Tracing the Traces
Maurizio Verga

From Magonia 16, July 1984

Traces (i.e. imprints, marks and residues on the ground and/or vegetation) ought to provide physical proof of a tangible phenomenon interacting with our reality. Indeed, it is probably the one aspect of UFO study – with the possible exception of photographs – which has enabled the ufologist to refute an interpretation in purely psychological terms; for traces imply that the phenomenon is not something perceived subjectively, belonging only to the senses of the witness, but truly something with physical attributes.This physical ‘proof’ has been put forward by the ‘extraterrestrialists’ as support for their contention that material UFOs – ‘spacecraft’ – exist. The ETH is plainly on the decline, and its proponents rely heavily on physical trace evidence to keep its tenets alive.

Physical traces are often a very difficult problem for any conceptual theory. We have had, for example, the proposition of an ‘interdimensional entity’, able to assume physical characteristics; and the adoption of paranormal phenomena such as poltergeists and psychokinesis to explain the mechanics of trace creation. It is almost impossible to consider the phenomenon in terms of a hypothesis without taking account of the physical trace evidence.

Trace evidence is one of many aspects of the phenomenon with a clearly contradictory nature. These contradictions may be used as a basis to propose a multiple origin for the phenomenon; that is, several different manifestations as a specific function of specific conditions. It is enough in this context to consider those cases where a UFO is seen on the ground, and yet apparently leaves no traces – in practice certain UFOs leave physical traces, others do not. Even when we bear in mind that we are always dealing with witness accounts, often poorly investigated and without recourse to the psychology or perception of the event, it would still seem that the phenomenon (if objective) does not display strict or consistent criteria. On the contrary, its criteria are highly changeable, probably because of a completely unknown ‘something’, which may well be linked to the individual characteristics of the witness.#

Of course, if UFOs did have an entirely subjective origin, then the problem would immediately take on a new dimension. Apart from traces which were outright hoaxes, the remainder would presumably be made unconsciously, and absence of traces would be explicable in terms of witnesses inability to manufacture them, perhaps because unconsciously he is unaware of his need to give evidence of his subjective experience. This hypothesis is admittedly improbable, although the belief that UFOs do produce traces is deeply rooted in the popular belief.We can question the opinion that traces provide proof of the material nature of the UFO phenomenon in two ways: firstly by considering natural phenomena capable of producing traces, secondly by considering the facts and figures, as well as the standards of practice, of present day field investigations.In nature there are several causes able to produce remarkably strange trace marks under certain circumstances. These include fungi, plant and grass diseases, lightning, animal habits, whirlwinds and other weather conditions, helicopter slipstreams, defoliation and so on. Furthermore the action of man on the environment can also result in ambiguous traces – cars, carts, agricultural equipment, fires, etc. Discovering such a trace after a local UFO sighting can easily lead to their connection with ‘alien activity’. Even is situations where no UFO was seen, the appearance of a trace, especially when circular, can  reawaken distant memories in the collective conscious of stereotyped flying saucers and their alleged effects.

Both material (e.g. notoriety) and psychological (stimulation by a flap in the vicinity) factors may come into play. The existence of concrete evidence tends to make any case more credible, no matter how spurious it may in fact be. Traces often are unusual, even if quite explicable. The cultural belief systems and possibly emotional states can soon lead to the creation of abstruse hypotheses and speculation, even on the basis of naturally or artificially produced explicable phenomena.

These points are critical, and must be carefully borne in mind. The discovery of a   ‘trace’ tends to set the witness thinking in terms of a UFO; and of course, if there is a type-I sighting at the root of the discovery, he will often go to the area where he saw the UFO (either on the ground or low down) with a view to finding evidence of the reality of the experience. This is not only to convince others, but often to prove it to himself. This intense desire to find proof can easily lead him to discovering a myriad of insignificant anomalies – a broken branch, animal tracks, the remains of a fire) and relate them to the UFO. This is a typical scenario for a UFO seen in the distance, where often the exact location of the landing or near-landing is not known.

Less common is the deliberate false linking of spurious traces with a ‘genuine’ UFO in order to make the sighting more believable. Even so, in my view this latter scenario is quite feasible for many rational people who would not otherwise behave in this fashion.

The above possibilities must be taken very seriously when investigators do not follow up the ‘traces’, but merely rely on the word of the witness. When investigators do visit the site we should then expect them to validate or invalidate the traces. But the reality of the matter is often rather different.

Unfortunately, an investigator is usually on the same level as the witness, having the same unconscious needs and beliefs. He is usually unprepared in terms of scientific methodology. He may well have a strong desire to present a ‘classic case’ to his colleagues, or have a belief system which includes the material reality of the UFO phenomenon, thus anticipating trace evidence. All of these can lead to frequent and serious errors, if the investigator attempts to support his ‘ambitions’ and ‘needs’.

Obviously there are some truly strange and apparently unidentifiable traces, but their percentage is fairly low – even if it cannot be termed negligible. In any case, a number of doubts must remain. Natural phenomena or human activity could precipitate apparently inexplicable traces. If the circumstance is rare enough the possibility of identification is close to impossible, except in a few luck cases.

However, these possibilities are too important to overlook. The much extolled ‘physical evidence’ is based on a small number of baffling cases, and of these only a fraction (perhaps 25%) are investigated in sufficient depth. Most ‘incontestable proof’ actually stems from newspaper articles or nothing more substantial than the witness’s say-so.In other words, what we term the ‘trace phenomenon’ is but a small residue of well-investigated reports; about 3.6% of the total volume of reports according to data passed to me by Ted Phillips (Phillips’s TRA-CAT, an international catalogue of trace cases, actually now having more than 2 100 entries).

We must also not forget the outright hoax. Such frauds may be perpetrated for many reasons: financial, psychological, advertising, or merely as a joke, The number of trace cases determined to be hoaxes is actually quite remarkable, although not excessive – perhaps as a result of the inherent difficulty of proving a hoax. Some ‘mysterious’ substance placed at the site, coupled with a good recitation of a fabricated tale, and the gullibity of ufologists and journalists can produce but one result… fake evidence presented as proof of an alien technology. Only the exceptionally skilled or rational investigator (often with the aid of Lady Luck) can rescue the situation at a later date… but this certainly does not happen in many cases.

I believe that I have discovered two fundamental aspects of the traces question, giving us much cause to rethink our attitude towards it:

1. The explanation of most trace reports is to be found in terms of both natural and artificial origins. The range of these is so broad that their identification is often next to impossible.

2. It is impossible to accept some investigation reports as a basis for scientific data. Investigators too often are guilty of extreme subjectivity and emotional involvement. This makes identification of traces very difficult. Not being at the site oneself, one can only assign ‘possible’ or ‘probable’ identifications, which is to the detriment of serious research, although UFO fanatics can ‘easily turn it to their advantage by distorting the true situation.

This means that practically all of the so-called trace data is useless in terms of scientific evaluation. We are left with a residue that seems to be small, but not negligible; this seems to show the apparent physical reality of a seemingly unknown phenomenon (although unknown most certainly does not mean alien). But even so we must realise that the best of our investigation and research does not allow strict scientific determinations to be made. We can never totally exclude rare natural explanations. My future research will base itself upon this selected sample of high-strangeness reports – the apparently unknown residue. This is essential if one is to study the subject scientifically.

The conclusion I must reach is this: we cannot be certain that the UFO phenomenon has a physical basis. It is naturally difficult to accept this conclusion; but if we wish to develop a serious field of research then we must learn to accept the destruction of deep-rooted dogmas and common illusions. We need courage to re-think our basics, and understand what is wrong with them. Above all, we must search for understanding and not cling to belief. 



UFO Evidence in an American Reservoir.
Alan W. Sharp

From Merseyside UFO Bulletin, volume 6, number 1. July 1973

Alan W, Sharp takes a critical look at the classic Loch Raven Dam Case

On the evening of Sunday October 28, 1958 two friends* were out driving in the outskirts of the city of Baltimore, Maryland, at about 10.30 p.m.The winding road took them past Loch Raven Dam on an allegedly dark, moonless, clear and starry night, bereft of any bright planets. No wind eras reported so that calm conditions likely prevailed.

No information is given in the original report by Jacques Vallee concerning the existence of human habitations or street lights (except that staff in a ‘nearby’ restaurant heard an explosion at 10,45 p.m.) but of course there is always some light in the vicinity of any large town. Nor is any such information available in the more recent treatment by Hynek (2), who incorrectly places the reservoir in Delaware (Appendix I, p 239). Neither of these authors offers any explanation for the UFO sighting which the two friends Mr C and Mr S, then made as they approached the first bridge across the lake. The case is presented as yet another mysterious item of alleged UFO evidence.

Rounding a right-handed bend they approached the bridge from a northerly directions with a cliff on the left and the water to their right only to see, floating above the bridges a mysterious and alarming “egg-shaped” object about 100 feet in diameter and about the same in height at an estimated 75 to 100 feet above the superstructure of the bridge, a modified Pratt truss steel structure about twenty feet high at the top points of its two independent spans. Thus the UFO was, according to Messrs C and S, one hundred feet or more off the ground at roadway levels though it seems likely that this figure was an  overestimate.

On first noticing the hovering UFO the men were travelling at between 20 and 30 m,p.h. at a distance of some 200 to 300 yards from the bridge, but speed was immediately reduced to around 10 – 12 m.p.h, Eventually when the car was a mere 25 yards from the bridge it suddenly stopped, the engine went dead and all the lights went out, just as well, perhaps for otherwise the intrepid friends, who thought the object might have been some sort of ‘blimp’ (balloon) would have found themselves on the bridge more or less immediately under the UFO!

Turning the ignition on failed to energise the starter motor, and Messrs C and S were now “pretty frightened”. Nevertheless they contrived to observe the UFO through the windscreen (which must have been difficult in view of the UFO’s — by then –presumably highly elevated position) for an unspecified length of time before getting out of the car and running behind it for some protection. (How this position helped is hard to see if the object under surveillance was so close so high and so large as it was reported to be.)

After a further lapse of about half a minute during which they were now “terrified” (S) the UFO which had “been glowing with an irridescent glow” seemed to flash “a brilliant flash of white light”, (C )and seemingly gave off a terrifically bright light, (S) whilst “at the same time we felt a tremendous heat wave” (S) and both “felt
 heat’ on our faces” (C) -  but: “It didn’t seem like the heat of a burning object but something like an ultraviolet light or some kind of radiation”. (S)Concurrently with the flash of bright light there was a loud noise, described as a “dull explosion” by C and as a “tremendous thunder” by S. This was the sound heard by the other people in a ‘nearby’ restaurant. “Then very quickly, so that you couldn’t get the proper sequence of events the object started to rise vertically. The only different feature it had while it was moving was that it was very bright and the edges became very diffused so that we couldn’t make out the shape as it rose. It took from five to ten seconds to disappear from view completely. We were very frightened”.

The two men thereupon got in their car, which now functioned normally, and drove home poste haste to report their experiences to the police. They asked the policemen if they had noticed if the witnesses face’s were red but the police said they had not., Subsequently the two men went to a local hospital for a check-up and a doctor said C’s face was slightly red but S’s was not. Next day S said that his face was noticeably a little redder. He later remarked: “I hoped what I did see would add to the national interest or national information that would maybe help understand these things a little better. I do know there are at least such things now as UFOs”.’

The experience had become a UFO sighting of the ‘close encounter’ type and displayed a good many familiar, awesome overtones; putting these aside however, what did the sighting amount to?

Two men saw an unexpected object which they considered bore some resemblance to a Naval ‘blimp’ stationary a short distance above the ground. After a few minutes they witnessed a bright flash of light from the object and simultaneously heard the sound of an explosion. The object then quickly rose up and disappeared.’
The answer is simple. The UFO was a balloon, a large partly deflated balloon carrying a payload. The payload was jettisoned by the activation of an explosive charge (3) and the balloons lightened of its burden, quickly rose up out of sight. The battery on the balloon evidently run down, was unable to provide much current to the balloon’s light until after the severance when the light came on and illuminated the underside of the fabric.

No doubt the payloads which might already have been partially submerged, disappeared into the lake, probably. on the north side of the bridge judging from a photograph in Vallée’s book, but the men were too excited to hear any splash there may have been. Presumably this payload is still lying on the bottom of the reservoir. Someone should go and retrieve it, just out of interest. It might also be of some scrap value.

As far as the car electrical malfunctioning is concerned, if Venus can perform this feat from a distance of over twenty million miles why not a balloon from a hundred feet or so? One is reminded of the case mentioned by Craig on page 761 of the Condon Report (4) where a cylindrically-shaped balloon released from Boulder, Colorado, eventually found its way to the Azores where it was sighted – and stopped all the clocks! For some reason one never reads of the most likely reason for malfunctions of car electrics, namely loose or dirty contacts and run-down batteries. Such things are common sources of failure, especially in autumn and winter. Why do the cars (often) start again after a while? Because the contacts have improved and/or batteries recover sufficiently when relieved of load for a time.

My advice to ufologists? Do not take too much notice of ufological electrical failures in cars and, if you live within striking distance, go and recover the lost treasure of Loch Raven, provided the authorities haven’t beaten you to it. They may not have done so, however for the good reason that neither the USAF nor Project Blue book evaluated the sighting at the time and no-one (including Drs Vallée and Hynek) has been able to do do since.


  1. VALLEE, JACQUES and JANINE, Challenge to Science. Neville Spearman, London. 1966. (pp 191-194)
  2. HYNEK, J ALLEN, The UFO Experience; a scientific enquiry. Abelard Schuman. 1972. (pp 215, 221, 222)
  3. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. Bantam Books. 1969. (pp 755-760)
  4. Ibid,, pp 760-761

* The witnesses have subsequently been named as Philip Small and Alvin Cohen


Roy Dutton responded to Alan Sharp’s article in the following issue,  August 1973

Whilst attempts to remove the elements of mystery from UFO stories are to be welcomed, in my view Alan Sharp stretches the bounds of credibility too far in his rationalisation of the Loch Raven Dam incident. (MUFOB 6.1)Alan Sharp’s first error seems to be his interpretation of the word ‘blimp’, used by the witnesses to describe the object. ‘Blimps’ were not merely balloons but non-rigid airships, used by the US Navy for coastguard and other duties as recently as the mid-1960s. Since these things patrolled the Eastern seaboard, one would expect residents in the Baltimore area to have been well acquainted with them, even at night.Familiarity with Navy blimps could account for the fact that the Loch Raven witnesses continued to travel on towards the object, despite its unusual location and unfamiliar appearance. From the description of the object, they probably interpreted what they saw as a three-quarters frontal view. It is my guess that initially they were eager to get as close as possible, because the opportunity

 to witness an airship some 280 feet long and having a mean maximum diameter of about 80 feet (typical dimensions for a USN blimp) can be guaranteed to draw a crowd anywhere in the world. Only when the car engine died and the sights went out would their excitement become anxiety, and by then they had approached too close to the object for comfort.
Assuming that the underside of the object was in some way illuminated, as the report implies, the witnesses should then have been able to discern whether the thing hovering virtually overhead had the necessary excrecences to qualify as a blimp – an underslung cabin, engine nacelles and, perhaps, large control surfaces at the rear. I suggest that when the witnesses finally clambered from, and crouched behind the car, they had become very convinced that the object was not what they had originally assumed it to be, and naturally felt extremely vulnerable with only the windscreen separating them from ‘it’.

From this point in the incident it must be conceded that the subsequent events were witnessed by two men in a state of near panic. The obsessional concern for their faces after the flash of the explosion and the subsequent facial reddening could be attributed to an induced state of hysteria. (This should not be interpreted as implying inherent emotional instability; it could happen to anyone after a traumatic experience of the kind described.)

Alan Sharp’s explanation of the explosion seems attractive at first, but it is difficult to believe that so much explosive energy would be required to jettison a payload package, even one of large proportions; and surely, an airship would jettison ballast (water) to gain height. Consequently, it is my view that although the jettison idea may be just compatible with the met. balloon theory, it is an improbable suggestion for an incident involving an airship, unless the craft involved had been conducting some clandestine military experiment.

Finally, I wish to deal with the subject of car electrics. During some thirteen years of motoring I have never known an electrical failure of the kind described in this report. The fact is that although such failures are not impossible, they are highly improbable.
Consider the case of the faulty or run down battery. From my own experience, as soon as the engine is running above tick-over speeds, which is usually the case when the car is moving and in gear, the dynamo will continue to supply power to all the electrical equipment, even when the battery has been completely flattened. Further, since it is possible to remove the battery altogether after starting the engine, loose or corroded battery terminals seem to be irrelevant in the context of the Loch Raven report.

I suggest that only a large induced back-E.M.F., a massive short circuit of the electrical supply (albeit for a short period), or an improbable sequence of faults and chance events could produce such a complete systems failure as the one described.To conclude, without the failure of the oar electrics it would be reasonable to believe that the witnesses had seen a USN airship in unusual circumstances, (The Wallops Island Naval weapons testing stationer is only 100 miles or so to the south of Baltimore, and this thought must have occurred to the Blue Book investigators) but as events stand, in my view the Loch Raven object must surely remain unidentified. 


The Search for Physical Evidence: Maury Island. John Harney


Since 1947, the hypothesis that UFOs are spaceships from other planets has been popular. Accordingly many ufologists have devoted much time and effort to attempts to obtain physical evidence of such visitations. Physical evidence can take many forms and, unfortunately for the protagonists of the interplanetary spaceships theory, can be subject to many different interpretations. In this series an attempt is made to review some of the physical evidence and alleged physical evidence which has come to light during the past twenty years. There is no doubt that during this period, ufologists have come across a certain amount of physical evidence during their researches – but physical evidence of what?

The Types of Evidence to be Considered

In this series we will confine our attentions to the following types of evidence real or alleged:

  1.  Substances or objects said to have been jettisoned by, ejected by, or fallen from, UFOs.
  2.  Reports of captured UFOs and their occupants.
  3.  Markings on the ground, damage, etc, allegedly caused by UFOs.
  4.  Physical injuries to witnesses allegedly caused byUFOs.

The Maury Island Case

Strangely enough, as in several other aspects of the UFO mystery, we must consult Arnold’s account of his investigations of the alleged Maury island sighting of 1947 (1) to find the precedent for subsequent reports of physical evidence of UFOs.

The main physical evidence in this case was described as locking like slag, and was said to have been seen falling from a UFO. Some of this material was given to Kenneth Arnold and he kept it in his hotel room during his stay in Tacoma for his investigation of the incident. During his investigations Arnold, who had already called in his friend, Captain Smith, an airline pilot, to assist, felt that he was getting out of his depth with all the mysterious incidents which were, apparently occurring and he called in Lieutenant Brown and Captain Davidson of Military Intelligence.

Brown and Davidson saw the fragments, but, according to Arnold, seemed to suddenly lose interest, after one of the witnesses in the case, Fred L. Crisman offered to go home and get a box of fragments from the ‘UFO’ to present to the officers. The officers insisted that they had to get back to their base at Hamilton
Field California and Arnold pleaded with them to stay the night, especially in view of the fact that they were both obviously tired.

Just as the transport arrived to take the officers back to their aircraft at McChord Field, Crisman arrived with a cardboard box full of chunks of material which, Arnold noticed seemed to be somewhat different from the fragments in his hotel room. The fragments were handed over to Brown and Davidson and they drove away.


The next morning Kenneth Arnold and Captain Smith were horrified to learn that Brown and Davidson were dead. Their aircraft had crashed some twenty minutes after take-off from McChord Field.  Two other men who were in the aircraft had parachuted to safety. One of the survivors told how Brown and Davidson had loaded a heavy cardboard box on to the plane. When one of the engines caught fire and the extinguishing device failed to operate, Lt. Brown ordered him and the flight engineer to jump.

It is said that the survivors watched the burning plane for a period of from nine to eleven minutes during their descent This observation has naturally caused much speculation as to why Brown and Davidson did not jump out. A local newspaper, the Tacoma Times, published a sensational report of the tragedy, containing suggestions that the plane had been sabotaged in order to prevent the shipment of flying disc fragments to Hamilton Field.

The next major development, so far as the physical evidence is concerned in the tortuously complicated story of Arnold’s adventures in Tacoma came when Captain Smith went to McChord Field to consult Major Sander of S-2 Army Intelligence, and brought him back to the Tacoma hotel to see Arnold. After hearing everything from Arnold and Smith, Sander remarked that he was positive that the two men were victims of a hoax.

Major Sander then made a remark about the fragments, which were lying on the floor. He started to pick up a few of them and told the two men that he would take them for a drive and show them thousands of tons of the stuff. However, he said that Arnold’s fragments would have to be analysed “for the sake of being thorough”. He then began to gather the fragments together and insisted that all of the pieces should be handed over to him.

Sander then placed the fragments in the boot of his car and drove Arnold and Smith to a place which was apparently a dumping ground for slag from blast furnaces. The slag looked somewhat like the fragments, but Arnold felt sure that it was not the same sort of material, and Sander did not offer to compare it with the pieces in the boot of his car. Arnold thought that the slag was more like the material he had seen Crisman giving to Brown and Davidson.

Ruppelt refers to the Maury Island case in his book,  The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.(2) For some obscure reason he gives fictional names to the characters involved, and refers to Arnold as “Simpson”. He gives the impression that he believes that Ray Palmer who sent Arnold to investigate the incident for a fee of 206 dollars was a party to a hoax devised by Crisman and his colleagues Dahl. The official Air Force report on the incident concluded that it was merely a hoax.

Apparently, Palmer had already obtained samples of the original material in question in this cases as well as a sample of the slag. He published analyses of both substances in the book, The Coming of the Saucers, but, strangely, although he gives a detailed analysis of the slag only a vague indication of the make-up of the other substance is given, merely indicating the metals said to be present.

After the lapse of over 21 years it is doubtful if we shall ever know the full and true story behind the events at Tacoma but the fog of confusion created either deliberately or unintentionally and the peculiar actions of the people involved together with the failure to publish a proper analysis of the material in question is typical of many reports which followed



1. Arnold, Kenneth and Ray Palmer. The Coming of the Saucers. Privately published by the authors, 1952.
2. Ruppelt, Edward J. The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. Ace Books Inc. New York.


UFO Crashes: An Emergent Pattern. Gareth Medway

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.

silas nwtonOn 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.

denverpostScully 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)

silphoBadly 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