“SATAN’S SKELETON” and 3 More Freaky True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: “The Devil Is Dead Now, And Here Is His Skeleton!” That’s the headline that ran in the Los Angeles Herald on October 6th, 1865. And this was no 19th century click-bait… they actually found real bones that fit the bill. (Satan’s Skeleton) *** There are a number of tragic cases where people lose all memory of who they are, and, for whatever reason, no one is able to help them recover their identities. However, few such stories are as complicated and uncanny as the long, long search for the real “Charles Jamison.” (The Man Without a Past) *** Imagine suddenly, without warning, finding yourself in a completely different life. A different place to live, different friends and family. Nothing is the same. This is what happened to author Caroline Leavitt – but that’s only half of her truly bizarre story! (My Unconscious Other Life) *** A secret aircraft reportedly crashed during takeoff at RAF Boscombe Down in 1994 sparking what has been an ongoing and fascinating mystery ever since. (The Boscombe Down Incident)
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“Satan’s Skeleton” posted at StrangeAgo.com: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/y5rbrn6d
“The Man Without a Past” from the website Strange Company: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/ja63t9n
“My Unconscious Other Life” by Rob Schwarz for Stranger Dimensions (https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/rm9vtwzf), and Caroline Leavitt for Psychology Today (https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/29ncdr4w)
“The Boscombe Down Incident” by Brett Tingley for The Drive: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3m8xv44s
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46
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STORY: SATAN’S SKELETON==========
If you are skeptical when I say that the Devil’s bones have been found, I wouldn’t blame you. Even for me, someone who does believe in God and Satan and all the powers of evil and good in battle around us, if you were to say that Satan’s skeleton was dug up, I’d be raising an eyebrow so high it’d hit my ceiling fan. But here is the story.
The devil’s bones were supposedly discovered buried under a Japanese temple in 1895. The bones were brought back to the United States where they were said to have been either the remains of a 9-foot primate or a total hoax. What follows is the newspaper article that reported the find – the Los Angeles Herald, from October 06, 1865…
“The devil is dead. Not only so, but his remains have been shipped to New York and are to be seen today in an establishment on Winter Street.
“The remains of the devil were smuggled out of Japan at the risk of the lives of several men who confessed that they stood in fear of the personage whose bones they were attempting to carry to this country. To be plain, there was found some years ago in the ruins of a Japanese temple a grave in which there were the bones making up an apparently perfect skeleton of gigantic proportions and altogether strange and hideous in appearance which, according to an inscription found above the tomb, constituted nothing less than the remains of his Satanic Majesty, as the Japanese understood him.
“A doctor in Yokohama, to whom the news of the discovery was brought, succeeded in obtaining possession of the astonishing skeleton, and in time conspired with the captain of a tramp steamer which visits New York, and succeeded in having the dead devil forwarded to this city.
“A Miller & Sons, who now have the skeleton devil in keeping, have much to do with shipping men, Captain Williams, of the steamer Argyle, decided to place in their possession the seven foot box in which the skeleton was contained.
“When the box was opened a few weeks ago and the straw and strange wrapping paper removed, Mr. Miller found an apparently perfect skeleton of some creature of gigantic stature. The box was only seven feet long, and in order that the giant bone might be accommodated, those of the thighs and legs had been placed beside the rest of the skeleton. To begin with, there was a terrific head. The skull presented a frontal bone almost a foot across, showing eye sockets of astonishing size, a square jaw like nothing that anatomists know, and a mouth fully six inches wide, garnished with twenty-eight teeth which were closed and interlocked and of astonishing size and sharpness.
“Altogether the effect was truly terrifying. The head was articulated to the vertebrae, and the spinal column was almost five feet in length, to which ribs of tremendous proportions and a sternum of immense strength and size were joined. The skeleton was apparently complete from the skull to the end of t he pelvis. Beside it were placed which and leg bones, which it seemed at first glance must have belonged to some monster of the guerrilla species.
“The legs apparently had been of the short and tremendously powerful order, which New Yorkers have seen in the Central Park menagerie when Chico was alive and imprisoned there.
“The foot was fully fourteen inches long, and had but three toes, each of which, in addition to being of enormous length, was furnished with an almost claw-like nail. Its appearance, therefore, was between that to the human foot and that belonging to a bird of the ostrich species greatly exaggerated.
“Some attempts had been made to re-articulate the skeleton, for the knee joints were furnished with modern couplings of brass and the bones were really ready for mounting.
“Captain Williams of the steamer Argyle, who entrusted the box and its contents to Miller & Sons a few weeks ago, told them simply that the skeleton was the property of a European doctor now resident in Japan, and that the director of a Japanese hospital was authority for the statement that the bones were those of a monster which lived long ago in the mountainous regions of Japan. He assisted the doctor in smuggling it out of the country, and apparently believed that it was a genuine skeleton.
“As a matter of fact the skeleton contains bones of the bovine, equine, human and shark families, and having been brought here and sized up by an expert in anatomy, they furnish material for an expose of Japanese demonology which is nothing short of remarkable.
“This skeleton was simply manufactured long years ago and buried beneath a temple at Kutsu to serve the purposes of a clique of priests who ruled that section of Japan by fear at that time.
“Accordingly when the skeleton was finally discovered, there was found beside it a sort of map containing a picture of the devil in life, together with a full description as to the manner of his death and internment. The map contained a picture which is presented here without any attempt at producing the finer lines, which are of Japanese workmanship and intricate beyond measure.
“Buried ages ago under a temple in the center of an inland province of Japan, and one, which, by the way, has been of great interest since to archaeologists, it was discovered by workmen who were excavating for the purpose of erecting a new structure on the old site. Thirteen feet below the surface of what had been the cellar of the old temple the workmen discovered an old stone grave, bearing an inscription in Japanese characters which being interpreted means ‘The Tomb of the Devil’.
“This, together with the discovery of the remarkable bones which the coffin contained caused great excitement among the Japanese and led to a scientific investigation of the nature of the discovery.
“The Herald, learning that the remains of the devil, as constructed by Japanese artisans, had been forwarded to this country, requested the Water Street firm to permit an examination of the bones.
“I called there a day or two ago and inspected the box and its contents. To the layman the skeleton was apparently that of a giant ape or some similar monster, which in life must have been nine feet high and have presented an appearance which was terrifying beyond measure.
“On Friday last I succeeded in interesting Dr. William J. O’Sullivan, the medico-legal expert, in the death of the devil and the discover of its remains, and in inducing him to visit the Miller cooperage and inspect the bones.
“Dr. O’Sullivan was at once pleased and astonished. He examined the bones with great care and said, “Here is something which, while it has been manufactured with an art which the Japanese only possess, will excite great interest among the archaeologists in this country. The map itself is simply a marvel of that rare work which the Japanese execute and in which they are unexcelled.”
There are a number of tragic cases where people lose all memory of who they are, and, for whatever reason, no one is able to help them recover their identities. However, few such stories are as complicated and uncanny as the long, long search for the real “Charles Jamison.” (The Man Without a Past)
Plus… imagine suddenly, without warning, finding yourself in completely different life. A different place to live, different friends and family. This is what happened to author Caroline Leavitt – but that’s only half of the truly bizarre story! (Living Another Life Inside a Coma)
Those stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST==========
One day in February 1945, an ambulance arrived at the emergency entrance of Boston’s U.S. Public Health Service Hospital. Inside was an unconscious, middle-aged man whose condition was so obviously grave that the nurse on duty dispensed with the usual formalities and had him immediately admitted. She asked the ambulance driver for the man’s name.
“Charles Jamison,” he replied. The man would not or could not say anything more about the patient. Then he disappeared, along with the ambulance, never to be heard from again.
For some time, it was uncertain that “Jamison” would survive. He suffered from an acute stage of osteomyelitis (an infection of the bone marrow.) He had hideous sores all over his body, and his back was badly scarred with what doctors guessed were shrapnel wounds. After weeks of treatment, his life was finally out of danger. However, the infection left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down, and his speech was so impaired that anything he said was almost unintelligible. On top of all this, Jamison was suffering from complete amnesia. He was unable to say who he was, or what had happened to him.
At first, authorities assumed they could trace his identity. Surely, there had to be some record somewhere of this terribly ravaged man. But the more they tried to investigate the patient’s past, the more mysterious he became. The shabby clothes he had worn contained no identification of any sort, and they even lacked labels or laundry marks. No one ever called the hospital to ask about him. Inquiries to every ambulance service in and around Boston revealed that none of them had dispatched an ambulance to the Public Health Service Hospital on the day Jamison had been admitted.
Jamison was around sixty years old, with graying hair and brown eyes. He was six feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds. There was a two-inch scar on his right cheek, the index finger of his left hand was missing, and both arms were covered with tattoos. His appearance was so distinctive that it was thought it might help identify him, but that failed to be the case.
The tattoos were a mixture of flags and hearts. Some of the flags were American, others British. One faded tattoo had a scroll that seemed to say “U.S. Navy.” This led to the assumption that Jamison had been a sailor in the naval and/or merchant service, a belief bolstered by the fact that he had been brought to the only hospital in Boston that specifically treated seamen. There was a theory that Jamison had been aboard a freighter that had been shelled and torpedoed by a German submarine, but that could never be verified. However, after being sent Jamison’s fingerprints, both the FBI and the military replied that they had no record of him, which would not have been the case had he served in either the Navy or the merchant marine. His photo was sent to missing persons bureaus across the country, but that proved to be just as futile as every other effort to identify him.
For years, the poor man spent long days sitting in his wheelchair in a blank silence. He rarely made any sounds, and seemed to take little notice of the world around him. Then, in 1953, the hospital’s newly-installed medical director, Oliver C. Williams, became intrigued by this most enigmatic of patients. He felt there had to be some way to learn who this man really was.
Dr. Williams decided the only way to learn Jamison’s identity was by finding a way to communicate with the man himself. He devised a simple word game, where Jamison would be given a phrase or simple question, and asked what, if anything, it meant to him.
When asked how old he was, Jamison stubbornly insisted that he was 49, although it was clear that he was far older. “How old is your wife?” made his eyes briefly light up, but after struggling to think for a moment, he sighed and said, “I don’t know.” He knew who Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone were, although he spoke of them as though they were still living British statesmen, not historical figures dead for many decades.
This communication method elicited information in a very slow and difficult manner, but Dr. Williams managed to learn enough to convince him that Jamison was an Englishman who had served in the British Navy. At one point, while looking at pictures of various parts of England, Jamison suddenly remarked “I’m from London!” Unfortunately, all he could add to that was the statement that he lived in “a gray house.”
Jamison said he had no living relatives, and that he had gone to sea at the age of 13. He recalled that he had attended the gunnery school at Osborne in 1891 or 1892. When he was shown an issue of “Jayne’s Fighting Ships,” he recognized the British battleship Bellerophon. It was commissioned in 1909, and took part in World War I. “I served on her when she was new,” he commented with evident pride. When asked what ships he had served on during the Great War, he was reluctant to reply. He said, “They were all in convoy, under secret orders. They had no names, only numbers, and if I knew them I couldn’t tell you.” Even when it was pointed out to him that the war was long over, he refused to give any more information on his wartime duties.
The little information Jamison provided about his career was sent to British naval authorities. However, they found no record that anyone named “Charles Jamison” had attended the gunnery school, or served in their navy. The British were equally unable to find any record of his fingerprints. More dead ends.
At this point, Jamison was able to provide one more clue. He told Dr. Williams that one of the tattoos on his arms was the British ensign crossed over a U.S. shield, with the motto “United.” The other was of an English clipper he had sailed on called the “Cutty Sark.” When contacted about the ship, London authorities confirmed that there had indeed been a clipper by that name…but it had been retired almost fifty years earlier, and no other ship had carried that name since.
Then, the Jamison mystery took an even weirder turn. The name “Charles William Jamison” was found on the manifest of a U.S. Navy troop transport ship which had docked in Boston on February 9, 1945. This was just two days before Jamison had arrived at the hospital.
The manifest’s information about Jamison was all handwritten in ink–an inexplicable detail in an otherwise typewritten document. It claimed that he had been repatriated after spending four years in a German POW camp. He was picked up by the transport ship on January 24, in Southampton, England. His age was given as 49, and his birthplace was Boston.
The manifest also said that he had been a sailor on a ship which had been torpedoed. The name of the ship was “Cutty Sark.” Which had not been on the seas for five decades.
Records showed that no Charles William Jamison had been born in Boston between 1885 and 1905. No one by that name had been made a naturalized citizen. No one connected with the transport ship had ever heard of anyone by the name of “Charles William Jamison,” and they could not say who had made the handwritten notations about him.
Jamison was quickly becoming the spookiest amnesiac on record.
Authorities in Invercargill, New Zealand cabled the hospital that Jamison’s description sounded identical to that of a crew member of the freighter “Hinemoa” named James Jennings. As it happened, Jamison had mentioned the ship a few times. He remembered that at one time, he had been a mate on the Hinemoa. It had carried nitrates from Chile to England until it was sunk by the Germans. However, the name “James Jennings” rang no bells with him. Research proved that Jamison’s information about the Hinemoa was correct, but the freighter’s crew lists did not have Jamison’s name, or anyone matching his description.
It was discovered that a Charles William Jamison had been born in Illinois in 1908. His name appeared in the Coast Guard’s file of merchant mariners, but no further information could be found about him. When asked about this man, Jamison replied with only a blank stare.
In 1956, a segment dealing with the Jamison riddle aired on national TV. A viewer in Texas thought Jamison resembled his father-in-law, Frank J. Higgins. Higgins had been a chief engineer in the merchant service before he disappeared many years back.
As seemed to happen at every turn in the case, this fresh lead just led to more mystery. Higgins, who was born at approximately the same time as Jamison, was a New Yorker who spent his adult life as a sailor. On December 9, 1941, his ship, a freighter named the “Frances Salman,” docked in Galveston, Texas. It was in port for less than a week before it sailed for Portland, Maine with a load of sulphur. On January 12, 1942, Higgins’ wife Rosalie received a letter from him. He was at St. John’s, Newfoundland, about to sail to Corner Brook, Newfoundland.
Higgins and his freighter were never seen again. The Frances Salman failed to arrive at Corner Brook, and its fate is unknown to this day. In the words of the ship’s owners, “She simply disappeared from the face of the earth.” Although we’ll likely never know what became of Frank Higgins, we can at least rule out the possibility that he was “Charles Jamison.” Their fingerprints didn’t match.
Thus ended the search for the true identity of Charles William Jamison. He died in the same hospital in January of 1975, still unable to say who he was, where he came from, or how he wound up at PHS. He was, in the words of a fellow patient, “the living unknown soldier.”
STORY: MY UNCONSCIOUS OTHER LIFE==========
In an intriguing article over at Psychology Today, author Caroline Leavitt recounts her experience with extremely vivid dreams during a medically induced coma — dreams that have continued on to this day. Here is the story in her own words…
After the birth of my son, I got sick, really sick, with a mysterious blood clotting disorder, and because the panicked doctors couldn’t figure out what to do, they put me into a medical coma, with memory blockers. They didn’t want me remembering the pain or any of the procedures.
But coma is a mysterious thing. Nobody knows exactly what happens in a coma. Some scientists believe coma patients don’t see or feel or hear a thing. Others say something different. Some scientists believe that coma patients actually dream.
I don’t know if I dreamed. But I do remember something the memory blockers couldn’t stem. When I woke up, it felt like someone had pulled me violently from one world I knew to another, as if I had stepped from one room to another. I began to talk to Jeff, my husband, to my friends Nancy and Lindy, who had sat by me every day, that I had been living in this imaginary town, and that it had been, well, incredible. It had all these stores, and my apartment was hard to get to, but it was big and beautiful and I knew the streets, the people, and I knew it was real.
They nodded supportively. They encouraged me to talk, but when I told the doctors, they just said, “Well, you’re on a lot of nasty medications.” They told me I was just adjusting now, that all those crazy thoughts and feelings would pass.
Except they didn’t. I kept dreaming about the town.
By the time I got home, the imaginary town kept coming back in my dreams, so real, so vivid, that I knew it was something different than a regular dream. It felt as if it were calling me and I didn’t know why, or what it wanted, or what I was supposed to do. I knew it wasn’t lucid dreaming, where you know in the dream you are dreaming even though everything looks and feels and seems like real life, because I’ve had those dreams. This one felt different.
I just knew that it was real.
The dream kept coming back. Over and over. I was always surprised to see the imaginary town again, surprised that I knew which streets to go down, that I knew how to progress through it. At first, I was living in a house that had no way to get to anywhere at first. there were no subways, and the house had a moat and dangerous animals guarding it.
The next time I dreamed about the town, I heard that someone I had loved who had died shockingly had actually not died at all. He had faked his death and everyone had agreed to pretend about it, and now he was living in California. I bolted awake. But the dream wasn’t gone. Instead, I believed it was true, as if I could hold two realities in my mind.
I’ve kept dreaming over the years, always the same town, the same people in it, but things change. I’ve moved out of the house with the moat and to a place close to the subway, now in the West Village, where I’ve always wanted to live. Do our dreams come out of our emotions? Maybe they do, but I can’t figure out the emotions of this dream, other than I have this complete sense of familiarity and wonder all at once.
I feel like I need to figure out these dreams. I talk to my therapist about them, and she points out, well, they started in the trauma of a coma. It makes sense that they still reappear. Maybe, she says, this is just like the way I immerse myself in another world writing fiction, that I live other lives through my characters in order to understand my own. After all, the worlds I write about in my novels feel just as real to me as the world I navigate. But then I talk to a quantum physicist friend of mine, who tells me about parallel worlds, different realities that can coexist. “Is that just theory or true?” I ask her, and she shrugs. “Who knows for sure?” she says. Maybe the coma did something to my brain to make my dreams appear like real life. Maybe I’m processing some cellular memory from an ancestor. “Who knows?” she tells me.
“But isn’t it exciting?”
The truth is, I don’t know whether to be scared or excited by these strange dreams. All I know is something is happening and I’m choosing to see it as an adventure, to stick around for what might come next. Or not come next. Remember that old song, “Life Is But a Dream”? Maybe in this case, it’s the dreams that are a real life.
Caroline’s dreams of this place feel so real that she even spoke to a quantum physicist about the possibility of parallel universes and alternate realities. Are dreams gateways to other worlds, just as real as our own? Now that’s a question.
Commenters to her story have raised the possibility of astral projection, as well as the idea that our souls actually exist “with multiple lives,” and that one of those alternate lives may have surfaced during Leavitt’s coma.
It’s not unheard of for people to vividly dream while in a coma, but Leavitt’s case of recurring dreams of a singular town, and over a period of many years, seems an extraordinary one.
Others have shared their own experiences with coma dreams online. A Reddit thread back in 2014 asked users if they’d experienced any. One claimed that, while dreaming, they simply continued life as normal. Mostly.
“In my dreams I was going about my daily business of college classes and coffee houses, the twist would be that I was introducing myself as having been in a bad car accident but I was ok and in a hospital…”
Another thread from 2018 contained similar anecdotes, with one person recalling “vivid and terrifying nightmares that incorporated the world around me.”
When Weird Darkness returns… a secret aircraft reportedly crashed during takeoff at RAF Boscombe Down in 1994 sparking what has been an ongoing and fascinating mystery ever since. (The Boscombe Down Incident)
STORY: THE BOSCOMBE DOWN INCIDENT==========
On the evening of September 26, 1994, an aircraft was set to take off from Runway 23 at RAF Boscombe Down, a Royal Air Force Base in Wiltshire, England that is tasked with flight testing and weapons development. As the aircraft made its run down the runway, a malfunction caused the crew to abort the takeoff. Soon after, London Air Traffic Control Center, or LATCC, was contacted and notified that the entire runway needed to be closed. What followed was a highly peculiar and swift response that is still wrapped in secrecy. It included the mysterious stricken aircraft being wrapped up and presumably partially disassembled so that it could be flown home to the United States in a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy transport plane. Despite eyewitness testimony, there has never been an official explanation for the strange events at RAF Boscombe Down on that fall night in 1994, but it seems quite clear that some kind of clandestine event did indeed occur.
RAF Boscombe Down, today known as MoD Boscombe Down, (Ministry of Defense, Boscombe Down) has long been a major locale for military aircraft testing and evaluation in the United Kingdom. Cutting-edge testbeds and recovered foreign tactical jets are just some of the aircraft that have called Boscombe Down home since its construction in 1917. The British Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment (AAEE) began using the base for aircraft experiments in 1939, and in 1994 the site was placed under the control of the Defense Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), Britain’s equivalent to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency(DARPA). In 2001, DERA was split into two parts that became the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the private company QinetiQ.
It was during the base’s time as part of DERA the mysterious incident occurred. Much of what the public understands about the incident stems from a March 1997 cover story in Air Forces Monthly written by Ren Hoek and Marco Van der Welk that reads like an aviation ghost story.
The story goes like this:
On September 22, 1994, eyewitnesses living near Boscombe Down reported hearing an abnormal noise approaching the base. According to local television news reports the next day, the noise sounded almost like a freight train or a low-frequency rumbling or humming.
A few days later, on the evening of September 26, an unknown aircraft malfunction shut down Runway 23 at RAF Boscombe Down. Eyewitnesses reported that the broken aircraft was quickly covered by a frame and tarpaulins while surrounded by emergency vehicles. While sitting on the runway, the aircraft’s rear section was unusually elevated, possibly indicating a nose wheel collapse. Shortly after, the aircraft was pulled into a hangar where it sat behind closed doors for two days.
During this time period, it became clear that a cleanup operation was underway. Witnesses reported seeing U.K. special operations forces at Boscombe Down, and two special operations aircraft reportedly arrived at the base: an Agusta A109 helicopter from the British Army’s 8 Flight AAC, a unit that provided covert transport for Special Air Service (SAS) personnel, and a Chinook from the RAF’s No. 7 Squadron, a unit tasked with supporting British special operations forces.
According to the two-year investigation conducted by Air Forces Monthly, witnesses reported several unusual aircraft coming in and out of Boscombe Down during this time. A USAF C-12 Huron, used by the DoD for priority air transport throughout Europe, landed in the days following the incident, as did “an apparently unmarked” Boeing 707.
Though the Boeing 707 has not been conclusively identified, there are reports that a particularly shadowy example of one of these aircraft, ostensibly operated by the USAF with the serial number 67-19417 and designated as either an EC-137D or EC-137E, appeared at Exeter Airport, some 80 miles to the southwest of Boscombe Down, a month after the incident. It’s not clear whether or not this sighting was directly related, but this aircraft, which was acquired by the U.S. government in 1992 and flew in an effectively unmarked gray-white paint scheme for around a decade, was subsequently linked to clandestine activities and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
It’s also worth noting that this jet had previously been on the U.S. civil register as N707HL, with the last civilian owner being a company known as E-Systems in Greenville, Texas. E-Systems, which subsequently became a division of Raytheon, already had a long history of working on highly-classified aircraft projects for the U.S. government, including the U.S. military and the CIA, by the early 1990s. Today, 67-19417 is in storage at the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where it is listed as an EC-137D.
Perhaps most interestingly, eyewitnesses reported also seeing a Boeing 737/T-43 landing at the base that featured the now-iconic red and white markings associated with aircraft operated by private contractor EG&G. That company famously operated the “Janet Airlines,” 737s that shuttle employees to and from the Groom Lake facility and Tonopah Test Range Airport north of Las Vegas, Nevada, as well as other clandestine flight test and aerospace development locales throughout America’s southwest. URS Corporation acquired EG&G from The Carlyle Group in 2002 and stopped using the EG&G brand in 2009, morphing it into URS Federal Services.
On September 28, eyewitnesses reportedly got a glimpse of the partially-covered air vehicle when another aircraft was removed from the same hangar in which it was stored. The mystery aircraft was said to have been charcoal grey with inward-canted twin tail fins and featured chines extending from its nose section, not too dissimilar from those found on the SR-71 or the characteristics we see on stealthy aircraft designs, such as the YF-23. The aircraft was reported to be the size of a large fighter jet and its canopy appeared to hinge forward at the front.
The crashed aircraft remained in the hangar at Boscombe Down until a lumbering USAF C-5 Galaxy appeared to fly the wreckage home on September 28, 1994. The C-5’s original flight plan had it landing at Ramstein Air Base in Germany until it requested a diversion to Boscombe Down late in its flight.
When the C-5 took off from Boscombe Down days later after being loaded with “an unidentifiable tarpaulin-covered object,” its destination was reportedly listed as KPMD, otherwise known as USAF Plant 42 Airport. Plant 42 is home to the most advanced military aircraft manufacturing centers in the world, including Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, as well as sprawling Northrop Grumman and Boeing installations. At that time, two specially modified C-5Cs, serial numbers 68-0213 and 68-0216, were based at Travis Air Force Base in California and frequented Palmdale, mainly for use in support of various space programs and some clandestine aircraft development programs. They lacked an upper passenger compartment and had other modifications allowing them to carry even larger outsized cargo than their standard C-5A stablemates.
In the weeks following the incident, RAF Boscombe Down was visited by a C-20 Gulfstream IV with the U.S. civil registration code N604M reportedly operated by the CIA. The same aircraft made several stops throughout England in early October 1994 under heavy security, including Southampton where Northrop Grumman’s facilities in the United Kingdom are situated.
The British Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Defense Department both denied the incident had occurred. David Oliver, former editor of Air Forces Monthly, told The Independent that the magazine had “no doubt that an incident did happen on the day in question and it has never been satisfactorily explained by the authorities” after their two-year investigation. Oliver assured The Independent “that Royal Air Force officers had been among the sources” of their investigation and that “he was sure the report was true.”
In 1994, Martin Redmond, a Member of the U.K. Parliament from Don Valley, brought up the incident in that legislative body. The response from Defense Minister Nicholas Soames was that he was “aware of a press report of such an incident,” but that “Staff at Boscombe Down have confirmed, however, that there was no crash at the unit on that date or, indeed, so far this year.” Soames added that “the only flying which took place that night was the launch of two Royal Navy Sea King helicopters in support of an exercise.”
In their March 1997 cover story, Air Forces Monthly make the case that the crashed aircraft was the long-rumored, never-confirmed ASTRA (Advanced Stealth Reconnaissance Aircraft), one of the more popular “ghost stories” of black budget aircraft lore. The article claims the ASTRA was produced by Northrop and even includes the alleged USAF serial number of the crashed vehicle, 90-2414. According to Air Forces Monthly, the vehicle was referred to as AV-6 (Air Vehicle Six), and may have been born from research related to the production of the YF-23, the unsuccessful contender for the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program that spawned the F-22.
The alleged ASTRA is only one of a number of shadowy aircraft which are claimed to have been developed around the same time period. For instance, many rumors and small pieces of disparate, unsubstantiated evidence suggest, when viewed just the right way, the existence of an extremely high-speed, manned aerial surveillance platform. The name largely attributed to this mythical aircraft, Aurora, derives from a few misinterpreted line items in Air Force budget documents throughout the 1980s that actually belonged to what would become the Advanced Technology Bomber and then the B-2.
Sightings of unknown black, triangular aircraft are often attributed to Aurora, ASTRA, or similar apocryphal programs. Several high-profile sightings throughout the 1990s fueled speculation that the United States was operating just such a classified reconnaissance aircraft. In one of these sightings, a trained former member of the Royal Observer Corps reported witnessing a black triangular aircraft refueling from a KC-135 over the North Sea while being escorted by two F-111 Aardvark combat jets.
There has never been hard proof of such a high-speed reconnaissance aircraft’s existence, especially one in an operational state that would have been flying around the globe on missions at the time. Additionally, by that time, a then still secret revolution in aerial reconnaissance had already occurred, making snapshots in time collected by high-speed aircraft less attractive than using stealth technology to persist over an enemy’s territory sucking up intelligence for hours on end. Also, significant improvements in spy satellites made the high-speed and also hugely expensive airborne reconnaissance proposition far less attractive than it once was.
That brings us to the so-called TR-3A “Black Manta” subsonic stealthy tactical reconnaissance aircraft. There were also large numbers of sightings of a broader triangular shape aircraft during this period, especially over Europe, which led to a UFO buzz. Popular Mechanics even ran a cover story in December 1991 exploring the idea of the rumored TR-3A. Of all the possible classified aircraft of the era, Tyler Rogoway believes such a subsonic, penetrating, tactical reconnaissance aircraft, potentially with secondary electronic attack capabilities, possibly did exist in very small numbers during this time period. This aircraft would have served as a missing link of sorts that would have bridged the persistent and penetrating reconnaissance revelations made by then Northrop’s top-secret Tacit Blue demonstrator and unmanned penetrating reconnaissance aircraft concepts that began to emerge in the late 1990s, culminating in at least one operational type, the RQ-170 Sentinel.
There was also a lot of work being done around the time regarding small and stealthy tactical special operations transport aircraft, with some notional designs seemingly quite similar to the aircraft described. Such a capability would likely be quite attractive to the Ministry of Defense, which could have prompted a joint program between the two countries. This would have occurred after stealth was proven over Iraq during Desert Storm via the F-117. The U.K. passed on being part of the F-117 program when it was still in the realm of top-secret classification.
The public curiosity over the alleged ‘black’ aircraft grew to the point that then-Secretary of the Air Force Donald B. Rice issued a statement in December 1992, calling ideas of such an aircraft nothing but “fantasy.” A USAF spokesperson added that the Air Force has “looked into all such sightings, as we have for U.F.O. reports, and we cannot explain them. No Air Force aircraft were operating at the times and places of the alleged sightings.” That same year, the Federation of American Scientists, or FAS, also concluded that at least the Aurora was nothing but a ghost story. The U.K. press reported several similar sightings, strange engine noises, and deflections by Parliament throughout the same period, although none of these was ever confirmed to be related to any black aircraft. One could easily argue that actually admitting to a clandestine aircraft with a sensitive role defeats the point and denials are hardly unheard of in this regard.
There is also the possibility that the crashed aircraft at RAF Boscombe was something else altogether. Boscombe was involved in evaluation of aircraft from ‘threat’ nations around this post Cold War timeframe. According to The War Zone‘s Thomas Newdick, it’s possible that the aircraft was a captured or recovered foreign-made design being evaluated or tested against Western-made aircraft.
“Eastern Bloc combat aircraft and helicopters from mainly former East Germany and Hungary are almost certain to have passed through here,” Newdick says. “It would explain the level of secrecy since this stuff was all highly classified. A lot of the time the presence of these aircraft in the UK is only confirmed through records of transfers in Germany and, in other cases, where the aircraft ended up on ranges or in UK museums.”
The War Zone’s own Joseph Trevithick has pursued multiple Freedom of Information requests to the USAF, the CIA, and the U.K. Ministry of Defense in relation to the Boscombe Down incident. The most noteworthy response he says he’s received so far is a statement in which a CIA spokesperson did not refuse to confirm or deny that any such incident had occurred at all, but instead pointed him to the USAF. “We believe your request as written would more likely fall under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense,” Allison Fong, Information and Privacy Coordinator at the CIA, wrote in response to a Freedom of Information Act request Trevithick submitted regarding Boscombe Down.
The Air Force Safety Center responded to an identical FOIA request by stating it had no information about any incident that involved one of the service’s aircraft at Boscombe Down in 1994. Air Force Materiel Command and the U.K. Ministry of Defense have yet to respond to identical requests.
The War Zone contributor and former editor of Combat Aircraft Monthly Jamie Hunter has looked into the RAF Boscombe Down incident on his own, too. He says he has yet to find evidence other than accounts that corroborate the fact that a C-5 Galaxy did, in fact, land at RAF Boscombe on the alleged date. “I remember seeing a flight plan for the C-5, which was due to fly into Boscombe Down,” Hunter told The War Zone, “but I didn’t actually see it on the ground.”
The War Zone also spoke with author and consultant Nick Cook, who at the time was aviation editor at Jane’s Defense Weekly and was the first to break the Boscombe Down story in The Sunday Telegraph. While Cook is confident that the incident happened the way it has been described, to this day he remains unsure about what the craft may have been:
“My former editor, who had some good sources in the RAF and MoD, was contacted to see what he might know about what happened at Boscombe Down. He contacted me, and to be honest, it sounded really fanciful when I heard it. Something crashed on the runway, special forces went into action around the site and shut it down. I said I’d look into it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I contacted a few sources and sure enough, after a few calls, I was fairly satisfied something had happened. They shut down the main highway, the A303, that runs into Boscombe Down. The cover story didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The main cover story was that a Tornado had been testing a towed decoy, which had gotten stuck on its roller and wouldn’t retract. The cover story about a towed decoy was familiar because the RAF had been testing towed decoys for Tornados and it was quite secret. So if you’re going to cover up something secret and do it well, its best to do it authentically with another secret. So a decoy makes sense. But it was patently a cover story. I definitely think something happened. The C-5 definitely came into Boscombe Down. I didn’t talk to the witnesses directly but I read enough witness testimony to say they saw something with a tarpaulin on it on the runway. It had to have been American or have had some American lineage in it in order for the C-5 to have turned up. There were quite a few rumors of joint black programs between the U.S. and the U.K. at the time. There was a lot of the Aurora stuff knocking around at the time but I don’t think it was Aurora. It sounded smaller, tactical, deployable, F-117-like. That sort of size. Certainly, something happened. What it was, I have no idea.”
Evaluating the Boscombe Down incident decades later is clearly a difficult proposition. Whatever the case is, the evidence available about the incident suggests that something sensitive occurred at Boscombe Down on that fall evening back in 1994, but the culprit of the incident remains a mystery to this day. Still, it may be that the incident at the testing base was the closest the public has come to being exposed to a true and still classified ‘black’ jet of the era, whatever its origins.