"Tamám Shud"

SOmerton Beach mystery

The man – name still unknown – at the heart of the mysterious 'Tamám Shud' case

Name: unknown. Cause of death: unknown. Occupation: unknown – but perhaps a
former ballet dancer. Possessions: one pack of cigarettes (half filled
with a different brand of smoke); one hidden pocket, concealing a scrap
of paper with two words in Persian, torn from a rare first edition book;
five lines written in an unknown code. Welcome to the world's most
perplexing cold case. Can you help to solve the mystery?

The discovery of a body on an Adelaide beach in December 1948 sparked an
investigation that remains active to this day. Was the dead man a lover
or a fighter – a new father or a spy? Why might an expert witness at the
inquest suggest that he had habitually worn high-heeled shoes? Was
Australia's most eminent pathologist right conclude he had been killed
by an ultra-rare muscle relaxant normally used to tip poison arrows in
Somalia? And what of the mysterious phrase 'Tamám Shud'? It's from Omar
Khayyam, but how is it that the two editions of the poet's famous Rubaiyat that are central to the case seem not to actually exist?

Fortean Property Portfolio

The latest entry in the Fortean property portfolio is hopefully a little bit more acheivable! 

Previous entries, whilst they may be desirable residences, have been out of the reach of many of us (if you think their prices were peanuts then please contact the CFI, you could fund a lot of exciting projects!).  But courtesy of my good friend Loren Coleman of Cryptomundo and the International Cryptozoology Museum we have something that we can all indulge in:-

Of particular apeal for those interested in conspiracy theories we have the Texas School Book Depository of Dallas- the very location from which it is alleged Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed JFK.  And it's an absolute bargain at only $95.  And it's only 3 1/4" tall!  Ok it's a replica but still...

The signage at the top is as it was on the 22nd of November 1963.  Please note for those worried about the misspelling of Chevrolet there is another image of this model which has it spelled correctly - presumably the above image is a preproduction model?  And a quick update from Loren who contacted the manufacturers - the incorrect spelling is the only version available.

The buliding can be bought at and when Loren was having a wander around he found some other buildings which may be of interest:-

The Dakota of Rosemary's Baby and John Lennon murder fame

Adventures in time #2: Three 1950s youths in a medieval plague village

    Kersey in 1957. Although Jack Merriott's watercolor presents an idealized image of the village – it was commissioned for use in a railway advertising campaign – it does give an idea of just how 'old' Kersey must have looked to strangers in the year it became central to a 'timeslip' case.

"Looking back, the really strange
thing was the silence. The way the church bells stopped ringing as the
little group of naval cadets neared the village. The way even the ducks
stood quiet and motionless by the shallow stream that ran across the
road where the main street began."

When Bill Laing and
two other new recruits to the Royal Navy were ordered to take part in a
routine map-reading exercise one October day in 1957, the aim was to
find their way a few miles cross country to the Suffolk village of
Kersey - not back in time to the village as it had been sometime between
1349 and 1420. But the strange, frightening and deserted place that the
three boys encountered looked nothing like any 20th century hamlet. So
where - and when - were they?

Forteana in Edinburgh

Just a quick heads up before I get back into the habit of blogging!

During the month of August the Edinburgh Festival, the Edinburgh Book Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival all take place and a quick perusal of the relevant programmes seems to offer much of Fortean interest.

I will be covering all three of these for Fortean Times and reviews of relevant shows will appear there - I will also try and include some more in depth material here.

Keep watching the blog - material will be appearing and thanks for your support and patience.

Moving on up

Just a brief note to let everyone know that for the time being, at least, I'm going to be consolidating the work I do on the blogs I write – this one, the mirror maintained at A Fortean in the Archives, and my history blog A Blast From The Past. Or to put it another way, I'm going to be writing future posts – mostly historical, but with some Forteana thrown in when I get the chance to do it – for a new blog, Past Imperfect, which is being launched by the Smithsonian.

There are a few reasons for this decision. The Smithsonian's a high profile and prestigious institution, and it makes sense to use its considerable clout to get my work in front of as many new people as possible. They're willing to pay me, which isn't that common in the blogosphere. And because of that I can justify creating a lot more content, which ought to work for everyone, I hope. I'm certainly painfully aware that I've been letting work for the CFI slip for quite a few months now.

The deal I've done gives the Smithsonian exclusive rights to new content for the first three months, but after that I'm free to repost. So I plan to announce new articles of Fortean interest here with a preview and a link for now, and will come back and repost full articles when the exclusivity period expires. 

The good news is the first article the Smithsonian has selected is Fortean in content – it's another timeslip case, a sister piece for my post on the Battle of Nechtanesmere. And there should be more of interest to readers of the CFI site within a week or two.

Wish me luck.

The dog that did bark in the night


Arthur Koestler


the diaries of John Rae, the renowned controversialist and long-serving
headmaster of Westminster School (1970-86), turns up an interesting
anecdote that illustrates some of the problems that parapsychologists
encounter outside the laboratory, where they are all too often at the
mercy of unexpected variables – especially when they are too prone to

Fortean Property Portfolio

The latest entry into the Fortean Property Portfolio is a 321 acre woodland just outside Edinburgh.  Yester Woods is being sold for offers over £450 000 by CKD Galbraith of Edinburgh.  Spectacular location, full hunting, shooting and fishing rights and there's the ruins of a fifteenth century castle.  And more importantly there's an underground chamber from the 13th century. 

This is a second attempt at a sale as the original was for the woodlands and a 14 bedroom house, no one was interested at £15 million so the woodlands are going by themselves. The rest of the property is going for £8 million, so if you buy both you have quite a bargain compared to the original asking price!

But what is of interest to Forteans?  Well it's the thirteenth century chamber.  This is believed to have been built by Sir Hugo de Giffard (after whom the local village of Gifford was named), and Sir Hugo was a Black Magican and was know in his time as the Wizard of Yester.  When I say the chamber was built by Sir Hugo he did have a little bit of help.  From Goblins.  They were loaned to him by his friend and master, the Devil.  The chamber was subsequently known as Goblin Ha(ll)'.  Goblin Ha' is the name of the local pub as well but whilst you're guaranteed to see spirits in the pub the story of the real Goblin Ha' is a bit better.  It's hoped that the area will be bought by someone who is sympathetic to the Ha' but Scotland's right to roam does allow a level of access to the public.

The full schedule for the sale can be found here and if a CFI Blog reader does buy it I'd love an invite to the Ha' warming party!



EAGLE & BABY 1 - The Svanhild Hartvigsen Story

It was nearly 30 years ago that John Michell and I first wrote about accounts of young children snatched away by large eagles. In our 1982 book Living Wonders - which was subsumed into Unexplained Phenomena (2000 and 2007) - they constituted a chapter we called ‘Avian Abductions' in which we compiled nearly 20 cases with varying degrees of credibility. I would like to take this opportunity to correct and expand one of them - the story of Svanhild Hansen, kidnapped by a sea eagle on the 5th June 1932 from a farmyard on a Norwegian island. Unlike the many hapless children in our accounts, ‘the eagle-girl of Leka' was recovered alive. 

Svanhild with her torn childhood clothing, her husband and a stuffed eagle. Apx 1969s.

Svanhild became a living testament to her strange experience. "Over the years I have heard many stories about children and animals that have been taken by eagles. But I'm probably the only one who has come out of it alive. I'm grateful," she told the Dagbladet Magazine in 2007. [1]

The occasion for revisiting this topic was the news of Svanhild's death in November 2010. [2 + 3] I was alerted to this by FT's veteran Swedish correspondent Sven Rosén, who also pointed out that the death notices in Norwegian newspapers contained significant differences to some of the details given in Living Wonders (LW) and Unexplained Phenomena.

Some experiments with severed heads

Wiertz guillotined headEarly
on the morning of 18 February 1848, two men and a woman walked into
the square in front of the Porte de Hal, in Brussels [below left], where
a public execution was due to take place shortly after dawn. They were
there to conduct a ground-breaking scientific study, and, by prior
arrangement with the Belgian penal authorities, were permitted to climb
onto the scaffold and wait next to the guillotine at the spot where the
severed heads of two condemned criminals were scheduled to drop into a
blood red sack.

One of the men was Antoine Joseph Wiertz, a well known Belgian
painter and also a fine hypnotic subject. With him were his friend,
Monsieur D_____, a noted hypnotist, and a witness. Wiertz’s purpose on
that winter’s day was to carry out a unique and extraordinary
experiment. Long haunted by the desire to know whether a severed head
remained conscious after a guillotining, the painter had agreed to be
hypnotised and instructed to identify himself with a man who was about
to be executed for murder.

Kudos to Mike Dash

Mike Dash is well known to regular readers of this site - he is our most prolific blogger after all.  Mike has also authored a number of excellent books and articles.

Recently some of his work has been recognised with an award - a Cliopatra Award for blogging.

The relevant citation from reads

Best Post: Mike Dash, "The Emperor's Electric Chair," A Blast from the Past, 9 September.

The judges felt that "The Emperor's Electric Chair" wove together a
variety of themes, including colonialism, modernity, and the challenges
of unreliable sources into what was an engagingly told, entertaining,
and ultimately important historical tale.

The post in question can be seen at and it's first public appearance was on this very site

Well done Mike.

Tracking the trends via Google's New Book Database

Anyone who suspects that Google, like Starbucks, is secretly planning to take over the world might well point to the search giant's latest innovation and smile knowingly. That's because Google has, with surprisingly little fanfare, released a new tool that exploits its unparalleled – and ever faster-growing – holdings of data, and promises to revolutionise the lives of linguists, lexicographers and English scholars, while simultaneously churning odd the odd bit of useful data for the rest of us. As today's New York Times explains, the company's latest launch is its New Book Database, containing 500 billion words culled from 5.2m digitised books. Quite a few of those words can already be accessed in their intended order via Google Books, but the NBD has another function – it allows users to search across time (the database covers the period 1800-2000) to track the changing popularity of individual words, and it allows them to compare the usage of several different words over the same period.

The NYT rather worthily put the new database to use comparing the frequency with which the likes of "men" and "women" feature (turns out the latter overtakes the former around 1986), but for our purposes it's rather more revealing to track the progress of various Fortean topics. The results turn out to be rather revealing. Take the frequency with which the phrase "Loch Ness Monster" appears, for example: 

Fortean Property Portfolio

The latest item in the Fortean property portfolio is based in Sicily and was once the porperty of the self confessed wickedest man alive - Aleister Crowley.

For a mere £1.2 million it could be yours.

Near Cefalu it could best be described as a fixer upper.  It has been abandoned for years and has been overgrown.

Crowley moved there in 1923 after he was kicked out of Italy.  Whilst Crowley lived there it was the scene of many an orgy and Crowley decorated it himself.  That is he painted erotic frescoes which included men, women, devils, satyrs and serpents.  Despite the ravages of time some of these are still extant.  

The photographs are from Frater Kybernetes at











If you are wanting to buy it I suggest you hurry up.  Not because people are falling over themselves to buy it just it's in the process of falling over itself so if you wait too long it will be gone forever...

A matter of life and death

Topkapi palace from across the Golden Horn
The Topkapi palace, Istanbul

Ottoman executioners were never noted for their mercy; just ask the teenage Sultan Osman II, who in May 1622 suffered an excruciating death, "by compression of the testicles," at the hands of a wrestler-cum-assassin by the name of Pehlivan. There was reason for this ruthlessness, however; for much of its history (the most successful bit, in fact), the Turkish empire flourished thanks, at least in part, to the staggering violence it meted out to the highest and mightiest members of society.

CFI Blogs - with new added comment capability

Ok folks - a new era for the CFI blogs - we have enabled comments so we can get discussions going on soem of the topics posted about.  At the end of the blog entry there is a section labelled "add new comment" click it and comment away!

Off topic comments will be removed so keep it relevant to the post.  If you want to conact the CFI just hit the "contact us" button at the left hand side of your screen.


Erotic secrets of Lord Byron's tomb

It was hot and dusty in the crypt, and it had been hard work breaking into it. Now the vicar had gone, along with his invited guests, to take supper. The churchwarden and two workmen armed with spades were left to wait for their return, loitering by the grave they had come to examine – the tomb of Lord Byron the poet.

"We didn't take too kindly to that," said Arnold Houldsworth. "I mean, we'd done the work. And Jim Betteridge suddenly says, 'Let's have a look on him.' 'You can't do that,' I says. 'Just you watch me,' says Jim. He put his spade in, there was a layer of wood, then one of lead, and I think another one of wood. And there he was, old Byron."

"Good God, what did he look like?" I said.

"Just like in the portraits. He was bone from the elbows to his hands and from the knees down, but the rest was perfect. Good-looking man putting on a bit of weight, he'd gone bald. He was quite naked, you know," and then he stopped, listening for something that must have been a clatter of china in the kitchen, where his wife was making tea for us, for he went on very quickly,  "Look, I've been in the Army, I've been in bathhouses, I've seen men. But I never saw nothing like him." He stopped again, and nodding his head, meaningfully, as novelists say, began to tap a spot just above his knee. "He was built like a pony."

"How many of you take sugar?" said Mrs Houldsworth, coming with the tea.

[Rogers p.134]

UnCon 2010

A quick plug for Fortean Times UnConvention 2010

The weekend of 23rd adn 24th of October, the following talk and speakers are on offer

Another Fortean Job...

I guess Fortean jobs are like buses - wait for ages with nothing and then they all come along together.

In case you've missed it the internet is currently set to explode over the news of this one.  The following version of the report comes from Reuters, most other versions add no extra details.

Scientist's to Look for China's Bigfoot

Sat Oct 9, 2010 7:57am EDT

(Reuters) - A group of Chinese scientists and explorers is looking for
international help to mount a new search for the country's answer to
Bigfoot, known locally as the "Yeren," or "wild man."

Over the years, more than 400 people have claimed sightings of the half-man, half-ape Yeren in a
remote, mountainous area of the central province of Hubei, state news
agency Xinhua said on Saturday.

Expeditions in the 1970s and 1980s yielded hair, a footprint, excrement and a
sleeping nest suspected of belonging to the Yeren, but there has been no
conclusive proof, the report added.

Witnesses describe a creature that walks upright, is more than 2 meters (6 ft 7
in) tall and with grey, red or black hair all over its body, Xinhua

Now the Hubei Wild Man Research Association is looking for volunteers from around the world to
join them on another expedition to look for the Yeren.

"We want the team members to be devoted, as there will be a lot a hard work
in the process," Luo Baosheng, vice president of the group, told

Naked as nature intended? Catherine Crowe in Edinburgh, February 1854










You might call it parapsychology's greatest mystery. Did Catherine Crowe – sixtysomething literary stalwart of the mid-nineteenth century, passionate advocate of the German ghost story, and author of that runaway best-seller The Night Side of Nature (London, 2 vols.: Newby, 1848) – really tear through the streets of Edinburgh at the end of February 1854, naked but for a handkerchief clutched in one plump hand and a visiting card in the other? And, if she did, was it because she had experienced a nervous breakdown, or because the spirits had convinced her that, once her clothes were shed, she would become invisible?

Crowe's name may not ring too many bells today, but a century and a half ago she was famous. Born in 1790, she was noted as a novelist (she wrote Susan Hopley, an intricately plotted crime procedural that was some way ahead of its time) and as a friend of the great and good (she knew Thackeray, Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, among many others). Nowadays, however, she is best remembered as a pioneer parapsychologist – "a hugely important figure in the emergence of modern ghost-seeing culture chiefly because of her relentless calls for society to turn its attention to the unexplained phenomena in its midst and investigate them in an objective manner." [McCorristine p.10] 

How to pay for your Fortean property portfolio

Ok, I've posted a number of Fortean relevant properties on this blog but I hear you asking how can you possibly afford them?  Well you could get a Fortean themed job, for example

Psychology: Postgraduate Research Assistant

Applications are invited for a 33 month part-time (20 hours per week) Postgraduate Research Assistant to
contribute to a Perrott-Warrick-funded project that has been awarded to Dr
Caroline Watt to investigate psychology of precognitive dream experiences. The
post will be based with Dr Watt in the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, Department
of Psychology within the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
at the University of Edinburgh

The ideal candidate will have a good first degree in Psychology or a related subject, possess experience of
conducting studies in parapsychology/anomalistic psychology and have experience
in recruiting study participants.   The candidate should possess excellent time
management skills, first-rate oral and written communication and interpersonal
skills.  In addition they should have solid IT skills, including experience of
statistical packages and manipulating large datasets.

Interviews will be held on 1 November 2010. The start date is 1 January 2011.  The appointment will
be made on a fixed-term basis until 31 September 2013.

Salary Scale:
£25,001 - £28,983 (pro-rata)

Further details at

or if you don't fancy that there's always  Germany

Latest for the Fortean Property Portfolio

The latest house for the Fortean looking to extend their property portfolio is the allegedly haunted Wymering Manor at Portsmouth, UK.

It's being sold at auction by Andrews and Robertson on the 21st of September with a guide price of £375, 000.

For this you get a seventeenth century building with ten bedrooms and four reception rooms.  For the past 40 or so years it has been used as a Youth Hostel.  It has its own chapel and basement and apparently 20 different spooks!  CHartered surveyor Jeremy Lamb, quoted in The Daily Mail, said

"This is a property of some renown for being haunted, so there is a fair
chance a future owner may use it as a guest house because of the novelty
factor attached to it.
  It's certainly a unique selling point and not often that we offer a haunted house.  When
I surveyed it, the security guards told me they feel there is something
'fairly spooky' going on in the house and, though they patrol it on a
24-hour basis because it attracts lots of people who are intrigued by
its levels of paranormal activity, they refuse to work alone there at

The full lot details can be viewed here and if you're succesful we'd love an invite!

The chupatty movement

Chupatty movement"There is a most mysterious affair going on throughout the whole of India at present," wrote Dr Gilbert Hadow in a letter to his sister at home in Britain dated March 1857. "No one seems to know the meaning of it... It is not known where it originated, by whom or for what purpose, whether it is supposed to be connected to any religious ceremony or whether it has to do with some secret society. The Indian papers are full of surmises as to what it means. It is called 'the chupatty movement.'" [Hibbert p.59]

Pope Pius XI: cryptozoologist

Pius XI - cryptozoologistEleven Popes have sat on the throne of St Peter since the turn of the last century, and most authorities would rank Pius XI (b. Achille Ratti, r. 1922-39) among the two or three most influential of that number. An able diplomat, fighter for social justice, noted critic of capitalism, fervent opponent of contraception and, inter alia, a one-time librarian and founder of the Pontifical Academy of Science, Pius was the first Pontiff in nearly half a century to abandon successive Popes' self-imposed exile within the precincts of the Vatican. In the course of his reign, he had to deal with the rise of Fascism and Nazism – which he condemned rather more forcefully and consistently than his controversial successor, Pius XII. But in his spare time, it now emerges, Il Papa was also an enthusiastic cryptozoologist.

Lord Dacre's ghost

Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre)Adam Sisman's sympathetic new biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre), the brilliant if acerbic historian, contains an unexpectedly fascinating passage on the great controversialist's declining years that sheds a ray of light on the way in which witnesses perceive ghosts.

In his late 80s, Sisman notes, Trevor-Roper was diagnosed with glaucoma and then developed a cataract. Soon afterwards, he began to suffer some alarming hallucinations: "He would look up from his desk and see the trees in leaf in mid-winter, or the landscape whizzing by as if he were aboard a train... Once, as he went to put out the dustbin, he found himself lost in a cemetery of dead machines, surrounded by rusting combine harvesters, lorries, cranes and derricks. Inside, the house grew an extra staircase." Other outlandish figments of the historian's imagination included gigantic trees and even a complete train at a platform at Didcot Station (which Trevor-Roper attempted to board).

Web Designer needed

Just a quick request - are you a web designer who would like to help out the CFI?  We're looking for someone to help us out on a redesign of the blogs pages and a few other web based pieces.

If you have the relevnat skills and are interested please drop a line





Living the Dream

I've recently returned from a holiday to Loch Ness.  Staying in the old Abbey at Fort Augustus no less.  I had a marvellous time, thank you for asking and no I didn't see the monster except, well - more of that later!  Whilst I was there I had the chance to chat to two men who have devoted considerable parts of their lives to Loch Ness and the reality - or otherwise - of its most famous inhabitant.

First up was Dick Raynor.

Dick Raynor

Ghost Photographs wanted

Nothing to do with the CFI but I'm currently in the process of writing a book on ghost photographs and I thought I'd give the opportunity to all our readers to get a ghost photograph they have taken published.  You'll get full credit in the book and a free copy as well.  I've got most of the pictures I need but there are some spaces left.  If you're interested you can email the pictures to me

I can't promise to use every picture but before I use anything I'll be in touch.



When Satan came to Pembroke

Satanic ritualIt's thirty years now, more or less, since I first began writing for Fortean Times, and in all that time I doubt we covered a more shocking or more important story than the great Satanic Ritual Abuse panic of 1989-1991.

It's hard to convey to those who did not live through those years just how widespread – and how widely accepted – allegations of SRA were. Cases actually began well before 1989, and ran past 1991, and they were reported from across the English-speaking world, most often from the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK. I know of no reliable overview of the entire panic, but it certainly involved, at minimum, well over a hundred individual episodes and must have affected several thousand families in all. What's most remarkable, looking back, is just how outlandish many of the allegations were. High-profile cases typically included suggestions that large gangs of well-organised, hereditary Satanists were abducting, abusing and murdering dozens, if not hundreds, of young children. Sometimes it was alleged that the abusers were using pre-schools to identify and groom their targets; in the UK, most of the cases involved families who were supposedly assaulting their own children. There were numerous allegations that the rituals included sacrifice – that is, murder – as well as abuse.

The Black Flash of Cape Cod

In the late 1930s, a frightening and phantomlike creature plagued Provincetown, Massachusetts. One October evening in 1938, so tradition speaks, a bizarre entity emerged from the dunes, "dressed in black – all in black..." The visitations of the phantom were to last seven years. Then, in 1945, its activity stopped abruptly and the entity disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again. It was named ‘The Black Flash’ because of its supernatural agility. Today, the legend of ‘The Black Flash’ that terrorized Provincetown in the 1930’s is remembered as a haunting tale of the bizarre. Several websites mention it, and they are more or less consistent in their summaries. Perhaps not surprising, as there are so few sources and with anecdotes sensational enough, that there is no room nor need for distortion or embellishment.

Robert Ellis Cahill, New England's Mad and Mysterious Men, 1984.

The Marian apparitions at Marpingen, Germany, #3. A village "not marked on normal maps"

Blessed Virgin Mary with blue sashWe've seen, in two earlier posts, how the Saarland village of Marpingen experienced a dramatic series of visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) during the mid-1870s, with associated claims of miraculous cures and healing, and how the leader of the three girls who claimed to have encountered the apparition in woods outside the village eventually confessed that the entire experience had been invented – thanks, in part, to leading questions asked, and pressure placed on the three child-witnesses by, the eager adults of the village. Today I'm going to conclude this series of analyses, drawn from David Blackbourn's magnificently detailed study of the episode, Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth Century Germany, by taking a closer look at the reasons why there was so much expectation and religious fervour in Marpingen in the summer of 1876, and why the appearance of the BVM meant so much to the villagers themselves.

Fortean events

Ok folks it's here - a fully fledged Fortean Events page. And there will be a permannet link at the top of all the CFI blogs pages as well.

It's a page rather than a blog entry so it will always be in the same place - bookmark it or use your favourite RSS feed to see when it changes.  Once an event has happened it will be removed and new events will be added when I become aware of them.  

Each event will have the date, what it is and who organises it along with an indication of the location and a link to the parent organisation so you can get the full details. 

Any events you know of pass the details on and we'll put them up.

I hope you find it useful and please contribute - the more information it has on the more useful it will be.



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