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I'm surprised that I get to say this, but today's episode is one we can all relate to. Imagine being trapped in a small house for weeks at a time with two other people you don't necessarily always get along with. There are a lot of things that could happen while you're stuck inside. You'll go a little bit stir crazy. You might fight in a worst case scenario. You might even try to kill each other. But I can't imagine any turn of events where all three people inside that house completely disappear.
And yet that is what happened. In nineteen hundred three lighthouse keepers were left on a small island alone, 20 miles from any other land with no escape boat. When a relief ship came to check on them two weeks later, they were gone without a trace.
This is Supernatural APAs cast original, and I'm your host, Ashleigh Flowers, every Wednesday, I'll be taking a deep dive into a real unexplained mystery to try and figure out the truth.
This week is about the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on the Scottish island of Eilene. More you can find all episodes of Supernatural with Ashley Flowers and all other cast originals for free on Spotify. And if you like what you're hearing, reach out on Facebook and Instagram app. Podcast and Twitter app. Podcast network. The Flat Isles are a group of seven small islands off the coast of Scotland. They are like real small. I mean, the biggest of the seven islands, Eileen Moore, is only about a quarter mile wide, their remote rocky.
And for almost all of history, they've been uninhabited and steeped in folklore. The author, John Mitchell, described Eileen Moore as, quote, a kind of otherworld haunted by supernatural creatures and the spirits of the dead. The place to which people were ferid and never returned. Up until the 1980s, there was only one manmade structure there, a chapel built in the seventh century in honour of an Irish preacher, St Flanner. No one is really sure who built it or why or what happened to them.
But folklore says that St Flanner and his followers were scared away by magical creatures. Since then, the chapel has fallen into ruins and barely anyone has dared to set foot on the island. And the rare people who did followed some strange rituals to protect themselves. Sometimes shepherds would bring their sheep over to Eilene, more to graze.
When they landed on the bank, they would gather around the ruins of St Flanigan's Chapel, take off their shirts and pray three times first while crawling toward the chapel on their knees, the second while circling around the chapel on their knees, and a third time inside or near the chapel.
And there were other rules like you couldn't kill a bird with a stone. You can't kill a bird after evening prayers. You absolutely cannot refer to the island. You're on as the flan and isles. It's only to be called the other country. Other words are forbidden to, for example, the Gaelic words for water rock. Sure, sour and slippery. They have to be substituted for synonyms or code words or else it's a complete mystery as to why these rules were adopted.
But visitors took them very seriously. Over the centuries, though, these superstitions had mostly been forgotten. No one visited the flat in Isles anymore. Most people wouldn't even sail past them because the rocky islands are hard to navigate, especially in bad weather, and there's no sign of life or at least 20 miles in any direction.
So if you get shipwrecked there, you're dead in order to prevent scenarios like that. In 1899, the second human structure was built on Eilene Moore. A lighthouse alight could be seen from 24 miles away, so passing ships would know to steer clear before they got too close. Once the lighthouse opened, the crew was handpicked by the superintendent of the Northern Lighthouse Board, or the NLB. This was a big job, both because the lighthouse was brand new and because the weather on the island was known to be dangerous.
The winds get terrifyingly strong and there are steep cliffs on every single side. The principal lightkeeper, James Duckett, was a seasoned pro with 22 years of experience. James almost didn't take the job because he knew it was so dangerous and he had a wife and four kids relying on him. But someone's got to do it. So he sucked it up and accepted the post. The way it works is there's a crew of four people assigned to the lighthouse, but at any given time, only three of them are actually on the island.
The shifts rotate. So you're on duty for four weeks and then you get two weeks leave. So James has three assistant like keepers on his team, Thomas Marshall, who's twenty eight years old and only has a few years of experience, but he's already considered one of the best of the best. Then there's Joseph Moore, who's also 28 and brand new on the job. And the fourth crew member was a guy named William Ross. But at some point near the end of nineteen hundred, he got sick and was replaced by an occasional lightkeeper.
And that's basically someone who isn't a lightkeeper by trade but is basically trained to fill in if there's an emergency.
So the occasional lightkeeper who takes Ross's place is this 40 year old tailor named Donald MacArthur. There's no record of exactly when he took over, but he'd only been registered with the NLB since the end of January. So he basically has no experience. Now, light housekeeping isn't rocket science. The job itself is routine and pretty simple. But psychologically, being stuck on a deserted island with three co-workers for twenty eight days straight with no electricity and no way to contact the outside world like that's tough, especially when you're in a place like Eileen Moore, where an ancient sense of dread permeates everything.
Looking out from the tower, all you can see is the frigid grey North Atlantic stretching out in every direction. Waves are just crashing against the cliffs and the ruins of the chapel. All are pretty much the only thing you can see down on the bank and on the night of December 15th, 1900, you would have seen a ship called the SS ARGE Tour sailing past. The captain of the art store was expecting to see the lighthouse on the horizon. In fact, he was counting on it.
But as they sailed closer, Captain Holeman sees nothing but darkness. It's a clear night. They should be able to see the light from the distance. He checks again and again throughout the night and nothing. The light must be out. And that's a problem because the archer is supposed to pass within five miles of shore. If they miscalculated even by a fraction of an angle, they might run straight into rocks. So at about 4:00 a.m., Captain Holman decides not to risk it.
He alters course to take a different route and makes a mental note to tell his boss about the lighthouse outage when they get to shore. But before they make it there, the art store hits a rock and starts sinking. The crew barely manages to crawl to the harbor before the ship completely falls apart. Thankfully, no one is hurt, but the archer is barely salvageable, and in the chaos, the darkened lighthouse is forgotten.
No one else notices that anything's wrong with the lighthouse for another 11 days. Then on December twenty, a supply boat, the Hesperus is supposed to land at Eilene more. Joseph, the 28 year old rookie assistant keeper, is on board and he's coming back from his two week leave to relieve the other assistant, Thomas Marshall. As they row closer, though, they notice that there's no signal flag hanging from the lighthouse.
They're supposed to be someone up there keeping watch at all times. And when a ship approaches, they're supposed to fly a flag to signal that they see it and it's safe to dock.
The captain sounds the horn to get the light keeper's attention, but still, there's nothing.
They fire a signal rocket from the ship, but still get no response, no flag, no one coming out of the lighthouse, no sign of life at all.
So they pull up to the landing and the captain tells Joseph to go up there and see what's going on. The cliffs on Eileen Moore are between 150 and 200 feet tall, which is about the height of a six story building. A set of stairs zigzag up the cliff face, and at the top there's a winding path through the grass leading to the lighthouse. When Joseph makes it to the top, there's no sign that anything's wrong. Nothing's out of place.
The front gate is latched, the doors closed. But he can already sense that something is off. He goes inside and it's completely silent. The fireplace hasn't been lit for some time and all the clocks have stopped like they haven't been wound in days.
In the kitchen, everything's in its place.
Dishes have been washed.
The bedrooms have been left exactly as they usually were in the mornings, except this place is just completely deserted now.
There's no boat kept on the island, not even for emergencies. So they definitely didn't leave. And under no circumstances should all three keepers leave the lighthouse at any time. There should always be one person on lookout. So if they're all missing, what on earth happened at that point? Joseph bolts out of there. Something bad is going on. He runs all the way back to the boat and tells the crew that men are gone, all three of them.
The captain decides he better go back to shore and telegram for help. In the meantime, someone's got to stay on the island and keep the lamp running. So he leaves Joseph there with three of the ship's crew members. Like it or not, they'll be spending the night in the lighthouse.
Where are the three colleagues have just vanished without a trace. When we come back, we'll try and piece together what happened. Now let's get back to the story.
When the relief ship left, Eileen Moore, Joseph and three of the ship's crew members were left there to tend the lighthouse, they go up to the light tower and everything looks eerily fine. The lamp has been cleaned, the oil fountains are filled, but there's no sign of anyone either dead or alive. It's like they finished their morning work and then literally vanished into thin air. While they're looking around, they find a log book. The last entry is from the morning of December 15th.
So the men must have vanished sometime that afternoon or evening, right before the S.S. Archer passed by and noticed that the light was out. The official reports don't say anything about what was written in the log beyond the fact that it listed the temperature, wind direction, stuff like that. No one paid much attention to it at the time. Decades later, though, there was a magazine article about the case and the writer Ernest Phalen claims to have gotten a hold of the original log book.
Supposedly, this is what it says. December 12th, Gale North by Northwest Sea lashed out to Fury. Storm Bound 9:00 p.m.. Never seen such a storm. Everything ship shape. James Duckett irritable 12:00 p.m. storm still raging. Wind steady, storm bound cannot go out. Ship past sounding foghorn could see lights of cabins. Duckett Quiet. Donald MacArthur crying Dec. 13. Storm continued through the night wind shifted west by north douget quiet MacArthur praying 12:00 noon gray daylight.
Me, Duckett and MacArthur prayed. December 15, one p.m. storm ended Seacombe, God is over all. So Ernest Fallin doesn't really say who or where he got this from, and it's often considered to be a hoax. I mean, it definitely doesn't sound like an official logbook. Those were sent to the Lighthouse Board commissioners who frankly didn't care about the light keeper's feelings. All they wanted to hear was the weather. But it does sound like it could be a personal diary.
These entries were supposedly all written by one of the assistant keepers, Thomas Marshall. It's totally possible that he was keeping a journal of his own. And if these entries are real, they paint their final days in a horrifying light. What kind of storm is so bad that it brings grown men to tears? Something else about it that might be significant is that Donald MacArthur, the substitute, seems to be the most upset of the three. He was the least experienced and the least familiar with the island's weather, and he was also known for having a temper.
Donald seems to be the key to unlocking all of this. While they're looking around, Joseph notices something else interesting. James and Thomas, boots and jackets are gone, but Donalds are still there. Joseph knows that the guys only put on their boots when they're going down to the landing, so they must have gone down there for one reason or another. But what about Donald? Why would he go out in the wet, freezing weather without even putting on his coat?
The next morning, Joseph and his crewmates go out to look around. They've already checked the east landing and there was nothing to report. But there's another landing on the west side of the island, which they didn't have time to check before the sun went down that first night. When they finally go over there to take a look, they are stunned by what they see.
You see, there's another set of stairs leading down this side of the cliff, just like the one on the east side. But the iron railings are like twisted out of shape, like beyond recognition in places. The railings are even ripped out of the concrete foundation and broken into pieces. And that's not even the half of it.
About halfway down the cliff, there's a platform with a big metal crane that they use to haul supplies up from the landing. The crane itself is fine, but the boxes of ropes and the other parts that are stored there have been blown out of their place and tossed around on the rocks. And there's this giant block of stone which weighs more than a ton that's been dislodged from the ground and thrown down the stairs. Now, none of this damage was noted in the logbook, and it's something that definitely would have been noted, which means it must have happened either right before or sometime after the men disappeared.
This kind of damage could not have been caused by a person. The only explanation that they could think of was that a massive wave had swept over the cliff. But here's the thing. I mean, this cliff is 110 feet above sea level. It's possible for waves to reach that height, but it is extremely rare, like only a few have ever been recorded, kind of rare.
And for a wave to cause that kind of destruction at 110 feet, I mean, the amount of power they would have to have is hard to even fathom.
Obviously, though, if a wave is strong enough to tear apart iron and concrete, it's strong enough to blow three people away without a trace. And crazy as it might seem, that's looking like the only possibility. Eventually, the superintendent of the Northern Lighthouse Board shows up to investigate and he comes to the same conclusion. There's no sign of foul play, no way that they could have left the island. They must have gotten swept into the water one way or another.
But there's still one glaring question. Why were they out there in the first place? There were no visitors expected. They didn't just go for a stroll by the cliffside, especially not in the middle of a storm. The best theory the superintendent could put together is that they'd all gone down to the west landing to make sure that the crane and the boxes were secure. The April before that, James had actually been written up and fined for not securing the crane properly.
So if the weather was getting bad, he probably wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. And on its face, that sounds really reasonable. But when you actually think about it, it seems weirdly out of character for experienced like keepers like James and Thomas. They'd both been on Eileen Moore for over a year at this point, and they knew better than anyone how dangerous the waves are. For one thing, it's hard to believe anyone would risk their lives to save a box of ropes.
But beyond that, it's also bad light housekeeping. I mean, their primary job is to keep the lamp running. So as far as their supervisors are concerned, protecting themselves is way more important than protecting the equipment.
A 22 year veteran like James would not have let anyone go out there in the middle of a storm, especially not for the sake of avoiding a small fine. And even if one or two of them did decide to go down to the landing, there is no reason why all three of them should have been there. Rule number one is don't leave the tower unattended. Ever, ever, ever. Not to mention the fact that Donald wasn't even wearing his coat.
There must have been an emergency that lured him outside. But here's the thing. All of these issues are never really followed up on. This is kind of hard to believe in a modern perspective, but there's no extended search. The police don't get involved at all. Basically, the superintendent writes back to headquarters that the three men must have been blown out to sea. And that's kind of the end of the investigation. Joseph, in the rest of the makeshift crew will have to stay there and keep the lighthouse running until they find replacements.
Understandably, Joseph isn't thrilled about this. I mean, he wants to get off this island as soon as possible. He's so worked up that the superintendent tells one of the other crew members to keep an eye on him and sit with him during his shifts. The superintendent actually writes in his report to headquarters that if Joseph doesn't pull it together, they're going to have to transfer him.
It's only natural to be upset when your three colleagues completely disappear, but it's hard not to wonder if there was something else making him nervous. Pretty much from the dawn of civilization, people have been terrified of this island. Shepherds wouldn't even step. Put on it without praying three times for safety, and maybe they're right to be scared, a few months later, Joseph finally gets replaced and transferred to a different light house. Everything's fine for a few years.
And then out of the blue, the lightkeeper who replaced Joseph suddenly falls from the top of the lighthouse tower and dies. Now to make things even weirder. Remember William Ross, that lighthouse keeper who was out on sick leave when the other three disappeared?
Well, around the same time, he suddenly dies, too, while working at another lighthouse. Coincidence? Maybe, but we've got five mysterious deaths related to the Eileen Moore Lighthouse in the span of a few years. Six, if you count the fact that the worker died when the lighthouse was still under construction back in 1899.
It's almost like it was coerced from day one, given the folklore surrounding the island.
This mystery takes on a life of its own. Remember, this was only the second manmade structure that had ever been built on Eileen Moore. And the people who built the first one were supposedly run off the island by evil forces. It was believed by the locals that Eileen Moore was the place where the world of the living intersected with the world of the dead. After ritual sacrifices on other islands, the bodies were supposedly taken there to be offered up to the gods.
That's why there are so many old superstitions about the island. It's holy ground. If you disrespect it, there will be retribution. So is it any surprise that immediately after these people take over the sacred island, build on it, carves stairs into the cliffside, ignore the traditions? I mean, that's when everything starts going off the rails. One popular theory at the time of the disappearances was that the lighthouse had angered whatever sea gods ruled the island.
And according to this story during that storm in mid-December, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was ripped open and the light keepers were ushered off into another realm, body and soul. Those first three disappearances should have been a warning to stay out, but no one listened. The lighthouse kept running and the strange occurrences didn't stop.
Coming up, we'll look at some later developments in the case of the missing gatekeeper's. And now back to the story. Over the years, the new light keepers on Eileen Moore didn't forget about the unsolved disappearances in 1900. Everyone had a theory about what happened. They were carried away by sea monsters. They were kidnapped by pirates. They were coerced and turned into birds or a little more plausibly, one of them went mad and killed the others. Sometime in the 1930s or 40s.
Something eerily similar happened to another crew on Eileen Moore. One of the three light keepers suddenly fell ill with the flu and then another one had a nervous breakdown. He started getting violent and threatening both of the others. The third lightkeeper had to wrestle him down and tie him up. The next relief ship wasn't coming for four days. So that third lightkeeper had to keep things running by himself while the one guy was sick in bed and the other was tied up in the corner, losing his mind.
Luckily, all three of them made it through without any casualties. But it cast suspicion that maybe something like this happened to the three missing like keepers from 1900. We know that Donald had a reputation for being a hotheaded and emotionally volatile. He also wasn't used to the isolation of the job. And if those alleged logbook entries are to be believed, he was sort of losing his grip in the days before the disappearance. And of course, he wasn't wearing his coat, so he couldn't have been thinking clearly when he went outside.
What if the other two had gone out to the landing and he ran after them and pushed them over the cliff? Or what if he tried to run off the cliff himself and the others tried to stop him, but they fell in, too. I mean, it's definitely rare for Lightkeeper to kill each other, but it's not unheard of. And it's one of the only ways to explain why all three of them would have been outside at the same time.
But then there's the damage to the landing. And the stairs like that must have been caused by a wave. And there has to be an explanation that makes all of the pieces fit.
In the 1950s, Aliki Burning Walter Aldeburgh grows obsessed with solving this puzzle. He's stationed on Eileen Moore for four years. He's up there in the tower day after day after day, watching the waves crash against the cliffs. And he starts to imagine what was going through the minds of the missing flight keepers. The more he theorized, the more he thought maybe it went like this. It's storming. And James is up there looking down at the west landing.
The wind's blowing like crazy and he starts thinking about the boxes and the landing ropes. He thinks they're secure, but he's already been fined once for letting the equipment blow away. And if he lets the same thing happen again, he's going to be in big trouble. It looks like a storm is on the horizon. So he'd better go out and check soon before the weather gets too bad. After lunch, the winds have died down. So he and Thomas go down to the landing while Donald cleans up the kitchen.
As they're walking down the stairs to the landing, the weather suddenly takes a turn for the worse. A huge wave comes up and crashes over them, knocking one of the two men into the water. The other man would have run up to the lighthouse for help, which explains why Donald left so suddenly without putting on his coat. They then go back to the landing and try and rescue their colleague. But another wave comes in and pulls them in, washing all three of them out to sea.
Now, this is such an obvious scenario, it's hard to imagine why no one thought of it before. But still, a lot of people, including Walter, aren't convinced that a wave could actually reach that high. So what he decides to do is he gets a camera, he throws all caution to the wind and goes out during storms, crouches on the cliff side and takes pictures of the waves to measure how tall they get. He shoots thirty rolls of film and gets solid proof that, yes, the waves can reach way more than a hundred feet above sea level.
And it happens all the time.
One time in particular, he's balancing on the shoulder of a cliff like a good 200 feet up when a massive wave sweeps over him. He manages to grab on to something solid, but a heavy coil of rope laying near him is washed away and the wave leaves puddles a foot deep when it recedes. So it seems like we've got an answer. I mean, it really could have been a wave. The thing is, though, if you say it was just a wave, you're kind of missing the big picture.
The fact that these huge monster waves happen apparently all the time on this island doesn't make them any less mystifying. As I said earlier, one hundred and ten foot waves are super, super rare. 200 foot waves are literally unheard of. The only time any have been officially recorded is during a few super rare mega tsunamis. And that's definitely not what's happening here.
So if these waves are a regular occurrence on Eilene more, what is going on there? As far as I can tell, there isn't a solid scientific reason for them. Rogue waves, as they're called, have really only been studied since the 90s. And there doesn't seem to be much research into the Filan and Isles in particular. Certainly nothing that mentions two hundred foot waves. But long before science, the people of Scotland had their own explanation. There are legends about a clan of creatures called the Blue Men of the Minch.
They look like humans, except they're blue and they live underwater. They can control waters and create storms and they prowl the seas, challenging sailors to what are essentially rap battles.
According to legend, when they come across a ship, they'll throw out a rhyming couplet and the captain has to respond with the next verse. They go back and forth like this until one of the two messes up. If the captain wins, the blue men move on and leave them alone. But if the blue men, when they'll capsize the ship and kill everyone on it. Now, leaving aside the total weirdness of this, it's no wonder that folklore tales like this were taken so seriously by sailors.
The waves they were seeing were unfathomably destructive. Of course, they thought Eilene more was cursed, whether it's evil spirits of past sacrifices or the blue men of the Minch or just nature's fury, there's obviously some force that does not want people living there. And in 1971, Eilene More got its wish. The lighthouse was fully automated, the light keepers moved out and the island has been uninhabited ever since. The disappearance of the three missing men has still never been explained, but at least we finally learned from their example and we stop tempting fate.
Dink's for listening.
I'll be back next week with another episode, you can find all episodes of Supernatural and all other podcast originals for free on Spotify.
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It's executive produced by Max Cutler, Sound Design by Keri Murphy with production assistance by Ron Shapiro and Carly Madden. This episode of Supernatural was written by Kate Gallagher with writing assistants by Drew Cole. To hear more stories hosted by me, check out Crime Junkie and all audio Chuck Originals.