Tom Slick and the Hand of the Yeti

This is a follow-up of sorts to my “‘Machine Gun’ Kelly’s Last Hooray” piece that I posted earlier this month. One of the persons mentioned in that post was a bigger than life oilman named Tom Slick, Sr. It seems his son, Tom Slick, Jr. also led an interesting life filled with adventure and danger. The younger Slick also reminds me in some ways of ill-fated explorer Percy Fawcett.

Howard often populated his stories with bizarre and mythical creatures — giant apes, dragons, huge spiders, giant serpents and a host of other deadly creatures. His mighty heroes, especially Conan, battled these strange and terrible monsters, usually overcoming them after a hard fought battle. Howard, as a student of history, knew the creatures he wrote of had some foundation in fact — legends always began with at least a germ of truth. There is that memorable scene in The Whole Wide World where Novalyne tells Howard that she has not seen any giant snakes in west Texas, and Howard looks at her with a straight face and states, “Oh, but I have.”

When he died in 1930, Tom Slick Sr. left a good deal of his fortune to his son, who carried on is father’s highly lucrative oil business and started a few of his own, including a successful air cargo business. During the 1950s, Slick was an adventurer with a keen interest in cryptozoology, the search for animals whose existence has not been proven. He mounted numerous worldwide expeditions to investigate the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, Bigfoot and the Trinity Alps Giant Salamander.

In 1956, after his plane made a forced landing during a diamond-hunting trip, he spent two weeks with a Waiwai tribe in the jungles of British Guiana. His later adventures included expeditions to the Pacific Northwest in search of Bigfoot. Slick also funded expeditions that sought the Orang Pendek, Alaska’s Iliamna Lake Monsters, as well as other unknown animals. Stories also abound that Slick was purportedly involved with the CIA and its operation to subvert China’s control over Tibet and in the escape of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959 ahead of a Chinese plot to capture him.

Slick was a friend of many celebrities, including Howard Hughes and fellow flier, actor Jimmy Stewart, who assisted a Slick-backed expedition in smuggling pieces of the Pangboche Yeti hand from Nepal back to England for scientific analysis. During one of his early “Abominable Snowman” treks in 1957, Slick first came across the Yeti hand and brought photographs of it back to the West, while later Slick-sponsored expeditions in and around the Himalayas gathered more information on the hand and an effort to further examine it was planned.

The “Yeti hand” was kept as a ritual artifact in the monastery at Pangboche. Despite numerous requests from Slick associate Peter Byrne, the monks would not allow the hand out of their sight for analysis in England. During a 1959 expedition, Byrne took matters in his own hands when he swapped out some of the bones in the hand with human bones. Byrne then gave the Yeti hand bones to Stewart, who hid them in his wife’s luggage that contained her underwear. Being a celebrity, Stewart’s luggage was speeded through customs without being checked.

The hand was given to London University primatologist William Charles Osman Hill who conducted a physical examination of the pieces that Byrne had stolen. His first findings were that it was hominid, but later in 1960 he decided that the Yeti hand fragments were a closer match with a Neanderthal. Also in 1960, Sir Edmund Hillary and Marlin Perkins journeyed to Nepal to investigate the hand. Unaware that he was looking at a combination of the original material and the human bones placed there by Byrne, Hillary declared the artifact to be a hoax.

In 1991 it was discovered that Slick expedition consultant George Agogino had retained samples of the alleged Yeti hand. NBC’s television program Unsolved Mysteries obtained the samples and determined they were similar to human, but were not human, and the show’s expert could only verify they were “near human.” Shortly after the episode was broadcast, the entire hand was stolen from the Pangboche monastery and disappeared into the illegal underground of stolen antiquities, no doubt winding up in a private collection.

In addition to his business ventures and adventuring, Slick also founded several research organizations, including the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in 1941 and the non-profit Southwest Research Institute, founded in 1947 to seek revolutionary advancements in technology. This institute continues to advance pure and applied science in a variety of fields from lubricant and motor fuel formulation to solar physics and planetary science. And he founded the Mind Science Foundation in San Antonio in 1958 to do consciousness research. Being an advocate of world peace, he published the book, Permanent Peace: A Check and Balance Plan in 1959. Slick funded the Tom Slick World Peace lectures at the LBJ Library, and the Tom Slick Professorship of World Peace at the University of Texas.

Slick’s adventure filled life was cut short when his plane crashed in Montana on October 6, 1962. He was 46 years old — the same age as his father when he died. But his legacy lives on through the research endeavors he started and through the discoveries he made in the field of cryptozoology.