The case of the hairy arm that didn’t actually reach into the car

Often, when I see things in real life and read some interesting stuff on a similar subject, I start to see examples come together to support a conclusion. I’m having that experience now, like, today, as I’m reading about the paranormal in academic literature and still reflecting on what I heard at the CrypitCon event. Recall that I wrote how the paranormal was all over this event, even behind the ears and between the toes, even though traditional cryptozoologists, like Heuvelmans and early Bigfoot proponents, were strictly talking about animals that fit into the scheme of zoology. (Sort of.)

In my notes from the Con was something Lyle Blackburn said casually while talking about the accounts from Boggy Creek. (Bear with me, this all does fit together in the end.) In making the point that the Fouke Monster, popularized in the 70s, was still reported even today, he related the tale of a woman who encountered the creature while driving at night. The incident was depicted on the Destination America TV show Monsters and Mysteries in America. But, he said, the part where the hairy hand reaches into her car? Well, that didn’t really happen. Wait! what? The TV show made it up? I had to check this out.

Obviously, the Fouke Monster is best known from the depiction in the movie The Legend of Boggy Creek. The most terrifying scene in that movie is when the hairy hand and arm bursts through the window of the house when the women are inside. This TV depiction was clearly a throwback to that scene.

Scene from The Legend of Boggy Creek
The hairy hand in the contemporary version reaches into the woman’s personal space of the car. The shock and horror of the hand reaching through the sunroof is effectively scary denoting she is trapped and threatened by it. People will certainly remember this scene as well and assume it was part of her report. It conveniently fits with the existing accounts of monster behavior. But it was a lie. Heather Owen didn’t say that detail happened to her. After I watched the episode (S1, E3), I checked the reports from the local news and subsequent coverage later on where Miss Owen was also interviewed. She never said the beast even approached the car, just that she saw it. One can conclude that the TV producers manufactured the hairy arm scene for added drama. It was shown three times in the episode, which is typical of the repetitive content of these paranormal pseudo-documentary shows. Also typical is that they don’t care as much about facts as they do about invoking a feeling and reaction to the eyewitness account (reenacted by professional actors and using costumes or CGI for the monster). By doing that, they have recreated a new version of the event, likely far less uncertain and much more streamlined than what originally occurred. It’s no secret that ghost hunting shows creatively edit and perhaps even manufacture evidence to support their premise that hauntings exist. They certainly craft the show in a way to condense time and make the situation far more dramatic than it actually is. Viewers eat this stuff up.
Screen shot from the M&M episode showing much less reaction than I would have if a monster was attacking my car.

So, today, I’m reading an article by Joe Laycock in the journal Nova Religio about contemporary paranormal presentation. In it, he says such discourse is “more concerned with possibilities than facts” [1]. It’s all about the fantastic stories and ideas and not about solving the mystery. If you have to embellish for dramatic flair, that’s tacitly accepted. This was exactly what I saw from several speakers at CryptidCon. Testimony took center stage, not science or statistics. It was more of a show. To be fair, those more rationally-inclined cryptozoologists are looking to solve the mystery. But those leaning in the paranormal direction don’t. They may say they want to know, but like most amateur paranormal investigators, their efforts end up reinforcing their belief and they enjoy the special feeling of being involved in perceived paranormal events instead of figuring out what is really going on. They promote possibilities instead of gathering useful evidence to answer big questions. The same can be said for tree knockers and anomaly hunters out looking for Sasquatch.

The TV shows are popular. The people who watch them are more likely to buy into the belief that what is depicted on them is more or less accurate. They want to believe, therefore, aren’t inclined to critically examine the specifics of the case – from the eyewitness account to the historical claims. And they definitely are not being objective and scientific in their research, no matter how strongly they espouse it on their web pages or to the media. Ask the modern ghost investigators and Bigfoot hunters where they get their ideas about what to look for and how to find it. It isn’t via academic sources, it’s from television and other sensational and mostly fictitious media that pass their products off as a true story.

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1. Laycock, J.P. (2014) “Approaching the Paranormal”. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 18:1, 5-15.

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Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news.