1983: A Shocking Photo

Here's an odd story for you.

        In 1983, a woman named Karen Collett was on a train in the London Underground subway lines with her nephew when he asked her to take a picture of him... so she did. Here it is:

Karen Collett's nephew... and something else.
Karen Collett's nephew... and? [Larger version here]

        Collett was unaware of the figure in the window behind her nephew until the picture was developed. The figure is clearly a person sitting in an electric chair with stylized electricity coming from the hands; and the bar crossing the chest in the picture is part of the window, so the figure appears to be behind the window. The train was moving at the time the shot was taken (on the Bakerloo line), and the tunnels were bereft of advertisements except when passing a small station... so it would be very unlikely an advert image would have lined up in the window at the exact moment the shot was taken, but still a possibility.

        The photo was investigated by Maurice Grosse, member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), who had no explanation for the figure's appearance in the shot. Robert Cox, an expert from the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum), inspected the negative and the camera, and stated: "...it’s an amateur [point and shoot] camera, so to do manipulation of photographs particularly in the ‘80s, you would have needed quite sophisticated cameras."

Stranger Still

        It was Maurice Grosse, apparently, that discovered the next complication in the story: he found the man in the chair. Sort of.

        Strangely, the image in the window was found to be an exact match for a figure from Madame Tussauds wax museum's Chamber of Horrors located in London, England. The figure in question was that of Bruno Hauptmann [1899-1936], famous for being convicted for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindburgh's baby boy in 1932. Comparisons of the figure to the photo showed they were an exact match, except for the stylized electric bolts seen in the photo.

Bruno Hauptmann at Madame TussaudsThe Bruno Hauptmann waxwork at Madame Tussauds [Larger version here]

The obvious answer, of course, is that Collett accidentally snapped a picture that included a poster advertising the display at Madame Tussauds... but representatives of the wax musuem stated they have no records that the figure of Hauptmann was ever used in an advertisement.

        It has been said that Collett also recalled a strange incident that she had not initially related to the photograph, but that seemed connected after the figure's identity was discovered. Collett had taken a friend to get a reading from a medium; and Collett waited outside while her friend went in for her reading. Afterwards, however, the medium came looking for her, claiming to have a message for Collett. The medium is said to have told her: "It’s about your photo. I just want you to know that the man said, I’m accused of something I didn’t do, but I did something else" ... which didn't make sense to her at the time. But Bruno Hauptmann went to his death insisting he was innocent of the crime of killing Lindburgh's son, even when told a confession might have saved him from execution. Knowing this, the medium's message makes sense after all.

Room for Question

        All of the information that is available at this time regarding this matter clearly dates from years after the photo was taken; specifically, a 2005 BBC program called Ghosts on the Underground which included interviews with Maurice Grosse, Robert Cox, and Karen Collett regarding this strange affair. This program is twenty-two years after the fact, so the question is: when did someone first discover the resemblance of the photo to the wax figure, and then ask Madame Tussauds if an advertisement had existed?

        The earliest possible mention of the incident that I can currently trace is in a Fortean Times forum, where it is stated that the account was included in an episode of the BBC series Schofield's Quest in the mid-1990's... which is still years after the photo was taken, and plenty of time for past advertisements to be forgotten. It's possible that further information can be found in older issues of the SPR's Journal, as it has been stated that Grosse included the photo in slideshows of anomalous photos; therefore it's possible that Grosse also submitted the story and details to the journal. Until I can get access to this resource, however, the story must stand as it is... though I have sent an email off to Madame Tussauds to see if they can tell me when the Bruno Hauptmann display was added to the museum.

        So... did someone lie or forget about an advertisement poster? Or did Collett take an anomalous picture of an inanimate object? Your choice.

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