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The Mystery Chronicles

More Real-Life X-Files

Joe Nickell

Publication Year: 2004

" With a foreword by James Randi Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell has spent more than thirty years solving the world’s most perplexing mysteries. This new casebook reveals the secrets of the Winchester Mystery House, the giant Nazca drawings of Peru, the Shroud of Turin, the “Mothman” enigma, the Amityville Horror house, the vicious goatsucking El Chupacabras, and numerous other “unexplainable” paranormal phenomena. Nickell has traveled far and wide to solve cases, which include a weeping icon in Russia, the elusive Bigfoot-like “yowie” in Australia, the reputed power of a headless saint in Spain, and an “alien hybrid” in Germany. He has gone undercover—often in disguise—to reveal the tricks of those who pretend to talk to the dead, accompanied a Cajun guide into a Louisiana swamp in search of a fabled monster, and gained an audience with a voodoo queen. Superstar psychic medium John Edward, pet psychic Sonya Fitzpatrick, evangelist and healer Benny Hinn, and many other well-known figures have found themselves under Nickell’s careful scrutiny. The Mystery Chronicles examines more than three dozen intriguing mysteries. Nickell uses a hands-on approach and the scientific method to steer between the extremes of mystery mongering and debunking. His investigative skills have won him both acclaim and controversy during his long career as one of the world’s foremost paranormal investigators.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

THE Mystery Chronicles: MORE REAL-LIFE X-FILES

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

I am once again indebted to my colleagues at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) in Amherst, New York, where—since 1995—I have been Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). These colleagues include Paul Kurtz, chairman; Barry Karr, executive director; ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I've known Dr. Joe Nickell since he was a young man. That was when he was a budding conjuror, eagerly soaking up every secret and angle of the deception-for-entertainment trade. I could hardly have guessed that after entering the conjuring business he would then change direction to become a professional sleuth, ...

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pp. xv-xvii

For more than three decades, I have been investigating paranormal claims—that is, those supposedly beyond the range of science and normal human experience. My first important case transpired in 1972 when I investigated Canada's most famous "haunted" place: Mackenzie House in downtown Toronto. ...

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1 Mystery of the Nazca Lines

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pp. 1-9

As to the landing-strip notion, Maria Reiche, the German-born mathematician who for years has mapped and attempted to preserve the markings, had a ready rejoinder. Noting that the imagined runways are clear of stones and that the underlying ground is quite soft, she said, ''I'm afraid the spacemen would have gotten stuck" ...

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2 The Fiery Specter

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pp. 10-13

Whereas Arnold insists that "contemporary reports" give no clue to the mystery, in fact newspaper accounts actually report the medical examiner's official determination. First, however, the reader is invited to provide a plausible solution to the mystery. There are several potential hypotheses, each more credible than spontaneous ...

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3 The Exorcist: The Case Behind the Movie

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pp. 14-27

In many cases, however, supposed demonic possession can be a learned role that fulfills certain important functions for those claiming it. In his book Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions from Within, psychologist Robert A. Baker (1992) noted that possession was sometimes feigned by nuns to act out sexual frustrations, ...

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4 The "Goatsucker" Attack

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pp. 28-30

When the scare spread to Mexico in April of 1996, a scientific team staked out farmyards where the goatsucker had reportedly struck Wild dogs were caught each time. A police official remarked, "I don't know about the rest of Mexico or the rest of the world, but here the goatsuckers are just dogs." ...

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5 Undercover Among the Spirits: Investigating Camp Chesterfield

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pp. 31-45

As the number of believers and adherents grew, spiritualist camp meetings became common, and some groups established permanent spiritualist centers. Among these were the Cassadaga Lake Free Association in western New York, founded in 1879 (Lajudice and Vogt 1984). Now known as Lily Dale Assembly, it is the oldest ...

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6 Alien Hybird?

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pp. 46-50

Dr. Friderici concluded that the term "monster" was appropriate because of the fetus's divergence from normal human anatomy. According to one treatise on monsters, "From the earliest period of the world's history abnormal creatures or monstrosities, both human and animal, have existed from time to time and excited ...

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7 Image of Guadalupe: Myth-perception

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pp. 51-55

In an extensive folkloristic and iconographic investigation of the Image, forensic analyst John F. Fischer and I learned that the Guadalupan story was quite similar to an earlier Spanish legend, and that the portrait of the Virgin in the lmage was typical of Spanish art of the period. Although obvious evidence of paint ...

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8 Human Blowtorch

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pp. 56-60

What are we to make of this? We can scarcely trust Dr. Woodman's assurance that the phenomenon was "certainly no humbug." He seems one of those (like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) who believes that he is too smart to be fooled; hence, because he saw no trickery, there could have been none. (Houdini knew that the simplest ...

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9 Remotely Viewed? The Charlie Jordan Case

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pp. 61-72

Late in 1972, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided an initial study grant of $50,000 to a California think-tank called Stanford Research Institute. SRI was to determine whether there was any validity to a form of alleged extrasensory perception (ESP) termed "remote viewing." When the program failed to show promise ...

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10 Amityville: The Horror of It All

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pp. 73-77

The six-bedroom Dutch Colonial house was to be the Lutzes' residence for only 28 days. They claimed they were driven out by sinister forces that ripped open a heavy door, leaving it hanging from one hinge; threw open windows, bending their locks; caused green slime to ooze from a ceiling; peered into ...

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11 Sideshow! Investigating Carnival Oddities and Illusions

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pp. 78-92

Such street performances and performers hark back to the earliest form of what developed into the great English fairs of the early Renaissance. There, most of the "human curiosities" that later became fixtures of nineteenth-century American "freak shows" were exhibited (Bogdan 1990, 25). In late 1841, an itinerant showman ...

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12 ''Mothman" Solved! Investigating on Site

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pp. 93-99

But this local legend is not credible, in my opinion. For one thing, knowledgeable area residents call attention to the fact that there have been several different claimants of the prankster title. For example, Rush Finley (2002), who with his wife, Ruth, owns the historic Lowe Hotel where I stayed, told me there were ...

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13 Relics of the Headless Saint

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pp. 100-114

The cathedral marks the site of the allegedly miraculous discovery of the remains of St. James the Greater, so named to distinguish him from the other apostle of that name. (There were various other Jameses in the Christian gospels as well, including one of Jesus's brothers [Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55]). ...

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14 Circular Reasoning: Crop Circles and Their "Orbs" of Light

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pp. 115-123

Most cereologists—also known as "croppies" (Hoggart and Hutchinson 1995)—believed the circular designs were being produced either by extraterrestrials or by hypothesized "plasma vortices," which are supposedly "small, local whirlwinds of ionized air" (Haselhoff 2001, 5-6). A few took a more mystical approach. ...

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15 Zanzibar Demon

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pp. 124-127

The demon struck Zanzibar in 1970 and again briefly in the 1980s. According to The Guardian, "Even those who dismiss the attacks as superstition nonetheless admit that for true believers they are real. Zanzibar's main hospital has treated men with bruises, broken ribs and other injuries, which the victims blame on the creature" ...

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16 Winchester Mystery House

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pp. 128-139

Fascinating in its own right, Sarah Winchester's remarkable story has been embellished—rather like her strange mansion itself—with implausible incidents, ornate details, and "facts" that lead, tortuously, to dead ends. The truth is elusive because she was never interviewed and left no diary or other written record. ...

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17 Voodoo in New Orleans

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pp. 140-151

According to one writer, "The Blacks suffered under merciless circumstances—their property and their family and social structures all torn to shreds; they had nothing left—except their Gods to whom they clung tenaciously." In Haiti and elsewhere, there was an attempt to strip them even of that, as their "heathen" beliefs were ...

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18 Secrets of the Voodoo Tomb

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pp. 152-161

A contemporary of Marie II told Tallant (1946, 126) that he had been present when Marie II died of a heart attack at a ball in 1897, and insisted: "All them other stories ain't true. She was buried in the Basin Street graveyard they call St. Louis No. I, and she was put in the same tomb with her mother and the rest of her family." ...

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19 A Case of "SHC" Demystified

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pp. 162-164

A case of March 4, 1980, in Chorley, England, mystifies paranormalists, who invoke spontaneous human combustion (SHC) in a fatal accident. Where is the mystery? Tony McMunn, a fireman who encountered the case and became an SHC enthusiast as a result, insists that "there is not a lot of flesh or fat on the head, ...

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20 Tracking the Swamp Monsters

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pp. 165-175

Harlan Ford continued to search for the monster until his death in 1980. Dana recalls how he once took a goat into the swamp to use as bait, hoping to lure the creature to a tree blind where Ford waited with gun and camera—uneventfully, as it happened. He supposedly did find several different-sized tracks on one hunting trip. ...

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21 John Edward: Talking to the Dead?

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pp. 176-186

The great magician Harry Houdini (1874-1926) crusaded against phony spiritualists, seeking out elderly mediums who taught him the tricks of the trade. For example, although sitters touched hands around the seance table, mediums had clever ways of regaining the use of one hand. (One method was to slowly move the hands ...

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22 Scandals and Follies of the "Holy Shroud"

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pp. 187-199

There were many earlier purported shrouds of Christ, which were typically about half the length of the Turin cloth. One was the subject of a reported seventh-century dispute, on the island of lona, between Christians and Jews, both of whom claimed it. As adjudicator, an Arab ruler placed the alleged relic in a fire from which it ...

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23 "Pyramid Power" in Russia

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pp. 200-206

If it is true that the mystically oriented New Age movement began about 1971 (despite having its roots in earlier periods) (Melton 1996), perhaps its most immediate harbinger was a book by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain (1970). Its claims, which dominated interest ...

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24 Diagnosing the "Medical Intuitives"

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pp. 207-217

Among Cayce's more immediate predecessors was a now almost forgotten lady from western New York, Mrs. Antoinette Matteson. Here is her story, followed by a look at Cayce and then the modern medical intuitives. As we shall see, despite some differences, they represent a certain type of paranormal claimant who is ...

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25 Alien Abductions as Sleep-Related Phenomena

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pp. 218-227

The dominant phenomenon in the accounts—albeit one that is little known to the public—is clearly the common "waking dream." This occurs when the subject is in the twilight state between waking and sleeping, and combines features of both. Such dreams typically include perception of bright lights or other bizarre imagery, ...

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26 "Visitations": After-Death Contacts

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pp. 228-240

In her co-authored book Childlight: How Children Reach Out to Their Parents from the Beyond, Donna Theisen relates a personal contact she believes she received from her only son, Michael, who was killed in an auto accident a month before. She was browsing in a gift shop when she noticed a display of dollhouse furnishings. ...

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27 The Sacred Cloth of Oviedo

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pp. 241-247

One reason for the interest in the Oviedo Cloth among Shroud of Turin advocates is to counter the devastating radiocarbon evidence. Three laboratories used sophisticated C-14 dating technology to test a piece of shroud cloth, and the resulting age span was found to be circa C.E. 1260-1390. In response, advocates ...

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28 A Typical Aries?

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pp. 248-251

Actually, since the system of astrology was created in ancient times, the earth's position in relation to the planets has shifted. Most astrologers ignore this fact. Also, astrologers treat the "influences" of the planets as equal, although the planets are at vastly different distances from earth. ...

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29 The Case of the Psychic Shamus: Do Psychics Really Help Solve Crimes?

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pp. 252-257

I included Allison in a book I edited called Psychic Sleuths, featuring her in an in-depth critical study by investigative writer Michael R. Dennett (1994). I later debunked her claims in such media venues as Dateline NBC, various radio shows, Internet postings, other articles and books, and newspaper interviews.

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30 The Pagan Stone

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pp. 258-260

Muscovites flock to Kolomenskoye for festivals, summer sunbathing, and other activities. At one mid-January festival, children dress up as horses, bears, or ghosts to sing carols and give blessings in exchange for gifts. Another festival is based on a pagan spring celebration that later marked the beginning of Lent. ...

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31 Benny Hinn: Healer or Hypnotist?

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pp. 261-270

Before long, Hinn began to conduct services sponsored by the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation. Kuhlman died before Hinn could meet her personally, but her influence on him was extensive, as he acknowledged in a book, Kathryn Kuhlman: Her Spiritual Legacy and Its Impact on My Life (Hinn 1999). Eventually he began ...

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32 Australia's Convict Ghosts

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pp. 271-276

Reputedly "the most haunted building in Central Sydney" (Davis 1998, 2), the Hyde Park Barracks was constructed in 1817 as secure housing for government-assisted male convicts. Opened in mid-1819, its central building held an average of 600 men, who were assigned to various workplaces by day and lodged at night ...

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33 Psychic Pets and Pet Psychics

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pp. 277-288

In the latter eighteenth century, a "Learned Pig" and a "Wonderful Intelligent Goose" appeared in London. The porker spelled names, solved arithmetic problems, and even read thoughts by selecting, from flashcards, words thought of by audience members Qay 1986, 7-27). The goose, advertised as "The greatest Curiosity ...

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34 Cryptids "Down under"

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pp. 289-295

Although Tasmania would seem the most credible locale, the thylacine has allegedly also been sighted often on the mainland—albeit in relatively isolated areas (Coleman and Clark 1999, 239). For example, thylacines are "frequently reported seen in the coastal border country between Victoria and South Australia" ...

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35 Joseph Smith: A Matter of Visions

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pp. 296-303

Wilson and Barber also found evidence suggesting that "individuals manifesting the fantasy-prone syndrome may have been overrepresented among famous mediums, psychics, and religious visionaries of the past" (1983, 371). These researchers further found that biographies could yield evidence that a subject ...

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36 In Search of Fisher's Ghost

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pp. 304-310

The story began on 17 June 1826, with the disappearance of Frederick Fisher. Fisher was a "ticket-of-leave man""—a paroled convict—who had acquired land at Campbelltown and built a shack thereon. Unfortunately, he also caroused there with itinerants and other ticket-of-leave men, including his neighbor and best friend ...

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37 Ghostly Portents in Moscow

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pp. 311-314

For example, a photograph of a '"Moscow ghost" illustrates the section on Russia in The International Directory of Haunted Places (Hauck 2000 129-31). However, the anomalous white shape at the bottom of the nighttime tourist photo seems consistent with other photographs in which foreign objects in front of ...

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38 Mystique of the Octagon Houses

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pp. 315-323

Phrenology, psychical claims, quack medicine—these and other fringe ideas have interesting connections to the octagon-house fad of the nineteenth century. I have visited a few of these historic eight-sided buildings, including a "haunted" one at Genesee Country Village in Mumford New York. Individually and collectively ...

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39 Weeping Icons

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pp. 324-330

The Russian Orthodox Church has a tradition of venerating icons (from the Greek eikon, "image"), which are painted on varnished wood panel and over time acquire a dark patina from candle smoke. Russian icons were produced in greatest number at Kiev, where Christianity took root in 988 (Richardson 1998, 222). ...

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40 Spiritualist's Grave

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pp. 331-334

Among the sites that supposedly make Australia "a very haunted continent'' is the Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney (International 2000). One of the graves there has a profound link to spiritualism and once attracted famed magician Harry Houdini. It is the burial place of William Davenport (1841-1877), one of the ...

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41 Incredible Stories: Charles Fort and His Followers

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pp. 335-340

Mystery-mongering seIls. Why else would Barnes and Noble issue a 1998 edition of The World's Most Incredible Stories: The Best of Fortean Times? Originally published in London (Sisman 1992), this collection of oddities, anomalies, and occult claims is (as its subtitle indicates) in the tradition of Charles Fort. ...


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pp. 341-360

E-ISBN-13: 9780813126753
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123189

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2004