Growing up in Wellington, New Zealand, I heard vague rumors about a "death ray" invented just before WW2 by a mystery-man on Somes Island, in the middle of Wellington Harbour.

I recently did a bit more digging via Google and other sources and an intriguing story emerged. The mystery-man's name was Victor Penny and he was an autodidactic electronics specialist and amateur inventor with a particular interest in radio and sound transmission.

Penny's life became very interesting for about six months between 1935-36, beginning with an apparent late-night assault by "agents of a foreign power" that left him bleeding and muttering "my papers ... my papers!" Thereafter he was secretly transported, at the government's expense, to Somes Island, surrounded by armed guards and paid to conduct his experiments in secure isolation.

The subject of these experiments has been a matter of more-or-less wild speculation over the decades. Rumors suggest that he had developed a prototype beam weapon that could detonate explosives buried under the ground from some distance away, stop vehicles by disabling their motors and/or even destroy a flock of sheep.


E.M.P.? Ultrasound? Infrasound? Radar? Lasers? Was Victor Penny a con-man, a deluded crank or a cutting-edge inventor at the wrong time and in the wrong place? No-one knows, as his experiments were abruptly shut down by the incoming new government and most of the documents concerning them are still classified ...

Here's a half-hour New Zealand radio documentary on the Penny mystery, starting at 21.10 :… .