Feb 24, 2016 I Brent Swancer

The Greatest Cryptozoology Hoaxes of All Time, Part 2

The first part to this two-part series started "Even as cryptozoology, the search for undiscovered, mythical, or long thought to be extinct species, strives for acceptance and legitimacy with ever more scientific approaches and efforts to provide solid evidence, there has long been a specter that has cast a shadow over the whole field; that of the hoax. Indeed the history of cryptozoology is littered with hoaxes, from the simple to the truly elaborate, which have been annoying at the best of times and severely damaging to the field's credibility at the worst. There are many reasons for why some people desire to construct hoaxes in cryptozoology. For some, it's for financial gain, charging money to get a peek at a real monster. In other cases it is to make a name for oneself, for who wouldn't want the accolades given for being the first to find good evidence for the existence of a mystery monster, even if that means having to fake it? Still others simply want their 15 minutes of fame, regardless of how they acquire it, and some hoaxers have names that still resonate within the field regardless of their trickery. In other cases, hoaxes are simply childish pranks, or the result of a joke that simply got out of control and took on a life of its own. Misinformation can also be the culprit, misunderstandings that spin out of control without any real intentional aim to create a hoax. Then there are those with more insidious agendas, who wish to destabilize the credibility of the field, make fools of those within it, or get revenge or vent anger at researchers within it."

So here we are again after part 1 of this series, ready to delve into the realm of charlatans, fakery, and deception once more. Here we will continue our push into the realms of the unreal masking as the real in a charade that can only cause harm to those who are honestly looking for answers, to sift through the bogus facades that ever threaten and haunt the field, especially when given fuel to burn by the media to those who swallow them whole. Here we will investigate fake photos, tracks, and bodies, all of which were offered up as real yet only turned out to dash the dreams of those who perhaps believed too much. Let us look into the extent of the infamous hoaxes that have impeded and even sometimes defined cryptozoology to the mainstream. Let us journey once more into the world of cryptozoology's greatest hoaxes of all time.


The Cottingly Fairies

The world of cryptozoology, indeed of Forteana in general, is so littered with photographic and video hoaxes that they have forever poisoned the viability of such evidence within the field. Indeed, photographs have become nearly useless as evidence in cryptozoology, any potentially genuine photos lost within a quagmire of phonies and fakes. While the ready availability of cameras and ever progressing technological tools at a hoaxer’s disposal have made such hoaxes more widespread and convincing than ever before, this is by no means a new phenomenon. Indeed, one of the earlier photographic hoaxes can be traced back to the early 1900s, when a pair of young girls would come forward with a set of remarkable photographs that would capture the public imagination and take the world by storm, going on to become some of the most recognizable photos in the world at the time and one of the most famous photographic hoaxes of all time.

The story behind what would become known as the Cottingly Fairy photos begins in 1917 in Cottingley, in West Yorkshire, England, where 9-year-old Frances Griffiths and her mother lived with her aunt and uncle while her father was off in a faraway land fighting in World War I. Frances liked to go off and play with her 16-year-old cousin, Elsie Wright, as young girls are wont to do, and one of their favorite places to go was a stream nearby the garden. This was much to the consternation of their mothers, because Elsie and Francis often came back soaking wet and covered with mud. They were explicitly told not to keep going back to the stream and play somewhere else, and when one day they came back home from a day of playing dripping wet yet again, the mothers confronted them to ask why they had gone back to the stream to play. Their answer was probably not what either of the two women had been expecting.

The girls told their mothers that the reason they kept going back to the stream was to see the fairies that lived there. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their mothers did not believe this at all, but the girls were adamant that fairies did indeed live and frolic there, and Elsie proclaimed that they could prove it if they were allowed to borrow her father’s camera to take pictures of them. Elsie’s father decided to humor them, and lent the camera to the girls, not really expecting anything to come out of it and just thinking of it as more fanciful play. The girls went off and returned around an hour later, saying that they had indeed managed to capture photographic evidence of their encounters with the alleged fairies. Since Mr. Wright was an avid photographer with his own dark room, he was able to quickly develop the photograph himself, and it showed something decidedly peculiar indeed.

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One of the Cottingly Fairy photos

The photograph showed Frances behind a bush in the foreground, upon which a group of fairies seemed to be dancing and cavorting about. Wright was skeptical to say the least, and accused the girls of using some sort of trickery to make the picture, perhaps by using cardboard cutouts. The girls insisted that the photograph was genuine and that they would take more. Two months later, the girls yet again managed to take a picture of Elsie with what appeared to be some sort of fairy-type gnome. Again Wright accused the girls of pulling a mischievous prank, saying that it was merely a paper cutout, or that they had tampered with his camera in some way, and forbidding them from using the camera again. However, throughout all of this, his wife, Polly Wright, believed the girls’ story and thought that the photos were the real deal. This was perhaps not surprising, as Mrs. Wright was a follower of a spiritual and philosophical movement called Theosophy, which among its beliefs was the idea that fairies and other nature spirits existed.

In 1919, Mrs. Wright attended a lecture by the Theosophical Society in Bradford, in which the topic was fairies. It was here where Mrs. Wright would show everyone present the pictures that her daughter and niece had taken, and they were seen as genuine by those who looked at them. In fact, the photographs were so impressive at the time that the speaker of the lecture decided to have them looked at by the prominent leader of the Theosophy movement himself, an Edward Gardner. The negative glass plates of the photos were then turned over by Gardner to a photographic expert by the name of Harold Snelling for analysis. Snelling would come to the conclusion that the photographs were indeed genuine, showed no signs of tampering, and even had a slight blurring around the figures that seemed to suggest that the creatures had actually been moving when the photos were taken. He would say of the photos:

The two negatives are entirely genuine, unfaked photographs with no trace whatsoever of studio work involving card or paper models. This plate is a single exposure. These dancing figures are not made of paper nor any fabric; they are not painted on a photographic background-but what gets me most is that all these figures have moved during the exposure. These are straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time.

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Elsie and the gnome

With this claim of authenticity by a renowned expert of photography, the popularity of the photographs really took off, and they captured the imagination of the public, especially among spiritualists. One person who was particularly impressed by the photographs was the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, who was also an avid spiritualist, and would go on to use them to illustrate an article he had written on fairies for The Strand Magazine, convinced that they showed conclusive proof of fairies. Along with the Theosophy leader, Gardner, Doyle submitted the photographs to experts at the camera company, Kodak, for a second expert analysis. The Kodak technicians came to the conclusion that, although the photos showed no signs of tampering or being hoaxed, they nevertheless did not necessarily constitute proof that fairies existed, and refused to issue a certificate of authenticity. Frustrated, Doyle had the photographs analyzed by another company, Ilford, who came to the contrary conclusion that there most certainly were signs of tampering.

Undeterred and encouraged by the positive initial assessments by Snelling and Kodak, Doyle and Gardner continued their investigation. Although Doyle became held up by preparing for a lecture he was to give in Australia, Gardner went to speak with the Wrights personally in 1920. The father, Mr. Wright, explained that he had originally been so convinced that the phots were faked that he had thoroughly searched the girls’ rooms for any evidence of the cutouts he was certain had been used, but found no trace of any such trickery. The girls stuck by their story, and Gardner came to the conclusion that the two were telling the truth. He subsequently provided them with advanced cameras and told them to take further photographs of the fairies with someone else present as a witness, but the girls claimed that the fairies would not show up if anyone but them was there. The two went off on their own and ended up capturing three more pictures of the fairies; one showing a winged fairy fluttering by Frances’ nose, another showing one perched upon a branch apparently offering a flower to Elsie, and the last one of the fairies with some sort of sheath or cocoon. Doyle was convinced that the photos were real, at one point proclaiming:

The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life. Having discovered this, the world will not find it so difficult to accept that spiritual message supported by physical facts which has already been put before it.

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The Cottingly Fairies

In 1921, Doyle wrote a follow-up article to his first, in which he further talked about the sightings made by Frances and Elsie, and expounded on how fantastic the photographic "proof" was. He would further go on to write a whole book about it, called The Coming of the Fairies, in 1922, completely obsessed with the idea that fairies existed. The new pictures once again became popular among the public, although they were met with mixed reactions. While some were thoroughly convinced that they showed actual fairies, there was a fair number of critics as well, who pointed out a variety of problems with the photographs, such as the fact that they looked just like the popular image of fairies from fairy tales, that they were always dressed in the latest fashions, and the more obvious observation that they just looked a lot like two dimensional pieces of paper. Nevertheless, there were many who were enthralled by the photos and the girls’ accounts, and who believed them without question. In the meantime, Gardner went back to the Wright house again, this time with a psychic by the name of Geoffrey Hodson, who claimed that he could also see the fairies everywhere, although no new pictures were taken.

Despite the intense interest and debate swirling around the Cottingly Fairy photographs, their popularity began to wane, and Elsie and Frances grew up to live abroad and get married, their fairy days apparently behind them. That was until 1966, when a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper tracked Elsie down and asked her about the whole fairy phenomenon. This was when the first hints of an admission of a hoax would become evident, as Elsie admitted that the fairies just may have been figments of her imagination, although she still maintained that she could have somehow projected her thoughts and captured them on film. The resulting article sparked media interest once again, and despite interviews and scrutiny both Frances and Elsie for years continued to stick by their claim that the photographs were not faked. The uncertainty and debate would continue to swirl for over another decade before any conclusive answer was reached.

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The Cottingly 5th photo

In 1978, the magician and skeptic James Randi mentioned that the fairies in the Cottingly photographs were uncannily similar in appearance to those found in the children’s book, Princess Mary's Gift Book, which had been popular in 1915, just before the first photographs had been taken. Randi also further examined the photographs with a team from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and found that there was clear evidence of strings holding up the fairies and even holes in what seemed to be cutouts. Even so, some people continued to believe that the photos might be real. It was not until the early 1980s that Frances and Elsie would finally confess to hoaxing the photos by using cardboard cutouts from the children’s book and fashioning wings for them, after which they were suspended by hatpins. After the photos were taken, they had disposed of the evidence in the stream. When asked why they had kept quiet about the hoax for so long, they explained that it was because they had felt bad about fooling the esteemed author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and did not want to embarrass him. In the end, neither one of them had seemed to have expected the prank to go as far as it had, and expressed bafflement as to why the photos were so widely accepted and believed, despite being what they felt were obvious fakes. Bizarrely, even though they both agreed that the first four photos were faked, they disagreed on the fifth one, with Elsie saying it too was a hoax while Frances maintained that that one was real. Also odd was the fact that although they admitted to faking the photographs, they both still claimed that they had actually seen the fairies.

Looking at the infamous Cottingly photographs now, it is really hard to imagine how anyone could possibly even consider that they could be real. They are, quite frankly, obvious pictures of cardboard cutouts, with the holes and pins even visible in some cases. These are the type of photos that would immediately earn a unanimous, thundering “FAKE!” if presented now. Yet it must be understood that back when they were first circulated was an era when photography was still a relatively new technology, and people were not as used to seeing them or analyzing them as they are now, with the idea of faking photos being far from anyone's mind. How they were still being talked about as possibly real into the 1970s and even 80s is anyone’s guess. Regardless, as obviously fake as the photographs may seem today in retrospect, they represent one of the longest running hoaxes in history.


The Ray Wallace Hoax

Even more insidious than photographic hoaxes are those of actual physical evidence. There are few hoaxes that have served to undermine the findings of a potentially real cryptid and smash credibility, at least in the eyes of the media and the general public, than that perpetrated in 1958 by a man by the name of Ray Wallace. A logger much of his life, Wallace was well-known by those around him as an irascible, unrepentant prankster and pathological liar, a lovable scoundrel who loved to play jokes on people, though reportedly never malicious ones. Although most of the time these were all in harmless fun, in the late 1950s his attention would turn to the world of cryptozoology, when he would enact a hoax that still incites debate and reverberates through the field to this day.

Although the stories of a large, bipedal ape-like creature called the Sasquatch had long been passed around in Native lore, and even reported by early European settlers, the actual name “Bigfoot” would originate with a set of curious large tracks that were found in 1958 at a Wallace Construction worksite in Humbolt County, CA, which was used for logging. The enormous, 16-inch long tracks, which weaved through the site and around bulldozers and other heavy equipment, immediately sparked the public imagination, as these were the days when tales of the mysterious Yeti, or Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, were really taking off in the Western world. The tracks took the media by storm, starting in a piece for the Humboldt Times and spreading like wildfire to make headlines all over the place, and soon the alleged mystery creature that had made them was being popularly called “Bigfoot.”

In light of this deluge of media attention and fanfare, Wallace himself apparently began milking it for all it was worth. Before long there were sightings of the creatures being reported in the vicinity of the logging site and even recordings of the creature’s alleged howls. The media couldn’t get enough of this stuff and this would continue for years, firmly entrenching the phenomenon of Bigfoot within the public consciousness. Throughout it all, Ray Wallace kept quiet about what was really happening, or at least his part in it, and it was not until his death on Nov. 26, 2002, that his family would start to shed some light on the web of trickery that had been going on.

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Comparison between the Ray Wallace fakes and the Bluff Creek tracks

Upon his death, Wallace’s son Michael claimed that his father had been in the possession of two large wooden, 16-inch-long fake Bigfoot feet and had admitted just before dying that he had hoaxed Bigfoot. The rest of the family would corroborate this tale and tell of how Ray Wallace had gone out with his brother and nephew to stamp the mystery footprints around his logging site and in several other locations throughout Northern California as a prank, using a truck to drive him over the ground in order to create a more impressive gait befitting of an enormous monster. Beyond just footprints, it was even claimed that Wallace would craft fake Bigfoot hairs out of hair taken from the bison he kept on his farm, as well as fake Bigfoot droppings. This revelation took the media and the world of cryptozoology by storm, and before long there were people going on to say that, considering the fake tracks had been placed around the vicinity of Bluff Creek, Wallace had even had a hand in crafting the Bluff Creek Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot video, which is an iconic piece of footage often revered as real, which propelled Bigfoot into stardom, and is even now constantly discussed and debated as to its authenticity. In light of the news of hoaxing, there was soon talk that Wallace was the instigator behind the whole “legend” of Bigfoot, that he had more or less single-handedly created it with his faked footprints, and he became the media-proclaimed “Father of Bigfoot.” His son Michael would say of the whole fiasco:

Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot. The reality is, Bigfoot just died.

Comments such as this fanned the media fire, where the story was covered extensively for months in prestigious publications nationwide, including the New York Times. The problem was that, although Ray Wallace most certainly did engage in fakery to some extent, the media liked to portray his hoax as being the origin of every single track, sighting, and piece of Bigfoot related evidence ever put forward. There are several problems with painting all Bigfoot sightings and evidence with the broad brush of the Wallace hoax, not the least of which is that unidentified Bigfoot tracks had already been found in the Pacific Northwest since at least the early 1940s, well before Wallace was out getting up to his tricks. There is also the fact that Wallace’s fake prints weren’t particularly well-made or convincing, with a decidedly rough shape and blocky toes inconsistent with the more natural shape and rounded toes of other prints that have been found. They looked fake. The faked prints also did not match other prints found in the area where the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage was taken, which were more convincing in appearance. Indeed, many alleged Bigfoot tracks were found at the time and since, to the point that it seems unlikely that all of them could have been planted by Wallace, especially not the ones after his death, although they could have possibly been from other hoaxers following his lead.

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Iconic still from the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage

Additionally, all of the information on Wallace’s hoaxing came out after his death, from accounts given by his family, which was further embellished and sensationalized by the media, and which makes it hard to distinguish what the extent of Wallace’s hoaxing even truly was. Perhaps most importantly is that there have been hundreds of sightings from all over the United States and from all manner of eyewitnesses of large, hairy hominids, often from very credible witnesses. Is it fair or rational to say that these people are all lying and that all of this came from one prankster’s practical joke, the death bed admission of a known liar and hoaxer, and the testimony from his family after his death, all without full proof of the true extent of the trickery? Although it is possible that the Bigfoot phenomenon is the result of a series of ever escalating lies, hoaxes, and practical jokes overlapping each other and spiraling out of control, it seems rather irrational to throw out every sighting, footprint, or other piece of potential useful Bigfoot evidence based on the assumption that Wallace was “The father of Bigfoot,” and the sole origin of all of it.

Regardless of how much this fakery was involved in the Bigfoot phenomenon as a whole, the Ray Wallace hoax certainly did irreparable damage to the field of cryptozoology, contaminating much of the evidence related to Bigfoot and casting a shadow over the credibility of the field that looms over it even to this day. In light of this devastating hoax and the intense media sensationalism that perpetuated and exaggerated it, along with incomplete information and misinformation at the time, there is the tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. Although it would be detrimental to immediately throw out all Bigfoot related evidence based on this one proven hoax, the Ray Wallace hoax remains one which echoes throughout the field even now, and serves as a profound cautionary tale for cryptozoology in general, and Bigfoot studies in particular.


The Georgia Bigfoot Hoax

Not all Bigfoot hoaxes have to be particularly long-lived to make a lasting impression. In 2008, a police officer from Clayton County, Georgia, by the name of Matt Whitton, along with accomplice Rick Dyer, would launch a hoax that would take the world of cryptozoology by storm. It would be a hoax that would quickly be uncovered, yet remains remarkable in the amount of initial discussion, excitement, media sensationalism, and belief it generated over its short life span, as well as the embarrassing fiasco it became for credibility within the field. What would commonly come to be referred to as “The Georgia Bigfoot Hoax” would for a short time be swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the general public, and spark a major media frenzy before blazing out in a morass of anger, frustration, and scandal.

On around June 10, 2008, Whitton and Dyer began spreading the tale that they had found something bizarre out in the Georgia wilderness while out hiking. They claimed that they had come across the huge body of a creature around 8 feet tall, which was covered in hair but otherwise human-looking enough that they later claimed it could probably pass for a man if it had had all of its hair shaved off. According to their story, knowing how valuable the find was but unable to budge its massive frame, Whitton decided to stay with the body while Dyer went to go fetch people who could help move it. Dyer would allegedly come back with four others, and it would take all six of them a day and a half to haul the carcass back to civilization. Making the whole situation more bizarre was that they also claimed that they had been followed by a group of three of the same creatures, which they said they had filmed. When the men had successfully moved the body, they then claimed that they had put it on ice while they figured out what to do with it.

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From right to left; Whiten, Biscardi, Dyer

It was not until July 9 that Whitton would appear in a YouTube video and announce to the world that they had found the body of a Bigfoot, which would be followed by other videos over the following weeks. They also set up a website called bigfoottracker.com to keep updates on developments. On July 23, the story was picked up by the Clayton County Daily News in two separate articles about the alleged body, and on that very same day, Whitton and Dyer appeared at a press conference excitedly talking about their amazing discovery, and sparking the first flames of the media storm that was to follow. It was around this time, on July 28, that Dyer appeared on an Internet radio program hosted by Bigfoot researcher Steve Kulls, and gave a full description of the creature and the events leading up to their possession of it. He also invited Kulls and another Bigfoot researcher and rather sensationalist showman by the name of Tom Biscardi to come see the body for themselves, and proclaimed that their evidence would be released to the world on September 1.

Biscardi and Kulls became the ones that Whitton and Dyer decided to work exclusively with, and although Kulls was already having his doubts about the whole thing, Biscardi was more optimistic. He allegedly met with Whitton and Dyer to obtain DNA samples from the creature, which was then supposedly sent to a Dr. Curt Nelson. He also went to see the body up close, later describing it to Kulls in great detail, and excitedly telling everyone who would listen that he had seen the body and that it was the real deal. There were various bold claims made by Biscardi around this time, including that Dr. Nelson had found the DNA to be consistent with human and ape, and that he would sell a film of the body being dissected for $11 million. There were several red flags here already, including the fact that Biscardi later would admit that he had in fact procured the DNA from Whitton and Dyer in a hotel lobby, rather than cutting it from the body himself as he had originally claimed, and that Whitton and Dyer became increasingly insistent that they would only work directly with Biscardi, with Kulls sort of just in the background as a mediator.

Regardless, expectations were still sky high, and on August 12th Whitton and Dyer requested from Kulls and Biscardi a large amount of money in advance for the purposes of promoting the find. This is the same day that Whitton and Dyer would release a picture which supposedly showed the mysterious creature on ice in a freezer. Serious cryptozoologists were immediately suspicious, and it was not long before commenters on various cryptozoology forums across the Internet, including cryptozoologist Loren Coleman’s former blog Cryptomundo, were picking the photo apart, with many actually determining the exact type of Bigfoot costume that they believed was being used to perpetrate the hoax. Indeed, Loren Coleman’s site was instrumental in demonstrating the cracks in the deception and casting light on the developing hoax. Nevertheless, there were many who were still optimistic, many who wanted to believe, and the photo created a media frenzy, rousing and feeding the imagination of the general public, with talk of the “dead Bigfoot” spreading like wildfire. Even Loren Coleman, who was picking apart the whole story, was not totally immune to the excitement, describing himself at the time as “hopefully skeptical.”

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The photo of the Bigfoot carcass

Biscardi did everything he could to drum up interest in the corpse, even appearing on Fox News with a picture of it. In the meantime, Kulls was becoming ever more suspicious when he started paying attention to the striking comparisons between the alleged dead Bigfoot and the Bigfoot costume that had been outed by sharp eyed cryptozoologists as the source of the body. Biscardi denied it was a costume and was adamant that he had seen it up close and that it was definitely not a costume. He was also quick to set up a major press conference on August 15, and the public waited breathlessly for what they thought would be a reveal of the biggest zoological find of the century. In the meantime, more money was being made off of the corpse. A construction company owner by the name of William Wald Lett Jr. paid 50,000 dollars for a “transfer release” for the alleged corpse, and had it moved to Indiana. There was also an offer on Biscardi’s own website, called Searching for Bigfoot, which would allow people to view more photos of the thing for $2 a pop. There was certainly no shortage of ways the ones with the body were willingly to rake in cash off of it.

When the press conference rolled around, over 100 journalists were attendance, and it was covered by 38 news feeds. It was such a big, talked about and momentous occasion that it was being touted in the media as “Bigfoot Friday.” Everyone watching and in attendance were clearly expecting that they would see the body and get final confirmation that everything was legit and that Bigfoot was real, but they were to be deeply disappointed. During the press conference the body was nowhere to be seen, and there were only two vague and blurry photos shown. Additionally, the major reveal of the DNA results that had been promised turned out to be frustratingly vague and inconclusive, read out by a visibly flustered and increasingly confrontational Biscardi, who also told the journalists of his experiences examining the body and reiterated that it was most certainly not a fake. It also did not bode well when Whitton and Dyer publicly boasted during the conference that they planned to make as much money as they could off of the body. None of this particularly impressed anyone, and the general consensus after the conference was one of deep skepticism, with many journalists complaining that they felt they had been tricked.

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The costume used for the hoax

In the aftermath of this disastrous press conference, Kulls, who had been mostly excluded from any up close examination of the corpse, travelled to Indiana to finally get a look at the body for himself. When he arrived, it was apparent that the ice was melting and that the creature had partially thawed, revealing a decidedly fake looking texture. Kulls plucked some hairs from the corpse and was immediately suspicious when they melted up into a ball when burned, which was not consistent with animal hair but quite normal for synthetic fabrics. Using heaters, the body was further thawed, revealing an increasingly suspiciously fake looking body. The final giveaway that something was amiss occurred when one of the creature’s feet was poking out of the ice, and thinking it to look a bit odd, Kulls reached out to touch it, finding that it was made of rubber. An even closer examination proved that the body was in fact a large Bigfoot costume, indeed the very model specified by keen-eyed cryptozoology commenters, draped in entrails from roadkill and slaughterhouse leftovers to make it look more authentic. It was then that the hoax was fully exposed for what it was, and Kulls immediately called to inform Biscardi.

Not long after, Whitton and Dyer eventually made a full public confession, but even after they had been proven to have blatantly deceived everyone and had made a large sum of money off of their bogus discovery, they remained defiant. Dyer and Whitton would claim that the whole thing was just an innocent joke that had gotten out of hand, that they had had no idea of how far the media would blow it out of proportion, and that people should have realized it was all just a prank. They also lashed out and accused Kulls and Biscardi of coaching them through the whole sham. Kulls denied this, but made it clear that he felt Biscardi definitely had had a role to play in the whole fiasco. For his part, Biscardi claimed that he had been just as duped as everyone else. As to tricking the public, Dyer would go on to say "Well, we told 10 different stories. Everyone knew we were lying." Unfortunately, that had not been the case, and it not only cost Whitton his job, but also brought the threat of legal action against the two perpetrators for fraud.


The Body of the Loch Ness Monster

Claims of finding the bodies of various cryptids is a type of hoax that is unfortunately well established within the history of cryptozoology, and the Loch Ness Monster of Scotland’s Loch Ness is no exception. Our story here begins on Friday March 31, 1972, when a team of Loch Ness Monster researchers from the Loch Ness Phenomena Bureau were having breakfast at a lakeside hotel. Since everyone at the hotel knew who they were and why they were there, the hotel manager immediately went to speak to them when he allegedly received an anonymous call from someone saying they were in the midst of having a monster sighting right there at the hotel. When the team heard the news, they immediately went outside and were greeted by the sight of a large, dark object out in the water about 300 yards offshore.

The team then excitedly got into their boat and headed out towards the mysterious object. Around 20 minutes later, the team returned to shore, only they were apparently not alone. Behind their boat, being dragged through the water was what appeared to be the body of the monster itself, which was described by witnesses as being 12 to 18 feet in length, green in color, and looking like it was “half-bear and half-seal” or a cross between a walrus and a seal, with a bear-like head, flat ears, and large teeth. It did not take long at all for the sensational news to go global that the Loch Ness Monster had not only been found, but a carcass obtained, and reporters were tripping over themselves to get out to the Loch to check it out. When the journalists began rushing to the area, locals confirmed that a bizarre creature had indeed been pulled out of the lake, with some even claiming to have actually touched it. When a zoologist by the name of Don Robinson, of the Flamingo Park Zoo, was interviewed by reporters, he made a spectacular claim, saying:

I've always been skeptical about the Loch Ness Monster, but this is definitely a monster, no doubt about that. From the reports I've had, no one has ever seen anything like it before... a fishy, scaly body with a massive head and big protruding teeth.

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The body of the Loch Ness monster

Disappointingly, none of the reporters were able to actually see the creature for themselves, as they were told that it had been loaded onto a truck to be transported to the Flamingo Park zoo to be studied. Unbeknownst to them, there was an obscure law at the time that forbade the removal of any strange or unidentifiable creatures from the Loch, no doubt to keep people from perhaps catching the monster and making off with the specimen. Police reportedly then chased down the transport truck with sirens blasting, after which the zoologists obediently pulled over and showed the police officers what they were carrying. According to the report at the time, police confirmed that it was indeed a never-before-seen creature with reptilian green, scaly skin. The carcass was then taken to a nearby research facility where it could be studied, and a Michael Rushton, general curator of the Edinburgh Zoo, soon arrived to examine the strange beast. The media went absolutely nuts waiting for the verdict, with the discovery dominating the news at the time. Unfortunately, it would not be what everyone had been hoping for. Rushton did not take long at all to identify what the creature was, and although it was certainly an odd discovery in the Loch, it was far from an unknown mystery beast. Instead, the carcass turned out to be that of a bull elephant seal. Rushton would say of his examination:

It is a typical member of its species. It's about 3 to 4 years old... I have never known them to come near Great Britain. Their natural habitat is the South Atlantic, Falkland Islands or South Georgia. I don't know how long it's been kept in a deep freeze but this has obviously been done by some human hand.

With the verdict out on the body of the “Loch Ness Monster,” the culprit behind the hoax finally stepped forward to admit what they had done. It turned out that the hoax had been perpetrated by a John Shields, one of the Flamingo Park Zoo’s educational officers, and that the elephant seal had been recently acquired during an expedition to the Falkland Islands. The seal had lived at the Dudley Zoo before dying shortly after. Shields had then seen an opportunity to play a practical joke on the team of Loch Ness researchers whose arrival at the Loch had been met with much fanfare. The elephant seal carcass had been slightly altered to make it look stranger, with its whiskers shaved off and stones stuffed within its cheeks, after which it had been put into the Loch, with Shields himself being the one who had phoned the hotel with the sighting. The timing of the media frenzy that he knew would ensue was purposely planned to be April 1st, April Fool’s Day, although this had apparently gone over everyone’s head. Shields said that he had realized the joke had gone too far when the creature had been spirited away to be studied and a police chase had been involved, and he also expressed his surprise that its appearance had been so dramatically exaggerated by witnesses. The elephant seal was most certainly not covered in green scaly skin and was only around 9 feet long rather than the widely reported 12 to 18 feet.


With the announcement that the whole thing had been merely an elaborate April Fool’s prank, the carcass was released back to the Flamingo Park Zoo, where it was displayed on ice for a time before being disposed of. This is a case which is remarkable for the fact that before the whole fiasco had been outed as a hoax, eyewitnesses including local citizens, zoologists, and police officers, none of whom had been in on the hoax, had all given descriptions of a creature that bore very resemblance whatsoever to what it actually turned out to be. Did the sensational news and expectations cause them to exaggerate or outright fabricate their descriptions to more fit in to what they hoped the carcass to be? Were they somehow influenced by the media storm raging around them? Of course, an elephant seal would be a very unusual thing to find in Loch Ness, and might take some off guard, but it is interesting how warped and twisted perceptions and descriptions of the corpse became when it was dragged to shore and in the days leading up to the announcement that it was just a joke. It seems that expectations, excitement, and media sensationalism can in some cases all profoundly affect the way some eyewitnesses view a phenomenon.

I will end this on a similar note to part 1 of this series. Cryptozoology can have much to learn from the hoaxes that threaten to poison its very existence. However, there is merit to taking a good look at them, for we can find out what makes them tick, what kinds of consequences they have, and how they spread. As hoaxes may forever plague the field, I feel it is in the best interests of cryptozoologists to study these frauds and hoaxes just as much as they do any other evidence that comes forward. In the end, it is our responsibility to seek the truth. If that may lead to lies, misinformation, and deception, then so be it. We seek to open up the mysteries of the world, and those mysteries often lie sandwiched between fraudulence, trickery, and the mundane. There is no need, I feel, to be particularly humbled or threatened by hoaxes, but we must be realistic with the fact that they exist and how they come to pass. Such trickery should not deter us from our walk along the path for the search for the truth, but we must understand that there are those who would try and force us to deviate that path. Knowledge is everything, we must be critical and vigilant, and I am sure that if the field stays straight and unwavering, then it will push forth past these episodes to find the truth. Whatever that may be.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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