During the summer of 2003, all hell broke loose when sightings began of a strange creature said to inhabit a sizable body of water in central England called the Roman View Pond. It’s situated only a couple of miles or so from where I grew up as a kid. And, the location was within near-literal-spitting distance of where a man named George Edalji once lived. And who was he? Read on. Edalji, the son of a priest, lived in the (also) nearby town of Great Wyrley, and was thrust into the limelight in 1903 when he was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned for maiming and mutilating horses in the area – reportedly in the dead of night, and, some believed, for reasons related to occult rite and ritual.
Collectively, the horse-slashing and deaths generated not only a great deal of concern at a local level, but also anger, fear, and a distinct distrust of the Edalji family, who were of Parsi descent. The locals – more than a few being ignorant racists – had frowned upon the Edalji family ever since they moved into the area years earlier. Notably, however, such was the publicity given to the case of George Edalji, and his subsequent lengthy prison sentence, even none other than the creator of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – sat up and took notice. Actually, Conan Doyle did far more than that. Believing that there had been a huge miscarriage of justice in the Edalji affair, he highlighted it, wrote about it, and even complained to the government of the day about it – events that, combined with the work of others, ultimately led to Edalji’s release from prison.
And that Edalji’s alleged crimes occurred 100-years prior to the first sightings of the Roman View Pond “thing” only added to the strangeness. A monstrous anniversary indeed.
Local police, representatives of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and the nation’s media all quickly descended upon the scene, as they valiantly and collectively sought to ascertain the truth about what, at a local level, fast became known to one and all as the “Cannock Nessie.” Of course, the facts were somewhat more sober and down to earth. As my good friends Jonathan Downes and Richard Freeman – of the Center for Fortean Zoology – demonstrated to practically everyone’s satisfaction when they visited the area at the height of the sightings, the “beast,” as the more sensationalized elements of the press tirelessly insisted on calling it, was likely nothing stranger than a three-foot-long Spectacled Caiman – a crocodilian reptile found throughout much of Central and South America.
It was the conclusion of Jon and Richard that the unfortunate creature had probably been housed locally by an unknown exotic-pet-keeper – that is, until it grew to a point where it became completely unmanageable, and was then unceremoniously dumped in the pool late one night and under the protective cover and camouflage of overwhelming darkness. Almost certainly, Jon believed, the creature would not survive the harsh fall and winter months that were destined to follow. And, sure enough, as the English weather changed for the worse, sightings of the mysterious beast came to an abrupt end. To this day, Jon is convinced that the bones of the crocodilian lay buried deep in the muddy floor of Roman View Pond. And he’s almost certainly correct. Whatever it was, the “Cannock Nessie” of Roman View Pond is long gone.