And now onto part-2 of my interview with Richard Freeman on his new book:
Q: Do any scientists take the subject seriously?
A: Yes, I cover all the scientists who have taken an interest in cryptozoology, even before the words was coined. Charles Gould (1834-1893) was an English geologist and son of the famous ornithologist, John Gould. He took several expeditions into western Tasmania and named many mountains in the Western Range. Gould also conducted the first geological survey of the island. In 1886 he wrote a remarkable book called Mythical Monsters. In the book he speculates on the literal, zoological existence of supposedly legendary creatures such as dragons, unicorns, sea serpents and the phoenix. Well researched, written and making a great deal of sense, Mythical Monsters is still very readable and relevant over 130 years after it was written. Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans (1858-1943) was a Dutch Zoologist and director of the Royal Zoological Gardens at The Hague. In 1893 he published The Great Sea Serpent , an exhaustive look at reports of sea serpents from around the world. Oudemans gave the beast the scientific name of Megophias megophias. The Russians were the first nation in modern times to treat cryptozoology seriously.
Q: Much of this was in relation to mysterious apes and ancient humans, correct?
A: “Yes. In the 1940s and 1950s a number of Russian scientists were actively seeking man-like monsters in several mountain ranges in Asia. Boris Porshnev (1905-1972) was a Russian polymath. A biologist and historian, he was very interested in the evolution of man. He was also highly interested in the possibility that relic hominins, relations of the ancestors of man, could still be living in remote parts of the world. He went on a number of expeditions in search of such creatures in the former USSR and elsewhere. In the 1950s, he was instrumental in setting up the Soviet Union’s Snowman Commission, a group of scientists based at the Darwin Museum in Moscow and dedicated to researching these creatures. The Commission members included scientists like Professor Pitor Smolin, Professor A.A. Machkovtsev and Dmitri Bayanov. Another member of the Commission was a French-Russian woman, Dr. Marie-Jeanne Koffmann. Dr. Koffmann spent decades in the Caucasus mountains searching for the “almasty” as the locals called the wildman. She glimpsed the creature once from a distance herself and interviewed hundreds of witnesses and gathered copious notes on the creature’s habits. Her impressive and substantial body of work remains mostly unpublished. More scientists are treating the subject with respect today. Henry Gee, evolutionary biologist and palaeontologist and the editor of Nature magazine, put it best when he postulated that it is “time for cryptozoology to come in from the cold.”
Q: What other creatures are covered in the book?
A: Well, I couldn’t cover all of the cryptids in the first volume; that’s why there are two volumes. In volume one I look at a number of creatures. There is a chapter on dragons. The dragon is the most ancient and widespread of monsters. Homer and Confucius wrote about them. Recently, Michael Witzel, a Harvard University linguist and philologist, used phylogenetic analysis of legends to trace back their origins to a far more distant time than anybody had previously thought. In his book The Origin of the World’s Mythologies he dates the first dragon legends to 40,000 years ago. Sightings continue right up to the present day and I cover these in the book. These include encounters with giant, predatory lizards that may be a surviving for of Megalania prisca; a huge, prehistoric relation of the Komodo dragon, and which grew to 25-30 feet long. It also covers sightings of winged, flying dragons, exactly like those of ancient legend.
Q: Lake monsters, too?
A: I also have chapters on sea serpents, lake monsters including some obscure sightings from the far east that are not well known in the west. We have all heard of Nessie, Champ and Ogopogo, but there are many more strange aquatic beasts from around the world. I have a chapter on unknown apes and hominins including the yeti, the bigfoot, orang-pendek, yowie, yeren, almasty and many more. I have included accounts translated from Russian that have never appeared in western books before. These come from the Snowman Commission and include sightings not only from the former Soviet Union, but from Mongolia, Tibet, Tajikistan and many other Asian countries. I go on to look at the possible origins of legendary beasts like griffons, unicorns and basilisks. The unicorn, for example, may have been based on species of prehistoric antelope, Procamptoceras brivatense with a single horn rising up from it’s forehead. Other creatures include the Mongolian deathworm; a red, serpentine creature said to burrow under the sands of the Gobi desert. Nomads go in great fear of the creature and say it spits a corrosive yellow venom. It’s one of the many creatures I have hunted myself.
Q: So some of these creatures are dangerous?
A: Very much so. From 1764 to 1777 in Gevaudan, a historical area of south eastern France, a savage creature killed and ate over a hundred human victims and ran rings around professional hunters sent out to kill it. The story unfolded like the plot of a horror movie and the Beast of Gevaudan was never captured. It was not a wolf or bear or any other local animal. In the book I look into what it may have been.
Q: How dangerous?
A: Well, I’ve been stalked by tigers, attacked by cobras, and almost swept away by rapids; but, I’ve never actually been scared of the beasts I was hunting. However, there are some really freaky stories of the rare occasions that cryptids are alleged to have killed people. For example, on 24th March 1962, four boys Eric Rule, Warren Sulley, Brad Rice, and Larry Bill vanished on a diving trip. The survivor, Edward Brian McCleary, said they were killed by a sea serpent. They planned to dive on the wreck of the Massachusetts, several miles off the coast of their Florida home in Pensacola. The youths were all aged between 14 and 16. They had a seven-foot-long Air Force life-raft to transport them to and from the wreck. Their raft was swamped in a storm and they clung to a large buoy as a mist came down. Suddenly, a serpentine head and neck emerged from the water sending the boys into a panic. As they swam for their life, McCleary said, the reptilian beast with gaping jaws dragged his friends under one by one.
Q: Do you have another case that fits this category?
A: The story I find the most disturbing is that of a lady called Evelyn Consuela Roseman. Roseman, a stripper from San Francisco. She had taken a holiday hiking alone in Yosemite National Park, California; it’s an area were there have been many odd disappearances. On October 19, 1968, three hikers found her battered body near the base of Nevada Fall. Investigators determined that she had been thrown off the 594 foot fall. The waters were very low, and she had not been swept off. Her trousers had been pulled down and her top pulled up. The body was so far from the Fall that the investigators concluded she had been thrown, rather than fallen. The body had then been dragged some distance and the clothing disturbed. A postmortem reveals she had died from massive internal and cranial damage due to the impact. Her head had been destroyed by the impact as well. More disturbingly, there were bloodless lacerations inside her vagina, showing that the body had been sexually interfered with after death. Semen was found inside the body. The horrific story begs the question: just what has the strength to pick up a full grow woman and hurl her so far off the edge? DNA profiling did not exist until the 1980s, but if had existed back in 1968, I would guess that the samples they took would not be from anything you and I would call “human.”
Q: That’s a very sinister story.
A: It certainly was. Imagine what went through that poor girl’s head in the last moments of her life. It makes you wonder about the cases of vanishings in the forests of North America.
Q: What are some of your favorite cases in the book?
A: Well there are some very interesting multiple witness cases. In the summer of 1987 , a group of youths, aged 15-18 from the town of Lovozero, fished and picked berries and mushrooms around a lake of the same name on the Kola peninsula in western Russia close to the Finnish border. They were staying in a homemade cabin. From 11th to 20th of August the camp was haunted by an eight-foot-tall hominin that banged on the cabin wall and hurled rocks. Nine youths and an adult game-warden called Igor Pavlov saw the creature. Another case from Wisconsin, in 2007, involved a multiple witness case in which a group of people reported seeing huge, winged, flying dragons with white scales.
Q; What can we expect in volume two?
A: I continue looking at various types of cryptid. These include creatures thought to be extinct, but that seem to still be thriving. These include the dog-like flesh eating marsupial known as the Tasmanian wolf or thylacine and neo-dinosaurs (actually more likely to be gigantic lizards). And the giant ground sloth of South America, believed to be extinct since the end of the last ice age. I also look at known species of creature that have grown far larger than science “allows.” These include giant crocodiles and giant anacondas. I go on to tell of some of my own adventures on the track of creatures like the orang-pendek, the thylacine, the yeti, the giant anaconda, the almasty and many others. Finally, I have a chapter on setting up your own cryptozoological expedition from scratch. This covers practical things like getting good native guides, inoculations, what equipment to take, how to choose your target creature, how to look for, and record, evidence and what to do with it when you get home.
Q: Jumping back a bit, how did you first become interested in strange creatures?
A: I can answer that in three words: classic Doctor Who. I grew up in the 1970s with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker as the Doctor. In those days the show was as much about Gothic horror as it was science-fiction. You had giant maggots crawling out of Welsh slag heaps, super-intelligent marine dinosaurs rising from the sea, bear-sized man-eating rats in Victorian sewers and Lovecraftian, tentacled horrors that possess toys, and shop-dummies turning themselves into killers. It was dark and scary and a million times better than the weak excrement that masquerades as Doctor Who today. Now, it is more interested in hamfisted lessons in political correctness than it is in monsters and horror. After school I became a zookeeper and specialized in reptiles. Later still, I began writing for a magazine called Animals & Men. It was the journal of an organization called the Center for Fortean Zoology. This is a group that investigates cryptids all over the world. I became the zoological director, and since then I have been all over the globe hunting strange creatures.
Q: What’s your next expedition?
A: A return to Mongolia, to hunt the deathworm again, is on the cards for next year.
Q: Thanks, Rich!
A: Cheers mate!