The first known encounter with the creature that would come to be known as the Owlman of Cornwall — or Owlman of Mawnan, Cornish Owlman or Death Raptor as it also seems to be known — occurred on April 17, 1976.
The eyewitnesses were a pair of sisters — 9 year-old Vicky and 12 year-old June Melling — who were on holiday with their family in Cornwall. While walking through the forest the sisters spied what they described as a huge winged creature hovering over the nearby Mawnan church steeple.
The youngsters were so terrified by this flying fiend that they immediately ran back to tell their father, Don Melling, about the strange beast that they had seen. Melling — realizing how terrifed his children were — cut their vacation short by three days and immediately returned home to Lancaster.
This bizarre tale might have languished in the annals of strange family legends — to be discussed only occasionally and in the secure confines one’s home — were it not for the fact that Melling came across noted paranormal researcher Tony Shiels (known as “Doc” to his cohorts) in whom he decided to confide this odd account.
Ever the protective patriarch, Melling refused to allow his daughters to be interviewed, but he did provide Sheils with a sketch of the beast that was drawn by June. The drawing clearly showed a humanoid creature, which seemed to bear the features of an owl.
Shiels’ chronicled how he came to learn of the Owlman phenomenon in a letter to his colleague, well-known British cryptozoologist and author of the book “The Owlman and Others,” JONATHAN DOWNES :
”A very weird thing happened over the Easter weekend. A holiday-maker from Preston, Lancs., told me about something his two young daughters had seen … a big, feathered bird-man hovering over the church tower at Mawnan (a village near the mouth of the Helford River). The girls (June 12, and Vicky, daughters of Mr. Don Melling), were so scared that the family cut their holiday short and went back three days early.”
“This really is a fantastic thing, and I am sure the man wasn’t just making it up because he’d been told I was on a monster hunt. I couldn’t get the kids to talk about it (in fact, their father wouldn’t even let me try,) but he gave me a sketch of the thing drawn by June.”
“There have been no reports, so far as I know, of anybody else seeing the Bird-Man … even if it turned out to be just a fancy dress hang-glider, you’d think someone else would have spotted him, but Mawnan is not a place for hang-gliding! I really don’t know what to think … it’s as if a whole load of weirdness has been let loose in the Falmouth area since last autumn!”
Some of these weird events included strange animal attacks and multiple sightings of UFOs. It has even been indicated by some researchers that this fiend may be from OUT OF THIS WORLD and that the description of the Owlman vaguely resembles that of another ostensibly alien creature seen in England, which has been referred to as the BAT BEAST OF KENT.
Just three months later, on July 3, 1976, 14 year-old Sally Chapman –- who hailed from Plymouth — was camping with a friend, Barbara Perry, in the very same woods where Vicky and June had made their sighting. This time, however, the young eyewitnesses would not be so far removed from this shocking entity.
According to Chapman’s account, when she and Perry climbed out of their tent, they heard a horrible “hissing” noise. The teenagers whipped around and were confronted by a sight that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Chapman described what she saw:
“It was like a big owl with pointed ears, as big as a man. The eyes were red and glowing. At first, I thought that it was someone dressed up, playing a joke, trying to scare us. I laughed at it, we both did, then it went up in the air and we both screamed. When it went up you could see its feet were like pincers”
Perry also contributed her thoughts about the beast:
“It was horrible, a nasty owl-face with big ears and big red eyes. It was covered with grey feathers. The claws on its feet were black. It just flew up and disappeared in the trees.”
This description of red hued eyes and grey pigmentation is reminiscent, albeit slightly, of eyewitness descriptions of a three-legged monstrosity known worldwide as the ENFIELD HORROR, which was said to have tormented the McDaniels family in their Illinois home on April 25th, 1973.
The girls — aware of Shiels involvement in the Melling sighting — wasted no time in contacting the investigator. Shiels, eager to discover whether this was a valid sighting or merely teenage pranksters hoping to gain some local notoriety, met Chapman and Perry the following day on Grebe Beach, which is located below Mawnan Church.
Chapman anxiously approached the investigator, uttering the words: “Are you Doc Shiels? We’ve seen the bird monster.”
The girls were both adamant that they were not falsifying this report. Chapman elaborated on her description of the creature and expressed her concern over people not believing their strange story:
“It has red slanting eyes and a very large mouth. The feathers are silvery grey and so are his body and legs; the feet are like a big, black, crab’s claws. We were frightened at the time. It was so strange, like something out of a horror film. After the thing went up, there were crackling sounds in the tree-tops for ages.”
“Our mother thinks we made it all up just because we read about these things, but that is not true. We really saw the bird-man, though it could have been someone playing a trick in a very good costume and make up. But how could it rise up like that? If we imagined it, then we both imagined it at the same time.”
Shiels — admittedly skeptical about the girls’ story — had Chapman and Perry draw what they had seen separately. Upon inspection he considered the images to be similar enough to verify their story, yet different enough to rule out a conspiracy to commit a hoax. He considered the illustrations to be significant pieces of evidence.
Both girls made brief notes beneath their pictures. Chapman’s read: “I saw this monster bird last night. It stood like a man and then it flew up through the trees. It is as big as a man. Its eyes are red and shine brightly.”
Perry wrote on her drawing: “Birdman monster. Seen on third of July, quite late at night but not quite dark. Red Eyes. Black Mouth. It was very big with great big wings and black claws. Feathers grey.”
The two girls agreed on most features with their pictures although Chapman believed that Perry had failed to accurately represent the monster’s wings. Based on these drawing Shiels would give this monster the designation of “Owlman.”
This would seem to indicate that this was not merely a large Eagle Owl as some investigators — like famed cryptozoologist, KARL SHUKER — have speculated, but an actual humanoid entity. Perry’s account of a “black mouth” would likewise seem to point toward the fact that this beast is not beaked, but bears a gaping maw.
The next day, on July 4th, 1976, a young lady named Jane Greenwood also claimed to have encountered the creature. Greenwood again described the beast as being man-like, with a wide mouth, slanted red eyes and huge, black, crab-like claws.
The same year, Anthony Mawnan-Peller published a pamphlet — which was primarily about MORGAWR, the Cornish SEA MONSTER — entitled: “Morgawr: The Monster of Falmouth Bay,” which included one of the first written accounts of the creature.
Following the release of this pamphlet — or, as suggested by many skeptics, because of it — sightings of the beast came with increasing frequency over the next two years, but then seemed to abruptly die down.
A few days following Mss Opie’s sighting, Shiels wrote a letter to Janet and Colin Bord of the Fortean Picture Library detailing his intention to provide photographic proof the the monster:
“The owlman is certainly back in business… as soon as anything really exciting happens, I’ll let you know. It would be terrific if I really could get a picture of our feathered friend!”
The Owlman was seen again on August 2nd, 1978, by three unidentified, female, French students who were attending nearby Camborne Tech, now known as Cornwall College, for summer courses.
The landlady of the Redruth boarding house, in which the students were residing, had contacted Shiels — who she knew to be involved in unusual animal sightings — in order to report that her tenants had been terrified by something they claimed was: “very big, like a big, furry bird with a gaping mouth and round eyes.”
The girls — like so many who have had a sighting of an anomalous animal — refused to come forward and subject themselves to the ridicule or scrutiny entailed by admitting to an encounter with the unknown.
According to Downes there are many investigators – such as Strange Magazine’s MARK CHORVINSKY – who have questioned Shiels’ reliability in this case due to the fact that so many of the eyewitnesses came forward exclusively to him.
Downes, however, has suggested that this is due to the fact that the Cornish folks are notoriously reticent to allow strangers or “outsiders” in on their potentially embarrassing secrets, and that it if Shiels had not been considered a “trusted local” this entire series of incidents may well have gone unreported.
Downes also reported the first account of this creature that did not involve Shiels. According to the report, Downes interviewed a man referred to only as “Gavin” who, along with his former girlfriend, “Sally,” claimed to have seen the beast in the flesh in 1989. Gavin described the event in his diary:
“We had a torch and I was shining its beam across trunks about fifteen feet off the ground. We saw the animal at about 9.30 pm. It was standing on a thick branch with its wings sort of held up at the arms. I’d say that it was about five feet tall. The legs had high ankles and the feet were large and black with two huge ‘toes’ on the visible side.”
The creature was grey with brown and the eyes definitely glowed. On seeing us its head jerked down and forwards, its wings lifted and it just jumped backwards. As it did its legs folded up. We ran away… we didn’t know what to do about it, and essentially vowed never to tell anyone.”
The most recent known sighting of this beast occurred just outside of that same Mawnan church, in the summer of 1995. The witness — a student from Chicago who requested that she remain anonymous — chronicled the incident in a letter she sent to the night editor of the Western Morning News in Truro, Simon Parker:
“Dear Sir, I am a student of marine biology at the Field Museum, Chicago, on the last day of a summer vacation in England. Last Sunday evening I had a most unique and frightening experience in the wooded area near the old church at Mawnan, Cornwall.”
“I experienced what I can only describe as ‘a vision from hell.’ The time was fifteen minutes after nine, more or less, and I was walking along a narrow track through the trees. I was halted in my tracks when, about thirty meters ahead, I saw a monstrous man-bird thing.”
“It was the size of a man, with a ghastly face, a wide mouth, glowing eyes and pointed ears. It had huge clawed wings, and was covered in feathers of silver/grey color. The thing had long bird legs which terminated in large black claws. It saw me and arose, ‘floating’ towards me. I just screamed then turned and ran for my life.”
“I have seen the phantom myself. Please don’t publish my real name and address. This could adversely affect my career. Now I have to rethink my ‘world view’ entirely. Yours, very sincerely scared… ‘Eye Witness’.”
While Downes admits to being in possession of this woman’s name and address, he has respected her wish for privacy and has adamantly maintained her anonymity. While her name may be under wraps, it is difficult to dismiss the fact that as a student of biology at Chicago’s esteemed Field Museum, her testimony that this bizarre being has forced her to rethink her “world view” should not be taken lightly.
Curiously, almost all known reports of the Owlman have come from female eyewitnesses, most of who were under the age of 16. This fact has led some researchers to believe that the existence of this AVIAN ANOMALY can be dismissed as some sort of juvenile hysteria or even an outright ruse, but that would seem to be a rash judgment.
Nevertheless, the question remains: “What is the Owlman of Cornwall?” Some researchers have suggested that it is an infernal apparition from the depths of hell, others have ruminated that it may be n extra-terrestrial’s runaway pet due to the spate of UFO sightings around Cornwall in the 70s.
Still others have speculated that the similarities between this beast and those of theexhaustively chronicled MOTHMAN are simply too obvious to dismiss.
It’s interesting to note that the Owlman — unlike the infamous Mothman — does not appear to be a harbinger of doom. Nevertheless, the physical similarities between the two creatures are undeniably striking.
But I still wouldn’t want to spend the night alone in Mawnan forest to find out.
© Copyright Rob Morphy 2002 — 2011