Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Roswell: The Major’s Testimony

Decades after the report of a flying saucer crash in the New Mexico desert, Roswell became the king of UFO cases - and also the king of UFO hoaxes as well. Before the Alien Autopsy, the MJ-12 documents, the Roswell Slides and all the other phonies, there was some kind of genuine event, and it was backed up by the word of a credible witness. His name was Jesse A. Marcel, a retired Air Force. Lieutenant Colonel.

Around 1980 there were three articles in the Roswell Daily Record that document the rebirth of the flying saucer crash story. These rare items feature quotes by Jesse Marcel and Walter Haut with their first published thoughts on the possibility that the debris recovered in New Mexico was of extraterrestrial origin. Before getting to  those, we'll briefly recap the events from 1947 that led up to it all.

1947: New Mexico

Most people know the Roswell UFO crash story came and went virtually overnight in July of 1947. In New Mexico, near the town of Corona, William Ware “Mack” Brazel found some debris on the Foster ranch; tinfoil, paper, tape, sticks, and rubber from a kite-like object that was reported to have “at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil.” 

William Ware “Mack” Brazel

Mack was one of the last of the real cowboys, known for crushing the heads of rattlesnakes under his boot heels, and to him, the debris was as much a nuisance as a mystery. He showed some of the material to the local sheriff, who suggested it might be one of those flying discs in the news, and that it could be something the Army guys at Roswell might be interested in. Jesse Marcel was the intelligence officer at the Roswell Army Air Force Base in July 1947, and he caught the job of going out to see what was on the ranch. 

The Rapid City Journal (SD), July 8, 1947

A premature announcement characterized the object as a “flying disc,” but after being recovered and taken to Fort Worth, the scraps were identified by Warrant Irving Newton as pieces of a balloon and rawin target, and the press was told it was the remains of a weather balloon. Typical newspaper headlines said, “Army’s Disc Identified as Balloon.” 

Associated Press story and photos from Gen. Ramey's office.

There were plenty of other saucers stories in the news, and many of them went on to become classics, but the Roswell incident was closed and forgotten.

Skipping to the 1970s… 

Since the exposure of UFO hoax that was the basis for Frank Scully’s 1950 bestseller, Behind the Flying Saucers, crashed saucer tales were figuratively speaking, fit only for the junkyard. In 1974, Robert Spencer Carr resurrected the story, and it made headlines, making UFO crashes a marketable product once again. Stories about captured or crashed UFOs were a dime a dozen, but what was lacking was credible evidence or a witness. When the real thing surfaced, no one really cared at first.

Jesse A. Marcel, left active Air Force service in 1950 and moved back home to Houma, Louisiana, where he worked as a repairman of electronics. After the Pascagoula Abduction story, UFOs were big in the news in the 1970s, which may have prompted Marcell to share his saucer story with his ham radio friends. In 1978, over 30 years after the saucer headlines, two UFO researchers made contact Marcel and resurrected the story.

On Feb. 20, 1978, Stanton T. Friedman was on his UFO lecture tour in Louisiana, when he was told about a man in the area who said he’d once found pieces of a flying saucer. Friedman called Jesse Marcel the next day, to hear the story most of us have come to know. Unfortunately, Marcel couldn’t remember the date or some of the people’s names, and provided no documentation. Friedman listened with interest, but in his line of work, you hear a lot of stories.

Stringfield's presentation was reprinted in Flying Saucer Review Vol. 25, no. 6 

Next, Leonard H. Stringfield interviewed Marcel on April 7, 1978, and subsequently included the Roswell anecdote in his lecture (but not accompanying paper) “Retrievals of the Third Kind,” at the Mutual UFO Network Symposium at Dayton, Ohio, in July 1978. In it, Marcel was referred to only as “Major J. M.” The MUFON UFO Journal, August 1978 printed the revised and paper from Stringfield’s Symposium presentation, and the portion on Marcel was called “Abstract XVIII.” Marcel’s story was regarded as nothing special at the time, just one of Springfield’s many tales of anonymously sourced UFO crash recoveries. None of this reached the general public, at the time it was just titillation for well-connected UFO buffs.

Stanton Friedman let the Marcel story sit on the shelf until he partnered with Bill Moore, a ufologist whose star was on the rise. Moore had been working with Charles Berlitz, the author of bestselling books on paranormal topics as The Bermuda Triangle and The Philadelphia Experiment. A year after Friedman had spoken to Marcel, Moore came across 1947 newspaper articles about the Army's capture of a flying disc that confirmed that Marcel's story. That’s when Friedman realized they had something. Marcel had made no mention of the debris being from a manned craft or anything at all about alien bodies. To fix that, Friedman and Moore combined Marcel’s story with the fanciful secondhand account of Barney Barnett discovering a saucer and alien bodies to flesh out their narrative.


The Public Debut of Marcel’s Testimony on Roswell

As Moore’s Roswell book was being prepared, Jesse Marcel was interviewed by Bob Pratt on Dec. 8, 1979, later published in the National Enquirer, Feb. 26, 1980, as "Former Intelligence Officer Reveals... I Picked Up Wreckage of UFO That Exploded Over U.S." It was the public’s first taste of what became known as the Roswell Incident. Marcel described collecting the debris on the ranch, "I didn't know what we were picking up and I still don't know.”

National Enquirer, Feb. 26, 1980

Stanton Friedman was more certain. “William Moore and I have talked with at least 40 other people who have knowledge of this incident, and I am convinced that a flying saucer exploded…” He closed by saying, “It is certainly part and parcel of a long-term cover-up."

Bob Pratt’s article included a couple of UFO product plugs:

“Marcel’s story is told in the new movie, UFOs Are Real.”

“[William] Moore and Charles Berlitz are coauthors of a book on the crash, The Roswell Incident to be published in the spring”


The first product to market was the movie, UFOs Are Real, released Nov. 1979, sent to theaters as “Alien Encounter.” Edward Hunt directed it, and he co-wrote the film with Stanton Friedman who was also listed as technical consultant. It featured the first filmed interview with Jesse Marcel, and he was even pictured on the movie poster.

The UFOs are Real segment on Jesse Marcel and Roswell starts at 2:15.

UFOs Are Real, 1979

Marcel: One thing I was certain of being familiar with all air activities, that it was not a weather balloon, nor an aircraft nor a missile It was something else which, we didn't know what it was, it was just fragments strewn all over the area, an area about three-quarters of a mile long and several hundred feet wide, so we proceeded to pick up the parts. A lot of it had a lot of little members with symbols, that to me, I call them hieroglyphics, because I could not interpret them, it could not be read they were just like symbols from something that meant something. These little members could not be broken, could not be burned, I even tried to burn that, would not burn. See that stuff weighs nothing, it's not any thicker than tin foil in a pack of cigarettes. [Repeating what “one of the boys” told him.] Says, “I tried to bend the stuff.” Says, “It will not bend,” says, “we did all we could to bend it,” it would not bend.” Says, “We even tried making a dent in it with a 16-pound sledge hammer,” he says, “still no dent in it.”

Narrator: [After discussing another story] …Marcel escorted the wreckage on a B-29 to Carswell Air Force Base. The press was waiting for him, but he was told not to say anything by his commander, General Ramey.

Marcel: The newsmen saw very little of the material, a very small portion of it, and none of the important things like these members that have these members that had these hieroglyphics or markings on. They wanted me to tell them about it and I couldn't say anything. And when the general came in, he told me not to say anything, that he would handle it.

The film had a limited US theatrical release in early 1980, but UFOs are Real was more widely seen when syndicated for broadcast later in the year by local television stations.


In Search of the UFO Coverup

Jesse Marcel came back to Roswell in June of 1980 to be filmed for a television episode about UFOs. It made the local news in the Roswell Daily Record, June 11, 1980. Below is a clipping of the article, and  since the type is a bit unclear, the complete text.

‘UFO’ revisits city, via television show

By Lynne Vans, Record Staff Writer

The story of purported wreckage of a UFO found on a ranch near Corona in 1947 has returned to haunt Roswell.

Seth Hill, writer-producer for the television series "In Search Of," hosted by Leonard Nimoy, has been in the area working on a program titled "The UFO Coverup."

"The UFO Coverup." investigates charges that the U.S. Air Force has systematically covered up evidence of UFOs and alien visitors. In the program, Hill investigates two separate findings of what are presumed to be wrecked UFOs - the 1947 incident near Roswell and one in Arizona, which Hill declined to discuss.

Hill himself does not believe UFOs are alien visitors "surveying us to see how we're doing." His theory is that, many of the sightings are actually top secret test vehicles of the U.S. government.  Although a non-believer, Hill pointed to a remarkable similarity in UFO sightings. He also noted that many of the sightings came in areas where the U.S government conducted atomic bomb tests during the 1940s. And, despite widespread media exposure. Hill still feels that the uniformity of . descriptions submitted by people who make the sightings is too strong to dismiss as weather balloons, St. Elmo's Fire, reflections or high flying aircraft. All valid UFO sightings, he said, report a disc-shaped object with one or two modes of travel either very fast in a horizontal direction or a rocking motion like that of a leaf drifting to earth as the vehicle lands.

While in Roswell, Hill interviewed Paul Wilmot, son of Mr. and Mrs. Dan Wilmot The Wilmots had reported seeing a strange object that hovered briefly over Roswell, then headed for the northwest the night before the wreckage was found on a ranch near Corona.

Hill also had retired Air Force Maj. Jesse Marcel flown to Roswell from his home in Louisiana. Maj. Marcel was the security intelligence officer at Walker Air Force Base when the UFO wreckage was reported by ranch manager W.W. Brazel, now deceased. Marcel contradicted accounts of the incident released to the press by Brig. Gen. Roger Ramey at the time, which stated, that the wreckage was merely a weather balloon or a radar target. Actually Marcel said, there was far more wreckage found than the press reported, simply because most of it had been picked up by the time they got to the scene.

Marcel remembers collecting a small truckload of some kind of metal and other materials resembling parchment and wood. After the material was at Walker Air Force Base, Marcel was ordered to send it to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. However, Gen. Ramey overruled him, he said, and had the wreckage loaded onto a plane and flown directly to his headquarters in Fort Worth Texas. After loading the wreckage on the plane Marcel heard nothing further about it, but that’s the way the military works, he explained.

"The UFO Coverup" is being filmed for the fall schedule Hill says it will be aired some time in October, possibly on CBS Television.

The article was edited, shortened by the United Press, but the only published version we could locate was in the Longview News-Journal (Texas), June 12, 1980, “Legend returns to haunt Roswell.” 

A follow-up article on the filming of the In Search of episode from The Roswell Daily Record, June 13, 1980, included the questions Jesse Marcel was asked, and some answers that didn’t make it into the show, like his description of a parchment-like porous material he found. Vans’ article is an interesting account of how a witness testimony is produced for the typical television show.

The Roswell Daily Record, June 13, 1980

On September 20, 1980, Season 5 of In Search of…  opened with the episode, “UFO Cover-Ups.” It was produced and directed by Seth Hill, and hosted by Leonard Nimoy.

In Search of…  “UFO Cover-Ups

Jesse Marcel’s interview was edited down to a few clips to fit the short segment. Below is a transcript of Marcel’s comments used in the episode:

Narrator: The next day reporters heard that the Air Force had found fragments of a mystery object crashed on a remote ranch northwest of Roswell. Excitement ran high until officials announced it was only a weather balloon. Major Jesse Marcel in charge of the operation now tells a far different story.

Marcel: [Describing the press event.] They took pictures of course. They had a whole flock of microphones there. They wanted to me - they wanted some comments from me, but I wasn't at liberty to do that. So, all I could do is keep my mouth shut. And General Ramey is the one who discussed - told the newspapers, I mean the newsman, what it was, and to forget about it. It is nothing more than a weather observation balloon. Of course, we both knew differently.

Narrator:  Major Marcel had to keep silent because of his strategic position at that time. He was in charge of all security and intelligence on atomic tests in the United States and the Pacific. Marcel retraced his secret recovery operation across the hot New Mexico desert.

Marcel:  We left Roswell perhaps around 3:30 or 4 o'clock that afternoon... You can see it's flat. It is very difficult, in fact, with just verbal directions, we never would have found it. We had to follow the rancher out there.

Narrator:  The crash site was so remote it took an entire day to drive there.

Marcel:  The following morning we went out to this site where the crash was, and what I saw, I couldn't believe. There was so much of it. It was scattered - it was such a vast area. So, we proceeded to pick up as much of the debris as we could and loaded in the wagon. We filled that up. It took us a good part of the day to do that, ‘cause there were such small fragments and we had to do a lot of picking. We found a piece of metal about a foot and a half to 2 feet wide, and about but 2 or 3 feet long, it felt like you have nothing in your hands, it wasn't any thicker than the foil out of a pack of cigarettes. But the thing about it that got me is that you couldn't even bend it, you couldn't imbed - dent it, even with a sledgehammer would bounce off of it. So, I knew that I had never seen anything like that before, and as of right now, I don't know what it was.

Narrator: There is new evidence that the FBI then got into the case… [shows Peter Gersten discussing a FBI document on Roswell identifying the object as kite] What did crash in this desert, a UFO a weather balloon, a radar reflecting kite?

Marcel:  It was not anything from this earth, that I'm quite sure of. Because I, being in intelligence, I was familiar with just about every - all materials used in aircraft, and our air travel. This is nothing like that. It could not been. It could not have been.

Jesse Marcel’s segment closed by reminding viewers of his role as intelligence officer at the Roswell Army Air Force Base, which was the basis of his credibility. He went as far as suggesting the material was extraterrestrial, but again there was no mention by him of seeing - or even hearing about the recovery of bodies from the crash debris. If there were any, he would have been the man to know about it.


Bill Moore’s Book

Shortly after the episode aired, The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William Moore was published in Oct. 1980. 

Bill Moore was the primary author, but Berlitz got top billing due to his fame and franchise. Stanton Friedman’s research was mentioned in the book, however, he not credited as a contributor. According to the text, the Jesse Marcel quotes used in the book were from interviews with him conducted by “Moore and Stanton Friedman, February, May, and December 1979.” 

The National Enquirer provided another boost for the book in their Sept. 16, 1980, issue which published an excerpt. While it did not reach the bestseller status like some of Berlitz’s earlier works, the UFO book sold respectably, and reached a wider audience when reprinted in paperback. It was definitely a moneymaker. The Los Angeles Times, Sept. 7, 1980 reported that, "Columbia has picked up Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore's The Roswell Incident (Grosset & Dunlap: $10), about UFOs, for $250,000 plus. If a TV series should materialize, the studio has agreed to the ‘highest royalties they have ever paid,’ says the Swanson Agency, which did the negotiating." 

During the promotion for the book, Bill Moore came to the city of Roswell in late 1980.

A third article on the UFO involving Jesse Marcel appeared in the Roswell Daily Record, Jan. 2, 1981, but it was really focused on Bill Moore being in town to promote the book, The Roswell Incident. Marcel was just mentioned in passing by Walter Haut, the RAAF Base information officer who had given the flying saucer story to the press back in 1947. Haut had an art gallery (before opening the Roswell UFO tourist attraction) and was hosting an autograph party for Moore’s book. Haut didn’t give any indication of seeing anything unusual back then, joked about it and said, “I didn’t think much of it and the whole thing died on the base.”  

The recrafted Roswell story took a while to catch on, even in ufology. It received a big boost by being featured at the 1981 MUFON Symposium in the joint lecture by Stanton T. Friedman and William L. Moore, “The Roswell Incident: Beginning of the Cosmic Watergate.” After that, the story gradually became embedded in the the lore, but Roswell was still far from a household name.

Jesse Marcel was interviewed on film again for the HBO documentary America Undercover episode: “UFOs: What's Going On?” August 1985. His story remained unchanged. In none of the filmed interviews did he mention anything about the debris being switched for the press conference. Rather, he states it’s the same thing he picked up, just that, “The newsmen saw very little of the material, a very small portion of it…”

UFOs: What's Going On?

Jesse Marcel did not indicate that he thought the debris was from anything other than an unmanned craft. Kevin Randle addressed stories that surfaced after Marcel’s death in his 2016 book, Roswell in the 21st Century. In the section, “Marcell and the Bodies,” he shows how the documented statements contradict the rumors, and Randle notes that, “Jesse Marcel, Jr. made it clear that he and his father never discussed alien bodies with him.” Randle addressed how Marcel exaggerated his credentials, saying, “There are clear areas of resume inflation but none that is particularly egregious by itself. It is only in the aggregate that it suggests that Marcel had a habit of stretching the truth.” Jesse Marcel told a consistent story about what he found on the Foster ranch, but maybe he exaggerated how unusual the material was. But he certainly didn't invent a story out of thin air, even after being hounded by ufologists.

Jesse A. Marcel died on June 24, 1986. The Roswell story went on without him, and in time, grew bigger than life.

The Legend Takes Hold

Up until the late 80s, the renovation of Roswell was just another UFO story, told in part as a cautionary tale about the UFO cover-up. That status changed after it was featured on a top-rated network television show.

Unsolved Mysteries, September 20, 1989,  “Legend: Roswell Crash"

NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries, September 20, 1989, featured “Legend: Roswell Crash” as one of the stories in their season 2 opener. It featured ufologists Kevin Randle, and Stanton Friedman, and the show repeated the premise from the Berlitz-Moore book. The now-discredited Barney Barnett story was presented as if as genuine as Marcel’s testimony, which was shown via his 1979 interview clip from UFOs are Real. 

With the broadcast of the show, the Roswell story finally took hold in the public’s imagination and has since become an entertainment franchise. The popularity of the tale has overshadowed genuine UFO history, and many people today think of Roswell rather than the Kenneth Arnold sighting as the event that started it all. 

Had it not been for Jesse Marcel reminiscing to his radio buddies about a couple of strange days back when he was stationed in New Mexico, the story of an alien crash near Roswell would have never been written.

. . .

A Few Notes

Jesse A. Marcel's original unedited interview with Bob Pratt for the National Enquirer: Transcript of taped interview with Jesse Marcel Sr., Dec.8, 1979.

UFOs Are Real. Some trivia on the documentary. The MUFON UFO Journal, May 1980 had a short discussion by Walt Andrus of the movie :

Many of our Journal readers have inquired about the Group I motion picture titled "UFOs Are Real" and when it will be released after having had four "sneak" previews last November. Stanton Friedman, the scientific consultant for the film, has not been able to determine why it was not released to the motion picture theaters. In March, the Academy of Science and Horror Motion Pictures awarded the film "the Best Scientific Motion Picture for 1979." It is available on a cassette video tape in either Beta or VHS from your Fotomat store for a rental fee of $9.95 or may be purchased for $49.95. Many MUFON people appear in this 110 minute color video tape documentary such as Stanton Friedman, Ted Phillips, Marjorie Fish, Dr. Bruce Maccabee, etc. plus numerous dignitaries in the military and government. This film is a bargain for people who own or have access to video tape equipment.

Linda Corley interviewed Jesse Marcel in 1981, and published a book on it many years later in 2007, For The Sake of My Country: An Intimate Conversation With Lt. Col. Jesse A. Marcel, Sr., May 5, 1981. Corley discussed the events and the later reports of alien bodies, and even autopsies. Marcel said he'd been asked about that before and said, "Well, I don't know anything about that." She asked Marcel, "I wonder how you would have felt if you would have seen dead bodies." Marcel replied, "I would have picked them up and brought them in."  

1947 Roswell FBI Document. There were a few stray mentions of Roswell in before 1978, such as the article by Dr. Bruce Maccabee in the APRO Bulletin, Nov. 1977, based on his review of FBI files on UFOs. Maccabee found a document dated July 8, 1947. All he had to say about the incident, was that:

On July 8 a "disc" was found near Roswell, N.M. This "disc" was hexagonal in shape and was suspended from a balloon. This "disc" was sent to Wright Field by a special plane for analysis.

Crashed flying saucer stories became a marketable commodity in the mid-1970s chiefly due to Robert Spencer Carr resurrecting the hoax from the book, Behind the Flying Saucers, bFrank Scully.

Interest was high enough that at the same time Bill Moore and Stanton Friedman were finishing the Roswell story, an unconnected movie was being made, originally planned as a UFO documentary. The finished project, however, was an embarrassing work of fiction inspired by the Scully book. The movie Hangar 18 was released in mid-1980. For more the story of how it all happened, see: UFO and Alien Movies: It Came from Hangar 18.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Montana's Dubious UFO Landing of 1964

Late April 1964: The USA was abuzz with the news of a dramatic sighting in Socorro, New Mexico, that has since gone down in history as one of the most famous and credible UFO events of all time, the close encounter of police officer Lonnie ZamoraBefore the month was over, possible corroboration came, a multi-witness report from Montana of a similar object landing and also leaving traces on the ground. 
The professionals responding to the scene, police officers, journalists and Air Force investigators, were impressed, but unfavorably. They thought the trace evidence pointed to a copycat hoax, not a UFO. Nevertheless, the five children who were the sole witnesses to the saucer landing stood by their story.

The Canyon Ferry Five

The events of April 29, 1964, as reconstructed below from witness testimony, media accounts and Project Blue Book documents. 

The place: Canyon Ferry Village, about 20 miles east of Helena, Montana.

The witnesses: Linda Davis, 11, Tom Davis, 15, Pete Rust, 13, Diane Flittner, 15, Linda Flittner, 16. Bill Bahny, 17, was not a witness, but became involved after the sighting.

The Canyon Ferry Five

The date: April 29, 1964, Wednesday evening around 9:30 P.M.

G.D. “Bert” Davis was the supervisor of the Bureau of Reclamation’s project at Canyon Ferry Reservoir. Davis and his wife Louise were out for the evening, and Linda and Tom, their two children were home, but not alone. With them were friends Diane and Linda Flittner and Pete Rust. The kids said they were playing hide and seek when the UFO appeared. 

Linda Davis, was inside the house and first spotted a glow through the curtains from her bedroom window. She rushed outside to tell her brother Tom and the other kids, ran to the fence where they saw a car-sized glowing oval-shaped object descending from a height of about 20 feet. It was about 150 feet away from them and it landed for less than a minute, then rose back into the air and whooshed off like a rocket. They found a patch of scorched grass and a singed cactus surrounded by an imperfect square formed by four holes in the ground, as if left by the UFO’s landing gear.

Project Blue Book evidence photo.

The kids recruited an older friend, Bill Bahny, 17, to call the sheriff’s office about the sighting, but he was told an adult should be involved in making the report. After this, apparently Bahny or the others called local radio stations about the sighting. About an hour later, Mr. and Mrs. Davis got home. The kids showed them the site, and Mrs. Davis said, “There was a funny smell around the holes, not like grass burning, sort of like diesel fuel.” An adult (probably one of Davis parents) called the sheriff, and two deputies were sent out to investigate. To preserve the scene, Bert Davis staked off the area with string and used white wooden frameworks from their rose garden to protect each of the four holes. 

Witness Linda Davis poses at the landing site. The Montana Standard Butte, May 1, 1964 

April 30, Thursday

The next day was a flurry of activity. Area newspapers printed the first articles on the story, and curious neighbors, newsmen, police and Air Force investigators swarmed over the scene. Sheriff Dave Middlemas said that they were initially doubtful of the report because it was so close to Vigilante Day, a popular time for kids to play pranks, but nevertheless, he had notified the Air Force. 

When newsmen asked the kids if they’d heard about the Socorro, New Mexico, UFO reported by police officer Lonnie Zamora, one replied, “Oh, yes. We heard all about it last night on the radio.”

Mrs. Cyril Taylor and her evidence kit.

Neighbor Peg Taylor was a saucer buff, and she tried to help the investigation. "She showed Linda Davis a picture from the book Flying Saucer from Mars, and asked, “Did it look like this?” Linda said, “Yes, it did.” Taylor replied, “Well, you probably saw a flying saucer.”

The Great Falls Tribune, May 1, 1964

The Billings Gazette reported Thursday that some skeptics believed the UFO story was a prank to set up a saucer-themed float in the Vigilante Day parade that Friday in Helena. The next day they reported that “Sheriff’s officers are skeptical. …the holes… could have been dug with a shovel. Loose dirt had been dumped in several spots within 50 feet of the holes.”

The Billings Gazette, May 1, 1964

On Thursday, five Air Force investigators arrived from Malmstrom AFB. They examined the “landing site” and interviewed the kids for three hours. Some news stories reported that some other people in the area had seen a bright light in the sky that night, and UPI story of May 1 reported that “Residents in the area reported there was a black out or snowy reception on their television at the time and reported sighting.”

The Billings Gazette, May 3, 1964

The Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, MT), May 1, 1964

May 1, Friday 

The press continued, but the newspapers were not the only ones to cash in on  the saucer fever.

 The Independent Record, May 1, 1964

The Missoulian, May 1, 1964

The Canyon Ferry saucer was often mentioned in the press on the Socorro sighting, and chiefly interesting because of the landing site similarities.

El Paso Times, May 2, 1964

The Air Force "Leak"

On May 5,  it was reported that an Air Force spokesman said the case “was determined to be a hoax perpetrated on a younger sister and the show got out of control.”

The Billings Gazette, May 5, 1964

The hoax allegation didn't go over well with the children's parents.

The Independent Record, May 5, 1964

Apparently the “Air Force spokesman” had not been authorized to make the hoax statement, and they issued a denial.

The Billings Gazette, May 6, 1964

(NICAP’s) The UFO Investigator, July-Aug. 1964 carried a report on the Socorro case and briefly covered Canyon Ferry, stating: 

"The NICAP investigation has turned up conflicting information on the validity of the sighting, some of it backing up the Air Force conclusion of ‘a hoax..., a child's prank.’” The report concluded by saying, “A NICAP member spoke with two of the parents, getting a firm denial of any hoax from one, and a statement that he believed it was a hoax from the other. In an editorial on May 12, the Missoula, Mont., Sentinel sa1d that no one seemed to know where the Air Force got the idea the case was a hoax, and suggested the explanation - rather than the sighting - was a fabrication.”

What Project Blue Book Files Reveal

NICAP had suspected the Air Force conclusion of a hoax was itself a hoax, but the documents prove otherwise. The Project Blue Book 26-page file was labeled, “Canyon Ferry Reservoir, Montana, April 30, 1964,” and it includes documents, clippings and 11 photographs of the alleged landing site and burn marks.

View of the site and residences from the Canyon Ferry Reservoir shoreline.

Lt. Col. Harold L. Neufeld of Malmstrom AFB prepared the 5-page report summarizing their Canyon Ferry investigation, which had lasted four hours visiting the area, three of those hours interviewing witnesses. His team included a legal and information officer, as well as a photographer to document the evidence.

View towards the shore.

Neufeld noted that the holes supposedly caused by the UFO landing, “did not appear to have been caused by great weight. Rather the holes appeared to have been crudely dug or scooped out.” Describing the interviews of the children, “The witnesses were often vague and evasive and their respective stories contained such wide divergences to convince the interrogators that the entire event was a fanciful hoax.” 

There were six alleged witnesses, one of whom was not interviewed at his father’s request.” Of the five, “Four witness used the word ‘fluorescent’ to describe the lighting of the object.” Overall, their descriptions of the event were similar, “These consistencies indicated rehearsing by the witnesses.” They also found it suspicious that none of their parents had been told until more than an hour later, but, “The witnesses immediately notified the local radio stations of the alleged sighting.” The PBB record card for the case classifies it as a hoax, and the comments state: “Investigating officials consider case a Hoax with children recreating the marks of the Socorro sighting as carried in the local newspaper.”

The Canyon Ferry case always stood in the shadow of Lonnie Zamora’s Socorro, NM, sighting, but through the years, it is still included in many UFO histories and databases.

The Word of a Witness

The final local coverage of the Canyon ferry story was the editorial from The Missoulian on May 12, 1964, and it defended the witnesses against the allegations of the Air Force.

The Missoulian, May 12, 1964

The APRO Bulletin, July 1964, expressed a similar point of view in, “Kids Called Hoaxers By U.S.A.F,” stating: 

“We must, if we retain our reason and our ethics, believe the Davis and the Rust children and doubt the ‘findings’ of the experts, if indeed the reports of same were honest.  … We cannot believe that the truth and the details are being withheld by authorities to spare feelings - the kids have already felt the full impact of the ridicule as a result of the AF investigation and subsequent public announcement about the ‘prank.’ It is clear that the facts are being withheld at least in this instance and we can only wonder why.”

In 2012, ufologist Joan Bird was researching the Canyon Ferry case for her book, Montana UFOs and Extraterrestrials. She was able to locate two of the original players, Bill Bahny and Tom Davis. Bird wrote that, “When I interviewed Bahny in 2012, he told me he wouldn’t have called [the sheriff] if he’d thought it was a prank. 'They seemed genuinely scared.'” More significantly, she was able to reach one of the primary witnesses, Tom Davis. As an adult, Davis preferred the spelling of his name as Thom. 

Joan Bird spoke with Thom Davis by telephone on June 20, 2012. From chapter 4, "The Canyon Ferry Sighting - or Socorro Copycat?":

“...I was able to find Thom Davis, who still lives in the Helena area. According to Thom, it was a hoax. The 'witnesses' dug the holes, poured a little gas on the ground, and lit it. They colluded in the story of the glowing white object and its take-off over Canyon Ferry. Davis also reiterated what was said in the Blue Book report that the youths had been listening to KOMA radio out of Oklahoma City and heard about a UFO sighting in Socorro, New Mexico.”

So, it seems the Canyon Ferry case ended as it began, with a phone call. Over the decades, unsupervised kids have been responsible for very some interesting UFO reports. Kids of all ages.

The Professor's Message from Space

In 1952, UFO reports seemed to indicate an impending invasion by monstrous aliens: June 1952: News of Oskar Linke’s 1950 sighting of a lande...