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- The story began when paranormal researcher Tony "Doc" Shiels was approached by a man, Don Melling, who had been visiting the area on holiday from Lancaster. Melling said that on April 17, 1976, his two daughters, 12-year-old June and her 9-year-old sister, Vicky, were walking through the woods near Mawnan church when they saw a large winged creature hovering above the church tower. The girls were frightened and immediately ran to tell their father. According to Shiels, the family had become so perturbed by the sighting that they had abandoned their holiday three days early and that the father would not allow either of his daughters to be interviewed. Sheils was, however, provided with a drawing of the creature made by twelve-year-old June.
- On July 3, 14-year-old Sally Chapman was camping with a friend, Barbara Perry, in woods near the church. According to her account, as she stood outside her tent, she heard a hissing sound and turned to see a figure that looked like an owl as big as a man, with pointed ears and red eyes. The girls reported that the creature flew up into the air, revealing black pincer-like claws. Sightings of this figure continued to be reported on the following day (when it was described as "silvery gray") and on two occasions two years later, in June and August 1978, all within the vicinity of the church.
- Because both of the 1970s sightings involved "Doc" Shiels, an eccentric with a fondness for hoaxes, researcher Jonathan Downes acknowledges that Shiels could have invented the Owlman. However, Downes claims to have interviewed a young man, whom he calls "Gavin", who encountered the Owlman in 1989, independently of Shiels. "Gavin" and his "girlfriend" claimed to have seen a creature "about five feet tall... The legs had high ankles and the feet were large and black with two huge 'toes' on the visible side. The creature was gray with brown and the eyes definitely glowed."
- In 1995, a female tourist from Chicago wrote to the Western Morning News in Truro, claiming to have seen a "man-bird... with a ghastly face, a wide mouth, glowing eyes and pointed ears" as well as "clawed wings".