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

Albert Jack books available for download here

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.
Eilean MoreThe 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.
eleanmorWhen 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.
gonemissingthThe 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

Albert Jack books available for download here

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.

Albert Jack books available for download here

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 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.

Extract from Mysterious World

Albert Jack books available for download here

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

Albert Jack books available for download here

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

Albert Jack books available for download here

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.)

Extract from Mysterious World

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