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Strange Magazine/Strangemag Web Editor Mark Chorvinsky Reports:


The Shiels Tapes

Tony “Doc” Shiels On His Monster Hoaxing


The following are excerpts concerning monsters and hoaxing from taped correspondence by Doc Shiels to his friend and colleague Michael McCormick. The first tape is from December 1975, and sets the stage for Doc’s monster campaign. The last tape, dated February 19, 1976, predates the publication in the Falmouth Packet of Do’s phony “Mary F.” Morgawr Sea Serpent photograph, yet in it there are references to aquatic monster hoaxing in Cornwall. Some tapes clearly cover a period of days and the dates used are those written on the tapes by Doc. In the early tapes, there is relatively little about monster-hoaxing. As the weeks go by in January and February 1976, though, Doc gets increasingly obssessed with “the whole hoaxing-and-photographing-and-everything, bit” as he calls it in the last tape.

On the December 28, 1998 Fox-TV Expose “World’s Greatest Hoaxes” Tony “Doc” Shiels firmly announced, “I don't lie. I never did....I wouldn't dream of faking something like [the Loch Ness monster photo]. It’s not in my nature.”

Anyone reading the following tape transcripts will get quite the opposite impression.

It should be noted that Doc has given us permission to publish this highly controversial material. Like Barnum, Doc does not care what people are saying as long as they are talking about him.

While not all of the ideas discussed in the transcripts have come to fruition, certainly some have, and it is time that Doc was given his due. The value of the transcripts to anyone investigating forteana should be clear—be warned though, that Doc is not your typical hoaxer, he is an exceptionally clever serial hoaxer who has introdcued dozens of fake photographs to the fortean field. Those wishing to learn about Shiels’s hoax exploits will want to read my in-depth investigation into a number of Shiels' fake photos in Strange Magazine Number 8 (Fall, 1991). Click here for information.

—Mark Chorvinsky



December 1975: One thing, by the way, that seems to be filling the newspapers in this country—front page news—is the Loch Ness monster at the moment. I don’t know if you are interested in Nessie. I find the subject quite fascinating and I look forward eagerly to the publication of the new photographs supposed to have been taken of the monster, due to be shown to the world unveiled and displayed sometime early in December. I look forward to that with ill-concealed impatience, as they say. The reason I mention Nessie is that I think it would be quite nice to incorporate some kind of monster, preferably a dragon, in our show.

January 14, 1976: We must try and do a little bit of hoaxing and things of that nature. In this book that I’ve just sent the manuscript off…about a month ago. It includes a large section on the business of hoaxing, hoax monsters, and so on. Although I believe in the real thing implicitly, as you know, I’ve also got a great interest in the business of hoaxing people, mainly newspapermen and television people, with fake monsters….

As I believe I mentioned either on the last tape or in a letter, I have been very interested recently in all the fuss being created by Nessie. You know, I was up in Scotland last year around that area and took a few interesting photographs. And I have been up again just a very short time ago with a photographer friend of mine, for the specific sole purpose of obtaining photographs of that rather elusive monster, the monster of Loch Shiel, because I am sure that we must have some kind of psychic rapport, because of the name. And sure enough I was lucky to obtain some astounding pictures, the first, ever taken of Shiela the monster of Loch Shiel, as well as a few of the monster of Loch Morar, and of good old Nessie. The reason of course that I had such astounding luck, in obtaining these absolutely authentic 100% genuine, unquestionably perfectly absolutely real photographs of the monsters of the various monstrous lochs, is of course that I have this unique telepathic talent, this amazing psychic power. Did you doubt it for a moment there, Michael—heh-heh—and I can make contact, mind to mind, with any of these monsters and thus invoke and invite them to splash forth from the murky depths of their particular loch and have their pictures taken for later publication of course, hopefully at a price. Heh-heh-heh-heh.

January 30, 1976: The subject of Nessie, of course, is one of my current obsessions. As it is such a popular subject with the press and the television people at the moment, I think it would be foolish of us not to squeeze a certain amount of publicity mileage out of the whole business of monsters and dragons and so on, and to claim, as I think I mentioned on the last tape, that, to the newspapermen, we are in fact planning to display a genuine, young monster of the Loch Ness variety on our travels. We’ll take a big net with us around the west of Ireland and claim to be prepared to net a big horse-eel, as they call them in the west of Ireland, “peista,” in one of the smaller lochs, off the coast of Connemara, or somewhere. We must certainly display the equipment necessary for the capture of such a beastie. Rather after the style of some of the more old-fashioned big game hunters. The kind of men that used to be employed by Barnum and Bailey, and Ringling Brothers, to go out and to catch these big strange beasties.
One angle that I think could be used in this connection that as far as I know hasn’t been used before, is that I could push the fact that I am known somewhat as a psychic, and I could claim that I was going to make psychic contact with a sea monster or a loch monster, and hopefully tempt it out of the water, by making telepathic contact, mental rapport with—heh-heh-heh—whatever it happens to be.

I think that I mentioned that I am hoping to hoax the people of Falmouth, and thereabouts, here in Cornwall, into thinking that there is a Cornish sea monster on the loose. It will take a bit of planning. I’ve started to drop a few hints here and there, and encourage a few friends to back me up on this. But perhaps it’s something I ought to save until you arrive. Well, we’ll set the ball rolling and then you will arrive as the man from the States who is going to join me. See, I am going to have nothing to do with it as far as the press is concerned at the beginning. It’s only when things have started to move properly that I will step in and offer my services as a psychic in order to try and solve the mystery and make contact—telepathic contact—with the beast. But I seriously think, Mike, that we should make as much as we can out of this whole monster business—the whole thing of sea monsters, lake monsters, are there to be used. You know, we should do as much as we possibly can with it, so any thoughts that you have on the subject, I’d love to hear them.

January 30, 1976: We’d also of course include genuine photographs of dragons, or Nessie, or whatever, and those wonderful stuffed iguanas, lizards of various kinds that you mentioned. I think if we had two or three spare dragons, all with wings—heh-heh-heh-heh—we’d do all right for ourselves. It would be nice to make a faked-up dragon that was based on a monster that was based very much on the published descriptions of Nessie; something that looked very very close to —what may turn out to be—the real thing.

And I—don’t take these things too seriously—I’m a born hoaxer. So, heh-heh-heh-heh. Any dragons that we could produce that could go into the book as authentic would be quite lovely I think.

Another useful thing is it looks as if Bill Manson will be on the crew, the production crew, in a sort of assistant director’s capacity, I think. And he would be a useful fellow to have along to help us do a little bit of cheating here and there. Heh-heh-heh-heh. You know what I mean, Mike. As far as monsters and all kinds of magical happenings are concerned.

February 4, 1976: One way that we could certainly supplement our income is by writing books and articles about our adventures. We don’t have to tell the truth, heh-heh-heh-heh, we can exaggerate to a ridiculous degree.

Going back to this thing—my hoax which I am in the process of planning, rather casually, at the moment.….I like the idea of obtaining what seem like genuine photographs of a winged sea dragon rising out of the ocean in a great burst of dragonosity. And any thoughts that you have on that would be most welcome. But I think to combine the concept of a sea monster with the whole thing of a flying dragon, you get the best of both worlds, the best of the Nessie world and the best of the flying saucer bit. If you can create a flap centered around a beastie of that particular nature.

February 4th, 1976: How would you like the idea of obtaining the very first authentic photograph of a live leprechaun? Or the first genuine tape recording of a banshee’s wail? Mmmm. Actually, dealing with the little people is something that I have been doing a certain amount of lately. Trying to obtain—heh—badly-badly made photographs. They have to be bad photographs in order to seem authentic.

February 19, 1976: Getting back to the monster bit, I trust you’ve been thinking about the whole business and I hope you have managed to get hold of a few books from your local library on the subject of Nessie and the rest. I think we should make the very most of the current enormous public interest in this subject. And, now then. I have been trying to work out ways of making models, well not really work it out, we know how to do it. I’ll just—I’ll send you a quick doodle that I was—that I did five minutes ago as a matter of fact and I might as well stick this in with the tape. I was thinking of first of all for anything of any size, I was thinking of the peiste carved from expanded polystyrene [styrofoam—ed.], just a head, a neck and hump, very light, we could make it quite large, weighted at the bottom attached to a kind of wooden raft which would just float below the surface of the water. That would be for sort of middle-distance photographs where detail didn’t count too much. And I think perhaps for some of them detail would be dangerous, or a bit of a giveaway. Well, not a giveaway, but people are less likely to believe, for some peculiar psychological reason. That’s what I thought, then I also thought, well why the hell not do a detailed one? The only problem is that we don’t really know what the thing is supposed to look like. I think if you do a vaguely plesiosaurian head and hump. This could be done I thought in latex or vinyl gel, something like that—one of those synthetic rubber modeling putties one can fire, semi-flexible, I suppose you could have it so that the mouth opened or shut as you desired, you could even have moveable eyes. Let’s see, yeah—that would also be a head and hump. Not much of a neck showing, the head I thought about 18 inches or a couple of feet in length and that would be detailed painted [inaudible] the right colors. I think it would be nice to photograph this thing in color; you see there are so few color pictures available or that have been published of monsters of this kind, which is odd. Surely the average amateur photographer these days would tend to be using color film rather than black and white. I think it might also be worth shooting a few feet of movie stuff. Not 16mm because that would be too professional seeming. I don’t know. Maybe not. I’ve got a very old 16mm camera, I’ve also got a super 8mm camera and a standard 8. Which is the kind of thing we should carry on an expedition of this kind, I suppose. I’m not going to allow the monster hunting and photograph faking, and the whole monster hoax bit to—to get out of proportion, it’s just that it’s one of the current ideas, current enthusiasms. I think it could encourage these television men to perhaps like the idea of going along with us even further. If they had an added topical bonus of that kind to tempt them along. I think it’s a good publicity gimmick and there is no reason why we shouldn’t make the most of it. Of course people will be saying, “How is it that McCormick and Shiels always seem to be on the spot when monsters are photographed? Why is it always them that see it?” Well, the point is, of course, this old psychic contact gimmick that we should make much play of. It’s one angle that so far hasn’t been used at all. Although I think someone like Holiday, in his books, especially The Dragon and the Disc, has in fact laid the groundwork for something of this kind to be done. The reason that we—we manage to know where the monsters are is that Doc Shiels is psychic, been noted for it for years, I do a kind of an Ingo Swann effort with this. Heh-heh. Psychometric monster location.

I think the more that one reads on the subject, the more accurate our statements to the press and our background information and also the fakes that we—heh—rig are going to be more acceptable to the monster-hunting establishment. No matter how eccentric we may seem to be in other directions if we’ve got all our facts at our fingertips, if we know the subject, then we stand a better chance. [Doc recommends sea serpent books here.]

Of course we are going to have our hoaxing session here with the Cornish sea monster, the climax of which I will save until you arrive. I’ve done very little about it now, apart from start to spread verbally a few rumors. Are there any local monster legends in New Mexico, anything there that you could make something of before you came, very quickly, I mean? You see, I’d like you to put together a certain amount of fake evidence to “prove” to British newsmen that we may encounter, that you’ve done some monster hunting over there in New Mexico. Well not just in New Mexico, it could be anywhere, it could be Tibet if you like. How about UFOs? New Mexico must have had a few of those over the years.…What do you know about Sasquatch, Bigfoot? I was wondering if we could claim that you’d done some research in that direction. May even have the odd picture available. …Roger Patterson is the one who’s made the famous film of Bigfoot, yeah, and he also is the president or founder of an association concerned with hunting the Sasquatch…. Apparently that is a kind of a society concerned with monster hunting and members of that society, for a small fee, receive a certificate of membership plus a color photograph of Bigfoot, now this is interesting, if you could obtain one of those for yourself, it would give you that kind of status, proof that you were indeed a monster hunter….Any information that you can scratch together on these things and any—as I say—any fake evidence, documents and so on, to “prove” that you are a well-established monster hunter yourself before arriving here in England, and getting yourself involved in the—not only the—the Cornish sea monster bit, but the whole Nessie thing, the Loch Shiel, Loch Morar, and the whole Irish monster hunting and dragon hunting caper.…Don’t forget also what I said about faking fossils, if you like the idea, that is….

I have advised Bill Manson, that’s the guy who may be directing this TV documentary…to try and contact Dr. Rines, Robert Rines, who is the man who was responsible for taking the most recent underwater photographs of the Loch Ness monster, which caused such a lot of interest and received a lot of publicity, around December of last year. Now then, Rines is the founder and general boss man of the Academy of Applied Science in Boston. Now, Bill Manson is a Bostonian, and as well being a well-established travel filmmaker. He’s worked in islands of Scotland on a couple of occasions and I think he could have a certain rapport maybe, heh-heh, based on these facts, with Robert Rines. He could go along there and obtain an interview with Rines. Rines of course, would encourage interviews, because he wants support for his Nessie hunting activities. Bill could ask him for advice on monster hunting to be conveyed to us.

The very fact that we could somehow—no matter how tenuously—connect our efforts with the—heh—those of the Academy of Applied Science and Dr. Robert Rines would give us quite a boost. He is the sort of man that would probably be prepared to accept the ESP hypothesis in connection with monster hunting. He could be tickled to death of the idea of a kind of mental radar or sonar thing so it could be, could be a good move as long as we are careful not to get out of our depth. But lads like us can cope with any situation, can we not?

I think I may as well push this whole business of mind-reading, the whole telepathic and mentalistic side of my nature, heh-heh, fake or not, because there is obviously a great deal of interest, public interest in this kind of thing. In various directions, it’s strange, isn’t it, that during the last two or three years, such things as the emergence of Uri Geller, the publication of books like Supernature and The Secret Life of Plants, novels such as The Exorcist, strange popular mystery books such as The Bermuda Triangle and all the variations on that theme, now Nessie becoming big. It’s all—it’s all part of a—of a great boom, a great revival in public interest in things that are strange and mysterious, and we may as well ride the crest of this wave as long as we possibly can, but in an individual way that is unlike anyone else. So it’s worth thinking of ways that we can play variations on the theme that haven’t been overdone by any other characters.

February 19th, 1976: A friend turned up, someone that I hadn’t seen for a while, for a few weeks anyway. A fisherman friend of mine by the name of Paul Francis, who is a mackerel fisherman—works mainly around the Falmouth Bay area. And, we were talking about the whole thing of sea monsters, sea serpents, and I think he is a good man to start a little bit of a rumor going down here concerning the famous Cornish sea monster as will be, heh-heh. We hope to build the thing up during the next three or four weeks. Paul has agreed to see something strange within the next few days when he is fishing. He says the conditions, as the weather becomes warmer, become very misty out there. I’ve told him to choose his moment carefully when the rest of the crew are not looking in the same direction that he is and he will see a long-necked serpentine creature at least 40 feet in length, rise up from the depths, turn its head around, strange undulating movement, and then plunge below the surface of the sea. And he will cry out that he has seen this. Whether he is believed or not is immaterial. The story will be spread around even if it is treated as a joke, it will help to keep the whole monster thing simmering for awhile and to build it up. I think we’ll spend about a month on this….

If you happen to get hold of Gould’s book The Case of the Sea Serpent, I will refer you to chapter two which concerns the New England sea serpent which was first officially sighted on August the 18th, 1817, and the whole thing kept simmering nicely for a while. If we could follow this pattern in Falmouth, off the coast of Cornwall, during the next few weeks, it should be—heh-heh—an interesting little hoax.

I admit the whole thing could fall flat on its face. It could fail. It has been suggested to me that I should rig up a full-size model monster and try and get it seen by innocent people who will report it. I don’t agree with this idea at all. I think the best thing is to go by word of mouth reports, and then, after a suitable period, for someone to come up with a photograph or two of the thing. There are too many risks involved in trying to organize a great hefty full-size model to be seen. We could fail badly on something like that. I think word of mouth reports are the important and most potent thing with anything like this. I tend to go along with the horror movie makers that—the better ones, I mean—something talked about, something reported, but not seen by the majority, tickles the imagination far more excitingly than an obviously clearly sighted beastie of any kind. It’s only in the early stages.

I think it would be nice if we could fake a photograph of a land sighting of either the Loch Ness monster, preferably the Loch Ness monster, or if not, one very like it, actually ashore, crossing a road or something. There is an illustration, or a couple of illustrations, of interest in the Witchell Book. One of the Grant land sighting—an artist’s impression of it. And also a couple of artist’s impressions of the Torquil Macleod 1960 semi-land sighting. One of the most disturbing and exciting accounts of the Loch Ness monster coming ashore, was the Spicer account….

Well that last sentence, Mike, was spoken quite a few days ago It is now the 19th… I was going to send you some of our dreadful faked monster photographs but it’s really hardly worth it at this stage, I think, they’re not terribly good, the first lot, and you’ll see them all, when you get here. Let me know as soon as you possibly can, Mike, about your ideas, what you think about the whole monster hunting bit, whether you fancy the idea of taking a trip for a few days up to the monster country of Scotland and also what your opinions are—heh—about the whole hoaxing-and-photographing-and-everything bit.

Notes: Doc’s chuckle or laugh, which manifests itself at extremely telling points in his conversations, has been transcribed as “heh,” “heh-heh,” or “heh-heh-heh” for this is what it sounds most like to me. On side 2 of the January 30, 1976 tape, when Doc laughs after he says “I am a born hoaxer,” his laugh sounds more like “hmm” than “heh,” but “heh” is used to denote laughter throughout the transcript. I have omitted “uhs” and “ums,” but have kept in most cases of repeated words.



Those wishing to read about Shiels’s hoax exploits in detail will want to read Strange Magazine Number 8 (Fall, 1991). Click here for information.

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