Investigation by Dr. Mality

"We won't get fooled again!!!"--The Who

Matt Whitton and Rick Dyer couldn't believe what they had found crumpled next to a creek in the remote woods of North Georgia...a huge hairy carcass of a man-like creature, in the early stages of decomposition. Unbelievable as it seemed, there was only one thing that the stinking corpse could be...Bigfoot! Never mind that the hulking giant's usual stomping ground were the Pacific Northwest.

Unwilling to leave the body unguarded, Whitton, a policeman, stayed by the body for nine hours while Dyer got a pick-up truck to haul the 500 pound corpse away. During that time, Whitton said that three other "Bigfeet" were lurking in the area.

Whitton and Dyer got a hold of "professional Sasquatch hunter" Tom Biscardi and told him about their phenomenal discovery. The involvement of Biscardi already raised a ton of red flags concerning the validity of the find...Biscardi is well-known and disliked in the Bigfoot community as a huckster and hoaxer. Soon enough, with Biscardi's help, the word was out about the spectacular find. The men promised that they would soon reveal the corpse to the world and allow scientific access to the dead man-ape. When the press repeatedly asked to see at least one photo of the corpse, the men gave out some pictures of what they said was the mouth and tongue of the dead creature. Although skepticism ran high in the cryptozoology community, there was also a lot of excitement.

It didn't take long for the excitement to vanish like fog in the morning sunlight. In fact, what was amazing about the above story is how anybody could have been fooled by it in the least. When the "body" was examined, it was found to be a rubber suit stuffed with animal entrails. Whitton and Dyer changed their story at least ten times prior to the revelation that it was all a hoax and afterwards, admitted it was "all a joke...we just took it as far as it could go". Whitton's bosses weren't amused...he was fired for lying to the public.

As for Biscardi, the well-known con-man has been charging people money to see "evidence" for Bigfoot for years. Naturally, he says he wasn't in on the Georgia Bigfoot Hoax..."they scammed me,too", he says. Sure...even though his website Searching For Bigfoot was charging the public $2.00 a pop to see "conclusive" photos of the corpse.

The negative publicity the obvious hoax created for those seriously interested in the Bigfoot mystery was embarrassing and overwhelming. And it points out one of the greatest pitfalls for those who want to investigate the unknown...how the willingness to believe can betray common sense and logical deduction.

I am a firm believer that there are many things out there in the universe that we do not fully understand. But believing in the unknown doesn't mean putting all your reasoning ability under the sofa and swallowing everything you're told hook, line and sinker. In this edition of Wormwood Files, we'll look at just a very few of the more notorious paranormal hoaxes.

Bigfoot has always been a favorite subject for hoaxers. In addition to Tom Biscardi, Ivan Marx is another name that often comes up in discussions of Sasquatch hoaxers. I just recently saw Marx's infamous 1973 film "The Legend of Bigfoot", which purported to show the intrepid naturalist tracking the elusive hominid to its lair in a swamp. We get to hear Marx's melodramatic commentary such as "This proved my theory was right! Bigfoot was a harmless herbivore...a creature at one with the Earth!" while we see footage of hairy creatures eating roots and berries. The Bigfeet are slightly convincing at long range...closer views reveal them as regular sized humans apparently dressed up in carpet samples. The smaller of the two creatures was reportedly Marx's wife Peggy in a suit. Marx was roundly jeered and brickbatted, but always maintained the footage was real. The question that I had, though, was WHO took the camera footage of Marx getting the footage of Bigfoot?

The most famous piece of Bigfoot evidence usually gets derided as a fake, also. This is the jumpy footage that Roger Patterson shot of a female Bigfoot at Bluff Creek, California in 1967. More than 40 years later, the controversy rages about the Patterson film. But no one has ever conclusively produced a "smoking gun" demonstrating the footage is fake. In fact, many respectable scientists such as John Green and Jeff Meldrum have gone on record saying that this footage could not possibly be a fake...no human could imitate the peculiar gait of the creature.

Nonetheless, that never stopped a flood of criticism of the Patterson footage. For a long time, the rumor was that
famous Hollywood make-up man John Chambers, who created the make-up for "Planet of the Apes", had constructed the suit. Chambers denied on his deathbed that he had anything to do with it. When a BBC documentary crew in the early 2000's spent thousands of dollars to recreate the Bigfoot footage with as much fidelity as they could manage...creating an expensive suit and filming in the exact same area in Bluff Creek...the resulting film looked very little like the original. In fact, it was obvious that the BBC footage...created by an experienced team for tens of thousands of dollars...looked much more phony than the original. So despite constant hoots from skeptics, it certainly cannot be proven that the Patterson film was a hoax. Patterson passed away in the early 70's, so unless some sort of confession is found, the real answer will now never be known.

Hoaxes exist in all phases of the paranormal. There is not a single phenomenon which has not been hoaxed for fun or profit. Haunted houses have produced many questionable stories. The most famous "true" ghost story of recent decades, "The Amityville Horror", has been thoroughly blown apart as a complete fabrication. Yet many researchers still cite the incident as being a piece of real evidence. The notorious Borley Rectory, "the most haunted house in England", was the location of an audacious "scientific" exploration by Harry Price. But Price's evidence was full of flaws, if not outright fraud, and it seems clear that he was as much huckster as investigator. There are still many fascinating details about the Borley investigations that defy analysis...the whole subject deserves a Wormwood Files of its own.

Monstrous "creeps from the deep" are also been the subject of hoaxing as much as their land-lubber compatriots. Perhaps the most famous monster photo of all time, "The Surgeon's Photograph" of what seems to be the Loch Ness Monster's snaky neck rising from the water, is now known to be a fake. That has led to ALL pictures of strange things in the Loch being labelled fake...as if Dr. Kenneth Wilson had somehow managed to fake every single picture of Nessie that had ever been taken. Another infamous hoax involving Loch Ness came when dozens of huge, round footprints were found on the shores of the lake. Had Nessie emerged from the deep at last? No such luck...it was discovered that an umbrella stand made from a hippo's foot had been stamped in the mud to act as Nessie's foot!

There have been plenty of lake monster hoaxes. Without a doubt, the most successful was the Serpent of Silver Lake, NY. If anybody wants to study how to do a successful large-scale hoax for a long period of time, take a look at how the Silver Lake con-men did it.

It all started on July 13, 1855, when six fishermen went out on placid Silver Lake at night for a little after-hours fishing. The night was brightly illuminated by moon and stars, so the men easily saw a huge log-like object calmly approaching their boat. When they saw it was a living creature, panic set in and they frantically tried to get away. Apparently, their agitation spread to the monster, which lashed the water with its tail, almost capsizing the boat. The fishermen made it to shore, but were frightened out of their wits by what they had seen.

More sightings quickly followed. The sleepy nearby town of Perry suddenly became the focus of furious activity and visits from the curious. A bounty was put on the monster's head. A party of tough whalers came in to try and harpoon the beast. Affidavit after affidavit was sworn before a judge attesting to the presence of a giant serpent in Silver Lake. The Walker House, the only hotel in Perry, was always bursting to the seams with would-be monster hunters and those curious to see what all the commotion was about. Business in Perry was booming.

Sightings tapered off in 1856 but the creature was still seen. Then, in 1857, the Walker House burned down due to a fire. In the ruins was discovered a most curious object: a giant mass of burnt rubber attached to a metal frame. Flabbergasted, the truth dawned on the monster hunters....the creature was a fake!

In fact, it was the clever invention of Mr. A.B. Walker, owner of the Walker House, who desperate to drum up business for his hotel and have some fun while doing it. The construction of the "Serpent" was a masterpiece of engineering: a body of canvas and rubber was built around a hollow metal frame. The "monster" was then sunk to the bottom of the lake, but a tube was attached to a nearby shed, where air from a giant bellows could be forced into the hollow body, causing the monster to rise to the surface. With the help of cleverly concealed ropes attached in other directions as well as some weights attached to the body, the monster would seem to move and maneuver like a living thing once Walker operated the bellows.

Walker was run out of town on a rail when the news about the fake monster spread. But time heals all wounds and when he gingerly returned to town in 1868, he was considered a hero for helping to bring business to the town. He opened another hotel which he ran until his death in 1889.

Sea monsters have also been hoaxed. In 1965, the world was captivated for a time by photos taken at remote Hook Island off Australia that seemed to clearly show a gigantic serpentine creature. The French "adventurer" Robert Le Serrec, accompanied by his family and colleague Henk De Jong, was crossing Stonehaven Bay when his wife brought his attention to a huge object lying in crystal clear water at the bottom of the bay.

As shown in the accompanying photos, this was a most unusual sea serpent. It resembled a giant tadpole, with a massive head and a long, eel-like body. The creature was clearly in some kind of distress, if not dead. Careful examination showed a deep, whitish wound in the monster's back tail. Sensing that they had a tremendous discovery on their hands, le Serrec and de Jong went back to shore to quickly get underwater cameras and scuba equipment. They would get as close as possible to the creature.

The duo got within 20 yards of the creature and quickly discovered that it was not dead but was obviously not well. The underwater footage the two shot was virtually worthless...too murky and grainy to be of much use, which was pretty strange considering the clarity of the shots taken on the surface. Le Serrec estimated the creature's total length was around 75 feet. When he and de Jong moved close to the monster, it suddenly "opened its jaws in a menacing manner" and angled its head towards them. The men quickly retreated back to their boat and who could blame them? But they were sure that they had evidence of one of the greatest zoological finds in history.

Le Serrec didn't waste much time cashing in. The Australian magazine Everything and the French magazine Paris
Match paid handsomely for the photographs of the monster and reproduced them, setting off a firestorm of publicity. Many zoologists were immediately suspicious and it wasn't long before le Serrec's tale was getting picked to pieces. The great cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, the ultimate authority on sea monsters, said almost immediately that the photos were a hoax. He noted the strange placement of the monster's eyes as proof, noting that no other animal on Earth had eyes positioned so uselessly on the top of the head. He believed the creature was a custom-cut length of black vinyl or plastic that was weighted down with sand on the bottom of Stonehaven Bay. In recent times, digital technology has enabled people to see that sand indeed seems to be on the edges of the "monster".

When le Serrec's own character and reputation were investigated, things really began to fall apart. He apparently owed a lot of people money and was being sought by numerous creditors. In 1959, he first told associates that he had "an idea which will bring in a lot of money...it has to do with the sea serpent". Following this revelation, le Serrec was arrested and sentenced to six months in jail, leaving a sour taste once again in the mouths of those who thought a true sea serpent had been discovered at last.

Again, the willingness to BELIEVE is the hoaxer's greatest accomplice. Even those with strong scientific and investigative credentials can be hoodwinked if they have conditioned themselves to believe any tale of the unusual or paranormal. The following example will wrap up our little essay...and provide rather hilarious evidence of just how someone can allow themselves to be fooled.

The date was February 1948 when the strange tracks first began to appear on the sandy beaches of Clearwater, Florida. They were clearly not human...they were fourteen inches long and eleven inches across and had three triangular toes. The tracks came out of the ocean and meandered along the coastline for almost two miles before vanishing back into the waves. The police investigated and were baffled. Then came a report of an unnamed young couple who had seen something huge come out of the ocean and "waddle" along the beach.

If that had been the only appearance of the tracks, it's likely the incident would have been forgotten as a local oddity. But the tracks reoccured many times during the following months. Once they were even seen on the muddy bank of the Suwanee River, over forty miles away from the ocean. In addition, more people were beginning to see odd things. A couple of pilots spotted an improbable looking creature that was half gator, half elephant seal swimming in the sea near Clearwater.

The world-famous cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson was quickly on the case. At one point, Sanderson claimed that he himself saw a 20 foot long unidentified creature swimming in the Suwanee River as he he flew overhead in a prop plane. After studying the footprints and the eyewitness reports, Sanderson reached an outrageous conclusion: the culprit was a species of gigantic penguin that was probably native to the far Antarctic seas and which was driven to South Florida by some sort of natural catastrophe.

Sanderson's theory drew hoots of derision from many, but nobody had a better idea. The tracks finally stopped showing up, the eyewitness reports tapered to nothing and everything went back to normal in Clearwater. Sanderson turned his pursuit to other cryptids such as the Yeti and the Mokele-Mbembe before passing away in 1973.

It is just as well that Sanderson died then, because in 1988, the truth came out about the whole incident, courtesy of one Tony Signorini. It was he who had created the tracks, with the help of a now-deceased friend Al Williams. The whole thing was a crude practical joke...the duo had rigged up a huge pair of "monster boots" that Signorini had used to fake the prints. Since there was actual steel in the boots, the prints sunk deep into the sand or mud. One has to be amazed at Signorini's determination and physical conditioning, to create literally thousands of tracks, some going for miles...it had to be very hard work.

The other amazing thing is how an educated, respected scientist like Ivan Sanderson could have been so completely fooled by such a simple trick. Throughout his career, Sanderson was always "seeing cryptids" but somehow never in a way where he could get proof. It seems the possibility of a hoax never entered his mind. This is where the willingness to believe undid him. Moreover, once the tracks were publicized, people began to "see the monster". At first, descriptions were odd and varying...but once the "penguin" theory got out, everybody started to see giant birds.

What exactly were people seeing, then? Maybe, just what they wanted to see...what the tracks had prepared them to see. Perhaps some were known animals that got misidentified in the hysteria....possibly a couple were real mystery animals, but that's unlikely. The whole "giant penguin" story is not only good for a laugh, but also a cautionary tale to investigators of the strange to try and retain some skepticism.

Here at Wormwood Files, we take delight in examining all the strange and unknown things that confound the hide-bound, orthodox thinkers in the mainstream. There are REAL mysteries out there that deserve to be examined with an open mind, but no doubt, there are a lot of fakes and phonies to take advantage of the gullible as well. DON'T BE A RUBE!!!

This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights.