Murder Monday: Percy Fawcett

Every Monday, Weird Shit Blog features mysterious murders, disappearances, crimes, or just weird deaths. I call it Murder Monday. (Even if it’s not a murder. Shut up, it’s my blog and I like alliteration. Alliteration is always awesomely, amazingly appropriate. Asshole.)

The explorers of the early 20th century are the stuff of legends. Dudes in pith helmets, wandering around in jungles and ancient temples, touching stuff, getting cursed. It’s awesome. Some of those guys got turned into characters like Indiana Jones. Some of them were awesome enough that they didn’t have to get fictionalized, like Howard Carter. Those were times of high adventure, when the world was ours to explore. There was always some new vista, just waiting for a dude with a superb moustache and/or monocle to come and stick a flag in it and say, “Fuck you all, I was here first… among white people, I mean.” Nowadays, we don’t really have those unexplored frontiers.

God damn it. At least we’ve still got space. And the ocean, Cthulhu willing.

Percy Fawcett was one such legendary explorer. It ran in his veins. His dad was an explorer before him, and a member of the Royal Geographic Society. His brother was an expert mountain climber and even wrote adventure novels. Percy had plenty of his own accolades, though. He was a surveyor for the Royal Army, where he earned the rank of Colonel and served in World War I, leading an artillery brigade at the age of 50. He also joined the RGS, like his father, and was even a member of the British Secret Service. On top of all that, he was friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which is another way of saying “He was friends with one of the baddest motherfuckers to ever walk the planet Earth.”

And he took pictures with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, just to show how cool he was.

He was one of the earliest contemporary explorers of South America. Specifically, he scouted out huge sections of the jungles of Brazil for map-making purposes. He also discovered dozens of species, including some that had been previously assumed to be native legends. Two of his finds have still not been re-discovered: The Mitla, a small creature, around the size of a foxhound, with both cat- and dog-like characteristics, and the Giant Anaconda, which has been apocryphally spotted many times since, but never proven. His Giant Anaconda was supposedly 62 feet long (cue teenagers laughing), and so huge that he couldn’t bring its body back.

Fawcett, unfortunately, was not believed on these two accounts, and while many explorers of those days liked to make shit up, Fawcett’s writings are considered to be genuine today. There’s a very good chance we just haven’t seen them again since (as those jungles are still full of undiscovered animals) or they went extinct.

He made seven successful expeditions of the jungle, often encountering natives and winning their trust by methods that seemed revolutionary at the time: He was nice to them and gave them stuff. Who knew that that kept people from killing you?

“Dear diary, the natives have informed me that they’re not fond of being called ‘brown motherfuckers.’”

But notice how I said “successful” expeditions up there. “That implies he had unsuccessful ones, right?”, you might ask, and you would be correct in that deduction. In 1925, Fawcett set out to find a lost city that he believed existed in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, thanks to funding from a group of financiers called “The Glove.”

Artist’s rendition of “The Glove.”

Fawcett originally heard about the city from a manuscript written by Portuguese explorer João da Silva Guimarães, who claimed to visit the city in 1753. Although Guimarães wrote detailed accounts about the city, he forgot to include, you know, where the fuck it’s actually at and what the fuck it’s called. Fawcett became obsessed with the idea of finding it after first hearing about it in the early 1900s. In fact, the 1925 attempt was not Fawcett’s first to find the city. He had tried twice before. The first expedition couldn’t find it and the second got cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.  Fawcett dubbed the lost city “Z”.

Many years after his disappearance, a children’s television show discovered the location of Z, just past Y.

Reportedly, Fawcett said before his expedition set forth that, should he go missing, he did not wish for a rescue team to come after him, lest they suffer the same fate. Are you sensing dramatic irony? Because I am.

Fawcett, as has been established, was pretty familiar with the area and how to traverse it. As such, he brought just what he needed and nothing more and kept his party small to keep their noise level low. He finally set out from known areas, after telegraphing his wife, on May 29, 1925. Afterward, neither he, nor his companions, was ever heard from again. Most researchers and subsequent explorers have assumed, probably rightly, that Fawcett was killed by a local, unfriendly tribe, as some of the groups in the area had never even seen white men before. (A fictionalized story similar to this was the basis for the film Cannibal Holocaust.) It’s even suspected that his purposefully limited supplies doomed him in an unexpected way- he may have lost all his gifts for the natives due to an accident while crossing the Amazon.

Another proposed scenario is that Fawcett and his two male companions started a theosophical commune based around the worship of his son.

They should have brought women or something in that case.

And for the theory most likely to be the plot of a comedy from the 1980s, we have some speculation that Fawcett may have gotten some kind of head injury and came to believe that he was the chief of one of the native tribes and took over leadership of them.

The native tribes claim no knowledge of what happened to Fawcett or his companions, and to date, no one has found any sort of remains of any of the three. Though some artifacts have been discovered, so far they have all been found to have been items from Fawcett’s many previous expeditions or things left behind prior to the group’s disappearance.

Oh, and remember what I said earlier about Fawcett warning people not to come try to rescue him? There was a really good reason for that, and it’s probably the most important thing to take from this little tale: Over 100 people have died in the Amazon trying to find out what happened to Percy Fawcett and discover the location of the Lost City of Z.

Wikipedia (The Lost Encyclopedia of Horseshit)