The Peking Man: Mystery of the Missing Bones.
May 12, 2014
I PACKED UP my equipment and headed for the basement of a church, in town. I detested public speaking but I had been asked by a member of a ladies’ club to give a program on unsolved mysteries. She knew I had quite library on them and had studied the subject for ages. I needed a prop, so I took my trusty opaque projector that I had ordered from the back of a magazine for seven dollars.
“And now for my all-time favorite unsolved mystery,” I announced after going over about ten mysteries that interested me the most. “The subject of Peking Man has all the drama and intrigue of a best-selling fictional thriller. I first learned of Peking Man developments in a paperback, MONSTERS AMONG US: Journey to the Unexplained by Lee and Moore, 1975.
The ladies seemed to perk up as I continued.
“I often remember seeing the skull of Peking Man in school textbooks and had no idea there was this deeper mystery behind him. Peking Man is not an individual but a collection of bones from forty or so individuals that were able to be grouped together to form one skeletal specimen. The skeleton is thought to be that of a possible missing link. The bones were discovered near Peking in 1926 after some detective work. Dragon’s bones being sold in shops there contained teeth that were not dragon’s bones at all, but teeth of Peking man. Swedish geologist, Gunnar Andersson, endured years of hardship to discover the location where the teeth originated. Peking Man was a hunter that had discovered fire, and used it, he made tools, and there was evidence of cannibalism in the group.”
“Oh my,” squeaked one of the ladies.
“It is a convoluted story, but somehow this group of amazing bones disappeared in the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The search is still underway, as it is tantalizing to think what modern science could tell us further, after testing and examination of the 500,000 year-old fossilized bones.”
A wave of mumbling went throughout the group when I mentioned the age of the bones.
“A wealthy stockbroker from Chicago, Christopher G. Janus, had made a trip to China in the early seventies, and he was told that the Chinese people would make a hero of anyone who could discover the missing bones. He decided to take on this quest, though I imagine it was for his own deep interest in them and not for the idea of becoming a hero. In 1972, he offered a five thousand dollar reward for information leading to the discovery of the bones and advertised his reward widely. There were soon two promising leads. A businessman from New York contacted him with information that a friend of his who was high in the Chiang Kai-shek regime was in possession of a foot locker with bones of Peking Man. Janus met with the businessman and was told that getting the fossils had caused great violence and the man and his family were afraid. It would cost $750,000 to get them to release the information. Janus began slow negotiations but emphasized that he wanted real evidence before he would proceed.”
“Sounds fishy,” a lady whispered to her neighbor during a brief pause in my presentation, I heard that, and I agreed.
“It was then that Janus received a mysterious phone call from a widow. They arranged to meet on top of the Empire State Building—yes, the Empire State Building—and she was very skittish. She nixed his idea of meeting in a restaurant and wanted to meet there, instead. She insisted on remaining anonymous. She explained that her husband was a Marine who died seven years prior. He left her a wooden chest. It contained the bones. She considered it her legacy. Janus tried to soothe her jumpiness. He asked her if she brought any proof. She looked around suspiciously, then, withdrew a photograph from her purse. It showed the contents of a sturdy wooden box. Inside are bones and a part of a skull. Janus became electrified with excitement. He begged the widow woman to let him examine the bones. She was hesitant. She emphasized that she had to be very careful. Her husband had warned her. The bones were ill-gotten. They were smuggled out at great risk. Suddenly the frightened woman noticed a nearby tourist taking a photograph, the camera was aimed in their direction. ‘It’s a trap!” She exclaimed, grabbed back her photograph and disappeared into the crowd. Janus was crushed as he searched and searched for her with no result.”
“Oh no!” I heard these words being whispered in the group.
“Janus took a chance and put an ad in the New York Times: PEKING MAN. Emp St? Obs. Mtg. Funds avail; no questions. Phone C.G.J. He was not hopeful, but the woman did call back about a week later and emphasized again that she must take great care. She did not want them confiscated from her, or for her to become legally liable for their disappearance. He implored her to send him a photo so that he could have the bones authenticated. He was relieved to receive a photograph in the mail. An anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History gave his impression. He said that it looked promising after viewing the photograph.”
I projected a photo from the book.
“Janus never heard from the woman again. He did continue to receive anonymous crank calls that stated for him to lay off or he would be sorry.
Nothing ever came of these two leads, although they are thought to have been possible and promising.”
“Where were the bones before the Pearl Harbor confusion?” A lady asked.
“The bones were being studied in the Cenozoic Research Laboratory at the Peking Union Medical College which was American-owned at the time. When the scientists felt WWII activities heating up, they tried to devise a way to protect the bones. A 220-man detachment of the China Marines, stationed in Peking was going to try to get them to the United States in the baggage, of Col. William Ashurst, and Marine Medical officer, Dr.William Foley. The bones were divided up into several bags and footlockers. During a minor skirmish, the chests were even used by a Marine as a prop for his machine gun, the story goes. Foley was later arrested and taken prisoner, his baggage dispersed to unknown areas. He was later released. The trail goes foggy and is unknown.” They are still out there somewhere.”
“Eerie. The Missing Link is missing.” A lady spoke softly.
“And presumed dead!” Another lady exclaimed with a snort.
“The mystery of Peking Man is one I will never tire of,” I concluded as I packed up my seven dollar opaque projector and headed for the door.
I presented my program on Peking Man in 1980. There was a bizarre footnote in 1981. Christopher Janus was charged with fraud in obtaining loans from banks for his Peking Man quest, which included making a movie on the subject. He originally pled “not guilty.” He changed his plea to “guilty” in order to get thirty-five charges dropped. He denied that he intended to defraud banks. Some of the information on his applications were not truthful, the prosecutor contended. In 1975, Janus had written a book about his Peking Man quest that still receives excellent reviews.
I am one of those who believes his story about the widow on top of the Empire State Building, and I don’t think that has ever been disproven. I am so entranced by the mystery of Peking Man that I could not resist expanding on this story in a paranormal fantasy I wrote myself, under a pseudonym. What Kind of Man…by Greenberry Baxter. The intrigue happens at the top of the Washington Monument, in my own story. It has not been and will never be a bestseller, but I am grateful for a review I wasn’t expecting. ‘Intriguing, wonderful story, makes you feel like you are actually involved in all that is taking place. Loved it.’ This five-star review at Barnes and Noble was given by a reader who called herself, The 85-Year-Old Book Maven. I would love to meet her.” In my own mind, she is the same lady that appeared that day, to meet Janus atop the building.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her novels.