May 25, 2022 I Nick Redfern

A Mysterious Winged Creature, But, It's Not Mothman

In early 1976 the dense trees surrounding Mawnan Church, Cornwall, England became a veritable magnet for a diabolical beast that was christened the Owlman. The majority of those that crossed paths with the creature asserted that it was human-like in both size and design, and possessed a pair of large wings, fiery red eyes, claws, and exuded an atmosphere of menace. No wonder people make parallels with the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. It all began during the weekend of Easter 1976, when two young girls, June and Vicky Melling, had an encounter of a truly nightmarish kind in Mawnan Woods. The girls were on holiday with their parents when they saw a gigantic, feathery “bird man” hovering over the 13th Century church. It was a story that their father, Don Melling, angrily shared with a man named Tony “Doc” Shiels. I say “angrily” because Shiels was a noted, local magician who Melling came to believe had somehow instigated the whole affair. Or as Shiels, himself, worded it: “…some trick that had badly frightened his daughters.” Shiels denied any involvement in the matter whatsoever. But that was only the start of things.

Another one to see the Owlman was Jane Greenwood, also a young girl. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper, the Falmouth Packet, during the summer of 1976 that detailed her own startling encounter: “I am on holiday in Cornwall with my sister and our mother. I, too, have seen a big bird-thing. It was Sunday morning, and the place was in the trees near Mawnan Church, above the rocky beach. It was in the trees standing like a full-grown man, but the legs bent backwards like a bird’s. It saw us, and quickly jumped up and rose straight up through the trees. How could it rise up like that?”

Thanks to my good friend and monster-seeker, Jon Downes, for the cover image of his book, The Owlman and Others

Two fourteen year old girls, Sally Chapman and Barbara Perry, also had the misfortune to have a run-in with the Owlman in 1976. At around 10.00 p.m., while camping in the woods of Mawnan, and as they sat outside of their tent making a pot of tea, the pair heard a strange hissing noise. On looking around, they saw the infernal Owlman staring in their direction from a distance of about sixty feet. Sally said: “It was like a big owl with pointed ears, as big as a man. The eyes were red and glowing. At first I thought that it was someone dressed-up, playing a joke, trying to scare us. I laughed at it. We both did. Then it went up in the air and we both screamed. When it went up you could see its feet!” Barbara added: “It’s true. It was horrible, a nasty owl-face with big ears and big red eyes. It was covered in grey feathers. The claws on its feet were black. It just flew up and disappeared in the trees.”

While there were rumors of additional sightings of the creature in the immediate years that followed, it wasn’t until the summer of either 1988 or 1989 that the Owlman put in an appearance that can be documented to a significant degree. In this case, the witness was a young boy, dubbed “Gavin” by a good friend of mine, Jon Downes (who wrote an entire book on the winged monster, titled The Owlman and Others), and his then girlfriend, Sally. The beast, Gavin told Jon, was around five feet in height, had large feet, glowing eyes, and significantly sized wings. It was a shocking, awe-inspiring encounter that Gavin and Sally never forgot. As was the case in the immediate post-1976 era, a few reports from the 1990s and 2000s have surfaced. Chiefly, however, they are from individuals who prefer not to go on the record - something which has led to understandable suspicions of fakery and hoaxing. But, one could also make a very good argument that going public about having seen a monstrous “birdman” in English woodland would not be the wisest move to make. Today, and getting ever-closer to 40 years since the original encounters occurred, the matter remains the undeniable controversy that it was back then.

For some researchers, Doc Shiels is the man to blame. They perceive him as a trickster, a faker and someone not to be trusted. Jon Downes, however, suggests something else – something with which I concur, too. Namely, that Shiels – dubbed the “Wizard of the Western World” – has profound knowledge of “magic.” And by that, I don’t mean people pulling rabbits out of hats. We are talking, here, about something far stranger, something ancient, and something filled with swirling mystery. In a review of Doc’s excellent book, Monstrum, I noted: “[Doc’s] is a world filled with a deep understanding of the real nature of magic (chaos and ritualistic), the secrets of invocation and manifestation, of strange realms just beyond – and that occasionally interact with – our own, and Trickster-like phenomenon. Doc’s is also a domain where, when we dare to imagine the fantastic, when we decide to seek it out, and when we finally accept its reality, we perhaps provide it with some form of quasi-existence.”

(Nick Redfern) Jonathan Downes, Owlman expert and author

Perhaps Doc, in a decidedly strange way, really did play a role in the formation of the Owlman legend. But, such was the allure of the beast it quickly stepped out of the world of imagination and story-telling, and right into the heart of the real world. And on that last point, be careful what you wish for, lest you unleash into our reality a monster that has no intention of returning to that domain from which it was originally created, imagined, or invoked.  There is, however, another angle to the mysterious matter of the Owlman. It’s an angle which suggests the Owlman is nothing less than an extraterrestrial creature.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the UFO phenomenon – and particularly so that which focuses on the “alien abduction” controversy – is one which makes a connection between encounters of the unearthly kind and owls. There are numerous reports on file where people who have undergone UFO experiences report sightings of anomalous owls. And by “anomalous” I mean owls that (A) manifest directly before or after the encounter and in the same location; and (B) seem to be much larger than the average, known kind of owl. This has led to an intriguing theory: that the sightings of owls are actually nothing of the sort. They may be nothing less than skillfully-created “screen memories” which are implanted into the mind of the abductee or the experiencer, with the specific intent of masking the true nature of what occurred. Moving on:

Whitley Strieber is the author of what is probably the most widely recognized book on the alien abduction phenomenon: the bestselling Communion, which was published in 1987, and the cover of which displays a near-hypnotic image of an alien entity. It may not be a coincidence that immediately after the first abduction experience that Strieber recalled, on December 26, 1985, his mind was filled owl-based imagery. Strieber’s sister had her own experience with an anomalous owl in the early 1960s. Strieber said that as his sister was driving between the Texas towns of Comfort and Kerrville, and after the witching hour had struck, “…she was terrified to see a huge light sail down and cross the road ahead of her. A few minutes later an owl flew in front of the car. I have to wonder if that is not a screen memory, but my sister has no sense of it.”

In 2013, I received an email from a woman now living in the English town of Lowestoft, but who previously lived very close to Mawnan – where the Owlman was seen in 1976 - and specifically in the small Cornwall village of Gweek, the distance between which, by car, is approximately six and a half miles. It transpires that in 1998 she had a profound UFO encounter while taking the road from Mawnan to Gweek. It was after 11:00 p.m. and the woman was driving home after visiting a friend in Mawnan. She had barely left the little village when she saw what she could only describe as a UFO, one that appeared at the side of the road – around the size of a large beach-ball and glowing bright orange. The next thing she knew, she was parked at the side of the road, with what she was able to determine was no less than two hours of time unaccounted for. But there was something else: as she came out of her groggy state, she caught sight of a huge owl-like creature, but which had somewhat humanoid characteristics attached to it, too. It was hovering in the air, at a height of around fifteen feet, but was not employing the use of its wings to keep it aloft. Given the fact that this was practically on the doorstep of where the Owlman was seen back in 1976 (and since, too), the idea that the two issues are unconnected is highly unlikely.

The witness admitted she knew of the Owlman legend. Living so close to Mawnan, it would be more astonishing had she not heard of it. There was little more she could tell me, beyond the facts surrounding the sighting of the curious ball of light, the period of missing time, and the appearance of a “humanoid owl,” as I term it. This particular encounter – which has not been publicized before – set me thinking. What if the Owlman of Cornwall is not a beast of cryptozoological proportions, after all? What if, instead, it is some strange manifestation of the UFO phenomenon, one that is designed to trick the witnesses into thinking they have encountered a large owl, when, in reality, the event was of an otherworldly nature? A screen-memory, in other words. Maybe we need to reevaluate the true nature of the enigmatic Owlman.

Nick Redfern
Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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