Friday, February 10, 2017
The Curse of the Cottingley Fairies: How a professor's life was ruined when he fell for children's hoax
The infamous Curse of the Cottingley Fairies is being blamed for the death of a kindly professor whose life and reputation were shattered by a cruel hoax.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest scams of the 20th century perpetuated by cousins Frances Griffiths, nine, and Elsie Wright, 16.
They fooled the whole world with five photographs they claimed were “living fairies ” taken between 1917 and 1920 - said to have been spotted while they played near the village stream at Cottingley in West Yorkshire.
Scientists, intellectuals and even Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were in fact all being duped by a Box Brownie camera and cardboard cut-outs of fairies attached to foliage with hat pins.
In terms of Top 10 hoaxes of all time - it is up there with Hitler 's diaries and photos of the Loch Ness Monster .
The unlikely story of the fairies was all but forgotten by the 1970s - until war hero and academic Prof Joe Cooper encountered a gossipy friend of the cousins in a book queue in Bradford.
He became obsessed with the tale and decided to take up where Conan Doyle had left off in the 1920s.
In 1975, he took early retirement as a senior lecturer at Bradford teacher training college and invested more than seven years - and not to mention a small fortune - on investigating.
The cousins were by now aged in their 70s and not talking to each other - with Elsie living in Nottingham and Frances in Ramsgate.
Former wife Shirley, now 80 herself, said: "It was dreadfully unfair that they had him on a string and strung him along for seven years.
“They had him up and down the motorway altering chapters of his books which they constantly criticised.
“He once rang from Leeds Castle in Kent where he'd taken Frances for a day out. They had so many occasions to stop the pretence and confess.”
Joe's tireless championing rekindled interest in the cousins’ old story which would be debated throughout the rest of the Seventies.
But the fairy tale ended for Joe in Canterbury Cathedral in September 1981 - when Frances confessed what had happened.
She pointed out the hat pins holding up the figures and said how surprised she was that anyone had taken it seriously.
Joe later wrote of his “whole world shifting”.
Nine months later, in July 1982, he left his wife of 23 years Shirley and their children Jane and David and vanished.
Unknown to his family, he had already posted an article to Unexplained Magazine, exposing the scam which had ruled his life.
Shirley was stunned when she rang Frances about Joe’s disappearance and was told: ‘I haven’t seen him since we both confessed to him that they were fakes’.”
Shirley Cooper, now 80, said: “He'd been living with me and bottling up this dreadful knowledge for nine months and never, ever mentioned it.
“What must that man have gone through for nine months from September 1981 until he disappeared?
"Joe was a very trusting, honest man and was made to look a fool. It was tragic.
“I accepted Joe’s interest in the paranormal, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say I believed in fairies and he ended up blaming me for them not being true.”
By the time Joe reappeared, the marriage was over.
He spent his divorce writing The Case of the Cottingley Fairies on which the film Fairy Tale: A True Story was later based.
The former "nerves-of-steel" Bomber Command hero was never the same afterwards.
He became prone to strokes and died from heart failure a broken man, aged 87, in 2011.
The same year, Cottingley unveiled a £73,000 sculpture garden as a memorial to Frances and Elsie.
Shirley, who never remarried and worked as an accountant after the split, added: “When I heard about that I thought: ‘Please, no’. I don’t want them glorified.’"
She had long suspected that Elsie in particular was taking advantage of Joe to bask in the fame she had enjoyed as a child.
“When I met Elsie the old woman couldn't look me in the eye and behaved very eccentrically.
"She had a table tennis ball she kept flicking backwards and forwards to a pet budgie,” she said.
Now Joe’s daughter Jane is writing a TV script about what she calls “The Curse of the Cottingley Fairies”.
Jane, 45, a supply teacher, said: “It is a curse. They created a web of lies.
“Maybe they did see fairies but it was inexcusable to carry on the deception as mature women when they had multiple chances to confess.
“They should have taken their secret to grave so it could have been one of those great mysteries like the Loch Ness Monster.
“Dad was tough guy. He had been charge of the crew of Lancaster bomber during the war and suffered near-death experiences.
“But when he found out he had been duped we think he suffered some kind of breakdown.
“My father died penniless and left nothing. A relative wrote that at the end of his life even his beloved fairies had left him.
“Dad was a wonderful man and great father. His flaw was he was too trusting.”
“They took advantage of him because he was incredibly generous.
“He gave away more copies of his book than he sold and did not make a penny from the film.
“Secrets and lies should not be allowed to stay buried. It is time for darker side of the fairy tale to come out.
“Even though all this happened 100 years ago it is still affecting people now and it’s awful.”
Frances’ daughter Christine Lynch, 85, who now lives in Belfast, said: “It’s not true at all.
“He was not a broken man. He got the story. He was delighted and sold goodness knows how many books.
“My mother was furious. She did not expect to be betrayed.
“She rang him up, told him he was a traitor, and slammed the phone down on him.
“Even after that, he continued to try to contact her. He wrote page after page of letters. But she wanted nothing more to do with the man.
“He really charmed her. He used to visit and play for her on his ukulele and offered to help her write her memoirs.
“I can’t believe his family are saying this. The centenary of when my mother started playing with the fairies is going to be a big year.
“The first four photos may have been fakes. But I’m totally convinced by the fifth one.
“There was no way it was a double exposure and it needs proper investigation.”
Posted by Paranormal Searchers at 4:00 PM