From Magonia Supplement, June 2001
I have come to doubt whether it is possible to draw any conclusions from individual UFO reports. It may be, however, that a group of reports considered collectively can reveal something significant. As briefly as possible, I shall try to show this with the example of UFO crash stories.
It was on 14 June 1947 that William Brazel, a farmer near Roswell, New Mexico, found a lot of silvery wreckage on his land.(1) At first he did nothing, but on 8 July, following news reports of flying saucers in the area, it occurred to him that this might be one of them, and he reported it to the sheriff, who passed it on to the Air Force, who told the press that the mystery of the flying discs would now be solved. According to the official report, however, when they got there it proved to be merely a balloon. This they declared at a press conference, and the incident was totally forgotten for over thirty years. Their initial announcement suggests that, if they had captured an alien spacecraft, they would have said so.
Nonetheless, persistent rumour, at least in California, had it that a saucer had indeed crashed and that the Air Force were busily learning the secrets of its technology: a 1949 memo by Meade Layne of the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation (an organisation mainly devoted to recording channelled messages from “The Etherians”, as they called the ufonauts) reported that two scientists, one of them “Dr Weisberg, a physics professor from a California university” had seen a crashed disc with six dead occupants.
The source of Layne’s information is unclear, but soon people started to talk. In February 1950 Barney Barnett of Socorro, New Mexico, told some visiting friends that when working near Magdalena, New Mexico (nowhere near Roswell) he had chanced across a crashed metallic disc, 25 to 30 feet across, with dead bodies of small humanoids around it. Some archaeologists also saw it. Then the military turned up and ordered them all away.(2) This sequence of events was the template for many subsequent stories.
On 8 March 1950 a lecture was given to students at the University of Denver, Colorado, by a mysterious man who claimed that a saucer had crashed at Aztec, New Mexico (hundreds of miles from both Roswell and Socorro), in the spring of 1948. The man was later identified as Silas Newton (left), and his testimony was used as the basis for one of the first UFO books, Behind the Flying Saucers, by Frank Scully. Silas Newton was a partner with one “Dr Gee”, who claimed that later two other saucers had crashed in Arizona, and that he had been privileged to examine all three. The first two both had a (dead) crew of sixteen, the third only two. He believed they came from Venus. Dr Gee claimed to be a magnetic scientist, though what he said on the subject (“there are 1,257 magnetic lines of force to the square centimetre”(3)) was utter drivel.
Scully also described how Gee and Newton had developed a magnetic device which could detect underground oil deposits. Two years later, this led to their arrest on a charge of fraud. They had been trying to sell their device for $800,000, but according to police it was “a worthless piece of war surplus equipment” that they had bought for $4.50.(4)
In the spring of 1952 one Bill Devlin was told by a soldier he met on a train from Philadelphia to Washington that he had been one of three drivers who took the remains of a saucer, along with “sixteen or so” small bodies, from Aztec, New Mexico, to Fort Riley, Kansas.(5) This is the other main type of crash story, the military man who was there after the civilians were cleared away, and who is sworn to secrecy by frightful penalties, though willing to violate it to casual acquaintances. His story of a saucer at Aztec with sixteen small bodies is consistent with that in Scully’s book, though since this had become a bestseller, it is hardly independent confirmation.
In February 1954 President Eisenhower went on a golfing holiday in Palm Springs, California. On 20 February he went off leaving his entourage behind, and the press corps started speculating wildly as to where he might have gone. In the evening a press secretary explained that he had had to make an emergency trip to a dentist. This did not satisfy the rumour mongers, who quickly put it about that that the President had secretly gone to Edwards Air Force Base to view a crashed flying saucer. Sure enough, three months later Meade Layne received a letter from a man named Gerald Light, who claimed to have visited the base himself and seen no fewer than five different alien craft that the Air Force was studying.(6)
Badly piloted UFOs kept on crashing, so it was said, in among other places Arizona, California, Montana, Pennsylvania, British Heligoland, Spitzbergen, Mexico, Sweden and Brazil. Invariably the local military picked up the pieces, except in the case of a four-foot saucer (left) that fell on Silpho Moor near Scarborough, Yorkshire, which was bought from the finder by a civilian and put on display in a local fish and chip shop.(7) Though such stories went out of fashion in the sixties, in the seventies Leonard Stringfield renamed them “retrievals of the third kind”, and, having thus put the subject on a scientific basis, began a collection of anecdotes: he learned for instance of a room in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, “in which several small humanoids were preserved in a glass case”; two disc-shaped craft at Wright-Patterson, with four small bodies preserved in chemicals; and the 1953 crash of an oval object near Kingman, Arizona, in which was a dead four-foot tall alien.(8) By the end of the decade he had accumulated nineteen retrieval stories, all different.
According to one tale, in the late 1940s, the photographer Nicholas von Poppen (d. 1975) had been flown to ‘Los Alamos’ airfield, where he was paid to photograph a flying saucer, 30 feet in diameter, which still had four dead aliens, dressed in shiny black one-piece outfits, in their seats in front of a control board. The only problem is that there was no air base at Los Alamos; obviously, he was told that was where he was as part of the cover-up.(9)
The problem, for the rigidly scientific ufologist, was that the witnesses did not fully confirm each other’s stories. In general terms they agreed that alien spacecraft had crashed and come into the possession of the military; but the crash sites were all different, the bodies (varying in number from one up to sixteen) and the wreckage were supposed to be stored in a variety of Air Force bases and other places, and where dates were given they did not match up. Yet soon this was to change.
Jesse Marcel, one of the officers who had picked up the wreckage from Brazel’s farm, used to talk about the incident, stating that he believed that the object had indeed been an extraterrestrial spacecraft. When Stanton T. Friedman was interviewed on TV in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 21 February 1978, to promote his lecture tour “Flying Saucers Are Real”, a friend of Marcel’s who worked there mentioned him. Friedman often heard “Stories of acquaintances who claimed to know someone who worked with a guy who said he knows where the bodies of a ‘flying saucer’ crew are stored”, but was always unable to follow them up.(10) This was different, a real man who had handled the wreckage.
Later that year Friedman also heard about Barney Barnett. He passed both stories on to William Moore, who then needed a subject to form a sequel to the bestseller he had co-written with Charles Berlitz, The Philadelphia Experiment. A crashed UFO was suitably sensational. Asked in an interview by Gray Barker if he was investigating saucer crashes, Moore was reticent, but said: “If I were working on this, I would take one particular rumor, one of the more persistent ones, and devote all my investigative efforts to that one case.”(11)
Though the original newspaper reports, and an interview with Marcel, were not nearly enough to fill a book, they were padded out with crashed saucer rumours generally, glossing over the discrepancies with regard to dates and places. They were able to bring in Barney Barnett’s claims by suggesting that the saucer had exploded over Roswell, leaving the wreckage that was found on Brazel’s farm, but that most of it travelled another 125 miles to crash near Socorro. (Or perhaps, in a variant of the urban legend, there were at that time only two UFOs in the whole of the New Mexico airspace, and they collided with each other.) Eisenhower’s 1954 disappearance could have been to view the Roswell saucer, they suggested, failing to explain why it was seven years before the President took an interest.
The Roswell Incident was indeed a bestseller, so much so that the subject has dominated ufology ever since. Suddenly, lots more witnesses (and people who had heard the confessions of witnesses since deceased) came forward with their Roswell, 1947, stories, which none of them had ever felt the need to tell before, enabling the publication of a whole series of subsequent books. Frankie Rowe said her fireman father told her he had been on the way back from a fire when he came across the crash, and saw “two little corpses and one person running around”. Iris Foster, of Taco, New Mexico, said one “Cactus Jack” had told her of seeing a round object and four little bodies. More than one archaeologist, who had been out looking for evidence of early American settlements, testified: “I was there and saw everything.” Jim Ragsdale, who was there with his girlfriend, saw the craft and several small beings, but, “While observing the scene, we watched as a military convoy arrived and secured the scene. As a result of the convoy’s appearance we quickly fled the area.” So did the others.(12)
If all these people are telling the truth, then we have to assume that a flying saucer crashed in a semi-desert region, and for four weeks no one chanced to go near it but the farmer on whose land it was. Then, suddenly, a whole crowd of people, who were in the vicinity for a variety of reasons, archaelogists, courting couples and so on, all happened to converge on the wreckage by pure accident. Just then the army arrived, preventing them from getting any proof. Such synchronicity would be a remarkable anomalous phenomenon in itself.
In 1979 Sergeant (as he had been in 1947) Melvin E. Brown read the Daily Mirror’s review of The Roswell Incident, and told his family – he had married an Englishwoman and lived in the UK – “I was there. Everything in the article is true.”(13) This would be rather more compelling if he had told his family the story before it had appeared in a national newspaper. It will have been observed that, whilst no pattern emerges if one takes the alleged dates of these crashes, there is a definite pattern if one takes the dates on which the various stories are first known to have been told.
The different accounts still do not agree: most say that the craft was a disc, but Frank Kaufmann (who claimed to have detected the crash on radar from White Sands) claimed it was wedge shaped, and that there were four corpses and one living being – others say three corpses, two corpses and one alive, three corpses and one living, and so on and so forth.
Space does not permit me to deal with the claims of Philip Corso and others to have been employed to ‘back engineer’ the wreckage, but I have often wondered at a technology that enables the Greys to navigate safely across nine trillion miles of void from Zeta Reticuli, only to smash into the ground on arrival. Perhaps at this very moment American saucers, built in Area 51, are crashlanding near military bases on the aliens’ home planet.
1. Roswell Daily Record, 9 July (evening) 1947, quoted by Klass, Philip J., The Real Roswell Crashed Saucer Coverup, Prometheus Books, 1997, 20-21. The date of the initial discovery is often given, wrongly, as 5 July.
2. Berlitz, Charles, and William Moore, The Roswell Incident, Granada, 1980, 97-98, 57-63
3. Scully, Frank, Behind the Flying Saucers, Victor Gollancz, 1950, 163
4. Jacobs, David Michael, The UFO Controversy in America, Signet, 1976, 51
5. Berliz and Moore, op. cit., 108-109
6. Good, Timothy, Alien Liaison, Century, 1991, 56-58
7. Randles, Jenny, UFO Retrievals, Blandford, 1995, chapter 4
8. Stringfield, Leonard H., Situation Red: The UFO Siege, Sphere, 1978, 190-195
9. Berlitz and Moore, op. cit., 99-101
10. Berliner, Don, and Stanton T. Friedman, Crash at Corona, Marlowe, New York, 1997, 9
11. Gray Barker’s Newsletter, issue 9, December 1979
12. See for instance Hesemann, Michael, and Philip Mantle, Beyond Roswell, Michael O’Mara Books, 1997, 42-50
13. Ibid., 50-51