Harry Tokarz was founder of the Canadian UFO Bureau. This article comes from MUFOB new series 11, Summer 1978.
Throughout the past 30 years UFO investigators have amassed a wealth of reports dealing with close encounters by credible witnesses. Many of these reports have proven invaluable to those who have dedicated themselves towards the task of piecing together one of the greatest scientific puzzles of the 20th century. Data has been passed on to scientists and amateur researchers alike by UFO percipients, contactees and abductees, and this information is scrutinised, evaluated and catalogued for reference. In effect, people from all walks of life and from throughout the world have contributed graciously to this ongoing investigation by having the public spirit to step forward and relate their UFO experiences to competent parties. These people have, by working closely with investigators, unwittingly persuaded us to look at ourselves and our universe in a different way.
Although these witnesses have greatly assisted one part of the population, their stories seem to have an adverse effect on another group. Many eventually suffer indignities from those who cannot fathom their claims. Have you ever noticed the behavioural effects that the mere suspicion of the UFO ‘presence’ has on a large proportion of our society? UFO witnesses have been troubled by such manifestations for years.
There is no ‘average’ UFO witness. People from all walks of the population and from various ranks of the military services have been unexpectedly confronted by unusual ariel phenomenon. Subsequent investigations have borne out the validity of their testimony, and they are resentful of the flimsy explanations that are often thrown to the public. These people are in a very precarious position, and there is little they can do, and what happens to the witness after the investigations is unfortunately beyond the control of the investigators or the witnesses themselves. UFO investigators invariably hear a frequently repeated complaint from witnesses: “I wish I had never reported this sighting”.What is behind this regret? Were they so severely traumatised by their UFO encounter that
they could not cope with it afterwards? Some certainly were, but out of a cross-section of 31 close encounter cases studied, 28 were definitely not. What the majority of the percipients dreaded since the day they made that fateful report was the ‘depraved’ public reaction. Since their report they seemed to inherit a wide variety of new difficulties. The emotional impact is tremendous and the UFO incident becomes secondary in this new chain of events.
In many cases the UFO witness stands alone against vast numbers of curious, sceptical and downright hostile people who do their best to make his or her life miserable. Immediately following the press reports and the spate of unwanted publicity, an interesting variety of characters come ‘out of the woodwork’ to converge on the home and privacy of the vulnerable ‘celebrity’. If the hoards of curiosity seekers and ‘little old ladies in tennis shoes’ with tape recorders were not enough to contend with, many witnesses in recent years have been intimidated by a now breed of visitor: the violently disposed. They are awakened by publicity given to a witness and seem to object to the ‘candidness’ of a percipient, sometimes to the extent of threatening death if he continues to repeat his story. The very existence of a significant UFO report or a sighting of ‘entities’ affects the security off many people in different ways. Some turn to ‘hard’ scepticism, and successfully convince themselves ‘It can’t be, therefore it isn’t’. These people become harmless ‘scoffers’, unwilling to recognise that their attitude is emotionally rooted.
But what about the deranged individual who would threaten the witness or attempt to ruin his livelihood because his report aroused some dark emotion? The general public is largely unaware of the continual harrasment incurred by percipients, even years after their report is made public.
Robert Suffern knows he saw an ‘extraterrestrial’ being near his Bracegirdle, Ontario farmhouse on October 7th, 1975, and sceptics be damned! If only it were as simple as that. The 27-year-old carpenter encountered a darkened circular craft in the middle of a gravel road, and nearly run down a small, silver-suited, helmeted figure, while investigating a report that his barn was on fire. Suffern was shaken by the event, but he was a reliable witness and gave researchers some excellent details, and provided a ‘scoop’ for reporters, who considered it good copy. His troubles had just begun.
By October 9th the wire services had picked up his story and many newspapers played up the sensational aspects. Then followed an almost ritualistic parade of investigators, reporters, curiosity-seekers and outright cranks, to the Suffern’s farm. One group set up a night vigil ‘skywatch post’ on the roof of the house. In the weeks that followed, Suffern was inundated with uninvited visitors who tramped around his property day and night. The phone rang continuously at all hours and he eventually had to get an
unlisted number. As a father of two he became justifiably furious at two men who drove up one day in a Volkswagen and threatened his family if he persisted in talking to investigators. He ejected them from his property but the threat remained in his mind, and caused his considerable mental anguish. Two years later, with the movie Close Encounters rekindling public interest in the UFO phenomenon, Suffern reports that his children have “once again started receiving the treatment at school”. To a parent this represents one of the worst forms of cruelty one can inflict upon a child. Suffern finds it incredible that his children should be subjected to ridicule for an experience he himself had two years earlier, and one to which he does not seem to attatch a great deal of importance. In his own words: “I know what I saw, and seeing is believing but I don’t care whether I ever saw that creature again. If it happened all over again I would never tell anybody!”
To make matters worse, various religious groups have capitalised on his experience, and attempted to convert him to their beliefs. The crank mail keeps rolling in like clockwork.For many individuals the mere mention of the UFO phenomenon stirs up deep-seated fears. For some, the mere hint that ‘their’ world and ‘their’ state of being are not the centre of the universe is enough to release a lifetime of pent-up emotions and frustrations. Chronically unstable individuals may react violently towards any unfortunate UFO witness who crosses their path. Man reacts to a given situation on the basis of habit and precedent. The ‘unknown’ presents a problem. Harmless ‘rejection’ of any subject comes easily if the person has only been fleetingly exposed to it. Perhaps the crank who surfaces after a well publicised UFO incident senses ‘truth’ in the incident, cannot reject it as a hoax and thus appease his fears, so sets out to silence the percipient.
As a matter of note, these individuals should not be confused with the many Men in Black reports, since they have distinct identities and have been tracked down by law enforcement agencies in many cases. In one particular incident a veteran publisher of UFO literature in Toronto received a series of handwritten letters threatening his life if he continued to publish UFO books. The anonymous writer professed intimate knowledge of UFOs and seemed ‘disturbed’ by the accuracy of various accounts being published. The handwriting was eventually traced to a former subscriber who felt it was his duty to harrass researchers and witnesses alike. He was reprimanded by the local police, but the following week the publisher received an identical letter.
In some cases the harrassers, when confronted off guard, seem hypnotically entranced. Some feel they have a mission to accomplish. John Keel has concluded that many individuals are ‘manipulated’ by unseen forces connected with the UFO phenomenon, and carry out ‘assignments’ of which they have no knowledge afterwards. The answers to the immediate problems of UFO witnesses are rather more mundane. One must ask, can public attitudes really be expected to change when our own governments have systematically been contributing to the problem for the last thirty years?
Carmen Cuneo, a worker at the Domtar Mines in Caledonia, Ontario, thinks not. His troubles began after he observed three stationary UFOs at close range one night while leaving the mine to relive himself. In addition to the landed cigar-shaped craft with two smaller disc-like objects hovering close to it, he spotted several small beings moving around the landed object. It was clear that he was watching a so-called “soil gathering party” in progress, and he retreated to get the mine forman as a back-up witness. As he returned with the forman Merv Hannigan they both had time to watch the three craft slowly depart into the night.
The following day, after traces were found and an oily substance discovered in the area, Cuneo and the forman were subjected to a series of insults both from the mine management as well as from their co-workers. The ridicule was tolerable, but then Cuneo received a telephone call at home one day, which was not so easy to ignore. According to Cuneo “the caller knew a lot about me personally and he seemed very up-tight about me telling the story around”. The clincher came when the anonymous ‘military-type’ voice threatened injury to his family if he continued to discuss the case. The perplexed miner took it to be a hoax, but chose to keep quiet and get an unlisted phone number “just in case”. The flow of weird calls then ceased, but Cuneo has never ceased to wonder about what kind of characters he was really dealing with on the phone. Were they capable of carrying out their threats? Those calls still haunt his memory.
The dark-age mentality apparently still flourishes in the twentieth century; we still find self-professed witch-hunters who have not come to grips with the times. If you still doubt that UFO reports don’t arouse man’s vilest emotions, consider the following cases of ‘lynch mob’ mentality.
The first case involves Jeff Greenhaw, another credible person thrown into an incredible set of circumstances. At 23 years old. Greenhaw was the police chief of Falkville, Alabama, with the distinction of being the youngest in the state. One night in October 1973 he received a call from an anonymous woman who claimed a spaceship with blinking lights was landing in a pasture west of town. Greenhaw drove along a gravel road towards the site when, nearly two miles from the police station, he came face to face with a six-foot metallic creature standing in the middle of the road.
“I got out of my car and said ‘Howdy stranger”, Greenhaw related, “He didn’t say a word. I reached back, picked up my polaroid camera, and started taking pictures of him”. Greenhaw took four polaroid colour prints. He then got back in his patrol car, and turned on the flashing police light. A chase ensued, in which Greenhaw eventually ‘spun out’ at 45 mph on the gravel road, claiming that the creature actually outran the car.
After he related his story and presented his photos on NBC-TV news, he began receiving anonymous threatening phone calls. A man telephoned Mrs Greenhaw stating, “I’m going to get your husband for taking my picture:” More threats rolled in day after day. Three days after the incident, Greenhaw’s car ‘blew up’. Two weeks after that an arsonist set fire to the family’s house-trailer and completely destroyed it. To make things worse his wife decided she had ‘had enough’, left him and sued for divorce. Shortly after that Greenhaw resigned as Police Chief under pressure from the City Council. Before being literaly ‘driven out of town’, the young lawman, a graduate of the Alabama Police Academy, stated bitterly to pursuing reporters: “I’ve been harrassed ever since I photographed that thing. I don’t see how much worse my luck can get.”
Actually, ‘luck’ played no part in these events. Greenhaw’s problems were created, instigated and carried out by the very people he once protected in his line of duty. The emotionally rooted biases of an entire town had destroyed a man whose only crime was to photograph an “alien entity”. As to the authenticity of the incident, a UFO investigator who followed the case closely stated: “Anybody who attempted such a hoax would have been foolhardy to try and frighten a (armed) policeman”. But authentic or not, it is clear that the very idea of an extraterrestrial being spotted near their town completely transformed normally rational townspeople into terrorists with an axe to grind. Time after time it is proved that ignorance breeds fear.
In the following case the aftermath was even more dramatic, and the witness was plagued by “seven years of rotten luck”. But, spin, luck seems to have had nothing to do with it, rather a lack of education and emotional instability. Herb Schirmer,[left] like Jeff Greenhaw, also held the distinction of being the youngest police chief in his state. In 1967 he held this rank in the town of Ashland in Nebraska. One December night when on patrol he came upon a massive ‘saucer-shaped’ craft at the side of the highway. Thinking at first he may have been coming upon a truck accident, it soon became clear that he had stumbled upon a ‘flying saucer’. He then saw a glowing humanoid figure moving towards his car, and attempted to draw his gun. At this point he found himself immobilised, although his senses were still with him. He claims that the creature applied an instrument to the back of his neck, leaving an unusual welt, which remains on his neck. He then blacked out.Later he came to his senses and raced back to town. When he reported the bizarre incident, it became obvious that there was a length of time which he could not account for. In the course of investigations Dr Leo Sprinkle put Schirmer under regressive hypnosis, whereupon Schirmer reported that he had been taken on board the craft and had
communicated with the ‘alien’ he had met. A wealth of information was obtained through many hypnotic sessions, but as researchers know only too well, the data obtained is difficult to evaluate, since ‘alien communications’ over the years have been invariably misleading and confusing. Physical traces were found at the site; a piece of ‘shiny metal’ disappeared into the hands of military investigators; the tape of Schirmer’s emergency radio transmission to HQ vanished, and the familiar pattern of controversy began.There was the usual barrage of threatening phone calls, followed by the dynamiting of his car, culminating in the hanging and burning of an effigy of the police chief in the centre of the town. Remember, this was 1967, not 1567!
Schirmer’s wife eventually succumbed to the campaign of terror and divorced him. Like a re-run of the Greenhaw affair, the Ashland Town Council also fired him from his prestigious job. Years of ‘bad luck’ then followed him around as he moved from state to state trying to establish new roots and forget about his experience with the UFO. As fate would have it, his picture and story were well publicised at the time, and he was constantly recognised as “that UFO nut from Nebraska”. At one point he had saved enough money from menial jobs to form a business partnership in the state of Washington, until one day his partner came across a news cutting of the events in Nebraska and absconded with all the funds. For some UFO witnesses there seems no escape from the harrassment and degradation.
A noted psychiatrist involved in the study of UFO witnesses, Dr Berthold Schwarz, has said that: “anybody who’s been in the field for a long time and studied the people part of the UFO equation has got involved in the thing with his own emotions. He’s been ripped up himself”. A well known contactee of the early fifties, Howard Menger, gave an emotional speech in 1967 to sum up his alleged experiences. To the Congress of Scientific Ufolagists he stated:
“I often wonder what would happen to those people who say, well what proof do you have? If I could see a flying saucer or someone step out of a craft, boy, I would make sure people knew about it. Well, I just wonder about that. If you realise what people go through when this happens to them. If you really think you have guts enough to come out and tell people. Of course nowadays it may be a little easier, but in the early fifties it was very, very rough, especially when you are in business and you are trying to act like a reputable citizen and bring up a family and, you know, things like this in your community”.
Time and time again, people who see UFOs and their occupants at short range are victimised. Who can they turn to? The sad answer is nobody. UFO organisations around the word are concerned to elicit information from the witness, to “sort the wheat from the chaff”, and offer a certain degree of consolation. But they are not equipped to deal with the psychological problems that develop from harrassment by misguided people. To make matters worse, the military establishment and law enforcement agencies, whom the public should be able to turn to in Ihis kind of crisis has itself become a symbol of distrust in UFO related matters. Those individuals who desparatly turned to the aimed services or the Air Force in the past, soon came away realising that they would rather face the ‘public nuisances’.
The crux of the matter lies in mankind’s complex belief structures; frames of reference that are squired through human experience, and actions that have always been used in this stimulus. And with his dual nature the actions have been both positive and negative.To the close encounter UFO witness who is prepared to come forward with his experience for us to study, we can offer out thanks… and our condolences.