The mystery beast who sang, spoke and baffled science

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 February, 2011, 12:00am

The year was 1931, and the Irving family lived on a farm on the Isle of Man, an island near Britain. The family was disturbed to hear strange sounds that seemed to be coming from the walls of their house. It seemed like a rat might have got trapped behind the wooden panels.

Jim, the father, tried to drive the rat out. But then, strangely, whatever it was began to make very different sounds.

The 'thing' gurgled like a baby or growled like a dog. Jim put down poison and traps, but to no avail. Then one day he growled in frustration and the thing growled back. Soon it began to imitate whatever noise he made.

If Jim whistled like a bird, so did the thing. After a little while, Jim only had to name an animal for the thing to make the appropriate sound. It also seemed to be trying to talk.

The Irvings' daughter, Voirrey, 12, asked the thing to repeat some nursery rhymes. And it did. Its voice was clear and squeaky and soon it was able to talk to the Irvings.

The thing said its name was Gef. It said it was 'an extra-clever mongoose' and had been born in India in 1852. As it happened, a farmer had brought mongooses to the island hoping that they would kill off the pesky local wild rabbits.

Gef seemed to be quite at home living in a section of wall in Voirrey's room. He chatted quite regularly with Voirrey and her father, but was not very friendly towards the mother, Margaret. Voirrey began to see Gef, and her parents caught glimpses of him. She described him - he was like a small rat, with yellow fur and a bushy tail.

The story gets stranger. It is easy to believe that this story was made up by the family, perhaps to get some fame. But what is not so easily explained is how they could continue such a hoax over such a long time. Gef would roam around the island during the day and tell the family of his travels at night. He would even tell them secrets of local families.

The 'mongoose' liked to take the bus. The local bus drivers were spooked and one, named Jack Teale, even claimed Gef had stolen his lunch. He was not the only one to report strange things happening. Three men swore a statement to a local newspaper that they had heard Gef speaking.

Fifteen people in all said they had heard or seen strange things. Even family friends stepped forward to defend the Irvings.

Arthur Morrison, the son of a family friend, said he spent a night with the family. He heard Gef, who promised to keep him awake all night. And indeed Gef did. Morrison said he felt something under the bed and when he took a look, he saw red eyes looking back at him. A voice said: 'Now do you believe?'

Gef would read items from the newspaper, and catch people out if they tried to whisper. Sometimes he would bring home rabbits, which Margaret would cook for the family dinner. They would leave food out for him and he would snatch it when no one was looking.

Like all good, erm, 'things', Gef enjoyed singing. On one occasion he embarrassed Margaret by singing a naughty song sung by bus drivers. He would sing along to records or bounce a rubber ball in time to the music.

Naturally all this weirdness soon attracted the local newspaper. It ran a mocking article and poor Voirrey was teased at school. Of course Gef's fame spread.

In 1932, Jim wrote to a famous ghost hunter, Harry Price, and asked him to investigate Gef. The detective was busy, but sent a friend instead. Gef didn't like him.

Captain James McDonald heard Gef telling the Irvings that he did not like him. He saw a large needle mysteriously ping off a teapot when no one seemed to have thrown it, and he heard noises from upstairs. He tried to sneak up on Gef, but Gef always knew when he was coming. McDonald never saw the creature.

McDonald returned in 1935. Again he heard Gef, but didn't see him. His reports to Price made the ghost hunter curious, and eventually, the great man himself decided to visit. He brought along a journalist as a witness just in case Gef appeared.

But Gef was furious. He said he hated Price and preferred McDonald. When Price arrived, Gef disappeared and no amount of pleading could make him talk. As soon as Price left, Gef was back.

Of course people suggested all sorts of explanations for what was going on. Most people thought it was a big trick. When Jim sent some hairs he said belonged to Gef to Price for examination, the scientist in charge said they belonged to the family dog. Paw prints showed a big difference in the size between Gef's front and back paws, and scientists felt the back paw prints were made by a stick.

As you can imagine, the case caused a big media stir and was reported in newspapers around the country. Some suggested Voirrey might be throwing her voice, but there were at least two instances of Gef being heard by an outsider when Voirrey was not there. There were some grainy pictures taken by Voirrey of what she claimed was Gef. You can hunt them down on the internet.

The Irvings eventually left the farm and Gef did not talk to any of the other owners. Later the farmhouse was demolished.

Right up until her death in 2005 Voirrey Irving maintained that Gef was real. She said she wished it had never happened, as she had been hounded at school and eventually forced to leave the island.

But the mystery remains. To this day there has been no definite answer as to who, or what, Gef was.