When Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, in Autumn 1991, claimed to having made the first crop circles, they were proclaimed by TODAY newspaper to be the ‘Men Who Conned the World’. Since then their word has been accepted as the truth by many who would consider themselves to be rational, sceptically minded individuals. Indeed, there are books such as Rob Irving and John Lundberg’s The Field Guide, John Macnish’s Cropcircle Apocalypse and Jim Schabel’s Round In Circles which are largely sympathetic to the late Bower and Chorley’s case. However, having collated various interviews from various source materials involving Bower and Chorley, The Croppie has noted some curious inconsistencies and suspect claims on their behalf. The Croppie isn’t alone in this. In December 2018 the Thinking Anomalous YouTube channel attempted to debunk the word of Doug and Dave. Furthermore, for the last few years, crop circle historian Terry Wilson has maintained Men Who Conned the World, a site scrutinising some of the statements made by the apparently original circle makers.
Whilst The Croppie has reservations with some of the doubts levelled by Wilson and Thinking Anomalous, they ask enough reasonable questions to merit further discussion. Let’s explore a selection of these issues below:
When did Doug and Dave begin circle making?
Bower and Chorley’s 1991 confession was significant enough to have warranted massive domestic coverage. It made the television news and the front cover of TODAY, naming 1978 as the year in which the pair had first started to make crop circles. Bower kept to this narrative until his death in 2018. Nonetheless, a footnote by Schnabel within Round In Circles concerns a suggestion by Chorley that he started making circles with Bower during 1975 or 1976.
Chorley’s assertion can be afforded some weight by the testimony of farmer Ian Stevens in Colin Andrews and Pat Delgado’s 1989 book Circular Evidence. He states he discovered a single circle on his land in 1976. Furthermore, in 1992, Andrews said Mr Stevens was the recipient of an even earlier circle, in 1975! The locations of both the 1976 and 1978 circles are recorded in a diagram produced by Andrews in vol. 1 no. 2 of his CPRI Newsletter.
Is it not a little odd that Bower and Chorley disagree over what is such an important date?
Where did Doug and Dave make their first crop circle?
During 1991 Bower told TODAY his first crop circle was made halfway between Cheesefoot Head and the Percy Hobbs pub on the outskirts of Winchester, in a place he called the Strawberry Field.
In an August 1992 interview with Clas Svahn, later published in The Cereologist, Doug says the first circle he made ‘was at the bottom of Cheesefoot Head near Winchester, that was the first one, that was quite a bit of fun on our hands and knees that night, wondering the next day whether it would be in the newspapers but it was 2 years before we got any publicity at all.’ One would assume the ‘bottom’ of Cheesefoot Head would be the Punchbowl, a natural bowl and amphitheatre that now hosts the annual Boomtown music festival. However, in the very same interview Bower states the Punchbowl was not ploughed until 1980. It is certainly possible this discrepancy is based upon Bower’s interpretation of where the ‘bottom of Cheesefoot Head’ actually is.
Terry Wilson has located the field in question as directly opposite the Winchester Planetarium and Science Centre, adjacent to the junction between the A31 and A272. At time of writing it is not known how Wilson obtained this information.
Why did Doug and Dave make circles for so long when nobody was noticing them?
No matter whether we agree Bower and Chorley made their first circles in 1975, 1976 or 1978, it was not until 1981 that a triplet (three circles on a straight axis) achieved headlines and a slot on the television news in their home county of Hampshire. This represents somewhere between four and seven years of circle making. It’s an awful long time to run a hoax in an attempt to get noticed.
How did Ilene Bower become aware of her husband’s circle making hobby?
The story of how Doug Bower’s wife Ilene learned of his circle making expeditions is one that has continued to change. Within TODAY Ilene herself said that she ‘started checking the mileage of the car, like [she] had seen in a television play at the time — it was jumping up 400 miles a week.’ Her suspicion was that Doug was seeing another woman. To counter this accusation Doug produced a scrapbook of circle related newspaper cuttings and told her where his next circle would be created. In the 1992 interview with Svahn, Doug’s story changes: ‘One day my wife said to me, “the car needs servicing very regularly, I notice with all this mileage that’s going on the clock.”’
At a 1993 public meeting in London, Doug claimed his wife became suspicious of his Friday night activities following a hundred mile trip to Alfriston in East Sussex. She wanted to know why he had driven such a long distance. Within The Field Guide Bower offers a further variation of this: he says his wife accompanied him to Alfriston. Doug had suggested they made the trip as he was interested to see the crop circle. His confession came at an unspecified later date.
Which version of the tale is correct, and why has it changed?
Why did Doug and Dave claim the work of another circle making team as their own?
In 1989 two ‘swastika’ circles with similar designs appeared on 5th and 12th August at Winterbourne Stoke, Wiltshire. A photo of the second of these was shown by Doug Bower as evidence of his work during public meetings held in 1993. However, Bower told Clas Svahn that the second circle was made by ‘the people from Wiltshire [who] had copied our first attempt and … [had] made a better job of it.’
It is possible that Bower included the image of the second circle in his presentation by error, or simply because he was confused. However, the only overhead shot of the first circle — that claimed by Doug — is from a pole mounted camera by Colin Andrews.
Talking of poles… Did Doug and Dave go pole vaulting to make grapeshot?
One question that has puzzled researchers for years concerns small crop circles, known as grapeshot, made between and away from two pairs of parallel tramlines (paths followed by tractors and other farm vehicles in a field). Just how would someone manage to achieve this feat?
In issue 7 of The Cereologist, James Chapman quotes Doug Bower as denying he had made grapeshot circles, though he went on to state he had used a simple method of traversing the field away from the tramlines: ‘you just jump in [the crop] and jump out.’ In his 1992 interview with Clas Svahn, Bower reiterated this point, denying he had used equipment to help him and Chorley make some significantly long jumps across the standing crop. This contrasts with his testimony in The Field Guide:
‘We did pole vaulting and all back in our day. Went up into Usborne Turrant [sic – possibly Hurstbourne Tarrant in Hampshire] into the hazelwood to find the nice straight sticks. I cut one for Dave as well. He was putting on so much bloody weight though that he couldn’t go over the crop! We used the sticks for grapeshot (smaller circles).
‘You should have seen us running down the tram lines and then sticking it in and sailing over the top of the crops, it was absolutely marvellous. As you ran up the tramline, stick the stick in, jump into the standing corn, do the small grapeshot … And then you could take a bit of a leap from that small circle in again and go over into the crop to make the next circle’.
Terry Wilson has explained why the suggestion of pole vaulting is almost certainly a yarn. He states ‘running down the tramlines means one’s momentum is in the direction of the tramline. To get into the standing crop you would need momentum at a significant angle to the lines.’
So, that’s none the clearer. Did Doug and Dave make grapeshot? Did they pole vault or not? On both counts the evidence put forward is contradictory.
Did Doug Bower invent stories about his circle making exploits?
Beyond his alleged pole vaulting, Bower has made other bizarre claims. One is that he was struck on the head and knocked unconscious by human waste jettisoned from an aircraft. This is a highly dubious claim given that aircraft do not offload the content of toilets over land. Indeed, one would expect regular media stories of people hurt by turds dropping from the sky. However, Wilson has spotted a close precursor to this tale in issue 5 of The Cereologist. According to researcher and conspiracy nut George Wingfield, colleague Julie Varden discussed an odd jelly substance found in a crop circle by a then unknown Doug Bower; he suggested it was ‘the discharge from an aircraft toilet.’
A second story with some precedent involves a claim in TODAY that Bower and Chorley left meteorites behind in a circle at Stonehenge to dupe researchers. George Wingfield, in Flying Saucer Review vol. 36 no. 4 (Winter 1991) says the two circle making claimants held a conversation with cerealogist Nick Riley in which they discussed some pieces of iron ore the researcher had found in an earlier formation. Bower was insistent the pieces of ore were meteorites despite Riley’s rebuttals. Perhaps stubbornness is the true nature of Doug’s insistence the Stonehenge circles contained meteorites.
Did Doug and Dave make the quintuplet at Cheesefoot Head in 1983?
Widely perceived to be the first of its kind, the quintuplet at Cheesefoot Head remains an iconic formation.
In 2002 Doug Bower presented documentary maker Grant Wakefield with a file of the circles he claimed to have made. Among the pages was a photograph of the quintuplet together with a diagram showing how it was made. Bower claims to have made his way through the standing crop, holding one end of a piece of string whilst Chorley held the other. It was on this ring that the four satellite circles were positioned at 90° intervals. If we allow the explanation that Bower carefully picked his way through the crop without leaving a trace, his diagram suggests he walked a full circle. Why would Bower have bothered to have walked the final quarter of this invisible ring after putting down the crops in the final satellite? It would surely have made sense for Bower to have made his way to the nearest tramline.
Could Doug Bower really have used a ‘sighting device’ attached to his cap to create straight lines in formations?
Bower claimed to have made straight lines in pictograms by using a wire loop attached to a baseball cap. ‘I lined up a tree on the horizon,’ he told TODAY, ‘and by keeping it in my eye and looking through the hole in the wire I proceeded to walk along through the corn walking in a straight line.’
It is a method that, publicly at least, nobody has been able to replicate. Even renown circle maker John Lundberg said in The Field Guide that his results with the method were unimpressive and crooked. Terry Wilson also tried and failed. ‘Since the wire loop is fixed to the cap,’ Wilson explains, it moves with the head, and since the loop is in front of the eye, it is, like the frame of a pair of spectacles, always in the same position relative to one’s line of vision. If the direction of one’s movement wanders off course, any distant object can still be viewed through the sight just by looking at it, because the neck is articulated.
‘You can look directly through such a loop at something way out of line, even at, say, 45 degrees to the direction you are moving. Keeping a distant object in the frame of the sight depends on what direction head and eye are pointing, not the direction the body and feet are moving.’
Why did Doug and Dave stop making crop circles?
The two men gave various answers to this one question and we can cut them some slack as all are potentially valid. Speaking to John Lundberg, Bower offered two responses. The first was a decline in Dave’s health, the second an admittance that he, Bower, was ‘a publicity seeker’. Curiously enough though, towards the end of the decade, Bower would tell BBC Countryfile that his confession ‘wasn’t for the publicity’! Furthermore, in a radio debate with George Wingfield that was hosted by BBC’s Nicky Campbell, Bower blamed his age (67) as a reason for stopping.
In TODAY, Chorley suggested their alleged hoaxing ‘had gone on too long and too far’. Chorley expanded on this in an interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC: ‘[crop circles have] become a multi-million pound business, and also, … about two weeks ago [circles researcher Terence Meaden] decided to try and ask our government for money. We thought this had gone completely, er, too far now.’
In conclusion, it is clear there are some inconsistencies within the evidence and testimony of Bower and Chorley. No matter what you already believe about the pair, it is unlikely the above points will change your opinion. However, remember that Doug and Dave were able to demonstrate their circle making skills for both the press and the television media. They were not short on skill, even if the finer points of today’s circle makers clearly eluded them. Whether you feel they were the original circle makers or otherwise, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley are legends within the realm of the crop circle phenomenon.