The Squonk & The Hag

Mothman: John Keel & Indrid Cold | Episode 25

Who is John Keel?

John Alva Keel, born Alva John Kiehle was an American journalist and influential UFOlogist who is best known as author of The Mothman Prophecies. Keel was born in Hornell, New York, the son of a small-time bandleader. His parents separated and he was raised by his grandparents. He was interested in magic (Magic Tricks) and had his first story published in a magicians’ magazine at age 12. He left school at the age of 16 after taking all the science courses.

He worked as a freelance contributor to newspapers, scriptwriter for local radio and television outlets, and author of pulp articles such as “Are You A Repressed Sex Fiend?” He served in the US Army during the Korean War on the staff of the American Forces Network at Frankfurt, Germany. He claimed that while in the Army he was trained in psychological warfare as a propaganda writer.

After leaving the military he worked as a foreign radio correspondent in Paris, Berlin, Egypt, and Rome. In 1957 he wrote the book Jadoo, which tells of his adventures in India and Egypt investigating the Indian Rope Trick and the Yeti and in 1966 he wrote a novel called The Fickle Finger of Fate which was a spoof novel based on the “spy and superhero” genre. Like if Superman went undercover as an American Spy in Vietnam or something. He was also part of the Screenwriters Guild and wrote quite a few TV show scripts, such as Get Smart.

On to his more “fringe” works. He did coin the term “Men In Black” when he wrote a piece for the mens adventure magazine, Saga, entitled “UFO Agents of Terror”. He also wrote UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Eighth Tower, and of course The Mothman Prophecies. He is most famous for the latter that dealt with the strange phenomenon around and in the Point Pleasant area of West Virginia, culminating in the collapse of the Silver Bridge which stretched over the Ohio River. In his works he puts forth the hypothesis that extraterrestrials are not, in fact aliens, but maybe some “ultraterrestrial”. He states that these beings have been shaping the human race for centuries. Using shapeshifting they have presented themselves as gods, demons, angels, strange dirigibles (Dir-idge-ables) seen in the late 1800’s, and most every other paranormal phenomenon man has been witness to over the course of its history. He also posits the idea that these beings are an ancient human race or that these beings are interdimensional. This leads us into the shadowed, eerie domain of West Virginia’s most infamous cryptid, and gives a background into what Keel reports there. 

Who is Indrid Cold?

Probably one of the most famous entities to come from this story, besides the big Moth itself, is Indrid Cold. The story begins on a dark West Virginia road. Mr. Woodrow Derenberger had driven to Marrieta, OH for a business trip and was on his way home to Mineral Wells, WV. He was a sewing machine salesman, so he had shown a client the sewing machine earlier in the day. He realized he had forgotten to do some maintenance to the sewing machine after he had left the clients house earlier that day. So he decided to stop on the side of the road to fix it instead of waiting till he was home. After fixing the machine he continued driving home. After a while on the road he noticed lights up the road. Thinking the lights were police officers, he stopped, only to discover that the lights didn’t belong to a car, but to what he said was an aircraft that looked like a “kerosene lamp chimney.” Derenberger said a man stepped out and approached his truck.

“He looked perfectly natural and normal as any human being,” Derenberger told Ronald Mains, during an interview on WTAP-TV in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the day after the encounter.  

“His face looked like he had a good tan, a deep suntan. He was not too dark but it was just like he had been out in the sun a lot and had a good tan. His hair was combed straight back and it was a dark brown and he seemed to have a good thick head of hair. His eyebrows, his face, his features were very normal. I don’t believe that he looked any different from any other man that you would meet on the street.” But he wasn’t normal, Derenberger said. He had a large grin and kept his arms folded with his hands up under his armpits. And though he spoke to Derenberger, his smile never moved. He spoke, Derenberger said, telepathically.

“He asked me to roll down the window on my right-hand side of my truck and I done what he asked,” Derenberger said during the interview. “And this man stood there and he first asked me what I was called and I know he meant my name and I told him my name and he asked me, he said, ‘Why are you frightened?’ he said, ‘Don’t be frightened, we wish you no harm,’ he said, ‘We mean you no harm, we wish you only happiness,’ and I told him my name and when I told him my name he said he was called ‘Cold’.”

This was Derenbergers, and the worlds, introduction to the entity known as “Indrid Cold”. However, this was not the first time this entity was reported being seen. The encounter occurred in Elizabeth, New Jersey, at approximately 9:45 pm. on the night of October 11th, 1966. Two boys — Martin “Mouse” Munov and James “Jimmy” Yanchitis — were walking home along New Jersey and 4th Street when they turned onto a road that ran adjacent to the elevated New Jersey Turnpike. There was a treacherously steep 30-foot slant running from the hectic turnpike above them all the way down to the tall wire fence that ran parallel to the route that Munov and Yanchitis were walking. The decline on the other side of the fence was so steep that the boys had never even seen anyone attempt to scale it, nor had they ever seen anyone on the opposite side of the rusted fence… but this night would prove to be an exception to the rule.

Both Munov and Yanchitis were nervous as they slipped in and out of the pools of light cast by the streetlamps above, as they had heard that a neighborhood woman had been chased by a “tall, green man” earlier that evening in the same area. Little could the boys predict when they stopped to catch their breath a few moments later that their date with the unknown would be about to begin.

It was Yanchitis who first noticed the ominous humanoid figure standing in the thick scrub brush behind Munov on the opposite side of the fence. He appeared to be ignoring the boys and staring at a house across the road. Yanchitis would later describe the smirking brute for both the police and Keel:

“He was the strangest guy we’ve ever seen… He was standing behind that fence. I don’t know how he got there. He was the biggest man I ever saw.”

The anxious Yanchitis wasted no time in alerting his unwary pal about the scary silhouette  that was stationed behind him. Munov slowly turned and saw a huge figure clad in a green, one-piece suit that seemed to be reflecting the streetlight above. Munov’s account is in his report to the police:

“Jimmy nudged me and said, ‘Who’s that guy standing behind you?’ I looked around and there he was… behind that fence.  Just standing there. He pivoted around and looked right at us… then he grinned a big old grin.”

The two young men — evidently wise beyond their years — listened to their fight or flight instinct and wasted no time in exiting the scene before the eerie emerald apparition could scale the fence and take pursuit.

On that same night about 40 miles away 3 police officers and one of their wives, who was with the officer at the time, saw a ball of brilliant white light in the sky. They say it was “as big as a car” and one officer said it shone from over 300 yards away and that after he looked away he couldn’t see for 20 minutes. So Derenberger is not the only one to have strange encounters in the area during that time.

Jumping back to Derenberger, he claimed to have been visited by Indrid several more times according to Keel. However, that probably wasn’t for the best. Derenberger lost his job, his wife, and his peace for coming out with his story. At first news people came in droves, he was a celebrity of sorts, and he even wrote a book on his experience. Due to the notoriety, and ridicule, he went to a doctor who gave him a clean bill of health and confirmed he had no chemical imbalances or disruptions. In the end, he was ridiculed and mocked locally and eventually the pressure grew to be too much for Mrs. Derenberger and she divorced him. He suffered from depression and painful headaches. Other family blamed him and his story for lost jobs and friends and eventually he moved away to get away from the notoriety. Eventually, he moved back to the Mineral Springs area, and died in 1990. 20 years since that fateful night when he was stopped on the road. Through all of this, he never recanted his story, but he never discussed it again.

Cornstalk’s Curse

As the American frontiersmen began to move west in the 1770’s, seven nations of Indians (the Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, Mingo, Miami, Ottawa and Illinois tribes) formed a powerful confederacy to keep the white men from infringing on their territory. The Shawnee were the most powerful of the tribes and were led by a feared and respected chieftain called “Keigh-tugh-gua”, which translates to mean “Cornstalk”. In 1774, when the white settlers were moving down into the Kanawha and Ohio River valleys, the Indian Confederacy prepared to protect their lands by any means necessary. The nations began to mass in a rough line across the point from the Ohio River to the Kanawha River, numbering about 1200 warriors. They began to make preparations to attack the white settlers near an area called Point Pleasant on the Virginia side of the Ohio River. As word reached the colonial military leaders of the impending attack, troops were sent in and faced off against the Indians. While the numbers of fighters were fairly even on both sides, the Native Americans were no match for the muskets of the white soldiers. The battle ended with about 140 colonials killed and more than twice that number of Indians. The tribes retreated westward into the wilds of what is now Ohio and in order to keep them from returning, a fort was constructed at the junction of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers.

As time passed, the Shawnee leader, Cornstalk, made peace with the white men. He would carry word to his new friends in 1777 when the British began coaxing the Indians into attacking the rebellious colonies. Soon, the tribes again began massing along the Ohio River, intent on attacking the fort. Cornstalk and Red Hawk, a Delaware chief, had no taste for war with the Americans and they went to the fort on November 7 to try and negotiate a peace before fighting began. Cornstalk told Captain Arbuckle, who commanded the garrison, that he was opposed to war with the colonists but that only he and his tribe were holding back from joining on the side of the British. He was afraid that he would be forced to go along by the rest of the Confederacy.

When he admitted to Arbuckle that he would allow his men to fight if the other tribes did, Cornstalk, Red Hawk and another Indian were taken as hostages. The Americans believed that they could use him to keep the other tribes from attacking. They forced the Native Americans into a standoff for none of them wanted to risk the life of their leader. Cornstalk’s name not only struck fear into the hearts of the white settlers up and down the frontier, but it also garnered respect from the other Indian tribes. He was gifted with great oratory skills, fighting ability and military genius. In fact, it was said that when his fighting tactics were adopted by the Americans, they were able to defeat the British in a number of battles where they had been both outnumbered and outgunned.

Although taken as hostage, Cornstalk and the other Indians were treated well and were given comfortable quarters, leading many to wonder if the chief’s hostage status may have been voluntary in the beginning. Cornstalk even assisted his captors in plotting maps of the Ohio River Valley during his imprisonment. On November 9, Cornstalk’s son, Ellinipisco, came to the fort to see his father and he was also detained.

The following day, gunfire was heard from outside the walls of the fort, coming from the direction of the Kanawha River. When men went out to investigate, they discovered that two soldiers who had left the stockade to hunt deer had been ambushed by Indians. One of them had escaped but the other man had been killed.

When the soldier’s bloody corpse was returned to the fort, the soldiers in the garrison were enraged. Acting against orders, they broke into the quarters where Cornstalk and the other Indians were being held. Even though the men had nothing to do with the crime, they decided to execute the prisoners as revenge. As the soldiers burst through the doorway, Cornstalk rose to meet them. It was said that he stood facing the soldiers with such bravery that they paused momentarily in their attack. It wasn’t enough though and the soldiers opened fire with their muskets. Red Hawk tried to escape up through the chimney but was pulled back down and slaughtered. Ellinipisico was shot where he had been sitting on a stool and the other unknown Indian was strangled to death. As for Cornstalk, he was shot eight times before he fell to the floor.

And as he lay dying in the smoke-filled room, he was said to have pronounced his now legendary curse. The stories say that he looked upon his assassins and spoke to them:

 “I was the border man’s friend. Many times I have saved him and his people from harm. I never warred with you, but only to protect our wigwams and lands. I refused to join your paleface enemies with the red coats. I came to the fort as your friend and you murdered me. You have murdered by my side, my young son…. For this, may the curse of the Great Spirit rest upon this land. May it be blighted by nature. May it even be blighted in its hopes. May the strength of its peoples be paralyzed by the stain of our blood.”

He spoke these words, so says the legend, and then he died. The bodies of the other Indians were then taken and dumped into the Kanawha River but Cornstalk’s corpse was buried near the fort on Point Pleasant, overlooking the junction of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. Here he remained for many years, but he would not rest in peace.

Funnily enough, the curse seems to hold some weight. Here are a few misfortunes besides the Silver Bridge collapse of Mothman fame. There have been plane crashes, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed spilling its contents into the local water supply, fires, floods, accidents, all of these are caused, according to some, by the curse uttered by Chief Cornstalk.   

Mothman connections

Now, to tie all of these things back to the main star of the show. The Mothman. The encounters with Indrid Cold and the other “smiling” entity, as well as the ball of light mentioned before, all took place within months of the Moth Man being seen for the first time. People have speculated that the Moth Man is also a alien visiting the area, much like Cold and his compatriots. The Cornstalk Curse might let us take the view that Moth Man is just an outcome of the curse, an ancient omen brought to life for some reason. He is associated heavily with the Silver Bridge collapse and given that the town of Point Pleasant was built near the fort where Cornstalk was killed is not lost on those leaning towards believing that the Curse is the cause of all the misfortunes in the area. 


Interested in similar stories? Why not try:

Episode 39: The Bennington Triangle

The Bennington Triangle

You may have heard of The Bermuda Triangle, or even The Bridgewater Triangle . . . but what about the haunting stories from Vermont? The Bennington Triangle has its own history of disappearances, murders and even a man-eating stone?
Episode 12: The Grey Man of Ben McDui & The Flanna Isle Lighthouse Mystery

The Grey Man of Ben McDui & The Flannan Isle Lighthouse Mystery | Episode 12

Welcome to Spooktober! Let's ease into the month with two mysteries from Scotland! The Grey Man of Ben McDui is the legend of a creature high upon one of Scotland's highest peaks while the Flannan Isle Lighthouse involves the strange disappearance of three seasoned mariners. Are supernatural forces at work, or just sad tragedies? Let us know what YOU think!

Sign Up for Emails