The Crofton Tunnels—Explained!
--An Enigma Project Report--
America, a guidebook to places of mystery in the
"An area being made into a parking lot in July of 1973 was found to be infested with small tunnels, about 20 inches wide. Some persons crawled into them and found them more extensive than they cared--or dared--to explore. There was conjecture that they may have been produced by some prehistoric miniman. But William Doepkins, an amateur archeologist, found reason for believing that the array was the habitat of some unknown giant rodent, since he saw large tooth and claw marks on the side of one cave. No rodent remains of any kind, however, were found."
So, who or what dug the Crofton Tunnels? Why were they made and when? Since few facts existed on this mystery beyond Jim Brandon’s reference, then the answers to these questions could end up being nothing more than outlandish opinions from unqualified sources. Within the annals of Fortean, paranormal, or even conspiratorial literature, the subject of tunnels and earthen chambers of unknown origin is one that invites speculation to run rampant.
The Crofton Tunnels could have very easily suffered this fate. Had it not been for an enthusiastic, intelligent, and persistent group of local residents, Crofton’s tunnels might have been variously labeled in paranormal-land as the handiwork of an ancient, hyperactive gnome or some giant, primeval, death-worm.
drama began on
unusual news travels fast in a small town, William Doepkens, a local farmer and
amateur archeologist, learned of the mysterious hollows and offered to assist
Dennard and Lang in their examination of them. Realizing the potential
scientific importance of the discovery, the men contacted a number of
scientific authorities in
By the first week of August in 1973, construction of the Crofton Commons community continued as planned and its quizzical tunnels dissolved into a murky branch of history.
always found the Weird America reference to the tunnels intriguing, during a
In the spring of 2003, the Enigma Project was contacted by Mr. Karl B., an independent researcher who took it upon himself to re-visit the Crofton Tunnel mystery 30 years after it first came to light. The Enigma Project explained to Karl that Doepkens (now deceased) allegedly wrote a report on his investigation of the tunnels and that we were never successful in obtaining it.
Figure1- Crofton Tunnels article,
As an example of true scientific inquiry, Karl made it a personal quest to find out more about this intriguing mystery. After several months of detective work that involved a number of phone calls and visits to various friends and members of the Doepkens family, Karl obtained the obscure document and sent the Enigma Project a copy.
Doepkens’ report, the culmination of some impressive research, was published in
has essentially remained unknown. This 30 page treatise, that could easily be
described as scholarly, is complete with maps, photographs and drawings of the
tunnel/chamber complex, numerous references, and cogent text. Doepkens’ paper
provides ample evidence, including photographs of castings made of claw and
tooth marks, that the extensive array of Crofton Tunnels was probably created
by a colony of beavers, many decades ago. Doepkens pointed out that the beaver
was beginning to make a comeback in
Given that the native beaver may have been absent from the Crofton area for possibly 100 years or more before the tunnel discovery, the question arose as to when the amazing network might have been formed. In speculating on the possible age of the structures, Doepkens referenced scientific literature on beaver lodges which described them as being typically littered with finely shredded wood. Of the Crofton Tunnels he wrote,
“Careful excavation of the floor of the
main chamber and sub-chamber area yielded no evidence of any wood remains.
Surely, if the complex had been abandoned within the last 100 years, something
of this nature should have been uncovered. The manner in which the complex had
been sealed off and preserved, in accordance with the absence of any organic
remains, and the remarkable stability of the soil, leads us to believe that the
complex we studied is 275 years old or older, and was dug by
Though William Doepkens was not a professional scientist, his paper demonstrates a level of accuracy, logical deduction, and attention to detail that leaves the reader with an explanation for the mystery tunnels that is not only sensible but abundantly evidentiary in its argument. In fact, when Doepkens presented the raw data that he and his associates collected to establishment scientists, they agreed with the basic premise of his findings:
Whatever might remain of the Crofton Tunnels, that Doepkens & crew examined 32 years ago, now rests beneath the Crofton Commons townhouse development—forever lost to further scrutiny of modern science (see Figures 2 & 3). However, thanks to the scientific curiosity and initiative of that “amateur archeologist” and his friends, what was once a perplexing mystery has apparently been solved and its natural origin revealed.
Figure 2- Crofton Commons Townhouse Community Figure 3- Tunnel complex once occupied space of all home foundations at left
The Enigma Project would like to express its gratitude to researcher Karl B. for the tenacity he demonstrated in obtaining information on various facets of the Crofton Tunnels--and William Doepkens’ remarkable report.
[i] Brandon, Jim. Weird
[iii] Though the Dr. Nicholas Hotton, III initially dismissed the tunnels as erosion, he revised his opinion and was eventually among the Smithsonian professionals who later pronounced them as an important discovery.
[iv] Doepkens, William P. “Excavation of an Extinct
[v] Dr. Clayton Ray and Dr. Nicholas Hotton, III were both Curators of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Smithsonian Institution (1973)
[vi] Jim Goldsberry was a mammalogist with the
Maryland Department of Natural Resources in