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Hoaxes WIll Always Haunt Paranormal History

The world of paranormality is perfectly suited for charlatans, shysters, hucksters, con men, pathological liars, attention whores, and sociopaths in general, so it’s no wonder there is a long history of high-profile paranormal hoaxdom littering the realm’s shadowy streets.

In writing for Mysterious Universe, I’ve in essence, adopted this paranormal highway as my own, and as a responsible adopt-a-highway practitioner, it is my job to pick up the litter on both sides of it. As my first paranormal community service effort, I’ve picked up some of the biggest paranormal, and cryptid-related, hoaxes I could find and deposited them here for your viewing pleasure.

I hope my efforts are an inspiration to others to do the same, so that we might clean up the paranormal world and deposit its trash in the appropriate receptacle. In this case, that receptacle is a bin that is open for public display and scrutiny, namely MysteriousUniverse.org.

So hocus pocus, alacazam, here are six paranormal stories that weren’t worth a damn.

Television Show Exploits Ghosts for Ratings

In 1992 the BBC aired a show called Ghostwatch. The show followed a team of paranormal investigators as they examined a home purported to have exhibited centuries of ghostly activity.

Sounds like a dozen shows currently airing on cable television doesn’t it? Wait. There’s more.

The show was broadcast as a special live presentation without commercial interruption, as if it was so important to the public, that tainting it with advertisements would be a classless move on the part of the BBC.

The broadcast proved to be intense.

The investigators encountered voices, possessions, apparitions, and every other haunted house cliche ever used in mainstream film. The viewing audience ate it up.

The airing of Ghostwatch caused such a stir, the BBC was eventually pressured into admitting the show was concocted by writers and then issuing an apology for frightening many of its viewers. They then imposed a 10-year ban on showing the special again.

While it wasn’t an intentional hoax, as the broadcast did include credits identifying both the writer and actors, it is similar enough to Orson Welles’ famous reading of War of the Worlds on radio that sent some listeners into hysterics in 1938, that I feel it is of historical significance among incidents of paranormal shenanigans.

I also included it because it makes me wonder if the producers of Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found and Mermaids: The New Evidence took lessons from this mockumentary-style broadcast. I also wonder how many of today’s ghost shows owe their success to the formula discovered by the airing of Ghostwatch.

Some Could Use a Few Lessons From Spielberg

Russian Teen Alien Siberia

This entry on the hoax list is a double feature of sorts.

Several dead alien hoaxes have been sold to the public as legitimate extra terrestrials in recent years. Most of these were so obviously faked, the hucksters may as well have claimed their aliens were real-life martian, and then produced an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator as proof of their origin.

In 2011, two Russian teenagers released video of what could have been the biggest find in the history of mankind, but further review revealed a being constructed of the leftovers from a bucket of chicken.

In the video the teens are shown locating a dead alien in a snowy, Irkutsk, Siberia, field. The alien looked like it was modeled party after the logo for gaming computers manufacturer Alienware and partly after a dog’s chew toy. The video gained traction at first, but when experts looked into the matter, it was discovered the alien was constructed out of bread and chicken skin. The teens didn’t even have the courtesy to include condiments for their chicken dish. The frozen alien was presented naked, without even any delicious breading fried to a golden brown to make it more palatable.

A similar incident happened earlier this year in China.

A Chinese farmer known media as only as Mr. Li, claimed he had a dead alien in his freezer that had DNA not of this Earth.

Chinese Farmer Alien

His claim didn’t gain much traction once photos of his frozen alien-cicle were posted to the Internet. In that regard, Mr. Li’s alien claim is really more of an attempted hoax, than one actually inspiring believers, although it did make headlines around the world.

The alien Mr. Li presented was a yellow, withered-looking beast, complete with odd-looking, yet human-like genitalia, shown lying in state underneath a glass topped freezer.

The alien was quickly declared to be bunk, Mr. Li was jailed for causing a disruption, and he eventually admitted to buying rubber from other local farmers and using it to build his creation.

Dissected Footage Reveals Faux Alien Dissection Aired By Fox

In 1995, Fox Television aired what they claimed was alien autopsy footage allegedly shot shortly after the famous Roswell Incident in 1947. The black-and-white video footage looked like it was from the right period, the alien looked like what we’ve come to associate with the alien form, and the scientists conducting the autopsy looked like real scientists.

The autopsy aired with a narrative insinuating it was legitimate footage of an actual autopsy conducted by the US Government. Footage of what was purported to be parts salvaged from a crashed spaceship was another nice touch to the production, adding another element of intrigue to the shocking footage.

If one were to go on a fishing trip for Roswell believers, the Alien Autopsy video would be the absolute best bait for dragging schools of them onto the boat and into the live well for consumption.

Despite the big-headed alien, the lab-coat-clad scientists, and the grainy video footage, though, the entire thing was a fake. Whether Fox knew it was a fake at the time, or even cared, is another story.

Fox obtained the footage from a London business man named Ray Santilli, who claimed to have bought the footage during travels in the US. Santilli hosted an invite-only premier of the footage in London, and subsequently sold the right to air it to Fox.

The footage didn’t fool everybody. There were immediately those who questioned the authenticity of it, and even pointed out evidence within it which wreaked of con job.

Eventually, someone came forward claiming to have been the artist who built the alien used in the footage. Santilli himself finally admitted it was all a hoax more than a decade later, when he revealed the entire thing was shot in a London flat, and the guts used in the footage were from the local butcher shop.

Making Tracks in the Hunt for Bigfoot

1958-Chambers-Wallace

Bigfoot is such a superstar around the globe, if a shoe company like Nike could find one, they would propose a multi-billion-dollar shoe deal that would make Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods jealous. There have been many incidents of faked bigfoot footage, photoshopped photos, and outlandish tales too impossible to believe, but there is one claim that stands out above the rest. Its hoax credentials are so strong, it’s not really clear who was more gullible, the bigfoot enthusiast crowd who denies the hoax could have taken place, or those who believe it did.

It all started with the death of Ray Wallace.

After the 84-year-old died in November 2002, his family went public with a story so sensational, Batboy, of Weekly World News fame, probably even questioned its believability.

The Wallace family claimed Ray’s life-long hobby was making bigfoot tracks in the woods with a pair of specially constructed wooden shoes, and laughing hysterically when the prints made headlines. They even alleged he was responsible for making the footprints in Del Norte County, California, which led to the name bigfoot being created and introduced into the lexicon in 1958.

Many dispute the impact Ray had on the legend of bigfoot with his alleged trickery, claiming it would be impossible for an average sized man to make believable footprints by wearing oversized wooden shoes. Still others believe his efforts invalidate nearly every bigfoot claim in Ray’s region of California since he began his prank in 1958 until his death in 2002.

Whatever Ray did, or didn’t do, one thing is clear. His family’s announcement has essentially made prank victims of both believers and nonbelievers.

How many people believe they have found bigfoot evidence, but really only found Ray’s work? If Ray wasn’t as prolific of a prankster as it is claimed, how many non-believers falsely attribute potentially legitimate bigfoot evidence to the very same work? Also, there is the bigger question of whether Ray Wallace actually did what his family says he did at all.

It’s just brilliant hoax work, however you look at it.

Two Geometry Enthusiasts Make Farming a Hobby

Chorley Bower Crop Circles

The appearance of crop circles is nothing new. Evidence was left behind by ancient cultures indicating weird geometric shapes first appeared in their crop fields, but there seemed to be an explosion of crop circle appearances in the 1980s and 1990s. It was during this era that crop circles emerged so frequently they became part of pop culture, particularly in England.

Then in 1991 two guys came forward, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, claiming they not only made clandestine crop circles, but they had been doing it regularly since 1978. The pair went as far as claiming every crop circle that appeared in Hampshire, Berkshire, Sussex, and parts of Wiltshire, between 1978 and 1987 were their creations. The men said the stopped producing as many crop circles after 1987 because too many copy cat crop circlers began producing their own works of art by that point.

The duo’s claim hit the mainstream media and the news quickly spread around the world. In the wake of Doug and Dave’s coming out party, even more crop circle copy cats began tattooing fields with fantastic shapes visible only from the air.

This hoax might be one of the greatest of all time, because its impact was so damaging to legitimate crop circle enthusiasts. Doug and Dave’s exploits, and the high-profile media attention they received, severely tainted the public perception of crop circles in general.

Fake Ghosts Make Real Cash

Borley Rectory

One of the most famous stories in rock history involves Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, and a chicken. At the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in 1969, a chicken mysteriously appeared on stage during Cooper’s set. Cooper’s story is that he grabbed the bird, threw it toward the crowd thinking it could fly, but then watched in horror as it plummeted into the crowd and was ripped to pieces. The media reported he killed the chicken on stage by biting off its head, and then drinking its blood, before throwing it to the crowd. The headlines led to Alice Cooper getting a call from Frank Zappa, who after hearing Cooper’s side of the story said, “Well, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you didn’t do it.”

alice-cooper

In the world of entertainment, a reputation of outlandish or bizarre behavior sells tickets. It always has. Take for instance the Borley Rectory of England, located on the Essex-Suffolk border.

In the early 1900’s the Borley Rectory was considered the most haunted house in England. Even the BBC seemed to believe the house was haunted, claiming the thousands of incidents reported to have occurred at the house were true at the conclusion of a 1937 investigation.

The Borley Rectory burned down in 1938 taking its secrets with it, but that changed in the year 2000 when a man who claimed to live in the home between 1918 and 1938 wrote a book called We Faked the Ghosts of Borley Rectory.

Louis Mayerling moved into the rectory in 1918 when Rev. Harry Bull and his large family occupied the home. Upon moving in, he discovered the family enjoyed perpetuating the ghost stories already circulating in town by hoaxing strange occurrences, like pianos playing by themselves, strange knocking sounds, and ghostly sightings. Shortly after moving in, he was drafted by the Bull family to help facilitate some of the theatrics used to make the rectory famous.

The strange reports about the house made frequent headlines in newspapers at the time, and were enough to lure a famous-at-the-time investigator to stay in the house for a year to observe the happenings. The investigator, Harry Price, then wrote a book about his stay called The Most Haunted House in England.

Mayerling stayed at the house after the Bull family moved out, and when the subsequent residents, Rev. Lionel Foyster and his wife Marianne, realized a reverend’s salary was skimpy at best, he helped them exploit the house’s haunted reputation for extra income.

Mayerling kept quiet about his experiences for more than 70 years after fire destroyed the Borley Rectory putting an end to the fiasco. If his story is true, they make his efforts, combined with those of the Bulls and Foysters, one of the best haunting hoaxes of all time. Had the Borley Rectory not burned in 1938, it could have gone on to become known as the World Famous Borley Rectory.

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  • Undine

    Of all the examples on your list, I’d say Bower and Chorley annoy me the most. Whether they were “genuine” hoaxers, or–as some have suggested–their claim to be hoaxers is itself a fraud, they sure managed to muddy the waters, not just of the study of crop circles, but of paranormal phenomenon in general. Thanks to them, it’s made it much easier for everything Fortean to be instantly dismissed as a hoax.

    Hope those jackasses enjoyed their fifteen minutes.

  • spookycute33

    Great read. I agree the fakers are such a horrible aspect of a field that already lies in a realm of such scrutiny…it makes it that much harder for those of us who are trying to present legitimate hypotheses on activity to be taken seriously. I think my favorite from this year was the Chinese farmer’s “alien” though lol

  • jen

    Just an FYI, since it’s launch the BBC in the UK has never shown advertisements, it is funded instead, by a tax known as a TV Licence. So just as programming like the local news and Dr Who have no advertisement breaks, neither did Ghostwatch, nothing to do with making the show seem more important or real.

  • alanborky

    Undine what usually gets little coverage where Bower ‘n’ Chorley’re concerned is their own sense something was guiding their actions ie they weren’t out ‘n’ out hoaxers but under a paranormal influence.

    Personally I think this’s one of the least investigated areas not just in Fortean research but in conventional psychology sociology an’ even history.

    You find it all over the world and all through history in classical Ancient Greek an’ Roman accounts African religions an’ South American Voodoo/Santeria etc even in Tibetan Buddhism where at the more extreme end of the continuum the brilliant scholar Longchenpa for instance had students prone to becoming possessed by a variety of gods an’ goddesses dakinis an’ herukas.

    Even the phrase hamfisted may’ve originated from a medieval masonic tradition Ham Noah’s son’s clumsiness was due to spirit possession of his hands.

    Even the phenomenon of crowd mind where apparently randomly assembled groups carry out appalling acts they wouldn’t normally dream of doing as individuals may be a part of this.

    In fact how many of us haven’t said at one time or another “Why the hell I say or do that thing?” and how many major moments in history may’ve spiralled into existence as a result of such supposedly minor mindless actions eg the notorious British lady of a few years back who was filmed puttin’ a cat in a bin and after a battering by the media still felt incapable of explaining her actions even to herself?