An American Mothman in London: Bat Beast and Owlman

An American Mothman in London: Bat Beast and Owlman

 London-Owlman-Night

Have you ever encountered a large owl? No, I’m not talking about the kind that Walt Disney beat to death with a stick.* I’m talking huge.

The summer of 1976 has gone down in British history as one of the hottest on record. But it’s not just the searing temperatures that mark it as a memorable one; that year, there were many strange sightings of UFOs and other unexplained incidents which bewildered and terrified many people. But just before the heatwave got underway, an especially peculiar sight transfixed residents in the finger of land jutting out on the southwestern side of England.

In April of that year, two sisters named Vicky and June Melling taking a walk through the forest during a family outing spied a huge creature with large wings poised above the steeple of Mawnan Church in Cornwall. The girls, 9 and 12 years old respectively, were so badly terrified by their encounter that their father, Don Melling, immediately ended the family Easter vacation. That same day, June drew a picture of the “bird man”, as she called it. Don contacted paranormal researcher Tony “Doc” Shiels soon after, though he refused to allow the frightened girls to be interviewed.

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This singular incident may have been forgotten as the wild imaginings of two young children unfamiliar with nature were it not for another sighting just three months later in the very same location by 14-year-old Sally Chapman who was out camping with her friend Barbara Perry. The teenagers heard a strange hissing noise and saw “a big owl with pointed ears, as big as a man” covered in grey feathers. “The eyes were red and glowing…you could see its feet were like pincers” with large black claws like a “crab’s claws”. At first, they thought it was someone playing a prank on them. That is, until the thing flew straight up into the air and disappeared into the trees. They contacted Shiels directly and supplied him with their own drawing.†

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Over the years, Shiels has come under fire as a perpetrator of hoaxes and creator or urban legends, yet not all encounters with such a strange creature have been recorded by him. Long before he coined the name “Owlman” for the creature encountered by those girls in the woods, four teenagers in Kent witnesses a UFO land at Sandling Park and a “bat beast” emerge from it on November 16, 1963. The witnesses described it as a five-foot-tall “headless bat”; a handful of other sightings of it happened later that month at Sandling Park as well. But this is nothing compared to the bizarre incident back in 1922 when a strange vampire-like “creature” with a six-foot wingspan was pursued by police at West Drayton Cemetery in London.

Strangely enough, a giant owl also reared its head in the United States back in August 1982 near Rocky Fork Lake in Ohio. A woman saw what appeared to be a 10-foot tall tree trunk… until it crept over into a clearing and spread its wings. About a year later—just a half mile or so from the cove where the creature had been sighted—the witness once again came face to face with what she believed to be the same creature, albeit a bit skinnier this time. The one thing that stuck out about her encounter was the creature’s thin yellow legs ending in what seemed to be three toes.‡ Thin yellow legs, it could easily be argued, like those of a crane.

The Wyandot tribe referred to these much-feared giant owls as Flying Heads. They were said to be guilty of everything from destroying crops to carrying off babies. Early pioneers in the Ozarks called it the “Booger Owl” instead. In more recent times, cryptozoologist Mark Hall dubbed it Bighoot: a humorous homage to Bigfoot.§

Was the Owlman of Mawman a part of some heat-induced hysteria? Or were local townspeople caught off guard by an owl or crane? And are Owlman, Mothman, and Bighoot all just the same creature? Can misidentified cranes or other large birds truly explain all these stories?

*Kent, George. ‘Snow White’s Daddy.’ The Family Circle, 24 June 1938, p. 10-11.
†Downes, Jonathan. The Owlman and Others. Corby: Domra Publications, 1998.
‡Eberhart, George. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2002. p. 201.
§Newton, Michael. Hidden Animals: A Field Guide to Batsquatch, Chupacabra, and Other Elusive Creatures. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2009. p. 102-3.


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10 Comments

  1. Saski

    05/25/2014 at 1:38 AM

    Walt Disney killed an owl?!

    • Ken Summers

      05/25/2014 at 4:54 AM

      It’s an old story from his childhood. As Walt said in the interview:

      “[The owl] was sitting on the low branch of a tree as I crept up behind it and made a grab. The bird, half-blinded by the daylight, whirled on me and nearly scared me to death. In my terror I stamped on the owl and killed it. I’ve never forgotten that poor bird, and maybe that has something to do with my liking for animals.”

  2. Coppertop

    05/25/2014 at 8:38 AM

    I for one am glad there are fewer and fewer Owl/Moth/Birdman stories being related these days. Those things creep me the hell out.

  3. Crops

    05/26/2014 at 3:25 AM

    The Owlman is a great tale, but – unfortunately – a complete hoax. Shiels, a confessed crypto-hoaxer (see Mark Chorvinsky’s great expose in Strange Magazine) was the only contact point for the still hidden witnesses and he has always claimed copyright for the sketches (huh- wouldn’t the real witnesses, if there were any, claim that?). The UK crypto-guys love Doc, so they always give him the benefit of the doubt, but his own words in the Strange Mag damn him. I hear there is perhaps one other Owlman story (and a rumour about a well-known UK crypto-skeptic with his own sighting) but given the high profile of the story since the Bord’s book in the 70s, I suspect the image has seeped into the wider public consciousness, and maybe someone in the area, primed for weirdness, had a vivid imagination. Owlman, I’m afraid, is just not worth a hoot!

    • Ken Summers

      05/26/2014 at 10:35 AM

      I’ll give you that; I came across quite a lot about Doc coming under fire and the “Owlman” being believed to be a hoax, which is why I touched on it in the article. But the others I’m not as quick to dismiss (especially since the 1963 story sounds eerily similar in appearance to the Mothman sightings just a few years later). Since it’s before Bord’s book was published, it couldn’t have been influenced by it.

      As much as I believe in removing the dubious claims that are likely hoaxes or frauds, as they say, ‘don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater’…

  4. sandra

    05/28/2014 at 11:05 AM

    I think ‘Owlman’ was just a Great Horned Owl, which can have a wingspan of six feet. Its unusual for an owl to be seen in the daytime, but by no means impossible.

    • Ken Summers

      05/28/2014 at 11:50 AM

      It’s possible. Anything’s possible. At least with the 1982 Ohio sighting, I’m pretty confident that was a crane and not some Mothman type creature. The yellow skinny legs are a big giveaway.

  5. Steve silva

    05/30/2014 at 4:03 PM

    Ken,
    You need to write more stuff.That was great reading.thanks.
    Out? With the bath water .maybe not.

    • Ken Summers

      05/30/2014 at 6:54 PM

      Thanks, Steve. I go through my burnout times when I need a break from deadlines and such, but I’m trying to commit to 2-3 articles a week for sure. Of course, some stories take longer to research than others, so there may be more or less than that sometimes.

  6. Jacqueline

    10/17/2015 at 10:38 AM

    I saw something like owl man last night. Me and friends were out late in a parking lot in her car. When it 1AM we decided to leave so we got out so we could get out of my car and the second we finally got out… A big black figure out of no where came out. It was as big as a human and really long pointed wings. I don’t remember the front or back, all I mainly saw was the wings. It was all black or gray (it was night). And I didn’t see a face or glowing eyes like how others have said, only black. Maybe it was facing down, idk. But as it glided down with its wings spread out next to us, it was chirping. It made a small really loud chirp of a tiny canary like bird. It didn’t match something that big. I feel like it was trying to get out attention, cause we only looked because we heard a chirp. And it continued to chirp in the air and landed in a tree next to us. We were to scared to get out. We didn’t see it come out after that. But it seemed to big to be in a delicate not too big tree which it was in. We kept trying to get out so I can walk to my car. When we did we heard footsteps behind us. We looked but there was no one. They got louder once the hit the gravel and we ran in the car. I’ve never seen a creature or heard of one like that before this. I don’t understand why a bird would be out at 1AM, the shape and size doesn’t add up, and the chirp and movement was really different.

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