Observations, Comparisons, and Speculations Pertaining to

Mysterious Disappearances of People and Other Phenomena

That Complement David Paulides' Missing 411 and Other Sources


Michael D. Winkle

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"OFF // CENTER" is intended for informational and speculative uses only. It is not affiliated with David Paulides or the Can Am Missing Project, and any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

For information on the Missing 411 books and the Can Am Missing Project, please visit:

Can Am Missing Project

The Missing 411 books touch upon so many other subjects and mysteries, they form a sort of Rorschach test of the unexplained. I find eerie parallels between David Paulides' reports and a variety of other stories that I would never have thought might be related: a "naked ghost" beside a highway, wild animals protecting lost children, a weird event in the life of a woman who later fell victim to one of America's most infamous serial killers, the anomaly-ridden Skinwalker Ranch, a bow hunter's night-long battle with aliens and robots (!), a talking bear, houses appearing and disappearing where no house was ever built, a fancily-dressed man popping out of nowhere on a cold, remote mountainside . . .

It is the body of reports and tales that are not touched upon by the 411 books that make me think there is "something to it" -- I can hardly imagine someone not only altering/falsifying 1500 missing persons cases to give them a weird, paranormal spin, but simultaneously making them highly reminiscent of a hundred other odd (and often very obscure) stories from history, legend, folklore, the paranormal, and true crime.

An aspect of 411 cases is Weird people encountered in the wilderness.

Suppose you were out in the woods, cold, tired, and wet, and you saw a seemingly abandoned old house? Would you take shelter there? Perhaps you should not, as we learn in Dream Houses.

Witnesses rarely see anything untoward when people go missing; perhaps some of the perpetrators are invisible. see Damned Things

"One thing I'm sure it's not," said David Paulides on a podcast a couple of years ago, "is serial killers on the trails." Yet killers and psychopaths have their uses, so to speak, as you will see in The Convenient Madman.

* * * *

JANUARY 2019 One odd behavior reported in some 411 disappearances is the victim's sudden and inexplicable departure from their course of travel -- a teenage girl turns to look off at something in the trees, then fights her way into the forest at a very difficult and inconvenient spot; a woman pulls over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, steps out of the car (leaving the door open), and simply walks off into the wilderness . . .

One wants to ask these people, "What the #@$% was so interesting?" Alas, there is no one to answer.

Here, however, are two stories from the early 2000s that may give us a clue. Curiously, the first, from Ontario, has only an auditory component. The second, from the "Down East" or "Lost" coast of Maine (found mainly in Washington County) was purely visual in appearance.

The Voice in the Woods

A young man named Tim Marczenko of Dorchester, Ontario, Canada, was shooting basketball hoops one summer evening in 2001 when his father emerged from the house walking their golden retriever. Tim, 14 years old at the time, watched his father walk the dog down the road into the distance and out of sight.

Suddenly "three digital beeping sounds" came from the woods by their house in the opposite direction from where the father went. The boy shrugged and continued shooting hoops. The beeps came again.

A voice called from the trees, "Tim! Come here for a second, I've found something." Tim assumed it was his father, and that he'd found a beeper or cell phone. Yet the voice was very evasive when he asked what was going on, just saying things like, "Just come here, hurry up, I found something. Follow my voice," and "Tim come into the woods, I've got to show you something."

The beeping and the voice's demands continued, and Tim wandered over - only to stop at the edge of the trees. "I realized that the voice was using only using a certain number of words and phrases," the youth recalled. "Almost as if it were automated and only knew how to speak those particular words."

Then the noises stopped and Dad came back up the road with the dog. And, of course, he hadn't found any beeping thing or in fact gone into the woods.

"What would have happened to me if I had followed the voice into the forest?" Tim ends. What, indeed?

Marczenko, Tim, "Forest Voice," in Sieveking, Paul, editor. It Happened to Me Vol. 2 (London: Dennis Publishing, 2009), pp. 75-76.

The Fake Family

An English professor at the University of Maine at Machias, Marcus LiBrizzi occasionally sent his students out to collect local folklore. The stories gathered and published in the volume Dark Woods, Chill Waters differ from a lot of folklore, however, in that most of the accounts supposedly happened to the people interviewed, or at least to a family member or close friend. Unlike the vagaries of a "ghostly hitchhiker" story, for instance, the who, where, and when were known to the interviewers.

Conversely, LiBrizzi has collected ghost stories from all over the world, but "I can honestly say that nowhere have I found accounts as frightening as those uncovered from the lost coastline of Maine." [p.9] Here's one to stand with the best (or worse, maybe).

Student interviewer Hanna Dean turned in the story on December 11, 2000. She collected it from a friend of hers who wishes to be known only as "Sam". One winter's night Sam woke from a deep sleep. His "intuition" insisted that something was terribly wrong in the house and that he must leave. "It was similar to that ominous, premonitory feeling that sometimes alerts us to a house fire or an intruder." Whatever it was, it was an overwhelming sensation. Sam threw on his clothes and rushed out the front door into the ice-cold moonlit night.

The "intuition" came again, surprisingly specific: Sam was sure that he had to get into his car. He obeyed the impulse, but he did not go anywhere. He simply sat there, puzzled and worried.

The woods ran up to the edge of Sam's family's property. As the young man hunched in his cold vehicle, something even more perplexing occurred: someone or something emerged from the forest. As the dark figures stepped into the bright moonlight, Sam realized it was his family. His father, his mother, and his younger sister traipsed out of the woods and stopped at the edge of an open field. Utterly confused, Sam climbed out of his car.

His family members spotted him and started waving for him to come over. Sam left his vehicle and started across the yard. As he approached, however, a new feeling came over him that there was something terribly wrong. This was not so much a hunch as the fact that his parents and sister did not call to him or start toward him. They did not utter a sound, but they waved at him to come closer almost frantically.

The fact that none of them spoke a word finally broke the young man's nerve. He turned and ran back to the house. He slammed and locked the door behind him. He turned to run up the stairs as well, but to his shock his father stood at the top of the staircase, demanding to know what was going on. In a few moments his mother and sister appeared as well. They had been asleep inside all the while. Whatever had come out of the woods and beckoned to Sam, it was not his family.

Some have suggested that Sam simply went sleepwalking. The young man could only retort that he had no history of somnambulism before or after that winter's night.

This event disturbed Sam so much, in fact, that he would not speak of it for years, until student/ collector Hanna Dean wormed it out of him in 2000. Dean adds, "What I'm wondering is, what would have happened to Sam if he had gone with his 'family' into the woods? . . . I think he is probably better off not knowing."

Consider the circumstances surrounding this tale if Sam had actually gone out to the fake family and had not returned. We would see that a young man had gotten up abruptly in the middle of the night, thrown on a few clothes, and had marched out into the darkness for no apparent reason, with no apparent goal. The account does not specify, but I suspect Sam dashed out without wallet or cell phone. There are many accounts in Paulides' works (especially A Sobering Coincidence) just like this.

The story has a part 2, also. Sam was relatively safe in his car, then, also for no apparently reason, he climbed out (probably leaving the door wide open) and marched off to the thick forest at the edge of the property, with no discernable goal. There are several similar abandoned vehicle stories in the Missing 411 volumes.

David Paulides and other who have studied (and even experienced) weird events in forested areas tell their readers to listen to their gut instinct, their sense of uneasiness, their intuition. Your unconscious mind picks up on details your conscious mind does not, they say, and it will make you feel instinctively that something is wrong and that you should leave. But what if there is something that can usurp your instinct/intuition, as in Sam's case? Like Sam, we may be better off not knowing.

LiBrizzi, Marcus. Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales from Down East Maine (Camden, ME: Down East Books, 2007), pp. 127-130.

APRIL 2017:There are so many stories and reports in my collection that remind me of 411, in fact, that I'm going to start listing them on my new Fiction and Reality Blog.

FEBRUARY 2017: Have the 411 books mentioned the strange case of the Man in the Green Pajamas? If not, here he is.

AUGUST 2016: David Paulides' most recent book, Missing 411: Hunters, and the recent podcasts referring to it, touch upon a frightening phenomenon: sightings of "something" that is almost but not quite invisible, like the alien hunter of the Predator movies. If you've clicked on "Damned Things," you know invisible "things" have been seen -- or, at least, encountered.

A few days ago, oddly enough, I found among my many scattered papers a single page torn from The Fortean Times no. 114 (Sept. 1998). I kept looking over it, wondering why I had it, then I found a letter from one Hazel Aitken on page 51.

It seems that a few years previously Hazel, her husband, and their three sons, on a road trip, had stopped near Leadhills, a village fifty miles south of Glasgow, Scotland. They wandered around a grassy hillside near some ruined buildings (apparently this was some sort of scenic area, because other families were clambering around the ruins). Hazel sat on a crumbling wall in the bright sunshine as her family spread out across the site.

Suddenly she noticed that, in a spot about 25 feet away, the tall grass had "flattened" for no apparent reason. "Odder still," she writes, "the flattened patch was a precise square of about 6 sq ft (0.6 sq m). Fascinated, I watched as the square began to move slowly down the slope; at least, that is what appeared to be happening. The grasses over which it had already passed bobbed up almost immediately, while other [grass] flattened at its approach."

Hazel called for her family to come and see the phenomenon, and the "square" stopped moving for about ten seconds. Only one son obeyed, but he watched with his mother as the "square" started moving again. Hazel yelled, "Come here everyone!", and the square stopped again. The next time it moved it seemed to pick up speed, and it seemed to be moving in an erratic path toward the witnesses. Hazel felt quickly-growing panic. Now she yelled "Let's go!" No one argued, and the family piled back into the car and left. "I was certain we had had a close call with danger."

Animals not Acting Like Animals

I don't know whether to think of this aspect of certain disappearances as amusing in a Disney-ish way or as exceptionally creepy. I refer to the subset of missing people (mostly children) who, when located, describe seeing -- or who were seen by witnesses in the vicinity of -- animals that do not act like normal animals. As a matter of fact, witnesses often have trouble identifying the species of the creature in question, though they are usually described as dog, wolf, or bear-like. The poster girl for this phenomenon was Katie Flynn of Wallaha, Michigan, in 1869, who was carried off by a "big doggy" that picked berries for her to eat(!). So here for your perusal are some non-disappearance-related oddball animals.

The Talking Bear

The Fortean Times (No. 45, Winter 1985) reported on a vociferous bruin. It seems that Greg and Stephanie McKay of Enumclaw were camping near Greenwater, Washington, in July 1985. On the morning of the 6th, their camp was invaded by "a bear-like animal" eight feet tall.

"You may think this sounds crazy, but the bear talked to us," Stephanie, 35, said in a telephone interview. In a very high-pitched voice that didn't sound human it asked them their names and whether they had permission to use the campsite. They said they had permission, but the bear told them to get off the property immediately. While they gathered up their belongings, the bear stood on its hind legs and began throwing stones at them. "It must have weighed almost a ton," she said. "We ran like anything."

Greenwater Fire Department officials visiting the site found only the paw prints "of a large dog," though saying the creature was an eight-foot-tall talking dog isn't much better. "The case was eventually dismissed as a product of over-active imagination."

I remember seeing this story in The Weekly World News, which did not help its credibility. However, the Fortean Times' sources were (from UPI) the Boston (MA) Globe, Houston (TX) Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego (CA) Union, Seattle (WA) Times 10 July 1985, among other newspapers.

A Ted with a 'Tude

Latino ufologist/cryptozoologist Scott Corrales describes a bizarre ursine creature in "Monster Hunting in Latin America and Spain" (FATE Magazine Vol. 57 No. 4 (Apr. 2004), pp. 32-39). In April 1997 two sisters were walking beside the AO-12 highway near Roldan, Argentina. They were near a silo factory when they suddenly noticed "a diminutive creature, entirely covered with hair and with shiny eyes" (p. 38). The younger sister felt a sudden unshakable urge to walk toward the being. The older sister grabbed her arm and yelled at her to keep her from going to it.

For a time the creature simply stared at the women, but eventually it made an amazing leap entirely across the road (about forty feet) and disappeared into a soybean field.

A few nights later, a Mrs. Coronel, in her house in the country, felt a "strange compulsion" to open the door and step outside. She did so and spotted a small "bear", about 65 feet away, staring intently at her. She described herself as being "mesmerized", only snapping out of the spell when her husband yelled for her from the house. Mrs. Coronel described the creature as having a bear's face, but it stood upright.

Several other people (all women) also saw the creature, which author Corrales calls "A Teddy Bear with a bad attitude." One can only wonder what would have happened if the first two witnesses had been alone. Maybe they would have simply wandered off with their little ursine friend, like Christopher Robin with Winnie-the-Pooh . . .

Semeel the Guardian

Dawn Collinson, in the Liverpool Echo of Feb. 9, 2008, uncovered an old story of a mystery animal that may have actually prevented a tragic disappearance. Early in November 1953, two boys, David, age 12, and Alan, age 11 (last names withheld), were playing Cowboys and Indians south of Liverpool in a section of forest called Little Woods. At about 4:20 PM they built a campfire. As Alan (with questionable wisdom) fired flaming arrows into the trees, David spotted an enormous tabby-colored cat, 4 feet tall (presumably on all fours) only 20 feet away. The creature said "Hello, children," "in a clear, well-spoken voice," according to Collinson. The boys ran away in terror and stumbled out onto a nearby street, where they were almost hit by a bus. Predictably, their parents did not believe the story.

The boys girded up their courage and ventured out to the woods the very next day, lighting a fire at about 4:20 again. "The enormous cat came slinking out of the woods, arched its back and sat by the fire opposite the boys." It gave its name as "Semeel" and said it was something called a "Guardian". It warned the boys to stay out of the forest because a local man (whose name they recognized) was lurking there, waiting to kill them. Then it padded off into the trees.

The boys' parents were still unimpressed, because the man "Semeel" accused was in Wales at that time. However, several days later the police discovered that the man had returned secretly from Wales. He had built a rough dwelling in Little Woods and was living there while the boys played nearby, unknowing. Furthermore, the man had unsuccessfully tried to abduct a child five years earlier. He confessed that he had been planning to abduct David and Alan.

The boys encountered the Guardian Semeel three more times, but the giant feline apparently did not like the way the forest was being cleared for a housing project, for it never appeared again.

"Uncanny Encounters," Fortean Times no. 237 (special issue 2008), p. 23.


Negative Correlations

David Paulides has developed a set of criteria to weed out disappearances that may have mundane explanations, such as drownings and animal attacks. He avoids highly populated areas completely in his four books; there is simply too much crime in big cities. (Update: Paulides has finally tackled urban disappearances in Missing 411: A Sobering Coincidence)

I find some interesting patterns in the data he has excluded, however. There might be some important clues in these negative correlations.

The Mystery Meridian

Weird America (1978), by Jim Brandon (real name William N. Grimstad), is a guide to places in the USA where strange, paranormal, or "fortean" events have been reported, or where unusual archeological or geological sites can be found. One of the earliest gazetteers to touch upon such subjects, it is a very addictive volume -- you just have to read about one more small town, lake, or mountain where weirdness manifests itself.

As he gathered and mapped his data, Brandon noticed that strange events seemed to cluster in certain areas. In mapping central Kansas, for instance, cattle mutilations -- as well as sightings of "airships" in the 1890s, geological wonders, and the Delphos "Wolf Girl" -- clustered along a north-south axis. "This band lies just a few miles east of the geographical center marker of the continental United States, near Lebanon, Kansas." This corridor of oddness "extends as far north as the Dakotas and an indefinite distance to the south," at least as far down as Oklahoma City.

The dots on Brandon's map represent mutilated cattle during the late 1973 to early 1974 period. Brandon himself admits that mutilations soon spread everywhere, but they seemed at first to follow the U.S. Highway 81 corridor.

Weird America has been one of my favorite fortean guides since 1978. My first thoughts, in late 2014, when I first saw Paulides' 411 map of clusters, was that it was the complete opposite of the Mystery Meridian. Indeed, Paulides has jokingly said in radio interviews that the only way to be safe from "disappearing" was to live in Kansas or the Dakotas.

One of Charles Fort's infamous ideas was that "we are property" -- that some unknown intelligence or group "owns" the earth and everything on it (including us), and that "they" exploit it as they see fit. Fort also suggested that different "groups" have controlled the earth at different times (a theme found often in H. P. Lovecraft's works, such as "The Shadow Out of Time"). Perhaps these "groups" have finally divided up the earth -- different groups snatch people in some areas, mutilate animals and sail around in "airships" in others -- whatever "they" specialize in.

Perhaps this alternating of phenomena is temporal as well as spacial, also . . .

Brandon, Jim. Weird America (NY, NY: E. P. Dutton, 1978), pp. 86-87.


"Anno Satanae I"

When reading Missing 411: Eastern United States, I watched for dates and places that would match the stats of other unusual events. I was rather perplexed, then, to reach the section entitled "Gaps in Time with No Disappearances" (p. 295). It seems that Colorado, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, and three cluster areas in California have something in common: "[T]here were no disappearances meeting the criteria of the book from 7/1966-4/1980," as Paulides writes.

This was perplexing because 1966 seemed to be the year that paranormal/fortean phenomena revved into high gear. Jim Brandon, again, encapsulated the zeitgeist of the era in another book, The Rebirth of Pan:

The year 1966 triggered what investigator John Keel has called "an almost overwhelming wave" of unidentified flying object and creature sightings on our continent. These included mysterious animal killings and the lurking of "a very tall, faceless" entity around a much-bedeviled lovers' lane near Morristown, New Jersey; the fluttering about of "big black cats with hairy wings" in Ontario, Canada . . . and a couple of dozen equally implausible incidents around the country.

The best known of these incidents were the sightings of the bizarre flying creature called Mothman, most of which took place in and around the small West Virginia town of Point Pleasant. A spectrum of other phenomena haunted the Ohio Valley during that time, ranging from brilliant lights in the night skies to animal mutilations to Men-in-Black to poltergeists. See John Keel's books Strange Creatures from Time and Space and The Mothman Prophecies; Donnie Sergent, Jr. and Jeff Wamsley's Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend, and Wamsley's solo effort Mothman: Behind the Red Eyes.

If all that wasn't enough to kick off 1966, the infamous occultist Anton LaVey declared it the Year I, Anno Satanae I, and founded the First Church of Satan on April 30.

As the years passed and the seventies arrived, UFOs, cryptids, and animal mutilations seemed to proliferate, reaching a peak in 1973. Entire books have been written about the events of that year, including 1973: Year of the Humanoids, by David Webb, The October Scenario, by Kevin Randle, and Silent Invasion, by Stan Gordon, which focused on the bizarre Bigfoot-like creatures plaguing western Pennsylvania.

In my opinion, UFO and cryptid sightings slowed down by the eighties, but this may be a subjective feeling, reflecting my time in college (less time to waste on fortean books). Still, it is interesting to note that disappearances stopped while Mothman and company filled the skies and the forests of America.

Brandon, Jim. Rebirth of Pan (Dunlap, IL: Firebird Press, 1983), p. 174.

Not Exactly Disappearances, and Yet . . .

The Nodolf Incident

The "Nodolf Incident" complements the observation at the beginning of 411: North America and Beyond that children found can't even describe what happened, as if they were simply playing somewhere one second and found themselves somewhere else the next.

Some years ago I made my own chart-outline for unusual/Fortean/paranormal reports, and I wrote up my own version of the story:

The Nodolf Incident

Category: Teleportation?

From: Gard and Sorden, pp. 37-40

Where: A stone farmhouse "near the Mound, at Platteville, Wisconsin"

When: "About ninety years ago" from the publishing date of 1962, Carl Nodolf purchased the house and acreage; the incident occurred after he married and had two children. Circa 1880.

Who: Carl Nodolf, a young German farmer, his wife Louise, and their children, Minnie and Louie.

How close to source: Not stated. The story is supposedly well known to the inhabitants of Platteville as "the Nodolf incident." Minnie and Louie Nodolf were still living at the time Wisconsin Lore was published.

Phenomena: The Nodolfs' two-story farmhouse was built like a fortress, necessarily so, because at this time Wisconsin was still untamed, and wolves and other wild animals were quite aggressive. The Nodolfs' door and shutters were thick, and Carl Nodolf carefully barred and bolted them all every night.

One June night around the year 1880 a terrific thunderstorm blew up, marked by powerful straight winds, "unusual" bolts of lightning, "balls of fire," and torrential rain. Despite the extreme weather, wolves still lurked on the farm grounds. The Nodolfs were more certain than ever to bolt and bar every door and shutter.

The storm kept the family up later than usual, but finally everyone went to bed. Not long before morning, a particularly loud thunderclap woke the elder Nodolfs, and Louise thought she heard her daughter calling for her. She lit a lamp and found that the children were not in their beds.

Mr. and Mrs. Nodolf searched upstairs and down. All doors and windows were still barred from the inside. Suddenly, during a brief pause in the storm's fury, Mrs. Nodolf thought she heard the children crying at the front door. Her husband unbarred the door and opened it. There stood Minnie and Louie on the front porch.

The children were not wet, despite the rain and wind. The girl being only four, and her brother only two, it was impossible for them to have unbarred and unbolted any of the windows or doors -- all of which were still sealed from the inside, anyway.

The elder Nodolfs questioned Minnie, but she had no idea how they ended up outside, when they had been sleeping in their beds in the same room with their parents.

Oddities: The Nodolfs went on to have six more children. This seems to have been the only "odd" event in their lives.

Ending: The Nodolfs' neighbors worried about the farm family long before hearing of the incident with the children because, besides being unusually powerful, the storm seemed to hang over the Nodolf house and direct its fury there. It faded away by morning. The two Nodolf children developed stutters after the incident that lasted "to this day."

Legend: Wisconsin Lore may be a book of folktales, but there was no lore to fall back on for the Nodolf incident. "Perhaps there isn't an explanation," Gard and Sorden conclude. "It did happen, but there isn't an explanation."

Explanation: The Nodolfs tried to come up with some logical explanation but failed. No gypsies (often blamed for carrying off children) had been seen in the area. It seemed impossible for the young sister and brother to have gotten out by themselves. The fact that everything was still barred from the inside deflated most possibilities, and almost any scenario would have ended up with the children getting soaking wet as well. Some went so far as to suggest that one or the other of the parents, walking in his or her sleep, had carried them to the porch and locked them out! As noted before, the children themselves could not say what happened.

Comments: It is implied that whatever happened must have happened right about the time the "thunderclap" awakened the parents, or the youngsters would have gotten wet -- or eaten by wolves. There is a vague correlation between mysterious disappearances and thunderstorms, from the legend of Romulus up to the books of Charles Fort. I find it interesting that authors Gard and Sorden seem unfamiliar with the concept of teleportation and basically throw their hands up in puzzlement.

The "Mound" near Platteville, by the way, is no Native American construct but simply an isolated sandstone hill.

Gard, Robert E., and L. G. Sorden. Wisconsin Lore: Antics and Anecdotes of Wisconsin People and Places (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1962).

A Strange and Terrible Fate

One night in the fall of 1950, a six-year-old girl woke in the bedroom she shared with two sisters in a house on Cape Cod. She heard a voice -- a voice that had spoken to her several times before. "Come outside," the voice said. "Follow me into the woods."

The little girl managed to sneak past her sleeping sisters and her parents' open door. She left the house via the kitchen, stepping out into a cold, wind-blown rain straight off the Atlantic in only cotton pajamas. She followed the voice into the pine forest beyond the back yard.

Meanwhile, the girl's mother woke, having heard "a voice outside her window." She seemed to sense something amiss, because she checked the children's rooms without pausing to rouse her husband. She discovered an empty bed and an open back door, and she plunged into the stormy night with no more protection than a housecoat.

The woman called for her daughter several times and finally glimpsed the girl's white p.j.s among the trees. The girl would not acknowledge her but kept on into the forest. The woman fought her way into the woods and eventually found her child, standing still now.

The six-year-old pointed further into the trees and announced, "I saw her again, Mommy!"

The woman hugged her close and asked who she saw. "The Blessed Mother," answered the girl. "She told me to come with her."


The girl, Mary Sullivan, was six years old in 1950. At the beginning of 1964 she was nineteen, newly moved into an apartment at 44A Charles Street in Boston, MA, and employed at the Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Co.

By January 4 she was dead, the last official victim of the Boston Strangler.

Many modern researchers believe there was not a single Strangler terrorizing New England in the early 'sixties but two or three separate killers. Casey Sherman, a journalist (and Mary Sullivan's nephew), championed his murdered aunt's case, and, as he describes in his book Search for the Strangler, he believed he tracked down and confronted the killer.*

It is the anecdote about young Mary's misadventure, however, that should strike familiar chords with readers of David Paulides' books. A young girl leaves her home without alerting anyone during a powerful storm. She trots off with inadequate clothing and heads straight into the woods. She might have indeed joined the ranks of the Missing had her mother not awakened in time. (We are not told whether or not the voice that fortuitously woke Mrs. Florry Sullivan was Mary's or -- someone else's.) For those tracking such details, there is very much a religious turn to this event, since the girl was summoned into the storm and night by the Blessed Virgin Mary (rather, something claiming to be the Virgin Mary).

The Sullivan case makes me wonder: Of those people who go missing, but who are eventually found alive, did anything else bizarre or exceptional happen to them in later years? As if they were marked or even cursed in some fashion? As investigators into paranormal and fortean matters have noted, some people seem to attract odd events. Researchers might keep an eye out for such details.

Let us hope no one else, however, met a fate as terrible as Mary Sullivan's.

Sherman, Casey. Search for the Strangler: My Hunt for Boston's Most Notorious Killer (New York: Warner Books, 2005 [2003]).

*Recent DNA analysis indicates that Mary Sullivan was indeed killed by original suspect Albert de Salvo. See DeSalvo Link to Mary Sullivan

. . . And a Miraculous Rescue

This case from California, being a car crash that happened to occur at a point where passing traffic couldn't spot it, probably wouldn't fit the criteria for Missing 411's disappearances. But some of the details seem familiar.

The Roadside Ghost

Category: Purposeful apparition

From: Kovach, pp. 22-28, 200

Where: About eighteen miles east of Placerville, California, on a section of Highway 50 known as Bullion Bend

When: Saturday, June 11, 1994

Who: Deborah Hoyt

How close to source: Investigative journalist Sue Kovach interviewed the main officer involved in the case, Rich Strasser

Phenomena: On June 6, 1994, 24-year-old Christene Skubish began the seventy-five mile drive from Placerville to Carson City, Nevada, to visit a friend. In the car with her was her three-year-old son, Nicky. Somewhere among the hills and curves of Highway 50 they disappeared from the road.

Deputy Rich Strasser of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office, having small children of his own, followed the missing persons report closely. On June 10 he learned that Christene's family planned to search the long stretch of road themselves. Strasser decided to check gas stations around Placerville to learn if anyone remembered seeing the woman, as the only 24-hour stores on that trip were in Placerville itself.

At about 3:00 am on the 11th, Deborah Hoyt and her husband were driving west on Highway 50, returning home from Lake Tahoe. On a treacherous stretch of the highway known as Bullion Bend, eighteen miles outside Placerville, Deborah, looking out the passenger's side window, saw a naked woman lying on the shoulder of the road. The woman lay on her right side, her face toward the road but an arm over her head so that no features could be seen. Her legs were held together and slightly bent, the body about halfway to a fetal position. "I just started screaming and screaming," Mrs. Hoyt said later.

The Hoyts found a forest ranger station farther down the road and called for help. Sheriff's deputies and Highway Patrol cars crept along the highway but found nothing. Despite this, Deborah Hoyt was adamant about seeing a naked body.

Deputy Strasser heard about the Hoyt report around 5:00 am. He felt it might have something to do with the Skubish case, so he rolled out to Bullion Bend himself. By this time it was light enough to see small objects on the road, and Strasser spotted a small child's shoe on the asphalt. He stopped and walked along the shoulder, noting the embankment dropped away at a very steep angle. A few minutes later he discovered a car half hidden by the trees.

Christene Skubish had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel and veered off the road. Her car bounced almost onto its side for a moment, hitting a tree and losing most of its roof. It finally ran into a second tree and lay there, a total wreck, for five days.

Strasser clambered down and found mother and child in the wreck. Christene, still strapped in, appeared to have died quite recently. Nicky lay naked on the passenger's seat, having removed his clothing during one of the hot June days. The boy looked to be in worse shape than his mother, "emaciated, like the pictures you see of starving children in third world countries," in Strasser's words. At first he reported both dead, then he realized the toddler was breathing shallowly. He called for a rescue team, and the paramedics who responded took the child to the University of California Davis Medical Center.

Oddities: Did Mrs. Hoyt see a crisis apparition -- Christene's spirit, trying to draw attention to her dying son? Journalists and humorists of the nineteenth century made many jokes about the absurdity of "ghost clothing" and other ghostly inanimate objects. Yet this report of a nude ghost is almost unique.

There is also a mystery surrounding Christene Skubish's physical remains. A medical examination revealed that Nicky's mother died at the moment of impact, a fact that astounded Rich Strasser. The temperature in that wooded region had varied from the nineties Fahrenheit during the afternoon to the forties at night, yet after five days there was no sign of decomposition, nor were insects or maggots associated with the body. In fact, "rescue personnel noted a strange, sweet odor in the air surrounding Christene's body." (Kovach, p. 26)

Ending: By chance Christene's family came upon Strasser and the wreck before even the rescue team. Strasser had to restrain the dead woman's sister from climbing down to the crash site. In the end, though they mourned Christene's passing, they celebrated Nicky's miraculous survival. Deputy Strasser received the Sheriff's Department's Medal of Valor and later moved on to the Special Weapons and Tactics division.

Legend: None

Explanation: Some people suggested that Christene managed to crawl from the crash site up to the highway, where she was spotted by Debora Hoyt. Hoyt maintained that the woman she saw was naked. It seemed extremely unlikely that Christene could remove her seatbelt, then her clothes, crawl up the near-vertical slope to the highway -- then crawl back down again, dress again, and belt herself back into her wrecked vehicle. A moot point, as she died on impact five days earlier.

Others pointed to Nicky Skubish as the "ghost", but by that fifth day the toddler could not even move. "The doctors who saw Nicky said if I hadn't found him when I did, he would have died within another hour," as Deputy Strasser put it.

Comments: Although rare in ghostly tales, I have read of astral projection cases in which the person leaving his or her body perceives him/herself as naked. Five days after death, however, one would certainly classify Christene's appearance as a ghost instead of an astral traveler. The amazing preservation of her body and the "sweet" aroma surrounding it put one in mind of stories of saints and their "odor of sanctity." Perhaps we should call the Skubish case a miracle and leave it at that.

Kovach, Sue. Hidden Files: Law Enforcement's True Case Stories of the Unexplained and the Paranormal (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1998).

Unsolved Mysteries television series, "Highway Vision."


Note the 411-like details: The boy lost at least one shoe (which actually became the clue leading to him); he removed his clothes due to the summer heat (supposedly); and the "ghost" lacked any clothing at all. Then there are the bizarre coincidences: Christene's family discovering the wreck site only minutes after Deputy Strasser, and Strasser himself discovering Nicky when the boy may have only had an hour to live.


David Paulides does a magnificent job of not speculating as to who or what causes people to go missing, but I feel no need to so limit myself. Perhaps people hike along forest trails and drop into temporary "voids" like those described below:

The Void in the Bed

Category: Space-Time anomaly

From: Bristol Mercury; London Times; Davies, pp. 116-119

Where: The Victoria Hotel, Bristol, Avon, UK

When: About 4:00 a.m., Tuesday, December 9, 1873

Who: Thomas B. Cumpston and his wife, Ann Martha Cumpston

How close to source: Contemporary newspaper and census accounts

Phenomena: On December 8, 1873, Mr. and Mrs. Cumpston, of Virginia Road, Leeds, were traveling from Clifton to Weston-super-Mare. They decided to stay overnight in Bristol and continue to Weston-super-Mare in the morning. They checked into the Victoria Hotel, just across from the Bristol & Exeter Railway station, and went to bed about midnight.

At about 1:00 a.m. the Cumpstons sought out the landlady, Mrs. Tongue, and complained of voices that seemed to be emanating from the next room. Naturally, there was nothing to hear when Mrs. Tongue entered their suite. The traveling couple went back to bed, but sometime between 3:00 and 4:00, according to the usually conservative London Times, they were disturbed "by terrible noises which they could not explain, and which frightened them very much." The bed seemed to open beneath them "and did all sorts of strange things" that are not elaborated on. According to the Bristol Mercury of December 13, Ann Cumpston testified later that "The floor seemed to be giving way, and the bed also seemed to open. They heard voices, and what they said was repeated after them. Her husband wished her to get out of the way. The floor certainly seemed to open, and her husband fell down some distance, and she tried to get him up."

After helping her husband out of the black void in the bed and floor, Mrs. Cumpston asked him to fire his pistol. He shot into the ceiling, but the terrifying noises continued. The frightened couple climbed out the window and dropped twelve feet to the yard below. Mr. Cumpston fired off his pistol again, then the couple fled to the railway station in their nightclothes.

The Times account continues: "Mr. T. Harker, the night superintendent on the Bristol and Exeter Railway, said the parties rushed into his office partly dressed, crying out 'Murder,' and they were in a terrible state of excitement. They told him they had escaped from a den of rogues and thieves, and they had to defend themselves." They asked Harker to search the waiting room to make sure no one was following them.

Harker called for a constable, who searched Mr. Cumpston and found, not only the pistol, but three knives on his person. The Cumpstons were promptly taken into custody and brought up before the Bristol Police Court later that same Tuesday.

Oddities: Accounts of disappearances are sort of "negative reports." Instead of someone seeing or experiencing a strange phenomenon, there is simply an emptiness where someone or something used to be. Observations of actual "openings" into which people or things might disappear are rare but not unknown.

Ending: The Cumpstons told their story to an incredulous court. Mr. Cumpston, who possessed a speech impediment, could barely talk due to his distraught state. Fortunately, a telegram had been sent to a Mr. Butt, presumably at the Cumpstons' request. Mr. Butt appeared at the hearing and "in reply to the Bench said the parties occupied a very good position in Leeds. He offered to take proper charge of them if they were handed over to him, which was ultimately done, the defendants being discharged from custody." (The Times article)

Legend: Nothing like this seems to have ever happened to the Cumpstons or the Victoria Hotel before.

Explanation: The prosaic London Times concludes: "No explanation can be given of this strange affair, and the belief is that it was an hallucination." The Bristol Mercury concurs: "There is little doubt that the whole was an hallucination." The Bristol Daily Post of December 10 mentions that police scoured the hotel room and found nothing out of the ordinary, so they echoed the general sentiment. In the century and a half since, others have speculated that the Cumpstons barely escaped falling into some sort of opening into another dimension.

Comments: Some writers have wondered why Mr. Cumpston carried a revolver and three knives with him on this excursion. The fact is that Victorian England was not all that safe a place. British author Rodney Davies explains that it was still legal in Great Britain to buy handguns over the counter in 1873.

Davies, with a little help from Elizabeth Shaw of the Bristol Central Library, uncovered a few facts about the Cumpston case. The Victoria Hotel (Josiah Brown, proprietor) was located at 140 Thomas Street and became the Bute Arms in 1876. It was torn down in the 1920s. The railway station across the street is now called Temple Meads.

Charles Fort, in Chapter 18 of LO!, calls the Cumpstons "an elderly couple." Thomas Cumpston, however, was only twenty-five at the time of the incident. He and his wife lived at Number 35, Virginia Road, Leeds. According to the 1881 census Thomas was a "linen manufacturer employing about 90 persons" -- the "very good position" alluded to by Mr. Butt. Ann Cumpston gave birth to two boys and a girl in the years between 1876 and 1879.

Davies, Rodney. Supernatural Vanishings (New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 1996).

"Extraordinary Hallucination." London Times, December 11, 1873, p. 11.

"Extraordinary Occurrence at a Bristol Hotel." Bristol Mercury, December 13, 1873.

Hallucination or Void?

D. J. West's "A Pilot Census of Hallucinations" (from Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 57, Part 215, April 1990), carries the following account, entitled, prosaically, "Case 0878":

A female student nurse aged 21 wrote (anonymously): "It was roughly 8.0 a.m. I was sat [sic] in my room having a cup of tea. (I'd been awake for about an hour and had had a bath and dressed.) Suddenly a large hole appeared in the floor -- it took up most of the floor and the edges looked as if it were a rocky formation. Although I couldn't see to the bottom of the hole I knew it was very deep. A voice [said] to me to 'jump in'. The hole and the voice disappeared. I've not had this experience again."

Like the Cumpstons a century earlier, the young nurse heard a mysterious voice from the opening; and, as the English couple's experience was dismissed as a hallucination, so too did the woman send her account to the Census of Hallucinations. What if these events were not illusions? Suppose Mr. Cumpston or the nurse jumped or fell into their respective openings? What would have happened? One can only wonder.

The Hole in the Path

University professor and folklorist Theo Brown spent most of her life in Devonshire, where she spent a great deal of time collecting tales of ghosts, fairies, and psychic events. In 1982 she published Devon Ghosts, a book of stories both legendary and true.

In her Introduction Ms. Brown informs us that most people of Devon will not speak of strange events, for the fear of ridicule is strong in the southwest of England. One of the delightful aspects of Devon Ghosts, however, is reading of Ms. Brown's ability not only to convince her informants to speak, but to get them to write out sizable personal accounts for her. One such account came from the Reverend Dr. A. T. P. Byles, who told her in 1974 of a strange event that occurred years earlier.

In 1946 Dr. Byles became the vicar of St. Bartholomew's Church in Yealmpton, "a rather remote village to the south of the A38, on a road between Totnes and Plymouth," in southern Devonshire. Yealmpton's main claim to fame was that "Old Mother Hubbard" once lived there. She was the housekeeper for a local family who inspired Miss Sarah Martin to write a poem about an old woman whose cupboard was bare.

Anyway, there was a door in the south side of St. Bartholomew's that opened onto a path that led straight south to a wider lane that ran around the property. One Saturday afternoon near sunset, Dr. Byles walked up the path to meet his wife, who was arranging flowers within the church. He writes:

In the middle of the path I saw a hole, of irregular shape, about a yard in width. I thought it was a subsidence, and went into the church and told my wife about it. Coming out shortly afterwards, I found that the hole was very much larger, and asked my wife to come out and see it. We both looked into it, and I suggested lowering myself into it. However, it was of uncertain depth, and when I threw a stone it bumped against stonework which we could see, and which looked like part of a wall.

The hole had grown to about nine feet in diameter, and the vicar worried that someone might fall in. He headed into the village to look for planks to cover it. While there he ran into Mr. Knight, "the local builder and undertaker," and invited him to the church to see the opening.

Upon returning to the path, Dr. Byles was astonished to see no sign of the hole -- the narrow lane and the grassy turf to either side were exactly as they had been before. After listening to the vicar voice his confusion, Mr. Knight simply said "That's all right, sir" and never mentioned the "Hole" again.

The Byles moved to London in 1950. Dr. Byles admitted to telling a few people about the Hole over the years. After receiving his manuscript, Theo Brown visited Yealmpton personally. The story of the "Hole" was well known to the villagers, but no one had ever seen such a thing themselves, before or after Byles' experience. They frowned upon her suggestion that the grounds around the church be excavated to search for underground cavities or structures. Ms. Brown concludes: "It may have been quite a unique event with a significance that must for the present remain obscure."

Here again, one can only wonder what would have happened if the vicar actually had descended into the opening. And what was the "stonework" the Byles saw, which looked like part of a wall?

Brown, Theo. Devon Ghosts (Norwich: Jarrold & Sons Ltd., 1982), pp. 24-26


It seems like I can hardly open a book without finding a 411-like story. I bought William Syer's Off the Beaten Trail just because I liked another Syer's book, Ghost Stories of Texas. Cracking it open at last, I found a tale that would have held no significance to me a year ago, but which I will now try to frame in Paulides' fashion:

Frances Ellen Spraggins
Missing 10/8/1879 - Morning - Brushy Gap, south of Comanche, Comanche County, Texas
Age at Disappearance: 22 months

The William Spraggins cabin stood hard by the edge of a thick forest on a hillside in what is now southwest Comanche County, Texas. The family represented some of the earliest settlers in the area, which the local people named Harmony Community.

Wednesday, October 8, 1879, began as an ordinary morning. Mrs. Spraggins and her older children started in on their chores. Frances Ellen, too young at twenty-two months to help, played inside with her doll. She wore little more than a plain linsey dress, no shoes or socks.

Mrs. Spraggins carried two buckets to a spring about a quarter mile down the hill. On her return, she entered the house and found Frances' doll alone on a bed. After searching by herself for a while, she and her oldest daughter Ellen alerted their neighbors. Fifty searchers grew into three hundred. The frontiersmen rode throughout the night, carrying torches, lighting bonfires, and calling the child's name. On Friday a piece of Frances' dress was found snagged on a briar bush at Mercer Creek, five miles east. Footprints and other traces indicated the toddler had followed the creek south in an amazing odyssey. As Texas historian Ed Syers writes:

"Can she have struggled all the way to the Leon [river]? A dozen miles; more, the way she'd have to round those gullies! A baby not just circling, close by? Going on and on resolutely?" [p. 462]

Upon reaching the second stream, the 22-month-old apparently followed it back west, making a rough twenty-mile circle. She came within two miles of her starting point - and kept on going. Finally, on Saturday morning, October 11, men marching in a mile-wide line, each no more than six feet from his neighbor, found Frances on a hill on the J. B. Hilley ranch. She had apparently just lain down and died, sucking her thumb. The frontiersmen carved a stone monument in the girl's honor and set it up where her body was discovered. After time and the element wore it away, it was replaced by a modern monument:

Frances Spraggins marker

As David Paulides might say, is it possible for a child less than two years old to march off through a rugged, semi-arid landscape, with no food and no footwear, for three and a half days?

Syers, William Edward. Off the Beaten Trail (Waco, TX: Texian Press, 1971), pp. 460-464.

Waring, Margaret, "Little Child Lost," The Comanche Chief, July 14, 1967, p. 14.

* * * *

Paranormal investigator Joshua P. Warren collects stories from people all over the world, stories that are a) short, b) true, and c) creepy. The following account sounds like it almost became a Missing 411 story as well.

While growing up in Smithfield, Utah, Jonathan K. Marshall heard legends of a "human/ape-type animal that lived in the foothills" called the Hill Side Growler. In the spring of 1989, when he was twelve, Jonathan and a friend visited Smithfield Golf Course, hoping to find lost golf balls (which the golf course would buy back). In a gully near one of the fairways the boys found a dead deer, its neck broken and twisted strangely. Intrigued, Jonathan approached the carcass, his friend trailing close behind.

Jonathan turned to speak to his friend. The other boy suddenly turned pale, spun, and ran away screaming. Jonathan chased after, finally catching up when they climbed back to the rim of the ravine. Through sobs and tears the friend said that: "when I turned around to talk to him, a big, hairy arm reached out from the bushes that were nearest to me and tried to grab me." Thinking it was a joke, Jonathan laughed, only to hear a "loud, screaming roar" echo out of the trees in the gully. This was followed by thudding footsteps somewhere below, and a glimpse of a brown, ill-defined "something" running away on the opposite side of the gulch. The thing's departure heartened them enough that they climbed back down -- only to find the deer gone.

If young Mr. Marshall had gone on his ball-seeking excursion by himself, he may well have become simply another statistic. One thinks again of David Paulides' warnings not to hike alone.

Marshall, Jonathan K., "He Thought it Had Gotten Me," in Joshua P. Warren, It Was a Dark and Creepy Night (Pompton Plains, NJ: Career Press, Inc., 2014), pp. 159-160.

* * * *

The LO!-Down on Strange Appearances

Going way back to Charles Fort's LO! (1931), specifically Chapter 17, we are presented with a series of strange events that occurred in the early 20th Century that I always believed to be totally unique even in the annals of paranormal/ fortean stories. Basically, men were being found, naked and amnesic, across England.

An excerpt from LO! chapter 17:

"Naked in the street -- strange conduct by a strange man." See the Chatham (Kent, England) News, Jan. 10, 1914. Early in the evening of Jan. 6th -- "weather bitterly cold" -- a naked man appeared, from nowhere that could be found out, in High Street, Chatham.

The man ran up and down the street, until a policeman caught him. He could tell nothing about himself. "Insanity," said the doctors, with their customary appearance of really saying something . . . This naked man of Chatham appeared suddenly. Nobody had seen him on his way to his appearing point. His clothes were searched for, but could not be found. Nowhere near Chatham was anybody reported missing.

And, farther along, ending Chapter 17:

Hants and Sussex News, Feb. 25, 1920 -- "one of the most sensational discoveries and most mysterious cases of tragedy that we have been called upon to record" -- a naked body of a man, found in a ploughed field, near Petersfield, Hampshire, England.

The mystery is in that there had not been a murder. A body had not been thrown from a car into this field. Here had appeared a naked man, not in possession of his senses. He had wandered, and he had died. It was not far from a road, and was about a mile from the nearest house. Prints of the man's bare feet were traced to the road, and across the road into another field. Police and many other persons searched for clothes, but nothing was found. A photograph of the man was published throughout England, but nobody had seen him, clothed or unclothed, before the finding of the body. At the inquest, the examining physician testified that the body was that of a man, between 35 and 40; well-nourished, and not a manual worker; well-cared-for, judging from such particulars as carefully trimmed finger nails. There were scratches upon the body, such as would be made by bushes and hedges, but there was no wound attributable to a weapon, and in the stomach there was no poison, nor drug. Death had been from syncope, due to exposure. "The case remains one of the most amazing tragedies that could be conceived of."

The mystery did not immediately subside. From time to time there were comments in the newspapers. London Daily News, April 16 -- "Although his photograph has been circulated north, east, south, and west, throughout the United Kingdom, the police are still without a clue, and there is no record of any missing person, bearing the slightest resemblance to this man, presumably of education and good standing."

* * * * * *

Ever since I first read LO! as a teenager, I thought nothing else in the literature resembled this series of naked men from nowhere. Now, however, they sound like the ending of many a Missing 411 case: People found with clothing gone, in "bitterly cold" weather, with no memory of what happened to them (if alive) and no obvious signs of death (if dead), the verdict eventually given as "exposure".

Heck, it seems like everything I read nowadays reminds me of the 411 books, somehow. I bought an old issue of Argosy Magazine (Sept. 1974). It was the "special shark issue," in honor of a blockbuster movie then in production called, of course, JAWS. In an article called "Silent Death," author Fred Mackerodt suggests that there are many more shark attacks at America's beaches than the authorities would like us to know. This article seems to have two strikes against it right out of the gate (pardon my mixed metaphors), since Paulides tries to filter out disappearances that 1) might be due to someone drowning/being lost at sea, and 2) might be due to an animal attack. But Mackerodt writes (page 44B):

"Last year the National Safety Council reported that over 3000 people were 'drowned' at the beach. In many of these cases, the bodies were never recovered . . . The swimmer simply doesn't show up back on the beach when it's time to go home, a search is made and nothing is found. He is listed as drowned, body never recovered."

Mackerodt was suggesting that sharks ate these unfortunate people. Forty-something years later, the above quote reminds me of how National Parks authorities will search for a missing person for a week or so, then apparently forget about him or her. Then, eventually, they'll declare the victim "missing, presumed dead," and remove the name from any lists of vanished people. And a different kind of amnesia sets in.


Perhaps some disappearances are caused by distortions and warps in time itself. The "Versailles Adventure" is one of the most famous "time slip" stories ever, but not that many have heard of its aftermath:

Another Versailles Adventure

Category: Retrocognition/Time Slips?

From: Ellwood, pp. 103-105; MacKenzie, pp. 48-49

Where: The Trianon Gardens, Versailles, France

When: 1907-09

Who: John Crooke, his wife Kate, and their son Stephen

How close to source: The Crookes sent an account of their experiences to the Society for Psychical Research

Phenomena: On August 10, 1901, two English women, Miss Anne Moberly, head of St. Hugh's Hall, Oxford, and Eleanor Jourdain, headmistress of the Corran School for Girls at Watford, visited the Trianon Gardens in Versailles, an expanse of parklands, gardens, and living quarters commissioned by Louis XV for his mistress, Madame du Barry. As they wandered over the grounds, the two women encountered a number of strange people dressed in 18th century clothing, while the usual crowds of contemporary tourists were nowhere to be seen. They saw stands of forest that did not exist; they walked over a bridge that had collapsed fifty years earlier and apparently passed through a wall that did exist in 1901 (but not in the 1700s).

Sometime later they compared notes, did extensive research on the Trianon area, and came to the conclusion that they had passed through a ghostly re-creation of the environs as they had been in 1789 -- or had traveled back in time to the 18th century. They published their story under the simple title, An Adventure, in 1911, and thereafter weathered the harsh criticisms of book reviewers, skeptics, and even members of the Society of Psychical Research itself. To this day much controversy surrounds the claims of these two English ladies . . .

. . . So let's forget about them and concentrate on Mr. John Crooke, his wife Kate, and their son Stephen. In 1907 the Crookes rented an apartment on the Rue Maurepas overlooking the Trianon parklands. They took a dislike to the gardens immediately; there seemed to be "no air" there, so they took walks elsewhere. The trees in the distance looked flat and lifeless, almost like a painted backdrop. Though they saw busloads of tourists pull up and disembark, when they looked across the parklands they never seemed to see any of them.

Mr. Crooke was particularly disturbed by a cottage on the Trianon grounds. Sometimes it was there, and sometimes it wasn't, and "he had seen people in old-fashioned clothes looking through the windows." (Ellwood, p. 103) Flights of steps, expanses of grass, and trees also seemed to come and go. He once saw a man in 18th century clothing, with a tricorner hat, and he and his wife both watched a woman in an old-fashioned dress pick up sticks. Once John Crooke heard music played on stringed instruments, wafting over one of the small lakes, for about fifteen minutes -- on a day when, as he later ascertained, no band had been playing.

All three Crookes saw the "Sketching Lady," the figure who dominates the book An Adventure, and whom authors Moberly and Jourdain believed to be none other than Marie Antoinette. Being artists themselves, the Crookes tried to get a look at what the Sketching Lady was sketching. On one occasion the mysterious woman kept turning so as to keep herself between the Crookes and her work; on another, she quite pointedly took her sketch pad and seat and left the area.

Oddities: "The Crooke family mentioned a curious hissing sound that sometimes came when things were about to appear . . . they also spoke of the vibration in the air which sometimes accompanied [a] vision." (MacKenzie, p. 49)

Ending: The strange atmosphere of the Trianon parklands -- to say nothing of the appearing and disappearing people and objects -- got on the Crookes' nerves. They moved away in 1909. They revisited the gardens on occasion, and to their surprise everything seemed perfectly normal.

Legend: The main legend of the Versailles adventures was that promoted by Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain themselves. They were certain that the date in the past they observed was October 5, 1789, the last day Marie Antoinette spent at the Trianon estate. On that day a messenger arrived to warn her that an angry mob of peasants was approaching. She and her retinue returned to Paris, where she stayed, essentially a prisoner, until she and King Louis XVI were executed four years later. Moberly and Jourdain's insistence on this date may have undermined their own efforts to prove the reality of their adventure. Later researchers (and witnesses to further visions) have suggested that a date between 1770 and 1774 would fit the observed people, uniforms, buildings, and grounds much better.

Explanation: It was suggested early on that Moberly and Jourdain stumbled onto a piece of "performance art" being staged by people in period clothing. Such an explanation would hardly fit the two years' worth of oddities seen by the Crooke family. There have been other witnesses to time-slips at Versailles as well, as outlined in Ellwood's and MacKenzie's books.

Comments: In his earlier works Andrew MacKenzie, a careful and conservative psychic researcher, was perfectly willing to accept the Versailles experiences as examples of retrocognition, i.e., visions of the past somehow "re-played" in the present like DVD recordings. As such, the people of the past had to be mere images, so he dismissed the claim that the two English ladies exchanged remarks with the people of the 18th century (in his view the 18th century folk were speaking to people of their time who just happened to be standing about where Moberly and Jourdain were walking). This suggestion, too, stands at odds with later percipients' reports -- the Sketching Lady, for instance, was certainly aware of the Crooke family.

In his 1997 book, after years of studying similar cases, MacKenzie admits that it does seem that the people of the past are sometimes aware of modern witnesses. "This accords with Stephen Hawking's statement, quoted in the Preface, that the laws of science did not distinguish between the forward and backward directions of time." (p. 67)

Which seems to be a roundabout way of saying that time travel is possible!

Ellwood, Gracia Fay. Psychic Visits to the Past: An Exploration of Retrocognition (New York, NY: Signet Books, 1971).

MacKenzie, Andrew. Adventures in Time: Encounters with the Past (London: The Athlone Press, 1997).

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