Thursday, April 9, 2020

Harold J. Berney: The FBI's Flying Saucer Fugitive

Harold Jesse Berney (July 9, 1898 - Dec. 19, 1967)

In early 1957, a Washington, DC legal secretary disclosed secrets to police about the US government’s technological exchange program with extraterrestrials. Something had gone wrong and the project’s top man had vanished. As a result, the FBI launched an investigation for Harold J. Berney. His last known location: The planet Venus.

The sensational story made headlines in 1957 for Berney’s disappearance, arrest, and subsequent trial. While he’s not the only UFO capitalist to have a criminal record, to the best of our knowledge, Berney made history, as the first person to go to prison in relation to flying saucers.
St Louis Post Dispatch, March 26, 1957
Digging into the story, we found it was just the tip of the iceberg. Berney's flying saucer scam was just the last chapter in the criminal life of a charming con man that we traced all the way back to 1917. During the course of our investigation we were fortunate to find Harold. J Berney’s great-granddaughter, M. Adamson, and we asked her to write an afterword. We owe a great debt to her for her cooperation in sharing her collection of documents, photos and genealogical records to fill in some of the many blanks in the historical record..

We present the Harold Jesse Berney case in a special chapter-length The Saucers That Time Forgot investigative report, based on newspaper accounts, family genealogy, FBI documents and prison records. 

Get comfortable, and settle in for the unbelievable ballad of Harold Jesse Berney. 

Prelude: The Saucer Capitol

In the early 1950s, the Washington, D.C. area was a hotbed of UFO activity for news, events, and as a locale for researchers. The flying saucers reported in July 1952 over the nation’s Capitol made UFOs a matter of national security - and serious front page news. The fever was spreading, and saucer clubs were springing up all over, with Washington being a key location. But there were many other UFO-related events from those Washington, D.C. days that are not as well known, some since revealed, others still shrouded in mystery. Such is the case of Harold J. Berney. When Berney started talking about his energy modulator project and government connections in 1952, he represented himself as an inventor, but hid the rest of his past — a history almost as incredible as his claims of extraterrestrial technology.

The Pre-Saucer Life and Crimes of Harold J. Berney

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Harold Jesse Berney (1898 - 1967) was an artist, writer and inventor, but chiefly a sign painter by profession. Berney was also a criminal, with a rap sheet that back stretched over 40 years. Harold, who preferred to be called Hal, was the youngest of William and Mary Berney’s children, and he was born in Akron, Michigan on July 9, 1898. The turn of the century brought some big changes for the family; in 1900 Hal’s father eloped with a teenaged girl; in 1901 his mother remarried, and his brother William was sent to reform school. Growing up, Harold’s older brothers had a history of turbulent romantic relationships, abandoning wives, eloping with younger women and such. As for his education, Harold was finished with school after completing the eighth grade and left home shortly afterwards, a medium-sized young man, about 5’7’’ tall and weighing 130 pounds. He was a talented artist, but went into the sign making business and boasted that he’d designed and installed the first electric sign in Flint, Michigan.

Postcard showing the Flint P. Smith building with the sign for the Industrial Savings Bank

Hal began traveling, and in 1917 he was living in Tennessee, supposedly playing baseball for the Chattanooga Lookouts. There, he met and romanced Myrtle Alton, and they were married on April 16, 1917, At the time Berney was 18 and Myrtle 23, but he lied about his age, stating that he was 25 on their marriage license. That wedding led to to Berney’s first documented crime. Within three months, Berney decided he wanted to go back to his home state of Michigan. Myrtle refused to go with him, and he left her behind on June 26.

1918: Two Years in Georgia (The Mann Act)

After getting nowhere with Myrtle, Berney wrote letters to Della Alton, her 15-year-old little sister. He persuaded her to run away and sent her the money to join him, and when she arrived in Flint, he told everyone that the girl was his wife. The Alton family reported Della missing and the Chattanooga police alerted the authorities in Flint. Della was subsequently located and taken back home, with Berney arrested in Flint, and subsequently taken back to Chattanooga “to face charges as a white slaver and a draft slacker.” 

Those were federal offenses, but he was only charged and convicted for violating the Mann Act and sentenced to two years in prison. The Mann Act was intended to stop the interstate prostitution traffic, but often used as with against Berney, for punishing men for taking under-age girlfriends across state lines. The World War I draft evasion charge was dropped, probably because it was based on his phony age of 25, he was too young. Later the minimum draft age range was lowered to 18, but by then he was locked up, but still had to be registered. Berney’s 1918 draft registration card listed him as 20 years old, of medium height and build, blue eyes and black hair. His occupation was listed as “Prisoner” at U.S. Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia. 

There’s not much data on what he did there, but due to his profession he was put on a work detail painting the prison. He may have tried to further his education: he wrote to a commercial art school. Whatever the case, it’s very likely that while in prison he learned more about crime and survival than anything else.

The few personal details we have about Berney come mostly from his Georgia prison records. Hal smoked a pipe, used Velvet brand tobacco. Possibly he drank; he had wood alcohol confiscated from his cell in 1918, but he received only a warning, not punishment. As a prisoner, he was well-behaved and offered to help illiterate inmates with reading and writing their letters to family. The deputy warden found him charming and trustworthy enough that he allowed Hal a day pass to visit his home. Other than that, the log shows he spent a lot of time writing letters to his family, mostly to his mother.

The marriage to Myrtle resulted in the birth of a child, Harry Eugene Berney, on March 12, 1918, while Berney was in prison. Before he was released, he made an attempt to contact Myrtle, possibly for a reconciliation, but she was not interested. Harold was discharged on April 5, 1919, and went back to Michigan. Shortly afterwards, Myrtle was granted a divorce from him, the stated cause, “desertion.” Berney never met their son.

1923: Alias H. J. Delong (Forgery and Grand Larceny)

Berney went to work as a sign painter in Flint, Michigan, and on Nov. 16, 1919, Hal married Gladys McClure, 18. One lifelong motivation for Berney was that he disliked cold weather; Hal was a “snowbird,” and preferred to migrate south during winter months.

R. L. Polk's Tampa City Directory, 1921
It was in the course of his business that Berney committed his first known financial crime. In July of 1921 he bought out another sign painting business with a forged check for $800 and went on the run with Gladys. Later that year he was living in Tampa, Florida, with his wife, in the sign business as “Artcraft Studio.” Shortly afterward he was back north working in Minneapolis, MN, so it appears he split the year between locales. 

The Minneapolis Star, May 19, 1922

The marriage to Gladys ended unhappily in May 1922 when he eloped with 17-year old salesgirl, Eva “Birdie” Stevenson. Before they ran away together, he bought some expensive items on credit from the store they worked for, cheated his landlady and passed a forged check at the bank. During this time he was using the alias, H. J. Delong. In 1923 he was arrested in Los Angeles, Ca., but not for abducting Eva - it was for the old Flint check forgery charge.

The Flint Journal, The Dec. 20, 1923 reported Berney’s capture, and while he admitted the crime, Hal blamed it on Gladys, saying she was a spendthrift who supplied him with bank drafts and dared him to forge them. Afterwards, they travelled the country, “His talent at art work provided them with ready employment wherever he went.” He claimed to have returned to Flint twice with the intention of confessing, but backed out. He said Gladys left him, and remarried, so he found a new wife in Eva and resumed his travels with her. The article concluded by paraphrasing Detective Lowell Burke of Flint, who had brought Berney back from Los Angeles, “Berney made an ideal prisoner and because of his culture and refinement the long journey back was one of enjoyment.”

The Flint episode resulted in him facing charges of forgery and grand larceny. The Michigan Reformatory in Iona designated him prisoner no. 13041, sentenced to 4 -14 years. Within 2 years, he was free again. 

Although there are many gaps in the timeline, we know that on May 25, 1925, he was arrested in Detroit on a fugitive charge connected to being wanted for embezzlement of $800 in Minnesota. Apparently he was released shortly afterwards, since on July 25, 1925, Berney legally married Eva B. Stevenson (“Birdie,” the former teenage salesgirl) in Genesee County, Michigan. 

In the 1927 Polk’s City Directory for Miami Florida listed Harold employed at “Acme Sign Service,” and in 1928, at a different address, listed as a commercial artist, married to Eva B. Berney.

1928: Suspect Wanted in Portland

During the 1920s and 1930s, there was a big crime problem with many notorious violent outlaws, John Dillinger, Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and many others. Edgar J. Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were mainly busy dealing with their kind, not so much non-violent offenders and white-collar criminals.

As for Hal Berney, there were no further crimes or drama documented until 1928 while he was operating in Miami, Florida, as the Artcraft Sign company. He made national news by becoming a missing person after failing to return from a business trip to Lexington, Kentucky. The AP story stated that:
“Berney organized the Artcraft Sign company of Miami, Fla., and has been backed with capital from northern interests. His business partners and his wife, who is also associated with him in the business of the outdoor advertising agency, in telegrams to the police here have expressed fear of foul play.”. The police thought otherwise.
Based on his established pattern, it looks like Berney abandoned Eva, leaving her with the fallout, and took flight under an alias. Later that year he married Valta Copeland, of Little Rock, Arkansas, her age given as 21.

In April to September 1928, there was some car title chicanery that stretched from Fresno, California, to Oklahoma. From the 1932 court case over the insurance loss:

Certain similarities in the bill of sale and the application, just mentioned, to others in evidence might indicate that "Berney", "Carlton", "Carlson", and "LaDuxe" were all names assumed by the same person. See: Gilmore v. Eureka Casualty Co., 123 Cal.App. 20

Hal had been also spending time on legitimate enterprises. On August 5, 1929 he applied for his first patent with Fred Berney for their “Box Fastener” invention, a packaging method that secured the contents via a cord rigging that also served as its carrying handle. The patent was granted July 29, 1930, but there’s no record of whether it was ever produced or sold. (He applied for another Box patent in 1933.)

1930 - 1932: Some Non-Crime Travels

Harold and Valta had a son, Harold Berney, Jr, born Nov. 3, 1930, in Lakeland, Florida. Newspapers document a few non-crime events of a H.J. Berney during this period, but his address was given as South Bend, Indiana, and later Wheeling, West Virginia (a city where Hal operated). If this was the same Berney, he was traveling to Texas for some sports fishing trips.

The Amarillo Globe, Feb. 8, 1932 had a story about H. J. Berney of South Bend, Ind. landing a record Tarpon. The Galveston Daily News, Oct. 10, 1932 lists him as “H. J. Berney of Wheeling, W. Va.”
back to fish for Tarpon. 

During this time, the Berney family (formally) resided in a house at Route 3 Old Military Road, Tacoma, Washington, up until the marriage broke up around 1933.

1933: Alias A.E. Bates (Selling Desert Rocks and Texas Seaweed)

The trouble between Hal and Valta may have started in April 1933, when Berney was accused of romancing and defrauding the widow Mrs. Alice Rancipher out of an expensive coupe and $925 cash. He’d taken the widow on a trip by auto towards Mexico where he was supposed to get a divorce, but instead he ditched her along the way, and took the car. After the crime was reported, Hal was arrested, but then jumped bail and ran. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had Joseph A. Mallory, Asst. U.S. Attorney review the case, but he decided that no money seemed to have been extorted, and the alleged victim was a repeat participant in “immoral relations” with Berney over the course of several nights in motels. 

While Berney’s actions were “reprehensible,” the FBI wouldn’t pursue the complaint. Mallory noted that the matter should be dropped as Berney had gone back home to his wife. That reconciliation turned out not to be permanent, and Berney was soon out roaming the nation’s highways again. 

Sometime in 1933 at Wheeling, West Virginia, Berney told two businessmen, Rube Robinson and William G. Hartshorn about his plan to manufacture his new invention. Berney said he’d created a new fireproof paint formula, one that used ingredients found only in Arizona’s painted desert and in seaweed from the coastline of Texas. The investors mailed Berney funds to secure land to build a paint factory, an investment totaling over $12,000. Instead, Berney took off with their money. 

1934 got off to a bad start for Berney. He was wanted in three states, made all the worse since he’d gotten noticed by the FBI. Hal was trying to hide using the alias A.E. Bates, but the law was hot on his trail. Postal inspector W. F. Stripling had been in pursuit of Berney for over a year before Hal was arrested in El Paso, Texas, in January 1934. Shortly afterwards Berney was extradited to Wheeling, West Virginia, to face charges of grand larceny by mail fraud. The arrest records show his occupation listed as “Chemist-Draftsman.”

Berney spent months in jail awaiting trial, but he may have had a backup plan. The Wheeling Intelligencer, Oct. 23, 1934, reported that the Marshal received a tip that Hal was planning an escape, and a search of his cell revealed a hacksaw blade hidden among his belongings. The saw blade was confiscated, thwarting the escape. On Nov. 27, Berney finally had his day in court. He denied the charges, but was found guilty and sentenced to 8 years in the West Virginia Penitentiary.

The Charleston Daily Mail, Dec. 8, 1934

1940: Alias Harold Eller (Selling Unlicensed Stocks)

Berney served five years or less of his 1934 conviction. The 1940 Census shows he was recorded as a lodger at the Virginia Hotel in Pasadena, California, as of April 8. It states he was 41 years, old, married, but living alone at the time. He’s listed as having an 8th grade education, self-employed as a sign painter, with a prior 1935 residence of Wheeling, WV (which he didn’t mention was a prison cell).

Three months later, in July 1940, Berney was arrested in Flint, Michigan, for Blue Sky Law violations for selling unlicensed stocks in a chemical company. He was convicted to serve two years in the State Prison of Southern Michigan, and for the first time since 1917, he served the maximum sentence. His prison records show some additional aliases, Phil DeLong, Gus Carlton, Harold Eller/Ellen.

1943: Alias Harold Jess Berney

Things were quiet after his release, and the documentation is scant, but by 1943 he was back in D.C., had dropped the E off of Jesse, and was working as a sign painter. Around then, Berney began a romance with Dorothy Lucille Connell. She was about 19 at the time, born in 1925, so Berney was about 27 years Dorothy’s senior. As of 1944 they were living together as husband and wife. As of 1944 they were living together as husband and wife, and had started a family with the birth of their son, Sammy. Berney continued his seasonal travels, and apparently they had a permanent, but intermittent, romantic relationship thereafter.

In July of 1945 the Berneys lived in an apartment building in Washington D.C., using the address on the letterhead of his business, “Hal J. Berney, Commercial Artist.” Over the next two years, Hal and Dorothy had two more kids, Dottie and David. 

One bit of correspondence allows a bit of insight into Berney’s mindset and politics. On the July 17, 1945, NBC radio show, “Lowell Thomas and the News,” the famous journalist covered the Big Three conference between President Truman, Soviet Premier Stalin and British Prime Minister Churchill at Potsdam, Germany, to negotiate terms for the end of World War II. Lowell described the extravagance of the event, and that interested listener Harold J. Berney. It prompted Berney to write a letter to Lowell asking for a transcript of his Potsdam coverage, voicing his outrage that the leaders were having a sumptuous feast while “people in all lands (even our own) are suffering from malnutrition.”

 During this time Berney also wrote something which he copyrighted as a “dramatic composition,” titled “The Son of the Morning.” Nothing else is known about it, but that designation was a nickname for Lucifer in the Bible, and in ancient times also associated with the planet Venus.
Catalog of Copyright Entries 1945, Dramatic Compositions

Later in the year, he headed south for the coming winter. In the fall of 1945, Berney advertised his business in St. Petersburg, Florida, as the “Flamingo Sign Studio.” It was there that he launched two cons that resulted in a FBI manhunt and prison time.

1946: Flight from Florida

While it’s not known if Berney kept in touch, his second son, Harold Jr. died from illness at the age of 16 in Los Angeles, California, on April, 29, 1946.

Tampa Times, Nov. 28,1945

His Flamingo Sign company was operating reputably until he decided to make a move in the fall of 1946. Berney used the same scheme separately on two Florida businessmen. Gordon M. Nichols had a Hudson automobile dealership and R.J. Foster, Jr. sold a variety of camping and travel trailers. Berney persuaded the both of them with the same scheme, contracting to build showrooms for their respective businesses. He collected money up front to obtain expensive construction materials for the showrooms, but instead, Hal took flight with the money, totaling $10,135. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in, and the FBI began a nationwide search for Berney, one that lasted eight months. 

1947: A Life too Full for Flying Saucers (Two Counts of Embezzlement)

After some time on the run, Berney spent part of his time and money in Hood River, Oregon, where he’d set up a new business. Flying saucers were in the news, but Berney may have been too busy to pay attention, and was making plans to celebrate his 49th birthday in a big way. While Dorothy was waiting for him to come home, Hal had made other arrangements. At a lavish ceremony on June 29, 1947, in Huntington, Pennsylvania, he married 23-year-old Emma Louise Wagner. During the ceremony, she wore a beautiful gift from the groom, a diamond choker paid for with Florida swindle dollars. On their marriage license, Berney lied repeatedly, giving his age as only 31, claiming his parents were dead, stating that his occupation was “artist & hotel keeper” in Hood River, and that he had never been married before.

At Omaha, Nebraska, two weeks into their marriage, Hal was arrested for his Florida crimes. “This is a hell of a way to wind up a honeymoon,” he said. Police seized $3.851 in cash and the new car he’d recently purchased for $3.500 in Houston, Texas. Berney was extradited to St. Petersburg for two counts of embezzlement. 

 Victim R. J. Foster's saucer-themed ad, Tampa Bay Times, July 10, 1947

Waiting for his trials, Berney spent his time making paintings. “Police and others who viewed his works said he was extremely talented and could have done well financially had he confined himself to his art.” (as reported years later in the Tampa Bay Times, May 18, 1957.) The cases were tried separately, and he was acquitted for the first charge. For the second count, the complaint by R.J. Foster, Jr., Berney was found guilty. He was convicted in 1948, sentenced to prison for five years at Florida State Prison in Raiford, aka “The Rock.”

This brought about some big changes, and Hal was not the only person affected by the consequences. Berney’s new wife, Emma reconsidered her vows and obtained a divorce. Dorothy, Berney’s devoted real wife, was left destitute and ordered by the court to give up their three babies. 

Tampa Bay Times, Aug. 12, 1947

While behind bars, Berney had another angle working, and his conviction was appealed. William Wightman, his attorney,, cleverly and successfully argued that the money taken represented merely a breach of contract - a failed business deal - not fraud or embezzlement. After serving only five months, on Dec. 21, 1948, Berney’s conviction was reversed. (See: Berney v. State, 38 So. 2d 55 (Fla. 1948
Once free, he left Florida for good.

The Birth of the Modulator

1948 - 1951: Settling Down and Making Big Plans

Of his various convictions adding up to 29 years, Berney had actually served only about 6 years time in prison. Chances are, he realized his luck might not hold, so he was ready to play it straight, at least for a while. Hal moved back to the Washington, D.C., area and was reunited with Dorothy, but they were unable to get their children back. He resumed working as a commercial artist, chiefly a sign maker, where one of his first jobs there was painting a mural for a Maryland bank. Shortly afterwards Hal and Dorothy had two more children; daughter Brenda Jean in 1949, and son Harold Jesse, Jr. in 1951.

While Berney was busy with the transition back from felon to freedom, the UFO business had exploded. The publication of Donald Keyhoe’s article in True magazine’s Jan. 1950 issue had re-ignited saucer fever. At about the same time, Variety magazine published a couple of articles by gossip columnist Frank Scully, who said a flying saucer (full of dead little men) from Venus had been captured by the military. Both authors expanded their work and rushed them into print to become bestselling books. In April 1952, Life magazine said, “There Is A Case for Interplanetary Saucers.” That summer, history was made in July 1952, when UFOs were repeatedly tracked on radar over the Washington National Airport. 

While saucers had been seen since 1947, no one had seriously been talking about encountering anyone inside them. That changed in the summer of 1952 when a credible witness, Soviet refugee Oskar Linke, reported he had seen two men in silvery suits retreat into their saucer and fly away. In November of that year, George Adamski of California topped Linke’s tale. Adamski said he saw a flying saucer, went up to it, and had a personal conversation with the pilot, an angelic man from Venus who wanted to help the people of earth. Saucers were everywhere, the radio, newspapers, magazines, the movies, and then television. As a DC resident, Berney couldn’t have ignored all the saucer news if he'd tried.
The classic Adamski-type Venusian bell-shaped saucer.

Whatever attention Hal may have given the UFO business, his primary interest at the time was building a company to develop consumer technology for the broadcast television industry. For Berney’s masterpiece, he reinvented himself as an inventor and entrepreneur. Hal’s work as a sign painter had certainly involved construction and electrical knowledge, but how he picked up the technological skills to invent television antennas is undocumented. There’s no way to know what was on Berney’s mind, but it wasn’t a whim; he put years of work into developing and patenting the inventions. As far as can be determined, it began as an honest enterprise. He filed a patent on May 22, 1950, for a “Rotatably adjustable antenna... a novel and improved antenna especially useful for receiving television and FM signals, said antenna being very compact in size, being simple to install and operate, and providing exceptionally high signal gain... especially suitable for use indoors for the reception of television and FM signals... providing highly efficient reception even in heavily shielded locations."
Berney's patents also provide rare examples of his artistic talent. The patents were filed, 
then granted in the following years: 2594115 (1950/2), 167966 (1952), 174937 (1953/5).

Not a bad pitch or plan. Every home in America was destined to own a TV, and every set would need an antenna. Hal set up a company and incorporated it, as Aberney Corp., based in the Washington, D.C., area, also operating in Maryland and Delaware. The patent was granted in 1952, and assigned to his newly formed business. From Index of Patents Issued from the United States Patent Office, 1952:
“Berney, Harold J., Washington, D.C. assignor to Aberney Corporation, Bethesda, Md. Rotatably adjustable antenna. 2,594,115, Apr. 22.”

1952: The Unbelievable Financial Opportunity

Berney had developed a product, but in order to mass produce it, he needed capital from investors. Pauline E. Goebel worked as a legal secretary for a major chemical company’s patent office in Washington, D.C. Berney met Pauline in the fall of 1952, then told her about the Aberney Corp. antenna company and persuaded her that investing in it would multiply her money. They became friends, and he introduced her to his wife Dorothy and their two kids. Pauline was 48, unmarried, and lived with her widowed mother in Kensington, Maryland. Her family was wealthy, and Pauline was poised to inherit a substantial sum. Her initial investment with Berney was $500. 

Around this time, Berney apparently abandoned any legitimate plans he may have had for his company. The Telewand Corporation was formed to supersede Aberney Corp. in early 1953 and it was formally announced in a legal notice in The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), March 25, 1953. Trade journals in 1954 - 55 listed its location as:
 “Tele-Wand 1022 18 St NW Washington D.C.”

 A “Wesley L. Smith” was listed as the company president, but there are no other documents that show his name in connection to Telewand Corp., so Smith could have been a fictitious executive or another of Berney’s aliases.

1953 - 1954: The Big Store

How did Berney’s scam work? Neither the later FBI reports or the media went into any detail about how Berney operated, the focus instead was on his Modulator story and the amount of money he extracted with it. Knowing a bit about how Berney’s methods and the elements involved we can tentatively fill in some of the blanks. 

Evening Star, March 28, 1954

The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin described Berney as a “smooth-talking con man,” and his long record proves how charming, persuasive and inventive he was. There’s a classic confidence scheme, “the Big Store,” where the perp and his partners play roles to set up the illusion that the they have a large legitimate company. Many of the details have been lost to time, but we know Telewand at least looked like a real company. It had an office, owned machinery, manufactured antennas, ran display ads in the Washington, DC, Evening Star, and even advertised for salesmen in the Chicago market. Berney seems to have been a solo operator, but had done similar cons in the past, most notably his scams about a fireproof paint factory in the 1930s, and the construction of automobile showrooms in the 1940s. The 1950s were the dawn of the space age, and based on the evidence, Berney worked his Venus scam something like this:

Berney introduced himself to potential marks and produced the patent registration for his inventions. The Telewand indoor television antenna was described in the company literature like this: “Operates on Standing Waves Full Triple Reflection as Direct Beam or Broad Band 360-Degree.” It’s difficult to understand how the customers could make the leap of faith from antennas to free energy Modulators, but it’s possible that Berney told them that the antenna bit was the government-approved cover story to hide the project from the Soviets. He had a real office, and could also show them documents proving the legal incorporation of Aberney/Telewand, along with trade ads, and examples of the products. Berney misrepresented those real antenna patents as the top secret Magnetic Flux Modulator, a free energy generator, a lucrative investment opportunity available only to a few trusted insiders.

By the spring of 1953 Pauline had invested several hundred dollars in Berney’s projects and he had appointed her the titular role of secretary-treasurer of Aberney Corp., and its successor, Telewand Corp. Berney could use the establishment of Telewand as proof to her that his enterprise was growing and flourishing, and that her money was well-invested. Pauline herself became a prop; she could be introduced in her role as secretary-treasurer, along with the stock certificates and company checks she was required to sign. 

Unfortunately there are no surviving records to show how many people invested with Berney besides Pauline, and we only have the names of two, first disclosed in Time magazine, Apr. 15, 1957: “Between hurried business conferences Pauline and Harold rounded up some more investors—including a fellow from Delaware named Pleasant McCarty...”

That connection was made in the summer of 1953, when Berney took Dorothy and their two kids on a family vacation to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. There he met and became friends with a couple about his age, “Mac” Pleasant McCarty and his wife Mildred, both in their early 50s. The McCarty’s owned and operated Mac's Bait and tackle shop at Dewey Beach. Berney had lived in Florida and fished on the Texas coastline, so perhaps he and the McCartys had a love of the sea or fishing in common. According to the FBI, Mac and his wife were the targets of the first draft of Berney’s “Magnetic Flux Modulator” investment scheme. He told the McCartys about a top secret government project under development, confiding that Telewand, in partnership with the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh, was developing a revolutionary energy alternative to atomic power. It was a matter of national security and, since the technology also had the potential to be used as a weapon, it must not fall into the hands of enemy nations. 

From the article in This Week magazine, May 21, 1961, credited to FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover: 
“Our investigation disclosed that Berney turned the vacation into a profitable business trip as well. ...he described the patent he held on a ‘box unit which manufactures its own power by drawing energy from the atmosphere.’ He said, ‘Westinghouse is going to buy the invention. If you invest now, you'll triple your money!’ Berney quickly charmed the couple into giving him $10,000 in cash; $10,000 more was raised by mortgaging their business. Pleasant McCarty was given the title of plant supervisor, so he. too, became a stooge, another prop used to stage the Big Store of Telewand. Berney manipulated them by making them feel that they were part of something important - and top secret. He made sure that everyone was aware of the urgency of protecting the project (and their investment) due to national security.”
As for Pauline Goebel, Hoover said, “She bought more and more stock for herself and her relatives in the Telewand Corporation, for Telewand, Berney assured her, would reap enormous profits once the Modulator was in production. And in addition, by investing the money she was performing a patriotic service for her country.”
Each check bought a bigger piece of the Modulator dream.

We are working from an incomplete record, but Berney may have attracted at least a few other victims. According to the Hoover story, the McCartys were just subjected to the Modulator-Westinghouse scam, not the Venus-Modulator-Westinghouse scam, but the newspapers accounts and other FBI documents state otherwise. Hoover said that Pauline Goebel was the sole victim of the Venus plot, but also correctly stated that Mrs. Berney was told the same story. The McCartys probably heard it, too, and maybe some others, people who didn’t want their names in the news. Whatever the case, we only have the documentation of Pauline’s interaction in the Venus story to examine,

With Telewand established, Aberney was discarded. The Cumberland Evening Times, Oct. 30, 1953 printed the Maryland State Tax Commission’s notice of forfeiture of charter for delinquent corporations, and Aberney Corp. was among them. 

Berney built Telewand Corporation, though much of it was smoke and mirrors. To honor their support, investors Pauline Goebel and Pleasant McCarty were given titles as corporate officers in the company, as secretary-treasurer and plant supervisor. Vice president, “Arthur Goebel,” sounds like he would have been a relative of Pauline’s, but the name didn’t match anyone in her immediate family. 

In January 1954, Berney took another another $2,000 from the McCartys "to help meet business expenses,” with a promise he would quickly repay them. For Pauline Goebel’s investment in the Telewand Corp., Berney gave her certificates for shares in the company, which she was required to sign in her role as secretary-treasurer. Each certificate represented $100, and Pauline collected a big stack of them.

Berney’s Telewand Corporation was looking good, at least on paper. Television Factbook, Spring 1955 had the company listed among those manufacturing “TV Receiving Antennas.”
“TELEWAND CORP.— 925 5th St., NW, Washington 1, D. C. National 8-3293. Hal J. Berney, pres.; Arthur Goebel, v.p.; Pauline Goebel. secy.-treas.; P. McCarty, plant supervisor.” 
Television Factbook No. 21, 1955

The last Telewand ad we found was published in March 1954, perhaps indicating things were slowing down. this may have prompted Berney to consider some imaginative alternatives.

1955: Alias Haluas (Contact - and a Contract with Venus)

Outer Space v3 #22, May 1959: "A Visit to Venus"

The details are a bit vague, but according to the Hoover account Berney took Pauline Goebel alone into his confidence about the most secret and spectacular aspect of the patented technology. In late 1954 Hal told her that, “he was on friendly terms with the rulers of Venus. Berney fed out the story in bits and pieces over the winter of 1954-55.” Apparently the antenna patents were a cover story for the Magnetic Flux Modulator, which was technology from Venus. Pauline was drawn deeper into the story and was heavily invested in it. Perhaps coincidentally, this was about the same time Berney bought his new 1955 Oldsmobile.

Over time, Berney told Pauline Goebel more of the story. Berney disclosed how his inventions had interested the government, that he had been working with the US government, and had attended a secret meeting with President Eisenhower at Camp David. The Venus story really started cooking in the spring. 

Berney told her that in January he’d been taken along with a crew of Westinghouse Corp. contractors to a clandestine meeting in Houston, Texas. There, they were joined by government scientists at a military base, then taken to a remote secret area where they were shown a landed flying saucer in the “shape of a bell about 100 feet in diameter and about 30 or 40 feet thick, and having windows.” Once inside, a man materialized, Prince Uccelles of Venus, who approached Berney and eventually offered him the position of technological go-between Earth and Venus. They would share the secret of their immensely powerful Magnetic Flux Modulator with the United States, but it must be held a state secret so as not to fall into enemy hands. To complete the pact, Berney was taken by flying saucer to Venus in order to learn about their planet and meet the rulers. 

According to Sherwood King‘s article in the Oct. 1961 Argosy, Berney wrote that:
“The Aberney and Telewand Corporation of Washington, D.C., had been working secretly for several months with the Government and the (Westinghouse) Corporation, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in anticipation of selling all of these patents, number 2,594,115 and Design Patents 167,966 and 174,937, the inventions they now hold totaling three, and being of such top-secret nature and use to your Government that nothing was allowed to be discussed outside the laboratories.”
Those patent numbers were for Berney’s television antenna designs, but he told Pauline another story. According to the FBI report, Berney claimed, “The project was so secret, he said, that the details were known only to the White House and certain top officials of the Government. For this reason, he swore her to secrecy but assured her that when the device was completed any money she had invested in it would be multiplied at least seven times.”

Shortly afterwards, Berney left for another business trip, which supposedly culminated on Venus. Here’s the timetable of the subsequent events:

April 5, 1955 - Miss Goebel received a telephone call from Texas. It was Mr. Uccelles, who said Berney was critically ill. The next day she received another phone call, a weird-sounding male voice saying that Berney had died on Venus. After hearing this, she unsuccessfully tried to contact President Eisenhower out of concern for Berney.

Somewhere in here, Pauline contacted Berney’s wife Dorothy, who apparently knew nothing about Hal’s whereabouts. Pauline worried not just for Berney, but also what would become of his family. Possibly in response to Pauline contacting his wife, Berney changed the script and came back from the dead.

The next week, around April 13, Goebel received a letter from Prince Uccelles, which was not mailed, but arrived mysteriously on her desk. It was elegantly written in green ink, as if by a quill or brush. The message ignored the call that said Berney was dead, but it carried an urgent request. Berney was ill and very much in need of money for his medical treatment by the Venusians. This must have set Pauline’s head spinning, but she was able to hold something in her hands, a letter from Venus. Pauline sent the money as requested, but received no further word. 

Telewand shut down sometime in 1955, presumably during Berney’s absence. The few details come from the FBI file, which state that the only thing Miss Goebel got out of her investment was a couch and chair from the office. That, and $800 from selling off the Telewand equipment and machinery. But she was destined not to keep that money.

September 12, 1955 - After months of nothing, Pauline received a letter by postmarked San Antonio, Texas. It was written with the same sort of ink and instrument as before, and once again it asked for money for Berney’s treatment on Venus. She sent $4,500 to the requested address in Texas. 

A portion of the one of the letters is shown below, as an example of how Pauline was being manipulated: 
“(When) the time arrives - you will be notified personally and your safe conduct to our ship prior to the landing that you may be present to enjoy every moment of it and to receive your bountiful part from us publicly as well as the great honor from your own people - 

We most humbly pray that every secret desire of your heart will be fulfilled in your lifetime and that peace and happiness will crown you with the glories of real sincere love - you merit it and - you will receive it 
most sincerely your friend 
(signed by Prince Uccelles in Venusian script.)"

Fragment of a letter from Prince Uccelles to Miss Goebel
October 4, 1955, she received a third letter, postmarked Mineral Wells, Texas. Apparently her contribution had made a difference, and the word from Venus was that, "our most worthy friend has now passed through a complete process of regeneration." It ended by saying that Berney would be returned to Earth at Dallas, Texas. 

Shortly afterwards Berney came back to Washington and told Pauline the epic story of his time on Venus. With the money from the investments, Hal may have produced some physical evidence to back his story. According to the article in Argosy magazine, Berney didn’t come back empty-handed. He said Prince Uccelles had given him gifts for two women back home, a heavy gold chain inscribed with Uccelles’ name for his wife Dorothy, and “a most beautiful gold and pearl necklace to (Pauline), who had assisted me... had watched over and comforted my family…”

Hearing everything explained must have put Pauline’s mind at ease, and she must have been delighted to have jewelry from Venus - from royalty, no less. According to the story Berney told, there had been a secrecy breach on Earth and the Venusians had halted the Modulator project until trust and security could be restored. 

The Argosy article also mentioned that Berney sported solid gold cufflinks of “Venusian” design. As subtle proof of his US government connections, his wristwatch was engraved: “To Hal from His Colleagues at AEC.” (AEC = the United States Atomic Energy Commission.)

Berney Takes Flight

1956: Taking Off
Spring of 1956 - Berney began writing a book to chronicle his experience, and it kept Pauline busy over the next few months typing up the 118-page manuscript, Two Weeks on Venus. Some of the newspaper and later magazine articles suggest that there were other investors, and certainly Berney wanted Pauline to believe she was just one of the chosen few who had been allowed to get in on the Modulator deal. According to the Argosy article, in Berney’s book manuscript he said that investors had backed the modulator with a total of $169,000, dwarfing the $28,000 that Pauline had put in.
An imaginary edition. Art by Richard Stone, 1961.
Pauline’s mother died on May 9, 1956. We can only speculate on the emotional impact of that event. However, it’s likely that the loss resulted in her inheriting more money and property. Mac and Mildred McCarty saw Berney again in the summer of 1956. He still had the $22,000 they had invested, but there’s no record of him getting more on this visit. Berney kept them on the hook with the promise of forthcoming profits from the Westinghouse Modulator deal. Hal probably sensed that the McCarty mine was tapped out, and it was the last time they heard from him. 

July 1956 - Berney came to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, supposedly to work with Westinghouse on the Modulator. The Hoover article stated, “Every week from July through October, 1956, from Sunday night through Friday, Berney stayed in a Downtown hotel. His bills averaged $250 weekly and he paid them. His long distance telephone calls were a large expense.” It was all part of the act. Pittsburgh was the location of the Westinghouse Research Labs, so he could have used the hotel and telephone records to prevent doubt from his investors. Berney may have also manufactured or obtained some other props to prove he was working there, such as photographs of the Westinghouse building.

After a few weeks Berney came back to Washington with news for Pauline that Westinghouse ready to produce the Modulator, but he needed $10,000 to honor the contract, and to “to pay technicians for completing the modulator device ahead of schedule.” He went back to Pittsburgh, and on August 29, Pauline sent the check for $10,000, which he deposited in the company’s joint account. She’d lost track of the exact amount, but with that transfer, it brought Pauline’s investment in Berney’s project to somewhere between $38,000 and $40,000. 

An ironic aside: True magazine, Aug. 1956, featured the story exposing a famous hoax, "Flying Saucer Swindlers" by J. P. Cahn. 

October 5, 1956 - Berney was back in Washington to report that the Modulator project was a success and that everything was going well. He headed back for the next step with Westinghouse in Pittsburgh. That goodbye was the last Pauline Goebel saw of Hal Berney.

October 21, 1956 - In Pittsburgh, Berney kept up the game for a few weeks, then withdrew the $10,000 from the bank, had his Oldsmobile serviced, and spent $600 on sign-painting supplies. He then checked out of his hotel, and following his tradition, headed south for the winter.
Berney drove a 1955 Oldsmobile, advertised with an artistic, space age theme.

November 7, 1956 - Berney decided to set up shop down south. No, not Florida, but one state away, near the Alabama coastline. He’d transported the painting supplies by car, but didn’t want to use the auto as a work vehicle. He rented a house, bought a truck and various other equipment, for a total of about $10,000. Obeying the law, he registered his 1955 Oldsmobile as Hal Berney of North Craft Highway in Prichard, Alabama.

November 13, 1956 - Bad news from Venus. Mrs. Berney received a package postmarked from Eagle Pass, Texas. The parcel contained some of her husband’s belongings including a camera, a wristwatch, engraved “To Hal from His Colleagues at AEC”; a shaving kit; solid gold cuff links of Venusian design; a tie pin with the initials “H.B”; his wallet, containing 300 American dollars, and all his identification papers. Along with it was a letter written on parchment in green ink from Mr. Uccelles, who said that Berney had been killed in an explosion while on a business trip to Venus. His body was lying in state there, so there would be no burial service on Earth. Dorothy was variously described as being skeptical of Berney’s claims, or aware of them, but not an accomplice. It’s possible the package and death story was theatre by Berney, and that the real audience was Pauline Goebel. Whatever the score, Dorothy recognized the ruse as an indication that Berney had abandoned her and their two children.

Mid-December 1956 - Mrs. Berney received a call from her husband from a phone booth in the South. We don’t have details of this call, but his subsequent letter shows that Berney remained in character.

1957: Pauline Goebel’s Disclosure 

January 11, 1957 - Mrs. Berney received a letter from her husband postmarked Meridian, Mississippi. Berney said he had died, all right, but the Venusians had brought him back to life. Hal told Dorothy that he would write again soon. 

February 6, 1957 - Mrs. Berney received a phone call from her husband. Hal wanted her to leave Washington to come south so they could be reunited, but Dorothy refused. Something slightly similar had happened 40 years before with his first wife. Like he’d done in 1917, Berney put the loss behind him. Having abandoned his family, he made a new life. In short order, he found a new sweetheart down in Alabama and proposed marriage to her.

Two Weeks on Venus seems to have been Berney’s undoing. The manuscript Pauline typed was about all she had left to show for her time and money. She still believed the Modulator scenario, but since Berney was dead, so was the project. There was no further need for secrecy, and she wanted to get the story out. The AP news coverage reported that she shopped the book around to publishers, and one of them became suspicious when she mentioned her investment. The publisher suggested that the Washington police should investigate it. Another version of his downfall is that Pauline herself finally became suspicious of Berney. She’s reported to have walked into the office of her employer in Washington, D.C., and said, “I think I may have been foolish.” In both accounts, Pauline was urged to tell her story to the Washington Metropolitan Police. 

February 28, 1957 - The Washington police determined the case was a matter for the Feds, so handed it over to the FBI. To begin their investigation, the FBI pulled their file on the suspect, producing Berney’s long criminal record and prison mugshots. That weekend, Saturday, March 2, 1957, Pauline Goebel was first interviewed by the FBI, and she identified him in photographs, confirming Harold Jesse Berney as the perp. The moments afterward must have been crushing for her, hearing about his decades of fraud and the women he’d loved and left. If she’d held out any hope for the Venus story, it all died then and there.

March 8, 1957 - The crime that made this a FBI matter was Berney’s use of the telephone and US Mail in his scheme, a matter for the Fraud by Wire Section of the Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property Statute. A charge was filed against him for fraud in Washington, D.C., to US Commissioner James F. Splain, and a Federal warrant was issued for Berney's arrest. The FBI Field Offices across the entire Southern US states were alerted to look for him.

This photo of Berney probably dates back to his 1940s Florida arrests.
The FBI interviewed Pauline Goebel several times and gathered evidence from her that included the letters from Venus. We don’t know the full scope of their investigation, but agents also interviewed Mr and Mrs. McCarty and Hal’s wife Dorothy. Mrs. Berney cooperated, telling them about his last few phone calls and by giving them the letters and the package - the one containing his last effects from Venus.

March 21, 1957 - An FBI agent in Mobile, Alabama, discovered the recent registration of Berney’s Oldsmobile there. The address was in Pritchard (just north of Mobile), and it was discovered to be the home and sign-painting business of Hal J. Berney, but no one was there. 

March 25, 1957 - The J. Edgar Hoover story described how the manhunt for Hal ended:
“One of the agents approached a man working nearby and showed him a photograph of Berney. Sure, Berney lived there, the man said. He was probably at his fiancee's home on West Street. An agent started driving toward West Street and presently saw a 1955 Oldsmobile with a man answering Berney's description at the wheel. When the agent motioned him to the curb, the driver readily complied and, as Berney got out and stood waiting, the FBI's search came to an end. Berney made no denial of his identity but he put on a fine show of indignation when he was told why the FBI wanted him. ‘Trip to Venus? Why, that's ridiculous!’ he scoffed.”

Pensacola News Journal, March 26, 1957

March 29, 1957 - The U.S. District began proceedings to determine if Berney should be taken to DC to face charges. Berney asked for a reduction in his $25,000 bond so that he could be released to liquidate his Prichard sign business, but the FBI and the court considered him a flight risk. He maintained his innocence, and according to an AP story, Berney admitted to a reporter in Alabama, yes, he’d written Two Weeks on Venus in the first person, but it was “just fiction.”
April 6, 1957 - The court reached a decision after weighing the facts. The Asbury Park Press reported that U.S. Attorney Thomas Haas told the U.S. District Judge: “In the present case, it is alleged that he swindled one person out of $40,000. In addition, we now find that there are two more people that have been swindled, concerning his so-called Venus trip, out of $20,000 in one case and $10,000 in another.” As further proof of Berney’s criminal character, he cited Hal’s checkered marital record: "He has been married and at various times deserted two wives... We do not know whether or not he divorced the first wife before marrying the second.” Orders were issued for the scoundrel to be moved from Mobile, AL, to Washington, D.C., to stand trial.

On the right, a 1957 photo of Berney.

During this time, Berney talked about what he’d been doing while living in a hotel in Pittsburgh. Instead of working on secret saucer technology for the US government with Westinghouse engineers as he’d told investors, Hal was studying. “He spent his time at Carnegie Library, Oakland, reading books on ancient history and archeology, he concentrated on Egyptian hieroglyphics. ‘I'm an expert on Egyptology,’ Berney once bragged to an FBI agent.” (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Nov. 20, 1961)

Some of the evidence that Berney used to fool his victims came back to haunt him. The checks investing in Telewand carried his endorsement when they were deposited or cashed, and the FBI matched that handwriting to the letters with hieroglyphics from Venus. 

The Final Conviction: Fraud by Wire and False Pretenses

May 16, 1957 - Berney was indicted on charges in court of “obtaining money and property” in the amount of $12,500 from Pauline Goebel with his Magnetic Flux Modulator scam. According to the Hoover article, during the fall Berney made a last stab at the Venus story. “Once, on a hopeful impulse, he sent a message to Miss (Goebel). He wanted her to help him win his release so he could re-establish contact with Venus!” Pauline had enough of his phony letters already. She refused.

In total, Berney was charged with eight criminal offenses. Facing overwhelming evidence, it seems Berney accepted a plea deal to avoid the maximum penalty. The other six counts were dropped. On October 3, 1957, Berney pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud by wire and false pretenses. Of the thousands he’d taken, he was only convicted of taking $300. 

As an aside, the next day, history was made when the Soviet Union launched the first man-made object into space. Sputnik 1 successfully entered Earth's orbit on Oct. 4, 1957, making the connection between man and space very real. It was accompanied by a flap of flying saucer sightings across the USA.

The Tampa Tribune, Dec. 14, 1957
On December 13, Berney was sentenced. Under the plea, the maximum penalty could have been eight years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Instead, Berney got off light, a term at the Lorton Reformatory in Virginia from 20 months to five years in prison. We couldn’t locate the prison records, but evidence suggests that he was released after about two years.

Dorothy obtained a Nevada divorce from Berney in 1961, for “three years of separation without cohabitation.” Whatever became of Harold Jesse Berney after that, it didn’t make the papers, except for his brief obituary. The last substantial documentation comes from his death certificate. He returned to Maryland and Berney’s last job was for Patrick Signs in Rockville. He was 69 years old when he died, and he had lived close to his ex-wife and children in Silver Spring. It was left to Dorothy to arrange his funeral. He had been in failing health in his last years, and he died of congestive heart failure at Washington Sanatorium and Hospital on December 19, 1967. Hal Berney was buried at Parklawn Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

There’s even less documented information about the further lives of the victims of Berney’s Venus Modulator scheme. Pauline E. Goebel (1903 -1997) continued her career as a legal secretary. Her passing was noted by the Masonic organization she belonged to, Friendship Chapter 17 of the Order of the Evening Star. She died on Feb. 25, 1997, and was buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Pleasant “Mac” McCarty (1903 - 1974) and Mildred G. McCarty (1905 - 1981) were buried at Bethel Methodist Cemetery in Lewes, Delaware. The McCartys operated their fishing business for many years, and it was continued by the family after they both passed away.

Dorothy Berney lost more than anyone. Sticking by Hal for so long cost her more than we can say. After her children moved away, Dorothy went on to live a new life. She married Grover W. Walton, Jr. on August 12, 1976, and they stayed together the rest of her life. She passed away on May 6, 2011.

Two Years in Virginia
Pioneering UFO fraud Silas Newton was convicted for a saucer-related swindle in 1953, but avoided serving any time. That leaves Harold J. Berney the dubious honor of being the first person to go to prison for lying about flying saucers. One of the few ever. Why did Harold J. Berney get arrested and convicted while many other UFO hoaxing profiteers (before and since) avoided punishment?

Berney had a prior criminal history that showed a pattern of fraud.
He operated in the Washington, DC area, so maybe the FBI wanted to squash him.
Most UFO frauds operate no differently than religious enterprises and receive donations based on intangibles, hope, belief etc., as opposed to dealing in transactions involving stock certificates and such.
There were specific crimes for which Berney could be charged, chiefly his use of the telephone, for “fraud by wire.” 

Pauline Goebel might never have reported the crime to the police if not for being prompted by the book publisher. Of her support of Berney’s Venus scheme, an FBI agent said, “She honestly believed that it would save our country from the Russians.” Pauline’s remark about being foolish shows that she felt sick from the betrayal. There may have been other investors who never reported being swindled. 

Berney’s problem was that he dealt in physical things. He’d created a business and sold shares of stock, all around the promise of a piece of hardware, the Magnetic Flux Modulator that never was delivered. It’s rare that people get prosecuted for just selling bad ideas. If Berney had just peddled his story of alien contact, he might have become a saucer celebrity instead of going to prison. 

An Afterword by M. Adamson

M. Adamson, Harold J. Berney’s great-granddaughter generously shared her collection of documents, photos and genealogical records to fill in some of the many blanks to make this story complete. We asked her to provide an afterword:
My Grandfather was Harold Jesse Berney’s first son, but they never met one another, and our family never knew what became of Hal after his release from the federal Penitentiary in Georgia. Late in life, my grandfather became curious about his father, but passed away before finding anything In his memory, my mother, and I picked up the search. Since 2000 I’ve been doing genealogical work, writing distant family relations, prisons, and filing FOIAs for any government records.
I ran into a few closed doors. Some family members would rather forget Hal and want nothing to do with him. Some of the prison records were lost or destroyed, and the FBI government documents almost had to be pried from their hands, and we’re still waiting for the bulk of the files to be released. I was disturbed to discover that Hal was buried in an unmarked grave, as was his daughter, Brenda Jean Berney, who died on February 12, 1978 in Columbus, Ohio. It was a violent death, a fall from a second-story apartment landing, but even though she’d been seriously injured by an unknown attacker before the fall, the death was ruled an accident. I’m fighting to have the police case reopened, and also to get proper grave markers for both Hal and his daughter.
Harold J. Berney, no matter what anyone thinks of him, led a fascinating life. He wasn’t a violent man, but the facts show he was a con man, and some of the consequences of that fell hard on his wives and children. We barely know anything about him except for his criminal record, and can’t really know what was in his heart. I’m hoping we can learn more about him. The truth, whatever it is, should be told. 
M. Adamson, April 8, 2020
Ms. Adamson has established a fundraiser to provide proper markers for the graves of Harold J. Berney and Brenda J. Berney.


In gathering evidence, the FBI apparently collected the only copy of the manuscript for Berney’s Two Weeks on Venus. It’s been quoted from and summarized, but as of this writing, the text itself remains in the custody of the US government. We have submitted a FOIA request for Harold J. Berney’s FBI file, the one that totals approximately 500 pages on the Venus swindle. Unfortunately, “this file requires screening for categories of information exempted from disclosure... Taking into consideration our existing backlog, the estimated time required to complete the processing of your request is approximately 30 months from the date of this letter.”

That was well before the COVID-19 pandemic, so the release could take even longer. Whenever we get hold of the file, you can be certain we’ll update the story, and publicly disclose the FBI file on the Venus swindle of Harold J. Berney.

. . .

UPDATE Aug. 31, 2023

Hal J. Berney finished his book after his release from prison. The manuscript and paintings have been located, and we finally get a glimpse of them.

. . .

Documents and Sources

STTF Collection of Documents and Newspaper clippings

Contemporary Published Sources

Time magazine, April 15, 1957

CSI Newsletter, May 1, 1957 page 11
quoting from the Mobile Register, March 26, 1957

APRO Bulletin, Nov. 1957
Commenting on Berney’s arrest, APRO quipped:

FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Volume 28, No. 11, Nov. 1959
“Space-age Swindle”

This Week magazine, May 21, 1961
''The Swindler From Outer Space" by J. Edgar Hoover. 

Argosy magazine, volume 353, #4; Oct. 1961
"Did We Beat the Reds on Venus?" by Sherwood King. "A fast-talking inventor, a Venusian prince and his curvaceous associate, 'a magnetic flux modulator' and thousands of other people's dollars - all these add up to the fantastic story of Harold J. Berney, who's either the sharpest con man this side of Saturn or the world's first interplanetary traveller.”

Modern Coverage of the Berney Saga

Contactees: A History of Alien-human Interaction by Nick Redfern, 2010:
Chapter 9: “Prince Uccelles”

Useless Information podcast episode, Jan. 21, 2015:
The Great Venus Swindle” by Steve Silverman,

Marcianitos Verdes by Luis Ruiz Noguez, April 16, 2016: 
El estafador del espacio exterior” (Spanish site: The Scammer from Outer Space)

. . .

Extra: Modulator Trivia

The First and Last Modulators?

Thanks to Martin Kottmeyer for his historical perspective on Venus UFO stories - and Marvin the Martian. He points out that well before Hal Berney's Magnetic Flux Modulator, there was another alien technological device with a similar name, Marvin the Martian's PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator, seen in the 1948 Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Haredevil Hare." 

The PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator

There was a real Magnetic Flux Modulator patented in 1966/69 by Inventors Malcolm P. MacMartin and Norbert L. Kusters, but it was far less exciting than Berney’s. Theirs was only built “for direct current measurement,” not free energy and spaceship propulsion.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Flying Saucer Swindlers: Silas Newton and the UFO Crash

In 1950, the public had been told that flying saucers are real, but there was even more exciting news circulating. A scientist disclosed that four spaceships had been captured by the US government - and we should expect another flying saucer landing soon. The story was issued by United Press (UP) and published as front page news by many papers across the USA on October 20, 1950.

Hartford Courant Oct. 20, 1950

The Minneapolis Star Oct. 20 1950 
The "scientist" was oil man Silas M. Newton, billed in the news as a geophysicist. The Newton story began circulating in late 1949, and spread faster than a virus, and by early 1950, several variations of it were in circulation. 
... the story got from Silas Newton to J. Edgar Hoover: Newton told George Koehler (employed at radio station KMYR in Denver), who told Morley Davies, who told Ford dealers Murphy and van Horn, who told auto dealer Fick, who told the editor of the Kansas City Wyandotte Echo. By that time, Koehler had become "Coulter," just like a game of "gossip" (or a game of "pi")!       
This article was picked up in the news, where it caught the interest of the OSI. The OSI agent passed the story on to Guy Hottel of the FBI, and he gave the 8th-hand story to Hoover.

The FBI Hottel Memo

A version of Silas Newton's story was recorded by agent Guy Hottel of the FBI New Orleans office on March 31, 1950. It's a real document, but it has often been misrepresented, taken out of context. Since it surfaced in the 1970s, the "Hottel Memo" has been frequently cited as evidence of a government cover-up of recovered UFOs, and also falsely linked to another incident, the alleged flying saucer crash known as the "Roswell Incident." 

The document itself can be viewed at the FBI Vault:

In 2011, Isaac Koi made a thorough examination of the frequent "re-discoveries" of the Guy Hottel Memo: "Debunked! The FBI alien bodies memo – A case study in the reinvention of the wheel"

Behind the Flying Saucers

Silas Newton's story really caught fire when it was picked up in a national magazine. Frank Scully was a Hollywood gossip columnist, with "Scully's Scrapbook" dishing up tinsel town gab for Variety magazine. Scully was also a respected reviewer of literature and wrote a few books of his own. In 1949, he published two Variety columns on the discovery of flying saucers (Aztec) and a follow-up piece Jan. 11, 1950 with 20 questions he thought the Air Force should answer, accusing the US Government of covering things up.

Newton and Scully
Those columns laid the foundation for what is arguably, the most influential book in UFO history, Behind the Flying Saucers, the original story of the cover-up of small alien bodies retrieved from captured UFOs in New Mexico. The tale also featured other elements that would later resurface in the resurrection and expansion of the story of the saucer debris taken to Roswell, such as the recovery and scientific examination of the spaceship's strange light metal, advanced technology and the dead aliens it contained.

The saucer story itself was thin, barely fleshed out from Scully's sketchy columns, but he added details about how oilman Silas Newton had heard about the discs from the mysterious magnetic research scientist Scully called "Dr. Gee," and there was extensive discussion of how the saucers were constructed on the "System of Nines," and flew using magnetic propulsion. Newton was interested in using that alien magnetic technology to detect oil, and that would come to play an important role in his future.

The story was a hoax, part of a scam by Newton to provide an exotic technological origin for the "doodlebug" he was selling with partner Leo GeBauer, a device that was supposed to magnetically detect oil deposits beneath the earth. He was tried and found guilty of fraud in 1953.

Before: Co-defendant Leo GeBauer, his attorney, and Silas Newton
After: Newton Sentenced

Here's a short version of the Silas Newton Aztec hoax, a non-UFO article examining the episode as just as an oil swindle. It's from the site of the The American Oil & Gas Historical Society:

Here's a rare recording of Silas Newton telling the story himself. This undated 24-minute audio was part of Wendy Connor's Faded Discs collection: 

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Although the hoax had its critics, it took two years before it was debunked by J.P. Cahn in "The Flying Saucers and the Mysterious Little Men" in True Magazine, Sept. 1952, and in a follow-up piece in True Magazine, Aug. 1956, "Flying Saucer Swindlers." Newton and Scully exploited the hopes and fears of those interested in the UFO mystery, promoting the belief that extraterrestrials were visiting Earth and that there was a Government conspiracy to hide it. When the hoax was exposed, the story was largely forgotten, but the alien and cover-up concepts were adopted as canonical beliefs. The Air Force was portrayed as a villain in Newton's story and Scully's book, and it continued to be a source of irritation. In 1965, answering a request for information about it, the Air Force replied:

For more on the Frank Scully book, see the previous STTF article,

The Shape of Things to Come

As for Silas Newton's 1950 prediction that a flying saucer would soon land, he was off. It happened in 1952, according to the story told by George Adamski.

For more on the Adamski hoax, see:
Saucer News presents: the George Adamski Exposé

The Saucers That Time Forgot will be presenting an series of in-depth articles on other early Flying Saucer Swindlers. Next up, Harold J Berney: The FBI’s Flying Saucer Fugitive.

Frank Edwards: Making UFOs Newsworthy

Dr. J. Allen Hynek on UFO literature (in  The Edge of Reality , 1975): “If I were to recommend anything in the popular category, I would cho...