Late last month, Prince Midnight, a Florida metal musician, posted a picture of a sun-drenched Greek cemetery on Instagram. "Would like to thank [Thessaloniki] municipal cemetery for assisting with my affidavit and transmit order for my uncle’s remains," he wrote as a caption. "Also, [U.S. State Department] for helping me understand the process!"
Two-dozen people double-tapped the like button on that photo but, in retrospect, it's impossible to know whether they responded to Prince Midnight in real-time, whether they're weirdly interested in central Macedonian cemetery plots, or whether, like me, they found themselves scrolling backwards through that Instagram account after learning what happened to his uncle's remains after they reached the United States.
A few days later, Midnight shared a photo of a partial human skeleton, propped casually against a large cardboard box that was labeled "Fragile" and "Don't Turn Upside Down" in Greek. After spending some time considering his uncle's ribcage, Midnight says that he was inspired to add a Fender guitar neck, a single coil pickup, and six strings, DIY-ing Filip's remaining bones into a custom electric guitar called "The Filip Skelecaster."
At least that's the story that has made its way around the internet. Prince Midnight and his Skelecaster have appeared on subreddits ranging from r/nextfuckinglevel to r/FloridaMan, he's given interviews to the CBC and "India's No.1 Gujarati News Channel," and scored coverage from Guitar World, Kerrang, and dozens of other websites. But when VICE tried to verify some of Midnight's claims, our questions just led to more questions, and we found ourselves asking 'Who is he?' and 'Is any of this real?'
According to Midnight, who also uses the name Yaago Anax, Filip was just 28 when he was killed in a road accident in Greece. His parents made the difficult decision to donate his body to a local college, where his skeleton was used as an instructional aid. When the college decided to stop using human specimens in the classroom, Filip was literally boxed up and stored in a communal ossuary.
"I wasn’t involved with Filip’s remains for twenty-five years," Midnight told VICE. "Filip's parents have since passed as well, and then it became my mother’s responsibility. She didn’t want to pay rent at the cemetery so I decided to try and find a way to help." After coordinating with the State Department and a funeral home, he was able to have Filip's remains shipped to Florida.
Midnight believes that the Skelecaster is a fitting tribute for Filip, whose record collection had a significant influence on his own. "He was very passionate about heavy metal and got me into stuff I wouldn’t normally have discovered," he said. "Iron Maiden was his favorite but he was very into black metal and other underground scenes that were developing around Europe. He would give me records by bands like Burzum, Mayhem, Dark Throne, Bathory and Reversal of Man way back in the early 90s before any of them had commercial success."
Although Prince Midnight has a self-titled nine-song EP on Spotify and Apple Music and is accepting pre-orders for a 7" vinyl release, not everyone is convinced that he exists. Or, more accurately, they don't believe that he's the Greek immigrant and self-described "Supreme ruler of the abyss" that he claims to be online. Christopher Spata, a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times, and Creative Loafing:Tampa Bay writer Ray Roa both seem to think that "Prince Midnight" could either be Justin Arnold, a different South Florida musician or Odilon Ozare, a mysterious hatmaker who has put himself into the Guinness Book of World Records. Twice.
Spata and Roa have suggested that the only Tampa resident who could write Prince Midnight's elaborate backstory, design a fully-functional ribcage-based guitar, record an entire EP, and have an unshakeable ability to stay in character—despite clearly wearing a wig that looks like it was borrowed from Camouflage-era Rod Stewart—is either Arnold or Ozare. VICE has also tried to investigate whether all three of these men may be the same person, as unbelievable as that sounds.
In the spring of 2018, Ozare became a certified world-record holder after designing a top hat that was 15 feet, nine-inches tall, and then he walked Guinness' required distance of 10 meters while wearing it. The then-40-year-old claimed that he had designed "hundreds" of hats, and that he'd been interested in millinery since he was a child.
“My grandmother was always into different crafts, including sewing clothes and hats," he told the Guinness World Records website. "She always got me unorthodox presents, including some materials to make a hat one year. She was just trying to think of ways to keep me out of trouble. For some reason, the hat-making stuck."
Later that year, Ozare scored his second Guinness entry for a set of four-foot long fingernail extensions. Both records were set in Tampa, and that remains the only real proof of Ozare's existence in the city because, as the Times noted, there's no driver's license, phone number, current or former address, or voter registration for anyone by that name. No one in Tampa seemed to even know who he was, until he and his towering hat were everywhere.
In photographs, Ozare wears a long auburn wig, and the kind of stick-on mustaches that are left at Spirit Halloween on November 1. His still-active Instagram account is a combination of vintage hat-related photos, pics of his assorted media appearances, and other people wearing elaborately odd accessories.
Either Ozare is a real person with a fantastically improbable backstory, or he's an even more improbable fictional character. "Someone, just for a goof, learned the ins and outs of hat-making," Spata wrote in 2018. "They spent the past year posting hat sketches and hat inspiration photos on Ozare’s various social media accounts. They became Odilon Ozare [...] never slipping out of character in interviews or during public appearances."
And then there's Justin Arnold, an artist, punk band frontman, and Tampa resident who looks a little like both Ozare and Prince Midnight. In 2014, Arnold allegedly pranked the Times' tbt* newspaper by sending in a photo of a two-headed alligator that he'd 'seen' on a Seminole Heights riverbank. "I called a friend who works for Fish and Game and he told me that it was not all that uncommon and reptiles and amphibians often have failed separation of monozygotic twins creating two headed animals," he wrote in an accompanying email. "I Googled it and that appears to be true."
Tbt* ran the picture on its front page, but a lot of readers didn't buy it. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said that they'd received no other reports about the irregular gator, others noticed that there were no claw or tail prints in the soft mud around its body, and the paper admitted that "[they'd] been had." (Arnold's band, Feral Babies, shared the alligator pic on its Facebook page, along with a similar "monozygotic twins" caption.)
Arnold has depicted cryptids, sideshow ripoffs like the so-called Fiji Mermaid, and two-headed alligators in his artwork. In 2016, he and his dad spent 60 hours sculpting a concrete-and-steel version of the two-headed creature for a Tampa brewery. So, yeah, he theoretically sounds like the kind of guy who could engineer a 15-foot-tall hat, or a guitar built around a (potentially) human spinal column.
Prince Midnight immediately discounted any connection to either Ozare or Arnold. "I saw two articles that questioned some details of my story. I didn’t speak to either of those writers," he told VICE. "They sent me inquiries and published their stories before I even had a chance to reply. When I finally had a chance to read their articles I was surprised that they were not based on any facts. They just said they thought I looked like some other guy, which seems like incredibly irresponsible journalism."
Whether or not Prince Midnight himself is for real...well, I guess that depends on your definition of real. The name Yaago Anax does not appear in a public records search for the state of Florida, or anywhere else outside of the 'Prince Midnight' context. Anax means 'Lord' or 'King' in ancient Greek, he was Uranus' giant son in Greek mythology, and it's also the name of an Australian metal company, so if a metal musician were to select a new name for themselves, it would be a solid choice.
As for the Skelecaster and whether or not it's actually made from a human skeleton, an orthopedic surgeon reviewed the photos of Filip's bones at my request, and could only say that there wasn't any evidence to suggest that the skeleton didn't belong to a human male. A U.S. State Department official declined to comment beyond noting that “U.S. consular officers can assist with requests to import remains from overseas, regardless of the citizenship of the deceased according to the framework outlined on the CDC's website." A CDC spokesperson also directed VICE to that website. (edited)
Midnight said that Filip attended the University of Florida, and although the Registrar's Office told VICE that it didn't "have any student in [its] records" that matched Filip's description, they also acknowledged that it was difficult to confirm without a date of birth. "This is not a guarantee that person didn't attend UF," they said. As for that Instagram pic of the municipal cemetery in Thessaloniki where Filip's remains were supposedly stored, it was taken from a Google review of the cemetery written in 2019. (The reviewer, Konstantínos Tákos, praised its "green space" and the "artistic interest" of the grave markers.)
It's still not unreasonable to believe that these three men are the same undeniably talented person, but the only verifiable connection between Arnold, Ozare, and Midnight could be the South Florida music scene. When Arnold allegedly sent the two-headed alligator photograph to tbt, the only other person to report it to the paper was Andy Stern, the drummer for Feral Babies. The photos of Ozare's record-setting top hat had a watermark for "Andy Stern Design." Midnight is part of Vengeful Spirits, a newly formed "jazz/punk/exotica" trio that also includes Sulynn Hago, Feral Babies' former guitarist. (VICE reached out to Hago for comment, but did not receive a response.) And one of Vengeful Spirits' four-dozen Instagram followers is...Odilon Ozare.
Like Ozare's comically oversized accessories, Prince Midnight's music does actually exist, and he has put an extraordinary amount of detail into the story that he wants the EP to tell. "It includes my romantic relationship with a daemon named Andras, one of the minor rulers of hell as described in the Lesser Keys of King Solomon," he said. "A couple of my old friends stopped talking to me when I released this record, believing I was involved in some kind of abomination against God. They clearly didn’t read the lyrics, as it’s a tale of a man who has stepped out of the light of God and the story of his absolution. Prince Midnight doesn't worship the devil, he killed the devil and is now a more just and righteous ruler of the underworld."
Even if Midnight's backstory isn't entirely true, does it matter? He's far from the first musician to reinvent himself as someone else, or to self-mythologize for any number of reasons. In the late 1970s, a largely unknown country singer named Jimmy Ellis started wearing a gold mask, rechristened himself as Orion, and toured under the pretense that maybe if Elvis Presley had faked his death, then maybe he'd be appearing onstage as this guy. A Michigan rich kid who grew up on a five-acre estate with a horse barn and full-sized tennis court turned himself into a redneck named Kid Rock. And artists ranging from Sun Ra to GWAR to David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust alter ego have claimed to be from outer space (although I'm not entirely convinced that David Bowie himself didn't originate on another, better planet.)
After spending the past several days pulling at every thread of this story to see which ones came loose, I'm letting all of them go. If Midnight's account of Uncle Filip is fabricated, fictional, or some combination of the two, then it's a brilliant mashup of performance art and music. If it's not, then it's an incredible tribute to his late uncle's lasting influence.
"There are so many figures throughout history who have sought physical immortality, and they all died," Midnight told VICE, in reference to some of his lyrics. "I’d argue that many of them obtained immortality through the legends we still tell about them. I would be satisfied with that kind of immortality. Maybe a part of me will live on forever alongside Filip in the legend of the Skelecaster."
Honestly, I hope that turns out to be true.