- The tale of Gef, the talking mongoose, is by far one of the weirdest and stupidest incidents in the history of the paranormal. In the summer of 1931, a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Man was invaded by what initially seemed to be a pest animal. James Irving, who lived in the farmhouse with his wife and precocious 13-year-old daughter, Voirrey, took to sleeping with a shotgun in the hopes of killing the creature that wandered around in his walls and hissed at the family. But then the activity escalated to poltergeist-like incidents, and the animal in the walls began talking to James and Voirrey. It sang songs and answered questions in a high voice, speaking perfect English.
At some point, this talking critter darted into view long enough to be identified as a mongoose. The Irvings named him “Gef”. Gef claimed he had been born in India 78 years earlier, indicating that he was some kind of spirit possessing the form of a mongoose. He could supposedly see things occurring at a distance, and knew things about people without being told. He was antagonistic much of the time, hiding in the walls of the farmhouse to taunt and threaten visitors. At other times he was almost kind, leaving dead rabbits and other tokens of affection for the Irvings.
This ridiculous local spectacle caught the attention of the era’s most renowned ghosthunter, Harry Price, who wrote a book about Gef (The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap: A Modern “Miracle” Investigated, 1936) even though he didn’t witness any of Gef’s alleged psychic gifts.
The solution to the mystery almost certainly lies with Voirrey. She was a bright, curious girl who just happened to be transitioning into womanhood – a common element in poltergeist cases. She enjoyed rabbit-hunting. Evidently a skilled ventriloquist, she could make people believe the insults they heard from the walls weren’t coming from her.
The only remarkable thing about the Gef affair is how long it lasted: Over 14 years, a very long time for a poltergeist hoax. It ended abruptly in 1945, when James Irving died and Voirrey left Cashen’s Gap with her mother. Gef was never seen (or heard) again.
Now, 83 years after his squeaky voice first issued from the walls, Gef is the focus of a symposium that will be held later this year at Senate House Library in London.
- Is the beleaguered bitcoin a failed virtual currency…or a cult fetish? Maybe a little of both?
- Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around Gothic children’s TV series made in Britain: The Moondial, The Haunting of Barney Palmer, Into the Labyrinth. They all had a “this room is surrounded by film” quality, but who wouldn’t be creeped out by the intro for Children of the Stones? Fangoria has a fabulous rundown of other gems of British folk horror on TV and film.
- A Sasquatch squatting in a house in Detroit? Seems legit.
Tag Archives: film
Was Mafia assassin Richard Kuklinski full of sh**?
I’ve had Richard “Ice Man” Kuklinski’s claims on my mind for some time now, and with the FBI recently scouring Detroit for Jimmy Hoffa and a movie starring Michael Shannon as Kuklinski being released in May, this seems as good a time as any to examine what the notorious hitman had to say prior to his death in 2006.
Born in 1935 to an alcoholic, abusive railroad brakeman and a fanatically Catholic mother who also administered beatings freely, Richard Leonard Kuklinski dropped out of the eighth grade to become a full-time hoodlum, stealing cars and robbing houses in Jersey City and Hoboken.
At 19 he became a serial killer, murdering homeless men in the alleys of New York, Newark and Hoboken. He claimed he killed at least 50 men just for the pleasure it gave him. He experimented with different killing techniques, as he would throughout his life. He was soon working as an enforcer and contract killer for New Jersey’s DeCavalcante crime family, which would later serve as the model for the fictional DiMeo crime family in The Sopranos.
At 6’4″ and 250 pounds, with a hair-trigger temper and an array of weapons, Kuklinski was an incredibly deadly force. He was such a skilled, trusted hitman by 1960 that he began doing work for the New York crime families, earning up to five figures per job. Yet he continued to live in low-income housing in Jersey City, thanks to his penchant for gambling. (1)
He married a good Catholic girl, Barbara Pedrici, in 1962. This was his second marriage. He had two sons (the elder was Richard Jr.) with his first wife. He claims he sliced off his first wife’s nipples when he found her in bed with another man, but didn’t officially separate from her until the eve of his marriage to Barbara. (1)
Though Barbara had three miscarriages and a difficult fourth pregnancy in 1962 and ’63, and the couple had no money, Kuklinski didn’t take a single contract during this period. He worked a series of low-paying, menial “straight” jobs. The closest he came to organized crime was bootlegging copies of cartoons and X-rated movies while working in a film lab. Then, with two other guys, he reverted to stealing truckloads of merchandise. He shot two men in a fit of road rage, killed four others when a buyer who tried to renegotiate the price of a stolen load of wristwatches, and tortured and killed two men who attempted to steal a load of stolen goods from his crew.
So far as his family knew, though, Kuklinski’s only job was copying cartoons in a Hell’s Kitchen lab. They weren’t aware that he was actually copying porn movies in a lab controlled by a member of the Gambino crime family. He worked long hours, often staying in the lab through the night. When a union representative confronted him about this, he killed the man and disguised his death as a hanging in a public park. In 1971, he murdered a bouncer at the Peppermint Lounge for showing him disrespect.
It was around this time that he quit his lab job and began distributing and financing porn. One Christmas, he killed a porn producer who refused to repay a $1500 loan, even though the man’s brother was a captain in the Gambino family. (1)
In the early ’70s, Kuklinski got himself heavily into debt with a Gambino associate who was partners with Roy DeMeo, and DeMeo pistol-whipped him. But he ended up being so impressed by Kuklinski’s fearlessness – a quality they shared – that he began giving him jobs. Once again, he was a hitman and enforcer for the Mafia.
DeMeo had worked his way up in the Gambino crime family. His headquarters was the Gemini Lounge, a seedy bar on Troy Avenue, Queens. DeMeo was involved in a broad range of criminal enterprises, notably stripping stolen cars, but in the ’70s he assembled a team of hitmen and made contract killings his specialty. His outfit became known as the Murder Machine. By the early ’80s, he had attracted the attention of the Organized Crime Task Force of the Queens D.A.’s office. Detectives Kenny McCabe, Joe Wendling, and John Murphy put the Gemini Lounge under unofficial surveillance, learning the faces and names of every frequent visitor to the lounge. (2)
By 1969 the Kuklinskis had three children, two daughters and a son. In the mid-’70s Richard purchased a lovely three-bedroom split level in Dumont, New Jersey, where he and Barbara hosted neighbourhood barbecues and pool parties. They went to church every Sunday, and the kids were enrolled in private Catholic schools.
Meanwhile, Kuklinski killed one of his two partners in the porn distribution business on DeMeo’s orders. Immediately afterward, he shot a stranger in another fit of road rage. (1)
Altogether, Kuklinski killed over 100 people in at least 18 states, including Hawaii. (1, 3)
In the ’70s and ’80s, he was involved in some of the most infamous killings in Mafia history (more on those shortly). But it was his crew of relatively small-time cat burglars that brought him down; after killing no fewer than four of his associates between ’81 and ’83, Kuklinski finally caught the attention of New Jersey law enforcement. A sting operation resulted in his arrest in ’86, and in ’88 he was convicted of four murders (a fifth case against him was dropped for lack of evidence).
Between 1991 and his death in 2006, Kuklinski gave a series of chilling interviews to HBO. These were turned into three America Undercover documentaries. In the first, chewing gum and wearing a sweatshirt, he calmly ran down his crimes – the cyanide, the strangulation, the time he wore elevator shoes to infiltrate a disco. He showed a flicker of humanity just once, as he talked about his ex-wife and children.
In this first interview, he made no mention of his most dramatic claim – that he, along with three other men, had kidnapped and murdered Jimmy Hoffa.
In his second HBO interview, aired in 2001, he explicitly stated that he did not kill Hoffa (but knew who did). (3, 4)
Then, just before his death in 2006, he supposedly gave a very different story to true crime writer Philip Carlo, who documented it in his book The Ice Man.
The task of making Hoffa “disappear forever” had been handed to a childhood acquaintance of Kuklinski, identified only as “Tony P.” or “Tony Pro” by Philip Carlo (obviously meant to be Anthony Provenanzo, a Genovese caporegime who was also vice president for Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, New Jersey). (5)
Provenzano enlisted Richard and two other Jersey men to help him. Kuklinski was told only that a union guy in Detroit was making trouble for the Genovese family, and had to be killed. That was all he wanted, or needed, to know.
On the afternoon of July 30, 1975, the quartet drove to the Machus Red Fox restaurant outside Detroit, as arranged, and Tony P. conversed briefly with Hoffa in the parking lot. Then Hoffa got into the car, and Tony drove several miles before giving Kuklinski the signal to knock the mark unconscious with a “jawbreaker” and stab him to death with one powerful thrust of his hunting knife. They bundled the body into the trunk, and Kuklinski was left with the risky job of driving it back to Jersey while the other three guys caught a bus out of town.
Back in New Jersey, Kuklinski took Hoffa’s body to a Mafia-affiliated junkyard in Kearney and deposited it into a 50-gallon drum, which he then burned and buried on the property.
Kuklinski thought the man had looked familiar, but didn’t discover who he was until later.
Around 1978, one of the killers began to talk to the FBI. Kuklinski was hired to take him out. This man, according to Carlo’s book, was Salvatore Briguglio, an official in Union City’s Local 560. Prosecutors subpoenaed Briguglio and several other suspected conspirators to appear before a federal grand jury on December 4, 1975, but they could never pin Hoffa’s disappearance on them. (1, 5)
In March 1978, Briguglio was shot to death near the Andrea Doria Social Club in New York’s Little Italy. This seemingly had nothing to do with Hoffa; Briguglio had been scheduled to appear in court with Anthony Provenzano and Harold Konigsberg for the 1961 murder of Anthony Castellito. (5)
According to several people, including his wife, Hoffa had expected to meet with Anthony Giacalone of Detroit and Anthony Provenzano on the afternoon he vanished. But Provenzano wasn’t even in Detroit that day; he was in Union City. The car that picked up Hoffa was likely driven by a man Hoffa looked upon as a son, Charles O’Brien. (5,6)
The following account is drawn from the work of Dan Moldea, author of The Hoffa Wars. He has pieced together what federal investigators believe is the closest we will ever get to the truth about Hoffa’s death. Some of the information came from Ralph Picardo, a former driver for Provenzano.
Hoffa had gotten on the wrong side of Provenzano and Pennsylvania crime boss Russell Bufalino. Hoffa and Provenzano even came to blows in prison. On the morning of July 30, O’Brien picked up three of Provenzano’s henchmen at a Detroit-area airport and drove them to a house where he was staying, not far from the Machus Red Fox restaurant. These three men were Sal Briguglio, his brother Gabriel, and and another New Jersey Teamster official named Thomas Andretta. All three would subsequently be named as the suspected assassins by the federal grand jury. Moldea suspects that Frank Sheeran of Teamsters Local 326 in Wilmington, Delaware, was another conspirator/witness.
In the afternoon, O’Brien picked Hoffa up at the restaurant and drove him to the house, where the men were waiting for him. (5)
Picardo alleged that Hoffa’s killers stuffed him into a 55-gallon drum, loaded him onto a truck in Detroit, and shipped him to an unknown destination. His remains were later squashed in a car-compacting machine. This, too, was brought before the grand jury. (6)
Kuklinski claimed that after Briguglio started talking in ’78, the barrel containing Hoffa’s scorched remains was dug up, squashed in a car-compacting machine, and shipped off to Japan as scrap metal. (1, 4)
Though he had talked about his work at great length with the HBO crew years earlier, Kuklinski waited over 20 years to publicly confess his role in Hoffa’s disappearance. I don’t know how you feel about all this, but my response was basically
The thing with Hoffa’s disappearance is that isn’t as mysterious as the average person thinks it is. As you can see from the above passage, the feds had a pretty good idea who was involved, and who was connected to those guys. Kuklinski’s name did not come up once. Former FBI agent Robert Garrity, one of the investigators of Hoffa’s disappearance said, “I’ve never heard of him, and I’ve never heard of the writer [Carlo].” Bob Buccino, the former head of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice’s organized crime division and a member of the task force who ultimately brought Kuklinski down, was reportedly also skeptical of the claims in Carlo’s book. (7)
In fact, you’re not going to find a single seasoned Hoffa or Mafia investigator who buys Kuklinski’s story. Yet Carlo would have us believe that this hulking maniac, who would literally murder other drivers just for looking at him funny, was so skillful and so meticulous in his work that he managed to slip past every Mafia-savvy federal agent, police officer, and investigative reporter in the nation for nearly 30 years, like Caspar on steroids.
Now let’s look at three other infamous hits in which Kuklinski was supposedly involved: The murder of Bonanno family boss Carmine Galante; the assassination of the head of the Gambino crime family, Paul Castellano; and the death of Roy DeMeo.
Carmine “Lilo” Galante was a big-time narcotics trafficker, instrumental in the French Connection, and he took over control of the Bonanno family after Philip Rastelli went to prison in 1974. The other four New York families deeply resented Galante’s domination of the drug trade and its profits, so they began plotting to take him out.
On the afternoon of July 12, 1979, three men in ski masks burst onto the patio of Joe and Mary’s Italian-American Restaurant in Brooklyn and opened fire on Galante, his cousin, and three other members of the Bonanno family. Galante never saw it coming; the little man nicknamed for a cigar died with one clamped between his teeth. Only two of the men survived, and these two (Baldo Amato and Cesare Bonventre) were suspected of having some involvement in the hit. (8)
Numerous men have been floated as suspects over the years, but Kuklinski has never been on the radar in relation to the murder of Carmine Galante; the only person to suggest he could have been one of the gunmen was Kuklinski himself. His version of the story is extremely detailed – right down to the restaurant decor and the “rubbery waves of heat” coming from the sidewalk that day – but it simply doesn’t match up with the event. Kuklinski’s claims are in bold, with the facts as they are told in Selwyn Raab’s Five Families following:
- He identified the owner of the restaurant as Galante’s cousin Mary. Joe and Mary’s was actually owned by Galante’s distant cousin, Giuseppe Turano, who was one of the three men killed that day.
- Galante entered the restaurant with two guys, one of whom – Bonventre – was in on the job (as DeMeo explained to Kuklinski). Galante showed up alone that day, dropped off by a nephew. Everyone who was on the patio during the shooting had joined Galante later. Clearly, Kuklinski and/or Carlo relied on popular accounts of the shooting, which indicated (erroneously) that Amato and Bonventre were acting as bodyguards for Galante that day and accompanied him into the restaurant.
- Kuklinski arrived before Galante and behaved like a regular customer until the other two gunmen appeared. Surely, Giuseppe’s son John – who was shot by one of the three men – would have noticed an unmasked gunman moving toward the patio. Everyone agrees that all three shooters entered and exited the restaurant at the same time, wearing masks.
- Kuklinski started toward the exit as soon as the other two assassins started firing, got into a car driven by DeMeo, and was gone by the time it was all over. Again, all three gunman left the restaurant together and got into the same getaway car.
- DeMeo told him that one of the guys with Galante – Bonventre – would leave the table at some point, giving the signal. Kuklinski watched him exit the restaurant. By all other accounts, Bonventre did not leave the patio. He remained there throughout the attack and exited the restaurant shortly after the shooters did. In fact, that’s what tipped people off that he could have been involved in the hit; he and and Amato were almost literally on the heels of the three assassins, yet made no effort to stop them.
This cockamamie story serves to expose other tales Kuklinski told as bogus. For instance, DeMeo and his boss Anthony “Nino” Gaggi were supposedly so impressed by his expert handling of the Galante murders that they cut him in on a huge cocaine deal, even sending him to Rio to negotiate a shipment. But if Kuklinski didn’t kill Galante, why would Gaggi reward him in this way?
Paul Castellano was made head of the Gambino family not so much because he earned it, but because he had married Carlo Gambino’s sister. This gave him a lot of pull, but by 1985 John Gotti was plotting to take him out and replace him. Kuklinski claims he was given the contract to shoot Castellano’s right-hand man and chauffeur, Tommy Bilotti, by Sammy Gravano. Someone else would take care of Castellano, he was told. (1)
It would not be possible to overestimate the importance of this assassination in Mafia history. Gotti, a relative unknown, shot to gangland superstardom because of this hit. Ever see that A&E show Growing Up Gotti? Yeah, well, you wouldn’t have had to suffer through that if it wasn’t for this hit. It was a seismic event, and once the dust settled, the terrain of the Gambino family was never the same.
The plan was cooked up by Gotti, Robert DiBernardo, Joseph Armone, and Gravano. Their people allegedly broached the idea with three of the five New York families, and received unofficial sanction for their hostile takeover. Frank DeCicco provided vital inside information; Castellano would be meeting with a trusted group of capos – himself included – at Sparks Steakhouse in Manhattan at 5:00 PM on December 16, 1985. Gotti chose eleven assassins for the job. Four of them would wait near the entrance to Sparks and take out Castellano and Bilotti as they approached.
The hit went off precisely as planned. The four gunmen swarmed Castellano’s Lincoln Town Car and fired a hail of bullets into the two men. All team members escaped in getaway cars. (8)
Again, Kuklinski’s account deviates significantly from the known details of the event. His claims are in bold:
- Gravano told him straight out that Bilotti was his target. The eleven guys handpicked by Gotti were not given their targets until just hours before the hit.
- He walked to Sparks by himself, window-shopping along the way. He did not know who the other assassins were, or where they were. The assassins met in a nearby park for a “dress rehearsal” shortly before 5:00.
- He chose a spot across the street from Sparks. The gunmen had already selected their positions by the time they arrived. This would not have been left to chance; it was a tightly coordinated hit.
- He fled on foot and hailed a cab. The assassins had getaway cars waiting for them on Second Avenue. What kind of hitman hails a cab from a crime scene, anyway?
Gravano would later cut a deal and testify against Gotti, admitting to his role in the murder of Castellano. He did not mention Kuklinski. Even after Kuklinski fingered him for the murder of Peter Calabro, Gravano never explicitly stated that he knew him, though it certainly would have been to his advantage to finger Kuklinski for the Castelleno hit. “Yeah, I know that guy. I hired him to take out Bilotti.”
I will repeat that no one familiar with organized crime recognized Kuklinski after his arrest. In Selwyn Raab’s Five Families, his name is given as “Kukinski”. This might say more about Raab than it does about Kuklinski, but isn’t it curious that a journalist who followed Mafia affairs for the New York Times for a quarter of a century had never heard of the guy? Just how does a Polish hitman standing six and a half feet tall slip under the radar?
In Carlo’s book, Kuklinski never really respects Roy DeMeo. He’s grateful for the work DeMeo gives him, but he secretly nurses resentment over DeMeo’s bullying and plans to kill him someday.
In February 1983, he finally got his chance. DeMeo feared murder charges would soon be laid against him for the murders of “Jimmy Esposito” and his son (Nino Gaggi was already in jail for this crime). Kuklinski feared that DeMeo, desperate as he was, would roll over on him. So he shot DeMeo as they were parked in DeMeo’s car near Sheepshead Bay. He placed the body in the trunk and strolled away.
Even Carlo admits, in a postscript to his book, that Kuklinski probably wasn’t involved in DeMeo’s death. The generally held view is that Castellano ordered him killed because he couldn’t be trusted, and the hit was carried out by one or more of DeMeo’s own crew members. Again, several men have been named as strong suspects, and Kuklinski was never mentioned by anyone. Also, the motive he gives doesn’t make a lick of sense, and his details are again inconsistent with known facts. For instance, the Eppolito (not Esposito) murders had occurred four years earlier; Gaggi had already served his time, and the case was closed.
Anthony Bruno left the Castellano and DeMeo murders out of his 1994 biography of Kuklinski, The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer. He has explained that he simply couldn’t verify them.
Kuklinski also claimed he was in on the murder of John Favara, a neighbour of John Gotti. Favara accidentally struck and killed 12-year-old Frank Gotti, John’s youngest son, with his car in the spring of 1980. Kuklinski said Gotti’s brother Gene, a few other men and himself beat and tortured Favara to death. Several men have been named in relation to the case, and one of them was Gene Gotti, but Kuklinski has never been mentioned – except by himself and Carlo. (1)
Some of Kuklinski’s other dramatic – and unprovable – claims:
- When he was 5, his parents told him that his 10-year-old brother Florian had been struck and killed by a car, and he believed them. Years later, however, he claimed that Florian really died from one of their father’s beatings, and his parents told police Florian had tumbled down a staircase. How would he know this? It seems unlikely that either parent would ever admit to obscuring the cause of their child’s death, and Kuklinski obviously didn’t witness his brother’s demise.
- He accidentally beat a neighbourhood bully named Charley Lane to death with a clothing rod from his closet when he was just 13 or 14 years old. He stole a car and drove the corpse two hours south to a swamp in the Pine Barrens, where he removed all the boy’s teeth and hacked off his fingers to delay identification of the body. (1)
I can find no information on a Jersey City boy disappearing or being found dead in 1948 or 1949. There are at least two versions of the story; in Carlo’s book, young Kuklinski is already crime-savvy enough to steal a car, make a clean getaway, and dispose of a body, while in Bruno’s book he merely leaves the body in the courtyard of his apartment building. Carlo states the boy’s body was not found.
- Between 1955 and 1960, he killed no fewer than three people after disputes in bars. His second murder was committed outside a Hoboken pool hall about 5 years after he killed Lane. A young Irish policeman who was getting on his nerves had fallen asleep in his car, so Kuklinski set it on fire. This man is known as “Doyle” in Carlo’s book. There may be at least two versions of this story, because elsewhere Kuklinski claimed he beat a man to death with a pool cue when he was 18. In 1959 he stabbed another man and beat a bouncer to death with a hammer.
- In his late teens and early 20s, he headed a crime ring of 4 or 5 other young guys. They called themselves the Coming Up Roses. The gang was approached by a member of the DeCavalcante crime family and asked, point-blank, to “take care of” a man who was causing trouble. It was Kuklinski who walked up to the mark’s parked car outside a Hoboken bar one night and shot him in the head with a .32 revolver. Each member of the gang received $500. After that they were given many jobs, including stealing $3 million in cash and gold from an armoured-truck warehouse in North Bergen.
This robbery would have been bigger than the Great Brink’s Robbery of 1950 (which was the nation’s largest robbery at that time), yet it didn’t even make the New Jersey papers. Huh.
Later, under orders from the DeCavalantes, Kuklinski killed two of his own crew members. The names Philip Carlo gives for these two men are apparently pseudonyms.
All of this supposedly occurred before Kuklinski was 19.
- In February 1956, he killed three men who confronted him in Jersey City and dumped their bodies in a cave in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
- He was the only hitman known to have worked for all five New York crime families (plus the two in New Jersey), according to Philip Carlo’s book.
- One of the porn films he copied at the lab where he worked in the ’60s was Dogf**ker, starring Linda Lovelace. But that movie was made in the ’70s. This is just one of numerous examples of Kuklinski and/or Philip Carlo juicing up the narrative with BS details. Remember that bouncer he killed at the Peppermint Lounge in ’71? Well, that bar closed in 1965 and didn’t reopen until 1980.
- In Florida, he killed a rapist (on DeMeo’s orders) by cutting off chunks of his flesh (including his penis) and setting him adrift in the ocean to be devoured by sharks. Immediately afterward, he killed three young men at a rest stop because they had taunted him on the road.
- He blew off the head of a motorist stopped at a traffic light with a double-barreled shotgun, from a motorcycle.
- Strictly as an experiment, he shot a random pedestrian in the head with a crossbow.
- In Honolulu, he threw a man off the balcony at a five-star hotel.
- After a robbery in New Jersey, he tired of the bickering of his four cohorts and decided to feed them cyanide-laced sandwiches. All four men died within minutes. He did not dispose of the bodies. The following day, he poisoned the man who had arranged the job.
Four men being found dead in the same room would be a big deal, even in New Jersey. Yet this didn’t make the papers, either.
- On more than one occasion, he took victims to a rat-infested cave in Pennsylvania, cocooned them with duct tape, and left them there to be devoured. These murders-by-rat were supposedly videotaped, with a motion sensor triggering a light as the rats moved in to feast, and Kuklinski says he gave the tapes to his clients to prove the “marks” had suffered.
- He poisoned several people with cyanide in restaurants, while dining with his victims, yet managed to get out the door without being apprehended or questioned. Each and every one of these deaths, he claims, was attributed to heart attacks – meaning the EMTs and medical examiners somehow failed to detect any of the telltale signs of cyanide poisoning (cyanide rictus, the distinctive odour of almonds, etc.).
- He poisoned more than one victim with cyanide merely by spilling it on their clothes. He would approach the mark in a bar, “accidentally” dump his cyanide-laced drink on the guy, then walk away. The cyanide, he explained, would gradually soak through the victims’ clothing and into their skin.
Then there’s the issue of the ice cream truck assassin…
Who was Robert “Mister Softee” Prongay?
Kuklinski supposedly met Robert Prongay (spelled Pronge by Carlo) in the early ’80s, at a New Jersey hotel. He and Prongay were possibly stalking the same victim, and they quickly discovered they were fellow assassins. They enthusiastically traded techniques and war stories. Prongay claimed to be a former Special Forces member, trained in the use of explosives and poisons. Kuklinski said he was particularly impressed by Prongay’s use of a Mister Softee ice cream van as a surveillance vehicle, his ingenious use of cyanide in spray form, his remotely-controlled grenades, and his habit of freezing bodies before he dumped them to obscure the estimated time of death. Kuklinski began adopting some of Pronay’s methods in his own work. Prongay, in turn, was fascinated by Kuklinski’s use of rats.
Their friendship came to an abrupt end in 1984. First, Prongay asked Kuklinski to kill his wife and young son for him. Then he told Kuklinski of his plan to poison a community reservoir just to kill members of a single family. Outraged, Kuklinski shot him.
What do we really know about Robert Prongay? Basically, nothing. We are told by Carlo that he was found shot to death in his ice cream truck in 1984, but his death didn’t make the papers. Other sources state that his body was discovered hanging in a warehouse on Tonnelle Avenue. There are no known photos of him. His background is a blank. No one in the world – other than Kuklinski – has ever talked about the guy. Carlo tells us Kuklinski pled guilty to his murder in 2004.
There are several possibilities here. One is that an ice cream assassin really was tooling the streets of North Bergen in the ’70s and ’80s, stashing bodies in his freezer. Another is that Kuklinski really did know a criminal ice cream man, and created a bullshit story around the guy, transforming him from a small-time hood into a crack military-trained assassin to obscure the unimpressive truth.
The Prongay conundrum turned out to be the tip of an iceberg. The more I delved into Kuklinski’s world, the less credible he became. Nagging doubts and unresolved issues multiplied, until I was finally faced with some deeply troubling questions.
Did Kuklinski really work for Roy DeMeo?
I began to realize that there isn’t a lot of concrete evidence actually connecting Kuklinski to DeMeo. The only person besides Kuklinski to publicly declare that Kuklinski was an associate of DeMeo is another highly questionable character by the name of Greg Bucceroni. This fellow crawled out of the woodwork a couple of years ago, telling Dr. Phil and any journalist who would listen that he was a Gambino associate at the same time as Kuklinski, that he had been a teenage prostitute for the Gambino family, that the Mafia tried to hire him to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal prior to his arrest, and that Philly businessman Ed Savitz once tried to pimp him out to disgraced Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. Bucceroni alleges that Kuklinski often traveled between Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York on behalf of DeMeo and Robert DiBernadino, trafficking in illegal porn, working as an enforcer, and of course murdering people.
To date, there is no solid evidence that supports any of Bucceroni’s stories. Not even the Philadelphia Daily News, a glorified tabloid, really bought into him. In fact, reporter William Bender essentially called him out as a liar. The Patriot-News reporter who broke the Sandusky story, Sara Ganim, said when she first spoke to Bucceroni, he presented her with fresh allegations against the coach and other members of what he said was a vast pedophile ring, but couldn’t or wouldn’t provide any details. He said he didn’t know the surnames of his abusers. Later, however, he gave a laundry list of prominent names to other media outlets. When Ganim decided not to run with his unverifiable accusations, Bucceroni resorted to sending her harassing emails and naming her in profanity-laced tweets. Other writers who have had dealings with Bucceroni report similar experiences. Check out Kyle Scott’s posts on Bucceroni at Crossing Broad for more info.
So what we seem to have here is one conman propping up the stories of another conman. Interesting stories? Sure. Convincing evidence? Nope.
Bucceroni is the one and only person who has ever named Kuklinski as a close associate of DeMeo, though several members of DeMeo’s crew became informants.
In their 1992 book Murder Machine, Jerry Capeci and Gerry Mustain didn’t mention Kuklinski at all. Capeci does not buy his stories about Hoffa, Castellano, and DeMeo, and refers to him as “heretofore unknown”. In other words, while intensively researching DeMeo and his crew, Capeci and Mustain didn’t hear squat about a gigantic Polish hitman.
In The Ice Man, Carlo explains that informant Freddie DiNome tipped off investigators to Kuklinski’s work for DeMeo. I can find no evidence for this. If you come across some, kindly let me know.
On the other hand, the film lab where Kuklinski copied porn was linked to the Gambino family; it was owned by Robert DiBernardi, and one of the theatres he sold stolen porn to was owned by DeMeo. And Kenny McCabe of the NYPD allegedly confirmed to author Anthony Bruno that Kuklinski’s vehicle had been parked at the Gemini Lounge in Brooklyn on several occasions in the early ’80s, when DeMeo was under surveillance. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean he worked for DeMeo outside the film lab.
Was he a hitman?
Six of the seven murders that can be linked to Kuklinski are those of his own associates, people who worked with him on relatively minor jobs involving theft, or people who owed money: Robert Prongay, George Malliband, Louis Masgay, Gary Smith, Paul Hoffman, and Daniel Deppner. Then there is the case of Peter Calabro, which is rather questionable. All seven murders were committed within a short timespan (198o-1984). Kuklinski was convicted of two of them in 1988, pled guilty to two others, and (according to Carlo) pled guilty to the murders of Pronge and Calabro in 2004.
The first murder that can be definitely linked to him was committed in 1981. Louis Masgay, 44, purchased a lot of stolen merchandise from Kuklinski’s buddy Phil Solimene to stock a little store he owned in Paterson, and one day Phil and Kuklinski decided to rob and kill him. Richard wrapped the body in plastic and tipped it into a cold-water well near a warehouse in North Bergen. He wanted to try freezing a body, as Mister Softee sometimes did.
George Malliband was killed in the first week of February, 1982. A small-time hustler from Pennsylvania, friendly with Kuklinski, Malliband supposedly owed DeMeo $35,000. He tried to weasel his way out of paying on time by hinting that he could harm Kuklinski’s family…and Kuklinski, though brutally abusive to his wife, was so protective of his daughters that he would actually spy on them during parties. He was instantly enraged. He shot Malliband five times, shoved his body into a barrel by removing one leg, and dumped the barrel on the grounds of a chemical plant.
The plant owner found the barrel almost immediately, and it didn’t take police long to learn that Richard Kuklinski was the last person to see Malliband alive.
Meanwhile, DeMeo had decided to switch coke suppliers, and had no intention of paying for the last shipment he received from his original suppliers, a pair of Brazilian brothers. He wanted Kuklinski to travel to Rio a second time and take out both brothers. That’s how Kuklinski became an international assassin. It would not be his last overseas job, he claimed. (1)
One murder that has been linked to Kuklinski serves as the strongest evidence that he was, in fact, a Mafia-linked hitman. Yet this case is extremely problematic. The hit was allegedly ordered in 1980 by Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, and the mark was a crooked NYPD detective by the name of Peter Calabro. The exact reasons for the hit aren’t known, but it has been alleged that Calabro’s former in-laws suspected him in the 1977 drowning death of his wife, Carmella, and turned to Gravano for “help” (in the Carlo/Kuklinski version of the story, Calabro hired DeMeo himself to kill Carmella).
Here’s how the murder went down, according to Kuklinski: He waited in his van near Calabro’s home in Saddle River, New Jersey, maintaining radio contact with Gravano, who was tailing Calabro. When Calabro attempted to drive around the van, Kuklinski fired the shotgun given to him by Gravano through the windshield of his Honda Civic, killing him with a single shot. (1, 4)
The murder remained unsolved for over two decades. In 2003, Gravano was charged with soliciting Calabro’s murder. Why? Because Kuklinski took credit for the hit and told the feds it was Gravano who hired him. Beyond that, there is no evidence connecting Kuklinski to Calabro’s murder. Kuklinski had kept this murder under his hat until 2001, when he was interviewed by HBO for the second time.
He agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence (rather than a death sentence), and he also agreed to testify against Gravano. The young state police detectives who questioned Kuklinski claim he provided details that only the killer would know. (1) Just what those details are remains a mystery. And no one has answered a rather obvious question: Why would Gravano, one of Mafiadom’s most prolific hitman himself, hire Kuklinski to do a job like this? He had to hire someone else for the Castellano hit because it was done on a street crawling with Christmas shoppers and steakhouse patrons who could recognize him, but he could easily have pulled off a covert nighttime hit like the Calabro shooting himself. It doesn’t make much sense. Several jailhouse informants have stated that Gravano bragged about killing Calabro himself, for whatever that’s worth.
At any rate, Kuklinski died before Gravano went to trial. The murder charges were dropped for lack of evidence.
The third and fourth murders for which Kuklinski was convicted in ’88 were those of Gary Smith and Daniel Deppner. In late 1981, Percy House, one of the members of a small burglary ring Richard ran, was arrested, and fingered Kuklinski as the boss, though he knew Kuklinski only as “Big Rich”.
Later, the ex-wife of missing crew member Danny Deppner provided state police detective Patrick Kane with Richard’s full name. This woman told Kane that Kuklinski was a hitman, and that he and Deppner had murdered crew member Gary Smith in December 1982 by giving him a poisoned hamburger, then strangling him. Sure enough, Detective Kane learned, Smith’s body had been found stuffed beneath a bed at the York Motel in North Bergen two days after Christmas in 1982. Several people had rented the room without noticing it.
In May 1983, Deppner’s body was found near a reservoir in West Milford. He had been poisoned with cyanide, then shot. It would later emerge that he had been killed in the apartment of Richie Peterson, boyfriend of Kuklinski’s elder daughter, Merrick. Peterson had even helped Richard dispose of the body. Kuklinski told young Richie that Deppner had died of a drug overdose, and Richie believed him.
Then came the discovery that gave Kuklinski his nickname, the Ice Man. In August 1983, Louis Masgay’s partially defrosted corpse was found in Rockland County, New York (by other accounts, he was found in Palisades Interstate Park near Orangeburg, New Jersey). Though the corpse appeared fresh, an autopsy revealed shards of ice in his chest cavity, indicating he could have died much earlier.
It was Percy House who broke the case open, finally admitting to Detective Kane that he knew “Big Rich” had killed Masgay, Smith, and Paul Hoffman. Then Kane learned that a fourth guy, George Malliband, had an appointment with Kuklinski on the day he ended up in a barrel. Kukinski’s attorney would try to pin everything on House.
The Masgay case contains a mystery: How did Kuklinski freeze the body? Carlo claims it was kept in an ice-cold well, while the authorities seem to believe it was kept in an industrial freezer. So far as we, though, Kuklinski didn’t have access to a freezer large enough to hold a man’s body.
Pat Kane worked obsessively on the Kuklinski cases for over four years. Initially, his bosses didn’t think there was anything to them because the MOs were so different in each murder: Strangulation, shooting, poisoning. How could they possibly be the work of one individual, a family man? Kuklinski was a “film distributor” on paper, and had a clean record (with just two complaints for road rage incidents).
Nonetheless, Kane was certain he was on to something. And he kept hearing rumours that Kuklinski was not only a killer, but a hitman with Mafia ties. Given the body count, that wasn’t hard for Kane to believe. So he cooked up a plan to lure Kuklinski with a decoy client, an undercover cop. The man selected for this job was an enthusiastic ATF agent, Dominick Polifrone. In early 1985, Phil Solimene agreed to introduce him to Kuklinski as a weapons dealer.
It wasn’t until September 1986 that Polifrone finally met Kuklinski face-to-face. Kuklinski asked him to acquire some cyanide, and Polifrone asked for some firearms. Unaware that their phone conversation was being recorded, Kuklinski presented one of his associates (identified as “John Spasudo” in Carlo’s book) as an arms dealer who could get Dominick some “metal” for an IRA client. The two men then chatted about cyanide and all the interesting ways there are to kill people. Kuklinski was admitting, for the record, that he had murdered people.
They arranged to meet at a rest stop on October 2 so Kuklinski could hand over a “hit kit” consisting of a gun and silencer. As they hovered over the trunk of Kuklinski’s car, Dominick floated the idea of poisoning a wealthy young client by cutting his cocaine with cyanide. Kuklinski took the bait, telling Polifrone it could be done. Again, the conversation was recorded.
On Halloween, they arranged to meet up at the rest stop for a third time. This time, Dominick would bring the young coke buyer he supposedly wanted Richard to kill. Detective Paul Smith posed as the buyer. Kuklinski didn’t show. He was too busy conducting business in South Carolina and Zurich, according to Carlo’s book. The team waited tensely until another meeting was set up for December 6. This was a key meeting, because Kuklinski finally named two of the people he had killed: Deppner and Smith. During and after a fourth meeting, on December 12, he and Polifrone made arrangements to meet up again five days later and poison the coke buyer with a cyanide-laced sandwich; Dominick said he could supply the cyanide and the sandwich, which seemed to suit Kuklinski just fine.
On December 17, Polifrone handed Kuklinski a bagful of egg salad sandwiches and a tiny vial of white powder that looked like cyanide. He would pick up their mark and bring him back to the rest stop in about half an hour, he said. Kuklinski said he would swap his car for a van (a safe place to poison the buyer) and return to the rest stop in twenty minutes.
It didn’t take him long to realize the cyanide was fake. He pulled his car over and tested some of it on a stray dog – to absolutely no effect. (1)
State police detectives were staking out his house in Dumont. They watched him return home around 10:00 AM with a load of groceries. Deputy Chief Bob Buccino gave the order for Kuklinski to be arrested there, and fifteen police vehicles rapidly converged on the scene. Oblivious, Kuklinski bundled a sick Barbara into the car, planning to take her out for breakfast, and drove directly into a solid line of cop cars. It took several men to subdue Richard once he was out of the car.
It seems clear, in hindsight, that Kuklinski at this point in his life was like a scared animal, frantically defending his small amount of turf by recklessly killing anyone who could conceivably pose a threat to it. But his own account of these last years of freedom paint a much different picture, of course; in his own mind, and in Carlo’s book, he was a jet-setting mastermind with his fingers in firearms, foreign currency, and Swiss bank fraud. He committed scores of contract murders, killed a few more people in fits of road rage, freed a dozen trafficked children from the dungeon of a pot dealer in New Jersey, and took down an Arab blackmailer in Zurich with a quick spray of cyanide.
In addition to the murders of Masgay, Malliband, Smith, and Deppner, Kuklinski was charged with the April 1982 murder of Paul Hoffman, a crooked pharmacist who supposedly supplied him with cyanide for many years. This was another profit-motivated killing; Hoffman was willing to pay a large sum of cash for a stolen load of Tagamet, and Kuklinski again conspired with his good buddy Solimene to simply bump him off and take the money. He shot and bludgeoned the man to death, stuffed his body into a 55-gallon drum, and brazenly deposited the drum near a Hackensack diner he frequented, Harry’s Luncheonette. He claimed that even though the barrel was in plain sight, no one discovered what was in it. One day when he dropped by for lunch, the barrel was gone. (1, 3)
Hoffman’s body has never been found.
There is very little doubt that Kuklinski committed this murder, but the charges were ultimately dropped for lack of evidence.
In his second HBO interview, it is stated that Kuklinski became a hitman only after meeting Roy DeMeo. Prior to that time, he had never killed for money, and told DeMeo he thought he could do it. This story changed later, when Carlo interviewed Kuklinski. Suddenly, Kuklinski had been a teenage hitman, so proficient in the art of contract killing that he was already in demand at the age of 19. No one except Carlo accepts this. Even the makers of the movie The Iceman rejected it completely.
How accurate is the movie The Iceman?
The film makes no mention of Kuklinski’s more outrageous claims (Hoffa, DeMeo, etc.). This is because the script was based on Anthony Bruno’s book, rather than Carlo’s book. Even so, it relies on Kuklinski’s own accounts of his crimes, so it is probably not even remotely accurate. This is one of those films in which “inspired by a true story” is stretched to the outermost limits.
Son Dwight is left out of the picture. Barbara is “Deborah”. Murders of non-Mafia associates are transferred to powerful Mafia-linked figures. For instance, the Christmastime murder of Kuklinski’s associate “Bruno Latini” becomes the murder of a character based on Anthony Gaggi and Paul Castellano, Roy DeMeo’s bosses in the Gambino family. In reality, as we have seen, Kuklinski played no role in the assassination of Castellano.
The names of DeMeo’s closest associates are altered, and the name of “Mr. Freezy” (Mister Softee) isn’t given at all.
In The Iceman, Kuklinski is drawn into the Mafia through his work in the film lab, and Roy DeMeo essentially forces him to become a hitman. Kuklinski claimed just the opposite; he was an expert contract killer by the age of 19, and his stint at the labs was just a way to make ends meet. It was not DeMeo who introduced him to the Mafia.
The bizarre sneezing-in-the-disco scene in Iceman was actually even weirder in real life, according to Kuklinski. He had decided to kill a Bonanno family lieutenant inside a popular New York disco – a spectacularly risky move that doesn’t seem at all like his usual style. He had recently learned about poisons and acquired some cyanide from Paul Hoffman, and one night he showed up at the mark’s favourite disco in an absurd “gay” getup: elevator shoes (remember, he was 6’4″), a red hat, wildly coloured clothes. Instead of spraying cyanide on his mark, Kuklinski jabbed him with a syringe as he scooted past him on the dance floor. The man was dead before Kuklinski left the club.
Kuklinski didn’t start using cyanide in spray form until the 1980s, after he befriended ex-military assassin Robert Prongay (Mr. Softee). (3)
Kuklinski did not save a teenage girl from a sexual predator. That story, it seems, was created out of whole cloth just for the film.
In the film, Kuklinski is just as he described himself; a Jekyll and Hyde. But the dividing line between the upright family man and the raging sociopath was not clearly demarcated between his work and his home life, as it is in the movie. Michael Shannon’s Kuklinski controls his temper around his wife and daughters, for the most part. In reality, Kuklinski was physically abusive to Barbara, and so controlling with his three children that one daughter, Chris, claims she lost her virginity to a stranger at age 12 just to feel she finally had control over something – her own body. Kuklinski blackened Barbara’s eyes, caused her to miscarry, shattered furniture, destroyed mementos. He told his daughter Merrick that he would have to murder the entire family if he accidentally killed her mother, so she and her sister carefully packed a bag and worked out a plan to run for their lives, just in case.
Why I don’t believe Kuklinski, in a nutshell
1. He was a prolific liar. Even people who believe most of his story, like Bruno, acknowledge that not all of his stories are true.
2. There is simply no concrete evidence that he was a hitman.
Here’s what I think happened: Kuklinski was a minor-league criminal running a B&E gang, bootlegging porn, selling stolen merchandise, etc. In the early ’80s he lost control of his crew, and some members starting getting into trouble, so he began picking them off one by one, just like Jesse James did in the twilight of his criminal career.
He had long been telling people he was a hitman, and after his arrest he decided to pass himself off as a world-class Mafia hitman. An avid – but not very careful – reader of true crime lit since boyhood, he used famous crime scene photos and twice-told gangster tales to piece together an impressive life story, inserting himself into some of the Mafia’s most notorious murders. Many people bought it.
I do believe that Kuklinski and his siblings were severely abused as children, because the Kuklinski clan spawned two remorseless killers. His younger brother, Joseph, served 33 years in Trenton State for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old neighbour.
I believe that he did work, in some capacity, for DeMeo (perhaps merely as a porn supplier).
I believe that he killed at least six of his associates. The fact that he was busted for nearly all of them indicates he was not a professional killer.
I believe that he was a career criminal. He had very few legit jobs in his lifetime, yet his income was steady and he was able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
In my opinion, the rest is bullshit.
How did Kuklinski pull off one of the biggest hoaxes in criminal history?
First of all, he chose the right profession. Hitmen often work alone, are crazy paranoid about surveillance, and kill people to whom they can’t be connected – usually without even knowing their names. If a Mafia hitman tells you he killed 100-200 people over three decades in two countries and at least 18 states, that’s a tough thing to refute. I cannot conclusively say that Kuklinski never worked as a contract killer. I can only cast doubt on his claims by pointing to the lack of corroborating evidence for them.
Kuklinski was a serial killer. There’s no question about that. His real killing experiences may have enabled him to spin plausible-sounding tales about contract murders.
Secondly, Kuklinski was a sociopath. He was a convincing liar, and a reasonably intelligent man. He knew how to fill the credibility gaps in some of his stories. He was smart enough to know that DeMeo’s Gemini Lounge was under surveillance, and to make up the story about always meeting DeMeo near the Tappan Zee Bridge. As DeMeo’s “secret weapon”, he supposedly didn’t have to rub elbows with the other killers in DeMeo’s crew very often. This would explain why he wasn’t known as a Gemini Lounge regular.
He was also smart enough to come up with an excuse for living in a nice, but hardly extravagant, 3-bedroom house in New Jersey when he was pulling in millions every year: Gambling. Sure, he could send his kids to private schools and buy lovely furniture for his wife, but he pissed away several grand on a regular basis in poker games and casinos. This lie unraveled when the man who prosecuted him, New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Bob Carroll, said to HBO, “He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t gamble.” (3)
Thirdly, he stuck to a principle that liars and hoaxers throughout history have found extremely useful: Go big or go home. By seeding his stories with some of the biggest names in modern Mafia history, Kuklinski effectively armored himself against accusations of trickery. Who would pretend to kill people for Roy DeMeo, or finger Sammy Gravano for a murder, unless he was legit? No one would be so bold. No one would be so foolish.
Paradoxically, it was this name-dropping that made me start questioning Kuklinski in the first place. Like most everyone who watched the HBO interviews, I was mesmerized and appalled by Kuklinski, and had little reason to doubt he was a hardcore contract killer. Then his Hoffa story hit the news, and I suddenly realized that not all of his stories were necessarily true. This ultimately led me to what I believe today – that Kuklinski was not a contract killer and did not work for the Mafia outside of the porn-bootlegging business.
Maybe Iceman is the perfect name for him – he pulled off an amazing snowjob. In fact, he wins the second posthumous Pants Afire Award. Irony.
It’s nearly impossible to dig into any subject without bumping into conspiracy theories these days. Here’s one about Kuklinski, courtesy of Ed Chiarini (the Texan who believes John Stossel is Freddy Mercury, Winston Churchill was also Lionel Barrymore, etc.): Richard Kuklinski did not die in prison in 2006, but became the chief medical examiner of the state of Connecticut, Dr. H. Wayne Carver. In Chiarini’s view, Kuklinski/Carver was a key player in the Sandy Hook massacre hoax.
Chiarini is losing his touch. Sure, I could believe that Robert Blake was the Pope, but the resemblance between Kuklinski and Carver is extremely slight (they’re both large and bald, basically).
1. The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo (St. Martin’s Press, 2006)
2. Roy DeMeo episode of Mobsters (originally aired on the Biography Channel October 24, 2008)
3. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)
4. The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman (2001)
5. The Hoffa Wars by Dan E. Moldea (Paddington Press, 1978)
6. “My Afternoon With Jimmy Hoffa’s Alleged Killer” (1999) by Dan E. Moldea, Moldea.com
7. “Man’s claim that he killed Hoffa is dismissed as a hoax“. Detroit Free Press. April 18, 2006.
8. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires by Selwyn Raab (Thomas Dunne Books, 2005)
The Secrets of the Atacama
As described in my last post, ufologist Dr. Steven Greer announced last summer that he had gained access to the tiny body then known as the Atacama Humanoid or the Atacama Alien, discovered around 2003 in the desert sands of Chile. It is a seemingly human skeleton with an elongated and peculiar skull, not much longer than a pencil, yet remarkably well-proportioned. Strangely, it has only ten ribs and what appears to be a tooth. Greer said that two top scientists – a geneticist and a foremost expert on skeletal abnormalities – were analyzing the creature, and promised the results would be made known to the world in the documentary Sirius. The film was screened earlier this week in Los Angeles, to wildly mixed reviews.
“In the end, no halfway intelligent person will be swayed by this film.” – Bad UFOs
“I got the feeling that it should be called Greer Movie instead of Sirius.” – Before It’s News
“The tag line for this film is…’It’s time you know’. To be honest you can keep it to yourselves. ” – Troll2Rocks
Did I say the reviews were mixed? Yeah, they weren’t. It was terrible. Everybody hated it. And yes, you read that correctly – a Troll 2 fan thinks Sirius is awful.
But we did get what Greer promised: The long-awaited findings of the two American scientists who analyzed the Atacama Humanoid. We now know they were Dr. Garry Nolan and Dr. Ralph Lachman. Nolan is a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, and Lachman is a pediatric radiologist specializing in the study of skeletal dysplasia (“dwarfism”).
After studying DNA samples and images of the body for over half a year, what do these esteemed medical professionals have to say about it?
Welp, it’s not a monkey. Or an ape. Or an alien. Or a human-alien hybrid. It’s a six- to eight-year-old child that could fit in the palm of your palm. Think about that for a minute. If it’s not blowing your mind yet, think about it some more. I’ll wait.
The body is evidently not – as a I originally suspected – a Piltdown Man or a Nondescript, stitched or glued together from parts of different species for the amusement of some trickster. Greer’s team extracted a DNA sample from the body by surgically dissecting two of its ten ribs. These samples contained bone marrow material. DNA analysis conducted by Nolan (which is ongoing) shows the tiny being is a male human child, probably born to an indigenous Chilean woman. Though its age is difficult to estimate, Nolan guesses it was born sometime in the last one hundred years. According to Nolan, “Obviously, it was breathing, it was eating, it was metabolizing. It calls into question how big the thing might have been when it was born.” You can read a preliminary summary of his and Lachman’s findings here.
Working with X-ray and CAT scan images, Lachman found that the skeleton’s bone density and epiphyseal plates were those of a small child, approximately six to eight years of age, rather than a foetus. As you’ll see, not everyone agrees with his conclusions.
At this point, we know very little about the boy found in the desert. His body was unearthed by a treasure-hunter in the autumn of 2003. If the account of his discovery is accurate, it seems the boy was given a crude burial beside the Catholic church in the long-abandoned mining town of La Noria, in northern Chile’s Atacama desert. This is a desolate place, once home to one of Chile’s many saltpeter mining operations but now known only as a literal ghost town with a spectacularly creepy cemetery. Eschewing a coffin, someone had wrapped the body in a piece of white cloth, bound it with some purple ribbon, and interred it in a shallow grave near the church.
Was the child considered a demon? A curse? A portent of disaster? Stories of “monstrous” human infants, like the legendary Hull House devil baby that terrified Catholics in pre-WWI Chicago, continue to be told even today – so it seems quite likely that devout Catholics in a remote desert town would have been petrified (and perhaps mesmerized) by the birth of a baby that would make Tom Thumb look like a giant. They may have kept the child’s existence a secret, out of shame and fear. It’s even possible the boy was never known to the world beyond his immediate family, or perhaps nuns entrusted with his care. To date, no contemporary reports of a tiny child born in Chile have surfaced. One has to wonder what his brief, astonishing life and untimely death were like. Was he baptized? Was he loved? Did the skull fracture observed by the doctors have something to do with his death? Did a weeping mother kneel beside his grave? As the last residents of La Noria drove away in the 1950s, did they gaze back through the swirls of dust at the little Catholic church and whisper a goodbye to the boy they had never known, but always heard about?
After his discovery in 2003, the “horrible dwarf extraterrestrial” was briefly spotlighted in Chile’s tabloid media. Thereafter, he was passed from hand to hand like a carnival sideshow exhibit, finally ending up in the possession of a Barcelona “exobiologist” named Ramón Navia-Osorio. He was treated much more like a collectible curiosity than a scientific specimen, but Navia-Osorio did persuade several scientists to render their opinions on the body. According to an article at the UFO site Open Minds, three physicians X-rayed it and determined it was a complete human skeleton, rather than an assemblage of parts. Dr. Francisco Etxeberria Gabilondo, a professor of legal and forensic medicine at Basque Country University and a specialist in forensic anthropology at Madrid’s Complutense University, declared the body to be that of a mummified human foetus, approximately fifteen weeks old.
Greer, on the other hand, decided he was an Extraterrestrial Biological Entity and commissioned Lachman and Nolan to examine him. If the boy had been considered merely a human oddity rather than a possible EBE, it is doubtful he would have regained any degree of attention. I certainly hope that once the alien nonsense fades away, other scientists will examine him and tell us much more about him. They should be able to resolve the disparities between Dr. Etxeberria’s report and the Lachman/Nolan findings.
I have only one thing to ask of you. Don’t think of the Atacama skeleton as just another alien hoax, or yet another black mark against Steven Greer, or the over-hyped hook for some goofy documentary. Think of him as the little boy from La Noria.
“The Wikipediatrician”, Nataliedee.com
- “The 10 Biggest Hoaxes in Wikipedia’s First 10 Years”. I like the one where the founder of Orange Julius created a shower stall for pigeons, but I notice that the really big hoaxes (like the Essjay thing) aren’t mentioned. That’s okay, though, because you can find most of them on Wikipedia itself. There’s even an entry for “the reliability of Wikipedia” on Wikipedia.
- According to one blogger, Black Swan is chock full of Satanic Illuminati New World Order mind control imagery. She’s not so worried about the violence or the insanity or the lesbian sex, but the triangles are a dead giveaway…
- If I said “serial killer nun harem”, I’m guessing you’d draw a blank. Allow me to fill that in for you… In the ’60s and ’70s, the “nuns” of preacher DeVernon LeGrand were a common sight at Grand Central Station and on the streets of Brooklyn. Wearing black habits, the women begged for spare change on a daily basis. What Brooklynites probably didn’t know was that the “nuns” constituted LeGrand’s personal harem, giving birth to dozens of his children in the four-story brownstone that housed St. John’s Pentecostal Church of Our Lord. While the women and children begged for food and money, the preacher wore silk suits and cruised the city in a Cadillac. When he found a woman (or, more often, girl) that he liked, he persuaded her to visit the brownstone.
But not all of these women were willing victims. Three times between 1965 and 1975, LeGrand was charged with kidnapping and assault. Only in ’75 did criminal charges finally stick, when LeGrand was convicted of bribery. Later that year, he and his 26-year-old son Noconda were convicted of raping a 17-year-old “nun”. LeGrand’s peculiar tribe also set up shop in the Catskills, operating a woodsy retreat near White Sulphur Springs. Locals continually complained of loud parties, gunfire, and wandering children. As in New York, nuns and kids begged for money and food.In 1975, two teenage church members went missing. Yvonne Rivera, 16, and her sister Gladys Stewart, 18, had provided testimony for the prosecution in LeGrand’s bribery trial, but couldn’t be located when the D.A. sought their testimony in the rape case. Gladys was married to one of LeGrand’s sons or stepsons.
The church handyman revealed that both girls had been murdered by LeGrand and his stepson Steven in the Crown Heights chapel. Their remains were flung into Briscoe Lake, near the Catskills retreat. It is suspected the preacher also killed at least two of his wives, Ernestine Timmon and Ann Sorise, as well as over a dozen church members who had gone missing. LeGrand died in prison in 2006.
Here’s the kicker:
LeGrand’s “church” is still in operation. Now headed by Noconda and his wife Mindy, it consists of at least one habit-garbed faux nun – Mindy herself. She was sought last year for allegedly raising funds for a nonexistent orphanage. When health inspectors searched church headquarters, Mindy’s son Quomenters said numerous orphans were being cared for there, but nine of them were at the White Sulphur Springs retreat.
- Hopefully you’ve already encountered this in your online travels, but here’s the deal with the “new” Zodiac signs: According to a recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Zodiac sign designations that astrologers have used from time immemorial are no longer valid, because Earth isn’t in the same alignment with the constellations of the Zodiac as it was back in the day. Astronomer Parke Kunkle suggested the dates be revised, which means some people born under a certain sign would find themselves with an entirely different Zodiac sign.
If true, this does absolutely no favours for astrology. It makes the whole endeavour look sort of, well, arbitrary or confused (to be nice about it).
So, is it true?
Yes. And no. Yes, because users of the Sideral Zodiac actually do rely on the positions of the stars. And no, because the average Western astrologer doesn’t use the Sidereal Zodiac. Astrologers typically use the Tropical Zodiac, which is based on the movement of the sun across the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and the equator, dividing the Zodiac into twelve sectors that remain the same from year to year. The new alignment does not affect their calculations, in other words.
It does mean, however, that you may actually have two different Zodiac signs. It would depend on what kind of astrologer you consult. Food for thought.
Spoiler warning: This post contains complete spoilers for the film Catfish.
The Truth 2.0
In 2007, 22-year-old New York photographer Yaniv “Nev” Schulman received an adorable Myspace message from a young girl in Michigan. Abby Wesselman, 12 years old, wanted to show him some of her paintings, including one based on one of his recent photos, a striking image of a ballet dancer holding a ballerina aloft in a field.
Then Nev received a message from Abby’s mom, Angela, informing him that Abby was really 8 years old and wasn’t supposed to be online by herself. Now Nev was even more impressed by Abby’s art. This kid had talent! Real talent, not Marla Olmstead talent! Soon, he was taking ballet photos specifically for Abby’s paintbrush, and getting acquainted with Angela’s fascinating family via Facebook and phone calls.
The Wesselmans lived in the microdot community of Ishpeming, Michigan, and were a lot like the family in You Can’t Take It With You. Angela, a beautiful sloe-eyed brunette, painted and rode horses. Her son Alex was a rock musician. Daughter Megan was a veterinarian who danced, wrote songs, painted, played multiple instruments, kept horses, and did some modeling in her spare time. Abby, of course, was an art prodigy whose paintings sold for up to $7000 apiece. The family had recently purchased an old warehouse on Ishpeming’s main street, and were turning it into a gallery to showcase Abby’s work.
Nev’s brother Ariel (“Rel”), a filmmaker, was intrigued by Abby’s artwork and her talent-laden family. He decided to document the creative process going on between Nev and Abby, though Nev wasn’t enthused about the idea. He went along with it, he later said, because he felt aimless and bored. He had recently dropped out of college to pursue a full-time career in photography, and had to film bar mitzvahs on weekends to make ends meet.
They didn’t have the funds to actually travel to Michigan, so for the next several months, Rel and his creative partner Henry Joost basically just filmed Nev’s phone conversations with the Wesselman family and recorded Nev’s thoughts on Abby’s art.
Angela considered Nev an artistic mentor for her daughter. She even offered to pay him for his advice. When he declined, Abby sent several of her paintings to Nev as gifts, along with half of a $1000 prize she won in an art competition.
Rel and Henry also began to document the burgeoning romance between Nev and Angela’s 19-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Megan Faccio. Megan, the vet, lived on a small farm not far from her parents’ house. The photos she posted on Facebook and sent to Nev showed a lovely girl with luxuriantly long, honey-gold hair. She had the lithe body of a dancer and the soulful eyes of an artist. Intriguingly for Nev, she hadn’t dated much and remained a virgin.
Chatting online soon led to flirting, exchanging photos, and a little sexting. They talked longingly of Meeting in Real Life someday.
There were warning signs along the way, of course. Curiously, though Angela had posted a video of Abby painting wild horses, the family never webcammed. Angela’s husband, Vince Pierce, looked young enough to be Megan’s brother. There were lots of photos of Megan on her Facebook profile, but no family photos – and few photos of Angela. The only clear image of Angela the New Yorkers had ever seen was a painting done by Megan.
Nev’s mother was skeptical. She pointed out that Megan seemed too young to be a veterinarian with her own home. Nev waved away her concerns.
That summer, about eight months after the first message from Abby, a MIRL started to look possible. The Schulmans and Joost were traveling to Colorado to film dancers at the Vail International Dance Festival, and if they drove they would be able to swing through Ishpeming on their way home. Rel and Henry packed up their film gear and mounted a point-and-shoot cam on the dashboard of the car to capture the road trip.
In their Colorado lodgings, Nev chatted with Megan on his laptop. She had been posting MP3s of herself and Angela singing some favourite songs and playing various instruments, so one evening the three guys listened to them. One song sung by Angela, “Downhill”, was fantastic. Megan accompanied her mom on guitar.
When Megan offered to take requests, Ariel and Henry asked her to record and post “Tennessee Stud”. She was a horsewoman, after all.
Within thirty minutes, Megan’s rendition of the song appeared on Facebook. It also sounded good, but the guys were still crazy about the song “Downhill” and wanted to know more about it. Nev googled some of the lyrics and found Amy Kuney’s original recording of “It’s All Downhill from Here” on iTunes. The song had been featured on the soundtrack of the teen soap opera One Tree Hill.
To their astonishment, the guys gradually realized that Kuney’s version sounded identical to Megan and Angela’s.
Rel began searching for covers of “Tennessee Stud”, and on YouTube he found one by Suzanna Choffel that perfectly matched Megan’s. Clearly, she and/or Angela had been snagging songs from the ‘Net and posting them as their own.
It would be all downhill from there.
The three men agreed not to confront Megan or Angela right away. They would continue to play along, and do some investigating.
On camera, Nev accepted the situation with good humour. He laughed in embarrassment over the sexting, and joked that he was probably having an online relationship with another guy. But discovering Megan’s deception had been traumatic for him.
Phone calls from Megan were now decidedly awkward and strained, with Nev keeping his end of the conversations as brief as possible.
Nev and Ariel investigated the warehouse gallery at 100 North Main Street in Ishpeming. It was a former department store that had been vacant for four years, and according to the real estate agent, it was still on the market.
The group traveled fom Vail to Ishpeming with a lot of questions on their minds. When Nev told Megan he might be in her area very soon, she said one of her horses was giving birth. She would have to be in the stables all night.
Upon reaching the outskirts of Ishpeming after dark, the trio’s first stop was the rural mailbox used by Megan. This was supposedly her home address, but the box stood in front of a lot occupied only by a barn, which was completely empty.
The rest of the family lived in a comfortable, farm-style house in town, with bay windows and a cheery red door. Angela responded to Nev’s knock the next morning, hesitantly. She was a rather plump woman with waist-length auburn hair; pleasant-looking, but hardly the elegant beauty of Megan’s painting.
Angela nervously explained that Megan was many miles away, at her farm. Moments later, Vince showed up on the porch and introduced himself. He was an average middle-aged man, not the young guy in Megan’s photo. He seemed to know nothing about his wife’s online deceptions; he was under the impression that Nev was his wife’s “primary customer”, having purchased a number of her paintings (which were actually sent to him as gifts).
Inside the house, Angela gestured to a partially-completed painting of a woman in a dress and said it was Abby’s latest work.
As it turned out, Abby was not a miniature Degas. The paintings were Angela’s. This became evident when Abby told Nev she didn’t paint very often, and identified “her” wild horse painting as her mother’s work.
There was no sign of Angela’s son, but it turned out she and Vince were the sole caregivers for Vince’s profoundly disabled twin sons. Angela had never mentioned them.
At one point during the visit, when Angela was out of sight, Megan texted Nev to explain that the horses were keeping her very busy, but she would try to see him as soon as possible. “Don’t leave!” she pleaded. Nev wondered why she wouldn’t phone him.
That night, while the guys rested at a local hotel, Megan sent another message revealing that she was an alcoholic. She wouldn’t be able to see Nev because she had just checked into a rehab clinic.
With Angela’s “perfect” life lying unraveled at their feet, the guys decided it was time to put an end to the game.
On the second day of their visit Angela, still seeming quite shy and reticent, took her guests to a horse farm to watch Abby ride. Nev gently asked her why she had created so many stories about her life.
She let go of the deception with surprising ease…almost. She still insisted that Megan was real, though her photos were those of a “family friend”, and that she really was in rehab. This turned out to be false. The lovely girl in the photos was a professional model/photographer from the Northwest, Aimee Gonzalez. She had no knowledge of the Wesselman family and was completely unaware that Angela had been using her Facebook and modeling photos to flesh out “Megan Faccio”.
The previous day, Angela said she was undergoing chemo for uterine cancer. Also false.
Nev was forgiving, and it’s easy to understand why. It would be nearly impossible not to sympathize, to some degree, with this woman. She was living a demanding, isolated life full of imperfection and frustrated dreams.
Angela was embarrassed and seemingly contrite about her behaviour. With admirable candour, she explained how she created at least a dozen Facebook profiles to give the appearance of a small network of family and friends, used a second cell phone for “Megan’s” calls, and adopted a high breathy voice for Megan. Like Mary Shieler, she cited boredom as her primary motivation. “I didn’t have anything else in my life… I didn’t have anything else to do,” she told 20/20.
But unlike Mary Shieler, Angela Wesselman-Pierce didn’t leave a trail of death and devastation in her wake. In fact, just as Vince conveys in the anecdote that gives the film Catfish its title, her deception and its unmasking made everyone involved a little better and stronger. Angela began to sell her paintings online. Schulman and Joost created an acclaimed documentary that premiered at Sundance.
Nev didn’t fare so well, at first. Even though the physical distance between himself and Megan would have made a long-term relationship almost impossible, he had strong feelings for her. The realization that this girl was a figment of someone’s imagination hit him hard.
Upon returning to New York, Nev got back together with an on-and-off girlfriend, Katie, and told his brother he needed some time to recover.
Catfish chronicles Nev’s artistic collaboration with Abby, his romance with Megan, and the fateful trip to Michigan. Much like TalHotBlond, it was marketed as a suspense thriller documentary full of shocking twists. The filmmakers and their subject, however, view it as a story of love, loneliness, and the complexities of online relationships. They clearly made an effort to portray Angela Wesselman-Pierce as a woman worthy of sympathy and understanding. The film even ends with a coda that despite Angela’s false claims of having cancer and having a daughter in rehab, she and Nev remain friends on Facebook.
It’s difficult not to have mixed feelings about Catfish. On one hand, it’s possible that being caught has provided the impetus for Angela Wesselman-Pierce to re-evaluate her life and make changes to it that would not otherwise have occurred to her. Reaching out to a photographer indicates that she wanted to forge some connection to other artistic people, and she now has the opportunity to do that.
On the other hand, one has to examine the ethical dimensions of filming a woman who may have mental issues that prevent her from making sound decisions, a woman who (as Nev realized) was probably infatuated with a much younger man she had never met. This is underlined by the fact that the deception didn’t end when Nev left Michigan. Angela was still insisting she had a daughter named Megan in rehab, and back in New York Nev received an email from the real Megan. He asked her to call him at the office of his brother’s production company. He never received a call. The email account, he learned, was another of Angela’s fronts. Confronted, she confessed that she didn’t want the relationship with Nev to end.
Will Angela Wesselman-Pierce someday regret her participation in the film? One wonders, too, how little Abby will fare when she’s older. Will having her mother outed as an online master of deception become embarrassing and burdensome to her, if it hasn’t already? Where, exactly, should we draw the line between private drama and public accountability?
These certainly weren’t the only questions raised by reviewers of Catfish.
The Truth 2.1
Catfish premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. From its very first screenings, viewers expressed skepticism about the entire film. How could it be, they asked, that three New Yorkers were genuinely duped by a Michigan housewife for almost a year? How could anyone believe “Vince” was old enough to be Megan’s stepdad? Why would a director want to film his brother’s daily life in the first place? And isn’t it convenient that some of the film’s most startling revelations, like Megan’s bogus song covers, just happened to take place when the camera was rolling?
Morgan Spurlock called it “the best fake documentary I’ve seen”. The New York Times review described it as “coy about its motives” and full of “faux-naïf manipulations”. Movieline.com’s Kyle Bucchanan bluntly accused the filmmakers of knowing Angela was lying all along. A reviewer at the blog Very Aware pointed out that the photo of Vince and Megan was posted to Facebook in March 2008, months after the events of Catfish took place. In comments attached to these reviews, people have speculated that Angela, Aimee Gonzalez, and the Schulmans/Joost are fame-hungry artists who collaborated on a hoax. One Movieline commenter claims Angela Pierce is not only a professional artist, but a filmmaker whose work has appeared at small festivals. She even has a production company: Panorama Management Group, LLC in Ipsheming, Michigan. While it’s true that Panorama “respresents” Angela, the operation appears to be a one-woman show. And though Angela listed herself as a filmmaker as late as October of this year, I have found no films to her credit.
On the other hand, Dana Stevens of Slate expressed the view that the events in the film were probably real, though possibly re-created or compressed to some extent.
Other reviewers, like New York magazine’s David Edelstein, freely admitted they didn’t know whether or not there was hoaxery in the film.
The Schulmans and Joost have emphatically denied any fakery. In fact, they insist, they weren’t even planning to make a feature documentary until they discovered Megan’s songs weren’t her own. They just wanted to film interesting events in Nev’s life. Once they decided to make the movie, they re-created only the computer screenshots.
Nev’s mom vouched for him. But then, so did James Frey’s mom.
If the filmmakers did any hoaxing in the production of Catfish, their film’s pivotal scene may prove its undoing. This month, Threshold Media filed a lawsuit against the filmmakers, their producers, and their distributors, maintaining that they should pay licensing fees for Amy Kuney’s “All Downhill From Here”. Schulman and Joost justified their inclusion of the song as fair use, since Catfish is a documentary. With the lawsuit, Threshold is basically challenging the film’s “documentary” status.
These days, who wouldn’t be jaded? We’ve been inundated by mockumentaries like Fubar and Incident at Loch Ness, recreated “reality” shows like Operation Repo (which airs, ironically, on TruTV), Hollywood thrillers “based on true stories” that never happened (The Fourth Kind), movies that convincingly blend truth with fantasy (The Social Network), and PR stunts cleverly disguised as home movies or nervous breakdowns (Lonelygirl15, the tantrum-throwing bride who hacked off her hair, Joaquin Pheonix). Not to mention the rash of “autobiographical” novels and phoney memoirs: Love and Consequences, Sarah, A Million Little Pieces/My Friend Leonard, An Angel at the Fence, Surviving with Wolves.
Then there are credible allegations that Michael Moore staged and fabricated incidents in his award-winning documentaries Roger & Me and Bowling for Columbine. And a revealing statement by Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter of The Social Network: “My fidelity is to the story I’m telling, and not to the who, what, where, why of the story.”
So skepticism is definitely warranted. After reviewing the allegations against Catfish, however, I don’t think the Schulmans and Henry Joost perpetrated a full-on hoax. The deception at the core of the movie is real, in my opinion. The youthful inexperience of the filmmakers can account for many of the “red flags” noted by reviewers. It seems quite likely that in their determination to make a gripping first film, they left too much of their own skepticism and doubt on the cutting room floor, leaving audiences to believe they were either gullible buffoons or cruel hoaxers.
The most problematic issue surrounding Catfish remains its ethical dimensions. Thrusting an unbalanced, small-town housewife onto the international film scene is not without its risks, and Angela Wesselman-Pierce’s response to her celebrity has been mixed. She did not attend the film’s premiere at Sundance, and for several months declined to be interviewed. Her only media appearance was on 20/20 in October.
- There’s no shortage of videos that promise to give you the truthiness about Illuminati Satanism, but I think this one might be the most idiotic of them all. The filmmaker is Michael Wynn, a programmer and Alex Jones fan who openly admits his first film (Starwars Unveiled [sic]) was “lame and untimely”. Sadly, he hasn’t realized that his seven subsequent efforts were pretty much the same. In Illuminati Esotera (esotera?), he attempts to convince us that the world’s elite have long been practicing for their transformation into “bodies of light”, and that Hollywood movies somehow prove this. However, he doesn’t tell us much about those movies, except for one that no one in their right mind has actually ever seen: Warlock: The Armageddon. He talks mostly about Hindu mysticism, the Mask card in the game Illuminati, and of course Star Wars. The conspiranoid world is obsessed with Star Wars, picking through every scene for Illuminati symbolism and New World Order propaganda. Jordan Maxwell insists that Luke Skywalker is the Morning Star, Lucifer, who “walks across the sky”, but he still hasn’t told us what the freaking Ewoks represent. Anyway, Wyn informs us the Jedi are patterned after Egyptian magi called Djedi, who had lots of wicked powers. You may not have heard of them. That’s because, well, they don’t exist. Wynn is apparently referring to one elderly dude called Djed-Djedi (or Tate), mentioned in a single story recorded on the Westcar Papyrus. Far from having Jedi skills, this guy could basically just drink a lot of beer and resurrect dead geese. No one is exactly sure, but “Jedi” could be derived from the Japanese jidaigeki, or from the Jeddak warriors in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series. (Thanks, Wookiepedia!) But I wouldn’t expect much wisdom from Mr. Wynn, anyway; his 2009 film Magick and The Matrix examines “Abdul AlHazred’s [sic] Necronomicon and the Illuminati’s concealment of the truths it bares”, arguing that The Matrix was inspired by it. Sigh.
- Turns out Wyn isn’t the only one running with this Djedi thing. A search on YouTube brings up everything from Djedi aliens to, well, Djedi aliens.
- If you’re concerned about Satanism and you feel that Michael Wyn & Co. aren’t winning the fight against it, have no fear! Malaysian clerics have banished one of the most pernicious purveyors of Satanism in the world: The Manchester United devil.
- Recently I wrote about the Black-Eyed Kids phenomenon, which amounts to weird anecdotes about creepy-ass children with no whites in their eyes. But this blog post by Jason Offut takes BEKs to a whole other level: This time, a child reported seeing a Black-Eyed Adult. A 9-year-old witness to the recent Cumbria massacre claimed that spree-killer Derrick Bird had totally black eyes. So now these BEKs aren’t just bothersome li’l urchins; they’re the mass murderers of tomorrow. Be afraid. Then again, our pupils tend to dilate when we’re doing stuff we really enjoy, and clearly Mr. Bird really enjoyed killing people.
Come, Armageddon, come.
- The latest plank in the New World Order platform: Post offices! One man has the courage to expose their illegal secret rooms and their “indoctrinated multicultural post office workers”, and to ask the really important questions, like “What role do Freemasons undertake in the U.S. Post Office?”.
- Another plank: Avatar, with its Freemasonic one-world religion mind control.
- Yet another young lady has kidnapped herself, but this one is just 12 years old. Meanwhile, another abduction hoaxer is facing a colourful array of charges for allegedly posing as her own boss at a Philly law firm, stealing $700K, fleeing to Disneyland, then claiming she and her 9-year-old daughter had been kidnapped by two black men.
- The Amityville house is up for sale, so if you’re in the market for a murder-scene-cum-tourist attraction that is absolutely not haunted and was not built over an Indian graveyard, this is your day.
RIP Martin Gardner
- If you’re bored with searching for reptoid aliens in newscasts and TV commercials, here’s a new conspiranoid hobby for you: Looking for aliens in the background of George W. Bush photos. This guy claims to have found one, but I think his alien is just a window reflection of the Barney hand puppet the White House staff waved around to keep W. focused on the camera.
- Joe Schimmel says he was once a rock lyricist immersed in the occult; now he’s a Baptist pastor immersed in exposing the “occult agenda” behind movies and music. In his self-produced documentaries and on his very slick website, Good Fight.org, he goes after the usual suspects (Led Zeppelin, Madonna, The Da Vinci Code). Boilerplate anti-occult stuff. The funny part is that he also attacks the “Gnostic themes” of movies such as Vanilla Sky and The Truman Show in all seriousness, as if people actually pay any attention to Vanilla Sky. Oh, and Avatar has something to do with the “coming one world religion”. I hope we’re not forced to worship those Ferngully Smurfs.
- Okay, it’s finally happened. Master cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has flipped his freaking lid. In a recent blog post, he draws the most tenuous links imaginable between accidental child deaths in various U.S. states and asks, “Who are killing the children?” [sic]. Wait. It gets worse. He then speculates that children who died by hanging from hooks have some sort of connection to Peter Pan. And one of the tags for this post is actually “coat hooks”, as though he writes about them all the time. For the love of Bigfoot, man, get yourself some help! Wait. It gets worse. “Theo Paijmans” comments that J.D. Salinger’s story “Glass Family” (I think he means “Hapworth 16, 1924″) was supposed to be reprinted in 1998, the year of the first coat-hook death recorded by Coleman, and in the Glass family stories a child prodigy commits suicide (the book was supposed to be published in 1996, and Seymour died as an adult, but never mind). As we all know, a couple of infamous assassins were quite fond of The Catcher in the Rye. To Paijmans, this all makes sense. (Batsh** insane as all this is, there is an important lesson to be learned from Coleman’s post: Keep coat hooks out of the reach of children, or use hooks specifically designed for kids. I’m not kidding. Not only do wall hooks pose a hanging hazard, hooks at eye level can do serious damage.)
- If you think the profoundly paranoid ravings of Henry Makow are bizarre, you really must check out his movie reviews. They take “WTF” to a whole new level. Makow believes the heroine of the film An Education is the headmistress played by Emma Thompson, an old-school Jew-hater who icily commands one of her pupils to stop dating a Jew because “they killed Jesus”. Then Makow has the chutzpah to criticize an indignant Jewish commenter for “reinforcing anti-Semitism“.
I’d like to point out that An Education is based on the real experiences (now in memoir form) of Lynn Barber. The headmistress Makow so admires barred Barber from returning to school after her relationship ended. Despite this obstacle, Barber went on to graduate from St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and became a very successful journalist. She wouldn’t have had a 30-year marriage and a rewarding career if, at the age of 16, she hadn’t rejected the skewed values of her family and her school.
Her beau is the story’s villain not because he was a Jew, but because he was a married con man and thief who seduced teenagers and wowed their families with his superficial charm – a profile you may recognize in many a gentile douchebag.
- One of the wackiest conspiranoia sites in the world, Educate Yourself.org, shows us the photographic proof that President Obama and the First Lady are lizards. Or that they’ve been Photoshopped. Or something.
- A home video of a UFO cattle abduction has been making the rounds among ufologists. Retired Englishman Derek Bridges says he filmed a bison being floated into a hovering craft at night (you can view the video here). A few ufologists think this is the ultimate proof that living creatures really are being sucked off the face of the earth into alien motherships, but to me it’s a blur and a glowing blob.
A Haunting in Connecticut
The haunting of a Connecticut funeral parlour that was turned into an apartment building was featured on the Discovery Channel series A Haunting in 2002, and is the basis of the recent horror movie The Haunting in Connecticut. The Discovery documentary should be the more factual of the two retellings, but as we’ll see, the story isn’t as straightforward as Lorraine Warren or celebrity psychic Chip Coffey would like us to believe.
In A Haunting, the family is called the Parkers. Mother “Karen Parker” does some of the narration, but does not appear in the show. The recreations feature actors.
14-year-old Paul Parker, diagnosed with cancer, was given six months to live despite aggressive treatment. The long trips to hospital were wearing on the family, so they made the difficult decision to move closer to the hospital. With four kids, Karen had a hard time finding a place to rent in the area. She finally found a fine old house with hardwood floors, with two bedrooms plus a basement that could serve as a bedroom for two of the kids. It seemed out of the Parkers’ price range, but wasn’t.
As it turned out, the house had a secret. Mortuary equipment was still in the basement, including a bone saw, freezer, and jars of embalming fluid. Karen didn’t want her sick child living in a former funeral home, so most of the equipment was removed before the Parkers started moving in. They didn’t tell Paul about the house’s past.
The first terrifying thing happened immediately. As Karen mopped the kitchen floor, the water turned blood-red for no apparent reason.
Paul was creeped out by the basement. He felt cold chills there, and felt he was being watched. In other parts of the house he heard creaking footsteps, heavy breathing, a voice calling his name, and other strange sounds. Karen began to fear that because her son was close to death, he could sense that the house had been a funeral home. She and Ed took Paul to their priest for a “healing”.
Despite his fear of the house, Paul liked to play in the old morgue room, which (in this version of the story) still contained a steel gurney. One day he took his younger brother Bobby into the room, told him to lay on the gurney, then spun it around in circles until the boy became dizzy and frightened.
The boys’ little sister, Connie, saw a ghostly woman in her bedroom. Karen assumed the boys had told her about the funeral home, and scolded them. They denied it. A short time later, the boys also saw a shadowy figure walking around in the basement. They decided to sleep in the living room. Bobby was reluctant to go into the basement after that. When Karen insisted he go down there, he could hear a voice calling Paul’s name. Karen, who didn’t believe in ghosts, teased and chided the kids for their behaviour. Ed Parker finally told the kids they were living in a former funeral home, but insisted it was not, could not, be haunted. They were growing concerned about Paul’s mental health. Karen wondered if Paul’s medication could be causing hallucinations. Paul’s doctor assured her it couldn’t.
One morning, Karen set the dining-room table for breakfast before returning to the kitchen. When she re-entered the dining room, the table was completely bare, all the dishes mysteriously returned to their cupboards. She tried to ignore the incident.
Paul and Bobby, forced to sleep in the basement, continued to see apparitions in the basement. Now they were so well-defined that both boys could clearly identify them as four men, talking amongst themselves. The men picked up objects, read papers, and went about their business as if they were still very much a part of the living world. To calm his sons, Ed checked all the windows and doors for signs of entry. Everything was locked up tight. This sort of thing happened nightly. Ed and Karen grew exasperated. The boys, frustrated that their parents didn’t accept the reality of the ghosts, slept with the lights on and discussed their experiences with each other. “That’s where we got our strength from,” a shadowed “Bobby Parker” says, “because no one believed us.” Paul stopped talking to his parents about the things he experienced, becoming “more reserved and quiet.” He set up his own bedroom in the basement, wore dark clothing, took little joy in anything, wrote dark and disturbing poetry. Nothing unusual, particularly for a boy who had been through a devastating illness.
The family was under great financial strain, due to Paul’s medical bills and high electrical bills. To ensure the boys wouldn’t continue to sleep with their lights on, Ed removed all but one lightbulb from the basement. One night, Bobby woke to see one of the bulbless lights flicking on and off. His sister Connie was standing at the top of the steps, flicking the light switch on and off. When he chased her upstairs, however, she vanished. Karen told him Connie had been upstairs asleep in her own bedroom for hours.
That winter, Paul’s cancer went into remission and a 13-year-old cousin, Theresa, came to stay with the family while her parents went through a divorce. Paul began to confront his fears. When he heard voices whispering his name from the morgue room, he entered it and faced the apparition of a bearded man in an old-fashioned suit.
Theresa noticed the changes in Paul. He was angry, mean, hateful, seeing things. He complained to Theresa that a demon-man came to his bedside every night and told him to say bad things to his parents and siblings. Paul was unable to resist; the man had total control over him. Eventually, he wasn’t even able to move when the man came to him. The man threatened to harm him if he didn’t do as he was told.
Theresa told Karen about these visitations. She was now fearful of her cousin. So was Bobby. Theresa slept with rosary beads for comfort. One night, Ed and Karen heard struggling in the room Theresa slept in, and entered to find Paul grappling with her on the bed. Was he trying to sexually assault her? Ed pulled him off and subdued him, with difficulty. The family called an ambulance for Paul. He screamed and struggled as paramedics led him out of the house. At the hospital, he told his parents, “Now that I’m out of the house, they’ll be after you.” Karen feared that her son would never be mentally well again.
Early that morning, before dawn, Ed left for work. Exhausted, Karen descended into the basement and sat on the bottom step, gazing around, hoping to see some of the same things Paul had seen so she could be reassured that her oldest child wasn’t really disturbed. She saw nothing. She went upstairs to take a shower. She became tangled in the shower curtain, and was convinced that an unseen force had wrapped her up in it. At almost exactly the same time, Theresa felt the covers of her bed being pulled away from her by invisible hands, and heard her aunt’s muffled cries for help. She ran to the bathroom and disentangled Karen from the Shower Curtain of Death. Both of them were now certain that the house was haunted. Theresa sobbed in fear. Downstairs, the kitchen phone rang. Karen answered it, and heard only the eerie giggling of a child. Both women felt and saw a “darkness” like black smoke descending over them, “like a thousand hands”.
Theresa cries during this part of her story, re-experiencing the terror and helplessness she felt at that moment. Theresa and Karen actually saw the form of a man develop in the “smoke” that crept across the dining room ceiling. The rosary around Theresa’s neck levitated into the air.
Meanwhile, at work, Ed watched his truck start up by itself and cross the parking lot of its own volition. It slammed through the wall of the small outbuilding in which he was standing. He phoned Karen, who was by now hysterical, to tell her what happened. They agreed to ask their priest for help immediately.
Bobby, asleep in the living room, was awakened by Paul calling his name, asking for his help.
Karen alerted their priest to what had been happening. He advised her to forget about it. Acknowledging the evil presence would only give it more power.
The Warrens Investigate
Karen had recently read about the Warrens in the newspaper, so she turned to them for help. After hearing the family’s stories, Lorraine did her usual walk-through of the house. She felt drawn to the basement, where she sensed a “horrible infestation”, a non-human presence. The Parkers needed an official Catholic exorcism, the Warrens declared. They recommended the entire family stay together in the house, even sleep together in the living room, for safety as the Glatzels and Johnsons had done. The Warrens would stay with them. John Zaffis, Ed Warren’s nephew and another demonologist/investigator working with the Warrens, declared this the worse demonic infestation he had ever witnessed. He experienced cold spells, “which means a lot of energy is being drawn”.
Michael Cuneo, author of American Exorcism, appeared on A Haunting to explain that people who request exorcisms typically believe in such infestations of houses, rooms, or individuals. The Catholic clergy is trained to take a more skeptical stance.
Exorcism can be a “very effective therapy”, at least in the short term, Cuneo says, because people have a strong expectation that it will work. It can be like a supernatural placebo.
The Haunting Worsens
Karen felt “crushing guilt” for initially disbelieving Paul’s stories. According to the narrator, this guilt made her very vulnerable to the entity in the house. She suddenly collapsed in the living room, overwhelmed by every negative emotion. Her neck swelled up. She experienced an out-of-body sensation. Prayers by the family and the Warrens eventually brought her around, after she had been “out of body” for 8 hours.
That night, Karen saw the mattresses on which the family slept “breathing”. Zaffas felt a sudden drop in temperature, and descended alone into the basement. He saw the bearded man at the foot of the stairs. Before his eyes, the “man” morphed into a demon, then a fireball that roared up the steps, blasting Zaffis backwards in a burst of heat and smoke.
A priest, “Father Frank”, arrived to determine if an exorcism was needed. After listening to Karen and the investigators, he approved an exorcism and assigned a “Father Richard” to perform it. This is not how official Catholic exorcisms work, however; approval from a bishop is required.
“Father Richard” experienced poltergeist activity in the basement, which was witnessed by Karen; his shirt seemed to pull away from his body momentarily, as though being plucked at by invisible fingers. Later, upstairs, books and figurines flew off shelves of their own accord. A strange fluid leaked from a statuette of the Virgin Mary. Karen was thrown against the wall, levitated, then dropped to the floor. Theresa was levitated and choked.
But at the conclusion of the exorcism, the house suddenly felt warm and comfortable. The investigation/exorcism had lasted nine weeks.
The Parkers moved out of the house a short time later, anyway, for fear the entity could return. Paul was released from hospital in the spring.
The Real Haunting
The real case of the Snedeker family, as related by psychic Chip Coffey in his essay “Demons from the Dark“, is not quite as dramatic as the events portrayed in A Haunting.
Allen and Carmen rented the house in Southington, Connecticut in 1986, shortly after it was converted from the Hallahan Funeral Home. They soon encountered multiple entities, described by Carmen: “One of the demons was very thin, with high cheekbones, long black hair and pitch black eyes. Another had white hair and eyes, wore a pinstriped tuxedo, and his feet were constantly in motion.” The family often smelled foul odours. According to Carmen, they learned that “one of the men who worked in the funeral home was guilty of necrophilia, so perhaps his heinous actions stirred up the demonic forces.” The most disturbing poem written by her son Philip involved necrophilia.
Zaffis saw an apparition and heard the sound of flapping wings; Coffey makes no mention of a fireball that blasted him off his feet.
Carmen, Zaffis, and Coffey planned to release a book about the case in conjunction with the movie.
According to a March 23rd story on Yahoo Movie News, the house’s current owner, Susan Trotta-Smith, has experienced nothing unpleasant aside from curiosity-seekers invading the neighborhood. She loves the house, but hates the attention the haunting has brought to it recently. “It’s been a total change from a very quiet house in a very quiet neighborhood to looking out the window and seeing cars stopping all the time. It’s been very, very stressful, and sometimes worrisome.” Police have been forced to add extra patrols to the area, thanks to trespassing.
Neighbor Katherine Altemus: “It’s disgraceful. None of the haunting took place, and now it’s ruining the lives of that wonderful young family that lives there.”
Lorraine Warren is quoted: “In the master bedroom, there was a trap door where the coffins were brought up. And during the night, you would hear that chain hoist, as if a coffin were being brought up. But when Ed went to check, there was nobody down there.”
In 1991, a writer was commissioned to write a book about the case. The author of the book In a Dark Place, Ray Garton (now a writer of horror fiction), wanted to publish the Snedekers’ story as fiction, but because of his agent at the time and a contract he was bound by, the story was labeled “a true story” against his wishes.
According to Mr. Garton: “Elements of Carmen Snedeker’s story clashed with elements of Al Snedeker’s story, and it seemed everyone was having a problem keeping their stories straight. Frankly, I didn’t notice until I had nearly finished all my interviews and began going over my notes, then I started having trouble matching up the details.”
Garton said Ed Warren told him to just “make it up and make it scary” when he approached the Warrens with his concerns over the inconsistencies. They told him they had videotapes of some of the activity in the house, but never produced them because they had been lost. He told Damned Connecticut, “Since writing the book, I’ve learned a lot that leaves no doubt in my mind about the fraudulence of the Warrens and the Snedekers — not that I had much doubt, anyway. I’ve talked to other writers who’ve been hired to write books for the Warrens — always horror writers, like myself — and their experiences with the Warrens have been almost identical to my own.” He said the Snedekers did know the house was a former funeral home prior to moving into it.
The Real Paul
Garton also had a niggling suspicion that Philip might not have had cancer. The Snedekers were vague about what kind of cancer it was (Carmen now identifies it as Hodgkins), and people who knew them at the time told Garton they weren’t aware that the boy had been sick. He did have drug problems and mental problems, though. “Personally, I have no solid evidence that the boy did not have cancer, and I’ve never said that he didn’t. But the evidence that he did is pretty flimsy, and when you combine that with the other holes in this story and some of the disreputable details about the Snedekers and the Warrens, it’s difficult not to question it.”
Skeptic Joe Nickell investigated the Snedeker case in ’92-’93. According to his report, “Demons in Connecticut“, Allen and Carmen Snedeker moved into the Hallahan House on June 30, 1986, with Carmen’s two sons from a previous marriage (ages 13 and 11) and their own two children (a 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old son). Two nieces would also move into the house. The house had, indeed, once been the Hallahan Funeral Home, and relics remained: coffin handles, a blood-drainage system, a coffin-hoist pulley.
The behaviour of the oldest boy, Philip, was far more disturbing than the Warrens and Snedekers have let on. He was using drugs, vandalizing property, and molesting both of his cousins. He was picked up by police, not an ambulance, after being caught at this. He confessed that he had tried to rape his 12-year-old cousin. Rather than being in hospital, he was sent to a juvenile detention center. He once broke into a neighbor’s house with the intention of stealing a shotgun. He told Carmen he wanted to shoot Allen with it. The Snedekers chalked up this erratic behaviour to the cobalt treatments Philip was receiving at the time. Later, Philip’s behaviour was extensively sanitized to make him look like a normal boy preyed upon by evil, supernatural forces. In reality, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Carmen and Al allegedly suffered sexual attacks from an unseen entity, but this part of the story didn’t emerge until after the Warrens came on the case. This is also what happened in the Smurl case, which I’ll examine in the next post.
The Warrens had already made a book deal before their investigation was complete, allegedly promising the Snedekers a third of any profits. That book was Garton’s In a Dark Place, released around Halloween 1992. The Snedekers appeared on Sally Jesse Raphael, The Maury Povich Show, and A Current Affair to promote the book.
Kathy Altemus told Nickell that most of the events attributed to ghosts were probably caused by mundane neighborhood events. For instance, she claimed that around the time Lorraine Warren heard chains rattling in the basement, a rattling truck was driving down the street. Nickell concluded that other “mysterious events” that occurred at the time of the alleged haunting, such as a power outage caused by a falling tree limb, had ordinary explanations.
Though A Haunting claimed the family voluntarily moved out a short time after the exorcism in ’88, their landlady said they had been served an eviction notice for failure to pay the rent. Both the landlady and the upstairs neighbor had witnessed nothing out of the ordinary, and suspected the Warrens and Snedekers were perpetrating a profit-driven hoax.
Garton has disowned his own book about the case, explaining, “The family involved, which was going through some serious problems like alcoholism and drug addiction, could not keep their story straight, and I became very frustrated; it’s hard writing a non-fiction book when all the people involved are telling you different stories.”
Built in 1916, the house was the Hallahan Funeral Home from 1936 until shortly before the Snedekers moved in (it was under reno at the time).
Far from shielding the family from outside intrusion that might have made their situation worse, the Warrens immediately publicized the case. The first story about it appeared in the Bristol Press of August 11, 1988, under the headline “Southington Family Spooked by House”.
The Catholic church has declined to confirm or deny that an exorcism actually occurred. In 1988, after the exorcism supposedly took place, the family priest told A Current Affair that no exorcism had been scheduled.
There is no recorded evidence of a necrophiliac ever working in the Hallahan Funeral Home.
The Snedekers experienced a string of tragedies during the time they lived in the house. In addition to Philip’s cancer, mental illness, and criminal activity, Carmen’s father died in 1987, suffering a heart attack during a home invasion that was never solved. Her sister was diagnosed with AIDS. Her brother died in an auto accident.
Garton was initially excited about writing a book about the case, as he found the Warrens “entertaining.” But instead of finding a haunted and terrorized family, he found a rather dysfunctional one. Carmen was allegedly running an illegal interstate lottery business. Philip admitted, in a phone interview, that he stopped hearing voices and seeing strange things after he went on psych meds.
When Garton approached Ed Warren with his concerns about the family’s conflicting accounts, Ed told him, “Everybody who comes to us is crazy. Otherwise why would they come to us? You’ve got some of the story – just use what works and make the rest up. And make it scary. You write scary books, right? That’s why we hired you. So just make it up and make it scary.”
Carmen eventually divorced Allen Snedeker and is now known as Carmen Reed. She claims she has been psychically gifted since childhood, having been born with the caul, but suppressed that ability at the time she lived in Southington; that’s why she initially disbelieved her sons’ stories about ghosts. Her first supernatural attack occurred not in the late ’80s in the Hallahan House, but in another rented home in a different city in 1980. She has a spirit guide named Jaco, and like Lorraine Warren is a consultant to others experiencing hauntings.
Once again, the Warrens took a highly suspicious “haunting” and turned it into a profitable tale of supernatural evil and terror. So did the makers of the 2009 film, The Haunting in Connecticut, which deviates even more dramatically from the original story by turning the fictional undertaker-ghost into a sinister spiritualist who conducted seances in the basement, when he wasn’t horribly mutilating the bodies of his clients. In the movie, the character based loosely on Philip Snedeker is called Matt (Kyle Gallner), and he dramatically relives the seances that occurred in the house many decades before his family moved into it. The movie includes CGI ectoplasm, doors that operate by themselves, and a pastor who warns the family to get out of the house immediately. There is no mention of criminal activity (molestation, robbery, etc.), though father Peter (Martin Donovan) has a drinking problem and Matt lashes out violently on one occasion.
Gold Circle Films is reportedly planning two “sequels”, based on other installments of A Haunting.