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Even after all these years it is still nigh-on impossible to figure out whether Madeleine Smith, the well-to-do-daughter of a prominent Glasgow businessman, really poisoned the hapless Emile l’Angelier, by putting arsesnic in his cocoa during their clandestine assignations at her bedroom window. She has left us with a question-mark which endures to this day. The uniquely Scottish verdict of Not Proven was probably the only course of action the jury had at the time. Yes, she did buy arsenic during the final weeks of Emile’s life, but there is no firm evidence she actually put it in the poor man’s cocoa. In the 1950 David Lean film Madeleine, starring Ann Todd, she is shown washing her hands in it, and arsenic was used as a beauty remedy by wealthy Victorian ladies at that time. And then there is Emile’s strange behaviour in the run-up to his death. In the last month of his life he began keeping a daily diary, something he had never done before. Some have argued he did this to deliberately frame Madeleine (sort of “oh I was so ill after accepting that cup of cocoa from her last night”), or was he really worried that Madeleine was trying to bump him off, and was making notes connecting his random bouts of illness with visits to her?

This book is divided into two parts. The first half is largely taken up with the notorious love letters between Madeleine and Emile, which so scandalised polite Victorian society at the time, as well-to-do young ladies like Madeleine weren’t expected to express passion for their boyfriends in quite the way she did, even referring to herself as his “wife” and signing the letters “Mimi”. For many months Madeleine was absolutely besotted with him, and put up with what would be called these days “red flag behaviour” from Emile. Some observers have suggested they may have had a sado-masochistic relationship. From all these years on it’s hard to judge, as we’re talking mid-Victorian times here, when women were fully expected to be completely subservient to the men in their life. But Emile does go full-on 50 Shades Of Grey at times, issuing orders as to what Madeleine can and cannot do, even banning her from going for a walk on Saturday afternoons! When they do finally make love, Emile turns on her afterwards and blames her entirely for it, implying she was a bad woman for giving into him, and that her parents must have brought her up badly. (It takes two, mate).

But then, at the beginning of 1857, Madeleine found herself being pushed towards marriage with the respectable William “Billy” Minnoch, and Madeleine found she wasn’t averse to the idea at all. Perhaps by then even she was getting tired of Emile’s controlling behaviour, and their furtive assignations at her basement window. A respectable, public relationship – with the full support of her family – with a nice, normal man would have seemed quite relaxing by comparison. From that point on, she had a complete personality change where Emile was concerned, going from adoring handmaiden to ice queen, brusquely demanding the return of all her love letters.

The second half of the book concerns the trial and the aftermath. It is the aftermath which fascinates me, and the question of “did she, or didn’t she?” becomes all-consuming. When the verdict was read out to a cheering courtroom, Madeleine’s advocate, John Inglis, sat with his head in his hands. Surely he should have been rejoicing? He later made the curious remark that he would “rather dance with her than dine with her”. Madeleine tried to pick up her old life in Glasgow, but found that people weren’t feeling too friendly towards her, so she upped and moved south to London, where she married an artist called George Wardle, by whom she had 2 children, and become something of a Bloomsbury society hostess, where she did the revolutionary act of holding dinner parties without – sharp intake of breath – putting a tablecloth on the table!! She also become involved in politics, joining the Fabian Society, where she met the likes of George Bernard Shaw, who later swore he found nothing “sinister” in her behaviour at all.

Curiously, Madeleine and George divorced after 28 years of marriage, which is somewhat unusual for that time. George went to Italy. For a while Madeleine settled in Staffordshire, but then suddenly upped and emigrated to New York, where she married again at the ripe old age of 80. When she died at the age of 92, she was described as looking no older than 64 (perhaps that arsenic had an effect then?!).

Several years ago I wrote a short story about Madeleine called Blythswood Square. I think in those days I was more sympathetic to Madeleine, on the grounds that Emile was becoming a complete pain in the neck towards the end, and I could quite see him being vengeful enough to kill himself and put all the blame on her. Emile had been known to make random comments like that in earlier relationships, with romantic ideas about himself as The Wronged Lover. These days I’m not so sure.

The trial had a terrible effect on the people closest to Madeleine. Billy Minnoch, who stuck by her all through the proceedings and said he would marry her when it was all over, changed his mind and never saw her again. Madeleine’s mother took her to her bed, and refused to leave it for the rest of her life. Madeleine’s two younger sisters, Bessie and Janet, never married. In fact, Bessie didn’t live for long afterwards.

I found an interesting article about Madeleine on a site called Old Glasgow Murders. In it the author relates an interesting anecdote from the author W Somerset Maugham, who in 1907 found himself living next door to a “quiet, prim old lady”. When Madeleine realised he had worked out who she really was, she said to him “I suppose you want to know whether I did it or not. I did, and what’s more, if it were to happen again, I’d do it again”. It is also said that the jury at the trial were convinced she was guilty, but felt that the Prosecution hadn’t presented enough evidence to convict her.

The author of this book, William MacGowan, does an admirable job of largely staying neutral, but it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Madeleine was very lucky she never had to face the hangman’s noose.

Back in 2010, on a visit to Glasgow, I made a point of visiting Blythswood Square, and seeing the basement windows where Madeleine and Emile had had their fateful assignations. At that time (and still is, as far as I know) the Smiths old apartment was now a solicitor’s office. I have heard rumours that it is haunted, with mild ghostly activity going on there. All I can say, perhaps avoid drinking cocoa whilst you’re there.

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Perhaps it’s because of this never-ending Lockdown we are in here in the UK, but very recently I found myself watching Escape From Alcatraz, a 1979 film starring Clint Eastwood, and based on the true story of the only men who ever managed to escape from the infamous Rock, the island prison of Alcatraz, in the bay of San Francisco. Alcatraz, which had operated as a highly secure prison since the turn of the 20th century, was virtually thought to be escape-proof. Even if by some miracle you managed to chisel your way out of your cell and the fortress building itself, you would still have to brave the icy shark-infested waters and strong currents of the bay. Alcatraz was regarded as the “last resort” of prisons. It was where men were sent who were deemed too troublesome for other prisons, or who had tried too many escape attempts. It was described as “the great garbage can of San Francisco”, and nicknamed “Hellcatraz”. It was home to some famous inmates, such as gangster Al Capone, and Richard “Birdman Of Alcatraz” Stroud, who was immortalised on film by Burt Lancaster.

There had been several escape attempts in its dark history, but all the previous escapees had either been shot during the attempt, or had drowned. The difference with Frank Morris, and his fellow escapees the Anglin brothers, is no one knows what happened to them.

Frank Morris was a child of the Depression era. He was born in 1926 in Washington DC, and had a troubled upbringing. He was orphaned by the age of 11, and farmed out to foster homes. He began his life of crime at the tender age of 13, and embarked on a low-life existence of possession of drugs and armed robbery. By his late teens he was serving his first jail sentence. By the time he was sent to Alcatraz in January 1960 his list of crimes included Burglary, Possession of Narcotics, Breaking & Entering, and Bank Robbery. He had previously escaped from the Louisiana State Penitentiary whilst serving a 10-year sentence for bank robbery.

He began formulating his plan to escape from Alcatraz in December 1960, when he found himself sharing adjacent cells with like-minded souls, John and Clarence Anglin (brothers, both in for bank robbery), and Allen West (who was doing time for car theft). Frank was very much the brains of the outfit. He had an IQ of 133, and as Clint Eastwood would later point out, if he had channelled his energies in a different direction, he could have made a success out of life. For the next 6 months they used a variety of tools, such as discarded saws, a drill fashioned from a vacuum cleaner, and spoons taken from the mess hall, to widen the ventilation ducts beneath the sinks in their cells. By the 1950s inmates had been granted various privileges not known to previous residents, such as being able to have musical instruments in their cells, and Frank would use an accordion to cover up any noise made by their work. They concealed their work with cardboard and paint every morning.

They were then able to climb up to an unguarded utility corridor, where they began to store things, such as raincoats, and DIY life preservers, which they copied from pictures in Popular Mechanics magazine. They also constructed their own life raft. To conceal their absence from their cells, the men constructed papier mache heads, made realistic by snatching hair from the barber-shop floor. They would place these on their bunks to make it look as if they were sleeping to any guard who happened to pass by. These crude efforts managed to buy them valuable time when they escaped.

On 11 June 1962 the great day dawned, and the men plotted their escape. Unfortunately West’s attempt was aborted when he found that the concrete around the ventilation hole in his cell had hardened, leaving the grill in place. By the time he had managed to get out, the others had gone. West managed to reach the prison roof before giving up and climbing back down to his cell. (West would get treated leniently by the authorities for co-operating fully with their enquiries). Meanwhile Morris and the Anglin brothers managed to climb down a kitchen ventilator shaft, and then clamber over the perimeter fence. They then inflated their makeshift portable life-raft by using a concertina! The men had made their escape soon after 10 PM. The papier-mache heads left behind in their cells meant their disappearance wasn’t detected until several hours later, the following morning.

And, as the old saying goes, they were never seen again. The only traces of them that were found were a paddle floating south of nearby Angel Island, a wallet wrapped in plastic containing details of the Anglins’ relatives, shreds of raincoat material, and a deflated life jacket. Bodies often surfaced in the waters in that area, but the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is a notorious suicide hotspot, so that makes things even more complicated.

Relatives of the Anglin brothers claimed to receive letters, postcards and Christmas cards from the elusive men over the years. One of their brothers, Robert, said he sometimes received phone calls in which he could only hear breathing at the other end. He also said that when their father died, two mysterious bearded men turned up at the funeral, weeping quietly as they stood looking at the casket, before leaving again. It was also said that at the funeral of their mother, two unusually tall women turned up. A photograph taken of two bearded men in 1975 hints strongly that they eventually made it to Brazil.

Of Frank, no trace has ever been found. It is often believed that a man of his IQ would be too darn smart to go round telling anyone willy-nilly that he had escaped from Alcatraz, and I can quite imagine that he was able to successfully take this secret with him to the grave.

The FBI believed at the time of the escape that all 3 men must have drowned in the icy waters, but the Anglin brothers were seasoned swimmers, who had perfected their skills in Lake Michigan as children. Frank Morris also had plenty of opportunity to build up his physical fitness in the 6 months they were planning their escape. Although undoubtedly difficult, many people (including a 9-year-old boy) have swum the same distance, and it is thought now that the prison guards at Alcatraz hammed up the horror stories of the icy ocean currents to deter would-be escapees.

The case was officially closed by the FBI in 1979, but in 2013 a letter was submitted to the San Franciso Police Department, claiming to be from John Anglin, which asserted that the 3 men had “barely” made it to the shore on the night of their escape. He went on write that Frank Morris had died in 2008, and Clarence had passed away in 2011. He went on to say “I’m 83 years-old and in bad shape. I have cancer”. He offered to go to prison for a year, if it meant he could get medical treatment. Law enforcement officers though refused to believe it was genuine, even though letter-writing experts said the handwriting bore similarities with the letters sent to the Anglin family.

Harsh as it may sound, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the Authorities were desperate to promote the story that all the men had drowned on that June night. A successful escape from a fortress like Alcatraz was incredibly embarrassing to them. Not just the escape itself, but the way the men had managed to work on their plans, completely undetected, for 6 months! (And there was me thinking that Andy’s escape in The Shawshank Redemption was too far-fetched!) At the end of the film Escape From Alcatraz, Patrick McGoohan, as the Prison Governor, is heard insisting that they had drowned. Well after all, no one could escape from Alcatraz could they …

BUT if they did survive, how did they live? Their faces would have been national news at the time, flashed up on every TV screen and front page everywhere. As career criminals they would have had no trouble stealing cars, food and clothes to survive, but this would very likely lead to their arrest and capture. It’s often a feature of prison break stories, that the escapee is usually undone when he or she goes to commit a petty crime soon afterwards. They would have to completely keep their heads down, and not draw any attention to themselves at all. This would be difficult enough to do for a short time, but for decades afterwards?

It’s not to say it can’t happen though.

Alcatraz Prison itself closed down a year later in 1963, largely due to the ruinous costs of keeping it going, and the salt water damage caused to the buildings. To this day it still exerts a baleful influence over the public imagination, and is a popular tourist attraction. It is also reputed to be very haunted, with many visitors claiming to have had disturbing experiences there, but perhaps that is a story for another time.

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I have to confess that reading a book about a bunch of idiotic, self-satisfied Tories all gleefully f*cking up our country would not normally be my first choice for reading matter, but as the book spans from May 2010 to December 2019, I thought it might help me to understand this past ten years and everything that has happened. After all, the author did have a front row ringside seat to it all. I had also been led to believe that the author was some kind of comic genius, and that the book was (to quote one newspaper) “gloriously naughty”. Like heck it is.

Sasha Swire is married to Hugo Swire, who I think was the MP for East Devon. You could be forgiven for giving the famous Alan Partridge shrug at that point, as he doesn’t seem to have left a marked impression on the country as a whole. First off, the book doesn’t tell as anything about the main players in the Cameron, May & Johnson governments that we don’t already know. Theresa May is rubbish at dealing with people and completely devoid of imagination. Boris is an attention-seeking narcissist, and Dave seems OK, but not overly blessed with brains, and can have a touch of the sweaty-handed sleazeball about him. Dominic Cummings is stark raving mad. George Osborne is an egotistical, self-serving twerp. Jacob Rees-Mogg is a nanny-obsessed weirdo in a double-breasted suit. As regards the Royals, Prince Andrew is MEGA sleazy and horribly entitled. The Queen is old and frail, and sticks doggedly to a very limited script at public events. None of this will come as a massive shock to anyone I suspect.

She does often mention Ed Vaizey, who was our old MP for years (and years). He also comes across as a bit of a sweaty-handed sleazeball. That doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve seen Vaizey about 3 or 4 times over the years in our area, and none of those occasions was I terribly impressed. Just to give one example: last year (2019) I saw him in our local museum’s coffeeshop. This was weirdly fascinating. He stood in the middle of the room, wearing a baggy black suit and a pair of bright red socks (not a good look, it must be said), completely oblivious to a frail old lady who was trying to manoeuvre her walking frame around him. He also completely failed to say “please” and “thank you” to the woman serving him at the counter. He communicated more in sort of series of arrogant grunts, barely raising his eyes from his phone. I once heard it said that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat the waiter serving them in a restaurant. A top American CEO would interview potential members of staff this way, to get a handle on what they are really like as people. I think Vaizey might have failed to make the grade. Good riddance to him.

Anyway that’s Vaizey. I was hoping to get some kind of perspective on the big events of the past decade. Some major events – such as Grenfell Tower, the Salisbury Poisonings – were, shockingly, not mentioned at all. Other events, such as the August Riots of 2011, the Manchester Arena Bombing, were only mentioned in some cursory way, as if they were things that happened On The Outside to the Plebs, and so didn’t really matter very much. It is this insulting, arrogant air which infects the whole book, and can give the whole thing an atmosphere of The Last Days Of Versailles, with the toffs spectacularly indifferent to all the chaos that is happening on their palatial doorsteps.

Nothing and no one comes out of this book in an endearing way, and that includes the author herself. You are left with an image of a bunch of public school idiots slurping their way through yet another banquet, and squeezing each other’s hairy balls and bums for no other reason than that person was within convenient groping range. There are bizarre sub-slapstick scenes, which, presumably are meant to be funny, but just leave you feeling “what the hell was that all about?” I guess you had to be there.

There is no sense at all that any of these bastards knows what the heck they’re doing!! They would be out of their depth in a fricking puddle!! The 2016 EU Referendum, which, whatever side you were on, was essentially about defining the entire future of the United Kingdom, boiled down to a childish spat between David Cameroon and Bozo Johnson. As if they were captains of rival rugger teams at school. A plague on both their houses. With knobs on.

The only bit I did find genuinely interesting was early on in the book, when she meets the Countess of Wessex at an event in Northern Ireland. Sophie comes across as a rather sad and defensive figure, almost ghostly, who has been drained by life in the Royal Family. The author writes that the Monarchy does seem to actively destroy the women who come into its orbit. Diana, Fergie, Sophie, and now Meghan (who, although I’m not an ardent fan of her & Harry’s constant whining, Megs does seem to at least have had the commonsense to run away from them!). The only one who seems to have survived – so far – is Kate, and she appears to have done that by effectively removing all traces of personality and individuality from herself.

The book ends at the December 2019 General Election, when Boris won with a majority of 80. I have an unsettling feeling that this was meant to be some kind of feelgood ending. Well things move fast these days. At the moment it seems as though Boris will go down in history as an even worse Prime Minister than Theresa May (Old Ma May, as she is called in the book), and I honestly didn’t think that could happen. The author then writes that she is running back to Devon, where she will probably now have to hide. Good.

So we’ve endured 10 years of Austerity (and God knows how many that has killed), endless Terror attacks, the Brexit shambles, and now Covid … and yet here we are, still with a bunch of useless public school cretins “in charge”, who seem absolutely incapable of running a bath, let alone a country. God rot them. Whilst we are still lumbered with them, there is no hope of the light at the end of the tunnel being switched on any time soon.

I don’t want to end this on a negative note, there is quite enough of all that going around at the moment. All I can say is that one day we will come out of all this. Nothing stays the same forever. But I will be absolutely stunned if anyone in the future looks back on these dreadful days with any kind of sentimental nostalgia.

ADDENDUM 22/5/2022 – With all the constant scandals that are revolving around the British “government” at the moment I find it hard not to be reminded of the last days of John Major’s government in the 1990s, when Tories were being outed as crooks and kinky bastards all over the place, all to the backdrop of Mr Major’s Back To Basics policy. What is happening now makes me loathe the Sasha Swire book even more. These vile, self-satisfied shits!! I’ve just read someone describing this “government” as “like an out-of-control frat party”. Well I guess that’s what we get when we elect a bunch of over-privileged public school buffoons to run things. We have a Prime Minister who earned himself a reputation during his university days for trashing other people’s rooms and trying to set fire to public conveniences. They are a bloody disgrace.

I have a real fear now that any national feelgood factor which may be generated by the Queen’s 70th Jubilee will now be grabbed by these awful people as proof that us peasants are happy with the current situation. Well no. Any feelgood factor will be generated by dedicated royalists, and frankly the sort of people who will turn up anywhere for a free party. As for the Queen herself. Well I’m sure I’ll get accused of bullying an old lady, but she is the Head Of State, so here goes. These days I see her as like the lady who is buried up to her waist in sand in the old Samuel Beckett play Happy Days. She has sat there over the years like Patience On A Monument, whilst corrupt and/or incompetent politicians have wrecked and dismantled the country around her. We are constantly told that Boris lied to her in the Autumn of 2019 when he prorogued Parliament, but it is also ignoring the fact that SHE LET HIM LIE TO HER. It’s always been more easy for her to sit there and go “mm OK” than to actually DO anything about these idiots. I’ve read an article which describes Beckett’s play as celebrating entombment. Seems apt. The Queen has been acting entombed for 70 years now. What a damn waste. And meanwhile the country fragments all over the place and is lost in a fog.

As George Orwell once put it “England is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still it is a family … A family with the wrong members in control”.

He knew a thing or two did Eric.

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Several people are staying in a huge hotel in a Swiss forest when The Bomb goes off. They are all sitting at breakfast one morning, when a woman looks up from her phone and says “they’ve bombed Washington”. The one thing everyone dreads has happened, World War 3 has broken out. This is a compelling opening.

Jon – the narrator of the story – is an American academic, who has been attending a conference in the hotel. The story is told in his diary instalments. I don’t normally have a problem with stories told in diary format, but in this instance it did make it quite difficult to get into. The first few entries skip by, sometimes with barely a paragraph to them, and the story only really begins in earnest around the Day 50 mark, which is where they find that a murder has been previously committed at the hotel. The body of a young girl is found in a water tank on the roof.

This was an interesting choice of location, and I can only assume the author is familiar with the real-life story of Elisa Lam, who was found in the water tank at the Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles in 2013. Elisa’s story is one of the most puzzling unsolved mysteries of our age, and the author took parts of the Hotel Cecil’s history – its dodgy past clientele, including serial-killers for instance – and incorporated it into her novel.

Unfortunately it was at this point that I first began to lose patience with the story. A bunch of nuclear war survivors holed up in a corporate hotel is quite enough story to be going on with, but this one decides it will then veer off in direction of an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit, with Jon taking it upon himself to assume the Hercule Poirot role and interrogate his fellow guests (this was as dull as ditchwater). It began to feel as if this story was being too greedy with its plot. Either the nuclear war story, or the Elisa Lam-inspired story, would have made great subjects for a thriller/horror on their own, but splicing them together just didn’t work for me. In a post nuclear war situation you would be too busy just surviving, or trying to work out a way to get back home, or find loved ones, and, to be brutally frank, probably would not be unduly concerned about someone you’ve never met who ended up in a water tank a while back.

There is the occasional eerie moment, but I couldn’t make out what this story wanted to be, and it was extremely hard to care about the characters. Some made no impact at all, and it became difficult to work out who was meant to be who. Sasha, Mia, Dylan, Nathan, Peter … all seemed interchangeable at times. It also didn’t help that the two women Jon became closest to were called Tania and Tomi, which made it a nightmare at times trying to decipher them apart. The characters are all pretty unsympathetic, and selfish and cold-bloodied. You don’t get any impression these people had a past life, and most of them don’t seem that bothered about what’s going on in the outside world. They hide in their rooms, only to emerge at meal-times. Perhaps some people would be like that in that situation? I don’t know, I hope I never have the chance to find out. I did wonder if that might be the point, that these are sociopaths who have been lured here to be punished for their sins, And Then There Were None-style, or were in some kind of Purgatory, like the characters holed up together in Jean-Paul Satre’s play No Exit. Unfortunately it wasn’t as interesting as that.

But what is this situation anyway? We are assuming a nuclear war has happened, but it doesn’t seem to make much impact, and no one seems overly concerned about radioactive air, fallout, or a nuclear winter, etc. Some of the guests still go out jogging as if nothing has happened! Also I got thoroughly confused about the Internet situation. I assumed that, post-Bomb, the Internet would vanish, but somehow Jon is still checking people’s posts on Facebook and Twitter! Admittedly the posts haven’t been updated, but how did he access those sites anyway?? It felt more as if there’d been a power-cut, where you can still see Internet sites but they haven’t updated, than the all-out collapse of civilisation-as-we-know-it*. As one reviewer on Amazon put it: “if Facebook is still there, then civilisation is still there” [I’m not sure about that to be honest, but I get his point!]. *UPDATE: I have been told that the Internet, when it was first invented, was built to withstand even a nuclear war. OK.

I kept with the story pretty doggedly until about a 100 pages before the end, when I finally lost patience. I skipped several pages (sorry!), and went straight to the end to see how it would all pan out. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to give Spoilers, I know how irritating it is when people do that, but let’s just say the ending left me even more baffled, and with a feeling of What The Heck Was That All About?

There are also some technical problems. For instance, at one point Jon says that he goes to answer his room door, but carrying “a candle in one hand and a knife in the other”, so how did he open the door then? With his teeth? Awkwardly, with his elbow? Did he quickly put the knife in the candle hand, and then hurriedly take it back again when the door was opened? And why am I analysing this so much?

Inevitably any hotel-based thriller/horror is going to draw comparisons with Stephen King’s The Shining, but I was also reminded of John Christopher’s 1965 book The Possessors (which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this blog), about a bunch of people isolated at an Alpine hotel, with soul-taking aliens lurking outside. I found that one much more satisfying as a read than this.

I don’t want to be too hard on it, as the story did have its moments, but it felt too much as if the author was trying to bung every Plot she could think of in, and left no time or energy for fleshing out characters, or giving the background story more thought. It was also relentlessly grey and dreary. Now OK I know a book about nuclear war isn’t exactly going to be a laugh-a-minute, but people are still people, you would still have flashes of humanity amongst the survivors, but with this … well all I can say is what a dreary, boring bunch they are.

I fully expect this to be made into a movie at some point, and I hope it works better there.

The Dancing Plague is often regarded as one of the weirdest outbreaks of mass hysteria ever recorded. It began on 14th July 1518, when a woman, a Frau Troffea (or Trauffea) suddenly began to dance frenziedly in a street in Strasbourg. She kept this up, ignoring her husband’s pleas to stop, until she collapsed from exhaustion. After resting for a short while overnight she resumed her frenzied activity the following day, in spite of having sore feet. After a few days several more people began to join in. Within a week more than 30 people had become afflicted with the mania, and seemed oblivious to any injury they suffered as a result.

Local leaders, both civic and religious, decided that MORE dancing was the answer, thinking that the victims would dance themselves free of it. They opened public buildings, built outdoor stages, and hired musicians for the dancers. This only made the situation worse. Onlookers saw what was happening, and believed that St Vitus was angry with them. Regarding themselves as all being sinners, they simply joined in. Over the next 2 months about 400 people became afflicted with the craze, and it was said that some died from strokes, heart attacks and exhaustion. A local man, Johann Schilter, wrote: “In the public market, in alleys and streets / Day and night; and many of them ate nothing / until at last the sickness left them”. It only began to fade at the beginning of September.

It is has been said that it stopped when the victims were bundled into carts taken to the mountaintop shrine of St Vitus to pray for absolution. In my opinion, I suspect it was more likely that, whatever hysteria had possessed them, had simply run its course. Like a physical fever. Was a change of season anything to do with it? I find it interesting that this began at the height of Summer. As I wrote a while back in my Dog Days piece, high Summer has always notoriously been a time for people going “crackerdog”. Did people calm down when the mellow, less intense, days of Autumn came on? There might have also been practical answers. The local authorities decreed that all the platforms and stages were to be taken down, and all music and dancing be banned for the month of September. No small thing, considering how much communal dancing was a major part of life in those times, a bit like banning television or the Internet would be now.

Many explanations have been put forward to account for the mania. At the time it was put down to demonic possession or overheated blood. In more recent times historians have cited eating bread contaminated with the fungal disease, ergot, which could produce insanity. Others have argued that Frau Troffea started dancing to embarrass her husband, and that other disgruntled wives, on seeing what she was doing, joined in. It has been said that initially it was largely young women who joined Frau Troffea in her dancing. There might well be an element of truth in this. This era was the height of female suppression after all. A wife had virtually no human rights at all. I think of it as the era of the Scold’s Bridle (although the first recorded use of this device was in Scotland in 1567), where a stroppy wife could be locked into a device which stopped her from speaking, and be paraded around the town by her husband in it as a public humiliation. Onlookers would often throw rubbish at her to add to her shame. It’s easy to imagine wives seeing Frau Troffea causing her husband acute embarrassment, and deciding to join in (I can’t help thinking of the video from about 20 years ago of the Kelis song I Hate You So Much Right Now!). Others have dismissed the Rebellious Wives theory as misogynistic nonsense.

I’m more inclined to agree with the mass hysteria explanation. There have been many outbreaks of mass hysteria right throughout history. Arguably the most famous was that which afflicted the nuns of Loudun in France in 1634, which were immortalised in the controversial Ken Russell film The Devils in the early 1970s. Outbreaks of mass hysteria have continued well into recent times. Outbreaks of hysterical giggling or fainting have been reported at girls schools all over the world, from the UK to Tanzania to Indonesia. In the Tanzania outbreak (which occurred in 1963) the girls took their hysteria home with them, and “infected” their families. Whole villages became consumed with it. In the 1970s hysterical fits frequently overtook workers at a Singapore factory, which had them screaming, going into trance states, and showing acute fear.

It has been pointed out that dancing mania outbreaks weren’t unknown in the Strasbourg region, or Europe generally. There had been one as far back as 1374. In 1278 over 200 people gathered to dance on a bridge over the River Meuse in Germany, causing the bridge to collapse. The 1518 outbreak though has largely been considered the worst.

So what caused people to react in such a strange way? Well, at the risk of sounding a bit trite, it was a very difficult time. Religious controversy was sweeping Europe for one thing, and at a time when people were deeply religious and profoundly feared the supernatural, this must have been very traumatic. On Halloween the year before Martin Luther had nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the church door in Wittenburg, effectively challenging the corruption of the almighty Catholic Church, for its controversial sales of Indulgences. This might not sound much to us in the 21st century, but to ordinary people of that era it would be akin to us being told now that the entire World as we know it is a total lie and a fabrication. This was combined with famine and plague outbreaks. It must at times have felt as though The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse had descended.

In these current troubled times in which we live, there has been a lot of focus on mental health issues, and probable outbreaks of mass hysteria. The mind is a very powerful organ, and can influence us, whether we like it or not. Many of us have been concerned that a day-by-day constant drip-feed about Covid-19 could ultimately have a devastating effect on the human psyche. Back in the Spring of 2020, I remember seeing some people behaving in a “squirrel-y” fashion, dodging about frantically in public places, holding scarves to their faces, looking terrified if they came too close to anyone. Now, as I update this in the Summer of 2021, it is clear that the mental health issues caused by the whole pandemic are not likely to go away in a hurry.

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There have been countless tales throughout history of people who have risen to great heights, only to be cruelly cast down again.  Few come more extreme than the story of Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor.   In her time she was a legend, and her story has inspired operas, movies, and even a chain of restaurants.

Elizabeth would have probably been described by her fellow Victorians as “an adventuress”, a woman who relied on her looks and her intelligence to get what she wanted, and who brazenly crashed through societal conventions.   She was born in 1854, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the daughter of an Irish immigrant, Peter McCourt, who owned a clothing store supplying garments to local lumbermen.  Elizabeth was the fourth of 11 children.

Although Elizabeth’s background was respectably middle-class, her mother noted her little girl’s beauty from an early age, and encouraged her to set her sights on marrying a wealthy husband, or even becoming a celebrated actress.  She said Elizabeth should take care to preserve her looks, and excused her from domestic chores for this reason, although it is said that she occasionally helped out in her father’s store.  At the age of 22 Elizabeth entered a skating competition, and caused a stir by wearing a costume which showed off her legs.  This understandably caught the eye of Harvey Doe, who came from a family of wealthy mine-owners.  They married and the couple moved to Central City, Colorado.

I think it’s safe to say that no one in Central City knew what had hit them.  Elizabeth’s striking looks earned her the nickname Baby Doe, although there doesn’t seem to have been anything effete about this gal.  Although she was a great party-girl, she also showed a hands-on interest in her husband’s mining activities, and was even known to put on men’s clothes and  work alongside the miners.  Elizabeth’s couldn’t-give-a-stuff attitude to conventional late 19th century must have been her an endless source of gossip.  This was exacerbated in 1880 when she and Harvey divorced, due to Harvey’s drinking, gambling and habit of visiting brothels.  It was Elizabeth seeing him with a prostitute which put the death-knell on their marriage.

Elizabeth dusted her hands of him and moved to Leadville, where she duly married Horace Tabor, a silver magnate twice her age, who was one of the USA’s wealthiest men. He was said to mine $2000 worth of silver on a daily basis.  They married in secret in 1882, but there was a problem in that Horace was still married to his devoted wife Augusta, who had stuck by him for 25 years.  The record was set straight the following year when Horace and Elizabeth had a more public wedding, and this time they did it in style.  It was attended by the President himself, Chester Arthur, and Elizabeth wore a wedding gown said to be valued at over $7000 (probably about £70,000 in modern money), and a $90,000 necklace (probably about a cool million now, sort of reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond ring) which had once belonged to Isabella, Queen of Spain.

The couple moved to Denver, Colorado, but found themselves completely ostracised by polite company.  Elizabeth gave birth to two daughters, Elizabeth Bonduel Lily, and Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar, and occupied herself in such Victorian ladies pursuits as scrapbooking, giving generously to charity, having her hair done, and the burgeoning women’s suffrage movement.  Elizabeth was as lavish with her children as she was towards herself.  Their Christening robes were priceless, and they even had diamond-encrusted nappy pins (diapers, if you’re American).  The Tabors were able to live in great luxury and comfort for several years, when suddenly calamity struck.

What became known as the Panic of 1893 was triggered by the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.  Its repeal caused silver to become drastically demonetized, and plunged many mine-owners into debt, virtually overnight.  This is where we see the best of Elizabeth.  She was a staunch supporter to her family, handling her husband’s business affairs in Denver, and trying to turn the whole thing into an adventure for her little daughters, especially when the power was cut off at their mansion.  Horace was reduced to literally raking muck in a Cripple Creek mine.  It wrecked his health and he died in 1899, leaving Elizabeth as a widow in her forties, with two young daughters to support.

Elizabeth returned with her daughters to Leadville.  It is thought she took simple low-paid domestic work to get by.  Eventually her daughters set out on lives of their own.  The eldest, Elizabeth, moved to Wisconsin, and the younger, Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar, became a reporter for The Denver Post, and would send  part of her wages back to her mother.  Silver Dollar had aspirations to become a novelist, but was hindered by a growing drink problem.

At this point Elizabeth Baby Doe’s life took a turn for the downright gothic, and it is still not known why she made the decision she did.  Some have argued that Horace, on his death-bed, urged her to hang onto the Matchless Mine, as “it will make millions again”, but this has been disputed.  Whatever her reasons, Baby Doe moved into an old decrepit tool-shed near the Matchless Mine, which was disused and flooded.  She was to live there for the rest of her life, the next 35 years, earning herself a reputation in the neighbourhood as a mad woman.  Like Baby Doe, Leadville had also lost its former prosperity, and had become a desolate place of empty streets.  Sometimes Elizabeth would be seen walking through this ghost-town, wearing a crucifix and with rags on her feet.

She returned to the Catholic beliefs of her Irish ancestry, and inflicted daily penances on herself, to atone for her former decadent lifestyle.  She lived off scraps of bread, and, when not inflicting punishments on herself, would record all her thoughts and dreams in her journal.  She was sighted in 1927 wearing men’s corduroy trousers, and a bandana tied round her head.  Her eyes were described as still beautiful.

During the bitterly cold Winter of 1935, neighbours became concerned when they hadn’t seen any smoke rising from the chimney of Elizabeth’s cabin.  She was found dead, lying frozen on the floor.  She was 81 years old.

It was a tragic and lonely end for a woman whose sins weren’t exactly huge on the great scale of things, and who certainly added colour to things.  She is often held as an example of the boom-and-bust lifestyle of late 19th century America, when fortunes could be made overnight, and lost just as easily.

Her youngest daughter, Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar, who sounds a right chip off the old block, also went on to have a dramatic, and ultimately tragic life.  She moved to Chicago, where she became a dancer, and a gangster’s moll.  In 1925 she was found scalded to death in a boarding-house.  Because she had been living there under the name of “Ruth Norman”, Elizabeth refused to believe that it was her, saying “I did not see the body they said was my little girl”.

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Boleskine House, which now sits in charred ruins overlooking Loch Ness, has to be one of the most mysterious houses in Britain. It is mainly famous, or perhaps infamous, for being the home of Aleister Crowley, self-styled Wickedest Man In The World, during the Edwardian era. Crowley specifically wanted Boleskine as somewhere isolated and private whereby he could carry out the lengthy Abramelin Ritual, an exhausting process which would take several months and involve much physical and mental hardship, such as fasting and sleeplessness.

As with all these kind of rituals, the Abramelin came complete with tedious little details which had to be strictly adhered to, such as the necessity of having a door which opened north. Boleskine fitted the bill. The house itself had been originally built at the end of the 18th century as a shooting lodge for an aristocrat (as so many of these country houses were). It was unusual in that it had just one storey. Some like to pinpoint all the dark legends surrounding Boleskine as coming from Crowley’s tenure, but the house already had a sinister reputation before he took up residence. Local legend had it that it had been built on the site of an old church, which had burnt down, engulfing an entire congregation in the flames. There was reputed to be an underground tunnel connecting the house to the graveyard across the road.

The rumours surrounding Crowley and the Abramelin Ritual at Boleskine have been repeated so many times that I don’t feel much inclination to repeat them here. Many seemed to have been put about by Crowley himself, to show what a wild old thing he was. After a while Crowley became disenchanted with working on the Ritual and closed up the house to go off on his world travels. Some argue he simply became bored with the whole thing. The Ritual was long and involved a huge level of commitment. Others argue that even Crowley himself became spooked by what he was unleashing, and he recklessly abandoned the house to its own devices. Whatever the truth of the matter, Crowley had very little to do with the house from then on.

But Crowley’s antics were to live on, thoroughly saturating the atmosphere concerning Boleskine. Odd happenings were reported at the house. Such as darkness in the rooms on bright, sunny days, shadowy figures seen, and objects and rugs being moved. From 1945 onwards it becomes a nightmare trying to sort out who owned the house when, and what went on there. Things become extremely muddled. For instance Wikipedia, completely erroneously, states that the house was bought by American actor George Raft after World War 1. Raft was famous for his hard-boiled gangster roles, and was reputed to have underworld connections in real life. Wiki states “Raft was involved in a scandal involving selling shares for a pig farm on the grounds of Boleskine – except the farm didn’t exist”.

It wasn’t George Raft though (I’m trying imagine Raft in the Highlands of Scotland), but another actor called George entirely. George Sanders. Sanders was the kind of actor who seemed born to play suave rogues. The upper-class Englishman who was not to be trusted at all costs. He even named his autobiography Memoirs of A Professional Cad as a nod to his screen persona. Sanders wasn’t English though. He was actually Russian by birth, born in St Petersburg in 1906. His family fled to England at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Sanders turned to acting in the 1930s and had a long, respectable career. He is probably most famous now for playing the sarky sociopath Addison deWitt in the Bette Davis hit All About Eve. He also became one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s numerous husbands. He would later go on to marry Magda Gabor, Zsa Zsa’s big sister. Keeping it in the family.

In 1962 Boleskine House was bought by a real-life rogue called Dennis Lorraine, who was the sort of character that Sanders would have probably played on film. Either that or Dennis Price or Terry-Thomas. It was Dennis Lorraine who got Sanders involved in a scam which would become known as The Great Sausage Scandal. Trying to unravel the details of this has been a complete nightmare in itself. Dates are all over the place for one thing. Ignoring Wikipedia placing it after World War 1, we have others claiming it happened in the 1950s, and others saying it took place in the Profumo era of the early 1960s. Whatever the timing, the scam was that Dennis would set up a company called Loch Ness Foods, and claim he was rearing pigs on the site. Except that no pig farm existed. And this is how he managed to dupe George Sanders into getting involved. I’ve also read that the firm was called Cadno, in honour of Mr Sanders. The whole thing became a monumental embarrassment, and Noel Coward joked at that he wanted to write about The Great Sausage Scandal.

Dennis Lorraine reputedly bought Boleskine after his wife Molly had seen a portrait of a woman called Mary Lorraine in an Inverness art gallery. Mary Lorraine had been the wife of the previous owner of Boleskine (are you still with me?), a Major Edward Grant, who had fatally shot himself in the head in his study at the house in 1960 (Wikipedia has this as happening in 1965. You decide). Why on earth that should be an incentive to buy a particular house is beyond me, but I guess there’s nowt so queer as folk. According to an article on a blog site called English Heretic Molly had a circular bed, complete with black sheets, installed in what had once been Crowley’s oratory.

Boleskine would weave its own dark magic on this couple, as it seems to do to everybody. The Lorraines both descended into alcoholism, and the pig farm venture was a complete debacle. The story goes that the unfortunate pigs, who were all housed in a field next to the house, starved to death. The Lorraines must have moved out, but I have no idea what happened to Molly. Dennis Lorraine spent his final years destitute in London. He was said to constantly sleep with a revolver under his pillow.

Wikipedia, after saying that Edward Grant shot himself in 1965, writes that “a newly married couple moved into the house. The wife was blind, and after a month the man walked out, leaving the woman wandering around unable to see”. I have no idea what the truth is behind this upsetting story, or who the couple were.

And so we come to Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin, buying the house in 1970. Page had a lifelong interest in Crowley, so it’s perfectly understandable that he would be interested in the house, although how much time he actually spent there is open to question. Shortly afterwards Page invited cult film-maker, and author of the notorious Hollywood Babylon books, Kenneth Anger, to stay at Boleskine. Anger was making a short film called Lucifer Rising, with Page to provide the soundtrack. This all feels very late 60s/early 70s, an odd time in human history, to be sure. People get very nostalgic about that era. I do too, simply because that was my childhood, and we all get nostalgic about the era in which we had our childhood, but there is no denying that it was a very odd time. A look at some of the smaller, low-budget films from that era bears this out.

I’m not going to go deeply into the whole Jimmy Page/Boleskine thing, as there is already plenty of information out there about his long tenure of the house. If you are interested I can recommend the book The Led Zeppelin Curse: Jimmy Page and the Haunted Boleskine House by Lance Gilbert. I started this piece mainly to write about George Sanders’ connection with the house, but, as is probably not surprising with anything to do with Boleskine, it all got terribly complicated.

Mr Sanders himself was a sad figure in his final years. As a true professional, he kept working right to the end, and even tried to hide his fragility, as he didn’t want to cause problems for the other actors he was working with, but he suffered from loss of balance and dementia, causing depression. His final film was Psychomania (1973), which was about a bunch of psychopathic bikers who make a deal with the Devil to achieve immortality. Sanders was popular with the younger actors, who liked the way he enjoyed a good laugh on the set. The Black Magic subject matter of the film though has not been lost on some Boleskine/Crowley enthusiasts, with one even tying it in with Ted Holiday – a Nessie expert – having a possible Men In Black sighting at the Loch around this time. The entity was reputedly dressed all in black, with a black helmet, like a Satanic biker.

In his memoirs, David Niven recalled that Sanders had told him back in 1937 that he would kill himself from a barbiturate overdose when he reached the age of 65. On 23 April 1972 he checked into a hotel near Barcelona, and swallowed 3 bottles of Nembutal. He left behind a suicide note which read: “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck”. He was indeed 65.

A couple of years ago we were stuck in a traffic jam in the village of Storrington, West Sussex. I glanced over at the house near the side of the road and saw a blue plaque on it, citing that George Sanders had lived there. I don’t know why, but it made my day.

On 23 December 2015 fire swept through Boleskine House. Fortunately the occupants, a Dutch family, were out shopping at the time. The fire was believed to have started in the kitchen. Reduced to ruins, the building was put on the market in April 2019, with hopes to turn it into some kind of New Age spiritual centre. But another fire swept through the site in July 2019, and this time police believed the fire was started deliberately.

In July 2018 the Daily Express had carried a rare interview with Boleskine’s owner, reclusive millionaire Trudy Piekaar-Bakker. She said that she was dismayed by looters who constantly raided the ruins, and said no good could possibly come of it. She also mentioned a weird stranger, going by the colourful name of Mordechai Moshe, who had been squatting in the ruins. He had tried to claim that the owner had invited him there, but she refuted this, saying she had no idea who he was. The police managed to evict the squatter, who, since then, seems to have completely disappeared without trace.

What happens to Boleskine House now? I don’t know, but I can’t help thinking of the last line of the 1963 version of The Haunting, when Russ Tamblyn says every trace of the house should be destroyed, and the ground sewn with salt.

PS: I read today 5/1/2020 that the new owners of Boleskine are selling bags of its charred remains at £49 a pop on eBay. This is apparently to raise funds to build a new spiritual centre on the site. I can’t help feeling that being sold as bags of burnt rubble on eBay is the end that house deserves.

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Recently I was compiling a Halloween playlist on my YouTube channel, and finding a whole horde of paranormal documentaries from years ago.  In the Comments sections were some fascinating stories and inputs from viewers.  Now I haven’t a clue what the Copyright laws are regarding YouTube Comments section (if there are any), but I did want to put people’s words here verbatim, and not just have me regurgitating them in my own words.  If anyone at YouTube does a Prince Harry and violently objects, then I will simply mothball this piece, so read it whilst you can.  I have deliberately NOT included people’s usernames, as I don’t want any innocent person being trolled or hassled because of something I’ve written.  I have also left out the ubiquitous comments you often get on YouTube of “dude put down the crackpipe”, “look at my privates”, “this is the End Times, make Jesus your friend”.  Any comments I’ve made are in square brackets.


Borley Rectory, which burnt down in 1939, was described in its time as The Most Haunted House In The World.  Even though the house is long gone, and has since been built over by a small housing-estate, it still acts as a magnet for ghost-hunters and thrill-seekers.

.  “I live locally to Sudbury and been many times, never seen nothing at the Borley Church itself but have seen a figure in a white cloak in about 1998, that came out of a field crossed in front of the car to a field opposite about 1/4 of a mile away.  Me and two of my mates turned the car around and shone lights in the field and couldn’t see a thing.  Totally vanished … For sure it sent shivers up our spines and goose pimples”.

.  “I am the mother of 3 children whose great grandmother was Marianne, she said it was not true” [Marianne Foyster was the wife of the Revd. Lionel Foyster, who lived at the Rectory in the early 1930s.  Marianne is a very controversial figure in Borley folklore.  Legendary ghost-hunter Harry Price, who extensively investigated the haunting, was sceptical of her involvement.  Many years later Marianne, by then an old lady, was tracked down in the United States.  She admitted that she had made up much of the story of the haunting to make her life in a quiet English village more exciting].

Dakota Building, New York 

The Dakota Building fascinates me.  There is something wholly mysterious about it.  Whenever I hear about it I always think it sounds like one of those creepy buildings which is really a doorway to another dimension!  Anyway, it has had many famous residents over the years, including Lauren Bacall, Judy Holliday, and John Lennon.  Tragically, it was outside the Dakota where Lennon was gunned down in December 1980.  His widow, Yoko Ono, still lives there.  The exterior of the building was also used in the cult horror film Rosemary’s Baby, a movie which has many cursed and strange tales about it.  Very recently, Top 5s did a fascinating piece about the many haunted stories about the Dakota.  Sadly, the Comments section didn’t yield very much in the way of personal anecdotes, & seemed to have an above-average amount of attention-seeking dickweeds in it, but one tried to pull all the connections together:

.  “Rosemary’s Baby was filmed at the Dakota. The director was Roman Polanski.  Charles Manson was obsessed with Rosemary’s Baby and that’s why he killed Sharon Tate, Polanski’s wife [I’m not sure about that one, I always thought Manson was simply after somebody famous to kill, and sadly Sharon was there].  He was also obsessed by and inspired by The White Album and the song Helter Skelter, made by John Lennon and The Beatles”.  [Interesting, but I remember watching an interview with Manson years ago, & he disowned the Helter Skelter connection, saying he was not from The Beatles generation, and they weren’t relevant to him, although in truth he was actually only 6 years older than Lennon].

Ghosts On The Underground

This was an excellent British documentary, made (I think) in the mid-Noughties, and put onto YouTube by The Hampshire Ghost Club.  Absolutely crammed with spooky tales of the London Underground.  Paranormal film-making at its best, focusing on credible witnesses, and not full of annoying, smug hipsters loaded to the teeth with technology and infra-red cameras, bursting into buildings like the SAS and screaming at anything spectral that might be there.

Part of the programme focused on Bethnal Green Station.  During WW2 it was the site of a horrific tragedy, with strong shades of Hillsborough, when 173 people were crushed to death.  It was the biggest civilian fatality incident of the War.  One comment said: “The scientist [in the programme] talks about feeling breathless in the station office.  If Bethnal Green Station IS haunted by people who were crushed in a stampede during WW2, then they might have been projecting that feeling of not being able to breathe as they were crushed onto him, that’s creepy and incredibly sad”.

.  “A friend of mine worked on the Underground back in the 70s.  His first night on duty was at South Kensington and his co-workers set him to be at one end of eastbound platform on the District Line at 12:15 AM.  The staff supposedly heard footsteps coming towards them from the tunnel at this time every night.  He was scared stiff by his encounter and swore that was so”.

.  “My father worked on the Underground in the early 90s at Temple Station and he quit after just 3 days because he saw a girl screaming at the end of one of the long tunnels and then she started walking towards him, he has never gone back”.

.  “I wonder why they chose to leave out the story of the crying woman at King’s Cross?  A man saw a woman in jeans and a t-shirt and reaching out in distress, he went to offer her some assistance but as he did so he saw another commuter walk through her.  This was in 1996”.

.  “Even walking through the Underground with hundreds of people around, it has an eerie presence” [agreed, I can think of few places more genuinely eerie and atmospheric than the London Underground.  When I came to do the cover for my book Strange Tales 4, I wanted to use an Underground station for the illustration.  I was recommended to try Regents Park station, as it’s often quiet there during the day.  Something about peering down into those cold dark tunnels can be quite spooky, that old 1970s horror film Death Line has got a lot to answer for!  “Mind the doors!”]

.  “Green Park Station … that station is eerie big time”.

Guitar Shop Haunting 

Very recently – the end of October 2019 – Top5s did a video about ghostly images caught on CCTV camera.  One of the places featured was GAK Guitar Shop in Brighton, where a strange misty shape had been caught on camera, as well as mild poltergeist activity occurring out-of-hours.

.  “I’ve lived in Brighton all my life and spent many a day in GAK playing guitars and synths.  The upper shop that sells guitars has always had a creepy vibe about it, especially upstairs.  Not surprised strange activity has been caught on CCTV”.

.  “I hear a lot of stories about Brighton, UK, a lot of dark secrets.  Max Spiers [an arch conspiracy theorist who died suddenly in 2016] spoke of it too in his claims”.

.  “I was in that GAK on 3rd May this year [2019] buying a guitar … I was there about 3 PM-ish.  I felt two taps on my left shoulder, turned around expecting to see a member of staff or another customer but as I turned around I felt a cold gust of air across my face and nothing was there!  It was a very strange experience.  Never felt anything before or since this”.

Hotel Cecil

The Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles has an extremely lurid history.  It has been the haunt of serial-killers, Elizabeth Short (aka the Black Dahlia) was supposed to have stayed there before her unsolved murder in 1947, and in more recent years it became the site of the equally unsolved death of Elisa Lam, a young Canadian girl who disappeared at the hotel in 2013, and whose body was subsequently found in the hotel’s water tank.  There is unsettling footage of Elisa in the hotel’s elevator, in which she acts in a quirky, disturbed fashion, and which has fuelled many theories as to why she was acting the way she was.  I’ll return to this after the following comments, which were underneath a video the popular channel MostAmazingTop10* did about scary hotels in October 2018.  [*although by god, they do have some spectacularly annoying and me-me-me shouty presenters, I’d much rather listen to the soft-voiced guy who narrates the Top 5s videos, the presenters on Beyond Creepy and SecureTeam10 also have pleasingly low-key voices].

.  “I once experienced a haunting at the Hotel Cecil.  Woke up one night, feeling afraid and sweating profusely.  Someone banged on the door, shouting ‘housekeeping’.  It was freaking 2 in the morning.  The banging persisted for about 3 minutes.  The next day, I got to know that a housekeeper had died there, of fright, when he discovered a man who had hanged himself in one of the rooms.  The Cecil truly is a freaky place”.

.  “My husband and I stayed at the Cecil Hotel back in 2008.  I remember the weird feeling we got as we entered the lobby, even questioning if we were in the right hotel.  When we went up to our room, the oppressive air that hit us as the lift doors opened made us think we had been transported into another hotel entirely!  We had an absolute blast though and only stayed there because we needed a cheap room for a few nights whilst driving the Californian coast”.

Now one of the theories about Elisa’s strange behaviour in the elevator was that she was playing something called The Elevator Game.  I Googled this, and it looks horrendously complicated.  The game originated in Japan and South Korea, and it seems to revolve around pressing different buttons, and things like if someone gets in, then you go back to square one, or some such nonsense.  It’s like a complicated board game but involving elevators, and I doubt there is any way I would be able to remember it all!  All you need to play it is a public building with at least 10 floors, and an elevator which isn’t in constant use by a lot of people, because otherwise you will have to keep restarting the game.  I think part of the appeal of the game (and there seem to be YouTube videos where people have played it) is that it has some very spooky elements to it, such as if a woman enters the elevator on the 5th floor, you must not look at her face or speak to her, or she will claim your soul for her own.  Good grief, Monopoly was never like this.

What is the point of The Elevator Game, you may well ask?  Do you get a prize at the end, do you get £200 if you pass Go?  Well apparently if you follow all the rules correctly, it will transport you into another world.  How will you know you are in this other world?  According to a fansite I found it said that the other world is identical to ours.  Uh-huh.  But electronics will not work there, all the lights will be off, and the only thing you will be able to see from the windows is a red cross in the distance.

Now I am adopting a jokey tone, because … well I like to do that, but there are many who take this game very very seriously.   I found some comments on Reddit which seemed to be very sincere in how dangerous this game is.   The reason people think Elisa Lam may have been playing the game are because of her odd behaviour in the elevator.  She is constantly pressing the buttons, and stepping out to look up and down the corridor outside.  She also seems to be talking out loud, as if speaking to someone invisible, and making strange gestures.   Whatever the truth of the matter is, I hope she is at peace now.

The Hotel Cecil has recently had a name change, but somehow I doubt that will be enough to bury its shady history.  Out of curiosity I found some old online reviews from people who had stayed here a few years ago.  Although some gallantly tried to defend the Cecil, there is no doubt that staying here was a mentally scarring experience.  Hordes of 1* reviews speak of communal shower rooms, no air-con, doors with four locks on, one door looking as if someone had attempted to kick it in, people screaming in the corridors or out on the streets, homeless and druggies in the lobby, a sink falling off the wall when someone put their hand on it, and – the absolute piece de resistance – crap (literally) in the foyer area.  One woman said she lived here for a while because it was only $85 a week.  She said her neighbour across the hallway was a drug dealer, but he seemed “a nice guy”.  With all that going on, any ghostly happenings would probably be pretty unnoticeable!  But one reviewer, who said he was a skeptic, reported his bathroom door opening and closing by itself.

The Mannequin People

This is a truly bizarre phenomenon, in which witnesses see people who appear to have no faces at all, like shop-window mannequins, particularly the ones we get these days, which have no features at all.  This phenomenon was featured in a Beyond Creepy video.

.  “I was driving off the road in the desert south-west when I had a similar encounter.  I noticed a car with 2 people standing outside the car.  As I approached, I decided to slow down and ask if they were ok.   I got about 20 feet to them and noticed they were turned with their back to me and neither of the two moved at all.  Then as I got right next to their car I stopped and yelled out the window “are you guys ok?” The closest one to me turned his head only toward me and I almost passed out when I saw his white featureless face, just like a mannequin, its head moved fast and jerky and it nodded no at me, just kept nodding faster and faster.  I punched the accelerator, drive right past them and kept looking back.  They remained motionless except the one kept nodding his head real fast”.

There were several cases like this, and curiously, as one Commenter pointed out, they all seemed to involve cars.  Many had theories, ranging from crash helmets, to people (for whatever reason) wearing stockings over their heads, to severe burn victims, to experimental Artificial Intelligence.  I’m not out to disparage anybody’s experiences here, but I had a similar experience once many years ago.  It was a bright July day, and I was walking down a street in a nearby town.  A girl was sitting on the side of the pavement.  She turned to look at me as I approached, and I was freaked out because she didn’t appear to have a face at all.  As I got closer I realised that the sun was at an awkward angle, and gradually her features appeared.   So sometimes I guess it can just be a simple trick of the light.  Even so, that experience has always stayed with me.  It was a very odd moment all round.  At the same time as this was happening, a man (whom I didn’t know at all) ran past me, carrying two funeral wreaths and cheerily yelling “hello! hello!” at me.  Sometimes life can be very dreamlike and surreal.

Men In Black

The Men In Black are one of the weirdest aspects of the whole UFO phenomenon.  A couple of years ago Beyond Creepy did a video about this subject.

.  “About 3 days ago, I was at my house for lunch.  About 3 minutes after I got home there was a knock at the door.  There was a woman who I got a strange feeling from.  She claimed she needed to do some measurements around the house for an allstate inspection [I have no idea what this is, I’m assuming it’s an American thing].  For some reason I said Okay go ahead.  I don’t know why.  But I called allstate and they said they had no one in my area that day.   I have the creeps about what she was doing.  I have a cold chill thinking about it.  I can’t remember her face.  It was almost dreamlike.  Like I was an autopilot or under her control.  Fuck I wish I’d gotten her plate number”.  [Some YouTubers sensibly replied that the woman may well have been a burglar casing the joint (to use some old slang there), and that you should ALWAYS ask for a person’s ID before letting them in.  Agreed.  An elderly woman once told me of a strange thing that had happened to a friend of hers.  Her friend – another elderly lady – got a knock on the door, and a woman asked if she could urgently use her bathroom.  The old lady let her in, and the woman went upstairs.  After a short while, she reappeared, walking back down the stairs … dressed as a man!  The visitor promptly walked out of the house without another word].

Moon Madness

This was a documentary about the idea that people begin acting even more crazy around the time of the Full Moon.  (Although these days we seem to be permanently in Full Moon mode).  The theory that the Moon affects people has been around for centuries, and the words “lunatic” and “lunacy” of course come from Lunar.  Many of the comments under this video came from people who worked in professions where they had to deal with members of the public, and are very interesting.  I should add one guy did say he’d worked on a mental health ward for years and hadn’t noticed anything special about Full Moon times, but there were numerous ones who had a different view.

.  “I worked as a mental health nurse for 35 years and in one place the manager kept a diary of the Moon and behaviour for years and it definitely seemed to effect some people.  It draws the ocean so the brain being made up of fluids seems it could be effected.  I definitely feel there is a connection”.

.  “Anybody that has interacted with the public over extended periods of time knows it’s a fact people are weird, agitated, if not criminal during Full Moons.  They don’t always involve 911 [the US emergency number, equivalent of the UK’s 999], so much of it is undocumented.  Try working at an airport or Disney sometime”.

.  “I used to bartend and we always hated Full Moons it does bring out the crazy”.

.  “I’m a nurse, I don’t know if it’s truly worse or if we are just more aware of the stuff that comes in, but I hate working on Full Moons”.

.  “My father worked in a hospital and he used to dread the Full Moon night shifts”.  Someone replied to this that his mother worked in a hospital and she dreaded it too, “she calls it the Hell Moon”.

.  “I worked with folks with behavioural disabilities.  Full Moons certainly raise stress levels”.

.  “I worked as a vet assistant and the moon madness is very real, more dogs and cats run away, get hit by cars … and just generally get ill or agitated.  And if it does this to animals, people must also be affected in some ways”.

.  “Working as a dentist for 30 years I have noticed that patients are about 40% more active requiring emergency treatment that they had put off for months.  Most make a big deal about their issues, wanting extractions asap”.

.  “Try being a cop, or work in a hospital, it is true, domestic violence, killing, accidents, all increase”.

. “Horses go a bit more bonkers during Full Moons and police always say that people are more volatile and weird.  I’m a skeptic but there’s something to this theory”.

.  “I have never worked in a hospital or an emergency services, but I have worked in several hotels as a general manager and desk clerk and we used to dread a Full Moon.  It was especially bad if it fell on a weekend or God forbid Friday the 13th.  I think the Friday the 13th was more of a subconscious association with the day, but it made for some freaky coincidences”.

.  “After working for 22 years with dementia patients I can tell you the Moon DOES affect people.  A couple of days/nights before a Full Moon, a good portion of them would start acting, the only way I can explain it, would act squirrely [this word was new to me, I had to look it up in Google’s Urban Dictionary!  It means to act eccentric, or to rush around like a squirrel].  Not normal.  If you can call dementia normal anytime.  So yes I am a firm believer”.


Pluckley in Kent is often cited as the most haunted village in England.  These comments were under a segment from Strange But True Encounters filmed in 1995.

.  “I visited once, it seemed like a nice village, but there were a couple of spots where it was weirdly cold, and this was a day in the middle of August”.

.  “I live in Pluckley, the rumours are true.  I’ve witnessed various encounters some still haunt my dreams 5 years on”.

.  “A village with two faces, the day face is picturesque and a postcard of England but at sundown heck that place is dark and oppressive”.

.  “I live literally 10 minutes from Pluckley, I have never seen or experienced anything paranormal, but I did crash my car right in the middle of the woods for a completely unknown reason … I braked and slid across something in the road but it was completely dry.  Had I died, I would be on that ghost map”.

.  “I did witness someone entering the Gents in the pub, just ahead of me.  When I went in there I discovered I was alone in there.  I cannot explain that at all”.

Pontefract Poltergeist 

This is quite a famous case in the annals of poltergeist phenomena.  From what I recall it erupted in the 1970s, and was extensively investigated by Colin Wilson, amongst others.  I thought it had long since vanished into history, but apparently this unassuming semi-detached house in West Yorkshire can now be rented out by ghost-hunters.  I must admit this did send my bullshit detector into overload.  I’m always dubious about this kind of thing.  The channel Unexplained Mysteries did a short 3-minute video about the house.  Several people commented that they, or someone they knew, had stayed in the house and experienced nothing.  Someone else said they grew up in the area and thought the whole thing was “bullshit”.

.  “A friend of mine did an overnight there 2 weeks ago [in the Summer of 2019] with her paranormal group.  They have a vicar in the group and said protective prayers before they entered, my friend still got scratched”.  Someone replied that it sounded like a jinn had taken up residence.

.  “The neighbours next door have been caught banging and playing recordings and running through the attic.  It’s £120 to spend 18 hours there”.  This comment was queried by someone who wrote “The neighbours don’t get the money though.  I worked there for 2 years [at the house?] and while something we could tell was noise from next door, we witnessed so much activity and captured so much evidence that certainly wasn’t”.

The Stickman Phenomenon 

The development and rise of the Internet over the past 3 decades has to be one of the most extraordinary inventions in our entire human history.  It has transformed everything about the world and how it functions.  Even in the paranormal world it has had a marked effect.  One of which is a rise of stories that seemed to begin with the popularity of the World Wide Web taking off in the mid-1990s.   We have had urban legends such as the Shadow People, Slenderman, the Black-Eyed Children, and this one, the Stickman.  Whenever I hear about the Stickman, I keep thinking of the opening credits to the old TV series The Saint.  Now much as I loved Sir Roger Moore, those opening credits used to freak me out a bit when I was a small child!  In recent months BeyondCreepy loaded a video about the Stickman onto YouTube.  The jokesters were out in force with the comments on this one, but I repeat below some of the more serious ones I read:

.  “I think it possible, from the supposed air displacement or disturbance, they may be dimensional and only appear to be stick figures because they are being squeezed by our atmosphere and gravity and the density of our dimension … They could always be there, but we cannot sense them …” [this was an interesting theory from one viewer, someone else pointed out that Stickman images can be found way back in cave paintings and aboriginal drawings].

.  “I saw a black figure at the end of the hallway when I was about 4.  It had no facial features and it was just black but the shape was like someone wearing a cape or robe.  It terrified me, it permeated evil.  Someone I grew up with saw a shadow figure crossing the road, he said it just seemed to stretch across the road, merging with the dark shadows and disappeared.  It had a perfectly round head and was jet black but it didn’t have a cape/robe, it was like a stick figure.  I didn’t tell him what I saw”.

.  “These kind of creatures reminds me of what we call a ‘mantiw’, in the Visagan folklore (central Philippines)”.  [I Googled some artistic images of this creature, and it certainly does resemble descriptions of the Stickman].

.  “I remember when I was smaller maybe 5 my Mom was inside and told me to go play in the back yard.  The back yard is backed by forest and I think there was a stick person in the forest … it walked weird and it left and I never saw it again”.

.  “Three years ago a friend and I were driving to my cottage, rounding a turn … both my passenger and myself shouted out in shock as there appeared to be a thin black figure standing on the edge of the road.  Matches the description perfectly.  It was a weird one.  But I’m glad I had someone with me!  That’s the only time I’ve ever seen such a thing”.

Unexplained Mysteries covered the same subject in August 2019:

.  “I’ve seen one back in like 2014 standing next to a tree above the hillside it look like it was around 9 feet tall had no detail no face nothing and just recently like 4 months ago me and my son seen one around the same spot again here in Albuquerque New Mexico”.

.  “Holy crap!!  This is what I saw!!  So glad I’m not the only one.  Thought I was crazy.  It was completely silent, over 6 feet tall and solid black.  I’ve always described it as completely dark, solid, tall … saw it during an investigation of an old slave cemetery in Charlotte, NC”.

The Stocksbridge ByPass 

The Stocksbridge ByPass in South Yorkshire is often regarded as one of Britain’s most haunted roads.  Numerous tales abound about it, including ghostly monks and little children dancing around an electricity pylon singing ‘Ring O Ring O Roses’.  I’ve seen a few videos on YouTube about it, including a truly creepy segment from Michael Aspel’s Strange But True series in the early 1990s.  Much more recently the MostAmazingTop10 did a video about Cursed Roads, and Stocksbridge featured in the No.1 position.

.  “I went with my boyfriend and we parked up.  I remember him telling me the whole monk and little children story, and I just immediately felt weird – honestly it’s one hell of a creepy road.  DON’T GO THERE”.

.  “The weirdest my husband and I witnessed but is apparently common is balls of light.  At first I thought there was a motorcycle behind us … but it got closer and closer.  I was driving and told my husband to take a look behind.  The stretch we were on had no lights at that time (there are lights now) he said he couldn’t see a biker, or hear one.  But it got closer and closer until it passed right through the centre of the car!  I was now following it … so I slowed, wondering whether it was a ghostly warning?  But as suddenly as it appeared, it shot up into the air and out over the hills, we then saw a super bright light, it just lit up all of the sky behind the hills for a second and was gone”.  [she then went off onto a rant about speed-cameras on the road].

Strange Trumpet Noises/Bournemouth

In recent years, since about 2012, there has been a spate of weird noises heard from the sky worldwide.  These have been described as ranging from industrial machinery type noises to heavenly trumpets.  There are numerous videos on YouTube about this phenomenon, but one of the eeriest I’ve ever seen was a short 2-minute vid loaded by a guy in Bournemouth in January 2017.  The uploader said it came from the direction of the sea. These are some of the Comments underneath.

.  “Medstead Hampshire – walking the dog the other day in woods – this was the same noise we heard for about 20 minutes.  It is not the first time nor in just one location!  Really loud and weird!”

.  “OK 1:20 AM (12.06.18) in Somerton, Somerset.  Me and my partner was woken up by a loud sound that sounded like a huge road sweeper coming from the sky.  Along with it was an organ sound from a church which was in a high note sound, this was extremely prominent”.  [this one was particularly interesting for me personally, because I once heard the “huge road sweeper” sound myself a few years ago, here in Oxfordshire.  It must have been a Summer night because we had the window open, and it was getting light early.  The noise was extremely loud, but I couldn’t see anything out of place, or what could have been causing it.  At the time it sounded like somebody sluicing the roads with a big hose, but I couldn’t see anything, and I can’t imagine why they would be doing that in the middle of the night! This must have been towards the end of the Noughties, there wasn’t much publicity about strange noises from the sky then, and I only had a crappy old BlackBerry  phone at the time, so not much good for filming.  I would put the time it happened at around 4 in the morning.  A random thought’s just come in my head that it might have been some insomniac watering their garden, but it sounded way too loud, and almost industrial, for that].

.  “I’ve heard this twice before in Norfolk”.

.  “Bournemouth again, 2 years later at 5:46 AM I’m here, Googling the noise I’ve just heard and it’s the same thing as in your video.  Went on for like 15-20 minutes and couldn’t find anything else.  My cat was going mental while it was on, as it stopped she is fine”.

.  “I keep hearing this exact same thing in West Yorkshire.  Usually around 3 AM”.

.  “Heard similar this Summer and reported it to local press but had a more beed Bass sound to it … and a friend 2 miles away heard the same thing at 2 AM.  I live in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire”.

.  “I’ve heard this noise tonight or something similar in Elgin, Scotland … I can’t explain what I heard apart from a weird humming and screeching sound also dogs barking and car horns and stuff extremely strange”.

Vampires In Seattle

Beyond Creepy posted a fascinating video about the so-called real-life Lost Boys of Seattle, regarding a bunch of friends who were menaced by some peculiar black-eyed youths whilst out one evening.  It’s a relatively long video for this sort of thing (about 25 mins), but well worth a watch.  The Black-Eyed Kids phenomenon, like the Stick Men, seems to have grown with the Internet over the past 20+ years.  I’ve blogged about them on here a couple of times myself.  There was some debate in the Comments as to whether the Black-Eyed Children are vampires or not.  All I can say is there are strong similarities to both legends, most particularly them having to ask to be let in when they knock on your door.

.  “Could be one of the reasons for the missing 411 cases … Technically Seattle is one of the darkest cities in the country with the least amount of total sunshine over the year” [this comment set me off thinking about the quiet sun of the past few years.  What I mean about that is the fact that the Sun seems to have unnaturally inactive for quite some time now.  At the beginning of 2018 it was reported in the British press that right across Europe, including parts of Russia, there had been remarkably little sunlight, even by the usual standards of January in the northern hemisphere.  One French newspaper had even headlined it “mort de la soleil”, death of the Sun.  I’m not quite sure what all this has to do with the vampires of Seattle, but the comment about the city being dark reminded me of it].

.  “I live in Seattle and have had one very strange incident. This was in the mid-1980s. I was driving east on NE 55th St … I was right by the cemetery between 30th & 35th … there was a man, straggly long hair, wearing a trench coat, walking towards me on the sidewalk.  I was looking right at him, then he looked right back at me & proceeded to disappear right in front of my eyes”.

.  “My adult children lived in Seattle for a while.  It’s beautiful, and we felt a creepy supernatural element there”.  [I am definitely getting a whole new view of Seattle, thanks to this story, I thought it was all about Bill Gates, high tech, Facebook, & 50 Shades of Grey!].


I enjoyed doing these, and re-visiting some old favourite stories.  If I find anymore I’ll add to it.  One comment was particularly thought-provoking:  “It does seem that paranormal activity and events have greatly increased over the past few decades, as if there is something happening that breaks down the natural borders between the worlds or universes?  The thing is when will this development be reversed, or what might happen if it keeps on occurring even more often, in even more places than before?” 

This is an interesting comment.  The mainstream media occasionally runs stories that fewer ghostly happenings or UFO sightings are happening these days, but this is blatantly cobblers.  It really doesn’t help that when they occasionally venture into the paranormal world, such as in the run-up to Halloween every year, they constantly rehash the same old stories that have been doing the rounds for aeons.  The big question is, are there actually more paranormal events happening than ever before, or, because of the Internet, are we simply hearing about them more?  These days people can get their stories out to a much bigger audience.  In pre-Internet days it was probably limited to telling family members, or the local newspaper who were desperate to fill up their pages.  If you were really unlucky rags like the Sunday Sport might be interested.   But otherwise it would be a case of “my gran saw a ghost in her house once”, that sort of thing.

I would like to believe that people are generally more open-minded these days, and although you always run the risk of being jeered at, whether it’s on the Internet or In Real Life, you are less likely to be dismissed by society at large as a total nutter.  There is more awareness of undercurrents.  In previous decades there would have been more an attitude of “I don’t want to know about such things, I just want to keep my head down and avoid any trouble”.   Reformed drug addicts are more prepared to be open about what they have seen.  I read a comment by a an ex-meths addict, who said he saw the Stickmen when he was still using it.  This isn’t terribly surprising.  Over the centuries artists, musicians and poets often took to drugs to force open the doors of their subconscious, and delve into what lay below the surface of things.   The decade from 1962-1972 is often called the Creative Revolution, when suddenly all limits were lifted, and an avalanche of creativity and new perspectives came tumbling out.  I read an interview several years ago with one actor who talked about his battles with alcohol.  He said he didn’t regret his drinking days, as it gave him special insights into life which he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not remotely advocating that everybody goes out and becomes an alcoholic or a drug addict.  Far from it.  Forcing open the doors of the subconscious carries untold dangers, and you can make yourself vulnerable to God knows what.  Aleister Crowley once raged at people who dabbled in dark forces “for fun”, saying that they had no idea what they were opening themselves up to.  These aren’t things to be trifled with at all.  To be honest, you can open up your awareness simply by researching the subject, being open-minded, and being prepared to push creative boundaries.  Powerful music and imagery can do wonders for visualisation, for instance.

I do actually think there has been some kind of spiritual shift in recent years, and it is obvious that Something is going on.  We can only hope that ultimately it is for the good of the human race.

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Previously on this blog, I have covered some years notable for their strange phenomena.  For instance, 1947 is often regarded as the year when modern High Strangeness, as we know it, began.  It was the year of Roswell, the Kenneth Arnold sighting, the beginning of the Cold War, the CIA being founded, and Aleister Crowley popping his clogs.  Then there was 1963, when the Swinging Sixties truly began, and in Britain there was an explosion of Satanic activity, along with the Profumo Scandal, and the Moors Murderers beginning their vile crimes.

Very recently I was looking on YouTube for documentaries about the July 1977 New York Blackout.  I was reading the Comments section underneath one, and someone had posted “everything happened in 1977.  It’s getting really strange.  If it didn’t actually happen, its genesis was then”.  I found this interesting because 1977 too is often regarded as a bit of a landmark year in the realms of the Unexplained.  For many people it was simply a time of disco music, the rise of Punk, and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  Ask anyone over 50 about the mid-1970s and we will probably get all annoyingly misty-eyed about the great music, the great TV, and what a lark it all was.  But some truly dark stuff was happening around this time.  For instance, in the USA the Son Of Sam killings were happening in New York, and here in Britain, Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was continuing his reign of terror.

In the style of my 1947 and 1963 pieces, I thought I’d do something similar for 1977, but largely – although not exclusively – concentrating on the Summer months.  The first case is probably the most random of the lot!

9 January – a lady called Janice Bakewell was walking her dog early one morning in some woods near the Wiltshire town of Marlborough (which is just down the road from the mysterious Avebury and its stone circle).  She heard a buzzing noise, and then after a couple of minutes saw a very small flying saucer, which hovered about 4 feet off the ground.  The tiny flying craft – which only measured about 4 feet across – landed, the door opened, and out flew 3 tiny humanoid figures, all female, and all sized about 3-4 inches long!  The tiny figures, all wearing cool silver mini-skirts, landed on Janice’s right arm, smiled at her, and then flew back into the spacecraft.  This is certainly an offbeat story, and make of it what you will, but the area around Marlborough has produced more than its fair share of those!  Oddly the tale of the tiny flying fairies reminds me of the video to the Spice Girls song Viva Forever, released 20 years later in 1997.

28 January – An anonymous lady in Farnborough, Hampshire, telephoned RAF Rudloe Manor claiming she had seen a “flying saucer” at Devizes, Wiltshire.  She said she had seen a silver flying saucer which had changed into a large black bird.  The RAF were understandably puzzled as to how to handle this report, and the case was put on file with the P&SS, the Provost and Security Services.  In later years RAF Rudloe Manor itself would become the subject of rumours by conspiracy theorists who claimed that all manner of dark things were going on in the basement there, and it has been described as “England’s Area 51”.  It closed in 2000.

4 February – the strange events in a small Welsh town, which were to become known as the Broad Haven Triangle, began on this date, when pupils at Broadhaven Primary School saw a yellow cigar-shaped spacecraft land in the field next to their playground.  Over the course of the next few months many mysteries would abound about this atmospheric corner of Pembrokeshire.  Journalist Clive Harold would compile a book on the case, The Uninvited, which documented strange phenomena, in particular targeting the Coombs family at Ripperston Farm.  ADDENDUM: now here’s another curiosity.  In his book Haunted Liverpool 6 Tom Slemen relates the extremely strange tale of the Huyton Spaceman.  On 22 February 1977 witnesses, including a couple of police officers, saw an odd 9ft tall metallic figure floating over the Huyton area of Liverpool.  Several people connected it with a UFO which they had seen hovering low in the sky over a local primary school.

2 March – Lance-Corporal John Weygandt of the US Marine Corps was working in the Peruvian jungle, helping to provide security for a radar installation monitoring drug traffic aircraft.  He and several colleagues were ordered to go and secure a nearby crash site.  On arrival he found “a huge gash in the land where something had crashed” (from Nick Redfern’s 365 Days Of UFOs).  The craft itself had become buried in the side of a nearby cliff.  It was egg-shaped, and had 3 holes that could have been hatches.  Weygandt believed it was shot down by a Hawk missile.

21/22 April – sightings of a curious creature called the Dover Demon sighted in the town of Dover, Massachusetts, USA.  First sighted on the 21st by 17-year-old Bill Bartlett, who had been out driving when he saw a large-eyed creature with long fingers and glowing eyes on top of a broken wall on Farm Street.  On the same evening the creature was also seen by 15-year-old John Baxter on Miller Hill Road.  The following evening it was seen by Abby Brabham (also aged 15) on Springdale Avenue.  Although local police at the time dismissed the stories as a “vacation hoax”, perpetrated by teenagers, the Dover Demon has become a firm favourite in the field of cryptozoology, and is thought to have UFO links.  Bartlett stuck to his story, and when interviewed in 2006 as a 46-year-old artist, he asserted that he had definitely seen something, and there were times when he wished he had made it up.

26 April – a large purple-green fireball was seen to “crash” in the south-west border of Australia, north of the Eyre Highway.  A quick response team headed for the site, and found a large, damaged object.  One witness claimed two beings were located within the craft, one was badly injured, the other was deceased.  They were described as being about 5 ft in height, pot-bellied, with long arms and legs, and the ubiquitous black eyes.  Another source claimed years later in 2014 that the dead bodies are today held deep below ground at Pine Gap, a combined US satellite surveillance base and Australian Earth Station, situated some 11 miles south-west of Alice Springs.

17-25 May – veteran Ufologist Jenny Randles claimed, in her book The Unexplained: Great Mysteries of the 20th Century, that this week saw an unprecedented level of High Strangeness in Britain.  She said there was a sharp spike in UFO sightings, and poltergeist activity.  There were also phantom big cat sightings, and crop circles seen in fields, although the crop circle phenomenon wouldn’t really take off until the early 1990s.

21 May – Anthony ‘Doc’ Shiels, a notorious self-publicist, claimed that he and his wife, and another couple, had sighted 3 black humps gliding through the mirror-like waters of Loch Ness at Borlum Bay at 8 o’clock that morning.  A few hours later, at 4:00 PM, he claimed he saw a sleek black head break the surface near Urquhart Castle.  His claims were largely met with howls of derision, and photographic evidence was nicknamed the Loch Ness Muppet.

25 May – Star Wars had its world premiere.  It was to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

6 – 9 June – celebrations for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee took place all around the UK.  Punk legends the Sex Pistols released their anti-monarchy rant God Save The Queen to coincide with it.  I’ve seen 1977 described as the year Punk exploded, it was everywhere.  Lead singer of the Pistols, Johnny Rotten, would eventually wind up advertising butter on TV.

8 June – giant ball lightning seen at Fishguard, Dyfed, in Wales.

9 June – a couple were approached on a road near Winchester, UK, during the afternoon by aliens, who informed them that they were concerned about War and wanted to help mankind!  The female witness to this extraordinary event, Joyce Bowler, said she wanted nothing to do with any of it, and it made her feel like a marked person.

20 June – Anglia Television in the UK broadcast a docudrama called Alternative 3, which allegedly exposed a top secret government plan to move members of the elite from Earth to Mars, as our planet is in its death throes.  It was originally intended to be broadcast as an April Fools Joke, but had had to be put back because of a technicians strike.  The programme caused a huge amount of alarm, with people jamming the station’s switchboards demanding to know what was going on.  Alternative 3 has since then achieved a prophetic status, as some of the issues they touch upon in the programme, such as Climate Change, have since been proven to be true.   It’s still an absorbing bit of television, and well worth a watch.

26 June – Jayne MacDonald, aged only 16, becomes the latest victim of the Yorkshire Ripper in Leeds.

26 June – Sal Lupo and Judy Plaido became the latest victims of the Son of Sam shooter, who had taken to targeting courting couples in parked cars in parts of New York.  The couple had just left a disco in Queens at 3 AM, when they were fired at through their car window.  Both victims survived the attack.

1 July – Several military personnel at Aviano NATO base at Pordenone, Italy, claimed to see a bright light hovering overhead at an altitude of 100 meters, at 3 AM.  Whilst this occurred there was a power blackout.  The object was said to have hovered for over an hour.

10 July – a temperature of 48degsC is recorded in Greece, setting a temperature record for mainland Europe.

10 July – Maureen Long, aged 42, was injured in an attack in Bradford, thought to have been carried out by the Yorkshire Ripper.

13 July – the New York Blackout occurred, when a major power failure hit large areas of the city, which was without power for 25 hours.  Widespread criminal activity occurred, including arson and looting.  Many observers often cite this as an example of the thin line between civilised behaviour and people reverting to a primitive state.  And yet similar blackouts in 1965 and 2003 did not see the same level of criminal activity.  It was a combination of factors, of Austerity, of New York enduring a long period of bankruptcy and decay, plus the hot weather, plus having a serial-killer on the loose, which all led to a perfect storm situation.  The power outage was the tipping-point where society went over the edge.  UPDATE: another power outage occurred on 13 July 2019, exactly 42 years to the day after this one, when a transformer exploded.  Fortunately this time there was no violence.  In fact, people reported feel-good stories of New Yorkers helping to direct traffic, and Broadway performers going outside to rehearse on the street.

28 July – An 8 foot white-robed figure was seen beside Clowbridge Reservoir, in Lancashire.

31 July – Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante, both aged 20, were kissing in a parked car at Bath Beach, New York, when shots were fired through the car window.  Violante lost an eye in the attack, and Stacy Moskowitz died.

10 August – David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial-killer was finally captured in Yonkers, New York.  The case has many alleged Satanic elements to it, and still causes controversy to this day.

15 August – The Big Ear, a radio telescope, part of the SETI project at Ohio State University, received a radio signal from deep in space.  It became famously known as the Wow! signal.

16 August – the King of Rock N Roll, Elvis Presley, died at his Graceland mansion.  Not only did his death provoke huge levels of public mourning, but also a myriad of conspiracy theories.

20 August – the Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched.

28 August – shortly after midnight a large flying object was seen by 10 police officers and several members of the public in and around the Windermere area of Cumbria.

31 August – the Enfield Poltergeist outbreak began in the UK.  It was to continue for the next 2 years, and still causes much interest and debate now.  It is thought to have been the inspiration behind the BBC’s notorious Halloween hoax Ghostwatch in 1992.

September – popular singing duo The Carpenters released their hit single, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, about alien contact.

16 September – Glam rock star Marc Bolan was killed in a car crash in south-west London.

Sometime in the Autumn – Prince Charles met Lady Diana Spencer for the very first time.  It was in a ploughed field.  He was 29, she was 16.  ADDENDUM: I recently read something curious about the early relationship of these two.  In the second volume of his diaries, journalist Kenneth Rose recorded at the end of November 1979 that he had been told that Lady Diana Spencer was being touted as a serious contender as the bride for Prince Charles.  I find this curious because most biographers of the couple cite Diana as coming onto the royal radar in July 1980 when they bumped into each other at a house party given by mutual friends.  Diana won Charles’s affection when she commiserated with him over the death of Lord Louis Mountbatten, who had been blown up by the IRA a year before in August 1979.  In all the books I’ve read about Diana I have never seen her being mentioned as a prime contender for Charles’s bride before the Summer of 1980 and yet, in Kenneth Rose’s diaries he first mentions her at the end of November 1979.  KR goes on to say that he doesn’t think the match would be a very good idea.

16 November – Close Encounters Of The Third Kind premiered in New York City.  Its impact has been huge, and UFO fever went through the global roof.

26 November – one of the most famous broadcast interruptions in history occurred at teatime, when a strange voice interrupted a Southern TV (in the UK) news report to warn viewers of Mankind’s ultimate doom if it carried on down the path it was on.  Largely seen as a clever hoax, but it remains unsolved to this day, and no one has ever come forward (to date) to claim responsibility for it.  I can’t help wondering though, that if the Aliens were genuinely concerned for us, why did they broadcast on a small local TV station?!  ADDENDUM: On Twitter I follow a jokey account called Fesshole, where people make anonymous confessions, usually in a funny and/or far-out way.  Recently somebody claimed they were behind the Southern TV hoax, saying they had been part of a team of engineers who had got drunk one day and made the whole thing up.  Well that was interesting.  I’m not saying I don’t believe them, but why why would you finally confess to this on an obscure Twitter account?  Nowt so rum as folk I suppose.

As well as all these the Warminster UFO activity was still continuing, and actually inspired a bizarre plot on a daytime BBC radio soap called Waggoners Walk (which I have fond memories of), which had the local residents heading up to Hampstead Heath for a UFO skywatch!  I think its fair to say that UFO fever was gripping everybody in the late 1970s.

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