‘Strange Effects’ out in the Desert

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The submarine U-122 was a type IXB U-Boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, active during the early years of World War 2. She was launched on the 20th of December 1939 and commissioned roughly three months later under her first and only commander, one Korvettenkapitän Hans-Günther Looff.

In June of 1940, she disappeared without trace.

Her last reported location was approximately 56.00N, 10.30W, apparently returning to her operational base just west of Cape Finisterre in Spain. Historians speculate that she may have been sunk by a collision with the British steam tanker the San Filipe on the 22nd of June, or by depth charges launched from the HMS Arabis on the 23rd.

Either way, U-122 was declared lost with all hands.

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In 1978, 33 years after the end of the war, nearly five thousand pages of translated U-Boat logs and diaries were released by the United States Office of Naval Intelligence. These documents were seized by Allied forces in the April of 1945 at Castle Tambach in Coburg. They consist of a daily narrative detailing operations, intelligence reports, claimed successes and losses, organisational matters, and discussions of tactical and strategic issues.

I must confess, I was not planning to peruse them: naval operations are not my primary interest. However, a few weeks ago, a colleague of mine at the Royal Navy sent me a package. Within this package were excerpts from these logs. Several passages that my colleague believed I would find interesting were highlighted. I shall reproduce these highlighted passages below:

16th June 1940

Situation:

[12.40]   Korevettenkapitän Looff reports that the Halo has been successfully retrieved and secured. U-122 is homeward bound via the Jormungand route. Expected date of return, June 30th. Radio traffic to be kept at a minimum during this voyage.                                                                                            

#

       19th June 1940

Situation:

[21.10]   Korevettenkapitän Looff has broken radio silence to report that the crew of U-122 are experiencing ‘strange effects’. The crew are blaming the Halo. Looff is concerned about morale and is requesting passing the Halo on to another vessel on the Jormungand route to complete its journey.

#

 Command:

[22.20]   REQUEST DENIED.

#

20th June 1940

Intelligence:

[03.00]   Reports of U-112 engaging and sinking enemy cargo ship.

Situation:

[03.15]   Korevettenkapitän Looff is reminded that the safety of the Halo is NOT to be compromised under ANY circumstances.

[22.20]   Multiple attempts to contact U-112 have been unsuccessful.

#

 22nd June 1940

Situation:

[00.45]   Garbled transmission received from U-122. Several voices talking all at once. Dive alarm heard sounding erratically in the background. Transmission ends abruptly. No further contact.

#

 Command:

[23.59]   UNACCEPTABLE. CONTACT WITH U-122 MUST BE RE-ESTABLISHED IMMEDIATELY.

#

1st July 1940

Situation:

[12.00]  U-122 declared lost along with all on-board. Fate of the Halo unknown.

 #

 

I have acquired the complete records, and, having read through them, I can find no further mention of the ship U-122 after this point, nor her mysterious cargo, the item rather ambiguously titled ‘the Halo.’

But the sinking of a submarine during war-time and allusions to its peculiar burden are, in and of themselves, no sign of the paranormal.

However, within the package from my colleague was a further document; the contact details of a gentleman named Eustace Hayes.

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4th February 1996

Eustace Hayes is a tall man, in his early sixties, with arms like tree trunks and skin stained by many a year out in the sun. I meet him in the bar he currently owns in Hue Province, central Vietnam. He was stationed here as a Technical Sergeant for the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War, and became part of the small contingent of American serviceman who stayed on after the conflict was over.

Back in the May of 1959 he was stationed at Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli, on the coast of Libya.

He invites me to sit on a small plastic stool by a low table topped by a sticky sheet of plastic. A young waitress brings us a crate of bottled beer and a bucket of ice, and in a slow but booming voice that seems to push through the humid air between us, Mr Hayes shares his story.

“The previous year, I think it was November, a group of surveyors for BP reported seeing a downed aircraft out in the desert, miles from anywhere. Top brass didn’t take them seriously at first. Why would they? There had never been any reports of missing US airplanes in the area. I think they assumed it was either a mirage or a classic bit of British leg-pulling.

“But as the months went by, more and more people began to mention it. Apparently the location of the wreckage was now being marked on maps for the next batch of oil surveyors.

“Well even the CO couldn’t ignore that.

“I was an Airman at the time, and I got sent out with the first search team. And we found it, right where they said it would be. It turned out to be the wreck of the Lady Be Good.”

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The Lady Be Good was an American Heavy Bomber. Following a raid on Napels in April of 1943, she disappeared on her return to Soluch Field in Libya. She was assumed lost in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Mr Hayes continues:

“It was amazing. She was split in two, but apart from that she was in almost perfect condition. You would think that fifteen or so years of just sitting there in the desert would’ve fucked her up. But the machine guns still worked, as did the radio. There was even a flask of tea on-board. It seemed drinkable too, not that we tried it.

“But that wasn’t the strangest we saw out there.” 

I ask him what else they found as he knocks back his beer and opens another on the edge of the table.

“Well, one of our crew noticed that there was something else on the horizon. Something glinting just over the dunes.

“Now, remember that I told you that the wreck was being marked on maps, right? Because it was a landmark, visible from the air, yes?

“Following that line of thinking, if there was something bigger out there, also made of metal, then logically that too would have been noticed.

“So, we travelled about 20 miles to the north-northwest, towards whatever this thing glinting in the sand was. I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we found.

“It was a submarine, just sitting there on her side. A German U-Boat to be precise. I recognised the insignia on her hull. And she looked to be in pristine condition. She even had her number stamped on the conning tower: U-122.”

Mr Hayes goes on to tell me how he and his crew circled the submarine, taking photographs and making notes. It’s hatch was open, but there were no signs of life, except for a set of bones about half a mile away, wrapped up in the remains of a Nazi captain’s uniform.

“It was really bizarre. It looked like whoever this man was, he’d climbed out and was crawling away across the sand. But maybe it was just the way the body had fallen.

“As I was looking over the skeleton, Sergeant Caine climbed into the sub, through the hatch. He was only in there for a minute or two, but when he came out he was trembling, and his face was as white as a sheet.

“I’d known the Sarge for a few years, and he was as tough as shoe leather. I knew he’d seen some pretty nasty shit back in the Pacific. But whatever he saw in that sub must’ve really, what’s the expression you Brits use? ‘Knocked him for six’, yeah, that’s it.

“He was mumbling under his breath. Muttering about strange things, things that didn’t make any sense.

“He was a mess. So we decided to pack up our gear and return to the base.

“The Sarge was shaking all the way home. And he was ice cold. Bear in mind that we’re in the middle of the desert, in May.”

Mr Hayes opens a third beer.

“I know what you’re gonna ask me. You’re gonna ask where the photos are that I took.”

I must confess, that was one of the questions on my mind.

“Two days later some ‘agency’ types turned up. Serious men in black suits wildly inappropriate for the climate, just like you now.” 

He smiles and winks at me.

“These fellas took everything; our photos, our notes, the lot. They made us sign something saying we would never talk about that damn submarine, or they’d throw us in jail without a trial.

“I’m not too bothered by their threats now. Hell, I’m an old man. What are they gonna do? I suspect they thought that no-one would believe us anyway.

“It was never mentioned again on the base. I went out there again a few weeks later. There was no sign of the submarine. Or that she’d ever even been there in the first place.

“And I never saw the Sarge again. Do you know what the top brass said when I asked about him? They said ‘don’t ask.'” 

To say this is a frustrating end to this case would be an understatement. But as I decide to wrap things up with Mr Hayes, he goes off upstairs and brings back a crumpled and yellowing piece of thin card.

“I’ve never shown this to anyone before. Hell, I’ve never even told anyone about it. I took it out of the uniform the body was wearing. Do an old guy a favour; don’t look at it here.”

We spoke for a little while longer as we finished our beers. As I was saying my goodbyes to Mr Hayes and thanking him for his hospitality, he shared something else with me about that day in the desert.

“As we were packing up our stuff, I noticed someone had written something in red paint on the side of the sub’s hull, in foot tall letters. At least I hope it was paint.

“It was in English. It said: ‘stop toying with things you do not understand’.” 

With this final piece of information occupying my thoughts, I returned to my hotel, where I duly unfolded the document the former Technical Sergeant had given to me.

It was Kriegsmarine identity card. The name stamped on it was Korvettenkapitän Hans-Günther Looff.

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This case poses many questions: Was that really U-122 that Mr Hayes and his colleagues found in the desert? If so, who or what on Earth could possibly possess the kind of power required to move her to the middle of the desert? And why did she go unnoticed for so long, indeed, if she was even there for all that time? Who were the ‘agency men’ who appeared so soon after it’s sighting? What, if anything, was the nature of U-122’s cargo, the mysterious ‘Halo’? Could the ‘strange effects’ experienced by her crew, and possibly Sergeant Caine as well, have been some kind of radiation poisoning? And who was the intended recipient of the curious message daubed on the craft’s hull?

Finally, where did this misplaced U-Boat go? Surely moving almost a thousand tonnes of submarine during peacetime would be substantially more difficult than during the chaos of World War 2, which in itself would be a Herculean feat.

Sadly, without further information, it seems the fate of the U-122 will have to remain an enigma.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

There was a post-it note with the words ‘Nathaniel Defoe??’ written on it attached to this file – C.R.

A Message from Persephone

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Tucked away in the back of the good doctor’s journal was an envelope. The envelope contained a card, and inside that card was a handwritten message:

My Dearest Thomas,

1,000 years ago, mankind knew the Earth was flat,

500 years ago, we knew that the Sun went round the Earth,

6 months ago, you knew there was no such things as ghosts.

Can you imagine what you might know tomorrow!!

All my love, and best of luck in your spooky new job,

Persephone xxx

I have no idea who this Persephone is. I haven’t seen her name mentioned in any any of the other files or journal entries I have read. Yet another mysterious name to add to the list, I guess.

The message written in the card seemed familiar to me. After some digging around on the internet, I found that it is remarkably similar to a speech given by the character played by Tommy Lee Jones in the 1997 film Men in Black.

The envelope from the journal is postmarked July 1987 – C.R.

Thoughts on Place Memory and Residual Hauntings

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In 1890, the parapsychologist Edmund Gurney put forth an idea that he coined place memory. At its most basic level, place memory postulates that certain locations are capable of ‘recording’ emotions, sights, and sounds, particularly during times of extreme stress and trauma. If the conditions are right, these recordings can be played back, creating what can be called a ‘residual’ haunting.

These replays are strictly that: a facsimile of an event passed. Nothing more, nothing less. They will not, indeed, they cannot, interact with observers (unlike apparent poltergeist activity).

They also appear to be limited to the environment as it was when the initial event occurred. This may explain why these replays sometimes appear to travel through solid walls where a doorway may once have stood, or partially below ground level, perhaps treading where an original floor may have existed.

If such a thing as place memory can occur, it may well explain the scores of accounts I have collected of people witnessing such residual hauntings. Accounts such as that shared by one Harry Martindale*.

From the York Echo, dated 25th October 2014:

Harry Martindale was an 18-year-old plumber’s apprentice in 1953 when he saw at least 20 Roman soldiers, visible only from the knees up, marching through the cellar of the Treasurer’s House.

Harry, who went on to become a policeman for some 25 years, claimed he saw a soldier wearing a helmet emerge from a wall, followed by a cart horse and twenty other soldiers. Scared witless, he fell from his ladder and stumbled into a corner.

He was so terrified by what he saw that he took two weeks off work with shock. Friends laughed at his story, so he kept quiet about his spooky sighting until the 1970s, when he was interviewed by a group of academics for television, and York’s most famous ghostly tale was born.

It emerged that an old Roman road ran through the garrison where the Treasurer’s House was later built, and was about 15 inches lower than the cellar floor. The story also gained legitimacy after Harry described several aspects of the Roman soldiers’ clothing that he would not have known at the time.

His son Andrew said Harry was interviewed by various TV stations as the story blew up but, because he worked for the police, he never made any money out of his experiences.

 

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Now, I believe I should address the metaphorical elephant in the room: there is no record of a residual haunting ever being replicated under strict scientific conditions.

I believe there is a very simple explanation for this.

None of it can be replicated under these conditions.

It is the very nature of the scientific method that removes the factors required for the replay to occur. Even the placing of equipment with which to attempt the observation, measurement and recording of a residual haunting is enough to pollute the location with electromagnetic fields, amongst other things (see the observer effect), that are not conducive to activating the replay. There are simply far too many variables at play, variables that are, at best, difficult to predict, let alone control.

Further to this, if emotion is a key factor in the initial recording and playback of these events, how does one go about measuring it? By its very nature, emotion is subjective: there is no equipment to objectively record fear or love, jealousy or sadness.

To create the perfect conditions required to satisfy the scientific method, an event traumatic enough to create a residual haunting would actually need to have occurred inside a laboratory, under controlled and replicable conditions. With the exception of a pair of highly controversial and sadistic ‘experiments’ that took place at Unit 731 during World War 2, there is, to the best of my knowledge, no record of such an event having ever taken place.

Place memory (more commonly referred to nowadays as stone tape theory, after the BBC play broadcast in 1972) is disregarded by mainstream science, and understandably so. By its very nature, it is vague, unquantifiable, and untestable.

And yet mankind’s history is littered with tales of residual hauntings. And why is it that certain locations such as hospitals, prisons, and mental asylums can provoke an intangible sense of dread, as if the very buildings themselves were trying to share with us memories of past misdeeds that have taken place within their grounds?

If only old walls could speak. What tales they might tell.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

More information on the late Harry Martindale’s experience can be found here, and what he witnessed is certainly intriguing. My head tells me that ‘place memory’ can’t be a real thing, but, as the good doctor says, even I’ve walked into certain houses and instantly felt that ‘nope’ feeling – C.R.

The Lightning Bird and the Moonfire

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The following is an extract from an interview I conducted on behalf of the Psychical Research and Investigation Society* with one Ms Edith Cohen, a Northamptonshire resident.

The interview took place on the 20th of June 2000.

‘It was a few weeks ago. The 5th, I believe. I was walking my dog, Bobbins, in the Green Norton Park. It was a clear day; really sunny, not a cloud in the sky. I had my camera with me. I like to take pictures of Bobbins, he’s such a handsome young man. A golden retriever, you know. And he’s so photogenic.

‘I was tossing a stick for Bobbins to fetch, then getting some shots of him running back to me. It’s his best angle.

‘Anyway, I’d thrown the stick, and I was down on one knee, and suddenly there was a huge flash of light and this massive crack, like thunder. But, like I said, it was a clear day. The sound was so loud, Bobbins ran away and hid.

‘I was calling out to him to come back to me, when I heard this sound from above, a bit like a crow cawing, but, sort of ‘strangled’. I looked up, and there was this massive black bird soaring above me. It was enormous. I must’ve watched it for a bit, before I remembered I had my camera.

‘I managed to get a single shot of the giant bird before it flew away.

‘The picture is a bit blurry, and everyone I’ve shown it to says it’s a stork or a crane. But it definitely wasn’t. I’ve seen those before. What I saw was far too big. And cranes aren’t black, surely?’

I will attach Ms Cohen’s photograph to this file. The picture is indeed blurry, but it does show something in the skies above Green Norton Park, even if that thing is rather difficult to identify.

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Jessica Drummond was born in 1982 in Towcester, Northamptonshire. An only child, she was a conscientious and practical individual, and she excelled at school, particularly in the fields of mathematics and physics. In the summer of 2000, she left Huxlow Science College with four ‘A’ levels and secured a place at the University of Bristol to study mechanical engineering. A fan of the literary works of Jayne Mansfield, she also had rather a poetic streak.

By all accounts Jessica was quite shy and reserved for her age, and her parents insist that she was not the kind of person prone to dabbling in narcotics or drinking to excess.

On the week beginning the 5th of June 2000, she began to experience what her local GP, Dr Kahn, describes as a quite severe case of somnambulism, more commonly known as sleepwalking.

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1st December 2008

I meet Dr Josef Kahn in the The Halt, a quaint little pub tucked away in Chapel Brampton.

A diminutive fellow, with a shock of bright white hair and a surprisingly deep voice, Dr Kahn was the Drummond family doctor, and had been since before Jessica was born. Now retired, it is quite obvious that the events of that first week of June 2000 have taken a toll on him, both professionally and personally.

Over a pint of dark ale, he tells me of his recollections of that summer.

“I remember Jessica, yes. She was a lovely girl. Very, very intelligent. It was such a shame what happened to her.

“Her parents bought her to see me on the Wednesday. She looked terrible; large dark rings under her eyes, the poor thing looked like she hadn’t slept in days. Her father said that they’d found her in the kitchen the last two mornings, and she’d taken all the pots and pans out of the cupboards and laid them out in the garden.

“I examined her, and appeared she was somewhat lethargic, presumably due to the lack of sleep.

“It was strange seeing her like that. She’d always been a little reticent to talk, but that day… well, that day it was different.

“I spoke to her parents and asked them if she was under any stress, but they assured me that she wasn’t, so I could only assume it was the thought of going away to university that was troubling her.

“I wrote her a prescription for some sleeping tablets and advised her parents to keep an eye on her. If it continued, I told them to bring Jessica back and we would look at some other possible forms of therapy.

“I wished them luck, said goodbye and then went about my day. I’ll confess, I didn’t expect to see them again.”

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But Jessica’s sleepwalking continued.

The next morning, a local police officer responding to a call found Jessica locked inside the town library, wearing just her pyjamas and surrounded by open books. There was no sign of any forced entry, and the officer was at a loss to explain how the teenager had gained access to the building.

When she was found, Jessica was apparently in a fugue state, muttering to herself about ‘the lightning bird on high.’

She was taken to the local police station and her parents called. Her mother and father were shocked at the news; they were under the impression that Jessica was still in her bed at home.

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Dr Kahn continues:

“I went to their house once the surgery had closed, and Jessica’s parents were beside themselves with worry. As for their daughter, she had no memory of her escapades the previous night.

“I asked to speak with her alone. She seemed lucid, but also a little ‘detached’. She just kept saying how tired she was.

“I told her that she could tell me if there was anything bothering her, anything at all, something she thought she couldn’t tell her parents. She said was that when she closed her eyes, all that she saw was a giant black bird in front of her.

“I gave her some stronger sleeping pills, something that would really knock her out, and sent her to bed. I advised her parents to lock her door from the outside, just in case she went for another nocturnal ramble.

“I also told them to call me first thing and let me know how the night had gone.

“When I didn’t hear from them in the morning, I was under the impression that everything was okay.

“How wrong I was.”

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According to the police report, Jessica’s father slept outside his daughter’s door that night. He was apparently awoken at about 3am by two loud claps of thunder accompanied by bright flashes.

No storm was recorded in the area that night.

On hearing his daughter scream from inside her room, Mr Drummond unlocked the door and entered.

Jessica was nowhere to be seen. The small section of window in her room that would open was closed and locked, and a number of large, coarse black feathers were strewn across her bed.

No trace of Jessica Drummond was ever found.

Analysis of the feathers revealed that were from a type of crow, but the exact species was never determined. Their size suggests a wing span much greater than any on record.

There was one another unusual item found in Jessica’s bedroom. It was a picture of a bird, drawn in thick black pen. Underneath it, in Jessica’s handwriting, were the words ‘she comes with the moonfire.’

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There are many perplexing aspects to this case. Jessica Drummond was apparently not the kind of person who had any inclination to run away; indeed, she had her whole life ahead of her. And even if she did, how did she manage to exit her house without alerting anyone? I have seen her bedroom, and I find it difficult to believe she could have crawled out of the window and into the night.

And what of Ms Cohen’s photograph, and the over-sized feathers?

I must confess, I have struggled with this investigation: giant birds and curious meteorological effects preceding the disappearance of teenage girls is a new one, even to me. The only thing I could drag up from the archives was the Native American myth of the Thunderbird, a legendary creature that would beat its wings and throw lightning at the beasts of the underworld.

But surely the appearance of a Thunderbird in Northamptonshire that week in 2000 is too great of a leap of logic?

Sadly, it seems that Ms Drummond’s disappearance will have to remain a mystery.

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Oddly enough, writing up this report made me recall a trip I took a few years ago, to the Museo Thyssen-Boremisza in Madrid. There hangs a picture titled ‘The Lightning Bird Blinded by Moonfire.’ It is an abstract piece, painted by Joan Miró in 1955.

In its jagged lines it is possible to detect a similarity to the drawing found in Ms Drummond’s bedroom.

Perhaps señor Miro was inspired by a similar encounter.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

* This is the same group the good doctor mentioned in An Encounter on the Midland Mainline. I have contacted them , and the chap I spoke to could find no record of a Dr Gotobed having ever worked for them, but he did say that their records were ‘patchy’, at best – C.R.