Wednesday, October 23, 2019

James A. Lee of the Interplanetary Space Patrol

James A. Lee (1900 -1979) is one of the ufologists that time forgot. When Lee is mentioned in UFO literature, it’s generally for his role in investigating the famous UFO case in Levelland, Texas. Even then, it’s often only in passing, as in these two books from key authors on the saucer subject:

Flying Saucers: Top Secret by Donald Keyhoe, 1960, chapter, November Crisis:
“The great ‘flap’ of 1957 began on November 2... It began near Levelland, Texas, on Highway 116. The cases described were confirmed for NICAP by Sheriff Weir Clem and NICAP member James Lee, exactly as they were reported to the Air Force.”

J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience A Scientific Inquiry, 1972, Footnote #6 to chapter 10, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

There is much more to the story of James A. Lee and his research, but only a fraction of it was documented, mostly through newspaper stories. Thanks to the work of STTF’s Claude Falkstrom, we've pieced together a clearer picture of Lee and his UFO work.

A Student of the Universe

James A. Lee was born near Abilene, Texas, and had an interest in science and the mysteries of the universe. In 1929 he began selling healthcare accessories, and in 1941 opened the the Lee Medical Supply Company, which sold hearing aids, “rubber household gloves, walking canes and many other items, Lee was also a life-long amateur short-wave radio operator, from 1924 on his “ham” radio to communicate with others as far away as Hawaii. 

James A. Lee, 1965
Lee was a member of the the Ancient and Mystic Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC). On their behalf, in 1933 Lee presented a copy of Rosicrucian Principles for the Home and Business to the local library to help spread the word. Lee’s studies over three decades of exotic books helped him develop a hypothesis for the origin of tornadoes in 1954. He was convinced that scientists were wrong about space being a vacuum, and that it was filled by Ether, the solvent of all matter. Tornadoes were leftover energy from God’s creation of the world: “When the earth was created, space or the ethers began to spin... this whirling element measured millions and millions of miles across. He went on to say that, “There is no such force as gravity... All things are forced to the earth by the vortex of ethers...” Therefore, when conditions were right, it was these whirling ethers that sometimes formed tornadoes. 

Lee’s radio hobby developed into a network in the early 1950s “composed of hams (amateur radio operators) throughout the Southwest who are interested in technical and scientific data. Hams from at least 42 cities and towns take part in the information-swapping sessions which start a 9 p.m. Mondays. Lee was the informal leader of the group which “ delved into science, UFOs, astronomy and other related subjects.” They originally called themselves “The Screwball Net” for several years, but around 1955 adopted a new name, “The Interplanetary Space Patrol.” 

Space and Saucers

Lee was a member of the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), the relatively conservative UFO organization headed by retired Major Donald Keyhoe, the man who popularized the hypothesis that: flying saucers were real, they came for outer space, and that the US government covered it up. Lee followed Keyhoe’s lead, and he spoke about publicly about the UFO topic, including it in his lecture for the Hardin–Simmons University’s Science Club, “A Study of the Universe” on March 1, 1957.

Saucers were just part of Lee’s interest in space, though. In March 1957, he was seeing to gather thirty volunteers  and $1,500 to establish a “Moonwatch station” in Abilene to monitor the planned US launch of earth satellites which were to begin launching in January 1958. The chairman of the Smithsonian Institute’s technical steering committee met with Lee in Abilene and added his support. Selection of volunteers began in April.

May took Lee back to the UFO business, and he travelled to George Van Tassel’s Interplanetary Spacecraft convention at Giant Rock in California. Contactee Howard Menger was one of the feature speakers, but James Lee wasn’t listening. According to the International News Service story published in The Tyler Morning Telegraph, May 5, 1957:
“James A. Lee of Abilene, Texas was cruising the desert area in his special car rigged with an ‘infrared beam’ detector designed to track spacecraft that may have been spying on the flying saucer meeting.” (More later about Lee’s “Space Wagon.”)

A Message from Space

The Soviets beat the US into space, and in October 4, James Lee was one of the ham radio operators listening to the transmitted beeps of the satellite Sputnik 1 as it orbited the earth. James A. Lee had a lecture on UFOs scheduled for Sunday Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. at the Terry County Amateur Radio Club at Brownfield, Texas. The night before, two space-related things happened. Sputnik 2 launched from Russia on November 3, 1957, and at almost the same time, one of the most famous UFO sightings occurred in the United States, in the Levelland, Texas area, just 29 miles away from where  Lee was to lecture.

Late in the evening of November 2, 1957, several independent reports of a giant lighted object were phoned into the office of Sheriff Weir Clem in Levelland, Texas. Some of the callers reported that their vehicle’s engines were stopped during the sighting, apparently electromagnetic interference. Here’s a link to summary of the Levelland case hosted at the NICAP site. It’s by J. Allen Hynek from his 1972 book, The UFO Experience, pages 123-128.

Levelland Video from WKY-TV:
Sheriff Weir Clem and witness Newell Wright interviewed

On hearing of the UFO sightings, Lee rushed to Levelland and shadowed Sheriff Clem as he questioned the witnesses. Lee was interviewed for the radio and newspapers, and stories appeared in nationally via news services. Lee made the bold assertion that the Levelland UFO “was a space craft from one of the neighboring planets.” Lee phoned in a report to NICAP, and the case was the lead story in their magazine, The UFO Investigator, Jan. 1958.

Loren Gross, in UFOs: A History: 1957: November 6th Supplemental Notes on Lee’s investigation:

“Unfortunately for Donald Keyhoe, the one NICAP investigator on the scene in Texas was a Mr. James Lee of Abilene. Lee was not the most objective UFO detective. Compounding the problem was the fact Lee headed his own UFO group, 'The Interplanetary Space Patrol,' a name which sounded like a TV show starring Captain Video. Lee was his own 'boss' thus hard to rein in. Statements on November 6th was more about "mass space ship" invasions then discussions of evidence, but while written documents by Lee may have to be treated with caution, it seems he and his fellow investigator Roger Bowen tape recorded interviews with Levelland witnesses, data of value if they are ever found in someone's attic today.”

The Ballinger UFO Investigation

Another UFO sighting in the area was discovered, one from Nov. 1, about 230 miles to the  southeast of Levelland. A big mysterious light had been seen over an oil rig in Ballinger, Texas, and once again, Lee traveled to investigate. Loren Gross' UFOs: A History: 1957: November 7th-12th  provides clippings and commentary on the Ballinger UFO investigation.

“NICAP's James Lee rolled into Ballinger, Texas, on the 8th of November to gather more data. It was hard to miss Lee when he came to town. He drove a 1949 Cadillac with special control panel just above the dashboard. The panel was filled with gadgets, dials, and all sorts of controls. Lee nicknamed the vehicle the "Space Wagon." The controls were for more than just show. Lee had a complex short-wave radio transmitter in his car so he could communicate with other ham operators.
Lee had plenty of opinions about UFOs but that didn’t mean he was speaking with Keyhoe's blessing.” 

A prime example of Lee speaking his opinions without NICAP's blessing from The Abilene Reporter-News, Nov. 9, 1957:

James A. Lee... whose hobby is the study of flying saucers makes these assertions he says are based on interviews with various witnesses of the saucer occurrences: 

1. That "there is a probability something big will happen this month," as "indicated" by messages received from the unidentified flying objects by certain U.S. residents. 

2. "Beings" in the saucers have learned English and their voices exist on recorded tapes in this country. 

3. Saucers must be from other planets, possibly Mars or Venus, and the smaller saucers ostensibly sighted on earth are remotely-controlled by mother ships. 

4. The Pentagon in Washington was deliberately “buzzed” by saucers several years ago.

The Abilene Reporter-News, Nov. 9, 1957

The Final Years

For some reason, by 1958 James Lee’s enthusiasm for the Moonwatch project died. He said, “I don’t think such a station is necessary now. You can see these satellites without using complicated equipment. Lee also had a negative opinion of rockets for space travel, saying, “They’re not practical for space travel.” He thought solar or magnetic powered flight was the way to go.

The Abilene Reporter-News, Feb. 2, 1958
Lee continued to lecture, speaking about astronomy, outer space, and sometimes, saucers. He continued to be a member of NICAP and responded to their 1961 request for ham radio operators to attempt the creation of a national “UFO Network,” similar to the one he ran in  Texas.

NICAP’s The UFO Investigator, July-Aug. 1961
The Abilene Reporter-News, Jan. 1, 1965

Lee continued to be a UFO proponent, but was less active publicly. Due to health problems, Lee retired from his medical supply business in 1969. He died ten years later on September 5, 1979.

The July 7, 1965, Abilene Reporter-News  contained a letter to the editor by Lee replying to a news story containing authorities' prosaic explanations for flying saucers. James A. Lee's last known comments on UFOs blasted the skeptics. “Weather balloons? How ridiculous can intelligent people be?

The Abilene Reporter-News, July 7, 1965

. . .

Sources, Clippings and Further Information

The most detailed news story on James A. Lee and his UFO work appeared in The Abilene Reporter-News, Nov. 6, 1957. The complete text follows.

Did Abilenian's Talk Bring Levelland ‘Saucer’? 

By Warren Burkett, Reporter-News Staff Writer 

The "dateline" is Abilene, Texas, November 6, 1957. 
Here is the statement: 

"We are referring to the statement of Dr. Donald Menzel of Harvard College Observatory. His remarks to the effect that the Texas 'Bright Lights' are nothing more than a mirage is, to say the least, ridiculous and not based on known facts. 
"The days of the skeptics are numbered and they had better find a good place to hide away, for even the entire population of our large cities will see these ships as they come in from outer space. They will soon come in large numbers for all to see, and the skeptics will not have a leg left to stand on.
"There is no need for alarm over the situation at this time." 

This statement, given Wednesday morning to one of the nation's news wire services, is signed: "Jim Lee, Director, Interplanetary Space Patrol."
Jim Lee, director, Interplanetary Space Patrol is James Lee of 1834 Bellinger St. in Abilene. He is a 57-year-old businessman, tall and grey-haired. He was born in the tiny community of Hodges about 15 miles north of Abilene. He is married and has two sons, went as far as the 10th grade in Hodges school, buys and reads every book published by Harvard University, talks about his family with loving pride, studies until midnight every night and sleeps beneath one of the largest headboard bookcases in existence reaching almost to the wall on either side of his bed. 

He builds amateur radio sets and helped a blind man build and operate his own radio set and provides him with recorded tapes from the books in Lee's library He speaks in a calm reasonable fashion things. about the doggondest things.

He's currently in the news from Boston. Mass, to California be cause of the mysterious lights which were seen Saturday night and Sunday morning near Levelland, Tex. By 5 p.m. Sunday,  Lee accompanied by blind Roger Bowen, 38, of Hodges, reached Levelland. There they interviewed all who had seen the lights, felt their effects and speculated on what they saw. 

Lee is convinced these Levelland lights are a space ship from another planet. He notes that the glowing object was seen on four roads around Levelland. And being seen was the purpose of the visit from these interplanetary visitors, says Lee. 
Lee says these aerial phenomena are often seen where Lee and others who believe like himself are scheduled to speak on 1. "unidentified flying objects," 2. visitors from outer space and 3. un known beings who direct the operation of the "lights in the sky" with a plan and a purpose. 

Why should these "beings" make the "lights" appear near where they are to be discussed? "It's a mailer of conditioning the minds of the people," Lee says. "Remember," he declared, "I don't buy all these stories. That's the problem, we get took in quite often." But, says Lee, where there are qualified observers such as newsmen, law enforcement officers or reports confirmed by ship or airplane radar, he believes. 

Why did the lights appear Saturday and Sunday? Lee was scheduled to deliver his illustrated lecture on "unidentified flying objects" to the Terry County Amateur Radio Club at Brownfield, 29 miles south of Levelland. Why did the "space ships" appear at Levelland instead of Brownfield? Lee says the roads are more traveled around Levelland, and the "lights" would be seen by more people. 
And Lee's free lecture in this tiny radio club shack at Brownfield was delivered at 2 p.m. that Sunday afternoon, complete with his forecast that more of the objects would be sighted. About 150 persons heard him, Lee says. 

Lee has been called by more than a dozen radio stations scattered all across the United States since he returned from Levelland, equipped with tape-recorded statements from the people who saw the lights. 
"I can tell you it takes guts to say these things," Lee declares, "I'm hubbing up against the big shots now." He's contradicted statements from engineers and scientists including Dr. Donald H. Menzel, director of the Harvard College Observatory, a man big in Lee's own field of self-study for 20 years, astronomy. And that's about the same length of time he's been fascinated by the thoughts of space travel.

If Lee's contention that the mysterious lights are being used to condition the people of the world to the appearance of things from outer space, Abilene may see the lights next Monday night. That's the next meeting date for the Interplanetary Space Patrol, a group of 100 amateur radio operators who tune together around the world each Monday night at 9 p.m. and talk about space visitors. This Monday is the night when Lee's special guest will be Ray Stanford of Corpus Christi, a 19-year-old man who spotted a "flying saucer" on Padre Island, off Texas' Gulf Coast, in 1954. 

. . .


Interplanetary Space Patrol newsletter from late 1957, thanks to the AFU.

The Project Blue Book file on the Levelland case makes no direct mention of James A. Lee, but it contains several news clippings featuring his investigation and opinions on the sighting.

Kook Science Research Hatch: James A. Lee (a short profile)

The Interplanetary Space Patrol (newspaper article)
The Brownfield News, Nov. 10, 1957:
“Interplanetary Space Patrol Holds a Unique Interest for Local ‘Hams’” by Charlie Maple

NICAP PDF collection of Levelland UFO clippings:

Frank Edwards: Making UFOs Newsworthy

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