In 1957, the famous “monster hunter” Tom Slick, explorer Peter Byrne, Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart, and a group of others conspired to smuggle a finger from the hand of an alleged Yeti out of a remote Buddhist monastery, through Indian customs, and into London.
The story behind the discovery and procurement of the “Yeti relic” reads like a Hollywood screenplay. Strangely, the finger mysteriously vanished sometime after arriving in London. Thankfully, the story of the finger no longer ends with its disappearance. It’s been found, and a DNA test has been conducted.
I’ll be nice and tell you right away that the finger is from a human. Moreover, it seems fairly certain that human originated from someplace in Asia. The Yeti finger was on display several years ago at the Royal College of Surgeons. What would be interesting to learn would be how a human hand ended up being a “Yeti” relic in a remote Buddhist monastery. But that’s probably a tale that will never be known.
What is an interesting tale is how the hand was discovered, and the finger removed and transported to London for testing by forensics experts.
The famous Tom Slick — who’s entire life is worthy of a film — financed and organized the procurement of the a Yeti finger with associate and fellow-explorer Peter Byrne. (Not before an unsuccessful attempt at getting the whole hand, of course.)
Byrne convinced some monks to allow him to swap the Yeti finger with a human one. It took a little negotiation and an unknown sum of money.
The next problem was how to get through customs. It so happened that Jimmy Stewart was willing to help. He was with his wife in Calcutta, and discussed the matter with Byrne at their hotel. It was hoped that the finger wouldn’t be discovered and confiscated if it was hidden among Mrs. Stewart’s personal garments.
Eventually, the finger ended up at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London where it sat for many years. It was recently rediscovered and a sliver was sent to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for DNA analysis where it was (to the disappointment of many) found to be, without a doubt, human.
While many in cryptozoological circles are utterly let down at the news, I’m still glad that the finger was found — partly because I enjoy reading the story of the finding of the finger. I find the lengths that Slick and company went through to get it to London are both astounding and hilarious.
It’s but a chapter in the life of some fantastic people. Peter Byrne and Tom Slick were the kind of people that fictional treasure hunters like Indiana Jones, Adèle Blanc-Sec, Benjamin Gates, and etc are based upon. It’s no wonder why some folks in Hollywood would love to make a movie based on Slick himself. (Nicolas Cage, anyone?)
Want to know more? Of course you do! At the bottom of this post, I pasted a clip from an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that covered the story of the Yeti finger. Also, check out a BBC Radio program that discusses the finger, the story behind it, and the results of the test.
Here’s a bit from the article of the news at The Daily Mail — full article available online at the link.
The Daily Mail sponsored an expedition in 1954 to investigate recent Yeti sightings reported in the paper’s pages. During the trek, mountaineer John Angelo Jackson tracked and photographed many footprints, some of which were large and could not be identified as belonging to any known animal.
The Mail subsequently ran an article which described how expedition teams obtained black and dark brown hair specimens from what was said to be a Yeti scalp in the same Pangboche monastery. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reported seeing large footprints while climbing Everest, although Hillary remained a confirmed Yeti sceptic.
In 1974, reports of a Yeti attack on the wife of a Sherpa reached Britain. Lap Kadoma was supposedly thrown into a river by a large creature which approached her from behind. When she regained consciousness, she found a number of dead yaks lying nearby.
Her injuries were not like those inflicted by snow leopards or bears, which tear the carcasses of their prey apart. Instead, the yaks bore teeth marks and their flesh had been eaten. Then, in 1957, Tom Slick, a wealthy American oilman, funded a series of expeditions to investigate Yetis.
He became obsessed after hearing about them on business trips to India.
It was a year later, during one of the expeditions funded by Slick, that the Irish-American explorer Peter Byrne heard two Sherpas mention the word ‘Meh-te’.
When quizzed, they told him about the ancient Yeti hand preserved in the Pangboche Monastery. Days of trekking through treacherous passes with the ever-constant threat of avalanches followed as Byrne made his way to the magnificent monastery.
He remembers walking the halls by candlelight and being led to the room which contained the Pangboche hand. ‘It was covered with crusted black, broken skin,’ Byrne says. He sent a runner over the border to India with a message for Slick about his find. It took three days for the return telegram to arrive with instructions from Slick to obtain the hand and to bring it to London.
But the monks refused to let Byrne take their revered object, explaining that if they let it go, it would bring down a curse on the monastery. Slick was determined, however. He arranged to meet Byrne in London, where they were joined by world-renowned primatologist Professor William Osman Hill.
The venue was the restaurant at Regent’s Park Zoo, where the professor was employed dissecting and embalming dead animals. During the meal, Osman Hill told Byrne that he had to get hold of at least one finger from the hand because he wanted it to be scientifically analysed.
The professor — who had links to the Royal College of Surgeons — then reached under the table and brought out a brown paper bag. He tipped a human hand onto the table, and suggested Byrne replace the finger with a human one. Slick could only exclaim: ‘I take it that’s not dessert?’
Byrne returned to the monastery, and although the monks were reluctant, they eventually agreed to part with the finger for £100 — only if Byrne could find a way of disguising the missing digit. The mountaineer wired the human finger on to the relic, before painting it with iodine to make it look the same colour as the rest of the hand. He now faced a perilous journey home.
In the previous year, the Nepalese government — bizarrely — had brought in a law making it illegal for foreigners to kill a Yeti. Thus, Byrne took a risk by trekking on foot over the border into India with the digit. The challenge was to smuggle it back to London by plane without the authorities finding it and asking awkward questions.
Slick, as ever, had a solution. An old hunting buddy of his was in India and might be able to assist Byrne. The friend turned out to be none other than the movie star Jimmy Stewart.
Slick knew that Stewart was on holiday in Calcutta and thought he might be sufficiently intrigued by the Yeti legend to help out. So a meeting was arranged in the Grand Hotel in Calcutta with Byrne, Mr Stewart and his wife Gloria.
His instincts were right. The Stewarts were happy to go along with it. In order to dodge customs, Gloria hid the finger in her lingerie case and they flew out of India with no trouble. Back in London, the finger was handed over to Professor Osman Hill for examination. Chillingly, his tests — which involved comparisons with human hands — concluded that it was not human.
But there the story goes cold. No more was heard of it for many years, although it is known that Osman Hill eventually bequeathed it to the Hunterian Museum, where it languished until work on this collection brought the finger to light once more.
No one knows why, after all the effort to obtain the finger and bring it back to London, it was just handed over to the museum to be neglected and forgotten.