Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 10th, 2008
Frank Searle and Lieve Peten
For years I searched for Frank Searle, the Loch Ness Monster hunter. Finally, I found him, but it was too late, and instead, had to write an obituary, noting “Nessie Seeker Frank Searle (1921-2005) Dies.”
Recently, repeats of a documentary The Man Who Captured Nessie, directed by Andrew Tullis and released on December 29, 2005, have been broadcast on Scottish television. While trying to relocate my obituary on Frank Searle, I have discovered it has disappeared from the Internet. So here, to revisit the legacy of this man, I republish my look at Searle, who first came to Loch Ness 39 years ago this month.
Depending on your point of view, one of the Loch Ness Monsters’ greatest searchers, promoters, or hoaxsters, Frank Searle, 83, passed away in the spring of 2005, according to Nessie researcher Andrew Tullis, who along with me, had actively been trying to relocate Searle for an interview. Searle was quietly and strongly independent to his final moments.
In June 1969, Frank Searle, an ex-soldier, showed up at Loch Ness to conduct his own search for Nessie, and lived out of a tent with his cats at lochside near Dores, for three years. He then moved to the field behind Boleskine House (the former home of occultist Aleister Crowley, 1899-1913, and purchased in 1970 by Crowley admirer, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page). Searle finally established himself, for most of his remaining lochside years, at Lower Foyers, in a trailer (or caravan in the UK). He reported minor sightings, and tirelessly promoted the worth of straightforward observations of the loch, continuously.
In the early days, Searle seemed to be a typical monster-hunter, talking of the search and speculating on what the Monster might be. He was mildly cryptozoologically-educated, such as using the coelacanth to support the example that prehistoric animals might be found alive today. But Searle would also state incorrectly that since 1938, “many [coelacanths] have been caught or found in the South Atlantic,” instead of the reality that coelacanths were being captured in the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of southern Africa. Still, Searle was a sincere and likable young man in the
Perhaps frustrated in his looking for the ultimate proof, after scanning the loch for a reportedly 20,000 hours, Frank Searle snapped his first alleged image of Nessie on July 27, 1972, near Balachladoich Farm. The supposedly two-humped monster shown was published to international acclaim in the September 1, 1972, issue of London’s Daily Mail.
Searle became an instant celebrity, and immediately sought out by fans, tourists, and the media, for the “facts” on Nessie. He popularized the Loch Ness Monster pursuit, and was generally wholeheartedly accepted by the monster-hunter community.
Soon he erected signs to his location that read “The Frank Searle Loch Ness Investigation,” at Lower Foyers, Scotland. Without an admission fee, Searle’s caravan exhibition existed solely on donations. Visitors were soon to discover, however, that the exhibit was mostly of displays of newspaper clippings about Searle and copies of Searle’s photographs.
Despite the fact the July 1972 photograph appeared to only show a tree trunk, Searle got many media people to come visit, and for a time was the Loch Ness spokesperson most often seen on television. But then, with increasing regularity, Searle produced more and more photographs of the “Monster.” It soon became clear his images were crude hoaxes. Searle was only taken seriously for about a year, and then his celebrity status declined rapidly.
Nevertheless, between October 21, 1972, and February 26, 1976, Searle took many photographs of what he alleged were Loch Ness Monsters. He produced one book, Nessie: Seven Years in Search of the Monster (1976).
In February 1977, sincere admirer, Belgian Lieve Peten joined Searle at Loch Ness as his “assistant monster huntress,” helping him greatly organize and publish his materials. Peten left the Loch in 1979, but remained supportive of Searle through 1983. It appears mainly due to Peten’s efforts that from April 1977 to December 1983, Searle was able to produce a regular quarterly newsletter. The publication contained Searle authored passages, which were often critical of Tim Dinsdale, Robert Rines, and the other well-known monster-hunters in Loch Ness research.
In 1985, Searle abruptly left Loch Ness. He seemed to vanish from the face of earth, and he reportedly had gone treasure hunting, or by other rumors, to have died.
Searle’s move from fame to infamy began perhaps most in earnest with the attack on Searle’s pictures by Nicholas Witchell (The Loch Ness Story, 1975). Witchell identified Searle as one of the fakers in the history of Nessie searchers.
Roy Mackal (The Monsters of Loch Ness, 1976) identified the 1972 first Searle photo as a “log,” and likewise found Searle’s additional photographs as having “no connection with large animals in the loch.” Roland Binns (The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, 1983) remarked that Searle’s 1973 photos of “Nessie” are “unmistakably parts of floating tree trunks.”
Michael Newton (Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology, 2005) speculated that some of the Searle photographs were cut-and-paste creations of dinosaurs from postcards. The favorable opinion of Searle as an “honest searcher” had shifted.
Henry Bauer (The Enigma of Loch Ness, 1986), under “Hoaxes and Frauds,” is the only author to critically review and publish nineteen of Searle’s photographs. Bauer calls them “fraudulent,” and for the tourists seeking info on Nessie, “misleading.”
Frank Searle, born 1921, 83 or 84 years old, passed away, on March 26, 2005, in his furnished sitting room/bedroom, his bedsit. Searle lived alone in Fleetwood, Lancashire, United Kingdom, perhaps with some cats, since 1986. He suffered a stroke seven years earlier that left his right side paralyzed. He required the aid of a prosthetic left foot. Despite being confined to a wheelchair for his last years, Searle had refused the option of an assisted care facility or a nursing home, and instead chose to look after himself. As researcher Roland Watson notes: “That sounds very much like Frank Searle to me.”
Searle never married and leaves no known heir or relative. What he has left, instead, is a confused commentary on his search.
I have to concur with both Paul Harrison and Henry Bauer on their concluding observations in their separate books on Frank Searle.
Harrison wrote of the legacy of hoaxes, but then goes on to observe: “Searle did make a contribution to Loch Ness investigation, though, because the publicity his photographs and stories attracted drew the world’s media to the Loch.”
Bauer pondered Searle’s lasting contribution: “One can only wonder how much harm has been done to the quest by the likes of Frank Searle.”
Frank Searle, a good monster-hunter, made a statement about the worth of on-site investigations, but then, pushed the envelope a bit too far after he became a misguided true-believer.
He will be remembered, favorably as a man, unfavorably as a phenomenon.