South America's Procession of the Damned
The recent news stories surrounding the “Hopping Phantom of Calchín” led us to remember other similar experiences involving improbable transient creatures that appear in our midst out of nowhere. These apparitions are sometimes bestial, sometimes quite normal, and at others completely otherworldly.
Raul Núñez of the Instituto de Investigacion y Estudios Exobiologicos (IIEE) in Chile has drawn our attention to a case featured on his website (www.iiee.cl). The lengthy report bears the title “¿Qué Pasó en Cutún en 1976?” (What Happened in Cutún in 1976?) and is written by Sergio Alcaya, a systems engineer who has taken it upon himself to re-open the case, which is one of the strangest I’ve heard of, and straddles the “high-strangeness” no-man’s land of UFO, paranormal and parapsychological investigation.
Cutún is a community in northern Chile’s Valle de Elqui, a tourist destination favored by the country’s contactee groups as they endeavor to make contact with the ever-present “kindly space brothers”, a South American Sedona, if you will. But it appears that a particularly virulent poltergeist event also occurred here, one that draws our attention due to the presence of a Man-in-Black with a singular characteristic not reported in other cases.
In February 1976, a man named Nicasio Torres, the protagonist of the story, barged into the home of his neighbors, Angel and Gabriel Orrego to ask for help. The brothers did their best to calm him down and asked him to tell them what was going on. Gasping for breath, Torres told them that absolutely impossible events were taking place inside his modest home: stones were raining on his roof, but out of thin air. Assuring him that a childish prank was probably involved, the Orregos send Torres on his way, only to have him return the next day asking for assistance – the stones were now falling into his house, through the roof. Another person interviewed for the story recalled that whenever Nicasio Torres came looking for help, “all the dogs in the area would start to howl.”
Neighbors who lent their assistance in the case reported seeing doors and windows that wouldn’t close despite their best efforts, showers of rocks and human bones (including bones that came through windows without shattering the glass panes), intense whistling noises within the Torres home that drove every one out, and a rag doll – used as a pin cushion by the lady of the house – that would leap about, chasing Nicasio Torres’s small daughter, and was seen to jump out of one of the open, uncloseable windows.
“Many parapsychologists and mentalists,” writes Alcaya, “tried to find solutions to the phenomena taking place in Cutún, but none of them was truly effective. Neither the crosses made of Palquí, which were destroyed by invisible hands only minutes after having been placed, nor holy water were powerful enough against the phenomenon.” A pair of Argentinean parapsychologists urged the Torres family to place an altar in honor of Our Lady of Andacollo within the house, but on three separate occasions the same angry force toppled the plaster image. “When the parapsychologist learned that the force present within the home was too powerful to face, he decided to leave the area quickly, never to reappear.”
So far we have the makings of a poltergeist account that could sprung from the pages of Hereward Carrington’s Haunted People or a similar text devoted to the more frightening aspects of parapsychological research. The case received considerable media coverage and Alcaya’s interviews include newspaper clippings from 1976 describing the grisly events at Cutún. But there is an aspect that brings the incidents surrounding Nicasio Torres and his family into UFO/paranormal arena: the presence of a Man-in-Black (MIB), and a very different one at that.
Haydé Carvajal, one of the witnesses and a friend of Nicasio’s wife Rosa, had a fascinating story to tell. One evening, both women were startled by the sudden appearance of “a pale, black-haired man of average height, who asked if Nicasio was home.” When told that Mr. Torres was at work, the strange figure said that “he would wait for Nicasio at five minutes before midnight over there,” pointing at the summit of Cerro Cutún, a hundred meters distant from the house. This strange character “had red eyes”.
Gabriel Orrego also remembered the strange figure, telling the interviewer: “I was never so frightened in my life as when I had to face that man. He came around three times looking to Nicasio, always saying the same thing to [Mrs. Torres]: “Tell him I’m waiting for him – he knows where to find me.”
“The conclusion reached by several parapsychologists looking into the case,” recalls Orrego in the interview, was that the MIB represented “an agglomeration of negative forces.” Orrego had the chance to run into the character in broad daylight elsewhere in the community. “I noticed the man’s presence and I went out to challenge him, however, when I came to within four meters of this character, I was able to see that [he was] a pale man wearing a brown blazer, impeccably clean shoes and black hair, passing in front of the gate to my property. I saw him and was paralyzed. To my surprise, this man was floating some 50 centimeters off the ground, and made a sudden, ninety degree turn to look at me fixedly and deeply. For the first time ever, I knew what fear really was, and I broke into a sweat. The man made another ninety-degree turn and continued on his way before vanishing down the road.”
Other people also saw the bizarre apparition. Cab driver Nelson Alcayaga and his wife Ruthy Chelme saw a man “wearing a brown or green three-piece suit” drifting in the air toward them, as they drove along in their car. “The impression we had was that this man was floating toward us only centimeters off the ground, and Nelson hit the brakes, nearly flinging us against the windshield. When we looked again, he was gone.”
This blend of supernatural factors appears to be a constant in cases emerging from South America. On the other side of the Andean Range, Argentina has supernatural beliefs that combine native lore and European ceremonial magic. For those who believe that magic comes in two colors only, “red magic” can be obtained only through blood sacrifices, such as through Santería rituals. Red magic, it is believed, can be an offshoot of black magic if the blood employed in the ritual comes from someone else or through a sacrifice, and can come from white magic if it is one’s own blood. The belief in this third variant of occult lore is widespread, far from sophisticated urban centers like Buenos Aires or Mendoza, and it is a source of fear for the small farmer or landowner. This fear was exacerbated in the summer of 2002 by the high-strangeness events accompanying the wave of cattle mutilations that swept over Argentina and spilled over into neighboring countries.
On the night of June 20, 2002 personnel at the Puente Dique bridge over the Rio Colorado saw an object "giving off a powerful red light" whose intensity waxed and waned as it moved in bursts. Jorge Martinez, an operator at the bridge, added: "some say the lights are connected to the dead animals."
The lights were now appearing elsewhere in the country and causing physical effects in humans and machinery alike. Argentina's TELAM news agency reported that two young girls--Gabriela and Miriam del Valle Salto, ages 7 and 13 respectively, had been hospitalized in Santiago del Estero (northern Argentina) after having witnessed "multicolored lights". Other locals attested having seen potent violet lights in the sky: one woman said that an intense light shone outside the windows to her home while the internal lighting system dimmed. The mysterious lights seen over the town of Fernandez Robles between June 11-14, for example, were able to interrupt television signals, cause TV sets to shut down "without any interruption to power supply" or even change channels on the receivers.
The strange lights gave rise to much paranormal speculation. Residents of La Chiquita in northern Argentina blamed the mutilations on "red magic", an appellation possibly derived from the color of the strange lights that were seen hovering at treetop level over darkened fields. Daniel Acuña, crossing the darkened fields of La Chiquita on his way to work, saw the lights, which prompted him to remark "it was like an evil light, which I was told was those who practice red magic." The luminous presences had been seen prior to the mutilation of a horse (tongue ripped out, anus and eyes missing) in the vicinity--a death which deprived a local widow of her only means of earning a living, since the animal was used to haul coal and firewood for sale. Strange lights in the wilderness had been a factor decades earlier: In August 1968, disturbing luminous forms were reported over Santa Fé, Argentina, in the dark winter nights of the Southern Hemisphere. Farmers setting out on their chores were greeted by the surprising sight of circular burn marks on their properties following these sightings. Livestock losses mounted as a “sort of radiation” in the region was blamed as the cause. During these troubled times (as Argentina was experiencing political unrest as well ) a local family witnessed a jeep carrying four men in black coveralls drive up to their home. One of the men asked the owner what was the best way to get off the property. UFO sightings over the region ceased shortly after the incident involving these jeep-riding MIB.
In cases like the Cutún “poltergeist” – to find a convenient drawer to place it in – research or accident usually provide an answer in the end: the accursed property was built over a burial ground or something similar. But random manifestations of strange and unsavory figures, who remain for a brief period in our midst before disappearing and becoming part of the Fortean menagerie, often lack a provenance. In April 2004, the Argentinean town of Justo Daract was disturbed by a strange entity dubbed El uñudo (the clawed one) by the local media. Newspapers like Diario de la República ran the story of a child who had been attacked by the unknown entity. Multiple witness cases soon emerged, such as the group of young women who encountered the creature – a frightening, black-masked entity with taloned fingers -- as they left their night school classes at 23:00 hours.
Local radio reporter Maura Avila spoke to several local witnesses. "I was informed that there was a great deal of movement in Barrio Norte, near the hospital, and we headed there just as the police arrived. We learned that El uñudo had appeared -- a character who has gained notoriety in Justo Daract because he/it has been appearing for several days now, and has now terrified an 11 year-old on the corner of Liniers and Los Andes [...] Those who claim having seen El uñudo [say] that it doesn't have human form, rather an animal one, adding that it walks on four legs and hops, being capable of very swift movements." Avila added that the locals had discussed the existence of “black magic cults” in the area and feared that El uñudo could have been an entity summoned during the course of some unspeakable ritual – especially as the timing of these manifestations coincided with Easter Week.
As has occurred only recently with the “Hopping Phantom” in 2010, the good people of Justo Daract formed search parties aimed at tracking down El uñudo: aided by the local police and members of the neighborhood watch, found themselves walking along the train tracks in the dark due to a report that claimed the creature had climbed to the very top of the grain silos by the rails. The dangerous climb to the top of these structures revealed nothing of interest.
On 8 April 2004, another young woman returning home at 03:00 on her bicycle reportedly saw the strange character jumping from one rooftop to the next at the 331 Viviendas neighborhood of Justo Daract. Terrified beyond words, the girl pedaled furiously back to the local bus station – ten city blocks away – in order to take the bus home. Drivers and workers at the terminal attested to her distraught condition. Something strange – whether human or not – was scaring the hell out of the locals. Descriptions of El uñudo now ranged from “large and with a mask and horns; small and apelike, black or brown, with a nude upper torso and covered with tattoos; walking upright or on four legs; leaving goat-shaped hoof prints; climbing trees, pipelines or metal silos; jumping over wire fences and large lagoons, swift and elusive,” according to El Diario de la República.
Other sources reported that despite their failure to locate the supernatural intruder at the grain silos, officers had managed to apprehend the creature at some point, but that it eluded capture in a display of inhuman strength and “the slippery nature of its body” – a quality it shared with the Malaysian orang minyak or “oily man” who became a focus of mass hysteria in the 1960s.