Friday, May 18, 2018

UFO Promoter, Lawrence Brill: From Crime to Conferences

In our introduction, After the UFO Crash of 1969, we looked at how the closing of Project Blue Book seemed to cause a decrease in the public's interest in UFOs for several years, but in 1973 the topic made a big comeback and by the next year, UFOs were big business again.

In 1974, Lawrence Brill presented two UFO and paranormal conferences in Florida's Tampa Bay area featuring superstar guests; top talent, from experts and best-selling authors, to scientists and alien abductees. The events received major news coverage, but one lecturer made a stunning disclosure that overshadowed all the rest. A professor revealed that the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency directed the cover-up of UFOs, and that they possessed physical evidence of flying saucers and their occupants. It would change ufology forever. But, before we examine the story of conferences and the UFO evidence...

Who was Lawrence Brill, and how did he come to put on the show that made it all possible?

The Brill Family Business

The Morris J. Brill Agency ad from 1945.
Ready with financing help and sincere salesmen. 
1947 is known for the start of the flying saucer fever, but at that time, Lawrence Brill was a 23-year-old real estate salesman from Racine, Wisconsin. The Racine Journal Times from December 3, 1967, featured a retrospective that sets the stage:

20 Years Ago. December 3, 1947: A public hearing to determine whether Lawrence Brill should be granted a real estate brokers license was scheduled to be held in Racine by the Wisconsin Real Estate Brokers License Board. Brill formerly held a salesman‘s license and was employed by his father, Morris J. Brill. Licenses to the elder Brill and two of his salesman, George Brill and Herman Kaplan, were revoked Nov. 4 when the board found them guilty of “misrepresentation, untrustworthiness and improper dealing in real estate transactions.” The hearing was scheduled to determine Lawrence Brill’s trustworthiness to operate as a broker.

Brill's brokerage license was granted later that month, but with a stern warning:

“The board had a duty to treat Lawrence Brill as an individual and not penalize him for any misdeeds of his father, brother or brother-in-law. If the board was unable to connect Lawrence with any of the questionable cases investigated, then it had no alternative but to grant the license. But in granting the license the board warned that Lawrence must not be associated with any of the other three members of the former agency and any real estate transactions. This imposes a responsibility on Lawrence to make sure that he lives to up to the letter of the board regulations. The board and the people of Racine have a right to demand this, and doubtless will maintain a keen interest in seeing that it’s done.

- The Racine Journal Times, Dec. 22, 1947

Link to larger images of this and other Lawrence Brill articles.
In 1948, Lawrence took over the family business, renaming the real estate enterprise the “Lawrence Brill Agency.” What did not change was the family method of operation, and eventually the “misdeeds” came to a head. In 1954 Lawrence and his brother George Brill were among those arrested for a real estate scheme. The storm passed and they got back to business as usual, but it was a strong clue of what lay ahead. Lawrence managed to avoid getting his photo in the paper, and this picture of George is the closest we found to a picture of him anywhere.

Racine Sunday Bulletin, Oct. 24, 1954
The cards came tumbling down in 1967, with the legal proceedings following for several years. The two clippings that follow show how fraud and financial irregularities brought the Brill Agency down.

One of the biggest upheavals on Racine's commercial scene in many a year came with the collapse of the Lawrence Brill Agency's rental housing empire. Once the largest manager of rental housing in the city, controlling as many as 2,000 units, the Brill Agency folded in 1967 and went into bankruptcy, listed about $1 million in unsecured debts, $9 million in contingent debts and assets of $344,000. The bankruptcy proceedings are still in progress. In a related action, the state this year brought a variety of charges against brothers George and Lawrence Brill, who operated the agency as a partnership. The charges allege violations of Wisconsin securities law, theft and theft by fraud.
- The Racine Journal-Times, January 11, 1970:
"'60s Racine's Eating, Buying Habits"

Betty Flannery, former bookkeeper for the Lawrence Brill Real Estate agency testified in 1969 that, “by and far most of the properties lost money” in the year leading up to the bankruptcy, with losses running about $30,000 to $40,000 per month. “I told him five or six times that he was losing money but it was difficult for him to believe it because he planned things so carefully."

- The Racine Journal-Times, Feb. 17, 1969

Jumping ahead in the story, ultimately the Brill brothers were found guilty, but served no time or paid no penalty, only given five years probation. In 1974, they were ordered to repay 11 cents on the dollar for their bankruptcy debts.

Flight to Florida

In 1967, while the legal proceedings were just beginning, George and Lawrence Brill left Rancine and moved to Florida for a fresh start in Tampa. There, Lawrence Brill became a member in local social clubs and civic organizations, and his wife Nora (nicknamed Noni), took an active role in the Tampa arts community. The connections they made in these social circles would prove to be important later, when they were introduced to psychics.

Lawrence Brill reinvented himself as the president of Pandora Enterprises Inc., a company based in Tampa, both retailing and wholesaling hair pieces, wigs and fashion accessories. The company also operated under the names, Hair Goods, Inc., Wig Factory Inc. and reportedly, Palucha Enterprises. In a 1970 interview with The Tampa Tribune, Brill was asked about the rising popularity of synthetic wigs. Fake hair had caused his sales of human hair wigs to drop by 90 percent. Brill was no seer, but, “He predicts that within a year the demand for human hair will return if New York designers create styles that demand genuine hair for their execution.”

By 1974, Brill’s company had three retail stores under the name of Wig Wardrobe. In the registration, Brill’s wife Nora was named as vice president, and Cynthia B. Stanley was listed as the director. It was through friend and business partner, Cynthia Stanley, that the initial connection was made that would lead to the UFO and paranormal conferences. The story “Saucer Symposium Held” in Willoughby, Ohio’s The News-Herald, Nov 3 1974 by Joel Greenberg told how it all began:

The seed for this unlikely gathering was planted nine months ago in the mind of Cynthia Stanley, who works for Palucha’s three Wig Wardrobe Stores in Tampa. While driving around town last February, Ms. Stanley suddenly decided to stop at Halarion House a now-defunct spiritual church. There, psychics Ernest and Bernadine Villanueva “read my aura,” the electrical field that surrounds the head, she recalls. Ms. Stanley says she has now become an adequate “table-tapper” — she can induce spirits of dead persons to tap answers on a table (one tap for yes, two for no). At Palucha director Lawrence Brill’s home, where the Villanuevas psychically swung a 150-pound chandelier, got PSI (Psychic, Spiritual, Intuition) Conferences off the ground.

High Society

Lawrence Brill took on the role as director of PSI Conferences, and with the help of rising psychic star, Bernadene Villanueva, they were able to gather an impressive roster of celebrities for their first conference, PSI ’74. The Tampa Tribune, Aug 1, 1974, describes a social event held in honor of two of the starring psychics.
Tampa Tribune, Aug 1, 1974
The article also names one of Brill’s other PSI directors, Dr. Edwin L. Stover, the chairman of
the Humanities Department, St. Petersburg Junior College (who also played with the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony). A later article lists Bob Mims, as a PSI Conferences director, another contact that Brill seems to have made through the high society clubs he and his wife belonged to. Lawrence Brill was the voice of the organization, however, and it was run through the company he owned.

With the support of advertising and media coverage, Brill's PSI ’74 was ready to launch. It was held on Aug. 2, 3 and 4, 1974 in St. Petersburg, Florida, with events at the Hilton Inn and the Bayfront Center arena. Lawrence Brill's story continues in our coverage of PSI '74 and the epic UFO conference that followed it.

In our next chapter: The first PSI conference, and the unpredicted response to the UFO witness.

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