It's a Fake!

From the Rational Enquirer, Vol 6, No. 4, Apr 94.

Lee Moller

What do Piltdown Man, the Shroud of Turin, crop circles and the so-called "Surgeon's Photo" of the Loch Ness monster have in common? Of course, they were all fakes -- fakes that fooled many people, including many scientists, for a long period of time. The Nessie photo has always been regarded as the best and most convincing to date, and is interesting because I cannot recall anyone suggesting it was a fake. On the contrary, explanations abound for what it is, including a plesiosaur, a tree trunk and an otter. The passing of the years seemed to allow the photo to acrue legitimacy and, while there is some merit to this philosophy, it is obviously a perilous one.

For 60 years the picture has been attributed to Colonel Robert Wilson, a respectable Harley Street gynaecologist who claimed to have seen "something in the water" on April 19, 1934. In the end the monster turned out to be a toy submarine fitted with a head and neck made from plastic wood. It turns out, according to an article in the March 13 1994 Sunday Telegraph, that Wilson was a front man for a self-described big-game hunter and film maker named Marmaduke Wetherell. The five men involved were Wetherell, sent by the Daily Mail to Loch Ness to track down the monster in 1933, his son Ian, stepson Christian Spurling, Colonel Wilson and Maurice Chambers, a London insurance broker.

The last of these five, Spurling, died last November at the age of 90. Before his death, Spurling revealed how he had made the "monster" to two Loch Ness researchers, David Martin and Alastair Boyd. The monster in the photo is, in fact, a foot tall and a foot and a half long. Wetherall was already associated with the monster, having discovered a foot print in December 1933. The article suggests that having suffered some ridicule as a result of his association with the monster that the fake may have been motivated by revenge. By all accounts, he made a considerable amount of money as a result of the hoax and, it would seem, he also got the last laugh.

I have always been critical of conspiracy theories. It was Benjamin Franklin who said "three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead." He may have been wrong. If the stakes are high enough, and the number of people involved small enough, it would seem five can keep a secret.

And where is the monster? Rusting on the bottom of Britains's largest freshwater lake.

Home pages: BC Skeptics, PSG.