Hoaxes have long been a part of history, from the ancient Greeks to modern day. In celebration of April Fool's Day, count down with us some of the greatest moments of trickery known to man.
The Trojan Horse
Whether you believe the tale Virgil tells in "The Aenied" is fact or fiction, the Trojan Horse still stands as one of the greatest hoaxes known to history, real or literary. Legend has it that the Greeks, in a longstanding war against the Trojans, built a giant (and hollow) wooden horse and presented it to their rivals. After the Trojans willingly brought the peace offering into their fortified city, an army of Greeks burst out of the statue and effectively crushed the opposition, using what’s now considered to be one of the oldest tricks in the book.
Photos by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Im
"The War of the Worlds" Broadcast
On Halloween night, 1938, a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ 1898 science fiction novel "The War of the Worlds" had people convinced that aliens were invading the United States. The broadcast was orchestrated by the famous Orson Welles (pictured above, answering questions from the press the following day). Much of the show was in an “emergency bulletin” format. Those who tuned in mid-broadcast didn't recognize that they had stumbled upon a fictional show and instead thought they had tuned in just in time to hear emergency announcements that aliens were invading. Welles claimed he hadn't foreseen the hysteria. The event is still commemorated to this day in Grover’s Mill, N.J. (home to the “invasion”) by a stone monument.
The Piltdown Man
The Piltdown Man is literally the definition of hoax. In 1912, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward unearthed a strange set of fossils in Sussex, England. These fragments would be pieced together to form the "Piltdown Man" skull and were famously hailed as proof of the "missing link" between humans and apes, according to the British Natural History Museum, which uses the incident as a prime example of "bad science." It would take 40 years, and the invention of better scientific dating, for the skull to be revealed as a fake. To this day, no one (or no group of individuals) has been identified as the mastermind behind the Piltdown Man hoax, although there have been theories.
In the midst of WWII, on June 4, 1944, the U.S. Navy captured the German submarine U-505 and kept it and its surviving crew members a secret. The Allied forces hoped to use the materials and code books found aboard the sub against the Nazis without the opposition knowing they had an upper hand. And it worked. U-505 was towed to Bermuda. The 58 Nazi soldiers captured during the raid were kept in relative isolation and not allowed to send letters from their imprisonment. The German army considered them dead, even sending notice to their families, according to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where the submarine currently is on exhibit to the public. The survivors were eventually released at the end of the war.
Heene Family Video Released to Press/YouTube
Perhaps once of history's most recent hoaxes, the plight of a young boy, Falcon Heene, supposedly launched (accidentally of course) into the Colorado skies in his family's UFO-like balloon, captured widespread media attention on Oct. 15, 2009. Heene would later be found safe and sound, hiding in his family's home. In a news interview the next day, young Falcon Heene would also accidentally mention it "was for the show," revealing the hoax. His parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, admitted to orchestrating the entire incident for the publicity. They were fined and had to serve jail time.
An Israeli man claiming to have mystical powers has been accused of tricking a client into giving him sexual favors and money while claiming to cast spells making her ex-lover return.
According to a story in the Jerusalem Post, “the woman found the 39-year-old Golan Heights resident on the Internet and asked him to help her with holistic treatment to recover from emotional despair caused by the break-up.
“Over the coming months the man held a number of meetings with the woman, during which he promised that through the power of sorcery he could make her boyfriend come back to her — all while charging her thousands of shekels in fees.”
One of the rituals allegedly required the woman to have sex with the man, which she did. Neither the woman nor the sorcerer she hired have been named, and police are looking for additional victims.
As bizarre as this situation is, it’s not unusual.
Just last year two women accused Karl Lang, a British psychic, of sexual exploitation, one saying that he tricked her into stripping naked during a séance and performing “like a porn star” in exchange for a promise that she could contact her dead grandfather. A second victim claimed that Lang convinced her that her dead father was communicating with him, encouraging her to undress and masturbate to improve her psychic powers.
She said that she felt “brainwashed, manipulated and groomed” by the alleged psychic. In June 2012 Lang was convicted of a dozen counts of causing women to engage in sexual activity without consent and sentenced to two years in jail.
Recipe for Exploitation
When those in authority claim to have unproven, special powers and give messages from the dead to vulnerable and grieving people, it’s a recipe for manipulation. Even when the exploitation isn’t sexual, it can be financial and emotional — and anyone can be a victim, even the rich and famous.
Best-selling romance author Jude Deveraux, for example, recently testified against her one-time psychic adviser Rose Marks, who she turned to when anxious and depressed over her divorce 17 years ago.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, “Marks is fighting federal charges she masterminded a conspiracy that defrauded clients to the tune of $25 million, including about $17 million from the writer. ‘She said money is energy and money is evil and if I had money in my bank account, I was attracting evil,’ Deveraux said.
During this time, Deveraux’s 8-year-old son died in an ATV motorcycle accident, and she testified that she had eight miscarriages and suffered through a messy divorce, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Even more disturbingly, Deveraux claims that after her son’s death in 2005, Marks “tormented her with claims that the child had not gone to heaven and that Marks could transfer the child’s soul or spirit into the body of another person, reuniting mother and son. ‘She said all she saw were flames and I had to keep him out of the flames,’ Deveraux testified.”
In essence, the psychic claimed she could keep Deveraux’s son out of hell — for a fee. Marks and others are being tried in Fort Lauderdale on federal charges of fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and income tax fraud. The case is ongoing.
Psychics know grieving people are very generous when they believe they’re getting personal, reassuring messages from dead loved ones. Sometimes psychics will refuse payment outright, instead suggesting that “donations” or “offerings” be made to their churches or other organizations. Or they will request jewelry or large sums of cash, which they promise will be returned after a ritual or “cleansing.”
Though many psychics advertise their services “for entertainment only,” many of their clients take their advice seriously — and wish they had not.