge from London to RAF Milton Earnest to prepare for his cross-Channel flight the following day. According to Haynes, John Morgan arrived in the Norseman at Twinwood Farm at 1.40 p.m., collected Miller and, in spite of poor weather conditions, took off again at approximately 1.45 p.m. This was the last anyone saw of Glen Miller: he had vanished from the world and into the history books.

The alarm was raised when he failed to meet up with Don Haynes and the band in Paris four days later. After a frantic search of the entire city’s likely haunts, the Glenn Miller Orchestra had to play the show without their famous bandleader, announcing that ‘Major Miller cannot be with us tonight’. Nobody ever saw him again, or, at least, could prove that they had. The puzzle began in earnest when, just three days later, the United States military announced his death, which was extraordinary in itself, given that in the confusion of a recently liberated France many people went missing for much longer periods, often ‘absent without leave’ (AWOL).

The question was why would officials make such a final announcement so soon after the musician, albeit a world-famous one, simply failed to show up at a few concert performances? Pete Doherty does that all the time these days and nobody announces him dead as a result. It was a question Helen, Miller’s wife, also asked but not until over a year later, in February 1946, when Colonel Donnell wrote to inform her that her husband had been flying that day in a combat aircraft, not the Norseman, and that the plane had taken off from Abbots Ripton airfield near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, many miles from where Haynes had left Miller.

The mystery deepened when it was claimed that the flight had been bound for Bordeaux, far from Miller’s intended destination. There was no explanation of how he would be travelling the remaining distance within France. In fact, no further information was given at all, and so speculation raged about whether Miller had lied about his movements to his friends and the rest of the band, changing his stated plans at the last minute, or had gone AWOL, or even that he had been shot down by enemy fire. A military cover-up seemed increasingly likely. Imagine that: the military might not be telling the truth about something!

After the war, John Edwards, a former RAF officer, set out to prove Miller had been on board the Norseman, for which all he needed was a copy of the official accident report from the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis. But he drew a blank: that office maintained that the records had been ‘lost in a fire’, while the Washington Department of Records denied such a file had ever existed. Edwards’ efforts to prove the absence of a military cover-up began to convince him that the reverse must be true.

What he now wanted to know was why. And when some documents were finally discovered, they were found to be written illegibly, the signature blurred and undecipherable. This, strengthened by the fact that the military had initiated no search of any kind for the missing bandsman, began to fuel speculation that the US government knew exactly what had happened to Glenn Miller and had known it immediately, hence the early announcement of his death. After all, imagine Oasis singer Liam Gallagher going missing on a morale-raising visit to troops in Iraq, there being no search for him and the UK government firmly announcing he was dead only three days later, but without producing a body. Furthermore, no records of what had happened to him would ever be released while every government agency claimed to know nothing about it. On second thoughts, that is a bad example. With today’s government, led for so long by Tony Bliar (sic), and with the current Conservative non-opposition, it is all too easy to imagine.

What is known is that the Norseman did crash into the sea, as it was discovered by divers in 1985 six miles west of Le Touquet in northern France, but there was no evidence that Miller, or indeed anyone else, was on board at the time and the reasons for the accident remain inconclusive. All that was revealed is that the propeller was missing but not when or how it fell off.

In 1986 the novelist and former RAF pilot Wilbur Wright took up the challenge and asked the US Air Force Information Center in California for the accident report on the missing Norseman. He was informed that no accident had been reported on that day and, in fact, no Norseman aircraft had been reported as missing throughout December 1944. Another mystery and another lie, as Wright subsequently discovered that eight Norsemen had been reported missing that month.

Wright then repeatedly wrote to every US state department and records office he could find requesting information relating to the disappearance of Glenn Miller. But he was ignored until his letter of complaint to President Ronald Reagan encouraged a response out of the Military Reference Office. They confirmed there were several documents relating to the accident, but then failed to produce them. However, all other departments continued to insist all records had been lost, destroyed, mislaid or had never existed in the first place. When Wright telephoned George Chalou, the man in charge of the records office, to complain, he was alarmed by Chalou’s reaction during the conversation. According to Chalou (in a taped conversation with Wright): ‘They will never get them [the files] back either. Those files have been under lock and key for years and that is where they will be staying.’ There had been a cover-up after all.

After extensive research, Wilbur Wright’s eventual conclusion was worthy of one of his own novels: that Glenn Miller probably had arrived in Paris two days before his band, where he was met by David Niven. Niven then set off to dramatically rescue Marlene Dietrich from the clutches of the Nazis, while Miller holed up in a brothel in the Parisian red light district awaiting their return. Unfortunately, with time on his hands (and plenty of alcohol), he ended up becoming involved, and badly injured, in an unseemly bar brawl.

The American authorities were horrified to discover the world’s best-loved musician in a seedy brothel with a fractured skull. Miller was immediately airlifted to back to Ohio, but he later died of his injuries. Wright proposes three main strands of evidence. The first is based on the fact that David Niven makes no mention of Miller in his autobiography The Moon’s a Balloon, published in 1971, despite the pair knowing each other well. Wright sees this as indicating Niven’s awareness of the incident and his decision, for the sake of good grace and the Miller family honour, never to mention it again. (Indeed, he never even mentioned the name Glenn Miller to either his biographer, Sheridan Morley, or to his second wife.)

The second line of ‘proof’ given by Wright is that Helen Miller soon moved to Pasadena in California where she bought a burial plot with room for six graves. As her immediate family consisted of five people – herself, her son, daughter and parents – it is therefore assumed that Miller himself occupies the last plot. When asked, the cemetery administrators denied Miller’s presence but took a full fifteen months to reply to Wright’s letter of enquiry, suggesting to Wright that both the family and local grave diggers were in on the cover-up. For him the clinching piece of evidence is that, in 1954, a Parisian prostitute – still plying her trade opposite Fred’s Bar, the brothel bar where Miller was alleged to have been drinking the night he went missing – told somebody that her then boyfriend had told her what had happened to Glenn Miller, confirming the whole Parisian brothel story.

If that all seems a bit thin – and let’s face it, it does – that’s because the authorities only needed to remove one word and the whole cover-up could have been completely unnecessary. Think about the difference between reading ‘Glenn Miller died after being involved in a fight in a brothel bar’ and ‘Glenn Miller died after being involved in a fight in a bar’. That’s it, no international outcry, just a respectable period of public mourning. No shame would have been heaped upon the Miller family and no extensive and complicated cover-up story would have been necessary. But if Wright’s hypothesis is true, how could all those people who would need to have been involved for this story to have any basis in fact – including any witnesses, the French police, military personnel, flight crew, medics, doctors, nurses, administrators, grave diggers, family, friends, Uncle Tom Cobbley and probably Inspector Clouseau himself – have not failed to give the game away hundreds of times over the ensuing fifty years? Instead we have the silence of a film star, a six-berth burial plot and the testimony of a Parisian tart well past its sell-by date.

My vote goes with the recent evidence that has emerged that Miller was on board the Norseman after all. The new story has a much more convincing explanation of the American fear of the truth coming out. According to this theory, Miller boarded the Norseman at Twinwood Farm on 14 December 1944, just as Don Haynes said. The aircraft took off at 1.45 p.m. By 2.40 p.m. it was travelling through what was known as a jettison zone in the English Channel, an area set aside for returning bombers to drop their undischarged loads safely into the sea before they crossed the south coast. A fully laden bomber exploding on landing could wipe out an entire air base, so the jettison zone was stringently enforced.

The only bomber to use the jettison zone that afternoon is known to have crossed it at around 3.40, at the time Miller should have been landing in Paris, and so it has never been thought relevant to the Miller mystery before. However, it has only recently been noticed that, while the Miller flight would have been charted on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), all military flight operations were logged using Central European Time, which is one hour later. Therefore bombers were releasing their loads directly over the area Miller’s Norseman would have been flying through, at a much lower level and in the opposite direction. Did the Americans hit their favourite musician with some not-so-friendly fire? There is certainly strong witness evidence to suggest they did, including some of the military aircrew themselves.

Fred Shaw, a navigator in one of the bombers, claimed, in an interview for an amateur film, that he saw the bombs his aircraft jettisoned strike a small plane beneath him. According to Shaw: ‘I had never seen a bombing before so I crawled from my navigator seat and put my head up into the observation blister. I saw a small high-wing monoplane, a Noorduyn Norseman, underneath us.’ Mr Shaw claimed he didn’t make any connection to the disappearance of Glenn Miller until he saw The Glenn Miller Story in 1956. ‘There is a kite down there, I told the rear gunner, there’s a kite gone in,’ Shaw continued. ‘He then replied, yeah, I saw it too.’ At the time authorities had dismissed his claims as a publicity-seeking exercise, but Shaw remained adamant he had seen the small plane spiral out of control as a result of being hit.

In a sworn statement, given on 10 April 1999, Fred W. Atkinson Jr, a member of the 320th Air Transport Squadron responsible for taking Miller to Paris, stated the following:

You will recall in the movie, The Glenn Miller Story, the letter that Glenn Miller wrote to his wife that day [in which] he expressed the feeling that he might not see them again. Given the weather conditions and the type of aircraft that was a realistic probability. Several days after our plane left London, we were notified that an aircraft that might be ours had crashed on the coast of France and that the occupants were dead. We dispatched a plane to that location and the aircraft and the bodies of our pilots were identified. Our crew also said that the other body definitely was that of Glenn Miller. They said there were identification papers and dogtags on his body.

Our second crew that was in London at the time verified they had witnessed Glenn Miller and our two pilots board the aircraft and depart Twinning Farm. I recall the papers being processed to salvage our aircraft and report the death of our pilots on the squadron morning report. This report was turned in on a daily basis and notes the changes in status of all personnel as they occur. We had not experienced any deaths in our squadron until this time and this was a ‘double whammy’ to us because of the loss of our pilots and the loss to the US Armed Forces of probably the greatest morale booster (along with Bob Hope) that we all loved.

The flight logbook of another airman, Derek Thurman, appeared to corroborate the claim: ‘The bomb aimed down in the nose saw an aircraft first, [and] remarked on it. The navigator shot out of his seat to have a look through a side blister [window] and he saw it sort of whip by, then the rear gunner said “it’s gone in”, sort of flipped over and went in. Whether it was brought down by a blast from one of the bombs, or was hit, is anybody’s guess, really.’

These three reports, all from independent sources, are consistent in the details they provide. The idea that a small aircraft could have been hit or damaged by an explosion nearby, thus causing its pilot to ditch it on to the beach, breaking its propeller, is not so far-fetched. And if so, the idea that the American military may have recovered the bodies, then dragged the prop-free plane back into the sea and created a cover story, is a racing certainty.

It tends to be the case that the first information to emerge from a suspicious incident such as the Miller mystery is the most accurate and reliable, especially where governments are concerned, as they won’t have had time to concoct a story to suit their purposes. For my money, Miller was accidentally shot down by the very military he was travelling to Europe to entertain. The Miller family were told the truth, which explains the sixth burial plot, and in return for their patriotism in never speaking publicly of the accident, were handsomely compensated for their loss. David Niven, on the other hand, was warned he would never work in Hollywood again if he ever mentioned the matter to anybody, so he didn’t; and the French prostitute was just looking to sell a story for enough francs to buy a new horse whip and a couple of cheap bottles of Beaujolais.

It is hard to conceive of a more ludicrous story than the idea Glenn Miller was beaten up in a Parisian bordello and died of his injuries. In the case of Liam Gallagher, however, I doubt there would be any such cover-up if he was found dead in a Basra brothel. Although these days it’s far more likely he would be stabbed on the school run by a teenager after his mobile phone.

Extract from Gone Missing

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Albert Jack’s Other Books – US   UK

Who Really Makes Crop Circles?

Strange formations in fields of wheat and other crops have been appearing since the 1970s. Are they made by aliens parking their spaceships, or is the explanation rather more down to earth?

Of all the subjects I’ve explored for this book, the one I was most looking forward to finding more about was crop circles. For years I had been hoping there would be an extraordinary paranormal explanation for crop-circle appearances or, better still, that we were being visited by aliens from other worlds. Then, when it became clear that most of the circles were in fact hoaxes, I relished the thought that I would finally have the chance to dismiss all the crop-circle fanatics I have heard on the radio over the years talking with great passion about the temporary parking of invisible spacecraft in a field, leaving behind an imprint in the flattened wheat when they zoom back into outer space. The only extra bit of evidence offered for this startling conclusion appearing to be that witnesses claim flocks of birds veer around crop-circle sites as if avoiding or circumnavigating something the rest of us cannot see.

I was looking forward to poking fun at the gaping holes left in the arguments of these so-called experts when expounding their elaborate theories on the six o’clock news. Indeed, I wish I had phoned in once, just once, and asked that sanctimonious old fellow on the BBC, who appeared to be contradicting himself every five minutes, a couple of simple questions: how, then, do you explain the crop circles that have appeared directly underneath power lines – how could a spaceship have landed there? And why choose that spot when there was plenty of field in which to land without being so inconvenienced? In fact, I would pose these questions to him now if I hadn’t switched the radio off through sheer boredom, not bothering to find out his name.

At the same time I hoped that the circles weren’t all hoaxes and that I could also expose the hoaxers, who seemed to be making a real nuisance of themselves. But having studied the evidence and looked at the extreme lengths to which the hoaxers have been prepared to go, I am no longer so sure I can.

The very first recorded example of a crop circle is a woodcut dated 1678 and entitled ‘The Mowing-Devil: or, Strange News out of Hartford-shire’ (sic), and it shows a devil cutting out a pattern in a field of wheat using a scythe. The text explains that the greedy farmer had refused to pay a reasonable fee to the workers for the harvest that year and announced he would rather have the Devil do the work instead. The following morning he woke to find Old Nick had done just that and the farmer became too scared to enter the field ever again and so the harvest, and his occupation, were lost.

However, crop circles didn’t come to the public’s attention until three centuries after this – in the late 1970s. Their relatively sudden appearance caused a sensation as the British press fought each other for the best photographs. Keen to get ahead of the trend, several of the newspapers began employing circle makers to create ever more elaborate patterns throughout the countryside and, in the process, obviously guaranteeing themselves the first and best pictures of this mysterious new phenomenon sweeping the land.

But, while newspapers may have employed circle makers to create some of the circles they photographed, this wasn’t known about at the time and the circles appeared, for the most part, not to be manmade in origin. During the early 1980s, crop circles began to attract serious interest with the discovery of a formation at a place called Cheesefoot Head, a high point on the chalk downlands close to Winchester. Here, a circle fifty-two feet in diameter was flanked by two others exactly half the size symmetrically placed north and south of the larger circle. The perfect spiralling of the flattened straw and precision placement of the formation proved very difficult to explain at the time, scientifically or otherwise. Other formations soon began to appear in wheat, grass, rapeseed oil and many other crops. Researchers started to study the designs and began to believe that individually, or collectively, they amounted to coded messages or directions to something as yet unknown, by intelligent beings also as yet unknown. Other physical features were pointed out, such the way a circle was aligned with the sun or moon, leading to the idea that supernatural forces were at work across the English countryside. It seemed that such mathematically precise formations – especially the increasingly complicated circles that were emerging by the late 1980s – were not, and could never be, the work of man himself.

Then in 1991 two elderly landscape artists, Dave Chorley and Doug Bower, fired an arrow directly into the heart of the ever growing crop-circle fan club by admitting they had been making them by hand since the 1970s, after reading about the famous so-called ‘saucer nests’ (impressions left in the crops by some disc-shaped object) that had appeared in Australia. By the time they retired from the ‘business’, Doug and Dave had successfully completed over 250 crop circles across southern England.

Crop Cirlce Artists

Doug and Dave’s inspiration, the Australian ‘saucer nests’, were a collection of seven circles in the wheat fields near Bordertown, Australia. Pre-dating these, and providing the original source of inspiration for all the modern-day crop circles that followed, was the Tully Saucer Nest, which appeared on 19 January 1966 on a piece of land at Horseshoe Lagoon near Tully, north of Queensland.

After the fruits of Doug and Dave’s labours in Hampshire and Wiltshire started to attract public attention, a veritable epidemic began to spread. Crop circles popped up everywhere. Each was immediately studied by experts, who either dismissed it as a hoax or accepted it as genuine – that is, not created by man. Artists competed to confound these so-called experts: having one of their circles ‘proved’ genuine was the highest accolade – albeit hugely ironic that for a circle to be good enough to be considered genuine implied that no artist had been involved in its creation. And this was a form of art, after all, even if the medium was rather avant garde: during the 1980s and 1990s, it was on a par with cutting a cow in half, preserving it in formaldehyde and displaying it at the Tate Modern. But it’s all art, isn’t it?

Not according to the scientists and followers of the growing crop-circle community, it wasn’t; it was deception and it continually interrupted their serious research into what appeared to be a brand-new type of paranormal activity. As their resentment grew, so the work of the circle makers became increasingly elaborate. As soon as one design was considered too intricate for humans to create, another one would appear that was even more complicated. And the (probably cashing-in) stories from farmers about strange lights and howling animals deepened the mystery, as did apparent reports of military helicopters hovering around circle sites.

One crop circle appeared in a field close to Stonehenge, the spiritual home of the Druids, shortly before the summer solstice in 1996. Predictably enough, the summer solstice, falling on around 21 June, is Stonehenge’s busiest day of the year and in 1996 it was even busier. The great unwashed descended in force to appreciate the new mysterious formation and spent ages analysing each bent stem of wheat, taking electromagnetic recordings of earth samples and recording detailed cross-measurements of the circle.

The press arrived in their helicopters and photographs of the circle appeared on television and in every newspaper. When crop-circle enthusiasts began to turn up in their anorak-clad droves, the farmer erected a shed and charged an entry fee to his field, to help ‘compensate for the damage’. By the end it is estimated he had collected over £30,000, a good day’s work when set against the £150 of damaged wheat. ‘That will be treble gin and tonics all round, please, landlord, and keep an eye out for the taxman.’

Crop circling has become big business: small companies offer gullible businessmen helicopter flights over crop circle formations. Bus tours are provided, hotels are always full in the vicinity of new designs and local tradespeople benefit from the arrival of enthusiasts. Then there are the films, books, television documentaries and radio programmes, not to mention the T-shirts and photograph collections on sale.

But there is a very good reason why those involved rarely own up to the deception and that motive is not necessarily the taxman. The main reason is that, despite open hostility between the crop-circle believers and the circle makers, usually in the direction of the circle makers, the two opposing factions are completely dependent upon each other, because, as any artist will tell you, national publicity is hard to come by.

Without the suggestion of unknown forces at work, very few people would take an interest in crop-circle art on its own merit, so artists need the mythmakers to continue to be as vocal as possible every time a circle appears. Equally, without the circle makers, there would be no circles for otherwise bored individuals to fly over and photograph, or take to the fields en masse with their measuring tapes and electronic devices for measuring unusual electrical activity.

In the debate about whether crop circles are manmade or whether created by supernatural forces of some kind, the balance of evidence tips very much towards the the former. The circle makers have proved pretty conclusively that they are able to create elaborate and complicated designs using relatively simple resources – string, planks of wood, plastic piping and a garden roller – in a matter of a few hours. They have actually been filmed doing it, but the believers, while accepting that some circles are manmade, still prefer to wonder why their mobile phones fail to work in crop circles, or why flattened wheat is less electrically charged than the standing wheat nearby. Any schoolchild with a basic understanding of physics could step forward and enlighten them by explaining that standing wheat will act like an aerial and attract the atmosphere’s electromagnetic charge better than the flattened stems. Presumably that is why all lightning conductors point upwards from the roof of your house, and do not lie flat in the back garden. And, what’s more, my mobile phone doesn’t seem to work anywhere in the countryside, let alone in the middle of a field.

All the pseudo-science offered as solid evidence simply doesn’t stand up to detailed cross-examination. Nothing has been suggested to prove that crop circles are made by anything other than man himself. There is absolutely no credible evidence of mysterious forces at work, and as is always the case when it comes to proving such things, we will need to see a real alternative to the ‘man in a cap with a plank of wood working at night’ principle. Don’t expect many people to believe that ancient ruins under the ground are responsible, or mini tornadoes, plasma vortexes or any other freak of nature, because if any of these could have created the circles, then it should be easy enough for scientists to prove, or at least reconstruct under controlled conditions. But nobody ever has.

Already I can hear the believers sharpening their tongues in order to dismiss me as a CIA plant or part of a wide-ranging government cover-up programme denying the existence of extraterrestrial forces and/or denying the coded messages left in wheat fields by visitors from Mars. That is what the crop believers usually do to vocal opponents of their mystic beliefs, and I am already looking forward to discussing it. Because there is no tangible evidence of any intergalactic interference in our wheat fields and the only slight piece of evidence ever offered always turns out to be a hoax, later admitted by the hoaxers themselves.

Usually they are the very same circle makers proving to the world how easily fooled the experts are and showing us exactly how they created them. In one such case, from 1996, called the ‘Oliver’s Castle Video’, balls of lights, referred to by the experts as ‘BOLs’, were filmed floating across a field while a crop circle mysteriously appeared directly underneath and the cameraman was heard to whisper, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’

Never having been in that position myself, I do not know how I might react if I saw such a thing happen right in front of me, but I imagine it is rather more likely that I would be running down the lane screaming in terror, having dropped all my equipment. Equally suspicious is the way in which the camera stays fixed on the field where the crop circle appears, whereas most cameramen would tend to follow the balls of light with their lens, not hold the camera in one position as the BOLs floated in and out of view.

Further investigation revealed that it was indeed a hoax. John Wheyleigh, a young man from Bath, had created the illusion by filming a wheat field and using an editing programme to create the BOLs and then gradually faded out some of the wheat to leave the effect of a crop circle design. The film caused a sensation and enthusiasts all over the world tried to contact Wheyleigh, but without success.

Digging a little deeper, it came as no surprise to find that ‘Wheyleigh’ wasn’t his real name. The young man in question actually turned out to be one John Wabe, a partner in a video-editing company. Needless to say, he sold his video, made a documentary about how he had created his film, and apparently signed a lucrative contract with a television company. Predictably, he has made himself thoroughly unpopular with the more resentment-prone members of the crop circle and UFO communities across the world, some even threatening to sue him. Others, meanwhile, quietly ignored the hoax and carried on with their important research into intergalactic ‘messages’ left in fields of wheat.

The believers dismiss the evidence of circle makers’ as the ‘Doug and Dave effect’. Television documentaries about manmade circles are known as ‘Doug and Dave-style programmes’, and so on. So blinkered have some of them become that any suggestion of a circle being manmade is derided. (Sceptical believers – now there’s a conundrum …) In the meantime they have given their ‘science’ a special name. Cereology, they call it and no, neither I nor the Microsoft spellchecker have ever heard of that word either.

I am already ordering my insult-proof vest in preparation for the publication of this book because I have a feeling the best reaction I can expect from the community of cereologists is to be called an idiot. We shall see. Of course, as with all of these types of mystery, it is simply impossible to prove a negative. Some people will believe whatever they want to believe, although most of us need to see the firm evidence first, so – as with the Bigfoot mystery – please show us a carcass; some real big evidence to support your real big claims.

One company, called circlemakers and run by British artist and documentary film maker John Lundberg, makes no attempt to hide its identity, or its work. The company even accepts commercial commissions to create crop circles and has done so all over the world. In one case it created a well-known cereal company logo and in another the Sun newspaper asked it to make a huge crop logo of the five Olympic rings to support Britain in its bid to hold the next Games. The following day they ran a front-page headline, ‘Aliens Back Our Bid’, and printed the photograph underneath. Just stop for a minute and wonder how many people in Great Britain, or even across the world, actually believed that headline. Very few, I imagine, but I expect some dyed-in-the-wool cereologists did, even so. When asked why he does it, John has stated that, among the numerous reasons for creating crop circles, the chief one is ‘being able to construct something that most people believe to be beyond human capability’.

Now, for me, that is a pretty good reason to do anything, and good luck to him. On their website ( the group claim the circles they create are actually ‘genuine’ in the sense that there is no attempt on their part to deceive anybody. They are open about their art and ridicule many of the so-called crop-circle ‘experts’ who claim to have had visits from outer space or other paranormal experiences. Well, you would too if you had spent a hard night in a wheat field constructing a giant spiral spelling out the word ‘Wheetabix’ only for somebody to claim it to be the work of little green men from Mars.

So, of the many explanations for the sudden appearance of elaborate designs found in some fields of wheat, ranging from the paranormal to the extraterrestrial, none of them have ever been supported by any genuine evidence. And therefore none of them are as convincing as the most likely explanation – a man in a cap with some string and a plank of wood, plus a flask of tea to keep him going – which is continually dismissed by the cereologists.

So, now, I have changed my mind. I began by believing the circle makers were a bloody nuisance and wanted to find out what, if anything, had created the circles they did not. But instead the only solid evidence I can find is that people have created all of them, so now I respect their art, for art’s sake, and hope crop circles continue to appear in more and more clever and elaborate forms – and some of them are very clever indeed. The meditation groups down in Sussex who sit in crop circles contemplating whatever it is they contemplate, can happily continue to do so as far as I’m concerned, although I think the artist should charge them a fee for it in future. Perhaps he/she could leave out a saucer for the money to be placed in. Although, on second thoughts, that might create even more confusion.

But for the many who dismiss the circle makers as publicity seekers and hoaxers, I have had another idea. Imagine H. G. Wells’s time machine, only from outside the machine rather than inside it; in other words, we just happen to be walking past the site of the inventor’s house as he flashes through our time zone on his way to the year 30,000 or whenever. You wouldn’t see the actual time machine as it would be travelling too quickly, but its track or footprint would suddenly appear right in front of you, then gradually fade away over the next few weeks. There you are: that’s my alternative explanation for crop circles. Scientists of the distant future have managed to build time machines and these are racing backwards and forwards through our own time zone leaving the footprint of their time machines in our fields, where they are actually standing in thousands of years’ time. That would explain why the birds fly around them too. Now, is that any more ridiculous than any of the other theories you have heard from the real experts? And I just made that up, for fun.

But in the meantime the two opposing groups should, in my humble opinion, try to get on with each other. The artists should be allowed to continue creating their art without having their cars vandalized by the believers, and the believers should be allowed to run around in a field measuring bent wheat-straws and taking soil samples without people like me making fun of them. And as to that, I really will try to restrain myself in future, but I can’t promise anything.

(You can call me Doug from now on, or Dave.)

Agent Jack

Extract from Mysterious World

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