In this weird world of ours, there’s no shortage of weird to write about. I recently brought you the story of James Worson, who may or may not have been a fictional character dreamed up by the famed and mysterious-in-his-own-right, Ambrose Bierce. That post, and this one, are an exploration of strange disappearances.
This one, however, concerns a disappearance that really did happen. There’s no question, he disappeared and was never seen again, but the question is…how? And why?
I’m talking about Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt. Any Aussie readers are most likely aware of who that is, but for those unfamiliar, Harold Holt was the 17th Prime Minister of Australia. He served as PM from January 26, 1966 until his disappearance on December 17, 1967, though he had held other political offices during his career, such as Minister of Scientific and Industrial Research and Minister of Labour and National Resource. As politicians go, Holt was well-liked and has been hailed as one of the best Labour Ministers Australia has ever seen.
There’s more to the story than that, though.
Holt was a man’s man. He was an avid sportsman, snorkeler, spear-fisherman, and strong swimmer, and on the lazy Sunday of December 17th 1967, he and two friends ventured to his favourite swimming spot at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, accompanied by his two regular bodyguards. The waters at Cheviot Beach are notoriously choppy and conceal a deadly rip-tide. It’s said that the water was particularly rough that day, and despite warnings from his friends, Holt went for a swim anyway.
After getting into trouble in the rough surf, Holt disappeared among the waves and was never seen again.
A monumental search and rescue operation was immediately undertaken, involving the Royal Australian Navy and Air Force and a host of other military personnel and volunteers. Despite what ultimately became one of the largest search operations in Australian history, lasting for 22 days, no trace of Holt was ever found.
Now, as that story is told, it seems fairly clear that he just suffered an unfortunate accident and was swept out to sea. After all, that is the official story. But you know it doesn’t end there.
Two days later, the Australian government made a statement wherein they declared Holt presumed dead, although no official inquiry had been held. The Commonwealth and Victoria Police departments produced a lengthy report on the matter, detailing eyewitness statements, weather conditions and the findings of the search operation. They also relayed that Holt was apparently suffering a shoulder injury that had nearly caused him to drown just seven months earlier. Holt had also suffered some kind of collapse during Parliament that same year, later blaming a “vitamin deficiency” for the episode.
This all seemed to confirm that his disappearance was the result of unfortunate circumstance, or as some would call it, death by misadventure. This official conclusion didn’t sit well with a great many people though.
Even at the time, conspiracy theorists were gearing up for the story of a lifetime. One of the first to come forward with a claim about Holt, was a Swami of India who had heard of Holt’s death and had apparently had a vision showing him where Holt’s body was buried in the sand on the sea floor. A series of correspondences were exchanged between the Australian High Commission and an Indian Parliament member who represented the Swami. But of course, no body was ever found.
That was just the tip of the ice berg though.
It has since been claimed that Holt committed suicide, intentionally drowning himself. Or that he faked his own death so that he might run off with his mistress.
Perhaps the most entertaining claim is the one made by British journalist Anthony Grey, who, in his 1983 book The Prime Minister Was a Spy (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), made the outrageous assertion that Holt had been an operative of the People’s Republic of China, and that his disappearance was all part of an operation to return to China. Grey claimed that his body was never found because he was picked up, very much alive, by a Chinese submarine that was waiting just outside Port Phillip Bay.
Others claimed, of course, that he’d been abducted by a UFO, and John Keel wrote in his 1970 book Operation Trojan Horse, that elementals had foretold of Holts death in conjunction with the Point Pleasant - Silver Bridge collapse just a year earlier. Keel’s connecting of Holt and the Mothman Prophecies has prompted others speculate that Holt may have been an alien representative on Earth, whether that reasoning bears fruit or not, I’ll leave up to you.
In 2007 the suicide angle was furthered by journalist Ray Martin in his documentary Who Killed Harold Holt?, and then again by the Australian weekly magazine, The Bulletin that same year. But there’s at least one man who disagrees with their assessment.
Gary Simmons takes the Harold Holt conspiracy theories to a whole new level. Simmons, who hails from Brisbane, Australia, claims - loudly - that Holt was murdered.
I know that doesn’t sound like it’s really out there too far, but wait, it gets better.
Simmons notes that an official inquiry into Holt’s death wasn’t conducted, that is until 2005 when the laws in Australia changed and allowed for a Coroner’s Inquest. That inquest concluded that Holt’s death was the result of accidental drowning, but it seems that this inquest was orchestrated to silence those people who supported the Chinese defection theory, and Simmons believes that all of this is subterfuge, covering the real events.
On his website, Simmons explains, at length, that he believes Holt was murdered the night before he disappeared, on December 16. How does he know this? Why, it’s because he was personally tasked with removing Holt’s body from his house and towing it out to sea to a waiting fishing boat that very evening.
Simmons, it seems, is some sort of clandestine operative for the Australian government, or at least he believes he is. Simmons has undertaken a letter writing campaign to several, nay, many personalities and offices within the Australian government and other world organizations. In those letters, which he dutifully scans and posts on his own website, he confesses to his involvement in the murder and even names other conspirators. He details where, when and how he handled Holt’s lifeless body, and what its ultimate fate turned out to be.
But it appears few people have given him any credit, and that may be due to the fact that he appears to be completely bonkers. On his website and in his letters, he frequently refers to a supreme 2nd law of the universe, which he invokes as a defence for his actions, claiming immunity from prosecution or culpability or some such thing. And it has long been known that people whose personalities compel them to embark on letter writing campaigns, such as Simmons has, tend to be a little unstable. He also frequently refers to “they” and “them” (he even includes the quotation marks), so either he doesn’t know who opposes him, or no one does oppose him.
Here’s the problem though. He offers details. Accurate details. Details he apparently shouldn’t know. He has offered affidavits and sworn statements to the Coroner’s office as a part of their inquiry, but he isn’t being taken seriously.
In response to this and all of the other conspiracy theorising, the government of Australia, through the National Archives of Australia, has digitized and presented all of the original documentation surrounding all of the investigative efforts, inquiries and search efforts (and many other documents) via their website. Their archive provides hours of reading and an exploration of one of Australia’s most beguiling mysteries. Their attempt to provide a little transparency for what has been and would otherwise be considered a very secretive series of events, does quite a bit to answer the call of conspiracy, but it certainly doesn’t answer all of the questions surrounding the disappearance of Harold Holt.
So, did Holt drown accidentally? Was he a Chinese spy, or an alien? Or was he murdered? I don’t know, you tell me.