top of page





#MOTHMAN and John Keel


John Keel (1930-2009) was the American author who invented the original “Mothman” folklore by writing “Mothman Monster” (1968), Strange Creatures From Time and Space (1970), and The Mothman Prophecies (1975). Did he ignore eyewitness testimony or change crucial facts when he created this legend? If we were bamboozled, how could we possibly set the record straight?

In his Strange Creatures From Time and Space, Keel summarized the case for Mothman with a table of twenty-six of the “more responsible” incidents. His  inventory of encounters was broken down by date, witnesses, locale, and his description of what was seen. Dates and exact descriptions used in Keel's 
table are quoted below in blue.
We located and examined multiple independent sources of information for twelve of these incidents. Confirmation is an important aspect of research. Do these sources corroborate Keel's version of events? Let's find out.


+++++(Incident #3: November 12, 1966 – “A flying, brown human-shaped object.”)
From the October 1968 issue of Saga magazine, Keel writes: “Five gravediggers from Clendenin, W. Va., were among the first to glimpse ‘The Bird.’ Kenneth Duncan of Blue Creek, W. Va., claimed that he and the others were baffled when something that ‘looked like a brown human being' performed an aerial reconnaissance of the grave site in broad daylight on Saturday, Nov. 12, 1966. ‘It was gliding through the trees and was in sight for about a minute,’ Duncan stated.” To be crystal clear about this, Keel lists the witnesses as “5 male adults“ in his Mothman table.

Every independent news source acknowledged Kenneth Duncan as the only witness. ”Four other men helping to dig the grave didn't see it.” “The 
object disappeared before others in the group saw it, Duncan said.” When you skew the numbers, Mister Keel, you skew the numbers. 

+++++(Incident #4: November 15, 1966 – “Large gray man-shaped creature with blazing red eyes, 10’ wing span. Pursued witnesses’ auto.”)
Two married Point Pleasant couples, Roger and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette, told a crowd of reporters they encountered a man-sized, bird-like creature in the TNT area. This was the initial case that ignited the week-long Mothmania wildfire that burned across newspapers of the region and wire services of our nation. In addition to this, the handwritten depositions of three out of the four witnesses were eventually recovered. Examining this plethora of independent sources, two details were repeated:

The young men (Roger Scarberry and Steve Mallette) said they saw the creature's eyes, which glowed red, only when their lights shined on it. And it seemed to want to get away from the lights. "It apparently is afraid of light," Mallette reasoned.

Linda Scarberry wrote that “It has a body shape form with wings on its back that come around it. It has muscular legs like a man and fiery-red eyes that glow when the lights hit it. There was no glowing about it until the lights hit it. I couldn't see its head or arms.”

Brilliant eyeshine was observed during this Mothman encounter. This suggested that the creature's red eyes employed a mirror-like reflecting layer to improve vision in dim light. Perhaps those light sensitive eyes were slow to recover from the blinding effects of automobile headlights and other brilliant lights at night. Reports indicated that Mothman had eyes that were more efficient in gathering the available light so that this creature could "see" in the dark. This “light sensitive” creature behaved accordingly.

Contrary to eyewitness testimony, John Keel forever changed the course of Mothman folklore in 1970. In Strange Creatures from Time and Space, one entry in his “composite description” of West Virginia’s “Mothman” reads as follows. “EYES: Self-luminous, bright red, approximately two to three inches in diameter, set wide apart.” Keel confirmed his speculation by writing: “Self-luminous eyes usually suggests a paraphysical entity rather than a real animal.” Mothman's glowing red eyes would become a forever “illusion of truth,” thanks to Keel.

+++++(Incident #5: November 16, 1966 – “Tall, grayish creature with glowing red eyes.”)
The horrific Mothman experience of Marcella Bennett scarred her for life. It began as a simple visit to the home of her sister, Virginia Thomas. She and her two-year-old daughter, Tina, were accompanied by her brother, Raymond Wamsley, and his wife, Cathy. Ralph and Virginia Thomas were not home, but three of their children, Rickie, Connie, and Vickie, were. Marcella endured this closest encounter in view of multiple witnesses.

A Huntington Herald-Dispatch article from November 18, 1966 entitled "More Sightings 'Birdman' Could Be FHS Balloon" commented that: “Mrs. Bennett, 
carrying her baby in her arms, started to her car and was suddenly confronted with the ‘Bird of Paradise.’ She screamed, and panic-stricken, dropped her baby and fell to the ground. She described the ‘thing' as a huge, gray winged creature with large red eyes.”

Minor discrepancies were found in successive narratives that Keel offered for this incident. These were differences in the chronology of events and the reactions of the witnesses.

+++++(Incident #6: November 17, 1966 – “Gray man-shaped creature with red eyes and 10’ wing spread pursued witness' auto.”)
Keel's version from the Saga magazine article: “On November 17th, Steve Farrell, 17, claimed that ‘a giant gray bird' chased his automobile on Route 7, near Cheshire, Ohio, just across the river from the TNT area.” In The Mothman Prophecies, Keel hides the boy's identity and writes: “That afternoon a seventeen-year-old boy was driving down Route 7, not far from Mrs. Grose's home in Cheshire, Ohio, when a huge bird suddenly dove at his car and pursued him for a mile or so.”

These two fleeting accounts match equally brief newspaper reports. Keel's description somehow morphed into a “gray man-shaped creature with red eyes” by the time it reached his table of “responsible” incidents. How? Why?


+++++(Incident #7: November 18, 1966 – “Giant winged creature with red eyes.”)
Keel writes: “Captain Paul Yoder and Benjamin Enochs, both volunteer firemen from Point Pleasant, revealed that they had seen a very large bird in the TNT Area on November 18, 1966. ‘It was definitely a bird,’ they stated flatly, ‘with big red eyes. But it was huge. We'd never seen anything like it.’”

The pair was less sure in “That Mothman: Would You believe A Sandhill Crane” by Ralph Turner: “’As we were going into the picnic area in the TNT area, Paul and I saw this white shadow go across the car,’ Mr. Enoch’s reported. ‘This was about 1:30 A.M. Paul stopped the car and I went into the field, but couldn't see anything. I'd say this definitely was a large bird of some kind.’”

Definitely a giant winged creature with red eyes? Really?

+++++(Incident #10: November 25, 1966 – “Gray man-like being with red eyes and 10’ wing spread. Pursued auto.”)
Keel’s version: “The day before, on November 25, Thomas Ury was driving along Route 62 just north of the TNT Area. The time was 7:15 A.M. He noticed a tall, gray man-like figure standing in a field by the road. ‘Suddenly it spread a pair of wings,’ Ury said, ‘and took off straight up, like a helicopter.’”

NOTE: Be advised that John Keel never met or interviewed Thomas Ury. Ever.

The original testimony of the witness can be found in a November 25th Point Pleasant Register article entitled “Oh, That 'Bird!' It Was Seen Again.” Interviewed by journalists immediately after his encounter, Thomas Ury said that the huge bird rose up over the trees and approached his car like a helicopter. He commented that, "I've seen big birds, but I've never seen anything like this.” In giving a description, he explained it was grayish-brown in color, was some six feet in length, and had at least an eight to ten foot wing spread. 

Quoting the article: “Ury said he saw a bill, but not unusually big. He did not see red eyes that have previously been given as a characteristic. Some theorized the daylight could have accounted for this.” There was absolutely zero mention of any tall, gray manlike figure standing in a field by the road that suddenly spread a pair of wings and took off straight up. What happened to the red eyes mentioned in Keel's table? Thomas Ury completely discounts John Keel’s fanciful version to this day.

+++++(Incident #13: November 27, 1966 – “Tall, gray man-shaped being with 10’ wingspan and red eyes. Pursued auto.”)
According to John Keel, there was an identical scenario to the Ury episode when eighteen-year-old Connie Jo Carpenter was driving home from church. 
She saw a large man in gray standing on the deserted links of the Mason County Golf Course on Route 62. Ten foot wings suddenly unfolded and the thing took off straight up. She said the creature flew directly at her windshield, then veered off and disappeared. Connie raced home in hysteria and locked herself in her bedroom. She was so upset that she was unable to go to school for several days and required medical attention. Independent sources do recognize the basics of her monster sighting.

Keel then made the nonsensical assertion that Miss Carpenter’s eyes were “zapped” by the Mothman. He writes that: “She was the only ‘Mothman’ witness to suffer from a common UFO ailment – klieg conjunctivitis or ‘eyeburn.’ Her eyes were red, swollen and itchy for two weeks afterwards.“

Keep in mind that klieg conjunctivitis is conjunctivitis and watering of the eyes resulting from excessive or prolonged exposure to intense UV (ultraviolet) light such as carbon-arc lamps or welder's acetylene torches. These light sources are blinding. There are, however, a few "eyeburn" cases on record involving close encounters with dazzling UFOs.

It is more likely that Miss Carpenter suffered from the very common conjunctivitis or pink eye. A pink eye infection can occur when the eyes are rubbed with 
”dirty” hands, spreading either bacteria or viral (influenza) infection into the eyes. It is extremely contagious. It is also easy to visualize her in her room, alone and crying and rubbing her eyes as a result of her traumatic experience. Why are there no direct quotes from her family about Connie's condition? Was a physician consulted?

+++++(Incident #14: November 27, 1966 – “Gray seven-foot tall creatures pursued witnesses (who were on foot).”
“Creatures” was probably a typographical error as only one creature was mentioned in Keel's writings and the newspaper articles. Everyone seemed to agree on the briefest particulars of the experience of Sheila Cain, 13, and her younger sister that night in St. Albans, West Virginia. According to newspaper accounts, the two young girls, walking home from a store, ran to a neighbor’s home. The neighbor confirmed the sighting. The girls said the flying creature had "big red pop-eyes and didn't have a beak." No discrepancies.


+++++(Incident #15: December 4, 1966 – “Giant “bird,” appeared to be plane at first. Long neck reported. Estimated speed: 70 mph.”)
At the Gallipolis, Ohio, airport, five pilots, Everett Wedge of Point Pleasant, Henry Upton of Leon, and Leo Edwards, Ernie Thompson and Eddie Adkins all of Gallipolis, were gathered at 3 P.M., when one man in the group commented on the way a plane was making a landing. The others glanced up at about the same time, and then all of a sudden, they realized it wasn't a plane, but a bird.

Wedge said they sighted it about 300 feet off the ground along the Ohio River bank and they watched it until it was out of sight. All estimated the 
flying creature to be traveling 70 miles an hour. The most outstanding characteristic they noticed was the unusually long neck, which was estimated to be about 4 feet in length.

Keel's version mostly matches independent sources here. The long neck of the “giant bird” sets this creature apart from all other Mothman reports. All things considered, this seems to be a case of exaggeration. Birds are more easily identified when the witness has the knowledge and experience necessary to make that identification. 

+++++(Incident #18: December 7, 1966 – “Brownish-silver man-shaped flying creature with glowing red eyes.”)
According to Keel's table of responsible Mothman incidents, four adult women, on December 7, 1966, along Route 33 in Ohio, encountered a brownish-silver man-shaped flying creature with glowing red eyes. Why is this amazing case never elaborated upon in his Mothman literature?


There is a great reason for this. A newspaper clipping from The Logan Daily News in Logan, Ohio on December 15, 1966, “Trucker Reports Mysterious Bird 
‘Buzzes' Rig On Jurgensmier Hill” fills us in on the details:

On Wednesday, December 7, 1966, Mrs. Edna Guess, Mrs. Betty Hook, Kathleen Bond, and Dixie Auflick, all Goodyear employees, were returning from work  at the Logan Goodyear plant and stopped at the Johnny Appleseed Roadside Park to close a car door which had not been tightly latched. It was about 11:15 P.M.  As they were leaving, a large bird swooped in front of the car from the right. The bird barely skimmed over the top of the car and could be seen clearly. It had large red eyes. From the back seat, Miss Bond could see the bird's eyes. “ They were enormous, and looked more like headlights.” The body was described as “brownish and silvery.” Mrs. Guess said the big bird was very heavy and stocky, with long thick legs, and seemed to have difficulty getting off the ground. Another smaller bird followed close behind, they said. 

One week later, on Wednesday, December 14, 1966, Mrs. John Peart, of West Logan, was talking on her husband's CB radio about 11 A.M., when a driver for a Toledo trucking firm suddenly cut in to report that a big bird and a smaller one followed his tractor-trailer rig along Route 33 in the vicinity of Jurgensmier Hill. Both birds were darting in and out between his truck and a car ahead of him. When asked about the size of the birds, the trucker reported that he had never seen anything like it and said the birds almost caused the car ahead to wreck. The birds flew very low and made passes at both vehicles, he said. The conversation was heard by Jack Hammond, also of West Logan.


Man-shaped flying creature? Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Move along.

+++++(Incident #20: December 11, 1966 – “Man-shaped figure, gray, flying overhead at great speed.”)
In an Athens Messenger newspaper article dated December 13, 1966, Chester Leport and Stevie Pearson Jr of Point Pleasant were hunting for a Christmas 
tree in the TNT area when they saw a “greyish thing” gliding through the air, making a strange noise, at a very high rate of speed. Leport said “it wasn’t close enough for him to see its features, but it was huge and looked like nothing he had seen before.”

This time, a “greyish thing” evolved into a “man-shaped figure.” 

+++++(Incident #22: January 11, 1967 – “Winged being as big as a small plane flew low over Route 62.”)
“It looked like a bird as big as a plane and had legs like a man…” Mrs. Mabel McDaniel, mother of Linda Scarberry, was quoted in the newspaper article, “Mystery Bird Seen Flying Over Avenue.” A big bird, of course, can be loosely described as a “winged being,” although the latter creates the illusion of something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. Keel's version matches up fairly well. Mrs. McDaniel tells Keel that “It was brown and had a wingspread of at least ten feet. I thought I could see two legs… like a man's legs… hanging down from it.”

CONCLUSION: This table of twenty-six incidents represents the Mothman as seen through Keel-colored glasses. Whenever Keel’s folklore can be compared 
side by side with eyewitness testimony and independent sources, too much information seems exaggerated or erroneous. How many elements of sloppy 
research and misrepresentation must be identified in a body of work before the credibility of the author is brought into question?

The True Story of Mothman


Robert A. Goerman

bottom of page