John Capes died in 1985, aged 75. At the time of his death some people still doubted his amazing survival story from the sinking of the submarine HMS Perseus when it hit a mine in the Ionian Sea off the Greek island of Kefalonia on 6 December 1941.
His story: he was the only one of 61 men on board who managed to get out of the sunken sub and make it to the surface. He struggled ashore and was rescued by fishermen.
Capes was hidden by villagers from occupying Italian forces for 18 months before being taken off the island on a fishing boat in May 1943 in a clandestine operation organised by the Royal Navy.
He made it to Turkey and from there back to the submarine base in Alexandria on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.
He told of his amazing escape, writing newspaper articles and giving interviews.
But some doubted he was ever on the submarine at all – because his name wasn’t on the crew list. Submarine commanders had been ordered to bolt escape hatches shut from the outside to stop them lifting during depth charge attacks.
There were no witnesses, Capes had a reputation as a great storyteller, and details in his own written accounts after the war varied. Little wonder his story was met with scepticism.
It took until 1997 when a dive team from Greece led by Kostas Thoctarides found the wreck of the Perseus 171 ft (62 m) below the surface for the amazing story to be verified.
His amazing escape has since been recounted by Tim Clayton, author of Sea Wolves: the Extraordinary Story of Britain’s WW2 Submarines, in BBC Radio 4’s Escape from the Deep program broadcast in 2011 for which Clayton was a consultant, and in DIVER magazine in 1998.
Capes’ story unfolds this way, based on those reports:
John Hawtrey Capes was born on the 20 September in 1910. He studied at Dulwich College and joined the Royal Navy rather late in life, aged 25, as a Stoker 2nd Class on 20 May 1935.
He volunteered for the Submarine Service at the earliest opportunity and started training in June 1938. He joined his first boat, the submarine L 34, on 18 July that year.
He also served on the HMS Olympus and the HMS Thrasher around the Mediterranean.
On a visit to Malta he was involved in an accident while driving a hired car; he ran into a horse and cart and demolished the car. Before the incident was resolved he was recalled to his own submarine. HMS Thrasher, where he was Leading Stoker. He was later given leave to return to Malta and settle matters with the owner of the horse and cart. After the court matter, 31-year-old Capes and another sailor hitched a ride aboard HMS Perseus for the trip back to Alexandria where he could rejoin his own ship.
In bad weather on the night of 6 December 1941 Perseus was on the surface two miles (3 km) off the coast of Kefalonia, recharging her batteries and preparing for another day below the surface.
Capes was resting in an empty torpedo rack at the aft end of Perseus. Above him there was a round escape hatch. He was going through some letters and drinking rum from a bottle that later proved to be a lifesaver and an important piece of verification evidence.
Suddenly a tremendous explosion rocked the submarine from stem to stern. The lights went out and cries of panic and despair came from every quarter as tons of water surged into the boat. The submarine had hit something, probably a mine, and was going down in a nosedive.
Capes described the explosion as a “nerve shattering jolt”.
He could stand and he grabbed a torch to help him find his way around. In the rising water of the engine room he found “the mangled bodies of a dozen dead”. Amongst the scattered bodies and wreckage he managed to find three other badly injured but alive stokers.
Not far away was the bulkhead door, held shut by the pressure of water on the other side.
“That door,” Capes later wrote, “saved me and the three injured men I found alive in the debris. Our plight was one of horror. The water was rising in the engine room bilges and we were surrounded by the mangled bodies of a dozen dead. Perseus had become a cold steel tomb surrounded by the relentless sea.”
Capes remembered his bottle of rum. Cold had already started to affect the survivors and he thought the alcohol would warm everyone up. All four of them had a few reviving sips. Then Capes carried the wounded men to the stern compartment where there was an escape hatch: their only chance for escape.
He fitted them and himself with Davis Submarine Escape Apparatus – a rubber lung with an oxygen bottle, mouthpiece and goggles.
He flooded the compartment, lowered the canvas trunk beneath the escape hatch and with some difficulty released the damaged bolts on the hatch.
He pushed his injured companions into the trunk, up through the hatch and away into the cold sea above. Then he took a last swig of rum, dropped the bottle and passed through the hatch himself.
Capes went through agonising moments trying to slow down his ascent. He was dizzy and felt as if his lungs were going to burst. He had to slow down. He unrolled a small apron he had on his apparatus and held it out in front of him so it would act like a parachute in reverse. It was supposed to trap the water and slow him but it unbalanced him and turned him upside down.
He had to let go to become upright again.
He recalled: “I still had my torch, which suddenly illuminated wires hanging from a large cylindrical object. It was an acoustic mine. Dear God! Any sound was supposed to set it off. God only knows why it didn’t go off. Perhaps I was destined to live.”
He suddenly found himself on the surface. But there was no sign of the other stokers. They didn’t make it up.
In the darkness he spotted white cliffs and struck out for them.
The next morning Capes was found unconscious by two fishermen from the village of Mavrata on the shore of Kefalonia and hid him in a cave.
For the following 18 months he was passed from house to house, to evade the Italian occupiers. He lost 70lb (32kg) in weight and dyed his hair black to blend in.
Don’t eat the donkey
He recalled later: “Always, at the moment of despair, some utterly poor but friendly and patriotic islander would risk the lives of all his family for my sake. They even gave me one of their prize possessions, a donkey called Mareeka. There was one condition attached to her – I had to take a solemn vow not to eat her.”
Finally, on May 30, 1943, in a plan organised by the Royal Navy, Capes was put aboard a small fishing boat which smuggled him 640 km (400 mi) to Smyrna, Turkey. He went to the British consulate and was taken to Alexandria, Egypt. Capes returned to service in the Royal Navy and later received the British Empire Medal for his exploits. He retired from the navy in 1950.
Greek diver Kostas Thoctarides read the story of HMS Perseus and put a team together to try to find it. A local fisherman recalled that his nets occasionally became caught on something heavy and immovable in the area where Perseus was thought to lie, so that was considered the best place to start looking.
The diving team searched and eventually the silhouette of a wreck showed on the sonar at 170.6 ft (52 m). Its shape and size matched the characteristics of the British submarine and a dive by Thoctarides confirmed its identity.
The only significant damage to the boat was a crack on her port side, near the bow, presumably caused by hitting the mine. The rest of her hull was in good condition.
The escape hatch of the stern compartment was open, just as Capes said he left it, and everything in the compartment fitted the scene he described, including the empty rum bottle, a Davis apparatus, a boiler suit and three army boots.
Close to Perseus, divers found the anchor of an Italian mine: a discovery that seems to confirm that an exploding mine was the cause of her sinking.
Capes’ escape was one of the most remarkable stories of World War II in which there were only four escapes from stricken British submarines.
There wouldn’t be a person with some knowledge of farming who hasn’t heard of or seen a Ferguson.
It has been an iconic name in world agriculture for more than 70 years. Today the name lives on through the Massey Ferguson brand, behind machines ranging from tractors to planters, seeders, hay equipment and combine harvesters.
Massey Ferguson products now are sold around the world through the larger AGCOcorp, founded in 1990, and which also owns the Challenger and Fendt brands, among others.
Harry Ferguson (above) was the man who started it all.
Henry George “Harry” Ferguson (4 November 1884 – 25 October 1960) was an Irish-born British engineer and inventor.
He was the first person in Ireland to build and fly his own aeroplane and he developed the first four-wheel drive Formula One car, the Ferguson P99.
Harry Ferguson was born at Growell, near Dromore, in County Down. His father, was a farmer of Scottish descent. In 1902, Ferguson began work as a mechanic with his brother, Joe, in a bicycle and car repair business where he became interested in flying. In 1904, he began to race motorcycles.
His big moment in history, however, was to come with the three-point linkage system for connecting ploughing equipment to tractors.
Richard Trevithick’s “barn engine” in 1812 set in motion spectacular development for machines that replaced animals as the beast of burden on farms.
The Trevithick engine was a portable steam engine that could be moved around on wheels to attach to a limited variety of machines, such as threshing machines, gristmills, sawmills, pumps and fans in mines and oil wells. But they were not self-propelled.
The desire to give steam engines the ability to move themselves was the spark for development of the traction engine.
The first proper traction engine was developed in 1859 by British engineer Thomas Aveling when he modified a Clayton & Shuttleworth portable engine, which had to be pulled around by horses, into a self-propelled contraption. Aveling fitted a long driving chain between the crankshaft and the rear axle and away he went.
On both sides of the Atlantic the steam powered traction engine was used in agriculture well into the 20th Century.
The combustion engine changed everything. In 1892, in Clayton County, Iowa, American John Froelich invented and built the first gasoline (petrol) powered tractor. But immediate success evaded him; he went out of business three years later.
The idea was picked up in England where Richard Hornsby & Sons were acknowledged as having produced and sold the first oil-engine tractor invented by Herbert Akroyd Stuart.
The Hornsby-Akroyd Patent Safety Oil Traction Engine was made in 1896 with a 20 hp (14.9 kW) engine.
The word “tractor” however was not used in these early days and the machines, even with further refinements in the 1900s, were heavy and slow. They were also restricted in what they could do; pulling ploughs or powering belt driven equipment while remaining stationary.
In 1908 the Saunderson Tractor and Implement Co. of Bedford introduced a four-wheel design and went on to become the largest tractor manufacturer in Britain at the time.
Unpopular at first, these gasoline-powered machines began to catch on after 1910 when they became smaller and more affordable.
Henry Ford introduced the Fordson, the first mass-produced tractor, in 1917. Fordsons were built in the US, Ireland, England and Russia and by 1923 they had three-quarters of the US market. By the 1920s tractors with gasoline-powered internal combustion engines had become the norm.
Rubber tyres were a significant advance, making tractors lighter. After that came developments that still typify tractors today; three-point linkage, hydraulics and power take-off.
Making the link
Harry Ferguson applied for a British patent for his three-point linkage (hitch) in 1926, a method of attaching implements to the tractor that avoided tipping up either the tractor or the implement when working.
In 1930 Ferguson’s design became an international standard that is still the basis for implement attachment on today’s massive farm machines. The operation of the tractor and its implements was known as the Ferguson System.
The Ferguson-Brown Company produced the Model A Ferguson-Brown tractor with a Ferguson-designed hydraulic hitch. In 1938 Ferguson entered into a venture with Henry Ford to produce the Ford-Ferguson 9N tractor. This tractor model also included a rear Power Take Off (PTO) shaft that could be used to power three-point hitch mounted mechanical implements. This became the standard for future tractor operations including hole boring, hay cutting and baling, crop harvesting and fertiliser spreading.
Improvements to tractors were gradual; 20 hp (14.9 kW) was the standard power of engines for years until farm holdings became bigger and more powerful tractors were needed. Large manufacturers emerged in the US and Europe and by the mid 1900s, when the number of tractors in the world passed the number of farm mules and horses, four-wheel-drive (4WD) tractors punching out up to 100 hp (74.6 kW) had appeared. By 1963 manufacturer Steiger was boasting a tractor of 265 hp (197.6 kW) with many other manufacturers offering tractors of 100 hp (74.6 kW) and above.
By the 1980s, 300 hp (223.8 kW) and higher were included in the John Deere and Steiger ranges. Massey Ferguson also was a player in the big tractor market.
The MF 8740 – the largest conventional wheeled tractor MF has produced – now boasts a maximum output of 407 hp (303 kW).
More recently, manufacturers have added tracked drive to their range (instead of tyres) and were boasting 600 hp (447.6 kW) plus.
The United Kingdom Society of Ploughmen set down rules for ploughing records. The quickest confirmed time for ploughing one acre (0.404 ha) is 9 minutes 49.88 seconds set by Joe Langcake at Hornby Hall Farm, Brougham, Penrith, UK, on 21 October 1989. He used a Case IH 7140 Magnum tractor and a Kverneland four-furrow plough. A Massey Ferguson 820 tractor is credited with having ploughed 1,500 acres (607 hectares) in 24 hours.
Birth of the TE
Harry Ferguson continued to develop the farm tractor into the 1940s, putting his name to the Ferguson grey TE 20 in 1946. The “Fergie” was produced for a decade out of Coventry, England, and sold around the world, many of them in Australia. An arrangement with Henry Ford saw production of the Ford Ferguson from 1929 to 1947. When that arrangement ended the US factories produced the Ferguson TO 20 version from 1948. Meanwhile, more than 25,000 Coventry-built TE 20s were sent to the USA and Canada. TE stood for Tractor England. TO stood for Tractor Overseas.
The 20.7 hp (15.4 kW) unit was petrol, kerosene or diesel powered. The Fergie was fairly basic, started by gear lever crank or crank handle, steered by direct steering (power steering was several years away) and had nothing by way of suspension although adding a spring under the driver’s seat was an improvement.
The Coventry factory produced more than half a million Fergies until 1956. Harry Ferguson merged his worldwide companies with Massey-Harris of Toronto, Canada, in July 1953, three years before TE and TO 20 production ended. The Massey Ferguson 35 replaced the old line in the US in 1955 and the TE 20 in the UK in 1956. The 35 was itself succeeded by the 135 from 1964 to 1975 when it in turn was superseded by the 235. MF now offers a huge range of tractors of all sizes.
Many Little Grey Fergies (and some in other colours) can still be found today in the furthest corners of the world, some rusting away in forgotten corners of paddocks, others restored to their former glory and yet others still working small farms.
A monument in Wentworth, NSW, Australia, at the junction of the Darling and Murray Rivers commemorates efforts in the 1956 flood when a fleet of little grey Fergies was used to build levee banks to save the town.
Seven Ferguson TE 20s (four petrol, three diesel) were used on the 1955–58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Some were converted to half-tracks with front skis and others were converted to full tracks and taken to the South Pole by Sir Edmund Hillary, the first vehicles to be driven to the Pole.
A diesel TEF 20 known as Betsy earned a place in Guinness World Records in May 2003 when Terry Williams drove it 3,176 miles (5,111 km) around the coast of Britain, the longest journey by tractor. Betsy was donated to the Friends of Ferguson Heritage group in 2004 and put on display at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming in York.
A TEA 20 has been depicted on the New Zealand $5 note. The note, featuring Sir Edmund Hillary, shows one of the tractors from the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition in the background. A Fergie also is depicted on a New Zealand $1.50 postage stamp issued in 2008 as part of a set of five commemorating the life of Sir Edmund Hillary.
A TE 20 starred in a TV series for pre-school children, The Little Grey Fergie, shown in the UK in October 2013.
In 2017, twenty Ferguson tractors from the Australian Harry Ferguson Tractor Club retraced the steps of explorers Burke and Wills over the 2,300 km from Wentworth in NSW to Durham in Queensland. The fleet of course included some Little Grey Fergies.
A Grey Fergie Muster is held at Bendemeer, north of Tamworth, NSW, Australia, every three years to celebrate the important role the tractor played in Australia’s agricultural history. Enthusiasts bring their tractors from around the nation. The 2018 event will be held on March 17-18 at Fergie Flats, Bendemeer.
FOOTNOTE: The author first drove a TEA 20 Fergie in the early 1960s on the family farm in NSW Australia. It was a tough drive on rough ground but reputedly much better than following the backside of a horse around the paddocks all day. It was a sad day when the TE was retired, though it was replaced by another Fergie, a shiny red Massey Ferguson 135 diesel which also became a mainstay of world-wide small to mid-size farming.
Designer Claude Hill and racers Fred Dixon and Tony Rolt teamed up with Harry Ferguson in 1960 to create the world’s first four-wheel drive Formula One car, the Ferguson P99, for the Rob Walker Racing Team. It used a 1.5-litre Climax engine and had two claims to fame – the first 4WD car and the last front-engine car to win a Formula 1 event, driven by Stirling Moss to victory in wet weather at the Oulton Park GP in 1961.
Tamam Shud. Says Wikipedia: Tamam Shud is an Australian psychedelic, progressive and surf rock band, which formed in Newcastle in 1964. The initial line-up was known as Four Strangers with Eric Connell on bass guitar, Dannie Davidson on drums, Gary Johns on rhythm guitar and Alex “Zac” Zytnik on lead guitar. At the end of that year Johns was replaced by Lindsay Bjerre on guitar and vocals as they trimmed their name to the Strangers. By late 1965 they had become the Sunsets. They took the name Tamam Shud in late 1967 after replacing Connell with Peter Barron on bass guitar. The group released two albums, Evolution (1969) – after which Tim Gaze replaced Zytnik on lead guitar – and Goolutionites and the Real People (1970) before disbanding in 1972. After a lengthy hiatus they reformed in 1993 to release a third album, Permanent Culture in 1994, but disbanded again in 1995. Beginning in 2008 the group worked together periodically on new material: it took eight years to complete their fourth album, Eight Years of Moonlight (January 2016).
Says Wikipedia: Jethro Tull is an English rock band formed in Blackpool, Lancashire, in 1967. Initially playing blues rock, the band developed its sound to incorporate elements of British folk music and hard rock to forge a progressive rock signature. The band is led by vocalist/flautist/guitarist Ian Anderson, and featured a revolving door of lineups through the years including significant members such as longtime guitarist Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, drummers Clive Bunker, Barriemore Barlow, and Doane Perry, and bassists Glenn Cornick, Jeffrey Hammond, and Dave Pegg. The group first achieved commercial success in 1969, with the folk-tinged blues album Stand Up, which reached No. 1 in the UK, and they toured regularly in the UK and the US. Their musical style shifted in the direction of progressive rock with the albums Aqualung (1971), Thick as a Brick (1972) and A Passion Play (1973), and shifted again to hard rock mixed with folk rock with Songs from the Wood (1977) and Heavy Horses (1978). They have been described by Rolling Stone as “one of the most commercially successful and eccentric progressive rock bands”. The last works as a group to contain new material were released in 2003, though the band continued to tour until 2011. Though Anderson said Jethro Tull were finished in 2014, he announced a tour in September 2017 (without Barre or Perry) and a new studio album in 2018 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of their first, This Was (1968).
The Real People
The Tamam Shud case, also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is an unsolved case of a so-far-unidentified body found on 1 December 1948, at Somerton Beach, south of Adelaide, in South Australia. The name derives from the Persian phrase tamám shud, meaning “ended” or “finished”, which was printed on a piece of paper found months later in the pocket of the man’s trousers. The scrap had been torn from the final page of a copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, written in the 12th-century by Omar Khayyam.
The man had no identification on him, just an unused rail ticket, a bus ticket, a comb, gum, cigarettes, and the scrap of paper from the book.
A phone number led police to a 27-year-old nursing student who asked at the time that her name not be made public.
Later, when police showed her the death mask, she almost fainted, but she denied she knew the man.
Somerton Man was thought to be 40-45 years old. He wore a smart suit and tie, but the labels were removed from his clothes. There was no ID on the body and there were no signs of violence. The dry sand around him was undisturbed. He didn’t match any reports of people missing.
Even the cause of death has not been confirmed.
The pathologist who performed the autopsy found his spleen had grown to three times its normal size, and it and the liver were damaged. The report said it was doubtful the man died of natural causes. The doctor who carried out the post-mortem examination concluded that death was caused by heart failure due to poisoning. Further tests failed to identify the presence of any foreign substance.
The pathology report noted the man’s toes had a slight wedge and his calf muscles were high and pronounced – could the man have been a ballet dancer or a long-distance runner? His teeth were unusual. – his lateral incisors were missing, his sharp canines had grown next to his from teeth. But no dental records of any known person were a match.
His last meal was a pastie.
The book from which the scrap had been torn would be a pivotal clue. Police searched nationwide for it. Some time later, a man (who wished to remain anonymous) handed over to police the book in question he said he found in the back seat of his car around the time the body was found. The book was missing the words “tamán shud,” and had several lines of seemingly random capital letters written on the last page. This, said some, could have been code, giving weight to rumours that the man was a spy. There was also the name “Jestyn” and a phone number in the book.
The body was embalmed and a death mask made of the face.
A receptionist at the hotel near where the body was found came forward. She told police a strange man was staying in the hotel at the time of Somerton Man’s discovery. He had carried a black case with a long needle inside, she said. Several years later someone started leaving flowers on Somerton Man’s grave. Police questioned a woman, but she said she did not know anything about Somerton Man.
Many codebreakers have examined the letters found scribbled in the book. Some believe the final string of letters, ITTMTSAMSTGAB stands for “It’s Time To Move To South Australia Moseley Street.” The phone number written in the book may link to this. It was written beside the name Jestyn who turns out to possibly be a former army nurse who lived on Moseley Street, Glenelg.
The woman when questioned said she once had a copy of the Tamam Shud book which she gave to a Lt. Alfred Boxall she had met in the army. Her real name was not revealed at the time.
That led to theories that Boxall was the dead man, until he turned up in 1949 with his copy of the book intact.
A Sixty Minutes television program in 2013 claimed Jestyn was Jessica Thomson (nee Harkness).
The woman’s daughter, Kate, told Sixty Minutes her mother had known Somerton Man and that they both may have been spies, although she had no evidence of that. She said her mother spoke Russian.
Jessica Thomson’s son, Robin (who died in 2009), had a daughter, Rachel, who suggested that Somerton Man was in fact Robin’s biological father, a theory put forward by University of Adelaide Professor Derek Abbott who tried to solve the long-dormant case by examining photos of the dead man. He found that the shape of Somerton Man’s upper ear was peculiar to less than 2% of Caucasians, and he had hypodontia, a condition in which one or more teeth fail to develop, also confined to less than 2% of the population. Professor Abbott examined photos of Jestyn’s son, who had the same-shaped ears, and apparently also had hypodontia. The chance of two unrelated people having both conditions is put at more than one in ten million.
As things stand, DNA study of retained hair samples by American forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick has only established that Somerton Man was most likely from the East Coast of the US.
DNA testing may someday fill in the gaps if someone lays a credible claim to be related to Somerton Man.
A number of web sites continue to report on the case and Professor Abbot maintains a twitter account dedicated to the Tamam Shud mystery.
UPDATE: October 16, 2019. The ABC television program Australian Story examined the so-called “Somerton Man” case that remains an enduring mystery.
The South Australian Attorney-General gave “conditional approval” for exhumation of remains that can be tested for DNA in the hope of tracing relatives, possibly even children. There’s a proviso though: taxpayers won’t be footing the bill for the exercise, put at $A20,000.
Professor Derek Abbott is behind the move. He believes Rachel Egan, the woman he married, shares the same DNA as Somerton Man.
Professor Abbott tracked down the identity of the nurse, identifying her as Jessica Ellen “Jo” Thomson. By that time however, she had taken any secrets to her grave. She died in 2007.
Jo married car dealer George Thomson but they later divorced. At the time Somerton Man died, 400 metres from Jo’s house, she had a second child, a 16-months-old son.
She told friends that George wasn’t the father of her son.
Professor Abbott’s investigations led him to believe Jo and Somerton Man knew each other, and possibly had a son named Robin. Robin died in 2009.
Professor Abbott discovered that Rachel Egan was Robin’s granddaughter. Rachel was able to shed some light on her parents, discovering that they had met at the Australian Ballet School where both were dancers. Rachel had been adopted out as her parents did not have the means to care for her.
But until DNA testing is completed after exhumation – if it goes ahead – the mystery remains and possible connections remain uncertain.
The Jethro Tull story is more of one historical significance than a mystery.
Jethro Tull was born in 1674 into a family of Berkshire gentry. He studied at Oxford University and Gray’s Inn aiming at a legal and political career, but ill health caused him to take new directions. After his marriage in 1699, he began farming with his father, a move that saw him go on to become an agricultural pioneer.
Mechanised farming equipment can be traced back to the early 1700s with Tull’s invention of the seed drill, a machine that when pulled along either by human or beast would drop seeds into furrows.
Before his invention seeds were sown by hand, scattered them all over the ground where they often failed to germinate.
To build the first prototype seed drill in 1701, Tull called on his musical knowledge. It is said he built his device from foot pedals pilfered from the organ of a local church. The finished drill, the first agricultural machine with moving parts, sowed seeds in uniform rows and covered up them as well.
The seeds were placed in a hopper and fell into a grooved rotating cylinder that fed them in a controlled manner down a funnel. The front of the machine had a plough which created a channel into which the seeds dropped, to be covered by a harrow attached to the rear.
In 1714, he introduced the idea of pulverising the earth between the rows, believing that this released nutrients. He built a hoe and rake for lifting weeds to the surface where they could dry. He also invented a hoe that could be drawn by a horse.
In 1731, Tull wrote a book called “Horse-houghing (hoeing) Husbandry” which he revised in 1733. Although his Seed Drill was improved in 1782 by adding gears to the distribution mechanism, the rotary mechanism of the drill provided the foundation for all future sowing technology.
By the 1940s the seed drill was sufficiently developed to plant a dozen rows at a time, pulled by a horse.
“Major John R. Pardo distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Major Pardo was flying as the pilot of the lead element on the return from a 1,000 mile flight in which heavy flak damage was encountered. He noticed that his wingman’s aircraft was in trouble and was advised that the aircraft was extremely low on fuel. Realizing that the wingman’s aircraft would not make it out of North Vietnam, Major Pardo implemented maneuvers to literally push the aircraft across the border. The attempt was successful and consequently allowed the crew to avoid becoming prisoners of war. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Pardo has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force”.
Silver Star Citation for Major John R. (Robert) Pardo
The Pardo Push
The citation awarding the Silver Star to Major John R (“Bob”) Pardo was considered long overdue when it was made in 1989.
The story of what became known as the Pardo Push is one of incredible courage and ingenuity in the air over hostile territory.
On March 10, 1967, then Captain Bob Pardo and his wingman Captain Earl Aman along with their weapons systems officers, 1st Lt Steve Wayne and 1st Lt Robert Houghton, were taking part in a bombing raid over North Vietnam in two Phantom F-4 jets.
They were assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, flying out of the Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand.
Their mission on 10 March had two parts: First, they were to escort the main strike force of F-4s and F-105s against North Vietnamese MiGs. Second, they were to attack a steel mill used to produce war materials.
The mission had been ready for nine days but was delayed by constant bad weather. The sky was clear on 10 March and the mission was under way.
It wasn’t long – and still far from the target – before the planes ran into anti-aircraft fire. The F-4 with Aman and Houghton aboard took the biggest hit. Both men weren’t injured and the F-4 was still able to fly.
Opting to continue the mission, Aman and Houghton took part in the attack on the steel mill along with the other planes.
As they had thought, the steel mill was heavily protected. Several American aircraft were shot down.
The F-4 flown by Aman and Houghton took two more hits. The F-4 flown by Pardo and Wayne also came under heavy fire.
Aman and Houghton saw their plane was losing fuel and turned it towards a rendezvous point with a tanker plane flying above Laos. But the fuel was emptying fast and making the rendezvous point was out of the question.
Aman and Houghton prepared to bail out over enemy territory.
Pardo and Wayne’s plane also had been hit during their run on the steel mill And they were hit again as they pulled away. Their plane’s fuselage was hit just near the pilot’s seat.
Even though warning systems showed the plane was severely damaged– electrical systems were failing and fuel was leaking – Pardo was still able to fly it.
Both pilots took their planes up to 30,000 feet to save fuel and allow a longer glide path if the engines failed.
They were by themselves, high above enemy territory between North Vietnam’s Red and Black Rivers as the surviving planes from the mission headed back to Ubon. Aman’s fuel loss was becoming critical and he and Houghton prepared to bail out to face death or capture.
Pardo immediately hatched a daring plan. He called on Aman to jettison his drag chute.
Pardo then tried to put the nose of his plane into the empty drag chute receptacle of Aman’s F-4 and push the plane away. But there was too much jet engine wash and Pardo could not get into position.
Again, Aman and Houghton prepared to bail. But Pardo wasn’t done.
Time for plan B.
Pardo later recalled: “I looked up and there was the tail hook. I thought, ‘What do we have to lose?’
He called on Aman to drop the plane’s tail hook.
The steel tail hooks were fitted for use in emergency landings to snag barrier cables, in the same way aircraft carriers catch planes.
Pardo’s outlandish – and untried – plan was to use the hook to push the crippled jet.
Flying at 300 miles per hour, Pardo directed his plane’s nose up under the tail of Aman’s plane to put the windscreen against the tail hook. This was dangerous – if the glass broke, the tail hook would smash into Pardo.
Even though turbulence meant the manoeuvre had to be repeated several times, Pardo managed to slow the descent of Aman’s plane.
But then the windscreen began to crack. Pardo opted for a new approach – push the tail hook with the metal frame of the cockpit.
Pardo continued to push the other fighter a few seconds at a time. The rate of descent of Aman’s F-4 was cut from 3,000 to 1,500 feet per minute.
The engines on Aman’s F-4 flamed out. But there was an upside – the jet wash was no long a hazard to the delicate push manoeuvre.
It looked like that with a decreased rate of descent, some controlled gliding and some nudging from behind, Aman and Houghton had a chance to reach safety.
But more drama was to come. The jet flown by Pardo had been damaged in the raid. Suddenly an alert told him one of his engines was on fire. He had to shut it down.
That left one engine to fly the two planes. And the rate of descent of Aman’s jet was increasing again. Pardo’s fuel was dangerously low and the tankers were too far away to get to him in time.
Pardo recalled: “It got a little discouraging after about 10 minutes because our left engine caught fire and we had to shut it down. We continued to push and it got us where we needed to go.”
Bailing out for both crews was now the only option. They called in their positions to the air search-and-rescue crews
Both aircrews ejected safely, though injured, over the Laotian border and were all rescued in less than two hours by HH-53 “Jolly Green Giant” helicopters.
Ironically, Pardo first was reprimanded for the loss of his F-4 and could have faced a court-martial. A review of the incident two decades later resulted in all four airmen being given significant awards.
Pardo said: “They lost eight airplanes that day, but the four of us were the only ones that made it back. What the general didn’t understand was we had already got what we wanted, which was our friends.”
Bob Pardo and Steve Wayne received Silver Stars for their heroic actions. Earl Aman and Robert Houghton received the Silver Star for continuing to press the attack even though their plane was badly damaged.
Pardo and Aman completed their Air Force careers, both retiring in the rank of lieutenant colonel. Later, Pardo heard that Aman had Lou Gehrig’s disease and had lost his voice and mobility. He created the Earl Aman Foundation that raised enough money to buy Aman a voice synthesizer, a motor-powered wheelchair and a computer. The foundation and the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association later raised funds to pay for a van, which Aman used for transportation until his death.
The flight manoeuvre was later the subject of an episode of the TV program JAG.
December 2019 marked 50 years since a Korean Air Lines (KAL) flight on a short internal hop in South Korea was hijacked and flown to North Korea.
The YS-11 was flying from Gangneung to Gimpo International Airport in Seoul on 11 December 1969.
There were 46 passengers and four crew on board.
Two months after the hijacking, 39 passengers were returned to South Korea. The crew and seven other passengers are still somewhere in North Korea. They may or may not still be alive.
Negotiations in January 1970 led to North Korea agreeing to return the hijacked passengers in mid-February.
Relatives travelled to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom, in the DMZ border zone. Many had flowers and gifts as they waited for their relatives.
But only 39 people came across the border. It remains unknown today what happened to most of the 11 who didn’t return to South Korea.
South Korea says government agents from the North hijacked the plane. North Korea’s official news agency said soon after the hijacking that the airliner was flown into North Korea by its two pilots who wanted to defect. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) identified the two pilots as Yu Byong Ha and Choe Sok Man.
The now-accepted version is that a North Korean agent, later identified as Cho Chang-hui, entered the cockpit and forced the pilots to fly into North Korean airspace. They were met by North Korean fighter jets and forced to land at Sondok Airfield near Wonsan.
Statements provided by released passengers refuted North Korea’s claims that the hijacking was led by the pilots; instead, they identified a passenger as the hijacker. A man on the plane said he snuck a look out the window of the aircraft and saw the hijacker being driven away in a black car.
The passengers included Yi Dong-gi, the manager of a printing company; Chae Heon-deok, a doctor; and two journalists for Munhwa Broadcasting Corp (MBC).
A mother of one of the flight attendants being held was allowed to visit her daughter in 2000 but the daughter remained in North Korea.
Most of those not released were educated, upper-class people and are thought to have been kept captive for propaganda purposes.
In 1992, it was claimed that two flight attendants and two other passengers were employed making propaganda broadcasts to the South. There were also reports that the captain and first officer were working for the Korean People’s Air Force.
The secretive successive North Korean regimes have not been forthcoming with information about those still held or the plane. It is not known for certain whether any of those detained are still alive.
In 2012, families of those still being held sought permission to visit their families.
North Korea responded that the kidnapped passengers on the KAL flight did not fall under the classification of enforced disappearances and dismissed the request for confirmation of the passengers’ status as a political scheme by hostile forces.
South Korea says the North has been responsible for many kidnappings. Some reports say the North has abducted 3,835 South Korean citizens, mostly fishermen, since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean Peninsula war. Up to 500 of those are still there.
North Korea has consistently claimed that there were no South Korean abductees in North Korea and that south Koreans in their country have defected. About 85,000 South Koreans were captured during the war and not repatriated.
The US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea says Pyongyang has kidnapped more than 80,000 citizens of 12 nations, including South Korea.
As for the KAL passengers and crew, relatives are still calling on the United Nations to intervene of their behalf, with no success to date.
NEW “THEORY” ON MH370
There are many conspiracy theories about the disappearance in March 2014 of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 after it left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
One of the latest bizarrely links the disappearance to the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un.
London’s Express newspaper reported in April 2017:
“The North Korean conspiracy theory centres on rumours that Kim Jong-un, the dictator of the hardline regime, ordered the hijacking of the flight because he wanted it for experimentation.
Malaysia is now in a diplomatic row with North Korea, after secret agents from the secretive regime were suspected of using a chemical nerve-agent to assassinate Kim’s own half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur airport, because it was feared he would keep speaking out about horrors inside the secretive country.
A discussion about the theory on social media site Reddit suggested MH370 had enough fuel to be flown to North Korea.
It also pointed to the fact in 1969, North Korea was held responsible for hijacking the South Korean plane Korean Air Lines YS-11.
An aviation worker, who was not named, but spoke to eTurboNews (eTN) explained why the dictator wanted a Boeing 777.
He said he wanted a really, really huge plane for research into technology advancements”.
The story of Vesna Vulovic is either one of the greatest survival stories of all time or one of the greatest hoaxes.
The official version favours the former. Unfortunately, Vesna herself was unable to shed any light on the events of 26 January 1972 in the intervening years to her death, in 2016.
As records have it, Vesna, aged 23 at the time and working as a Jugoslavenski Aerotransport (JAT) hostess, survived a fall from 10,160 m (33,333 ft) over Srbská Kamenice, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) on 26 January 1972.
According to the official accident report, an explosion tore the DC-9 to pieces in mid-air. Vesna, working as a stewardess, was the only survivor of the 28 people on board. It was suspected that a bomb in a briefcase was planted inside the plane during a stopover in Copenhagen, Denmark, but nothing was ever proved and there were no arrests.
Authorities attributed the bombing to Ustache, a far-right Nazi/fascist group in Croatia.
In 1985 the Guinness Book of Records recognised the incident for the highest fall survived without a parachute.
But questions have been raised about the crash. No one claimed responsibility, there were never any arrests and in 2009 two German journalists claimed the Czechoslovak air force had shot down DC-9 by mistake at an altitude of perhaps just 800 m (2,600 ft) as it attempted an emergency landing.
The questions could have been put to rest by Vesna herself. But she always maintained she had no recollection of the incident, telling interviewers: “I do not remember the accident at all, just my waking up in the Czech hospital the next day and asking a doctor for a cigarette.”
In 2009, a journalistic investigation claimed that the aircraft had broken up at a much lower altitude than stated in the official accident report.
Based on reviews of contemporary reports, newly available documents and eyewitness accounts, the investigators concluded that it was “extremely probable” that the plane was mistaken for an enemy aircraft and shot down by a MiG fighter from the Czechoslovakian air force.
Czech military experts dismiss the report as a conspiracy theory, noting that hundreds of soldiers would have known the truth, yet none have come forward in the decades since. Further, it has been suggested, the West German Air Force would have detected the fighter jets.
Whatever is the accurate version of how far she fell and what caused the plane to break up, Vesna’s survival was remarkable.
The crash report said she was trapped by a food cart in the plane’s tail section as it fell from the sky.
The tail landed in the dark on a heavily wooded and snow-covered side of a mountain.
Vesna was found by Bruno Honke, a woodsman who heard her screaming. Honke had been a medic during World War II and was able to treat her until rescuers arrived.
She suffered a fractured skull and broke her legs. She had three broken vertebrae and was temporarily paralysed from the waist down. She also had broken ribs and a fractured pelvis. She spent 16 months in hospital, more than two weeks in a coma. At one point, her parents were told she would not survive.
But with a series of operations, therapy and her own dogged determination, she made a full recovery and returned to work for the airline.
Reports at the time of the crash said Vesna was not supposed to be on the flight at all. Her schedule had been mixed up with that of another stewardess named Vesna, and she was allocated to the wrong flight.
Her doctors are said to have concluded that her history of low blood pressure caused her to pass out quickly after the cabin depressurised and kept her heart from bursting on impact. Vesna said she knew about her low blood pressure before becoming a flight attendant and also knew that it would result in her failing her medical examination. So, she drank a large amount of coffee before her interview and was accepted
The spectacular survival story won Vesna celebrity status in Serbia, where she channelled her fame into campaigning for political causes.
She was dismissed from her job at the airline in 1990 after taking part in protests against President Slobodan Milosevic. She continued for two more decades to fight against nationalism.
“I am like a cat, I have had nine lives,” she told the New York Times. “But if nationalist forces in this country prevail, my heart will burst.”
She married in 1977 and did not have any children. The final years of her life were spent in seclusion and she continued to struggle with survivor’s guilt. After divorcing, she lived alone in a Belgrade apartment until her death in 2016.
Vesna’s is not the only remarkable story of a sole survivor from a plane crash.
Juliane Koepke survived fall into jungle
Juliane Koepcke was the only survivor of 92 passengers and crew in the 24 December 1971 crash of LANSA Flight 508 in Peru.
Juliane was flying over the Peruvian rainforest with her mother when the plane was hit by lightning. She survived a 3.2 km (10,000 ft) fall and found herself alone in the jungle, aged just 17.
The LANSA Lockheed Electra OB-R-941 flew into a severe thunderstorm and broke up in mid-air. Juliane fell to earth still strapped into her seat. She survived with a broken collarbone and a gash to her right arm.
Juliane was a German Peruvian high school senior student studying in Lima, to become a zoologist, like her parents. She and her mother, ornithologist Maria Koepcke, were travelling to meet her father, biologist Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, who was working in the city of Pucallpa.
In 2012 she told the BBC World Service Outlook program: “It was Christmas Eve 1971 and everyone was eager to get home, we were angry because the plane was seven hours late.
“Suddenly we entered into a very heavy, dark cloud. My mother was anxious but I was OK, I liked flying. Ten minutes later it was obvious that something was very wrong.
“There was very heavy turbulence and the plane was jumping up and down, parcels and luggage were falling from the locker, there were gifts, flowers and Christmas cakes flying around the cabin.
“When we saw lightning around the plane, I was scared. My mother and I held hands but we were unable to speak. Other passengers began to cry and weep and scream. After about 10 minutes, I saw a very bright light on the outer engine on the left. My mother said very calmly: ‘That is the end, it’s all over.’ Those were the last words I ever heard from her.”
Juliane recalled the plane going in to a nose dive and finding herself outside still strapped to her seat.
She saw the jungle but passed out before she hit the ground. She said she woke up the next day, surprised she was alive.
Juliane searched for her mother but could not find her. It is thought her mother may have survived the crash but died later of her injuries.
All she could find for food was a bag of sweets. She found a river and wandered alongside it for 10 days.
She told Outlook: “I saw a really large boat. When I went to touch it and realised it was real, it was like an adrenaline shot. But [then I saw] there was a small path into the jungle where I found a hut with a palm leaf roof, an outboard motor and a litre of gasoline. I decided to spend the night there.”
Next day several timber workers who used the shelter arrived. The looked after her injuries and bug infestations. The next morning, they took her on a seven-hour canoe ride down river to a lumber station. A local pilot flew her to Pucallpa where she was taken to hospital and reunited with her father.
Juliane later moved to Germany, where she fully recovered from her injuries. She studied biology at the University of Kiel, graduating in 1980. She received a doctorate from Ludwig-Maximilian University and returned to Peru to conduct research in mammalogy, specialising in bats.
FOOTNOTE: Most recently known as Juliane Diller, she served as librarian at the Bavarian State Zoological Collection in Munich. Her autobiography, Als ich vom Himmel fiel (When I Fell From the Sky), was released on 10 March 2011 by Piper Verlag, for which she received the Corine Literature Prize in 2011.
D.B. Cooper: case closed but it remains unsolved after 40 years
The story of D.B. Cooper remains one of the most intriguing mysteries of the 20th Century. What has been classified as a closed case just won’t go away.
Even four decades later, new claims are still emerging, one investigator revealing he knows the true identity of the infamous hijacker and extortionist.
The saga began when a well-dressed middle-aged man calling himself Dan Cooper (the name on his flight coupon but referred to in the media later as D.B. Cooper) bought a one-way ticket to board a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727 jet on 24 November 1971 for a flight (305) from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington.
Cooper took a seat near the back of the plane and after it was in the air, about 3 pm, handed flight attendant Florence Schaffner a note which she at first ignored, thinking the man was asking her for a date.
But he whispered to her, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” He told her to sit beside him. She asked to see the bomb and he opened his briefcase to reveal wires and red sticks resembling dynamite.
Cooper wanted four parachutes — two primary and two reserves — and $US 200,000 — worth around $US 1.2 million in today’s value.
The plane circled Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle for two hours as FBI and Seattle police worked to get the money and parachutes. When the plane landed, the money was handed over and Cooper let 36 passengers off, but kept the pilots and one flight attendant on board.
The plane took off, heading south for Mexico at Cooper’s directions to the flight crew. Cooper ordered that the plane be flown with the landing gear down, the flaps at 15%, a speed of no more than 200 mph and an altitude no higher than 10,000 feet. He instructed the crew that the plane should not be pressurised.
The flight crew — pilot William Scott, first office William Rataczak, flight engineer H.E. Anderson and flight attendant Tina Mucklow — convinced him the plane couldn’t be flown to Mexico without refuelling somewhere. Cooper agreed to let the plane land in Reno, Nevada.
But on a dark night in light rain and several minutes after take-off from Seattle at 7.45pm, Cooper sent the flight attendant to the cockpit. He put on the parachute, tied the bank bag full of marked $US 20 notes to himself, lowered the back stairs and somewhere north of Portland jumped into the night. He left behind a black tie that he’d been wearing when he boarded. At around 8pm the flight crew in the cockpit saw a warning light indicating the rear airstair had been activated. Around 10:15 pm, the plane landed at Reno Airport with the rear airstair still deployed. FBI agents, state troopers, deputies, and police surrounded the jet. But Cooper had gone.
Whether Cooper could have survived the jump has been much debated. Significantly, no parachute was found on the ground in the search area.
In the weeks after the hijacking a newspaper in Reno received letters from someone purporting to be Cooper, seemingly taunting investigators. The FBI was not able to determine who sent the letters.
Nine years after the hijacking, just north of Portland on the Columbia River, a boy named Brian Ingram was digging a fire pit in the sand at a place called Tena Bar. He uncovered three bundles of cash a couple inches below the surface, with rubber bands still intact. There was a total of $US 5,800. The serial numbers matched the money handed over to Cooper.
A family secret
Then in 2011 an Oregon woman claimed her uncle was DB Cooper.
Marla Cooper had told investigators she had a 40-year-old family secret involving an uncle, named Lynn Doyle Cooper.
Marla Cooper said she was eight years old when her uncle whom she called L D Cooper came to her home, badly injured, for Thanksgiving in 1971, the day after the hijacking. He had said his injuries were the result of a car crash.
Ms Cooper never saw her uncle again and was told he died in 1999.
She said her uncle had been fixated on a comic book character named “Dan Cooper” the name the hijacker gave when boarding the plane.
Marla Cooper’s mother, Grace Halley, also believes that her brother-in-law was the skyjacker, and provided further details to the FBI about him.
“I’ve always had a gut feeling it was L.D.,” Ms Hailey told ABC News. “I think it was more what I didn’t know is what made me suspicious than what I did know, because whenever the topic came up it immediately got cut off again.”
Ms Cooper says she was told by the FBI that her evidence was enough for them to close the file on the case.
To that point, the money found in the sand, the black tie and a parachute were the only tangible items of evidence the FBI had.
In 2016, the FBI said it was no longer pursuing the case and resources being spent on the Cooper case would be diverted to “other investigative priorities”.
An FBI statement in July 2016 said: “Over the years, the FBI has applied numerous new and innovative investigative techniques, as well as examined countless items at the FBI Laboratory. In order to solve a case, the FBI must prove culpability beyond a reasonable doubt, and, unfortunately, none of the well-meaning tips or applications of new investigative technology have yielded the necessary proof,” the statement said.
Files related to the Cooper case were archived.
But a year later, DB Cooper was back on the agenda for those still wanting to know the truth. Media reports said a new piece of evidence had been found.
The New York Daily News reported the evidence was “an odd piece of buried foam,” which may have been used in Cooper’s parachute. It was found in a mound of dirt in the deep Pacific Northwest mountains early in August.
Tom Colbert, a Los Angeles TV and film producer said he and his team of volunteer “cold case” investigators believe D.B Cooper is Robert Rackstraw, a 74-year-old Army veteran from San Diego with a criminal record and who had parachute training.
The FBI questioned Rackstraw about the D.B. Cooper case in 1978 and eliminated him as a suspect. Rackstraw has repeatedly denied any involvement. Crew members of the plane were shown images of Rackstraw and said he wasn’t the hijacker. There were reports he had told inmates while in prison that he was D.B. Cooper.
Since he became the focus of Colbert’s team, Rackstraw said he was confronted “two or three times per week” by journalists, amateur sleuths and other interested people who ask him about the chance that he is D.B. Cooper.
Were others involved?
Colbert believes Cooper got away with the daring plan with the help of three partners.
Colbert claims to have 100 pieces of evidence linking Rackstraw to the hijacking. He has written a book (The Last Master Outlaw), kept a website (DBCooper.com) and pursued the FBI for access to sealed evidence. Colbert collaborated with the History Channel on a documentary – “D.B. Cooper: Case Closed?” – about the case and said he was contacted after its airing by a Pacific Northwest couple. The husband had told his wife a story he heard years before at his aviators’ club.
The story was that Cooper recruited three accomplices. One, a pilot, was said to have flown in a Cessna plane in clouds above an airstrip outside the village of La Center, Washington. The other two were waiting in a small truck.
Cooper supposedly landed quite close to his target and the men in the truck blinked their lights to signal the Cessna to land and Cooper was collected and flew away in the Cessna.
The two men in the truck drove up to a mountain logging road and buried the chute and $US 150,000.
The Cessna, according to the story, followed rivers south to Vancouver Lake where Cooper tossed out $US 50,000 and his fake bomb, the supposed idea being to fool investigators into thinking Cooper had drowned.
Cooper and the pilot flew the Cessna on to Scappoose airstrip in Oregon where they switched to another plane and flew back to Portland, and went their separate ways.
The married couple told Colbert the FBI didn’t appear interested in their story, hence their approach to him.
Colbert got a court order for the FBI to release its Cooper files. The files reveal the FBI interviewed La Center area farmers who saw the truck and plane.
Colbert believes the FBI will pick up on the new evidence. He says the information he was given enabled his team to pinpoint the place where the money and parachute were buried. They dug at the site and found what is believed to be an old parachute strap.
There have been other “private” investigations.
A team that included a paleontologist from Seattle’s Burke Museum said particles of pure titanium found in the hijacker’s clip-on tie suggest he worked in the chemical industry or at a company that manufactured titanium.
A 2011 book, Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper, by Geoffrey Gray, referred to several theories, including that Cooper might have been a transgender mechanic from Washington state.
Seattle lawyer Galen Cook, another amateur sleuth, is convinced he has solved the puzzle. He believes William Gossett, a Korean and Vietnam war vet who died in 2003, was Cooper.
But putting a dampener on all the theories, former FBI lead investigator Ralph Himmelsbach believes the hijacker could have never survived the jump: “Most likely he’s still lying in the weeds up there”.
Footnote: Tom Colbert’s account has been recorded by columnist Michael Fitzgerald on recordnet.com and was reported by Fox News in the U.S. The Mercury News, California, in October 2017 carried a comprehensive report on the Cooper case.
GUYRA NSW April 25 (1921): “An interesting development in connection with the mysterious noises and the throwing of stones at the house of a family named Bowen is that a girl, Minnie Bowen, aged 12 has admitted to Police Sergeant Ridge that she caused the tappings on three occasions. She said she did so for a joke; also, she admitted that on Saturday last see threw three small stones on the roof to frighten her sister-in-law. However, she denies all knowledge of complicity in the other things. The police gave credence to the child’s story”.
Hobart Mercury, Tuesday 26 April 1921: “Surely not before it was time the police have solved the Guyra stone throwing mystery. On the face of it the thing was just puerile trickery.
Armidale Chronicle, 30 April, 1921:The Guyra mystery was now “partially cleared up” with the girl’s confession, said other newspaper reports at the time. Even the Inspector General of Police thought the girls’ admission to some stone throwing and tapping a wall was sufficient to dismiss the entire matter as a prank.
The Guyra Mystery
Many people to this day believe there was more to the events of April 1921 in Guyra than a child’s prank.
The “Guyra Mystery” captured the attention – and imagination – of most of Australia and other parts of the world through April 1921.
At the centre of the story was Minnie Bowen, the 12-year-old daughter of shire council ganger William Bowen and his wife, Catherine.
Guyra is a town in a rural community on the Northern Tablelands of NSW, Australia, between Armidale and Glen Innes. In 1921 the population was about 1000.
Much was written in newspapers at the time about the stone throwing at the Bowen family house. There have been books and even a silent black and white film (which seems to have disappeared). In the modern age of the internet much can still be found about this mystery.
One of the first newspaper reports of the stone-throwing appeared in the Armidale Chronicle of 9 April, 1921: “Sensational stone throwing has caused mild excitement in Guyra during this past week, when a house on the outskirts of town has been bombarded in some mysterious manner. The windows have been broken and the inmates nearly frightened out of their lives. Though the police have the matter in hand, assisted by a number of residents, the stones keep coming.”
There are two schools of thought: either Minnie was the target of a ghostly attack, or she was the perpetrator of a prank.
If that latter, it will go down as one of the all-time greats. It drew in investigators from around the country and even overseas.
Many hours of police time were devoted to solving the mystery.
That Minnie was a target of a ghost gained great traction, particularly among the locals. From around 8 April 1921 stones crashed through her bedroom window and fell on to her bed. Heavy bumps and blows to the walls of the house followed her as she moved around. Townspeople stood watch outside the house during the night, night after night. The stone throwing continued.
It is safe to say the people of Guyra were a little on edge – it was reported that just a couple of weeks earlier an elderly Irishwoman, a Mrs Doran, had disappeared near the town. She was supposedly seen by a farm worker walking across a paddock towards a hilltop, carrying potatoes in her hands. As she reached the top of the rise, she disappeared and was never seen again. Or so the story goes.
Nevertheless, it is little wonder local residents were a bit spooked as the mysterious stone throwing increased in tempo.
A case of larrikinism
Local police officer Sergeant Ridge was joined by Constable Hardy from Sydney, who at one time had lived in the Guyra area. The Armidale Chronicle reported on developments from police headquarters in Sydney on 20 April: “The Inspector General of Police regards the stone throwing at Guyra as purely a case of larrikinism. He says he is determined to stamp the ting out. With this end in view he intends to send a number of extra men to Guyra.” Surely an overreaction if it was genuinely thought a 12-year-old girl was responsible.
It is recorded that on the night of April 15, Minnie sat in her bedroom watched by two police officers. The lights were on. Outside, 50 people patrolled the street and around the house. All was quiet. Until about 9 pm when there was a loud knock on the bedroom wall, followed by a couple of further thumps. The house shook.
Present in the gathered throng was a Mr Davies, said to be interested in spiritualism. He suggested Minnie ask a question of the “ghost”. Minnie obliged, asking “Is that you May”. May was her half-sister who had died some months before.
No one heard a response but Minnie said later May had answered her: “Tell mother I am in heaven, and quite happy. Tell her it was her prayers which got me here and I will look after her for the rest of my life”.
Two days later the Bowens returned home to find the shutters and battens that had been affixed to the windows and doors of their house had been smashed and piled up on the verandah of the house.
Car headlights were trained on the house to act as spotlights. A few nights later to large stones crashed on to a wall right near where a policeman was standing. There was no sign of a thrower.
Not long after, the Bowens sent Minnie off to her grandmother, Mrs Shelton, in Glen Innes, another Tablelands town about 40 minutes by road north of Guyra. All remained quiet in Guyra. But on May 11 and 12 the Shelton family told of hearing knocks, bumps and a shower of stones on their roof. Police were called and laid the blame on Minnie.
Despite Minnie’s confession to having thrown a few stones and tapping on the walls with a stick to scare her sister-in-law after the disturbances began, no one could safely say she was responsible for the heavy lifting required to shake a house or tear down battens from windows. As well, some of the stones had been thrown while she was being watched by adults.
And some of them were so big they could not be removed through a window. Or so the story goes.
The poltergeist theory emerged. At one stage someone put up 500 pounds guarantee that Minnie was not responsible for the incidents.
Minnie returned to Guyra in August 1921 and the disturbances abated then ceased. Permanently by all accounts.
Minnie Frances Bowen married Frank E. Ince in Armidale in 1928. She never spoke of the “ghost’ period of her life.
She was killed while walking along Grafton Road in Armidale in 1971 by a car that some said inexplicably swerved towards her across the roadway.
The Guyra ghost story was a media sensation. Almost every newspaper in Australia carried reports. One film was made, The Guyra Ghost Story. It took just three days to make. The Bowen family themselves appeared in the cast. The director, producer, writer and leading actor was actor John Cosgrove. Cosgrove played the character of Sherlock Doyle, a spoof of a Mr Moors who actually turned up in Guyra from England to investigate. Moors was a friend of the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Moors announced his impending arrival in Guyra with a telegram to the police station: “Chief of Police, Guyra. Please reserve room, best hotel. Leaving tonight”.
More than 90 years later, the Guyra Ghost was still making headlines. This from the Daily Mail Online:
The ‘supernatural attacks’ on a 12-year-old girl that were so severe police were forced to surround a country home: Australia’s most terrifying haunting has baffled investigators since 1921 A ghost terrorised a local community in Northern NSW in the 1920s
A 12-year-old girl was haunted by her half-sister’s ghost
The walls of her house apparently shook and stones were thrown
Investigators say the ‘Guyra ghost’ is one of Australia’s most baffling
‘Supernatural attacks’ have never been explained even after a police probe
By Martha Azzi For Daily Mail Australia 31 October 2015 | Updated: 1 February 2016
And of course the myriad of websites devoted to the paranormal and supernatural phenomena still rank it among the great poltergeist stories.
Paranormal.com.au posted a report on 17 November 2013 that began: The case of the Guyra Ghost or rather Poltergeist began in April 1921 with “tremendous thumpings” on the walls followed by showers of stones which eventually broke every window in the tiny weather-board cottage just outside Guyra.
The ghost may by now have been laid to rest, but the story hasn’t.
During the war years Mrs Minnie Ince joined the Women’s Auxiliary Security Producers Service (WASPS) founded by Armidale grazier Donald Shand to work the farms in place of the men who went to fight.
She was pictured in a Women’s Weekly special report on the WASPS:
CM for Flogger-blogger. November 2017. The author once worked with the son of Minnie Ince but gained no insight into the mystery. Main Sources: newspaper articles of the time via TROVE.com.au.
MORE GUYRA YARNS
Little Boy Lost
The Guyra Ghost was not the only story from the tiny town to captivate the nation.
Almost 40 years after the ghost story, Guyra was the focal point again when four-year-old Steven Walls wandered off from his father and disappeared into the rugged bush near, Tubbamurra, about 20km from Guyra on the Northern Tablelands of New England, NSW.
A child missing in that area for any length of time would be given little chance of survival. So it was little wonder hundreds of townspeople rallied for a four-day search through country most would not tackle on their own. They were joined by many volunteers from around the state and even interstate. At one time the number of searchers was put at 4,000 – far more than the population of the township. One search line was said to have 1,000 men walking the ground an arm’s length apart.
Steven spent four days hiding in the bush – he’d heard searchers but was frightened so stayed hidden.
The search was launched on the morning of Friday 5 February. It was the following Monday before he was found, hiding in a gully.
HIS first words when they found him were, “Where’s my daddy?” and his next were, “Look at the burrs in my socks.” In Steven’s view it was “daddy” who was lost and he’d been looking for him.
One group checking gorge country near Backwater made a last sweep on Monday morning after reports of footprints. Bill Scrivener, a boiler attendant from Glenn Innes Hospital, saw something that looked like a boy sitting on a log. It was Steven, scratches on his legs, sunburnt and thirsty but otherwise well. He was 11 km from where he wandered off. Steven made a full recovery but his story lives on.
Singer Johnny Ashcroft recorded “Little Boy Lost” not long after the searchers found Steven.
“Little Boy Lost” topped the music charts for six weeks. It was awarded the first 45rpm Gold Records struck in both Australia and New Zealand.
“In the wild New England ranges came the word one fateful day To every town and village that a boy had lost his way All the town folk quickly gathered and the wild bush horses tossed They went out to search the ranges for this little boy lost.”
Johnny Ashcroft composed the song from an idea from disc jockey Tony Withers.
Steven Walls passed away in April 2020.
Body in the well
A relatively modern Guyra mystery involved the discovery of the body of a local motor trader in a well.
The partly decomposed body of Claude Harold Heagney was found in a well on a property on 14 March 1960. The left arm was missing. Claude Heagney had been missing for 14 months, having disappeared from Guyra on 21 January 1959.
The local fire brigade was called in to drain the well which was about 18 ft (5.5 m) deep. Bones, a broken rifle and bullets were found in the silt at the bottom of the well. There were two bullet holes in the skull. Claude Heagney’s brother identified the rifle as Claude’s.
The property owner said he had put heavy railway sleepers of the well two years previously to stop children falling in. The sleepers were still there when the owner went to install a motor pump at the well on the Monday before the body was found.
The night Claude Heagney was last seen, his car was left outside his garage with the keys still in it. The same night residents heard a shot somewhere in North Guyra – Heagney’s garage was at the northern end of the township and the property where the body was found was a little further north.
A coronial inquest held in Guyra during July 1960 heard that a witness saw two men carry a long “rolled up” bundle from the darkened garage and place it in the boot of a car on 22 January 1959.
The coroner also heard of arguments between Claude Heagney and his son Douglas.
A doctor told the coroner that Claude Heagney could have fired the shots that killed him but it would have been “awkward.”
A police officer, Sergeant William Denis Culla, who was stationed at Guyra at the time said he had known Claude Heagney for about 16 years and had been on shooting trips with him. He found him to be an excellent shot: “He was a very good shot. He could shoot from either shoulder.”
Sgt Culla said he searched the garage and reported Claude Heagney’s disappearance to Armidale police. He and an officer from Armidale (a city to the south of Guyra) found specks of blood on the garage floor.
A police officer from Armidale said it would have been impossible for someone in the well to pull the sleepers back over it after getting in.
A mechanic who worked at the garage told the coroner that Claude and Douglas Heagney bickered about the business.
Evidence also was given about Claude Heagney drinking heavily sometimes.
Based on evidence to the coronial hearing the question was whether Claude Heagney was murdered or committed suicide.
The coroner recorded an open finding and the mystery remained unsolved for around 30 years.
A paragraph in a Sydney afternoon newspaper gave the answer.
Upon the death in Sydney of William Denis Culla his solicitor opened a letter in which the former policeman confessed to the murder. He and Claude Heagney had been involved in a stolen car racket. Cars stolen in Sydney were reworked at the Guyra garage and moved on to Queensland for sale.
The confession perhaps also explained why Sgt Culla had spent many of his days off working for local farmers – the extra income from the car racket might have otherwise raised suspicions of something untoward.
The Heagney inquest was extensively reported in the Sydney Morning Herald which is the source of much of this material along with the writer’s own knowledge of the case.