Previously: The Pennhurst Found Footage Videos.
It’s not a long video — less than two minutes. But it’s weird. Really weird. It’s set in a decaying, abandoned building. The soundtrack is an ear-splitting array of noise. There are things hidden in the frames — blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments that take work to both find and figure out. But weirdest of all is the only “actor” — if you can call the figure that — in the video: A plague doctor. Or at least, someone dressed up to look like one, although no one has ever been able to find the mask worn by the figure for sale.
Like I said: Weird. And for several months at the end of 2015, armchair detectives all over the internet could not get enough of it.
A lot of the mystery has been solved by now — but a lot of it… hasn’t. Or if it has, then only the flimsiest of evidence supports it. Many, many questions about the strange video, what it means, and who exactly created it remain.
So, let’s talk about it.
Let’s finally talk about 11B X 1371, otherwise known as the Plague Doctor Video.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
When it comes to the timeline of the Plague Doctor Video story, there are actually two timelines to consider: What I call the “discovery” timeline and the “creation” timeline. By “the discovery timeline,” I mean the dates pertaining to when we, the general public, learned of the videos and attempted to unravel their mysteries; and by “the creation timeline,” I mean the dates on which the videos actually appeared. These timelines do intersect, of course — and what happened when matters — but in order to truly understand everything at play in this tale, we need to engage in a little non-linear storytelling.
Buckle up. Here we go.
The Discovery Timeline
The video made it to the public eye on Oct. 12, 2015, when the Swedish tech site Gadgetzz published their first story (of what would turn out to be many) on it. Gadgetzz has been around since 2009, according to its “About” page, a fact which is verifiable via its WHOIS entry and its earliest captures at the Wayback Machine. It’s pretty much entirely a one-person operation, though; created and run by John-Erik “Johny” Krahbichler, it began life as a basic personal tech blog and evolved over time into something more like an independent tech news site. It’s not huge — its current Alexa ranking is only about 2,790,000 — and might in fact be dormant right now. (Its most recent updates are from September of 2018.) But despite its relative obscurity, the site received a great deal of attention, particularly after its story about 11B X 1371 made it to Reddit.
According to the Gadgetzz piece, which Krahbichler himself wrote, Krahbichler had received a strange package in the mail. Sent from Poland — with later details emerging that it had been mailed specifically from Warsaw back in May — the package contained a DVD+R with a sequence of capital and lowercase letters Krahbichler took to be a product key written on it in black marker. But when Krahbichler put the DVD into a computer, he found not a game or piece of software, but an unsettling video he included in his piece.
(Personally, if I had received a strange, homemade DVD from an unknown source, I would not have attempted to play it with a machine that had anything I cared about at all on it; that, uh, sounds kind of like a good way to fall prey to a virus and lose valuable data. But that’s just me, I guess.)
Shot in black and white, the video featured an abandoned building and a lot of weird, distorted noise and images. At the center of it all was a person wearing a black robe whose face was hidden by a plague doctor mask — the beaked mask some physicians wore in France and Italy during the 17th century to guard against airborne diseases.
Although Krahbichler noted that he was “personally very curious as to what [the video] actually is,” he also said that he hadn’t “put all that much time on trying to decode it.” From there, he asked readers to get in touch with them if they managed to decode anything seen in the video.
On Oct. 13 — just a day later — Redditor u/tropicaljohnsons posted a link to Gadgetzz’s piece to the r/creepy subreddit, which we can pinpoint as the moment the story entered the mainstream. The folks at r/creepy leapt on it immediately, working to decode the video while cracking jokes about feeling like they were all going to die in seven days now. And from there, it only grew: First, dev-focused site Hackaday published a piece about the video and Gadgetzz’s story about finding it on Oct. 16; then, on the 19th, stories ran in three larger publications: The Daily Dot, Gizmodo and — most impressively — the Washington Post.
But the copy of the video Krahbichler included in his piece at Gadgetzz wasn’t the first time the video had been uploaded to the internet. In fact, it had appeared three previous times.
The Creation Timeline
The first time the video appeared online was in May of 2015. At the /x/ paranormal board, a user published a post titled “Secret Messages? Aliens? HUH?!” on May 9 containing a Dropbox link. “This is a DVD ISO, with some crazy shit on it,” the user wrote. “It’s a copy of a DVD I found sitting in the park, on a bench.” The Droplink link contained a download of the video.
The second time it appeared was also on May 9, 2015, albeit in a different place: YouTube. A channel going by the name aetbx, who had been a member of the streaming site since September of 2014 but hadn’t previously released any other videos, posted it under the titled “… 01101101 01110101 01100101 01110010 01110100 01100101,” or “Muerte” when translated from binary to text. The YouTuber, whose profile notes that they’re based in Spain, wrote in the description box, “01010100 01100101 00100000 01110001 01110101 01100101 01100100 01100001 00100000 00110001 00100000 01100001 11110001 01101111 00100000 01101101 01100101 01101110 01101111 01110011 00101110 00101110,” or “Te queda 1 año menos.” In English, the Spanish title means simply “Death,” while the description translates to “You have one year less left.”
The third time it appeared was also on YouTube, although this time, it was posted by someone calling himself Parker Warner Wright. Wright’s channel published the video on Sept. 30, 2015 — less than two weeks before Krahbichler wrote about it at Gadgetzz — titling it with the name that’s now widely acknowledged as the video’s official name: “11B X 1371.” Wrote Wright in the description field, “Are you listening?”
We weren’t at the time. But just a few weeks later… we certainly were.
Redditors Through The Camera Lens, And What They Found There: Or, Decoding The Video
At the time of the video’s release, the biggest mystery surrounding it was, understandably, what it all meant — so that’s where the participants of the r/creepy thread focused their efforts. As the community of Redditors picked apart the video, all sorts of hidden messages and images emerged.
When extracted and run through spectrogram-creating software, the audio of the video produced an image of a skull and several pieces of encoded text. Individual frames of the video isolated and then laid over each other created a composite image with the words, “Strike an arrow through the heart of the eagle.” Other images — violent ones — uncovered from further spectrogram created from the video’s audio track were found to be sourced from independent horror films such as 2007’s Slasher and 2011’s The Bunny Game. Additionally, at least one image looked distressingly similar to an actual crime scene photo — one documenting a victim of the Boston Strangler, who attacked and killed 13 women in the Boston area in the 1960s.
It got darker, too. One sequence of Morse code located in one frame was found to read “REDLIPSLIFETENTH” — although if one character was interpreted in a lightly different way, it read “REDLIPSLIKETENTH,” which has been noted as an anagram of “KILLTHEPRESIDENT.” Elsewhere in the video, several sequences of numbers were decoded as the geographic coordinates of the White House. People started to wonder if the video was an assassination threat against then-President of the United States Barack Obama.
Other cyphertexts found on certain frames were decoded as (sic)
“A new order is on the rise. You will join, or you will fall. The virus has spread too far; it must be stopped. We will dike it at it’s root. 13 ani 50, will burn.”
“SOON COMES THE FALL / ANOTHER GREAT EMPIRE.
THE FALL / THE EAGLE ON THE HORIZON.
JOIN US. THE EAGLE = INFECTED WILL SPREADD HIS DISEEASE.
WE AARE TTHE ANTIVIRUS WILL PROTECT THE WORLD BODY.”
The video’s shooting location, meanwhile, was determined to be the Zofiówka Sanatorium in Otwock, Poland. Originally opened in 1908, the facility provided psychiatric treatment to underprivileged members of the Jewish community in and around Otwock. During the Holocaust, the patients and staff were rounded up and either shot or sent to Treblinka. After the war, the facility resumed its position as a psychiatric treatment center, although it now cared primarily for children and youths. In the 1980s and ‘90s, it treated patients for drug addiction. It was finally closed in the mid-‘90s.
And all that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Redditor on the case at r/creepy documented each and every breakthrough; you can check out all of them, including how they were cracked, here.
But although the sleuths of r/creepy did some phenomenal work decoding each piece of the puzzle… it’s still not totally clear what the big picture is — what all those pieces say when take them together as a larger whole.
For that, we need to go to the creator of the video.
Trouble is, although we do know at this point who the creator is, we don’t… really know who the creator is, if you get what I mean.
Early in the investigation Krahbichler, aetbx, and Wright were all pegged as possible suspects for the creation of the video, so let’s take a look at each in turn.
Is Krahbichler Behind It?
Probably not. I think he leveraged it to draw attention and traffic to his site — that is, I think he seized the opportunity when it presented itself and rode its viral coattails as far as it would take him — but I don’t think he manufactured the whole thing himself.
For what it’s worth, it’s not totally clear whether Krahbichler was responsible for posting the Gadgetzz link to Reddit, thus kicking off the widespread appeal of the mystery — but I think it’s likely. u/tropicaljohnsons’ post and comment history features a lot of links from Gadgetzz, as well as from Scientific Literacy Matters and Soliton Solutions — two other projects with which Krahbichler is involved (he’s got bylines on the sites for both organizations; additionally, his bio at the end of all his Gadgetzz pieces includes information about and links to each of them), which suggests the posting activity could be self-promotion. Several of the earlier mainstream media pieces about the whole thing also suggest that the Reddit post was published by Krahbichler, although the wording in all of them is such that it’s unclear whether they actually confirmed that or not.
Interestingly, someone also posted Gadgetzz’s piece on the video to r/creepy on Oct. 12 — the day before what would become the main r/creepy thread for the mystery went live, as well as the day Krahbichler actually published the Gadgetzz post. I can’t tell you which Redditor published it this time, unfortunately; the original poster performed a deletion action to the post that resulted in its user simply being listed as “[deleted]” now. The post also hasn’t been archived at the Wayback Machine, so I can’t double-check it there, either. It’s worth noting, though, that three of this post’s seven comments — that is, nearly half of them — are from u/tropicaljohnsons, with one brief thread reading as follows:
To me, that suggests three things: That u/tropicaljohnsons originally created the Oct. 12 post; that u/tropicaljohnsons created the Oct. 13 post; and u/tropicaljohnsons is, in fact, Krahbichler. I’m curious as to whether, when the first post failed to gain traction, he tried again a day later with a different headline he hoped would be grabbier — and wouldn’t you know it? The second time was the charm.
What About aetbx?
The YouTuber posting under the moniker aetbx has a name; he’s called Daniel. According to a brief interview he gave the Washington Post, he lives in Spain and peaks limited English. Daniel told WaPo that a girl he had no relationship with previously had sent him a digital copy of the video, telling him that she “was sitting in the Park and found the DVD.” He said he didn’t have any idea who made the video — a story he stuck to throughout the entire mystery, whether speaking with WaPo, Johny Krahbichler, or random commenters on his YouTube page.
There is, of course, the question no only of why Daniel would choose to upload a video some random person gave him to the internet, but also why he would give it a puzzle-like title and description himself. From what I can tell, he just… kind of did it on a whim without thinking any of it through, and then later really, really regretted it.
Daniel told the Washington Post that he uploaded the video simply to see what others could make of it; I can only assume he gave it the coded title and description because, like many Redditors, it reminded him of the trope of the “cursed” video which dooms those who watch it to die within a certain timeframe — and he wanted to have a little fun with it. The video had gained little traction when he first posted it, so when people started commenting on the video in droves five months later, he was apparently taken quite by surprise. Based on some email exchanges he had with Krahbichler, he seems to have tried to capitalize on the mystery for a brief time, but later decided it was too much to handle and backtracked on everything he’d added.
How About Parker Warner Wright?
I’ll cut to the chase: It’s generally accepted now that Wright is the creator of the video. First, he told a bunch of people he was, including Johny Krahbichler of Gadgetzz and Mike Wehner of the Daily Dot. Krahbichler posted quite a bit of convincing evidence backing up Wright’s claim; Wehner, too, seems to feel Wright has satisfactorily proven his identity.
Also, a Twitter account seeming to belong to Wright noted on Dec. 31, 2015 that, in order to prove he was behind 11B X 1371, he would release a new video on the Parker Warner Wright YouTube channel at a specific time. And lo and behold, the video appeared, right on schedule. (It’s since been taken down, but others have reposted it. Also, don’t bother looking for the Twitter account; it’s not active anymore, although the relevant tweets have been preserved here.) Mike Wehner in particular believes this sequence of events “confirmed that Parker Warner Wright was indeed the one responsible” for 11B X 1371 and finally identified both it and the follow-up, 11B 3 1369, for what they are: Art.
Around this time, two other things happened: First, the description of the original 11B X 1371 video also changed from reading “Are you listening?” to “Are you watching?”; and second, Wright agreed to an interview with the Daily Dot in January of 2016.
Most of what we know about Wright comes from this interview.
According to Wright, he lives in Poland, but also has U.S. citizenship.
He said created the mask used in the video himself; that’s why no one had been able to find anything quite like it for purchase anywhere — not even in the depths of the online handmade goods marketplace Etsy.
He said that he originally released three copies of the video on May 9, 2015. Two of them were on DVDs; he left both out in the open in Poland, one on the metro and one in a park. The third was released digitally via 4chan. This, I believe, implies that Wright himself was responsible for the /x/ post with the Dropbox link published on May 9. It’s worth remembering that the /x/ post claimed the video had been found on a park bench; I don’t think that’s an accident. By both leaving one copy of the video on an actual park bench and claiming online that he found the video on a disc left on a park bench, Wright created a believably continuity for his story.
And lastly, Wright addressed the meaning of his work: He considers the video art — which means that we have to decide what it all means for ourselves. Said Wright to the Daily Dot, “I see my work as waves on the ocean. Some people look for shells in it, some surf, others — dive.”
Or is it?
The Questions That Remain
At this point, it’s probably about as clear as it’s going to be that Parker Warner Wright did, in fact, create the original video and manufacture the mystery surrounding it.
But we still don’t really know who Parker Warner Wright is. And what we do know is based solely on his own account — we have no way to verify anything he’s said. He never even told his cameraman who he actually was, according to an interview with said cameraman published at Gadgetzz in February of 2016.
What’s more, some details of the story… still don’t add up.
According to the Daily Dot interview, Wright only released three copies of the video, none of which were by mail. So, who sent the DVD to Krahbichler? True, it’s possible that someone who found one of the two copies in Poland could have mailed it to Krahbichler — but who? And why?
Additionally, Wright seems to have actually taken the credit to mailing the video to Krahbichler himself, making that whole line of questioning irrelevant. A Twitter exchange between the two, which Krahbichler screengrabbed and published to Gadgetzz, Wright seems to concede that he sent the DVD — or at, he doesn’t deny having done it — and that the reason he sent it specifically to Krahbichler is because he “won the business card lottery”: That is, Wright had met Krahbichler at some point — maybe at a tech conference or trade show, Krahbichler suggested, although Wright wouldn’t confirm the exact location — and acquired his business card, thereby giving him an address to send it to. He additionally said that he didn’t send it to a larger outlet because he “didn’t have any of their business cards.”
Does all that mean that Wright actually released four copies of the video, rather than three? One on in the metro, one on a park bench, one on 4chan, and one via mail?
Or is he lying? And if he’s lying… which part of is the falsehood?
Or which parts?
And, not to get all “BUT HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THEM IN THE SAME ROOM TOGETHER???” on you, but I won’t lie: It has occurred to me that two or more of the major players in this strange little drama might in fact be the same person.
Parker did at one point have a Facebook page and a Twitter account; neither are currently live. He once had a website, too, but it’s inaccessible at present due to its security certificate being out of date. He does have a Patreon page, but there have been no posts made to it since February of 2018. (We can also glean one very valuable piece of information from the Patreon page: The blinking glove used in 11B-3-1369, which was programed with an Arduino set, was sold to a patron as a subscription perk at the $200 tier.)
I’m wondering if Parker Warner Wright has more in store for us. He did indicate in the Daily Dot interview that he intended 11B X 1371 to be just one part of a bigger whole — and we’ve seen… crumbs that suggest there’s more to be seen. The original video and 11B-3-1369 are still live on his YouTube page. The 11B-3-1369 video has been removed, but can be found reposted by other accounts. On Nov. 5, 2016 — just days before the 2016 United States Presidential Election — he posted a third video titled 110A30213, which is no longer live. And, in April of 2019, yet another video appeared titled 11B-45-1T8 — although this one, interestingly, is geotagged with Aokigahara, the forest in Japan with, as Atlas Obscura carefully describes it, “a tragic reputation.”
There are doubts, of course. Neither of the two follow-up videos received the same attention as the original one did, and although attempts were made to dig into 11B-3-1369 at least, I’m not sure every element was ever decoded.
But maybe the mystery of Parker Warner Wright isn’t over yet.
Maybe it’s just begun.