During a classic World War Special of Antiques Roadshow, Fiona Bruce took BBC viewers to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. However, two photo albums from World War One grabbed the attention of one expert who was blown away by their contents.
Although, when it came to the valuation, the military expert issued a stark warning to the guest. The guest also brought along his grandfather’s diary, who was a sergeant in World War One.
He explained his grandfather died when he was a small boy, but when he discovered two photo albums, his grandfather was “reluctant to talk about”.
The expert inspected one photo of the guest’s grandfather and his brother Jim from the trenches. The guest pointed out that his grandfather had told him he had to take the photos in “secret”.
He explained: “Before the war, he had emigrated to Australia and in Australia joined an Australian merchant, and then purely by chance they ended up in the same trench.
“The rather poignant thing from my point of view is that they both survived the war. “The brother went back to Australia, my grandfather stayed in England.
“Those pictures are from their final meeting would you believe.”
Discussing why the guest’s grandfather would have had to take the photos in secret, the expert shared: “Well, you’ve got to remember, in the early years of the war, it wasn’t such a problem.
“As the war progressed, it was obvious that the war wasn’t going to end by Christmas. Then things started to change.
“And the politicians realise that if Mr Smith was sitting over his breakfast table and reading the newspaper, and the headline said, ‘Geat ally push forward’, and underneath was a photograph that was sent in from the front showing the opposite or showing dead bodies, for example, that could be politically very damaging.
“So the government decided that actually, it wasn’t a good idea to have soldiers taking photographs.”
When it came to the valuation, the military expert pointed out that the albums were one of a kind. “Well, there is a value to these photographs,” he explained. “There are no others like this.
“And I think they’re going to be worth somewhere in the region of £400 to £500.” However, the guest was quick to point out he would never sell them.
“The monetary value is, of course, no consequence. It is nice being two albums so both my daughter and my son will have something passed down to them.”
“Oh no,” the expert interrupted as he issued a warning to the guest. “Don’t split them up, whatever you do never split them up. “Once you split these two albums up, I guarantee they will never find their way together again. Find one custodian.”
New evidence has come to light in the mystery of the disappearance of the pioneering American aviator Amelia Earhart, who vanished in 1937 amid an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Researchers from the Penn State University have used advanced imaging techniques to re-analyze a metal panel, found on the island of Nikumaroro in 1991, that is believed to have come from onto Earhart’s aircraft.
Their scans revealed hidden text on the weathered aluminum panel that could help to identify it — and confirm whether or not it did come from the missing plane. If the latter is proven correct, the discovery could add weight to the popular theory that Earhart made it to Nikumaroro after contact was lost with her as she approached Howland Island, one of the last waypoints on her planned route.
Earhart — along with her navigator, Fred Noonan — disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean in mid-1937 during her attempt to become the first woman to fly around the globe.
The pair, flying in a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, were last seen departing from the city of Lae, New Guinea on July 2, on one of the final legs of their journey. However, their plane never arrived as expected at their next stop at Howland Island, which lies nearly halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
According to the radio logs of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Itasca — on station at Howland to support the flight — in one of her last transmissions, Earhart broadcast that her plane was running out of gas, and only had half-an-hour left.
Despite rescue efforts that lasted 17 days, covered a whopping 150,000 square miles of the Pacific and cost the US Coast Guard and Navy a then-record-breaking $4 million, no conclusive physical evidence of the Electra 10-E or her crew were ever found.
Nearly 18 months later, on January 5, 1939, Ms Earhart and Mr Noonan were declared dead — and their disappearance became one of aviation’s most enduring mysteries.
Explanations proposed ranged from the prosaic — that they simply crashed into the ocean and sank after running out of fuel — to the outlandish, with one popular conspiracy theory suggesting that Earhart survived the flight, assumed a new identity, and moved to New Jersey.
He kept Marina as a ‘prisoner’ in their apartment in Dallas and forbade her from learning English because he didn’t want her to realize that he amounted to nothing.
Oswald even beat Marina and accused her of being a ‘who**’ as he tried to prove he was somebody to be ‘reckoned with’.
Gregory, who has waited 60 years to tell his story in full, is now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an economic professor at the University of Houston.
But in 1962 he was a teenager living with his family in Dallas and got to know the Oswalds through his father, Peter.
Peter was a Russian immigrant to the US and met the couple when they returned to the US after Oswald did a U-turn on his defection to the Soviet Union, where he met Marina and had a daughter.
They arrived back in America penniless and uncertain of their future. Gregory began to take Russian language lessons with Marina and became her and Oswald’s only friend during the summer of 1962 until September when he went to college.
According to the book, Oswald had a ‘distinctive coldness or, rather, a blankness about him’ while Marina was a ‘shy, natural beauty’ who wore frumpy clothes she brought with her from the Soviet Union.
She smiled little to cover up a rotting tooth and had the air of a ‘lost kitten’ about her, Gregory writes.
He writes: ‘In all our time together, the young couple never exchanged any gestures of endearment’.
Oswald got a job as a welder but had pretensions of being an intellectual and would bring home books by Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy and science fiction works from the library to try and impress Marina.
Gregory writes: ‘Lee’s fear was that he would be exposed as a loser. The image he promoted to Marina was that of a dashing, radical intellectual who would make the world a better place if the world only paid attention to him’.
Oswald kept a journal that he called a ‘Historic Diary’ that he hoped would one day be examined by historians as if he were a giant of his times.
But in reality it was scribblings of an average mind trying to understand Communist ideals.
Gregory writes that Oswald thought to himself that ‘surely major publishers would compete for his Historic Diary.’
He writes: ‘Such thoughts moved Marina, not to admiration, but to derision and then to fear when she gained some insight into the possible consequences of his vainglory.
‘Lee must have feared that I, as an outsider, could let slip that they were impoverished in a land of plenty. And Lee was right to worry.’
According to the book, this was key to understanding why Oswald shot Kennedy dead in 1963 while he was driving through Dallas.
He writes: ‘He dreamed, I strongly suspected, of becoming a part of history. He wanted the world to understand that he was not an insignificant figure.’
The reality of the Oswalds’ life was that they lived in a threadbare apartment in Fort Worth where Oswald earned a paltry $35 a week.
That Oswald could only get a job doing welding and not as an academic or translator further enraged him.
Gregory writes that ‘each blow and insult would ratchet up Lee’s resentment and firm up his resolve to show the world and his wife that he was someone of stature, someone to be reckoned with.’
In the Oswalds’ apartment their few pieces of furniture included a shabby sofa and a picture of Kennedy as Time magazine’s person of the year on the coffee table.
It was a far cry from the capitalist dream Marina imagined when she left Russian with Oswald.11458759
Gregory writes: ‘Lee kept Marina in isolation to prevent her from realizing two essentials of their lives: that her husband was an impoverished nonentity and that they had nothing despite living in a land of plenty. He knew that Marina could escape his Svengali-like control if she knew English or had friends, especially female friends, with whom she could compare lives’.
Gregory would show up a few times a week for lessons, usually in the evenings, and stayed for a few hours.
Sometimes they would go on excursions to the supermarket and Oswald would haggle over the price of food, even though it was not done at the time.
But any semblance of a happy family would disappear when Gregory saw Marina’s bruised face and black eyes.
The first time he saw it she gave him a glance to say ‘none of your business’. He would later learn that Oswald’s abuse became more frequent, and even took place in public.
Gregory writes: ‘Lee played the typical role of abusive husband well, swearing that he would not do this ever again. And Marina stayed with him’.
During one shocking instance Marina slipped and fell backwards as they came out their home, hitting the back of her head badly. She was holding their baby June at the time but the child seemed fine.
Gregory writes that Oswald ignored Marina’s obvious distress and began to ‘scream’ at her and ‘scarcely cast a glance’ in her direction as he checked on June.
He writes: ‘Ashamed, they looked at me, a stunned witness to the inner workings of their marriage. For Marina, her mistreatment by Lee had become routine. In the privacy of their own home, Lee could beat Marina without repercussions.’
On the few occasions that Marina did speak her mind about politics, it enraged Oswald.
Marina viewed Oswald’s love of Cuba with ‘scorn’ as her experience in the Soviet Union was that Cuba had sent them expensive sugar but done little else.
She thought that Oswald’s love of the Communist island was ‘crackpot’ – and told him so.
Over time the Oswalds were introduced to a group of a few dozen Russian expats in Dallas who were later dubbed the ‘Dallas Russians.’
They included accountants, translators and others who had long since disavowed Communism and the Soviet Union and had lived in the US for decades.
Over dinner one of them asked Oswald the question he hated the most: why did he leave the US for the Soviet Union?
Oswald grew ‘agitated and defensive’ and raised his voice.
He said: ‘I left because capitalism is a terrible system. It exploits the workers. Life is unfair under capitalism. The rich get everything, and the poor get nothing.’
On one of their evening trips out with Gregory they drove through a rich area of Dallas and then a poor area. Oswald shouted out: ‘See! The capitalist system is all for the rich. They live like kings, and the poor live like this.’
After an especially bad beating Marina temporarily left Oswald and stayed with one of the friends she had made with the Dallas Russians.
But he wooed her back, saying he ‘could not bear’ to go alone to a Thanksgiving dinner he had been invited to.
Marina’s way of escaping appears to have been an extramarital affair she began shortly after she and Oswald were married.
She also ‘played on’ his jealousy by staying in touch with an old flame.
After the assassination, FBI surveillance tapes caught Marina complaining about Oswald’s love making to one of her new lovers.
The tapes show she was a ‘sexual creature, at times demanding of a husband worn out from eight straight hours of physical labor.’
Gregory writes they revealed ‘Marina’s strong sexual drive’ and that she had an open relationship with James Martin, who became her ‘business manager.’
During another wiretap Marina ‘recounted an erotic dream about Martin and volunteered that Lee was ‘not a real man.’
Gregory writes: ‘Not only did Marina belittle Lee’s political views and aspirations, she humiliated him, saying he was sexually inadequate – a hard blow for someone with Lee’s tenuous grasp on reality’.
The last time Gregory saw the Oswalds was exactly a year before Kennedy was killed. While returning home to Dallas from college in Oklahoma, Marina told him she didn’t write him a letter that he had got through the post.
At the time the letter was sent, Marina and Oswald were temporarily separated and he appeared to have forged her signature and handwriting to claim that everything was well in their relationship.
Gregory had written in his reply that Marina’s English grammar wasn’t quite right and when she read the reply it ‘unwittingly demolished Lee’s claim to Marina that he was an underappreciated author of an autobiography that was sought after by publishers’.
As Gregory puts it: ‘How could anybody write an autobiography if they could not spell and punctuate?’
Gregory writes that after Kennedy was shot dead he was interviewed extensively by the Secret Service and told them that with Oswald he ‘detected none of the trademarks of a future assassin’.
Gregory’s father was Marina’s translator during her interrogation by the Secret Service at a hotel outside Dallas and he saw why Oswald had turned out the way he did – his bizarre mother.
Marguerite is described as a deeply troubled mother who got jealous of Marina being the only one questioned by the FBI and thought she should be the center of attention.
Bizarrely, Marguerite claimed that Marina was of more interest to the authorities because she was ‘young and beautiful’ and came up with an unhinged theory that her son was a government agent and a ‘hero’.
Marina finally refused to speak to Marguerite when she discovered she kept a bayonet in her suitcase, even though she claimed it was there for her own protection.
As Gregory writes, Marguerite and Oswald both ‘craved the limelight’ and had a ‘loose relationship with the truth’.
In Marguerite’s mind, her son loved his country’ and deserved to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery – a clear sign of how deranged she was.
In the book Gregory rejects any conspiracy theories that claim anyone else other than Oswald was involved in Kennedy’s assassination.
He writes: ‘I cannot consider the hundreds of theories that reject Lee Harvey Oswald as the sole gunman.
‘To get embroiled in them would be like falling into a vast sinkhole of bullet trajectories, purported conversations, conjecture, and complex conspiracies.
‘Let others debate them. It is my firsthand knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald that convinces me they will come up empty-handed.’
Beneath the grounds of one of America’s most popular parks lies a mass grave where officials dumped the corpses of tens of thousands of poor and sick New Yorkers.
Washington Square is said to be one of the city’s liveliest parks, popular with university students and dog walkers, but below its 10-acres lie the bodies of 20,000 people.
Research librarian Carmen Nigro wrote about the morbid secret in a blog post for the New York Public Library.
She said: “What lies beneath that splendid, recently re-landscaped and renovated outdoor sanctuary is a bit more morbid.”
Before it was a park, two thirds of Washington Square was a pauper’s grave, where unidentified and unclaimed bodies were buried.
New York City purchased the plot in 1820 for just $4,500 to address the surge in deaths linked to a series of Yellow Fever epidemics, the New York Post reports.
The city had originally planned to bury just 5,000 bodies in the park, but when four outbreaks raged through the city between 1797 and 1803, they had to quadruple the capacity.
The disease initially causes fevers, chills, vomiting and muscle pain before developing into more severe symptoms. These include a yellowing of the skin and eyeballs, vomiting black bile and organ failure.
Around 60 per cent of those infected with the disease will die. The 10-acre site was a pauper’s grave from 1797 to roughly 1820 (
Image: Department of Design and Construction)
In 1799, the city passed a mandate ruling that anyone who died as a result of the plague – rich or poor – must be buried in the potter’s field.
Grave diggers, struggling with the volume of bodies, ended up stacking them on top of each other.
Some have claimed they failed to bury them deep enough.
One ghost enthusiast wrote on YouTube: “The earth would give way, and before you know it, you would bump into somebody’s coffin or grave or skeleton and smash the bones. Washington Square Park in April 1889 (
Image: Getty Images)
“People began to notice after a while. The ghosts were out at night looking for their missing body parts.”
Earlier this month, new data emerged about a different plague – one which wiped out an estimated 60 per cent of Europe’s population.
The Black Death was one of the deadliest plagues in European history and in the 1300s it killed so many people it led to a mini-Ice Age, some claim. The overworked grave diggers buried the dead on top of each other (
Image: Department of Design and Construction)
But alongside the unparalleled death and devastation, the plague left a terrifying genetic mark on the ancestors of the survivors that’s still affecting us almost 700 years later.
A new study that has analysed the DNA of centuries-old skeletons discovered a freak mutation that helped people survive the bubonic plague, whilst countless died around them.
But whilst those mutations helped hundreds of years ago, they are also linked to auto-immune diseases that affect people today.
Researchers have previously suspected that an event of such magnitude would have shaped human evolution.
The tomb of Saint Nicholas, the inspiration behind Santa Claus, is said to have been discovered by archaeologists now. The remains of an ancient church, submerged by rising sea levels in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, were uncovered in Turkey. Nicholas lived between 270 and 343 AD and is known for inheriting money that he gave away to the poor. The most famous story about Saint Nicholas is about him gifting three girls bags of gold to save them from a life of prostitution.
In an attempt to protect the saint’s tomb, a second church was built on top of the ancient basilica’s foundation. However, it was only recently that archaeologists found mosaic and stone flooring from the previous sanctuary under the one that stands at present. Nicholas’ final resting place was thus found.
This recent discovery supports claims that Nicholas lived in Turkey and died there too. According to the Demirören News Agency, the team claimed Nicholas also walked upon the same stone flooring hidden under layers of sediment. Reportedly, the Byzantine church built over the old foundation served as a place of worship for Orthodox Christians between the 5th and 12th centuries. It is surrounded by Nicholas’ statues. Back in 1982, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
It is believed that the ancient church was discovered in 2017 by researchers who conducted electronic surveys under St Nicholas church. The survey reportedly revealed gaps between the floor and the ground. The team has said that they are working to carefully remove the Byzantine church’s flooring so as not to damage the tomb. “The first church was submerged with the rise of the Mediterranean Sea, and some centuries later, a new church was built above,” Osman Eravsar, the head of the provincial cultural heritage preservation board in Antalya, said as reported by the LBC.
“Now we have reached the remains of the first church and the floor on which Saint Nicholas stepped,” he added. “The tiling of the floor of the first church, on which Saint Nicholas walked, has been unearthed.”
Born in the village of Patara to wealthy parents, Nicholas is known for gift-giving and charity to the poor. It is said that his parents, who died in an epidemic, left him a huge fortune. These ideas, however, have only been shared in stories and are not presented in any historical document.
In the 4th century, Nicholas became the bishop of Myra. Roman emperor Diocletian imprisoned him shortly after, at a time when Christians were persecuted and then released under the rule of Constantine the Great. Records show that Nicholas was indeed buried at the church built in his name.
The saint died in 343 AD and researchers believe that at the time, he was interred at the church in Demre. This is where he lay until the 11th century. It was earlier believed that merchants smuggled the 1,674-year-old remains to the Italian city of Bari in 1087. Turkish archaeologists later suggested the possibility that the wrong bones were removed. The ones that were taken to Italy, they said, were of an anonymous priest.
Nicholas is believed to have been buried in his church at Myra. His shrine became widely known by the 6th century. Italian sailors or merchants are believed to have stolen his alleged remains from the tomb and taken them to Italy’s Bari in 1087. His relics remain enshrined in the 11th-century basilica of San Nicola at Bari. It is believed that churches across the world have acquired fragments.
Santa Claus is based on stories about Nicholas. The name ‘Santa Claus’ evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, which is a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas – Dutch for Saint Nicholas.
The remains of dozens of child sacrifice victims have been unearthed in Peru, and many more are likely waiting to be found, archaeologists say.
The skeletons show evidence that the children’s hearts were removed, said Gabriel Prieto, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Florida who directs the excavations at Pampa La Cruz, the site near Huanchaco where the remains were found.
All 76 skeletons had a “transversal clean cut across the sternum,” Prieto said, which suggests that “they possibly opened up the rib cage and then they possibly extracted the heart.”
“They were buried on an extended position, with the feet toward the east,” Prieto told Live Science in an email. “They were buried on top of an artificial mound.” It’s not clear why the sacrifices were located in this position in this place. “We thought that the area, and particularly the mound, was free of Chimu child sacrifices, but we found the opposite,” Prieto said.
Excavations have been underway at Pampa La Cruz for several years. So far, 323 child sacrifice victims have been found at the site, and another 137 child and three adult sacrifice victims were found at a nearby site called Las Llamas. These remains also show that the children’s hearts had been removed.
Based on the archaeological finds found so far, there are likely many more child sacrifices waiting to be discovered near Huanchaco, Prieto said. “It could be more [than] 1,000 victims, as crazy as it sounds,” he said.
Radiocarbon dating needs to be done on the 76 newly uncovered skeletons, but previously found victims at Pampa La Cruz dated to between A.D. 1100 and 1200, Prieto said. Around this time, the Chimu people, known for their fine metalwork and the city Chan Chan, flourished in the area.
Why the Chimu would have engaged in child sacrifice in this area on such a large scale is unclear, Prieto said, but the Chimu also built an artificial irrigation system and new agricultural fields nearby, and some of the sacrifices may have been done to “sanctify” this agricultural system.
People who lived in Huanchaco during the first millennium A.D. also practiced human sacrifice in the area, said Richard Sutter, an anthropology professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, who is part of the team working at Huanchaco. This means that the Chimu may have been carrying on a long-running practice in the area, Sutter said in an email.
Why were children sacrificed?
Scholars who were not involved with the excavations told Live Science that the finds at Huanchaco are important. While other cases of child sacrifices are known from the Andean area, “what is striking here is the scale, of course,” Peter Eeckhout, a professor of pre-Columbian art and archaeology at the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, told Live Science in an email.
Why the child sacrifices were carried out is difficult to tell, Eeckhout said, noting that writing was not used in Peru at this time and thus there are no written records detailing the youngsters’ deaths. Problems with climate or environmental changes that may have disrupted agriculture in the area could have played a role in the sacrifice, Eeckhout said.
“It’s an amazing site with the potential to help us understand much better what was going on at this time in prehistory,” Catherine Gaither, an independent bioarchaeologist, told Live Science in an email. “I think the reason for the sacrifices was likely related in some way to a cultural response to environmental changes that brought about significant cultural upheaval. There may have been associations with environmental events like an El Niño, for example,” a climate cycle in which warm water in the Pacific Ocean shifts closer to South America causing changes in the weather, she said.
The team is requesting permission from Peru’s Ministry of Culture to transport some samples abroad so that the specimens can undergo testing to determine more exact dates.
Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans’ past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.
You’ve heard of course about all the long-term dangers of playing professional football. And in the old days, the sport was much more dangerous than it is now—back in 1905, 18 players died, most of them high school students. And yet in the history of the NFL, only one player has died on the field.
It was Chuck Hughes from the Detroit Lions, who died at 28 on October 24, 1971. For the first three quarters of their game against the Chicago Bears, Hughes was on the sidelines.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, he came on to the field, replacing a (non-seriously) injured player. With two minutes left, he caught a pass. Then with 62 seconds left, he collapsed.
Some Bears players (by their own later admission) thought Hughes was faking an injury to get an extra timeout, and they started yelling and swearing at him. He was not faking. A team of doctors attempted CPR, then they took him off the field on a stretcher. Doctors would continue to try reviving him at the hospital, but the guy was dead.
And so play resumed. We’re not blaming the other players here: None of them cared about the outcome of the game at this point, so they just ran out the clock for the remaining minute.
The Bears had been ahead 28 to 23 when Hughes went down, and they maintained that lead now because no one tried to score. Still, it’s crazy that that final minute played out, right? Nothing in the rules said you call a game early when a player dies, so they had let the clock wind all the way down.
Hughes did not die thanks to any kind of head injury. He had a heart attack, since one of his arteries was almost fully clogged right before his death.
Exertion triggered the attack, instead of impact with another player. His family did not blame the sport of football but rather a hospital that should have diagnosed his condition earlier. They sued the hospital for $21.5 million and won an out-of-court settlement.
Queen Elizabeth II’s winding final journey from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch to Windsor Castle on Monday weighed heavily on the eight soldiers who bore her coffin — in part because it was lined with lead.
The tradition goes back centuries and began with a practical consideration: to help the bodies of deceased monarchs remain pristine, especially before modern preservation techniques.
As a material in coffins, “lead helps keep out moisture and preserve the body for longer and prevent smells and toxins from a dead body escaping,” said Julie Anne Taddeo, a research professor of history at the University of Maryland. “Her coffin was on display for many days and made a long journey to its final resting place.”
Taddeo noted that the added weight created the need for eight pallbearers rather than the usual six.
“You could actually feel him sliding off the shoulders,” Perkins said. “If we had have dropped him … I don’t know what it would have been, very embarrassing, but we didn’t.”
Elizabeth’s coffin was entombed Monday evening in a vault in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, part of the St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She rests near her parents, sister and Prince Philip, her husband, who died last year.
The preservation measures are reminiscent of those used for ancient high-ranking Egyptians, who were also placed in chambers rather than buried in the ground and whose bodies were immaculately preserved. And while ancient wealthy Egyptians were often buried with caches of jewels, sculptures and other belongings, Taddeo said, the queen was reported to have been buried with just her wedding band, made of Welsh gold, and a pair of pearl earrings.
Such austerity would mean that Elizabeth, who was known to embrace frugality and plainness, was buried with fewer belongings than some of her predecessors; Queen Victoria was buried with her husband’s dressing gown and a cast of his hand, and a lock of hair and a photograph of her favorite servant, with whom she was rumored to have had a romantic relationship, Taddeo said. Elizabeth’s orb, scepter and crown — made of nearly 3,000 diamonds and dozens of other jewels — were taken from the top of her coffin and placed on an altar at her burial.
Using lead in coffins is “a long-lived royal tradition,” said Mike Parker Pearson, a professor at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology. He said the embalmed corpse of King Edward I, who died in 1307, was “found in 1774 to be well preserved in his marble sarcophagus” in Westminster Abbey. Pearson added that the practice of using lead was probably adopted around the time of Edward’s death or in the century following it.
Earlier kings were not embalmed, he said. The corpse of William the Conqueror, who died in 1087, was apparently so badly decayed that his bloated abdomen exploded when priests tried to stuff his body into “a stone coffin that proved too small for his bulk,” Pearson said. “Mourners supposedly ran for the door to escape the putrid stench.”
The boy who inspired the film and book The Exorcist went on to become an engineer at NASA, working on the Apollo program and patenting technology of his own design that helped space shuttles withstand the extreme heat of takeoff and reentry.
In August 1949, a series of articles told the strange tale of a teenage boy who had a number of paranormal experiences, prompting a call to a priest. According to reports, the boy (named at the time as Roland Doe to protect his identity) and his family began to hear scratching noises from the walls, and saw objects jump to the floor when the boy was around. More disturbingly his bed would apparently shake violently at night.
While they may have been better off searching for a source of carbon monoxide, the family followed the far more dubious process of asking a priest to stay the night. The priest – who was said to be skeptical, just like his counterpart in the films – did so, and supposedly witnessed events like the scratching on the walls, plus sheets moving around mysteriously on their own. The priest, to his credit, is reported to have called in the family doctor shortly afterward.
The press picked up on the story, but it wasn’t until later that month that it blew up, when several papers reported that the boy had been “freed” from the “devil’s grip” after 20 to 30 exorcisms by a catholic priest.
“In all except the last of these, the boy broke into a violent tantrum of screaming, cursing and voicing of Latin phrases – a language he had never studied – whenever the priest reached the climactic point of the ritual,” one article by the Washington Post read, “‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I cast thee (the devil) out’.”
During this round of articles, details became more elaborate and unbelievable, with reports of beds flying around the room before the eventual exorcism. The real story, long after the articles filled with bizarre claims of heightened strength and had inspired the film, is far more mundane – and depressing.
Roland Doe (whose real name was Ronald Edwin Hunkeler, as revealed by Skeptical Inquirer late last year) grew up as a troubled boy in an extremely religious family. The strange details – the ones which are verifiable, at least – can be explained with ease. One junior priest who was witness to the events explained, for instance, the part about him speaking Latin phrases.
“Did the boy speak in any languages other than English?” a journalist writing for Strange Magazine who tracked him down asked in 1999.
“Just Latin,” the priest replied.
When asked whether he appeared to understand the Latin he spoke, the priest replied “I think he mimicked us.”
The priest went on to explain that there was no real change to the boy’s voice, and that he had the strength of a normal person. When asked whether the bed really moved across the room, he replied yes, before adding “it was on rollers like any bed, but I was leaning on it when it moved.”
Hunkeler managed to escape infamy thanks to the pseudonym used by newspapers at the time. He went on to live a successful life as a NASA engineer, before his death of a stroke in 2020 at the age of 86. Hunkeler contributed to the Apollo program, which eventually saw humanity set foot on the Moon. He worked at the agency until his retirement in 2001.
In spite of his success and normal life, he never quite shook the feeling that his past would be discovered.
“On Halloween, we always left the house because he figured someone would come to his residence and know where he lived and never let him have peace,” someone who knew him told the New York Post. “He had a terrible life from worry, worry, worry.”
We have long debated the origin of mankind. Some believe in God’s creation of man in his own image, while others say that mankind evolved from another species. Now, new evidence found in South Africa has reignited questions about where modern humans come from, and what species we may have left behind.
Way back in 1947, Robert Broom and John T. Robinson discovered the fossils of an ancient pre-human now known as Mrs. Ples. At the time, many believed the skull, identified as part of Australopithecus africanus, to be around 2.1 to 2.6 million years old. Many also believed the genus Australopithecus to be the likely precursor to the genus homo, marking it as the evolutionary origin of mankind.
Now, though, a new study has thrown all of these beliefs out the window. Researchers published the new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In it, authors Darryl Granger and others posit that the skull date back to between 3.4 to 3.6 million years.
That’s almost a one-million-year difference. As such, this study’s discovery has thrown a wrench into the theories that Mrs. Ples and other skeletons that were dated similarly are the precursors to modern humankind.
What does it all mean?
Granger says the caves in South Africa where Mrs. Ples was discovered hold more Australopithecus fossils than anywhere in the world. The site, known as Sterkfontein Caves, is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Cradle of Humankind. The discoveries in the cave have been at the center of debates on the origin of mankind for over 70 years.
Now, though, this new evidence suggests the fossils found in South Africa are from the same time as renowned fossils like Lucy, which was found in Ethiopia back in 1974. Many long considered East Africa the most likely origin of mankind, where the earliest hominin that evolved into the Homo genus resided. So, this study simply adds more merit to those claims.
But, one thing Granger notes is that it is very difficult to date the fossils found in South Africa. But, he does say they are much older than originally thought. At the time the discovery of Mrs. Ples confused many. That’s because the fossil showed a skull more akin to a chimpanzee. Many believed that the brain had evolved at the same time that pre-humans began walking upright.
With Mrs. Ples now dating to a similar period as Lucy and others, though, it once more has scientists scratching their heads. We’ve long searched for the origin of mankind, and now, it seems that scientists will need to keep searching if they hope to find a more definitive answer to that lingering question.