Mansi Champ Photo Raises Questions

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on November 11th, 2013


Robert E. Bartholomew
Skeptical Inquirer
Volume 37.3, May/June 2013

The famous “Mansi photo” of the Lake Champlain monster has been held up for decades as strong proof for cryptozoology—the so-called best evidence for the existence of a hidden animal. Yet, newly uncovered documents reveal troubling questions about the photo and the circumstances surrounding it.


On Tuesday afternoon, July 5, 1977, Sandra Mansi of Bristol, Connecticut, knelt on the shores of Lake Champlain somewhere between St. Albans, Vermont, and the Canadian border, and snapped what is widely touted as the best lake monster photograph ever taken. In Lake Monster Mysteries: Exploring the World’s Most Elusive Creatures, their scholarly study of lake monster traditions, Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell observe that “the Mansi photo stands alone as the most credible and important photographic evidence of the existence of lake monsters” because its authenticity “is held in such high regard by so many writers and researchers” (Radford and Nickell 2006, 43). It has become the Holy Grail of Lake Monsterdom, and a steady stream of journalists has made the pilgrimage to Vermont to hear Sandra Mansi recount the tale of what she reported seeing that day.

Lake Monster Mysteries

Two other famous lake monster photographs that once held similar positions have not stood the test of time. On April 19, 1934, British sur­geon Robert Wilson reportedly captured an image of the Loch Ness Monster. Nicknamed “the Surgeon’s photo,” the picture fell into disrepute in 1994 when shortly before his death, Christian Spurling reportedly confessed his involvement in the hoax by fitting a toy submarine with a sea serpent’s head and neck fashioned from wood putty in an effort to fool the Daily Mail (Radford and Nickell 2006). After snapping his famous photo, Wilson himself later claimed that he did not believe in Nessie, and his youngest son openly admitted that the photo was a fraud (Binns 1984, 96–97). Ironically, prior to its exposure, several scientists had concluded that there were strong similarities between Wilson’s image and the Mansi photo, suggesting that “Champ” and “Nessie” may be similar species. Richard J. Green­­well, an optical science professor at the University of Arizona, remarked in 1981 that the ratio between the head and neck “was very much the same in both animals,” (Bartholomew 1981) and naturalist Charles Johnson concurred (Johnson 1980, 1).

During the 1970s, Eric Frank Searle snapped a series of well-publicized photos of Nessie. The pictures created a media buzz, exciting lake monster enthusiasts and connoisseurs of the un­­­­explained, and elevated the native of Middlesex, England, to celebrity status. His photos were later exposed as fakes by future BBC journalist Nicholas Witchell in his 1975 book The Loch Ness Story. Searle died in Lancashire, England, in 2005 after living the rest of his life in obscurity (Tullis 2005).

The Power of a Photo

This year will mark the thirty-second anniversary of the Mansi photo’s public release in the New York Times on June 30, 1981, which triggered a short-lived media feeding frenzy, allowing Champ to bask in the world media spotlight (Wilfred 1981). While the hoopla soon died down, the Mansi photo remains a staple of photographic evidence in numerous books on cryptozoology, a relatively new field devoted to the scientific study of “hidden animals” that was founded in 1975 by Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans.

The photo’s stature cannot be under­­estimated and was credited, in part, with helping to build the political momentum necessary for an international Champ Conference at Shelburne, Vermont, on August 29, 1981. Among the participants who were attracted to the meeting: Roy Mackal, professor of biology at the University of Chicago, and Roy Zug, a zoologist from the Smithsonian Institution. Champ’s public profile was further enhanced the next year by the passage of two bills protecting it from harm by both the New York and Vermont State legislatures. These resolutions were useless as practical documents but essentially served as free publicity. Radford and Nickell (2006, 45) attribute publicity surrounding the photo for the Champ renaissance of the early 1980s and note that when Radford visited the Champ sighting board in Port Henry, New York, in 2004, nearly half of the 132 sightings were dated 1981 or ’82. They credit the Mansi photo with singlehandedly triggering a bandwagon effect “whereby widely publicized sightings lead to other reports independent of an actual creature’s presence or absence.”
New Questions

Soon after the photo’s existence first came to light in the fall of 1979, the first red flags appeared. The original photo was sent to Philip Reines, a nautical expert at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, with the hope that he could authenticate it. Reines soon learned that the two most crucial elements in verifying the photo were missing. Sandra Mansi said that she had thrown away the negative, and that she could not locate where she snapped the photo. Images purportedly taken of monsters are notoriously blurry and vague; here was a spectacular image in full color, but without the negative or location it was impossible to determine with any degree of certainty what was in the photo. Possessing the negative would allow the image to be magnified to see greater detail, while knowing the location could reveal important clues such as the object’s size and distance, and whether the photo was even taken on Lake Champlain. When Reines could not authenticate the photo, Sandra and Anthony Mansi were soon insisting through their lawyer that the photo be returned, which he reluctantly did.

Champ Book

In researching my new book The Untold Story of Champ, I uncovered two important pieces of information that had previously been withheld from the public that cast doubt over the authenticity of the photo. This information was known to Joe Zarzynski when he wrote his book Champ: Beyond the Legend (1984), yet despite presenting a detailed analysis of the Mansi photo in it and affirming its likely authenticity, this information was left out.


Read the rest of this fascinating article on the Skeptical Inquirer website here: New Information Surfaces on ‘World’s Best Lake Monster Photo,’ Raising Questions

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

24 Responses to “Mansi Champ Photo Raises Questions”

  1. dconstrukt responds:

    aside from that one photo… which is crazy looking… i mean if its not legit its a great fake…. if its just a log, she must have snapped the photo at the right moment…

    is there any other evidence for champ?

    seems like its a very active lake….

  2. Lesley Cox responds:

    Didn’t the Discovery Channel come up with some interesting echolocation results in 2003? As far as I remember they concluded the recorded sound was from something the same size as a Beluga Whale or similar. The echo was recorded in three separate areas of the lake including the deepest part.

    I don’t know whether this has been debunked since 2003?

  3. alan borky responds:

    Ben Radford: “one of the questions that always comes up [about the photo] was where exactly it was [taken], but there’s no answer. So, you’ve looked?”

    Craig having studied cognitive psychology an’ having once had a police sergeant for a father-in-law who schooled me in a lot of cop interrogation kiddology as well as being raised in a sequence of environments where many of the kids an’ their parents where not only criminals but openly schooled each other on best criminal practises including handling police station interviews court appearances surviving an’ thriving in prison etc etc etc I immediately recognise the use of the term “exactly” as a loaded term which depending on the stress experienced by the interviewee as well as their own constantly shifting understanding of the term not to mention their confusion as to what “exactly” the interviewer themselves mean by the term “exactly” can mean at any one moment i) the Northern hemisphere ii) North America iii) Canada iv) Vermont v) Saint Albans vi) Lake Champlain vii) the shore viii) the West/East shore ix) the upper/lower West/East shore x) the third dune along xi) the third tree along the third dune xii) the third pebble from the third tree along the third dune xiii) etc etc etc

    Which’d make Sandra Mansi’s answer “I have no clue . . .” mean potentially anything from “I can’t remember where” to what the f**k is i’ y’askin’ me?”

    Joe Nickell: “We know it was somewhere near—”

    WE KNOW? We know wha’?

    We know “We know”‘s an old copper’s trick implying not only’ve we got you dead in the water but you say somethin’ we don’t like from now on an’ you’ll be doin’ a forty stretch in Sing Sing.

    An’ then there’s that “somewhere near—”


    The good cop/bad cop constant switcheroo’s all too obvious as’s Sandra Mansi’s browbeaten momentary blank mindedness “I know it’s up . . . [pause]” confusion at an’ rejection of the interview technique “Well, I don’t want it—I don’t want it” her attempt to deflect being treated as a moron onto others “to get out where it was . . . because of the idiots, you know?” followed by her despairing realisation what the photo release’d brought about ” . . . I knew once it got out, once the photograph got out there. . . . I was so darn afraid” an’ finally her rising anxiety if this lot the supposedly kid glove brigade were treatin’er like this what’ll happen when the less mentally stable types start involvin’ themselves? “that some idiot with a gun would go out there and shoot at something [in the lake] . . .”!

    Obviously this’s just my own particular take nor’m I claimin’ anythin’ for the photo or Sandra Mansi’s veracity.

    But I do suggest durin’ tha’ interview Sandra Mansi felt mentally tag teamed into the ground an’ tha’ about the only World Wrestlin’ Federation manoeuvre they left out on’er was whompin’er over the head with a chair before flingin’er by her heels in the crowd!

  4. dconstrukt responds:

    saw that but havent seen anything since which would be weird… if they got a noise…. wouldn’t they be able to get it again?

    the thing just doesn’t stop making noises…

  5. bl00p responds:

    Joe Nickell and Benjamin Radford are skeptical of something? Wow, what a surprise. These guys, from my experience, tend to confuse “skeptical” with “close minded”.

    Whatever the truth is about Champ, I’d prefer to listen to folks that have somewhat less of a bias.

  6. springheeledjack responds:

    A lot of conjecture all the way around.

    I grew up in the time of negatives and pictures and we never kept the negatives…either that or they got tossed in a pile or sometimes just left in the picture folder. Whether it was destroyed, lost or thrown away it’s gone. Yes, it could have helped confirm that it was what she said it was, but the lack there-of doesn’t prove that it was automatically a fake.

    As for the location, if they were vacationing, finding that particular piece of land over two years later could be dicey.

    That picture has been bugging the likes of the Skeptical Enquirer for years and I find it amusing that they keep trying to work angles to try to discredit it. The pros and cons on that photo have gone on ad nauseam. It will rage on–as we’ve all learned photos don’t prove or disprove much of anything…unless they’re so badly faked as to be funny at best.

    They were also incorrect when they talked about previous photos being debunked. The surgeon’s photo supposedly got a death bed confession that it was faked, but in fact that “death bed” confession was also rumored to have been just that–a rumor (Incidentally I’ve always had problems with the Surgeon’s photo because it didn’t seem to fit the other descriptions and because it never looked proportionate to me…)

    And Frank Searle…well he had a few issues from the get go–and the pics I’ve seen from him leave a lot to be desired on a lot of fronts, but that was easy pickings and again, gone over … and over.

    In the end, I’ve listened to Mansi’s testimony on a variety of shows and taking the picture out of the account, the basics are there. She and her family saw something come up out of the water and she saw enough details and movement for me to accept that she saw a creature that was neither a fish nor a bird…not to mention a floating log.

  7. springheeledjack responds:

    And yes, Leslie Cox–there have been strange sonar readings picked up in the lake that haven’t been identified satisfactorily.

    My favorite is the ABC footage (I only say that because apparently ABC bought the footage and have it in their greedy little hands) taken by two fishermen who got, on camera, something coming up under their boat.

  8. AlyoshaK responds:

    There was echolocation detected in the lake. I remember watching to program. I think the article is the worst kind of “debunking,” in that it trying to discredit something that was clearly created with no intent to defraud. Remembering exactly where one was on a lake as big as this (that looks about the same from all angles) could certainly be next to impossible. I’ve accidentally discarded a number of negatives that I would clearly love to have back. The bottom line is she is a lady who snapped a photo that I do not believe could be easily faked. She was not a scientist carefully documenting every step of her path that day. That does not mean it would be impossible to fake that photo. It just could not be easily faked in a casual fashion, and clearly seems to be organic in origin.

  9. Goodfoot responds:

    I remember seeing it, but “remembered” the show as being set at Loch Ness. So it was at Lake Champlain instead?

  10. Kopite responds:

    Never ceases to amaze me why the debunkers are so obsessed with debunking. Why would you even want to ruin a fun story or claim? It’s not hurting anybody so why be so grumpy and try to kill it off?

  11. mandors responds:

    Typical utter hogwash from the Skeptical (read: MORONIC) Inquirer. Sighting supposedly contradictory testimony about what happened to the negative is about as intellectually dishonest as one can get to prove a photograph has been faked. They yet again have debunked nothing. People in the 1970s and 80s BY NO MEANS hoarded photographic negatives. Most were kept in the same envelope that the developed photos came back in and stuck in a drawer somewhere, often damaged, thrown out or lost. The pictures themselves would be usually put in scrap books and so separated from the negatives. That the Mansi’s have no idea what happened to the negative decades ago is not surprising in the least. Whether or not the their photo is authentic, this is just more desperate nihilist drivel from a joke of a publication.

  12. Goodfoot responds:

    Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment; McMahon the carny barker realizes the value of perceived honestly in the (still) early 21st Century!

  13. springheeledjack responds:

    The interesting thing to me with the scoftics and the debunkers has always been the psychology.

    Usually if people don’t buy into something or don’t like something they roll their eyes, look at you like you’ve got a potato growing out of your head and it’s “yeah, whatever” and moving onto the next topic.

    However, for a small portion of said population, they appear so obsessed and possessed by the crypto-topic that they apparently spend hours and hours trying to find any angle that’s even semi-plausible to throw out there to dismiss it.

    Is it some Munchausen thing that they feel the need to save the rest of the world from these supposed frauds and hallucinating folks that see these weird creatures? Is it fear? Maybe a deep seeded fear that maybe there really are strange things outside and the only way to keep themselves safe is to continually prove to themselves that they are safe by declaring the cryptids fancy and imagination?

    Or is it that they’re just bored and like to rile people up?

    Personally, if I don’t buy into something, like say, the tooth fairy: c’mon, a fairy flies around stealing kids’ teeth and then leaves them money? Of course, William Joyce did make a fair argument on the tooth fairy’s behalf…

    The point is, I’m not spending my time on the streets handing out pamphlets declaring the tooth fairy an abomination of parents’ minds and starting up a magazine to beat back “crazy” notions like that. No, I roll my eyes, maybe have a laugh at the Tooth Fairy’s expense (sorry, no offense intended) and move on.

    It’s the fact that that cross section of the population is apparently so threatened by the subject that they have to devote a significant amount of their daily lives to something (AND even earn a living off of it) they don’t even believe in.


  14. Dufusyte responds:

    While I do believe there are plesiosaurs in many lakes, I must admit that many of the most famous photos are not legitimate. Same with bigfoot: there is something (someone?) there, but the poster children are illegitimate.

  15. Goodfoot responds:

    springheeledjack: True about Joyce, and that Swift made a decent case for broiling Irish waifs for dinner parties.

    I say it’s fear, and nothing other than fear; fear that the world is an untidy, irrational morass of wild unpredictability, unlike the one described in the textbooks and classrooms; a cosmos rife with rapacious, smelly, unnamed creatures and howling demons. A universe which might be completely different from one instant to the next! SCARY, SCARY!!!! RUN, RUN AWAY!

    No riling, no boredom, no Munchausen, inverted or not. FEAR. Raw, wild, amygdala-flooding FEAR.

  16. corrick responds:

    Having listened to the etire 1:15 hour interview more than once I can assure anyone there was no good cop/bad cop going on.
    The interview took place at Mansi’s home with all three joking and laughing throughout.

    mandors While many people back then may not have kept photo negatives, not that many claim to have a picture of a lake monster. Let me put it differently. If in 1980, you believed you had taken a picture of a bigfoot would you have treated that negative carelessly?

    Lesley Cox/AlyoshaK
    The Elizabeth von Muggenthaler echolocations years ago from a Discovery Channel show have long been discredited.

  17. Kopite responds:


    You are exactly right. You only have to go onto any of the bigfoot forums and you’ll see these debunkers and dismissers infesting those places like a bad smell. They must be real miserable grumps, spending their days obsessively trying to dunk. They are as much of a ‘phenomenon’ as Cryptozoology itself.

  18. Goodfoot responds:

    “Cult-like behavior”

  19. Lyall M responds:

    There isn’t anything new in Mr. Bartholomew’s article. All of the problems about the photo I have read or seen discussed before. It provides a neat chronological history of those issues and that’s about it.

    His title ‘World’s Best Lake Monster Photo’ is misleading. I think is a little misleading as Randy Braun’s picture of “Pressie” is much better defined as a large animal with serpent like head without all the problems (location, etc.) associated with Mansi’s “Champ” photo but it receives little if any attention. It’s funny that both photos were taken in 1977.

    The one logical thing that should have been done and would show correct critical analysis isn’t presented in the CSICOP article or CSI article (whatever TV name they think will lend them credibility). It would be Mr. Bartholomew’s results of trying to ask Sandra Mansi directly about the discrepancies or her legal representation if directed to it. It wouldn’t matter if it was a slammed phone, no response to an e-mail, or a detailed answer. It would update the spin on the 33 year old saga.

  20. corrick responds:

    Springheeledjack, Kopite and Goodfoot

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Just a bunch of pointy-headed, critical thinking, academic dorks. As if these debunkers/skoftics can ever change our beliefs with their phoney facts and science. We already know Bigfoot, Nessie, etc exist so the only meaningful discussions are about what they might be.

    Understand, Bigfoot, et al, just might possibly exist. but bashing those that point out the inconsistencies for alleged proof get you nowhere. It’s all about factual information, whether positive or negative.

  21. springheeledjack responds:

    Kopite and Goodfoot–yeah. I have no problem playing devil’s advocate on this stuff. In fact, that’s what I think most Cryptomundians do every time some piece of “evidence” comes forward. That’s being skeptical.

    The scoftics and the debunkers are the other extreme of the “all believers” who tend to accept everything across the board without any skeptical investigation.

    And Corrick–I’m with you- while I believe there is enough second hand evidence to say that there is something being seen in multiple lakes and our forests, it hasn’t been solved by a longshot. And I will not dismiss anyone out of hand just because they propose an argument that is mundane and not a “monster.” However, it’s when those same people who claim the mundane are so fanatical about their mundane answers that they go off the deep end the other way. But in the end, it’s the evidence we have to weigh.

    I’m always for throwing ideas and theories out there. I apply what I know about biology, zoology, environment, etc. and test those ideas to see if they hold up. If they do, then you’ve got an answer, but if not, then you keep looking. With the cryptids, I have not yet found a satisfactory mundane answer that settles all of the cases.

  22. bl00p responds:


    Nope, you can’t just throw the word “facts” around like a trump card. “Whose facts?” is the more pertinent question these days, with the myriad of conflicting stories propagated by the internet. It’s baffling and overwhelming sometimes to have to glean truth, but just because someone says “I’m a skeptic” or “I’m a scientist” doesn’t allow them to appear like a deus ex machina and explain (or explain AWAY) all other arguments.

    You need to look at bias and agendas, for one. Most have one and the smart fact shopper seeks out those who have little or none.

  23. DWA responds:

    Regardless what Champ may be, what we see here is another specimen of scoftical ‘debunking.’

    People’s mistakes, irrelevant to what is in the photo = animal not real

    Sloppy work is one thing, no work at all quite another.

  24. Goodfoot responds:

    “The scoftics and the debunkers are the other extreme of the “all believers” who tend to accept everything across the board without any skeptical investigation.”

    SHJ: Yeah, tossing out ideas is how we arrive at new syntheses of truth. Somebody’s got to do it.

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