The Owlman of Mawnan: elaborate hoax or unsolved mystery?
The Owlman is generally believed to have been a piece of splendid hoaxing... though some people remain convinced that a large and mysterious winged creature did visit the village of Mawnan for a short time in 1976.
The first sighting occurred in April of that year. Don Melling, who was holidaying in the area, said that on April 17 his young daughters, June and Vicky, were walking through woods near Mawnan church when they saw a "half-man half-owl" hovering above the church.
The girls were frightened and immediately ran to tell their father, who was so disturbed by what he heard that the family abandoned their holiday three days early.
Two months later, on July 3, 14-year-olds Sally Chapman and Barbara Perry were camping in the same woods. According to Sally, she heard a hissing sound and saw a figure that looked like an owl as big as a man, with pointed ears and red eyes. The girls reported that the creature flew up into the air, revealing black pincer-like claws. Sightings of this figure continued to be reported on the following day and on two further occasions two years later. In 1995, a tourist from Chicago wrote to the Western Morning News, claiming to have seen a "man-bird with a ghastly face, a wide mouth, glowing eyes, pointed ears and clawed wings".
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So is the Owlman fact or fantasy? Most observers suspect the phenomenon was simply another example of Tony Doc Shiels' inventive imagination. Surrealist painter and writer, showman, wizard and arch-hoaxer, Shiels was living at Ponsanooth, not too far from Mawnan, in 1976. He was a man with a history of involvement in strange phenomena, from Nessie to Morgawr, the monster of Falmouth Bay. What's more, Shiels was also the first person holidaymaker Don Melling told of his daughters' strange encounter in Mawnan churchyard...