Any and everybody around the world can read about the Triangle’s mysterious disappearances, but both on their own and together these accounts really don’t convey the enigma of the Triangle. It takes knowing the area of the Bermuda Triangle in order to appreciate its enigma. It also takes knowing it behind-the-scenes. No person was as crucial to the enigma of the Triangle as Dr. J. Manson Valentine. He was a local biologist who was a bit eccentric and had a wide range of interests in the esoteric. Quite probably he is the first investigator of the Bermuda Triangle. Because he was locally respected and did much oceanographic work he was the perfect receptacle to hear reports or strange or inexplicable encounters. These were not just eyewitness reports by survivors, these were stories from those who searched for the missing and from those who manned radio stations. They had heard some of the intangibles that had been involved in those cases.
Another key person was Richard Winer, a local journalist and bon vivant, with many tall stories to tell. Through both of them, flavor was added to what were at times only anodyne mysteries to those who had not been involved.
Because Valentine and Winer were in place, they heard the stories that continued to circulate around Miami and the Bahamas about pilots vanishing after reporting their compasses were going crazy or berserk.
It really only takes a couple of reports for such an unexplainable event to be viewed as a significant phenomenon. Coupled with the frequent reports from Bahama ship masters about the compass pointing erratically sometimes for no known reason, and there was little reason to doubt this was a significant clue to the Triangle. It especially underpinned Manson Valentine’s theories of USOs and UFOs.
The phenomenon of haywire compasses was known to have occurred to Flight 19, in a very sensational way. It may have only been limited to the Flight Leader’s compass, but in the days when the Triangle was taking form both locally (1950s/60s) it was fervently believed that all compasses had gone berserk on the 5 TBM Avengers. Behind the scenes local pilots continued to speak with Valentine of such encounters or having heard of such encounters. This continued to feed his theory that there was something electromagnetically different about the Triangle.
With the inability to locate Civil Aeronautic Board accident reports from the 1950s and 1960s, it is impossible to determine how many aircraft vanished (1950s) and the details (1960s) of those that are listed by “Briefs.” For this period, Valentine’s dossier proves crucial. For details, his dossier is one of the major sources. Aside from this there are only a few newspaper reports where mention was made of the gyro malfunctioning before the pilot vanished.
One such case was in January 1960, the old article from the Eastern Star Democrat sent to me by a member of the family of the missing couple.
The weakness of Valentine and Winer’s dossiers is that they didn’t know about official repositories. I can deduce this rather solidly. Valentine was the source for Charles Berlitz’s stunning bestseller in 1974 (The Bermuda Triangle), the book that truly gave us the exciting image of the Triangle thanks to Valentine’s input. When I first began my own quest in 1990, I wrote to Berlitz. I had already uncovered the NTSB database and had searches performed. Searches for “Briefs” were still possible between 1962 and 1977, though accident reports were only available after 1977. Not only did this search reveal how many disappearances Valentine and Berlitz did not know about (Berlitz only mentions a couple of them in his book, yet over 40 aircraft had vanished according to the database search), Berlitz responded with gratitude. He had not known about the database. He even invited me to visit him when out in Florida.
J. Manson Valentine no doubt knew of some of these other disappearances, but he didn’t know details from the reports. He knew of them from friends, acquaintances, searchers. From the snippets that newspapers preserved, they formed an ominous and generic backdrop to the disappearances that made up the bulk of the books in the 1970s. These were, of course, the more exotic of the disappearances, those incidents where there was more to write about then “it merely left the coast and vanished.”
To appreciate the enigma of the Bermuda Triangle you need both. You need the nautical grapevine, but you also need official and reliable data. It is dangerous to proceed without one and shallow without the others.
The nautical grapevine is one I can appreciate, as I have been a part of it for 25 years. The problem with writing about each case of which you catch a glimmer is that the glimmer seldom brightens to a full glow. The grapevine speaks of genuine cases of missing vessels and aircraft, but there’s not much to write about. Even though I limited myself to officially documented cases in my book Into the Bermuda Triangle, I was often accused of overwhelming people with my recital of the cases of missing aircraft. There is just so much before information overload (or overkill) happens.
Many potentially interesting cases in the grapevine are also so old today that they really aren’t worthy of pursuing in details. Unless one has details that indicate a crucial bit of evidence can be gleaned from studying and reciting the case there isn’t much there to write about.
For example, a prestigious Baltimore attorney wrote me about one of the disappearances I mentioned in my book. It had happened in 1974. From the Brief, which is all I had, it was clear it was an odd disappearance. A Britten-Norman Islander on luggage service vanished while coming in for a landing at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The attorney elaborated. A Prinair was behind it. Those pilots saw nothing. There was no sound. No water disturbance. Nothing. It is one of only 2 disappearances that basically had eyewitnesses. The plane just vanished. The attorney worked for the charter company at the time and recalled that the widow had real trouble collecting the insurance because she could not prove her husband was dead. Over our communication, he then offhand asked me if I had heard about the couple who kept a monkey farm in Culebra. They vanished in a two master around the same time. What to make of the incident? It was 30 years old when he told me about it. Now it is around 42 years old.
The monkey ranchers’ boat is probably listed in Carl Hiaasen’s Coast Guard readout of 44 missing vessels between 1971 and 1975. I have received readouts like this before. It is barely a starting point for cases 10 years old, but for those 30 years old or more?
Sailors and pilots would confidentially speak with Valentine and Winer of weird encounters with underwater “UFOS.” A few were good reports– John Carpenter’s, Bruce Mournier, a few others. But these represent only a few of those who would allow Winer or Valentine to mention their cases, and oftentimes documentaries (or Berlitz) exaggerated them.
I have encountered the same reticence today, even with something that should not be viewed as sensational, like Electronic Fog. It has been encountered by a number of pilots since my last book was published, and though I am given referrals to them, they don’t want to talk.
On the surface, the Triangle seems quite a placid place today. Its enigma is considered exaggerated and something of past history. In actuality it is little different from those days when Valentine and Winer gathered what information they could. The enigma of the Triangle was then merely an undercurrent of mystery. It reached high profile in the 1970s and unfortunately thereafter has become typecast, forever remaining a rehash of the 1970s’ litany– with few exceptions unless I could get a producer to update with more recent cases. And these updated cases all, one by each, had to be quite sensational.
But the sum total of the “regular” mysteries is just as fascinating and possibly more disturbing. We’ll look at a few of those in the next post.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.