In May 1977, the infamous monster-raiser Tony “Doc” Shiels and his wife, Chris, took a train from their Truro, Cornwall, England home to the heart of mysterious, ancient Scotland. It was a trip destined to have an amazing and controversy-filled outcome. Matters all began early on the morning of Saturday, May 21. The Shiels, along with two friends, Richard and Lynn Smith of Carharrack, and a couple from the English town of Bolton, were standing and chatting on the car park of the hotel in which they were all staying: the Inchnacardoch Lodge, overlooking Loch Ness’ Inchnacardoch Bay. Suddenly, Chris noticed something amazing: three significantly-sized humps that snaked through the waters of Loch Ness, in the direction of Fort Augustus. Whether one large creature or three entirely separate and smaller ones, it was impossible to tell, but the important thing was that something was there, for all six to see and marvel upon.
Disastrously, not a single one of them had a camera at hand – which was hardly a surprise, since their only reason for standing outside was to await the opening of the breakfast-area. Shiels considered making a dash for their hotel-room, but was thwarted from doing so when the three humps slipped beneath the waves and the beast, or beasts, was gone. It was something that mirrored the lessons learned by Ted Holiday: the Nessie and cameras are not always the best of friends. Shiels learned a cautionary lesson himself: he vowed never again to be camera-free while hanging out at Loch Ness. It was a very wise decision, as the events of only a few hours later spectacularly served to demonstrate. After partaking of a few pints of Guinness and a couple of single malts in the hotel bar, Doc and Chris walked towards Urquhart Castle, from the Lewiston road. As they did so, the pair noticed a number of curious wakes in the water, something which was a mild precursor to what was very quickly to follow.
Around 4:00 p.m. Doc decided to climb the castle’s old Grant Tower and scan the expansive waters that it overlooked. To Doc’s amazement, in just mere moments and as if right on cue, what appeared to be a very small head broke the surface of the loch. It was followed by a long, serpent-like, neck. The creature was clearly of a significant size, since the portion of the neck that could be seen was protruding out of the water to a height of at least four-to-five feet – never mind how much more was still underneath the water. Interestingly, Shiels had a sudden feeling that the creature had actually readied itself to be photographed by him. He quickly snapped a couple of shots, which displayed the animal’s green-brown neck and its pale, somewhat yellowish front. The head was absurdly small and the mouth continually agape. In moments it sank beneath the surface of the loch.
Doc was beyond delighted, as was Chris, when he quickly and excitedly told her of what he had just seen and photographed. Despite the pair diligently checking out the loch for the next few days, nothing else of a meaningful nature occurred. It was now time to head back home to Cornwall and get the photographs developed – as in quick-fire time. The reel of film was handed over to a local journalist and friend, David Clarke, who, in turn, gave it to Newquay Color Services, a company that did most of the developing for a local magazine Clarke worked on, Cornish Life. To the delight of David and Doc, the images looked near-perfect: Shiels had caught the beast in just about the best pose possible. Some suggested the best pose was just too good to be true, which is hardly surprising, given Doc’s reputation as a skilled magician and wizard. There are, however, strong reasons why we should not consider the photos to be examples of nothing stranger than expert fakery.
Doc quickly contacted another local journalist and friend, Mike Truscott, who immediately put a call in to the Glasgow, Scotland Daily Record newspaper, whose news-desk expressed major interest in Doc’s pictures. The photo-editor at the Daily Record, Martin Gilfeather, requested that Doc send – via train, for speed – both processed pictures for his team to see and study. It was wise of Doc, as it turned out, that he chose to only send one. To his credit, Gilfeather asked for the rest of the film to be sent, so that he could confirm Doc and Chris really had been in Scotland, and specifically at the loch.
A study of the negatives by Gilfeather demonstrated that the photos of the Nessie were taken exactly where Doc had claimed: at Loch Ness. Indeed, as the roll of negative showed, the two images were sandwiched right in between a variety of other shots of Loch Ness, Urqhuart Castle, and the Inchnacordoch Lodge Hotel. Gilfeather even phoned the hotel to get confirmation that the Shiels had stayed there. The owner confirmed they did, and on the very days in question. Impressed by all of this validation, it wasn’t long before the Daily Record published the story – as did the Daily Mirror, one of the nation’s biggest-selling newspapers. At this point things got very strange and dark.
As Shiels, himself, noted: “The newspaper promised to send all my pictures back at once, but it was almost two nail-biting weeks before I received the monster slide. My ‘holiday snaps’ had been ‘temporarily displaced.’ I haven’t seen them since. Tim Dinsdale had warned me about this kind of thing.”
Things got even stranger: David Blenchley was a Falmouth-based photographer who mailed a copy of one of the priceless images to a man named Max Maven. He is a psychic, magician, an American member of the Psychic Seven International team, and someone who, in later years, worked with the acclaimed stage-magicians Penn and Teller. Somewhere between Falmouth, England and Boston, Massachusetts the image vanished from what was a well-sealed and protected package. It was never seen again. Another attempt to share the image failed miserably when a glass slide prepared by Cornwall journalist Frank Durham was accidentally broken and shattered into pieces. Shiels, acutely aware of the power of real magic, viewed all of this as a kind of growing supernatural menace. It wasn’t the end of the story, however. There was far worse to come.
Dr. David Hoy, who was part of the PSI team, suffered a heart attack; Major Leslie May, also of the team, was stricken with ill-health; several of the members investigating the sightings at Lake Kok-kol vanished without a trace; Doc had a son injured in a motorbike accident; one of his daughters was thrown by a horse; another was hit by mysterious stomach pains; the family’s pair of pet cats died; and – rather bizarrely – Doc accidentally set his beard on fire, with no lasting effects, fortunately. Not surprisingly, Shiels knew when it was time to back off. And the time was now. He knew he had been pushing his luck throughout the entire exercise, but now it was clear he had pushed that same luck way too far. The supernatural backlash had reached breaking point. It was a dark development which, on July 7, 1977, led Doc Shiels to sever all ties with the rest of those attached to the experiments to raise monsters.