The Top 5 Silliest Chicken Franchise Myths

chicken too

Now that the heartbreaking/enraging viral story about a disfigured 3-year-old being turfed from a KFC for “scaring the other customers” has turned out to be a likely sham, let’s review some of the other kooky hoaxes and urban myths involving fast food chicken joints…

5. Clones and Chickenblobs/KFC name change

Beginning in the late ’90s, scare emails claimed that Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to change its name to KFC, because it was no longer selling actual chicken. It was farming genetically modified chickens with more than two legs, or chicken clones, or beakless, legless chickenblobs that had liquid nutrients transfused directly into their veins. The story was sometimes accompanied by this picture:

chickenblob

Needless to say, there wasn’t much truth to any of this.

  • KFC doesn’t even raise its own chickens; the chain buys from numerous suppliers that sell chicken to many other restaurants, supermarkets, and fast food chains.
  • No one forced Kentucky Fried Chicken to change its name. The common wisdom is that the name change was part of an early ’90s rebranding effort designed to downplay the word “fried” (and possibly the word “Kentucky”).
  • The word “chicken” still appeared on the KFC menu, so obviously they were still using chicken.
  • Genetically modified chickens are still chickens.
  • No one has yet figured out how to produce legless/beakless poultry.
  • Meat from clones is reportedly on the market. However, cloning animals is prohibitively expensive and risky, so it’s not going to appeal to fast food suppliers that need a steady, reliable flow of cheap animals.

Silly as the chickenblob legends are, factory farmed chickens can live in some pretty dismal conditions. A less-silly rumour, included in Super Size Me, is that chickens are being bred to have enormous breasts that make them so top-heavy they are barely able to walk. The ASPCA website even asserts that most chickens have to lie flat on the ground throughout their lives.

There is some truth to this one. In general, chickens bred for meat have disproportionately large chests and low bone density. Many of them have trouble supporting their own weight on those skinny legs.  I don’t know that the average broiler chicken has this problem, but it is a concern. In overcrowded poultry operations, birds can’t walk around, anyway, because they’re squished together like foam packing peanuts.

foghorn leghorn

 

4. The Kentucky Fried Rat

This is a golden oldie of an urban legend that I’ve been hearing my entire life. It seems to date from the mid-’70s. There are variations of it, but the most popular one is that a woman was nibbling a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken when she suddenly realized it was actually a fried rat. In some versions of the tale, she died from a heart attack and her family sued the franchise. According to snopes, this story has never been traced to a single source, and it’s rarely connected to a specific location. It is incredibly unlikely that it really happened.

However, people now frequently share Guess What I Found in My Chicken photos and stories. In 2000, Katherine Ortega of Newport News, Virginia, produced a deep-fried rooster head that she claimed to have discovered in a box of McDonald’s chicken wings (which were being test-marketed in the area at the time). She threatened to sue, but apparently never did. It was not confirmed that the head came from McDonald’s.
In 2003, Baltimore pastor Tony Hill claimed he was served a mouse at a Popeye’s chicken outlet. He, too, never pursued the matter.
Last year, a Colchester man complained of finding a “brain” in his KFC meal. He chucked it in the trash, but KFC tentatively identified the object in his photo as a kidney. Two identical discoveries also received press attention.
Just this week, a woman in New Castle, England, released a photo of a piece of KFC chicken that was actually a battered and deepfried paper towel.

3. Church’s Chicken KKK Sterilization

In 1986, folklorist Patricia Turner was teaching an Introduction to Black Literature course at the University of Massachusetts. For some reason, she told her students the Kentucky Fried Rat story, and was intrigued when one of the students informed her that the Church’s Chicken chain was owned by the KKK, and was putting something in its food to chemically sterilize men – mostly black men, since Church’s Chicken franchises existed in predominantly black neighbourhoods.
A nearly identical KKK “stealth sterilization” rumour was attached to a new brand of cheap soda, Tropical Fantasy, in 1991, leading to a steep plunge in sales and a frantic PR campaign. Anonymous fliers posted in Harlem implicated the Tropical Fantasy, Top Pop, and Treat brand sodas as part of a genocide-by-beverage campaign. There were reports of attacks on delivery drivers by outraged youths.
Turner thoroughly investigated both stories and wrote about them in her 1993 book I Heard It Through the Grapevine. Though racist chicken joints were definitely a thing, she couldn’t find any KKK connection to either Church’s Chicken or the Brooklyn Bottling Corp. (which, ironically, employed a large percentage of minorities). Though there are chemicals believed to decrease fertility in men, there is no substance capable of permanently rendering a man sterile that could be introduced into food or liquid.

2. Silicone in chicken nuggets

I covered this one several years ago at Leaving Alex Jonestown, when Natural News was twigging out over it. Yes, dimethylpolysiloxane, a type of silicone, is an ingredient in the coating of some chicken nuggets. It is added to many foods and drink mixes to prevent sticking, clumping, and foaming. It’s simply a synthetic version of silica, which occurs naturally in most grains, water, and meats because it’s one of the most common minerals on the planet. Like silica, dimethylpolysiloxane is perfectly safe to ingest.

nugget mcbuddies

Forget the silicone…why does this McNugget Buddy have hair?!

1. Mechanically Separated Meat Is Bad for You

There is widespread suspicion that we are still living in Upton Sinclair’s Jungle, where hooves and a**holes end up in our processed meats on a regular basis.

In Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock takes umbrage at the very idea of chicken nuggets. “What part of the chicken does a nugget come from?” he asks, wrinkling up his Mario ‘stache in a convincing simulacrum of disgust. In an article on nuggets published by NBC last year, a medical doctor is quoted as saying that chicken parts aren’t really chicken.
The notion behind chicken nuggets is exactly the same as meatloaf, liver pâté, or fishsticks, but for some reason, finely chopped chicken has become the new hot dog of the fast food world – always suspect, always derided, forever ghetto. It has to be the worst parts of the chicken that end up in Nuggetville, right?
Not really. The quality of the chicken is the same as you’ll find in other chicken products, since it comes from the same chickens. There is some skin in, say, McDonald’s nuggets – but most people eat the skin from roasted and fried chickens without a second thought.
Western consumers have developed a horror of mechanically separated meat (MSM), particularly after Jamie Oliver’s demonstration of how finely textured beef is processed went viral. In the aftermath of the “pink slime” revelations, certain facts were neglected:

  • Oliver drenched a tub of meat in liquid ammonia to show how it is sanitized, but “pink slime” does not contain ammonia. Ammonia fumes are used.
  • Using less-than-perfect parts of an animal means less waste. The less-than-perfect parts aren’t going to hurt you. In Eastern countries, all parts of an animal are used or consumed. Think of Filipino blood pudding, or Vietnamese fatty flank steak. Jamie Oliver is a wealthy white man, schooled in the European culinary tradition, who does not understand how most of the world eats. MSM is an efficient, cost-effective use of animal products that would otherwise be discarded.
  • It is a filler product only. You won’t find any meat products in the fast food market that contain just pink slime or MSM.

Bonus Urban Legend: The Colonel’s Curse

This one really doesn’t have anything to do with chicken, but it’s too fun to ignore. In 1985, the Hanshin Tigers won the Japanese baseball championship with a 4-2 defeat against the Seibu Lions. Triumphant fans got carried away that night, stealing a Colonel Sanders statue and hurling it into the Dōtonbori River.
The Tigers didn’t win another championship. In the great tradition of sports curses, the vengeful spirit of the Colonel was blamed…though he didn’t actually die until 1990, and the Tigers had always sucked. Every so often, TV personalities would make a big show of trying to find the statue. but it wasn’t recovered until 2009.
The Tigers continue to suck.
The curse-KFC link has become so entrenched in Japanese culture that it pops up in the very first episode of the anime horror series When They Cry, which is set in 1984.

Now, get a little closer to your screen, because I’m going to reveal a few of the real dirty little secrets of fast food chicken franchises…

Harlan Sanders only served three months in the U.S. Army. He used the name “Colonel” just to sell chicken.
In the ’60s, the “Colonel” made cameo appearances in cheesy exploitation flicks like Hell’s Bloody Devils and Hershel Gordon Lewis’s Blast Off Girls, hawking his chicken.
In the ’70s, long after he had sold his franchise, the Colonel described Kentucky Fried Chicken gravy as “sludge”.
After a 2010 survey of  Americans ages 18-25 found that 52% of them believed Colonel Sanders was a fictional part of KFC’s branding, KFC launched an intensive PR campaign to prove Sanders had been a real person.
Chick-fil-A has sent cease-and-desist letters to at least 30 businesses to demand they stop using slogans that begin with the phrase “Eat more…”

 

Following the Chemtrails IV: A Timeline of Significant Chemtrail Events

Part IV of Following the Chemtrails

Where did it all begin?

In researching chemtrail sightings and theories, I was stunned to learn that this phenomenon didn’t begin with people noticing persistent contrails in the sky, wondering what they could be, and searching for explanations. Chemtrail theories actually began as a horror story about deliberate world depopulation, crafted and spread by a small network of Christian Patriot conspiracy researchers – including one rather infamous anti-Semite.
There are strong indications that at least some of these guys were trying to create a contrail cash cow for themselves, which has forced me to rethink the entire chemtrail phenomenon. It was my original view that the chemtrail issue is not, as the U.S. Air Force contends, a hoax. I believed that like most conspiracy theories, chemtrail theories evolved in organic fashion from various anecdotes and incidents.
That’s not to say there haven’t been hoaxes. Photos have been altered, then distributed among chemtrail researchers. Less than credible “whistleblowers” have told bizarre stories that can’t be verified. Clearly, anyone who engages in this sort of fraud isn’t searching for the truth. In my experience, the average chemtrail-watcher is searching for the truth. He is concerned about the potential effects of chemtrails, and he wants answers.
Now, after looking into the history of the phenomenon, I suspect the hoax allegation has some merit, after all. I still believe the average chemtrail-watcher is a genuinely concerned citizen who honestly believes he is seeing strange, unexplained vapour trails, and doing what he thinks is right. But I do not trust the motives of those who started the rumours of death-by-contrail.

To see why I reached this conclusion, let’s examine the history of chemtrails.

Early 1980s

Farmers, environmentalists, and others in the eastern U.S. report that ground water is contaminated with ethylene dibromide (EDB), a carcinogenic chemical used as a pesticide and as an anti-knocking agent in leaded aviation fuel (“avgas”). EDB has been never a component of jet fuel, because jet fuel does not contain lead.

1984

EDB is banned for pesticide use in some places, phased out in others (in remains in use to this day in some areas).

Late 1980s

EDB use in avgas is phased out.

1994

HAARP installation begins in Gakona, Alaska.

1995

Concerns about EDB contamination resume among some Christian Patriots. They suspect that the newly-introduced military jet fuel JP-8 contains some contaminant, or combination of contaminants, that are intended to kill us. The prime suspect is – guess what? – EDB. These concerns rapidly spread throughout the country via online message boards and mass emails.

The Contrail Science website contains links to what appear to be some of the earliest known online references to unusual contrails, which would later be called chemtrails. This material was originally published on The Patriot Page (the now-defunct website of Clarence Napier, still accessible via the Wayback Machine).
In emails distributed through BIOWAR-L (an email list service dealing with biological weapons), people exchanged information about “mysterious” persistent vapour trails left by military jets throughout the U.S., the health effects of EDB, and the depopulation conspiracy theory.
A few people submitted soil and water samples for lab testing, which confirmed the presence of EDB (not surprising, as it is known to persist in ground water). They concluded that EDB was coming from the sky. These test results, if they ever existed, were never actually reproduced.

Acting on information he allegedly received in 1993, Larry Wayne Harris of Lancaster, Ohio begins selling a self-published booklet (Bacteriological Warfare: A Major Threat to North America), warning that Iraqi sleeper cells will launch anthrax attacks against multiple cities in the U.S., aiming to reduce the U.S. population to 50 million by 2025. He conducted research for this booklet at the library of the Aryan Nations compound. He was a card-carrying member of Aryan Nations, which is not only America’s largest white supremacist organization, but also the nation’s largest and most violent prison gang.

dafuqreally

I’m sure we can trust their impeccable research skills.

At the time, Harris believed Jews controlled the world and had to be opposed (according to the Anti-defamation League, he later renounced these views).

Harris claims the information about impending anthrax attacks was given to him by the daughter of a former Iraqi president. She allegedly told him that Iraqi women were smuggling massive amounts of weaponized anthrax into the U.S. in their vaginas, preparing for synchronized biological assaults on numerous U.S. cities that would reduce the nation’s population to just 50 million souls by the year 2025.
In the spirit of goofy FBI code-names, let’s call this plan VAGTHRAX.

Harris makes some cash selling his booklet about VAGTHRAX at gun shows and conspiracy conventions, scaring the hell out of his fellow Patriots and Aryan brethren.
Though Harris was supposedly teaching people how to defend themselves against terrorist attacks, it has been noted that his booklet appeared to double as an instruction manual for terrorism. For instance, it laid out in considerable detail how to sabotage power lines and launch large-scale biological attacks. Not exactly information the average American would need.

toxic virgins by Doug Brinkman

Coming not-so-soon

Harris is arrested and charged with mail fraud after posing as a research microbiologist to obtain bubonic plague from the American Type Culture Collection. He had stolen some stationery bearing the letterhead of the Ohio lab where he was employed as a water inspector to do this. Convicted of mail fraud, Harris is placed on probation.
Harris claims to be a CIA asset and a licensed microbiologist throughout most of the ’80s and early ’90s. He also boasts that he has scientifically proven the existence of God. None of these claims are true.
He continues to warn about impending Iraqi bioattacks for the next three years.

Most of the early Internet communications about poisonous contrails mention Harris as a good source of information on the topic. Christian Patriots are advised to submit soil and fuel samples to him for testing. At least one EDB/JP-8 researcher, radio evangelist Bill Brumbaugh, submitted a JP-8 sample to Harris for analysis in the late ’90s. Harris, without supplying any documentation, reported that the jet fuel contained EDB. Questionable results like these were trumpeted throughout the Patriot/conspiracy community, adding literal fuel to the fire.

1996

The Defense Department publishes a study, Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025. This paper will become central to the weather control/geonengineering theories about persistent spreading contrails, which gradually overshadow the EDB/depopulation theory.

September 17, 1997

Richard Finke of Ohio distributes an email with the heading “Lines in the Sky Identified!”. This may be the first mass email on the subject of “deadly” contrails. In it, Finke declares that lab testing of samples from “JP-8 contaminated fields” in Maryland and Pennsylvania have revealed the presence of ethylene dibromide (again, not surprising, as EDB has been used as an agricultural pesticide for years). The testing was conducted by Aqua-tech Environmental. Finke wrote of contrails, “The lines are dispersed and may linger for hours, slowly filtering down to unsuspecting pests, and I guess we’re the PESTS.”

1998

Richard Finke and Larry Harris set up a “defensive biowar and disaster recovery” consulting firm called LWH Consulting. They promote their services by sending out mass emails warning that a biological attack on the U.S. is imminent, and posting information about poisonous contrails on message boards.
LWH Consulting was legally incorporated under the name of Harris’ attorney, Curt Griffith, who was suspended from practicing law in the state of Ohio in 2004 for ripping off two of his clients. Griffith also defended Harris in court.

Just as the biowarfare threat helped Harris sell his VAGTHRAX booklet, the EDB contamination scare may have helped Patriot radio broadcasters sell colloidal silver. You can’t read any of the early chemtrail reports without running into mention of colloidal silver as a defense against contrail-created illnesses. Later, chemtrail researcher Will Thomas began selling USANA brand vitamins and mineral supplements on his website, writing, “You don’t have to be a Gulf War veteran to be suffering daily effects from Chemical Warfare (CW) exposure. As a frequent writer on environment and health, while researching a major article on chemical sensitivities, I learned that Multiple Chemical Sensitivity can be triggered by massive repeated low level exposure to oil and other chemical releases…”
In 2000 and 2001, Larry Harris hawked a line of Solutions-4-You® anti-microbial products and a lichen-based herb called Lechenya Meera that could supposedly protect you from anthrax and other biochem warfare agents. He claimed a Ph.D at that time, though I can’t find any confirmation that he has one, and billed himself as “one of 17 registered microbiologists in the US” (I rather doubt this, as the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists certifies dozens of registrants each year).
Because chemtrail information is so closely tied to product placement and dishonest self-promotion like this, we should not eliminate the possibility that chemtrail theories are driven – at least in part – by profit motives.

February 18, 1998

Harris and a cohort, William Leavitt, are arrested in Vegas for possessing anthrax. When the anthrax turns out to be an avirulent strain, Harris is charged only with probation violation and receives a longer, more restrictive probation for impersonating a CIA agent.
After the hearing, Curt Griffith reportedly warned him, “Don’t let the word ‘CIA’ come out of your mouth.”
Though Harris wasn’t in possession of any dangerous biological agents this time, the Vegas anthrax arrest scared the hell out of people and made national headlines. It was alleged that Harris wasn’t just warning the world about impending biological attack – he was planning one himself. A cohort had reported to authorities that Harris boasted about possessing enough anthrax to poison a U.S. city.

After Harris’ second arrest, the speculation about persistent contrails gradually shifted from EDB to other toxic ingredients (mostly metals). But the legend of EDB-contaminated jet fuel lives on. Joseph E. Mario, in his Anti-Aging Manual (1998), declared that EDB was being dispersed over the U.S. via JP-8 jet fuel exhaust (contrails) for the purpose of indiscriminate population reduction. As “evidence”, Mario noted that EDB had been detected in Cape Cod cranberry ponds, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Again, this can be explained by agricultural fumigation. There was no need to bring aircraft into the equation at all.

February 1998  

Tommy Farmer collects samples of what he calls “angel hair”, a fibrous material presumably deposited by aircraft on six occasions between February, 1998 and January, 1999. The term might be familiar to UFO buffs, as “angel hair” was a common feature of early close encounter reports. Farmer claims he fell ill after his first contact with the “angel hair” (today, sticky filaments known as “chemwebs” are still being reported).

After the initial hubbub of 1997 and early 1998, the poisonous contrail theories went sub rosa for several
months, kept alive by only a handful of conspiracy researchers like Clarence Napier, John Hammell, Chip Tatum, Dot Bibbee, and Joe Burton.

1999, on the other hand, would be the Year of the Contrail.

January 1999

Canadian journalist Will Thomas publishes his first two articles about the dangers of contrails, “Mystery Contrails May Be Modifying Weather” and “Contrails: Poison From the Sky”. In these two short pieces, Thomas laid out a number of suppositions that have since become entrenched as chemtrail factoids:

  • The “poisonous” contrails are sprayed by “fleets” of aircraft flying in gridlike patterns.
  • The “spraying” is done by military jets. Thomas described the work of Tommy Farmer, a former engineering technician with Raytheon Missile Systems who had been tracking the patterns of jet contrails for more than a year. Farmer “positively identified” two of the aircraft most often involved in aerial spraying as the Boeing KC-135 and the Boeing KC-10, both used by the U.S. Air Force for air-to-air refueling.
  • The “spraying” is also done by unmarked military jets.
  • Contrails may be part of HAARP-related experiments.
  • Contrails may contain substances that facilitate weather modification, and substances that are harmful to us, such as bacteria.
  • Contrails may cause a variety of ailments, ranging from respiratory difficulty to lupus. No direct evidence of a link between contrails and these ailments is provided by Thomas; he is content to rely upon anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is a great place to start. It is not a great place to finish.

Thomas also rehashes the EDB-in-jet-fuel theory, and mentions public concerns about fuel dumping (discussed in Part III.5 of this series).

January 25, 1999

Art Bell discusses contrails on the popular paranormal-themed radio show Coast to Coast AM for the first time, with guest Will Thomas.

February 10, 1999

Will Thomas sends an email to John Hammell, warning that people throughout the U.S. and the U.K. are falling ill with flu because of contrails. He speculates that a virus may be in the jet fuel along with EDB, and strongly urges people to stay indoors when jets are flying overhead. The email is widely distributed. It is so hysterical in tone that I reproduce it here in its entirety to show you how speculation and misinformation were disseminated in the early days of the chemtrail phenomenon:

“Tell everyone to STAY INDOORS when contrails are being woven overhead. I’ve got a BBC photo of a freezer-semi filled with dead bodies in England – all from sudden respiratory ailments. We’re talking (according to the BBC) 6,000 deaths from respiratory failure in two weeks. People are VERY SICK here. And spraying continues, after heavy spraying last Friday over Asheville, Knoxville, Dallas and other US centers. I have this morning received reports of ‘many deaths’ from a ‘cough that never leaves’ in Louisiana. This is big. This is real. I have positively verified that Emergency Rooms are overflowing with acute respiratory cases from coast to coast. Doctors are telling the New York Times that this is NOT the flu. The only lab test I have shows JP8 present in soil samples after spraying. The ethylene dibromide in JP8 is banned by the EPA as a known carcinogen and an extremely toxic substance that attacks the respiratory system at very low doses of exposure. There may be a viral component to the spraying, as well. I am tracking this and will get back to… STOP PRESSES! I have just this minute received a call that confirms my worst fears. According to a source within the Canadian Intelligence Service, heavy spraying taking place over Victoria, BC (near me) and other population centers throughout North America are classified ‘tests’. I now know what the ‘tests’ are aimed at achieving. And it is not pretty. This is a MAXIUMUM RED ALERT for everyone on your list, John. TAKE COVER! Stay indoors during spraying. This is NOT ‘woo-woo’. This is NOT a drill.”

The most astonishing thing about this email is that the epidemic Thomas describes didn’t exist. There were no reports of a “mystery” respiratory illness published by the New York Times or the BBC in 1998 or 1999. Rather, there was one article in the Times about a well-known virus that affects infants and young children (respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV). If 6000 people in England alone had perished from the same illness in two weeks, this would have been an epidemic on par with the influenza outbreak of 1918. Yet I could not find a single 1998 or 1999 article (BBC or otherwise) that included information about 6000 sudden deaths in the UK. There were plenty of media releases concerning outbreaks of respiratory illnesses that occurred that year (see this one on an illness in Afghanistan or this one about  Nipah virus in Singapore and Malaysia, for instance). In these cases, dozens or even a few hundred people fell ill. But 6000, in a single country? No, nothing on that scale happened in 1998-1999.  If Thomas did, indeed, see a “BBC photo” of a truckload of corpses, it was either unpublished or misrepresented to him. As for the “many” coughing-related deaths in Louisiana, Thomas provides no verifying information. My own search for a ’99 Louisiana outbreak of respiratory illness came up empty. In short, this terrifying email does not contain any verified information.  In the winter of 1998-1999, neither the flu nor respiratory illnesses other than RSV were particularly serious. In 2000, the CDC reported the “numbers and types of circulating influenza viruses are similar to the previous two seasons (1997-98 and 1998-99). These findings suggest that this year’s flu season has not been unusually severe.” Even if the flu or respiratory illnesses had been worse than usual in 1998-1999, the connection to contrails would not be a given. Such outbreaks are not uncommon.
In another post, we’ll look more closely at Will Thomas’s chemtrail research and some of the other bizarre misinformation he has been disseminating. It will be obvious that his scientific knowledge is extremely limited. This is not an insult; it is a statement of fact. Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of, because it does not have to be a permanent condition. Mr. Thomas can brush up on his science skills anytime he chooses.

March 30, 1999

Clarence Napier, a Christian Patriot conspiracist, claims to have located the “hidden” HQ for the death-spraying “United Nations” planes in Arizona. He declares that Arizona is the epicentre of contrail-poisoning activity (to this day, Pheonix remains a central hub of chemtrail-watching and activism). In the last post, we explored how firefighting planes (particularly Everygreen Aviation’s Supertanker) have been repeatedly mistaken for “chemtrail-spraying” planes.
In his email, Napier wrote:

“To every one in the Phoenix, Tucson, and Chandler, Arizona area, should try to check this  location out. I’m shure [sic] I have located the airfield were [sic] the planes spraying the contrails  are based in Arizona. If you get on my Web Page you will see a photo of the planes in the field,  William Thomas said people have reported to him that they looked at these planes through  telescopes, and reported that they are painted all white with no markings, and that is how I spotted this field, and the entrance to it is well hidden.”

Napier postulated that these unmarked planes were United Nations aircraft, and that the purpose of the spraying was to sicken and kill people all over the world. He posted photos of the “hidden” airfield on his website without identifying it.
One diligent researcher investigated and learned the airfield was Chandler Memorial Airport, an airfield owned by the area’s Pima and Maricopa Indian Nations. Since 1978, the airfield has been leased to International Air Response, an aviation outfit that had been contracting with the U.S. Forest Service to fight forest fires since the late ’60s. The entrance to the Chandler Memorial airfield was not hidden, and its operations were not secret.

March 1999

The word “chemtrail” begins appearing online. A portmanteau of the words “chemical(s)” and “contrail”, its exact provenance is unknown (I have been told by many chemtrail-watchers that Will Thomas coined the word. This may be true, but all I know for certain is that the word didn’t emerge until the spring of 1999. I have found no appearances of the word prior to March of that year). Jay Reynolds, who has been researching the contrail-related conspiracies since the late ’90s, has stated the word was coined by former USAF captain John Grace, who used the pseudonym “Val Valerian”.
In the early days, when the contrail theories revolved around a chemical pesticide, “chemical contrail” made sense. But today, when the theories are focused on metal oxides, “nanobots”, and fibers, “chemtrail” is a bit of a misnomer.

November 20, 1999

Art Bell again discusses chemtrails on Coast to Coast AM, with guest Clifford Carnicom.

1999

The white supremacist/conspiracy publication The Spotlight begins publishing stories about contrails, promoting the theory that they are part of a secret military operation.

Clifford Carnicom sets up his first website about chemtrails.
When it comes to chemtrails, I don’t think it would even be possible to overestimate the work Clifford Carnicom. He is, quite simply, the leader in the field of chemtrail research. Will Thomas and others are certainly influential, but it is Carnicom who has introduced each new “discovery” about chemtrails. Carnicom was the first person to produce a documentary about chemtrails (Aerosol Crimes, 2004). His was the first major website devoted to chemtrails. He was the first person to publish articles on the alleged links between chemtrails and Morgellons disease. He was the first to document what he believes are “nanotech devices” in Morgellons sufferers. It’s safe to say that whatever theory Carnicom comes up with next, the majority of chemtrail-watchers will accept as probable.

2001

Chemtrails are mentioned under the heading of “exotic weapons systems” in a bill sponsored by Dennis Kucinich, H.R. 2977 (107th): Space Preservation Act of 2001. They are removed from subsequent versions of the bill.

2002

On Coast to Coast AM, guest Will Thomas discusses the theory that the military is using jets to spray aluminum oxide and/or barium stearate into the air for weather modification and advanced radar/HAARP experiments.

2003

The biowarfare theory of chemtrails, introduced to the public by Will Thomas in ’99, becomes much more popular in 2003. It is reinforced by the claims of Clifford Carnicom, who says he heard important information from another researcher, who heard it from a military source.
According to Carnicom’s source, airplanes are dispersing polymer filaments with freeze-dried bacteria or viruses and metals (barium, aluminum) attached. The metals heat up from the sun, allowing the pathogens to survive in the cool air.
The ultimate goal of the spraying, Carnicom states, is the “control of all populations through directed and accurate spraying of drugs, diseases”. He declares that people who have “tried to reveal the truth have been imprisoned and killed”, but does not provide any names for verification.

2004

The incredibly weird “sylph” sightings begin. Chemtrail watchers report seeing cloudlike forms absorbing chemtrails, then vanishing. Some believe the sylphs are living creatures. Others suspect they are supernatural entities along the lines of angels, or nanobot swarms that can be manipulated remotely (like the Smoke Monster in Lost).

Clifford Carnicom releases his self-produced documentary Aerosol Crimes, the first feature-length film about chemtrails.
As with any conspiracy theory that gains some traction, infighting and suspicion among researchers soon surfaces. Chemtrail-fighter Don Croft declares that Carnicom’s Aerosol Crimes is disinformation. Croft tries to eliminate chemtrails with Reichian orgone devices (bits of metal).

2007

Lydia Mancini starts the website Barium Blues to document the “barium chemtrails” she has been seeing since about 2003.

Will Thomas publishes his book Chemtrails Confirmed.

August 2007

The Discovery Channel program Best Evidence airs a show on chemtrails.

2008

The Carnicom Institute becomes a registered non-profit organization

Toxic Skies, a fictional movie dealing with chemtrails, is released in Australia. The second film from Canadian thriller/horror director Andrew C. Erin is a medical thriller, starring Anne Heche as a virologist struggling to identify a mysterious disease.
As a medical thriller, the film is deeply uminpressive (at one point Heche’s character declares, “We don’t know if it’s Avian Flu or bubonic plague”). The film receives attention in the conspiracy community for three reasons: It explicity mentions chemtrails, the context is profoundly negative, and it was “banned” in North America.
Spoilers: The virus is being spread via pellets that have been mixed into jet fuel (must be one tough virus to survive not only the temperatures of a jet’s fuel system, but the cold temperatures of high altitude). The virologist develops a vaccine to inoculate people against the virus, and must race against the clock – and the bad guys-  to deliver it.
The film was shot in Spokane by a mostly Canadian crew, but premiered in Australia, causing some chemtrail researchers to cry out that it had been “banned” in the U.S. In reality, the film was simply picked up by a foreign distributor. The highest bidder gets distribution rights, and the American distributors evidently weren’t impressed. After being screened in Australia, Toxic Skies began showing up everywhere else. It is available in the U.S. and Canada. It’s even on Netflix.
Then there were those who believed Americans were supposed to see the movie. You see, many conspiracy researchers believe in something they call “predictive programming”. In essence, they contend that the world’s elite (the Illuminati, the globalists, the lizards, etc.) are required by some ancient code of conduct to have willing victims (I mentioned this briefly in a Wednesday Weirdness Roundup, in relation to Beavis and Butthead “predicting” 9/11). In other words, They have to tell us what They’re going to do to us before They do it. So They seed clues into TV commercials, cartoons, magazine articles and even low-budget medical thrillers. Chemtrail researchers who look for predictive programming would probably point to the vaccine in Toxic Skies as just another ploy. First, the Illuminati poisons you with a chemtrail virus, then they dupe you into taking a vaccine that will also kill you.
To my knowledge, no one has asked the director himself how he feels about chemtrails. Perhaps Mr. Erin just picked an interesting conspiracy theory to hang a thriller on, as so many screenwriters do. I challenge you to scan the list of conspiracy theories at Wikipedia  and find a single one that hasn’t become fodder for entertainment. FEMA camps? X-files. Fluoride? Dr. Strangelove. Morgellons? Bugs.

January 2008

Local news station KSLA in Shreveport, Louisiana broadcasts a report on chemtrails. Producers sent water samples collected in August 2007, in Stamps, Arkansas to a lab. The man who collected the samples suspected that jets flying over his property were spewing chemicals or metals. The results showed the water to contain 68.8 parts per billion (68.8 µg/L) of barium. The EPA limit is 2 ppm (2000 µg/L), and the tests found 0.0688 ppm (68.8 µg/L), just 3.4% of the allowable limit. But the KSLA reporter misread 68.8 µg/L as 6.8 parts per million, over three times the EPA level.
When the mistake was pointed out, KSLA issued a correction to its report.

October 2008

The chemical depopulation theory persists. MythicShadow posts the following on an online forum:

“STRANGE DAYS STRANGE SKIES YOU ARE NOW BREATHING ETHYLENE DIBROMIDE, NANO-PARTICULATES OF ALUMINUM AND BARIUM AND CATIONIC POLYMER FIBERS WITH UNIDENTIFIED BIOACTIVE MATERIAL: “We the people have not been warned, advised or consulted but are certainly vulnerable to the outcomes.” Lightwatcher.com “Biologic components have been reported in airborne samples that include: modified molds, desiccated red blood cells and exotic strains of bacteria” Additionally, award winning investigative reporter, Will Thomas, has reported findings of over 300 types of virally mutated fungi in the chemtrail fall out. The Idaho Observer has reported findings of 26 metals including barium, aluminum and uranium, a variety of infectious pathogens and chemicals and drugs including sedatives in chemtrail fallout. Dr.R. Michael Castle reports the finding of cationic polymer fibers. Others have reported findings of tiny parasitic nematode eggs of some type encased in the fibers. Welcome to the brave new world of toxic barium skies, weather control, mind control and population control through the use of chemtrails modulated with electromagnetic frequencies generated by HAARP. Our health is under attack as evidenced by the skyrocketing rates of chemtrail induced lung cancer, asthma and pulmonary/respiratory problems as well as the emergence of a new plague, Morgellons Disease, an infection with a new and unknown pathogen that is seriously disabling and disfiguring. Over 12,000 families in the U.S. are now infected with Morgellons. I am one of the infected. Our skies are increasingly hazed over with fake barium/ aluminum particulate, ethylene dibromide chemtrail clouds. Whether in the atmosphere or in the Ocean this added particulate matter is a hazard to the health of every living thing on this planet. My health and the health of my family has already been drastically affected. There is a main-stream media blackout on this subject so the only way to get the word out is by word of mouth. People are already dying because of the chemtrails. Life expectancy is down. This situation presents an immediate and serious threat to you, your family and loved ones. We must join together to stop this insane program of chemtrail spraying now. Please do what you can to help.”

2010

The first professionally produced, feature-length documentary about chemtrails is released. What in the World Are They Spraying?, directed by Michael J. Murphy, draws more attention to chemtrails than anything to date. The film centres on the geoengineering theory of chemtrails, though depopulation and a few other theories are mentioned.

Once again, a racist connection to chemtrail theories rears its ugly head: The executive producer of WITWATS is G. Edward Griffin. A disciple of Hitler-adoring conspiranoid Eustace Mullins, Griffin was a speechwriter for George Wallace’s presidential campaign. Like Mullins, he has made a career out of promoting a broad array of conspiracy theories and quacky medical “cures” while warning about the Commie menace.

WALLACE

George Wallace wasn’t a racist. He just didn’t like black people, that’s all.

Next to the work of Clifford Carnicom, the release and distribution of WITWATS is probably the single most important event in the history of the chemtrail phenomena. We’ll examine it in detail in a another post.

2012

Paul Wittenberger, co-director of What in the World Are They Spraying?, releases a documentary about depopulation, The Great Culling. It is promoted as a follow-up to WITWATS, but Michael J. Murphy and his Truth Media Productions distance themselves from it. Other chemtrail researchers, like Rosalind Peterson, ask not to be included in the film. Francis Mangels, a retiree who threatened to shoot down jets to preserve his veggie garden during a county meeting, also distances himself from the “culling” theory of chemtrails and the Wittenberger documentary.

 

The Iceman Lieth

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.

kuklinski
Who was Richard Kuklinski? 

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

Roy DeMeo

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.

Hoffa

hoffa

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

nope

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.

totallylegit
Also, who would drive from Detroit to Jersey with a former Teamster boss in his trunk? They don’t have car-crushing machines in Detroit?

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)

galante crime scene

The Galante crime scene

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?

Castellano

Paul Castellano

Paul Castellano

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?

DeMeo

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.

Ice Cream Man

TV Tropes has an extensive list of killer ice cream men under the label “Bad Humor Truck”. Zero points for originality, Ice Man.

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).

Gravano

Sammy Gravano

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.

York Motel

Worst housekeeping ever.

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.

busted by a sammich

Busted by a sammich.

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.

pantsafireaward1

Postscript

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).

Sources: 

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 Boy from La Noria

The Secrets of the Atacama Humanoid Human

Note: Since this was first posted, it has emerged that the Atacama skeleton is actually that of a female. You can read more about the latest findings at the New York Times (here).

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.

Atacama Human

Bizarrely, Greer states early in the film that the body is extraterrestrial, only to be contradicted later on by his own experts, and his report on the skeleton contains weird references to Martian obelisks and DNA that is 10 billion years old. He still refers to the skeleton as humanoid, and plans to talk more about it at this year’s Mutual UFO Network symposium. If someone can figure out WTF Greer thinks he’s doing, let me know.

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.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Steven Greer’s alien + lots of other fake dead aliens

srsly

On April 22, Amardeep Kaleka‘s documentary Sirius will premiere in L.A. Though the film is mostly about magical alien energy sources, like Thrive, the highlight will undoubtedly be the tiny alien body that Dr. Steven Greer has been studying for more than a year. (Update: You can read more about that here. )

Greer’s alien was discovered by a treasure-hunter back in 2003, in the ghost town of La Noria in Chile’s Atacama desert (interestingly, a place considered similar to the Martian surface). The dessicated little skeleton, which is no longer than a pen yet has perfect proportions, was found buried  in a ribbon-tied bit of cloth near La Noria’s Catholic church. It had well-formed teeth, nine ribs, and a strangely elongated skull. The tabloids in Chile joked about a “horrible dwarf extraterrestrial”, but no serious interest was shown in the “Atacama humanoid”. It changed hands a few times, eventually ending up in Spain.
That’s where it came to the attention of Dr. Greer, an American ufologist best-known for founding the Disclosure Project. He probably heard about the humanoid during the Exopolitical Symposium held near Barcelona in 2009 (he was a presenter). Last year, he announced that his Center for the Study of ET Intelligence had gained access to the body, and would need funding to carry out scientific tests. He released a single photo and an X-ray of the “humanoid”, failing to mention it had already been in the Chilean tabloid press nine years earlier. In late October, he announced the body had been examined by “experts” using X-rays and CT scans, but still wouldn’t release more photos or give the names of the scientists working with him. For a disclosure advocate, Greer doesn’t like to disclose much. He would only say that “one of the world’s top geneticists” was studying DNA samples from the alien, and the “world’s foremost authority on skeletal abnormalities” had pronounced the skeleton non-human.

Atacama Humanoid

The Atacama alien

Steven Greer has a – how shall I put this? – rather checkered history in the field of UFO studies. He has promised big things before, with no payoff:

  • Throughout the ’90s, he claimed the ability to summon and communicate with UFOs using lights, lasers, and mental telepathy.
  • In 2008, the Orion Project announced it was developing a free energy device. Delay after delay pushed its unveiling all the way to the spring of 2010, when the Orion Project declared the work could not continue until their funding needs were met (a mere $3 million or so). Greer repeatedly insisted the device was already functional, yet it has still not been revealed.
  • In 2009, he practically guaranteed that the Obama administration would give full disclosure about UFOs and ETs by the end of 2010. (video)

Greer claims the secrets of aliens, free energy, and antigravity spacecraft are being kept from the public by a massive conspiracy possibly known as PI-40, comprised of Freemasons, Bilderbergers, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, and…uh…Mormons. He says most of his associates, including Eugene Mallove, were murdered because they came too close to the truth about aliens – just like Marilyn Monroe and former CIA director William Colby. He also thinks the government has possessed the capability to induce cancer from a distance since the 1950s.

You would think the Atacama humanoid results would be big, big news in the world of ufology, but skepticism and disinterest remain high. I’m guessing this is partly because of Greer’s track record, partly because he won’t even release the names of these world-renowned scientists, and partly because we’ve been through all this before. Since the ’50s, we have been subjected to a veritable parade of alien fetuses, alien autopsies, alien skeletons and alien skulls – nearly all of which turned out to be terrestrial. Let’s take a quick look at some of the alien corpses of years past. Be warned that a few of the photos are kinda gross.

1953: Spaceman hit by a truck

georgia monkey

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a bald monkey.

Three young men in Georgia reported to police that they had struck what appeared to be a 2″-tall space creature with a pickup (the alien’s two companions had managed to escape in their flying saucer). A local vet confirmed the round-eyed, jug-eared being was no animal known to mankind, but Emory University anatomists who studied the body disagreed: The Georgia alien was a shaved Capuchin monkey with its tail removed. The three men confessed to staging the hoax to get into the local paper. Today, the spacemonkey is displayed at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation museum. (read more at The Museum of Hoaxes)

1979: Puerto Rico’s baby Conehead

Puerto Rico Alien

Consume mass quantities.

As one version of the story goes, two teenage boys exploring a cave near Cerro Las Tetas stumbled upon a whole colony of aliens, and bludgeoned one of the creatures to death in their panic. The pickled alien was revealed to the world by ufologist Jorge Martin later that year. It was never subjected to thorough scientific examination, however, and its current whereabouts are unknown. Señor Martin has since moved on to other dead aliens that are definitely fake. (read more at the Forgetomori blog)

1995: American alien autopsy

alien autopsy

His name was Bob.

Supposedly a film of doctors conducting a peculiar autopsy on an alien killed in the Roswell crash of 1947, the film turned out to be precisely what it looks like: A hoax utilizing rubber aliens, animal parts, and raspberry jam. The owner of the footage confessed to fakery, but stubbornly insists it was a “recreation” of genuine Roswell autopsy footage that is too damaged to be shown.

1996: Dr. Reed’s alien, AKA the Screaming Alien or the Microwave Burrito Alien

Burrito Alien

Protip: Fake aliens always look more real if you stick ’em on a space blanket.

You could probably compose several novels, an entire History Channel series, and an opera out of the hilariously dumb saga that is the “Dr. Reed” hoax, in which a Seattle psychologist enthralled Coast to Coast AM listeners with his tale of encountering a landed triangular spacecraft in the Cascades, watching a very fast alien vaporize his dog, then capturing the alien and stuffing it into his freezer. The alien wasn’t quite dead yet, however, and let out a horrifying shriek when Reed opened the freezer. Reed claimed the body was stolen by government agents who continued to stalk and menace him (though they somehow forgot to confiscate his photos of the UFO and the frozen alien).
“Dr. Jonathan Reed” was soon exposed as Seattle gas station attendant John Rutter. Incredibly, Rutter still insists his alien story is essentially true, and has made many fantastical additions to it over the years, including the discovery of an alien bracelet that either allows him to teleport (skip to the 7:00 mark) or just sit on a couch in a Mexican TV studio. (read more at UFO Watchdog)

1999: The Starchild skull

starchild skull

In 1999, American novelist Lloyd Pye purchased what is probably the skull of a hydrocephalic child. But he’s pretty damn sure it’s an alien-human hybrid, and won’t stop talking about it.

2005: Yugoslavian alien autopsy

Yugoslav alien

I prefer them medium rare.

Basically the same as the American autopsy footage, this film was said to have been taken in the former Yugoslavia in 1966. In photos sent to UFO Casebook by one “Ivan Kremer”, doctors are shown examining the charred corpse of an alien, supposedly recovered from a crashed UFO in the village of Otocek. Italian skeptic Andrea Zoboli later took credit for the hoax, citing the American alien autopsy as his inspiration.

2006: alien in a jar

attic alien

Antiques Roadshow estimate: $3.50

During renovation of a cottage in Gunthorp, workers found a jar containing what appeared to be (and was) a realistic alien model made from clay. Who put the alien model in Barney Broom’s attic, and why, remains a mystery. (read more at the BBC)

2008: Russian alien autopsy

Russian alien autopsy

Might be Joan Rivers. Somebody check.

The makers of this film were quite innovative. They opted for colour instead of black and white, chose a small alien dummy rather than a child-sized dummy, and zoomed in on the alien instead of standing ten feet away. The film even includes footage of Russian soldiers surrounding a crashed UFO that looks about as real as Tara Reid’s breasts. B for effort, guys.
This is not to be confused with a  “KGB” film that shows unmasked doctors hovering over random bits and pieces of an alien (judging by the hair on the lady doctor, this one was shot in the ’80s or early ’90s).

2011: Siberian alien and Russian refrigerator alien

Siberia alien

finger lickin’ good

The Siberian alien was probably the biggest dead alien story to hit the news since the American autopsy. Media outlets around the world carried stories of the cell phone video shot and posted to YouTube by anonymous teens, showing a pitifully one-legged alien entity sprawled in the snow. The Kremlin actually launched an investigation, and within hours an “alien” made out of old bread and chicken skin was found in the home of one of the kids in the video. Two boys confessed to creating it.
A few months later, Marta Yegorovnam of Petrozavodsk produced photos of a plastic-wrapped alien corpse she had been storing in her fridge for two years. It looked somewhat like the lovechild of Jabba the Hut and Kermit the Frog. Sadly, no one ever had the chance to examine Ms. Yegorovnam’s disgusting leftovers, because she surrendered them to the Karelian Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Academy disclaimed any knowledge of the fridge alien. (read more at the Daily Mail, which was one of the few mainstream media outlets to bother with this)

Russian fridge alien

C’mon, lady.
At least put it in the crisper.

Date unknown: Roswell alien that looks suspiciously like the masks from the movie Brazil

roswell alien  brazil

Fake Teens VI: Online Teens

Spoiler warning: This post contains complete spoilers for the film Catfish.

Caught

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.

Spoilers below

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.

Other Online Teens
Two other fake teens bear mentioning here: Anthony Godby Johnson and Kaycee Nicole Swenson. Both were desperately ill teens created by middle-aged women.

Conspiracy Monday: Review of Paul McCartney Really is Dead

Mockumentary, or documentary based on a hoax?

The other day I watched a peculiar documentary titled Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison, directed by Joel Gilbert.

Gilbert claims that on July 31, 2005, the office of Highway 61 Entertainment received a package with no return address, postmarked in London. It contained a mini cassette player and two mini cassettes. The tape cases were hand-labeled “The Last Testament of George Harrison”. Supposedly, George Harrison recorded his own “final confession” in December 1999, as he recovered in hospital from an attack by deranged intruder Michael Abram. Silver says his studio spent five years trying to verify the tapes’ authenticity, but three different “forensic tests” were inconclusive. Despite this setback, he assures us the documentary contains “startling new evidence” that could forever alter the history of rock and roll.
The film’s website offers no further information. We’re left to wonder why anyone possessing these recordings would ship them to an obscure production company, rather than a major daily or a TV network.

If you’re like me, you would expect Silver to describe the methods used to analyze the tapes, the efforts to trace the source of the tapes, and whatnot. But you’ll see nothing like that in this film. Instead, you get an hour and a half of an unconvincing George Harrison soundalike giving an alternative history of the Beatles that could easily be stitched together from decades-old conspiracy theories and anti-rock religious literature from the ’70s and ’80s. If you’re at all familiar with the Paul is Dead/”Faul” rumours, you’ve seen everything this documentary has to offer. The only “new” thing is the somewhat entertaining way in which the material has been crafted into a goofy, cloak-and-dagger narrative.

The tape begins with “George Harrison” describing the knife attack that landed him in hospital. “I don’t know why I was attacked,” he says, “But I have my suspicions.” He tells us that on December 1, 1980, Lennon phoned him to announce he was going public with the truth about Paul McCartney. A week later he was dead.
Two weeks before he was attacked, George said the same thing to “the man we know as Paul McCartney”.

George then gives us a capsule history of the Beatles, which is wholly unnecessary. A man giving his last confession isn’t going to waste precious breath recording the same information available in dozens of coffeetable books. “I remember the girls screaming and crying. It was so strange,” isn’t exactly a stunning new insight into the band’s early years.

The rest of the film details the conspiracy to cover up Paul McCartney’s death, and the clues scattered throughout the Beatles’ music. The basic story is already familiar to any Beatles fan, but here’s a short recap…

In September 1969, Drake University student Tim Harper published an article in the campus newspaper titled “Is Paul McCartney Dead?”. He pointed to clues in the Beatles’ lyrics, films, and album artwork indicating that Paul was no longer among the living. For instance, Paul dressed up as a walrus for Magical Mystery Tour, and the walrus is a symbol of death in the Soviet Union. (This particular clue has no validity at all. Yes, the walrus was Paul, but walruses don’t have any symbolic significance to Russians.)
Within a month, radio djs and college students had spread the theory so widely that WABC’s Ruby Yonge discussed it on-air on October 21st.
By the end of November, the rumours had gained so much steam that New York’s RKO broadcast a TV “trial”, in which illustrious attorney F. Lee Bailey examined the “evidence” presented by Michigan State student Fred LaBour.
The theory soon gained legs and teeth, evolving into a full-grown monster that may never be slain. Rumour had it that Paul had died in a car crash in ’66, or faked his death to escape from public life. But the remaining three Beatles didn’t want to disband, and losing their cutest member would definitely have put a dent in their popularity. So a Paul lookalike (“Faul”) was found and trained to play with the group. In some versions of the story, “Faul” was the winner of a lookalike contest sponsored by a teen magazine, and Paul didn’t give up music entirely; he joined Badfinger, one of the first acts signed by The Beatles’ label, Apple Records.
A November ’69 Life magazine interview with McCartney, in which he insisted he was the real Paul, maimed the rumour but didn’t kill it. If anything, the article fed the mystery and made some people more suspicious. It quoted Dr. Henry Truby of the University of Miami, who compared “Yesterday” to “Hey Jude” and declared them “suspiciously different.” Why would a major magazine devote its front page to the rumour if there wasn’t some meat to it?

The “final testament of George Harrison”, of course, describes the Paul-is-actually-dead scenario, borrowing heavily from the tabloid booklet Paul McCartney Dead: The Great Hoax:

On the rainy night of November 9, 1966, John and Paul bickered in the recording studio over whether to remain kitschy and radio-oriented (Paul) or to become more Dylanesque and message-oriented (John). Shortly before 5 AM, Paul stormed out of the studio and roared off in his white Austin Healey. About three miles from the studio, his car struck a lorry and flipped.
A “police officer” identifying himself only as Maxwell arrived at the studio about an hour later. He said he had been sent by MI5 to deal with a “sensitive matter”; a white Austin Healey had crashed, and a woman named Rita was insisting the dead driver was Paul McCartney.
Maxwell drove the Beatles to scene of the accident to identify the body. A young woman named Rita was sitting near the wrecked car, sobbing. She claimed Paul had offered her a lift. In her excitement, she screamed and threw her arms around him, causing him to crash into the lorry. Rita escaped unharmed before the car exploded, but Paul was decapitated (in the booklet, the unnamed female passenger is also killed, leading readers to wonder how anyone could know she caused the crash).
Though the head was horribly disfigured, it was unmistakably Paul’s. Maxwell made the macabre comment that he looked like a walrus. Sobbing, John pummeled Maxwell with his fists and cried , “No, I am the walrus! I am the walrus.”

(In reality, Paul and girlfriend Jane Asher were vacationing in Kenya and France November 6-19, 1966.)

Maxwell took the remaining three Beatles to an MI5 safehouse and told them the death of Paul McCartney would have to be kept a secret, to avoid a rash of girl suicides. A surgeon could alter another man’s face to resemble Paul’s, and the band could continue as before, using uncompleted material written by Paul to patch together new songs (John estimated they could do 50). Maxwell, who was apparently an MI5 agent rather than a police officer, swore them to secrecy on threat of death.

(Srsly? MI5 gives a flying fig about teenyboppers offing themselves?)

Two days later, as soon as they left the safehouse, the Beatles announced they would no longer be touring. It was arranged for Tiger Beat magazine to sponsor a Paul lookalike contest. No winner was announced, but a new Paul was found: William Campbell (we are shown a photo of a young man with a thick mustache and glasses, vaguely resembling McCartney). Campbell underwent extensive plastic surgery, music lessons, and speech therapy to transform him into “Faul”. The situation reminded John of a Stephen Crane novel, The Open Boat, in which three men seed clues to a fourth companion’s death throughout their poetry. John wanted to do the same thing, which would allow them to reveal the truth about Paul’s death without crossing MI5.

(“The Open Boat” is a short story, not a novel, and the protaganists do not write any poetry. Rather, one of them reflects on a poem while they drift in a boat. The story ends with the death of one of the men.)
There is no evidence that Tiger Beat – or anyone else – held a Paul lookalike contest. William Campbell is variously named William Shears Campbell, William Sheppard Campbell, and William Stuart Campbell. He is said to have been either an actor or a Canadian police officer employed by the Ontario Provincial Police, but no proof of his existence has ever surfaced. In some versions of the rumour, he had a girlfriend named Rita.)

Somehow, Faul was able to fool McCartney’s girlfriend, Jane Asher. But the Beatles forced Faul to break up with her, anyway, just in case.

In George’s opinion, John was too obvious with his clues. He wanted to title their next album Rubber Paul, one of his nicknames for Campbell. But most of the clues are too obscure to be noticed: Faul smoking a “coffin nail”, lyrics like “wiping the dirt from his hands as he walked from the grave”, Faul facing away from the others on the cover of Revolver, etc. Some clues dealt with Paul’s death, while others offered subtle hints that there was something different about Faul. Song titles said to be clues include “I’m Only Sleeping”, “I’m Looking Through You”, and “Act Naturally”. Some of these clues have been contradicted by the Beatles’ own statements over the years. For instance, Lennon said that “Dr. Robert”, supposedly Campbell’s plastic surgeon, was a reference to himself.
The cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (SPLHCB) is a wealth of clues, of course. It’s a funeral scene, with Paul’s name spelled out in yellow flowers atop the grave. The photos are of people Paul would have wanted at his funeral, most of them dead; Stephen Crane holds his hand over Paul’s head in a priest-like fashion.

Then there are the backwards messages. According to George, Lennon coined the word “backmasking” and was the first to use it to hide messages in albums. “Getting Better” supposedly contains the message, “Paul is dead, he lost his hair, his head”, and “SPLHCB Reprieve” holds the obscure clue, “It was a fake mustache.”

The SPLHCB clues were so obvious, George tells us, that even Maxwell caught on. He warned the Beatles to watch their step. Instead, they jammed even more clues into Magical Mystery Tour. On the album cover, “Beatles” upside-down was the phone number of a funeral home, Faul’s walrus costume has a gaping hole in the chest to signify his lack of a soul, and the white figures on the back cover spell out RIP. “A Day in the Life” and “Lovely Rita” are major clues, though anyone who accepts the car crash story will have to wonder why the Beatles made such a sunny, flippant song about the woman who caused their friend’s death.
After more death threats and beatings from Maxwell’s goons, they prudently decided to leave their next album untitled with a blank white cover, but still left lots of clues in the songs.

Here’s where the film gets really funny. Lennon, with Yoko, flees to the U.S. and fakes insanity so that Maxwell will leave him alone. He has a bed-in, makes incoherent statements about peace and love, and just generally acts like a loon.
Meanwhile, Rita threatens to spill the beans unless Faul divorces Linda and marries her. She loses a leg in an accident shortly after making her demand, but this doesn’t stop her from resurfacing later as “Heather Mills”.

So Paul McCartney Really is Dead has its humorous moments. Overall, however, it’s a silly and mean-spirited mockumentary. All of the Beatles are portrayed in the worst possible light. Lennon’s activism is mocked. The real George repeatedly refers to McCartney as “Faul” in an interview. McCartney is a shallow, idiotic, untalented pothead. He’s shown responding to Lennon’s death in a cavalier way. “It’s a drag, isn’t it?” he says to a reporter, chomping gum. In the film’s closing clip, he tells an interviewer, “In that tragedy, there were some good things about it.”

The real story of the Beatles is a lot more complex. McCartney did feud with John and George, but this has a lot to do with Paul’s unwillingness to continue life as a Beatle. In 1970, he actually sued his bandmates to get out of the ten-year contract they signed in ’67.

The notion that post-’66 Paul was an imposter is absurd. Lennon himself lampooned the whole Paul is Dead craze in his ’71 song “How Do You Sleep?”: “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead”. The “clues” unearthed by college journalism majors, radio d.j.s, and fans are just inventive interpretations of ambiguous lyrics and imagery. And let’s face it: The Beatles offered up ambiguity in spades. That’s how folks like Charlie Manson could hear personal messages in every song.

Many of the Paul is Dead clues in Paul McCartney Really is Dead are easily debunked:

  • “Taxman” isn’t about the taxidermist who preserved Paul’s body, because taxidermists only preserve animal carcasses. Also, the song is clearly about a taxman.
  • Besides, Rubber Soul was released a full year prior to the car crash (I think the real George Harrison would have known this, though I wouldn’t bank on it).
  • Heather Mills was born in 1968, over a year after “Rita” caused Paul’s fatal crash. Her early life is well-documented.
  • The scar on Paul’s lip, supposedly caused by plastic surgery, was the result of a December 1965 moped accident.

Surprisingly, one iffy-sounded allegation turns out to be fact. John Lennon really did use some backwards vocals in the 1966 song “Rain”, the first known instance of deliberate backmasking. But this song was released in June, 1966.

Despite the dearth of solid evidence (or perhaps because of it), the Paul is Dead mystery still thrives on the Internets. The sites Officially Pronounced Dead? The Great Beatle Death Conspiracy and Is Paul Dead? are devoted exclusively to it. This site offers up facial comparisons of pre- and post-1966 Paul and concludes they were two different men. Dozens of YouTube videos pick over the clues. Even the Uncyclopedia covers the controversy in detail. Paul McCartney Really is Dead offers nothing new, is based on a pathetically transparent hoax, and is just generally a waste of everyone’s time.

Anatomy of a Hoax: The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark

Now that Noah’s Ark has been discovered for the umpteenth time, let’s review a classic Ark hoax from the ’90s.

In the early ’90s, CBS aired a string of Bible documentaries produced by Sun International Pictures/Sunn Classic Pictures: Ancient Secrets of the Bible, Ancient Secrets of the Bible II, Mysteries of the Ancient World, and The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark. The films combined low-budget reenactments of Biblical events with spurious evidence that all this stuff really happened exactly as depicted in the Bible. Yes, millions of animals (14 of each species) really did walk/swim/fly/crawl to the Middle East, where they allowed themselves to be herded onto a wooden boat roughly three times the size of Titanic. Srsly, this happened, guys. Would CBS lie to you? Well, a few skeptics thought so. In particular, Professor Gerald Larue was dismayed that an interview he gave for Ancient Secrets had been extensively edited (each documentary featured a token number of skeptics, to make them appear balanced and thorough). Luckily for him, Larue had an ace up his sleeve: He was friendly with the discoverer of Noah’s Ark.

Back in 1985, Californian/Israeli actor George Jammal punked creationist Duane Gish by convincing him he had been hunting for Noah’s Ark since 1972 – and that he literally stumbled upon it in ’84 near the village of Nakhitchevan, Turkey. Mt. Ararat and environs have been a hot spot for ark-hunters since the early nineteenth century, and the site Jammal explored was possibly the famous “Ararat anomaly“. Sadly, the ship was so encrusted with ice that the Polish man assisting him, Vladimir Sobitchsky, plunged into a crevasse and died.
As proof of his discovery, Jammal told Gish, he had taken a smallish chunk of old wood.
Gish was too busy ignoring the fossil record to pay much attention to this, so he passed the info on to fellow creationist John Morris. Morris quizzed Jammal intensively. Having been to Turkey in search of the ark himself, he spotted a few problems with the story (first off, Nakitchevan is in Russia). Jammal’s account was so weak, in fact, that Morris didn’t even mention it in his ’88 book Noah’s Ark and the Ararat Adventure (Master Books). Yet, incredibly, he believed Jammal really had been to Ararat. In 1992, when Sunn Classic Pictures approached him for good ark material, he gave them Jammal’s name. Jammal, with Larue’s help, decided to see his hoax through to its logical conclusion.

Sunn Classic Pictures is best-known for the ’70s TV series The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, but its more typical fare consists of family-friendly movies with production quality so poor they make C Me Dance look like a James Cameron epic. It also cranked out a few horror flicks, to stave off the inevitable bankruptcy. In 1976 it produced the documentary In Search of Noah’s Ark, and its ’93 film was meant to be basically a remake of it. But it blossomed into a much juicier project after the producers learned Noah’s Ark had actually been found by one George Jammal.

David Balsiger was the chief researcher for all four of the films aired by CBS, and later co-authored companion books for Ancient Secrets of the Bible and The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark. Balsiger was so dazzled by Jammal’s story, and the chunk of ark he was shown, that the director placed Jammal at the center of the film.

But other arkeologists weren’t fooled, and had their warnings about Jammal been heeded, this hoax would never have happened. Reviewing Jammal’s interview with Morris, Bill Crouse of Christian Information Ministries International quickly realized that Jammal was confused about the geography of the area, claimed to have done and seen things that couldn’t have happened, and hadn’t produced one scrap of evidence other than a hunk of wood – which hadn’t even been dated. David Fasold declined to be on the show after being presented with Jammal’s “evidence”, because he immediately recognized a hoax.

After the broadcast of The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark, Larue and a small group of skeptics, including Michael Shermer, outed Jammal as the hoaxer. Larue’s intent, of course, was to show that Sun films were poorly researched and biased. If anyone had examined the “ark fragment”, they might have realized that it was an ordinary chunk of wood marinated in various spices and baked in an oven to give it an aged appearance. If they had carefully examined the ’86 Morris interview, as Crouse did, they probably would have concluded that Jammal hadn’t really been to Ararat.

David Balsiger issued an indignant press release, defending the overall integrity of Incredible Discovery and complaining that uppity humanists were just trying to keep Bible documentaries off the air (if you want to know how thorough Balsiger typically is in his background research, note that he’s a co-author of Mike Warnke’s “autobiography”, The Satan Seller, which he continued to defend after it was exposed as a crude hoax).

In the end, however, Incredible Discovery debunked itself. In addition to Jammal, it featured a whack of other hoaxers and unverified ark stories that have since been exposed. There was the testimony of Fernand Navarra, a French explorer who produced a chunk of ark-wood much like Jammal’s. It was ultimately found to be only a few hundred years old – and some of Navarra’s expedition team members claim he purchased it from a Turkish village.
Navarra’s book Noah’s Ark: I Touched It was co-authored with David Balsiger.

All of this misses a central point: It’s extraordinarily unlikely that if the Ark existed, it would still be intact on a mountaintop somewhere. Noah and his descendants surely wouldn’t have let all that perfectly good lumber go to waste. Hell, even the Mayflower may have became a barn. Not to mention that all of the alleged chunks of ark, added together, would equal a whole fleet of ships. Maybe Noah was running a booze cruise. He was the world’s first alcoholic, after all.

Sunn Classic Pictures remains in business. Pinnochio in the Hood is currently in pre-production.

Other sources:

– “Sun Goes Down in Flames: The Jammal Ark Hoax” by Jim Lippard. Skeptic vol. 2, no. 3, 1994, pp. 22-33.
– Sunn Classics Pictures Inc. website

Conspiracy Monday: The Secret Space Program

Hoaxes from Space Part II

About ten years ago, a teenage Evangelical Christian boy I knew was talking about the space program when he suddenly burst out, “Why do rich people want to live on the moon, anyway? Don’t they know it’s going to turn to blood?”
Though I didn’t know it at the time, he was expressing the commonly held suspicion that the world’s elite are planning to leave the ailing planet for off-world retirement colonies, abandoning the rest of us to drop dead from overpopulation and pollution. It’s not an entirely idiotic notion, but where did it come from?

– A secret space program and its connection to Paperclip scientists was mentioned in the Torbitt Document, an odd collection of notes supposedly assembled by a prominent American attorney (though they read more like the jottings of a half-deranged janitor). Links are drawn among Area 51, UFOs, and the assassination of JFK by left-wing fascists. Among its other bizarro revelations, the Torbitt Document states that the Umbrella Man of Dealey Plaza was former Hungarian prime minister Ferenc Nagy, and that NASA ran a secret space program out of Mercury, Nevada.
The document was published in 1970 as Nomenclature of an Assassination Cabal. Aside from the UFO stuff, most of the material jives with the very dubious findings of Jim Garrison.
According to Jim Marrs, Torbitt was David Copeland of Waco, Texas. He supposedly received his information from an FBI agent and a Secret Service agent, both of whom remain completely unknown to history.

Dr. Richard Boylan and Dr. Bill Deagle have both claimed the U.S. has a secret fleet of spacecraft reverse-engineered from alien technology, including the X-33A, the Aurora, and the B-2 stealth bomber.
Boylan says the U.S. government met secretly with ETs at least twice in the ’60s, and agreed not to interfere with alien spacecraft. But they lied. NASA still fires on spaceships, and astronauts even captured one after it was shot down by an Earth-based neutral particle beam weapon. They do this because they want to steal and reverse engineer alien weapons systems. Apparently, particle beam weapons just aren’t cutting it. They also abduct, torture, and interrogate any “Star Beings” that fall into their hands.
By the way, Dr. Boylan (stripped of his licence to practice psychiatry for hot-tubbing with some of his female clients and convincing two of them that they had been abducted by aliens) has declared he is the Councilor for Earth to the Star Nations High Council. He’s responsible for bringing “overall Earth policy issues” to the High Council, and for communicating Star Nations policies as widely as possible on Earth. He welcomed to Earth the 2008 delegation of twelve “top environmental scientists” from the planet Altimar, who are going to help remedy our environmental crises.
Dr. Deagle says we’ve had a base on the Moon and a colony on Mars since 1982. They are reached by a fleet of Aurora spacecraft, which are actually the outdated Model-Ts of interplanetary travel, soon to be replaced by craft that travel above the speed of light. He learned this from an anonymous Canadian source.

Richard C. Hoagland believes that at the very least, NASA has secretly photographed the surface of Mars. He also believes that the intelligentsia know far more about the history of our solar system than we do, since they possess information preserved in ancient codexes. In Hoagland’s universe, ancient Martians colonized Earth and constructed our pyramids. Or ancient humans found a way to travel to Mars and construct its pyramids. Either way, Earth’s elite have tapped into this knowledge. They know how to glean free energy from what he calls “hyperdimensional physics”, and NASA uses occult rituals in conjunction with its space program. They have revealed this ancient wisdom to us, piecemeal, through Disney movies, ViewMaster slides from the 1950s, and of course a few X Files episodes.
NASA believes a global cataclysm will occur at some point in the near future, and are secretly preparing to escape it. Hoagland calls this The Plan.
Also, someone has constructed enormous glass structures on the lunar surface. NASA has a whole department of employees assigned to painstakingly airbrush them out of photos.
Joseph P. Farrell, a pseudohistorian who works closely with Hoagland these days, has written about what he calls the Two Space Programs Hypothesis in his book The SS Brotherhood of the Bell: NASA’s Nazis, JFK, and Majic-12.

Richard Sauder, who writes and lectures about secret underground military installations, contends there could be a secret space program, citing U.S government reports on the possibility of mining the moon. He suspects classified anti-gravity technology could be part of the clandestine space program, and suggests that some of the people who have mysteriously disappeared without a trace might have been taken to underground facilities and used as guinea pigs for secretive cloning and genetic experiments.

– The most famous examination of secret space programs appeared on British TV in the late ’70s, in the final installment of Anglia Television’s Science Report. This was an actual science news show, similar to NOVA, but on April Fool’s Day 1977 the producers decided to mix it up a little by presenting Alternative 3. Unfortunately, the broadcast was delayed, which only added to the confusion. It aired in June.
Paranoid fantasies haven’t been the same since. You see, like Richard Hoagland, many conspiracists are convinced that They leak their secret knowledge and plans to the masses via popular TV shows. Why? I have no freaking idea. Alex Jones thinks it has something to do with Kabbala. He and Maxwell Jordan insist Their occult system requires Them to tell us what They’re going to do with us before They do it, but in such a way that we won’t realize we’re being told. Whatever.

Alternative 3 is so obviously scripted and acted that only the most duuuhhh viewers could possibly mistake it for anything other than what it is – a clever mockumentary.

This Science Report begins the way all installments of the series do, with the image of an atom and some strange electronic music (the rest of the program’s music, incidentally, was by Brian Eno).
A woman anxiously describes the disappearance of her brother, Robert, in November 1975. “We weren’t told much… just that he had gotten a grant to do some kind of work out there.”
Next, a scientist says his female colleague “simply disappeared” in December of the following year.
Then a senior couple opine that it’s their right to know what happened to their son, who vanished in 1974.
The host of the program explains that this installment began, eighteen months earlier, as an examination of Britain’s “brain drain”, the problem of underfunded research scientists leaving the country for greener pastures. It turned into something quite different.

We see footage of the missing woman scientist, solar energy specialist Ann Clarke. She complains to reporter Colin Benson that she isn’t getting the funds she needs to do her work properly, and she’s thinking of leaving Britain. When Benson catches up with Dr. Clarke a short time later, she appears very nervous and says she can’t talk about her decision to take another job. “That is the last piece of film we have of Dr. Ann Clarke,” the narrator says darkly. She disappeared in December 1976, after telling friends she was flying to New York from London’s Heathrow Airport. Science Report found her car abandoned at the airport, but learned she had not taken any flight out of London.

Robert Patterson, a senior lecturer in mathematics at St. Andrew’s University, did a similar vanishing act. In November 1975 he, his wife, and children departed their home for Heathrow Airport and were never seen again. Robert’s sister was told there were no clues to her brother’s whereabouts.
Brian Pendleburry told his parents he was going to work for an Australian electronics firm after leaving the RAF. He sent them many letters and photos from Sydney, but when a family friend visited his address there, the residents said they’d never heard of Brian. The last documented sighting of him was at Heathrow Airport.

Science Report discovered that out of 400 scientists who had left Britain, 24 disappeared without a trace. Others died under mysterious circumstances.
Radio astronomer Sir William Ballantine was in a fatal single-car crash shortly after mailing a roll of film to a friend. The film contained seemingly ordinary signals from space, picked up by a radio telescope. An American caller known only as “Harry” told Science Report that Ballantine had visited NASA in Houston shortly before his death. He implied that Ballantine’s death had been anything but an accident, and nervously instructed Colin Benson to show up at a London address with a film crew the following day. Benson and his crew found Harry desperately ill, unable to remember their previous conversation. He attacked Benson and the cameraman in a rage.

The host talks about the unprecedented droughts and natural disasters occurring in England and other parts of the world. Forest fires, heatwaves, and severe water shortages have broken out, while the Thames reached its “lowest level in living memory”. Earthquakes and volcanic activity inexplicably increased, resulting in the deaths of millions. “Scientists began to suspect that the balance of the Earth’s ecology was far more delicately poised than they’d ever realized.” Earth was seeing the greenhouse effect in action. Another ice age could occur.
Leaders around the world panicked and turned to Dr. Carl Gerstein of Oxford for help. He informed them that it was too late. They had ignored his warnings about the greenhouse effect for too long. A hastily convened conference came up with three alternatives to annhilation, Gerstein says. The first two alternatives were “crazy”, but the third seemed feasible. And the conversation ends there. Gerstein refuses to discuss Alternative Three.

Part two of Alternative 3 begins with a satellite interview of Apollo astronaut Bob Grodin. Sometime after his career with NASA ended, Grodin became mentally unstable and went into hiding in New England. Recordings of his communications from the Moon to Houston revealed that he saw something he wasn’t supposed to see on the lunar surface, something remarkable. But when asked what he had seen, Grodin grows fidgety and agitated. “What are you tryin‘ to do to me? You tryin‘ to screw me? Like that dumb bastard, Ballantine?” he shouts. Satellite communication is inexplicably broken at this point.

Colin Benson traces Grodin to his home, where (drinking heavily) he agrees to a second interview. He explains that Ballantine’s film had been decoded by NASA, and caused a stir among the scientists. He also reveals that the later Apollo missions were only a smokescreen for secret missions to the moon, undertaken jointly by the USSR and the US.

The host notes that this secret cooperation in space could explain the stasis of the Cold War, and asks: What’s really going on in space? Why did the ambitious space programs of two countries atrophy so abruptly? And why were so many of the Russian and US moon landings concentrated on a particular region of the moon? Was the moon being used as a base for some clandestine project?

In 1972, the Russian orbiter Vostok was spotted in Moon orbit by Bob Grodin, flashing its lights. Yet Vostok had been launched in the ’60s, and an unmanned craft should not have been so active years later.

Questioned a second time, Dr. Gerstein admits that Alternative 3 was a theoretical plan to set up off-world colonies through terraforming. Perhaps Mars had once been hospitable to life, and its atmosphere could be resurrected from its soil. The massive dust storms observed in 1961 lent some credence to this theory, because a dark band had become visible near the planet’s equator after the storms cleared. Was this vegetation?
Gerstein suggests the storms could have been caused by a nuclear missile launched from Earth, possibly Russian in origin.

Meanwhile, the girlfriend of Harry (the ill American who attacked Benson and his cameraman) asks to speak with Science Report. She fears for her safety, and wants to hand over a printed circuit that Harry entrusted to her. With the proper equipment, it can be used to decode Ballantine’s mysterious tape.
This time, rather than random signals, the film shows crystal-clear footage of the Martian surface taken in 1962. A NASA craft filmed the terrain before landing safely on Mars. Temperature readings showed the surface was a relatively comfortable 40 degrees Celcius. The terraforming had been a success.
However, the atmosphere wasn’t the only thing that had been resurrected. The footage shows something very large burrowing beneath the soil, like a giant worm.

Though most people who have seen or heard of Alternative 3 accept that it was a hoax, that certainly hasn’t stopped conspiracy writers and lecturers from sharing their own stories of secret space programs and the elites’ plan to flee Earth, nor from suggesting that Alternative 3 was just thinly disguised fact.
In the ’80s, Al Bielek recounted how in the late ’70s he and his “brother” Duncan Cameron (it’s a long story, which we’ll explore in a later post) were transported by time machine from the Air Force base at Montauk, Long Island to an underground facility on Mars.

Ken Adachi of the mind control/conspiracy site Educate Yourself.org has written a very brief history of Alternative 3, which he said was formulated by the Jasons at the behest of President Eisenhower. According to Adachi, Alternative 3 involves the use of alien technology in off-world colonization. Alternative 1 was rejected because it would have employed nuclear weapons. Alternative 2, however, was actually initiated: Each major country on the planet constructed massive underground cities for its elite citizens.
Adachi links these secret programs to the Philadelphia Experiment, citing Al Bielek’s trip to the underground base on Mars.

Celebrated pilot and UFO enthusiast John Lear believes the U.S. has been secretly mining the moon for decades.

In 2004, exopolitics pioneer Michael Salla posted a lengthy article on the “real” aspects of the Science Report program. “I believe that Alternative 3 was intended to disclose to the general public a truth that was too disturbing to be announced through conventional political channels,” he wrote.

The late conspiracy writer Jim Keith actually wrote an entire book about Alternative 3 and its implications, Casebook on Alternative 3. He explored extremely tenuous links to mind control, suggesting that scientists were being brainwashed and shipped to off-world colonies.

Why did so many people suspect there was some truth behind Alternative 3? Well, part of the reason is Australian author Leslie Watkins. About a year after the program aired, she capitalized on the War of the Worlds kerfuffle it caused by publishing a paperback novelization entitled – naturally – Alternative 3. In it, she claimed that the TV show had been “fiction based on fact”, and elaborated on some of the storylines.
Incredibly, many people believed her.

Viewers who zeroed in on Alternative 3 and byzantine NASA conspiracies missed the point by roughly a gazillion miles. Clearly, this Science Report mock-up was a gentle warning about the global warming trends that were, and continue to be, ignored or minimized by the majority of the world populace. The writers were saying, “See what could happen?” The entire program was a reminder that living comfortably in space is, of course, not a viable option at this time – so we’d better take care of this planet.

Then there are those, like Al Bielek, who claim that they were actually part of Alternative 3 operations. One such individual is Michael Relfe. In December 1996, an Australian kinesiologist named Stephanie began doing biofeedback “clearing sessions” and kineseology with Michael, a former U.S. Navy officer. He could recall seeing “spaceships” as a child, and wanted to unlock any hidden memories about them.
Basically, Stephanie coaxed information out of Michael’s subconscious with kineseology. Michael would raise his arm to a certain level, and Stephanie would ask a yes or no question before trying to push his arm down. If Michael’s arm remained in place, that meant his answer was consistent with his unconscious memories. If Stephanie was able to manipulate his arm, that meant he was still holding something back. Through this painstaking process, Stephanie and Michael learned that seventeen years earlier, when he was still in the Navy, Michael had been sent on a mission to Mars. He remained there for twenty years, working as a psychic mercenary in an outfit called Tech Psi, killing people and aliens with his mind. But Michael’s real employer was the Galactic Federation, a sort of universal UN.
Michael’s primary job was to defend Mars against Reptilians (telepathic, astrally-travelling creatures from Orion and other planets that also dwell in underground caverns on Earth). To this end, he was trained as a spaceship fighter pilot and eventually promoted to Captain. During one dogfight in space, Michael’s body was pierced by a missile. Fortunately, he was wearing a flight suit that could robotically administer first aid. Whew.
When his mission was complete, the government age-regressed Michael so that in Earth time, he had only spent six months on Mars. Then they shipped him back to his home planet with no awareness that he had been battling reptoid aliens on Mars for most of his life. He couldn’t even recall that he had a Martian wife, June, who had died of pneumonia.
His ordeal didn’t end there, though; as he learned in the clearing sessions, Michael was still being abducted by the military on a weekly basis. He stopped this by composing a prayer list of all the equipment used by his abductors and praying against it.

Stephanie and Michael married shortly after the clearing sessions. Sadly, they lost their first child in 2001 when Reptilians transported Stephanie through a wormhole to an artificially created reality, placed her on a table, and teleported the fetus out of her body with a machine they attached to her leg.
Mrs. Relfe now runs an online support group for women whose unborn babies have been abducted by aliens.

Now that I think of it, getting the hell off this planet isn’t such a bad idea, after all…

ZZZZZZZ Day

Today is Z Day, the day on which Zeitgeist fans all over the world congregate to be paranoid, self-righteous, and misinformed together. I was going to do a slew of posts on how derivative, simplistic, naive, and fact-free(not to mention boring) Zeitgeist is, but I really don’t feel like it at the moment. Let’s face it, the folks who really, really dig Zeitgeist are pretty much beyond hope, anyway. So I’ll just summarize my thoughts on the *film*:

Part I: In which Peter Joseph alienates the majority of his viewers by trying to convince them that Judaism and Christianity are just a retooling of ancient solar cults. Basically Brian Flemming’s documentary The God Who Wasn’t There blended with the “research” of Jordan Maxwell, the guy who says, “‘Christ’ means ‘oil’. That’s why we have Crisco”, “98% of Judaism is worship of the planet Saturn”, and “Zionism is a Teutonic/Germanic death cult.”

Part II: This part promises to explore myth as sacred narrative. Maybe things are looking up for this film! But no. It’s all about 9/11. Loose Change, only looser. Includes audio by Ted Gunderson, fer crying out loud. The guy who told Geraldo that 50,000 Americans are sacrificed by Satanists every year. The guy who says Osama bin Laden is really “Tim Osman”. The guy who subscribes to the Sonny Bono assassination-by-tree theory. Jesus Christ. Oops, I mean Sun of God. Whatever.

Part III: Mangled information about central banking and the Federal Reserve, which Joseph expands on in Zeitgeist: Addendum. Nothing you can’t get from Birchers or Ron Paul. If the Fed deliberately implodes the economy for shits and giggles, would someone please explain to me why Bernanke was sweating bullets on 60 Minutes tonight?
The banking stuff is capped off with some Aaron Russo footage about the illegality of income tax. I assume it’s merely coincidence that the people who say income tax is unconstitutional are the same people who just happen to owe millions in back taxes…
Next up is a relatively sensible overview of false flag operations, war profiteering, divide and conquer strategies, etc. I’m not saying this part makes sense; I’m just saying it makes more sense than Ted Gunderson and Jordan Maxwell.

Zeitgeist: Addendum features the total B.S. of John Perkins, conman/author of Confessions of an A**hole Who Makes Stuff Up Economic Hit Man, as well as lots more ill-informed bitching about fractional reserve banking. But Addendum also features the point of Zeitgeist, the whole reason Joseph created this hot mess in the first place…

The Venus Project

What does the Venus Project want us to do, exactly?

It was dreamed into existence in the mid ’70s by a resident of Venus, Florida, inventor and futurist Jacque Fresco. He envisioned an end to poverty via the development of technology that will make more resources available to more people, as well as the replacement of our money-based economy with a resource-based economy.

It’s quite similar to Buckminster Fuller’s “ephemeralization“, which won’t work either.

Both Venus and ephemeralization seem to be based on the Smurf model of society. Baker Smurf will bake because he likes to bake, and will share his muffins with everyone freely. Papa Smurf will dispense wisdom because he’s older and smarter than the other Smurfs. And Vanity Smurf will do everybody’s hair because he’s… well, I’ll leave that one up to you to decide.

This will not work. Few farmers are going to produce free food for thousands of people out of the goodness of their hearts. In the Bible, farming was the very first curse that God placed upon man as punishment for his disobedience. I’m not saying this literally happened, but it does seem to embody an ancient and essential truth: Farming is really frickin’ hard.

What we would end up with under Venus would be an agrarian society in which everyone would have to do their own subsistence farming, build their own homes, and barter frantically for all other essentials. Hardly “freedom from economic slavery”.

Also, you can eliminate money, but you can never eliminate greed. The unscrupulous among us will find ways to exploit any non-monetary system we create.

The Bottom Line

Zeitgeist concludes with the words, “A choice right now between love and fear.”

Hmm. What does that leave out?

Oh, right. As Donnie Darko would say, “THE ENTIRE SPECTRUM OF HUMAN EMOTION!!”

Happy Z Day, everybody.