Thursday, April 7, 2022

Early Accounts of Alien Abductions

Notions of alien abductions were circulating long before the 1961 Betty and Barney Hill case, even before anyone had heard of flying saucers. Charles Fort’s 1919, The Book of the Damned discussed the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors, and he speculated that someone up there likes us - as in the way we taste.
“And I have data that, in this book, I can't take up at all — mysterious disappearances. I think we're fished for.”
The Fortean journal, Doubt # 13, 1945 had a short article that played off this notion, supposing that the missing crew of a German ship might have become a meal for Martians.

Doubt # 13, 1945

Science Fiction Kidnappers

“Earth Slaves to Space” by Richard Shaver, Amazing Stories Sept. 1946

Ray Palmer published the stories of Richard Shaver as nonfiction as in Amazing Stories, tales of an ancient extraterrestrials, the Atlans and Titans. Carrying a cover date of June 1947 but published at least a month earlier, Palmer put out a special all-Shaver Mystery issue, and his editorial stated:
“…Mr. Shaver declared that Titans, living far away in space, or other people like them, still visit earth in space ships, kidnap people, raid the caves for valuable equipment, and, in general, supply the basis for all the weird stories that are so numerous (see Charles Fort's books) of space ships, beings in the sky, etc.”

Science fiction and fantasy stories frequently featured stories of monsters or aliens abducting humans for examination or worse. When the flying saucers appeared, that sort of thing was mentioned, but only as a joke. On July 7, 1947, newspaper columnist Hal Boyle’s a silly piece about being abducted by a spaceman in a flying saucer was published. His alien abductor was a big green man, Balminston X-Ray O’Rune from Mars, “some eight feet tall, covered with thick green hair, with one eye like a hardboiled egg in the center of his forehead, and no visible mouth at all. He was naked, his hands were three-clawed.”

More seriously, John W. Campbell's editorial in the October 1947 issue of Astounding Science Fiction was titled, “Flying Somethings,” where he speculated that UFOs were extraterrestrial scout vehicles, and he discussed how they might abduct specimens for study. He wrote about it from flipped point of view, as if we were the explorers of another planet:

"For several months, our investigation would be conducted by noncontact observation; until we know much more about the people, we'll do well to stay clear of them. After some weeks though, a stealthy raid might kidnap a few inhabitants for general questioning and investigation. In this, we'd be very smart not to damage the kidnaped parties; the resentment of a technically civilized race can be distinctly unwelcome even to a more powerfully technical people. Investigation of local animals can give all the necessary basic biological science for preliminary understanding of the local race.”
(See pages 71-72 of this PDF for 
Campbell's full article: UFOs: A History, Supplemental Notes August 1—December 31 by Loren E. Gross.) 

Comics are often a good indicator of how a topic has penetrated the public’s consciousness, but occasionally they have been ahead of trends. An alien abduction kicked off the story in the Sunday Superman newspaper comic strip from May 2 to July 18, 1948. Superman and Lois Lane were captured by a scouting party for invaders from Mars and taken aboard their spherical Martian spaceship. 

The Martians wanted to conquer Earth to solve their water shortage, and the two were taken as test subjects to be taken to Mars and examined to see if earthlings could resist the Martians’ weapons.

(Reprinted in Superman: The Golden Age Sundays 1946–1949 by IDW Publishing, 2014.)

In the episodes that followed, it became a farce with the ugly Martian queen trying to marry Superman, but he solved their problem and helped her find a husband. Therefore, the invasion was prevented.

Into the 1950s...   

In October of 1952, the newspaper comic strip based on The Saint by Leslie Charteris featured a flying saucer storyline. A scientist wondered:
"Have you thought how many unsolved disappearances are explained by the 'specimens' of human beings that they have taken for study?"

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Oct. 4, 1952

Dennis Wheatley's 1952 book, Star of Ill-Omen, was a tale of Martians kidnapping people to learn humanity’s nuclear secrets, in order to use atomic bombs in warfare on their own planet.

The notion of flying saucer abductions came up now and then, but not in reputable places. The October 1953 issue of Man to Man magazine featured the article by Leroy Thorp, “Are the Flying Saucers Kidnapping Humans?” It was not based on contemporary accounts, just an undated recycling of a mysterious disappearance supposedly taken from one of Charles Fort’s books.

Harold T. Wilkins wrote a book released in the U.S. as Flying Saucers on the Attack in July 1954. It included several stories about the unexplained loss of people, planes, and ships, and he suggested alien abduction as the solution:
“One wonders how many cases of mysterious disappearances of men and women in 1948 – 1952 might be explained as ‘TAKEN ABOARD A FLYING SAUCER IN A LONELY PLACE’?”

A Saucer-Related Disappearance Makes News

Two men took off in a plane searching for saucers, and they were never seen again. From the Los Angeles Mirror, Nov. 18, 1953, as reprinted in UFO Crash Secrets at Wright Patterson Air Force Base by James W. Moseley, 1992.

George Hunt Williamson’s summary from Other Tongues - Other Flesh, 1953:
“On November 18, 1953, the Los Angeles Mirror reported that two missing electricians may have been kidnapped by interplanetary invaders in a Flying Saucer. The two Saucer enthusiasts were Karl Hunrath and Wilbur J. Wilkinson. They had taken off in a rented airplane from Gardena Airport on November 11th with a three-hour gas supply. Despite widespread search, no trace of the plane or its occupants has been seen. The rumor that the plane was found dismantled on the top of a California mountain with no sign of the two men is unfounded. Officials claim that nothing has turned up in the case as yet.”

Vanished in Vermont

Rev. O. L. Jaggers had been lecturing on flying saucers since 1952, and asked, “From whence do they come? …Russia or some enemy nation? Are they interplanetary…?” Jaggers gave a lecture in San Francisco on August 22, 1954, on “How Flying Saucers are Kidnapping Human Beings from the Earth.” The lecture advertised that it would present: “Names and addresses of people kidnapped by Flying Saucers!”

Odessa American Sept. 9, 1955

From the looks of the article below in the New Castle News, September 2, 1954, one audience member tried to verify some of the details about the alleged flying saucer abductions. 
(Full text follows the blurry clipping.)

New Castle News, September 2, 1954

Missing Vermont Folk Not Whisked Off by Saucers
The town of Bennington, Vt., doesn't know what did happen to three persons who have vanished mysteriously in the last eight years but it is quite sure they were not picked up by a flying saucer and whisked off to Russia. It will so inform a San Francisco, Calif., clergyman who yesterday asked the Bennington Chamber of Commerce if that had really happened. Wrote Rev. Harold DeRoo, pastor of the Miraloma Community church in the west coast city:

"I am endeavoring to verify some information recently presented by an itinerant speaker who came to this city. His topic was flying saucers. In the course of the address he related the alleged fact that five men of Bennington, Vt., were literally drawn up from the face of the earth and have never been heard of. According to the accounts these saucers originated in Russia which has devised a magnet to draw people from this country. I should appreciate very much if you could either verify or nullify the account."

Bennington officials said they don't have the answer to the disappearance of Paula Weldon, Bennington college student who never returned from an off-campus stroll; Middie Rivers, a Bennington woodchopper who vanished a short time later, or a boy named Jepson who disappeared from his father's car at the town dump as the father was pouring food into a nearby pigsty. But they were sure there were no Soviet saucers involved in these cases and that there was no mass evanishment by a quintet of citizens.

The 1960s: Alien Abductions Become Mainstream

In 1966, the Betty and Barney Hill story was published in John Fuller’s bestselling book, The Interrupted Journey, and it had an enormous cultural impact. The book also led to the popularization and acceptance of the alien abduction concept.

The Des Moines Register Sept. 30,1966 and the Minneapolis Star Oct. 6, 1966

Jet magazine, Oct. 20, 1966

The Hills’ story was serialized in many newspapers and in Look magazine.

The Hill case became the industry standard, and the basis for comparison for all the many reports of alien abductions that have surfaced in the decades since.

. . .

We've just hit some highlights here. For more information on pre-saucer abductions, see:


  1. There are plenty of examples of pre-abductions in comics, in the USA and elsewhere. In the USA, I particularly FUTURA. Aliens kidnap Marcia Reynolds with a luminous tractor beam. The small but big-headed leader remarks, “Specimen Nine from Terra Belt Green for Project Survival…And if you find our methods ruthless, Specimen 9, it is because our needs are desperate.”

    Futura was serialized in Planet Comics starting with issue #43 (July 1946) and probably ending in Spring 1955 with issue #64. An over 20-issue run of nearly ten years!

    From Spain, I can mention "Tom, dominador del universo" (June 1935) who is abducted by flying alien, or "El jinete del espacio" (January 1948).

    1. Wonderful! I'll have to look those up.

    2. Very interesting. I would only say that the odds had to be pretty high that the first American comic book character to be abducted would probably be Lois Lane just because she gets abducted like every other story.

  2. Curt,
    Interesting article. About 800,000 folks are disappeared in the USA every year. Ten percent or about 80,000 disappear permanently, no trace. I find David Jacob's work convincing. So I think abductions do happen on a regular basis. But the abductors are from this planet, evolved here as part of the ecology of earth just like we (humans)have. The creature in the alien autopsy is an earth evolved example. You are correct. These creatures have been exhibiting this behavior for many moons.

  3. Early accounts of alien abductions also include the cases of Private Bernard Gerry Irwin and farmer Antonio Vilas-Boas


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Illustration from "The Strange Shapes Seen in the Sky,"  Life magazine Dec. 5, 1955 Sturgeon's Law is the adage stating, &quo...