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6 of history’s most notorious Loch Ness Monster hoaxes

By Alasdair Fraser

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Ever since St Columba made light work of banishing the legendary Loch Ness Monster back in August 565 AD, people have gazed expectantly out across the loch's murky, mysterious waters.

The fervent hope of seeing Nessie has inspired flagrant hoaxes.

Some have been quite clever, some utterly ludicrous.

St Columba, the Irish abbot, missionary and scholar, could count many non-monster taming accomplishments, not least the founding of Iona Abbey and spreading of Christianity to Scotland.

He was apparently no slouch, either, when it came to tackling great big, scary aquatic beasts.

The seventh-century biographer St Adamnan documented the first written evidence of something strange in the loch, claiming the Saint had banished a sea creature just as it attempted to take a bite out of a local farmer.

Was St Adamnan guilty of the first great Loch Ness Monster hoax?

We will never know, but here’s six that almost certainly were.

1. Dr Robert Kenneth Wilson, 1934.

It endures as the iconic “image” of Nessie, surely the most famous ever taken. It was undoubtedly a fake.

London medic RK Wilson claimed to have photographed a creature with a humped back and plesiosaur-like head and neck as it emerged from the loch.

The London Daily Mail which published what became known as The Surgeon’s Photo.

Dr Wilson’s respectable standing helped cement widespread belief in its authenticity.

The doctor’s story was that he had travelled to Loch Ness with a friend to snap pictures of birds, before hearing a commotion in the water.

It was only by the 1990s that the tale unravelled spectacularly. As early as 1975, the son of Marmaduke Weatherell had spoken of a hoax.

In a widely ignored article, he confessed his father had enlisted him and two others to execute the prank with the Doctor's help using plastic wood and a toy submarine.

Another involved, Marmaduke’s son-in-law Christian Spurling, ultimately confirmed it all on his deathbed.

Lachlan Stuart's 1951 fake
Lachlan Stuart's 1951 fake

2. Lachlan Stuart, 1951.

Lachlan Stuart, a forestry worker, was working 100 feet near his home above Loch Ness at Whitefield, opposite Urquhart Castle, when he claimed to have seen and photographed a monster with three triangular humps.

The beast obligingly stuck around long enough for Lachlan to run back to his house to get his camera.

After taking a single photograph though, the camera shutter was said to have jammed.

He and a friend described how they watched in fascination as the huge creature passed at speed, 50 yards off the shore.

In 1984, however, a letter from Richard Frere, a local resident and author on Loch Ness, written to Loch Ness researcher Alastair Boyd spoke of the latter’s encounter with Lachlan Stuart.

In it, Mr Frere wrote: “He took me down to the pebble beach where, concealed within a clump of alder or hazel, I was shown on my promise of silence, three or four bales of hay... I was told that these were the ‘humps’. He was proud of his joke, in which he saw no harm.”

Robert Rines' 1972 photo
Robert Rines' 1972 photo

3. Dr Robert Rines, 1972

Robert H Hines, president of the US Academy of Applied Science (AAS), produced what became known as the ‘flipper photos’ purporting to show the compelling body shape of an unidentified, monster-like creature in the loch.

Later investigators would cast significant doubt on the academic and scientific credentials he claimed.

Some 2000 photographic frames were exposed and hastily sent to the US to be developed the next day under strictly controlled conditions. Three seemed to show objects and were said to have been taken at the same time as sonar contact.

The story went that the images were subjected to some form of early computer enhancement at a laboratory in Pasadena in order to better clarify what they had captured.

In truth, though, later studies of the originals when they were released for scrutiny showed what has been described as a greenish/greyish blurry mess, with little obvious detail.

Frank Searle's Nessie fake
Frank Searle's Nessie fake

4. Frank Searle, 1972.

Self-styled Loch Ness investigator Frank Searle wore a Clark Gable moustache and advertised in national newspapers for ‘Girl Friday’ research helpers to come and live with him in a tiny Loch Ness-side caravan, latterly sited beside a ramshackle Nessie gallery in Lower Foyers.

Few Loch Ness “investigators” have proven quite as controversial and stirred such contempt among peers.

The moody, short-tempered character - once accused of a failed molotov a cocktail attack on a boat owned by a supposed rival researcher - would sometimes enlist local children to help him in his work, other times angrily chase them away.

A whole host of photographic sightings began to make their way from Searle to national newspapers hungry for circulation and willing to suspend disbelief.

Frank Searle, Loch Ness Investigator..Credit - Highland Archive Centre.
Frank Searle, Loch Ness Investigator..Credit - Highland Archive Centre.

The best known, displaying a dark body and long neck with head beneath the loch’s surface, was planted in the public eye, with suspicious timing, 48 hours before the flipper pictures appeared in publications including Time magazine.

Searle, knowing the press would tolerate his hilariously bad hoaxes, deliberately timed his announcement to overshadow them and was largely successful in the UK.

All of his photographs have long since been discredited.

Doc Shiels' 'Loch Ness Monster' image
Doc Shiels' 'Loch Ness Monster' image

5. Anthony ‘Doc’ Shiels, 1977

Salford-born artist Doc Shiels has been called many things - magician, writer, busker, stage performer, surrealist and psychic entertainer.

To that list, some would add ‘hoaxer’.

He was responsible for bringing to the public eye perhaps one of the most outlandish images of Nessie, known to some as the Muppet photo.

The Doc claimed to have been standing at the foot of Urquhart Castle when he spotted the monster cruising from the water and managed to take two photos of a “smooth, glossy beast with powerful muscles”, visible for four to six seconds.

Strangely, everyone else present at the castle somehow missed it.

It found some credence in the media, but a bit of delving would have shown the Doc - prone also to talking of ghost monsters - had already claimed to have seen beasts off the coast of Cornwall.

Closer scrutiny also suggests waves on the loch’s surface are visible through the monster’s image.

George Edwards' fake pic
George Edwards' fake pic

6. George Edwards, 2013

Almost as rare as a glimpse of Nessie herself, is the hoaxer who actually publicly owns up.

When George Edwards, a cruise boat operator, produced a photograph of a dark shape emerging from the water near Urquhart Castle, there was great excitement and instant worldwide interest.

The then-62 year old described how a dark grey object had surfaced about half a mile away as he motored in his vessel along the loch.

In fact, he had brazenly used a fibreglass hump, believed to have been previously used in a National Geographic documentary, to create the fake photo.

George Edwards
George Edwards

Describing it all later as “a bit of fun”, Mr Edwards said he was happy to join the “rogues gallery” of infamous hoaxers.

Each and every one of them have made the lives of serious researchers that bit more difficult while, it has to be said, raising the Loch Ness Monster’s profile all over the world.

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