And while the term itself has become something of a buzz-word for loopy or paranoid in contemporary society, Webster defines the word conspiracy simply as “a secret plan,” which is hardly some rare or complex phenomenon.
Speaking for myself, I remain unconvinced that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy and resent the stock rationale regularly put forward by proponents of the lone gunman theory, that when an important or significant person dies under questionable circumstances, or in some cases of seemingly natural causes, a certain segment of the public will always refuse to accept it as such. They – me in this case – have a deep need to believe that the departed could not possibly have died of natural causes, or in a freak accident, or at the hands of a single, mentally unstable personality. There is in fact real wisdom attached to this point of view, but there are exceptions that prove the rule as well. Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby, died of cancer in a Dallas jail while awaiting trial on murder charges. While people die of cancer every day, it would not surprise me to learn that Ruby’s cancer had been, well, ‘introduced’ into his system to shut him up for good. That’s what I believe, but I can’t prove it.
I know people who feel that taking literally any conspiracy seriously is akin to believing in the tooth fairy. This kind of overly simplistic thinking is not just ignorant, it is insulting and can even be dangerous. Even President Bush has used the term “conspiracy theory” to belittle or dismiss notions that everything has not been completely on the up and up in his administration. At the same time there are those of us who’ve become so accustomed to our government lying to or deceiving us that we (understandably) suspect them of complicity anytime history looks at us cross-eyed. The truth likely lies somewhere between these two extremes. Today we’re going to take a look at the lives, and deaths, of eleven people, nine of them men, two of them women, who made significant contributions to ufology or were otherwise seriously involved with the subject. Some of these studies are fairly brief, others more in depth and the final one particularly so. I’ve done my best to remain as objective as possible in each case, but some of these profiles are noticeably more personal than others. I met one of these individuals years ago, corresponded briefly with another, and considered four of them friends, three of them good friends. The information in this paper has been drawn from thirty six different print sources, some supporting Internet research, and personal knowledge of four of the individuals, and of the circumstances surrounding their deaths. To help us understand why these eleven might have been targeted for extinction, and to better allow you to come to your own best conclusions, its important to have some appreciation for the lives they lived and the contributions they made.
Our first subject was a popular UFO writer of the nineteen fifties, Morris Ketchum Jessup, better known as M.K. Jessup. Its alleged that he was murdered and that the murder was made to appear as a suicide, or that he was brainwashed into taking his own life, the reason being that he was getting too close to the truth about UFOs. Jessup’s books on the subject, The Case For the UFO, The Expanding Case For the UFO, UFOs and the Bible and The Expanding Case For the UFO are considered classics and are still among the most readable and thoughtful contributions to the otherwise often simplistic, mystical or paranoid flying saucer literature of the era. The Case For the UFO became a national best-seller in 1955 and remains one the most comprehensive and rational collection of case studies of the time.
Dr. Jessup’s credits were outstanding and varied. He began his career as an instructor in astronomy and mathematics at Drake University and the University of Michigan, where he also studied for and received his Doctorate in Astrophysics. The university then hired him to supervise the building and operation of the Southern Hemisphere’s (then) largest refracting telescope. Jessup’s passion for and scholarship in the twin fields of archeology and anthropology led him to carry out significant independent research at Maya and Incan ruins in Central America and Peru, then to become an acknowledged expert on the megalithic stoneworks of Peru, Easter Island and Syria, among other locations. He then became interested in the subject of UFOs.
In 1956 Jessup was preparing to travel to Mexico to survey meteorite craters, and to continue his research into ancient extraterrestrial visitations, but upon learning that this author of UFO books was to be part of the expedition, the University of Michigan, the project’s main sponsor, withdrew it’s support and the venture quickly died. Aware that his UFO related writing that year would bring in very little income, Jessup decided to publish his own books and sell them through the mail. But nothing came of this plan and he did not publish anymore books. Two years later the writer separated from his wife and moved from Florida back to his home state of Indiana were he worked as an editor and pursued his growing interest in psychic phenomena. On an October 1958 visit to New York City he met with zoologist Ivan Sanderson, author of Invisible Residents and Uninvited Visitors, among other titles. Sanderson found him in a gloomy state. Jessup complained that a series of strange events which he hesitated to discuss had pulled him “into a complete world of unreality” (Sanderson, 1968). During this time the two manuscripts which Jessup sent to his publisher were rejected as not being up to par.
The writer left New York soon after, but apparently did not return to Indiana. Two weeks later when his publisher tried to contact him, he was nowhere to be found. The following month he was located in Florida where he explained he was recovering from a serious auto accident. Jessup’s depression continued to deepen and in April 1959 he wrote a letter to his friend, the radio host Long John Nebel. Sanderson characterized it as a “straight suicide note.” On April 20 the fifty nine year old Jessup drove from his Florida home to a quiet spot in nearby Dade County Park where he made good on the contents of the note, specifically, by wiring a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car and feeding the other end through a small opening in the window. He died of carbon-monoxide poisoning not long after being found at about 6:30 that evening.
I’d heard years ago that there were things about this suicide that didn’t add up. For example, that the space above the car window admitting the hose had been stuffed with wet rags to keep the carbon-monoxide in, and that subsequent investigation found no container in the car that could have held the water necessary to wet the rags. I have not been able to confirm this allegation through any source. Richard Ogden, a UFO researcher in Seattle, claimed the suicide was a ‘frame up’ and that Jessup had been sent a tape recording which contained ‘self-destructive instructions,’ but this was never substantiated either. In fact there was no autopsy, contrary to Florida state law, but not much else I’ve been able to establish as non-standard or menacing.
Jessup’s close friend John P. Bessor maintained that Jessup was very disappointed and discouraged over loosing his battle to make UFOs respectable among scientists. Ivan Sanderson’s wife Sabina saw the suicide note which Jessup had sent to her husband and recalled that it “makes it clear that he chose suicide as the only possible alternative to an insupportable future, and did so after careful consideration. … Certainly the mysterious ‘they’ had nothing to do with it.” I have to agree with Sabina Sanderson. Given everything I’ve learned about Morris Jessup’s life and the circumstances which led to his free fall into profound depression, I have to conclude that this pioneering UFO author and investigator was not killed by anyone other than himself.
Dorothy Kilgallen was an extremely well-connected media personality and highly syndicated newspaper columnist from the nineteen forties through the mid sixties. While best known to millions of Americans as a long-time panelist on the TV show “What’s My Line?,” she was also a serious investigative reporter who maintained a highly critical attitude toward the official explanations offered for both the JFK assassination and for UFOs. Kilgallen was found dead in her bed in 1965 and many still feel that she was murdered because of what she might reveal about one or both of these explosive subjects.
For years Kilgallen’s Journal American column, “Voice of Broadway,” alternated between celebrity gossip, hard news and exclusives. In May 1947, a month before Kenneth Arnold’s sighting and about six weeks prior to Roswell, she reported the crash of an unidentified flying object near Spitsbergen, Norway in early 1952. Rational concern that the wreck might represent advanced Russian technology was undercut by the Norwegian Air Force Colonel who chaired the Board of Inquiry and is alleged to have said, “… Some time ago a misunderstanding was caused by saying that the disc probably was of Soviet origin. It has – this we wish to state emphatically – not been built by any country on earth. The materials used in its construction are completely unknown to all experts having participated in the investigation."
Eight years later Kilgallen published an article entitled “’Flying Saucer’ Wreckage Assures Britons of Reality.” It appeared on May 23, 1955 in London’s International News Service and was then picked up by numerous papers, including The Los Angeles Examiner. To quote: “I can report today on a story which is positively spooky, not to mention chilling. British scientists and airmen, after examining the wreckage of one mysterious flying ship, are convinced these strange aerial objects are not optical illusions, but are flying saucers which originate on another planet. The source of my information is a British official of cabinet rank who prefers to remain unidentified. ‘We believe, on the basis of our inquiry thus far, that the saucers were staffed by small men – probably under four feet tall. Its frightening, but there’s no denying the flying saucers come from another planet.’ The official quoted scientists as saying a flying ship of this type could not possibly have been constructed on Earth. The British government, I learned, is withholding an official report on the ‘flying saucer’ examination at the time, possibly because it does not wish to frighten the public.”
While Kilgallen never made her source of this extraordinary news story public, key investigators have speculated that the account originated with Lord Mountbatten. One of them was Gordon Creighton, a former diplomat and British Army intelligence officer. He was also editor of Britain’s Flying Saucer Review. After reading her column, Creighton “…wrote to Dorothy Kilgellen at once, seeking further information, but never got a reply from her, and she died a few years later. We may take it as certain that she had been effectively removed.” Additional support for this account can be deduced from a statement issued at about this time by Britain’s Air Chief Marshall Lord Dowding who said in part, “I am convinced that there objects do exist and that they are not manufactured by any nation on Earth.” While no investigator has been able to confirm the authenticity or source of Kilgallen’s published account, Timothy Good writes in Above Top Secret, “Why should Dorothy Kilgallen risk her reputation as one of the USA’s star journalists by propagating an untrue story? … To the best of my knowledge (she) never denied the story. Furthermore, a number of similar stories from reliable sources have surfaced over the years, not all of which can be discounted, however absurd they may sound.”
I had hesitated to bring Marilyn Monroe into this story for obvious reasons, I mean, really. But given the well documented friendship between the actress and the columnist, and the prevalence of this account in the literature, I could not ignore it. It stems from a CIA document of at least questionable provenance which related a conversation recorded via phone tap between Kilgallen and her close friend and Hollywood insider Howard Rothberg, who at one point states that Marilyn ‘had secrets to tell,’ one of which was that the president had confided to his then-lover that he’d visited “a secret air base to inspect things from outer space,” the extraterrestrial implication being obvious. Kilgallen responded that she’d heard in the mid nineteen fifties that there was a secret effort by the US and the UK governments to identify the origins of a crashed craft in New Mexico. Again, while this document has not been authenticated to my satisfaction, it did bear the date August 3, 1962, which would have been three days before Miss Monroe’s death.
Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Kilgallen was one of the few national news reporters not to go along with the lone gunman theory, and, to the best of my knowledge, the only one to interview Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby.
This interview and other factors convinced the reporter that the president’s killing was the result of a conspiracy about which she laid out her thoughts in a series of columns, even publishing the text of Ruby’s classified testimony before the Warren Commission. Unfortunately she was very public about the fact she was saving her best material for a book – one that was never written. On November 8, 1965 Dorothy Kilgallen was found dead in her bed with a book propped up in her lap. It was known however that she had already finished reading the book. More, her reading glasses, which would have been necessary to read the book, were never found. Kilgallen’s hairdresser, who was also a close friend and confidant, pointed out that she was wearing a blouse over her nightgown which she would never have done. She was also found wearing her false eyelashes which she always took off before going to bed. And she was not found in her normal bedroom; she was in the master bedroom which she had not slept in for years. Additionally, Mark Lane, the pioneering JFK assassination researcher who wrote Plausible Denial, also believed she had been murdered and that the CIA might have been involved. Not surprisingly, the extensive file she had built on the incriminating aspects of the Kennedy assassination was missing from her files and never found. Personally, I’m convinced that Miss Kilgallen was in fact murdered, but more likely for what she intended to publish about the assassination rather than her knowledge of or interest in UFOs, though who can say for sure. By the way, the most knowledgeable investigator on this story that I know is my friend and colleague Nick Redfern.
Dr. James E. McDonald was an atmospheric physicist of great intelligence who had the courage to attempt bringing the subject of UFOs to the serious attention of both the American public and establishment science, much to the detriment of both his professional and personal life. His lectures and writings on UFOs ring with passion, intelligence and anger and are still very much worth reading. Its alleged that this member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society and the Institute of Atmospheric Physics was murdered, and that his murder was made to look like suicide.
James McDonald was born in Minnesota in 1920, earned a B.A. at the University of Omaha, an M.S. from M.I.T., and his Ph.D. at Iowa State University. McDonald’s investigative specialty was cloud physics, but a wide ranging curiosity led him into other areas of scientific study as well. On a drive through Arizona in January 1954 he had a UFO sighting with three friends. Mc Donald reported the sighting to the Air Force and searched for a conventional explanation of what the four had seen, but could find none. The event was not an earth-shaking one for him, but it did add the subject to his list of interests. He began an investigation of sightings in Arizona in 1958 and quietly became affiliated with the now defunct National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) that same year. As he became more involved in the field, he grew to feel that neither the Air Force’s Project Blue Book nor the scientific community were paying proper attention to the phenomenon.
His curiosity grew as a result of the 1966 Michigan sightings which made him all the more interested in conducting his own UFO study. As a result he applied for and secured a small grant from the Office of Naval Research to review the Blue Book material kept at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. The ONI felt that certain kinds of clouds might account for some UFO reports and radar trackings, and being a cloud expert, McDonald was a logical choice for this effort.
During his visit to the base he was able to read the CIA’s 1952 Robertson Panel report and was astonished to learn that their efforts were being directed toward a cover-up and debunking effort. A request for a photocopy was denied by the agency which informed him that it had been reclassified shortly after he’d read it. While the reclassification proved to be temporary, his Wright-Patterson research established that the Air Force’s UFO investigation was half-hearted at best.
Now increasingly convinced that legitimate UFO sightings were evidence of extraterrestrial visits, Dr. McDonald met with Blue Book consultant Dr. J. Allen Hynek that summer whom he attacked for continuing to tow the official line. Hynek explained that he’d grown to feel much the same as McDonald and was about to reverse his public position, but McDonald chided him for not having done so in 1953. Hynek associate Jacques Vallee was impressed with the newcomer’s resolve and later wrote that “it is clear that an entire era has come to an end. This man has many contacts, many ideas, and he is afraid of nothing.” From this point on, almost all of McDonald’s professional efforts were devoted to UFO investigations and to convince scientists, politicians, journalists and other opinion makers of the seriousness of the subject.
Shortly thereafter James McDonald went public with his extraterrestrial hypothesis. By this time the Air Force had identified the scientist as an enemy and an internal memo issued at about this time discussed the need to “fireproof” him; Air Force slang for discrediting someone. His one man crusade included the interviewing of hundreds of UFO witnesses, continued research on more classic cases and lectures to the American Meteorological Society and as many other scientific and professional associations as he could get invitations from. He wrote brilliant criticisms of Blue Book’s failings and of Harvard’s UFO debunking astronomer Donald K. Menzel. In 1967 he was even invited to speak before the UN’s Outer Space Affairs Group by Secretary General U Thant. The scientist’s criticism of Dr. Edward U. Condon, outspoken skeptic and Director University of Colorado’s ongoing UFO study succeeded primarily in making the academics furious with him for exposing their highly flawed scientific methodology. In 1968 McDonald joined Hynek, Carl Sagan and other scientists in addressing the House Science and Astronautics Committee. His particularly blunt, no-nonsense comments read in part, “(My) position is that UFOs are entirely real and we do not know what they are, because we’ve laughed them out of court. The possibility that they are extraterrestrial devices, that we are dealing with surveillance from some advanced technology, is a possibility I take very seriously.”
But it was Menzel who regularly received McDonald’s harshest criticisms, even calling into question the astronomer’s competence. His remarks before the American Society of Newspaper Publishers that year included this remark about the astronomer, “…when it comes to analyzing UFO reports, he seems to calmly cast aside well-known principles almost with abandon, in an all-out effort to be sure that no UFO report survives his attack.” And attack Menzel did at every opportunity, and with as much vengeance as Edward Condon who’d grown to hate McDonald.
They were soon joined by upcoming debunker Phil Klass whose knowledge of atmospheric physics was dwarfed by the scientist’s. Klass soon abandoned his ball lightening and plasma UFO theories for the many and varied accusations of hoax that would become a career hallmark of his skewed methodology. But Klass, an editor and writer for Aviation Week magazine, was nothing if not tenacious. He struck back in increasingly effective ways, petitioning the Navy’s Office of Intelligence, which had given McDonald another small grant to pursue research in Australia, to drop their support for what many considered crackpot research. The ONI did withdraw the grant and Klass’s attacks caused McDonald to suffer additional embarrassment and lost support through a series of broadsides which questioned his logic, knowledge and even honesty. Each new attack served to erode his credibility further.
McDonald continued his one man crusade throughout 1969 and seventy, but it was not difficult for those close to him to see that he was paying an increasingly high price for his efforts. He had isolated himself from his more conservative colleagues and his opinions about UFOs were now being used against him more and more effectively. In March 1971 his expertise in cloud and atmospheric physics resulted in a request to testify before the House Committee on Appropriations. The subject was the proposed production of a supersonic transport, or SST (commercially realized some years later as the Concorde), and the potential level of harm that its exhaust represented to the atmosphere. McDonald testified insightfully for two days, but congressmen who did not understand the science involved, or just disagreed with him, responded with pure ridicule. After all, why should they believe anything this physicist said? Didn’t he believe that “there are little green men flying around the sky”? Now nationally humiliated, McDonald returned home to a marriage that was quickly disintegrating, and to an academic community that wanted no part of him. His testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations would be his last public appearance.
In fact, his singular attention to UFOs had put terrific stress on his marriage, and Betsy McDonald was feeling increasingly neglected. She genuinely appreciated that the SST controversy had only increased her husband’s state of depression, and as a result was willing to wait until a better time to discuss their deteriorating relationship. But McDonald insisted that they do so upon his return. The fact was that Betsy had become involved with another man and wanted a divorce. McDonald more than appreciated the situation which he had set in motion, but it was too late for the couple to reconcile their differences and his depression became full blown. Almost immediately he began to work out a plan for suicide, but not without considering the financial security of his family, this in the form of the value of his personal papers and extensive archive. He decided that he would take his life on March 26, but the date came and went as he continued to organize his files and complete one final paper. However, early on the morning of on April 9, he found himself alone in the house, composed a brief note to Betsy, then shot himself in the head with his handgun. But the bullet missed his brain and all but destroyed his optic nerve. Now blind, his was briefly committed to the psychiatric ward of Tucson’s Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. Betsy and their daughters rallied to his side to help him adjust to his blindness; she putting her plans for divorce on hold as well.
Over the next few months Dr. McDonald began to recover and got back the business of life and work at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics, even at times with real enthusiasm. A minimal amount of vision had returned too, but his wife was not fooled, and grew increasingly concerned that he was working hard to fool those around him and still intent on ending his life. Time proved her to be correct. On Tuesday June 13, he left the Institute on his own and hailed a cab, asking the driver to take him to a pawn shop in town. With just enough vision returned to pose as a seemingly sighted man, he purchased a used Spanish 38. caliber revolver and some ammunition, then asked the cabbie to drive him to an isolated intersection in the desert. From here he apparently made his way on foot to a bridge that was about a mile from the intersection. Somewhere between eight and ten hours later, a family out hiking near Tucson came upon his body under the bridge. The 38. was found to the left of his head, a brief suicide note in his pocket.
Speculation that the scientist’s death might have been the result of foul play was immediate within a segment of the UFO research community. I think that Dr. McDonald was driven to suicide by the collective forces arrayed against him. Perhaps in a more perfect world the likes of Condon, Menzel and Klass might have been indictable as co-conspirators in his death, but all the facts point to McDonald himself as the man who pulled the trigger. If you’d like to learn more about this outstanding contributor to serious UFO studies, get yourself a copy of Ann Druffel’s definitive biography Firestorm. Ann is one of our finest UFO scholars and was a close associate of Dr. McDonald’s. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
Frank Edwards was a popular broadcaster and author, and a longtime public proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis of UFOs. He is said to have died of a coronary, but there where those who felt he’d been murdered for bringing so much serious attention to the subject of UFOs.
Edwards certainly qualified for the title of pioneer radio broadcaster. He began his career as a radio announcer in 1924, was a White House correspondent from 1949 to 1954, and was cited as one of the nation’s top three broadcasters along with Edward R. Morrow and Lowell Thomas in a 1953 poll. By the nineteen sixties his best-known radio show, “Strangest of All,” was syndicated on hundreds of radio stations around the country. Many of the stories he related on the air went on to become the subjects of his newspaper column which was syndicated in about three hundred American newspapers.
Edwards was also a successful author with seven books to his credit, four of which dealt with inexplicable phenomena: Strangest of All, Stranger Than Science, Strange People and Strange World. But it was not until the mid sixties that he really hit his stride as an internationally best-selling author with the publication of his dual UFO exposés, UFOs – Serious Business in 1966 and UFOs – Here and Now in 1967. Both books were translated into numerous languages and cemented his position as the best-known and most outspoken radio personality in America regularly addressing the subject of UFOs. Edwards first became interested in UFOs in the late 1940s. In 1953 he got hold of an advance copy of Major Donald Keyhoe’s “The Flying Saucers Are Real,” and while its author had no previous books to his credit, he was a respected and decorated retired Marine Corps combat pilot. The book was arguably the most popular yet published on the subject, and Edwards succeeded in scooping the competition by becoming the first broadcaster to report Keyhoe’s shocking conclusions: that the objects were extraterrestrial craft, and that Air Force officials were aware, but refused to acknowledge it. Edwards’ report made the wire services and the broadcaster was hooked on the subject. He and Keyhoe became fast friends and the Major was a regular guest on his
radio shows after that.
Mr. Edwards was a member of the Board of Governors of NICAP (along with former CIA Director Roscoe Hillencotter) from 1957 until his death. His ongoing, on-air discussions about flying saucers and other unidentified flying objects were both unflinching and hard-hitting, and given the widely syndicated reach of his show, millions of listeners grew to take his conclusions seriously, as did certain Washington insiders.
I’ve read differing accounts of Edwards’ final months. Some of them maintained that he was in failing health, others that he was never will. Whatever the truth was, he passed away a few minutes before midnight on June 23, 1967. In New York City an event called the Conference of Scientific Ufologists had been scheduled to begin the next morning, taking advantage of the fact that it was the thirtieth anniversary of the Kenneth Arnold sightings. The organizer chose to begin his remarks with an announcement of the sad news and by some accounts the audience of more than one thousand gasped as one. This slight misunderstanding – that the famed broadcaster had died on the anniversary itself, fed an instant suspicion among many that the coincidence had been just too coincidental. But there were other factors that fed their concern, and I’m not sure what to make of them. Edwards’ obituary in the New York Times read that his death was ‘apparently’ due to a heart attack which didn’t help matters any, but a more disturbing claim was made public by radio personality and Edwards protégé Long John Nebel, who went on to take up the UFO cause on his long running syndicated radio show.
Nebel related that just prior to the conference, famed UFO researcher and author Gray Barker showed him two unsigned letters he’d received stating that Frank Edwards would die during the convention. Barker also phoned him, again, just prior to the conference, to say, “John, something happened a few minutes ago that really shook me up. I got a phone call from a man who said that Edwards would not live to see the end of the convention. That’s all he said before he hung up.” Gray Barker was one of the golden age of flying saucers’ most colorful figures, and while a dedicated chronicler of the phenomena’s early days, was not above playing a bit fast and loose with the facts. His landmark 1956 paranoid classic, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (great title!) attests to this tendency, but John Nebel on the other hand was know for his straightforwardness and dedication to the subject, and if he went on record that he’s seen these letters and received that call, I have to take him seriously. As such, this is a case where we have to credit extraordinary multiple coincidences as the cause of ongoing murder rumors, or admit that Frank Edwards may really have been the victim of foul play, to which I’d have to agree.
For twenty years Dr. J. Allen Hynek was the best known and most influential figure in international ufology, bar none. Given his importance, some in the field felt his death might not have been natural.
Briefly, Allen Hynek was born in Chicago in 1910 and received both his Batchelor of Science and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. A teaching position at Ohio State followed and in 1956 he was hired by the Smithsonian’s Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard to track the earth satellites that the United States planned to begin launching in the near future. His affiliation with the Air Force began in 1960 as a consultant with Project Stargazer which was involved in launching telescopes on balloons into the upper atmosphere. That year he also joined the faculty of Northwestern University as professor of astronomy.
But his involvement in UFO studies actually began in 1948 when the Air Force invited him to begin looking into sighting reports. Initially skeptical, Hynek contributed to the public’s less-than-serious perception of the phenomena, creating the now-famous musings that “swamp gas” was an explanation for the unknown aerial objects. He went on to work with the University of Colorado on its huge, misleading report on UFOs, but by this time was becoming dismayed by the service’s inept and unscientific handling of the subject. And while he did not get along very well with Dr. James McDonald, he was impressed and respectful of the physicist’s passionate UFO investigation and attempt to bring UFOs into the scientific mainstream. Hynek’s book, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry was published in 1972, the year after McDonald’s suicide. The book accused the Air Force of conducting their UFO investigations with indifference and incompetence and gave voice to his growing view that some UFOs were extraterrestrial in origin.
The UFO Experience was actually well received by many in the scientific community. In 1973 he founded The Center For UFO Studies. It was renamed the J. Allen Hynek Center For UFO Studies following his death. His second book, The Edge of Reality (written with Jacques Vallee) came out in 1975 while his third book, The Hynek UFO Report was published in 1977. That year The Center, which is located in Chicago, enjoyed a jump in attention after the astronomer had assisted in helping to promote Steven Speilberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His cameo appearance toward the end of the film is still memorable and made him into something of a pop culture figure and he went on to became a regular speaker at UFO conferences.
I met Dr. Hynek in 1984, interestingly on the same day I met my future co-author Larry Warren. We had all come to Westchester County, New York that day to learn more about huge triangular craft that were inundating the area at the time. This photo was taken by my friend Pete Mazzola who I’ll be talking about next. Not long after we met Dr. Hynek was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and while his name appeared as the first of three authors on 1987’s Night Siege, which is about New York’s Hudson Valley UFO sightings, the book was fully written by investigators Phil Imbrogno and Bob Pratt - by the time the contract had been signed, Allen Hynek was too ill to participate. He died on April 27, 1987 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Nothing I have learned about this singular contributor to the field of scientific UFO studies indicates or leads me to believe he was sitting on any explosive of potentially embarrassing information which might have made him a target of interest of the Air Force, the intelligence community, or any other governmental agency. Unless or until I learn anything to the contrary I have to conclude that he died of natural causes.
Pete Mazzola was a charismatic, intense UFO investigator who also happened to be a tough, no-nonsense New York City Police Detective. Water damage to some of my files has left me without a photo of him. In the 1970’s Pete founded a research group called the Scientific Bureau of Investigation, better known as the SBI, whose membership was primarily composed of police officers. Pete served as its National Director until his death, which occurred just two months after Allen Hynek’s, also from the effects of a brain tumor. And much as in the case of Dr, Hynek, his death was followed by speculation that the tumor was artificially introduced to quiet Mazzola’s growing, authoritative presence on the UFO scene. He was also a mentor or mine, and a good friend to me and my family.
Pete was born in Brooklyn and grew up in a traditional Italian American family. In private conversations with me and my colleague Antonio Huneeus, he related a UFO experience that he remembered from childhood that had occurred in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. He never choose to go into great detail about it, but it led both Antonio and I to feel that he might have been an abductee. From what I’ve learned in the intervening years, especially in my work with Budd Hopkins, I’m fairly convinced that that was the case. If so, it may have formed the basis for his lifelong interest in the subject. But whether this had been the case or not, he would have a UFO experience when he was in the Army that would change his life.
Mazzola had joined the New York City Police Department as soon as he was age eligible, but becoming a cop had to be put on hold until he had completed his military service. Pete volunteered for the Army and saw combat in Vietnam, and it was there that the reality of UFOs assumed - or reassumed, a central place in his life. (relate account here). Following his honorable discharge, he returned home and served the city of New York as a Manhattan-based foot patrolman before becoming eligible for the highly coveted gold detective’s shield. Being a cop in a big city is challenging and dangerous work, and in the course of being on the job he was both shot and stabbed. The detective sergeant was decorated for his bravery and his other accomplishments on a number of occasions, much of his service concentrated on working with troubled juveniles. He took particular pride in being one of a handful of police officers selected by the department for special training in regressive hypnosis for criminal investigation. His skills in this area helped in the solving of a number of crimes, and were instrumental in helping to break the particularly high profile case of a young violinist who was murdered on the roof of Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House. (give some detail here?)
On his own time he continued to research and study UFO cases with the same scrutiny and professionalism he’d acquired in his training at the city’s John Jay Police Academy and networked with fellow police officers around the country who were likewise caught up in the subject. He also began to apply his skill as a forensic regressive hypnotist to working with individuals who claimed to have had alien contact and abduction experiences.
As time passed Pete became known in the field and began to do radio interviews and appear on TV shows. He was always a good sport about being ‘the UFO cop,’ and took the good natured kidding and occasionally stupid kidding of his fellow officers with a grain of salt. But his record as a detective remained solid and he was granted permission to process the audiocassettes of the UFO-related hypnotic sessions he conducted through John Jay’s Voice Stress Analysis facilities. Access to this highly accurate technology allowed him to quantify the stress in the voices of his subjects so as to better evaluate their accounts. He was the first person to conduct regressive hypnotic sessions with my late sister Helen, who would later go on to work with Budd Hopkins. He hypnotized me as well so that I might re-experience the UFO sighting we’d had as kids. It was remarkable to be fourteen years old again and to relive every detail of that amazing afternoon.
Now, an unexpected side effect of the Air Force’s termination of Project Blue Book in 1969 was that individuals who’d have traditionally filed sighting reports with the Air Force began to call them in to their local police departments. They in turn had no official agency to pass such reports on to, and in the early seventies Pete established a twenty four hour hotline for just this purpose. The reports were soon coming in in droves with Detective Mazzola following up on them as his schedule allowed. By the time we were introduced in the late seventies Pete had quietly built the SBI into a well organized non-profit scientific and educational foundation whose monthly bulletin was always filled with data on vintage and late breaking cases. When Pete learned that I had a degree in fine arts and was a painting instructor at The School of Visual Arts, he appointed me to be the SBI Bulletin’s Art Director. But being the micro manager he was, never actually allowed me to do any art direction. It was nice having my name on the masthead though. In 1984 the Bulletin became the first American UFO publication to take a look at Britain’s Rendlesham Forest UFO incident, this several years prior to my becoming involved in the case.
The SBI sponsored several New York-based conferences, one of which was the first conference I was ever invited to speak at. Other speakers included Budd Hopkins, Larry Fawcett and Barry Greenwood, the authors of Clear Intent, as well as Larry Warren and my sister Helen.
As best I recall, Mazzola sustained seven serious injuries during his more than twenty years of service – knife, gun and beating, and ultimately decided to retire from the force when he was forty or forty one years old, much to the relief and happiness of his wife Elaine and their two children. Many of Pete’s friends were pleased as well because we knew this would allow him to devote himself fulltime to his primary interest. But then the unexpected happened. Pete had been asked to speak before a research group in the Midwest – it was to be his first following his retirement – and he was met by his sponsor at the airport. As they were driven to his motel prior to the talk, a car on the opposite side of the divided highway went out of control and jumped the divider. Pete had not buckled his seatbelt and the head on crash between the two vehicles shot him through the windscreen and caused him to suffer multiple internal injuries and break more than half of the bones in his body. For the next year he refused to see all but his immediate family and doctors, and while the physical injuries healed over the next months, he remained weak and continued to suffer from problems that did not seem the result of the auto accident. A cat scan was finally ordered and revealed the last thing that his doctors had considered or been looking for: an inoperable brain tumor. Pete never returned to the UFO research he was so passionate about and died on June 10, 1987. He was only forty two years old.
I have no idea if the cancer that took him from us was natural or induced, but given the freak nature of the terrible accident that served to hide its spread, and the all-to-common plague that is cancer in modern society, we were all certain, Pete included, that it was just that – a freak accident which could not have been intentionally engineered under any circumstances, which is never fair, but does remain an equal opportunity killer. I don’t if there was any history of this or any other type of cancer in his family, and have had to make my peace with the fact we will never have a hard answer to its origin. I still miss him though, and the first edition of Left At East Gate was in part dedicated to him.
Dr. Karla Turner was a friend of mine and a colleague I had tremendous admiration for. Her petite presence – I think she was all of five feet tall –would not have led you to think she was the aggressive, courageous and rock solid investigator that she was. Karla was a respected psychologist who specialized in working with abductees and the author of numerous papers and three books, Taken: Inside the Human-Alien Abduction Agenda, Masquerade of Angels and Into the Fringe. Her death from cancer in 1997 caused many who knew her or followed her work to speculate that she’d been murdered by the government, the power elite, and given her decidedly anti-‘goodness and light’ abduction views, by the aliens themselves.
Dr. Turner’s interest in the alien abduction phenomenon was not the result of her intellectual curiosity or compassion, though she had plenty of each to spare. She was a lifelong abductee herself and did not see the experience as a transcendent or positive one. Quoting Turner, “I’m convinced that deception is the key to understanding the entire phenomenon. At every level, we are deceived and so we (1) do not know where to put our trust and loyalty, if anywhere, and (2) do not know what actions we ourselves should take to alter our relations with ETs. Most of what we see and remember (even in the first level of hypnotic recall) is not “true” or objectively accurate. … So we really do not know what the ETs are doing with us. And if they deliberately deceive us this way, how on Earth can we trust anything they tell us.”
Dr. Turner worked tirelessly for years, spoke at many conferences and remained outspoken about the deceptive aspects of the presences behind the phenomenon. When she was diagnosed with the cancer that killed her, her response was to continue working to the fullest extent she was able. I was very moved that the last UFO lecture she was strong enough to attend was one that Larry and I gave in the summer of 1997. I think she was in her early forties but am not sure. While it was wonderful to see her again, the event was heavily tinged with sadness as it all but obvious that we would not be seeing her again. As best I recall, she passed away a few short months later. Again we face the question of whether the pathogens that killed her were natural of not, and once again I have no idea of where the truth lies. Carla herself was actually more concerned about the specter of alien retribution for statements she’d made in print. Again, I can only speculate. One thing is for certain though, Dr. Turner never backed down in her unbending belief that the non human presences behind the UFO abduction phenomenon were not doing so in the interests of humanity, and if they had a least favorite researcher, it might well have been Karla.
Jim Keith was an investigative writer who wrote about UFOs, but was better known for his conspiracy related books. His published titles included Saucers of the Illuminati, Mind Control/World Control, Casebook on the Men in Black, Casebook on Alternative 3, OK Bomb and Black Helicopters I and II. Given his dedication to exposing conspiracies of all sorts, his death following a fall from a stage in which he broke his knee was naturally suspect.
Jim was truly a consparicist’s consparicist. He spoke at numerous conferences about numerous conspiracies and contributed many articles to journals and magazines. Keith did not subscribe to the extraterrestrial theory of UFOs, and viewed the phenomena as human in origin. He felt that the craft involved were entirely the product of highly classified governmental programs employing advanced technology, and maintained that those responsible were involved in an ongoing, concerted effort to advance the extraterrestrial hypothesis as a form of cover story for their nefarious activities.
In September 1999, Jim took some time off to attend Burning Man, a huge, week-long arts festival held annually in Black Rock, Nevada. An accidental fall from the stage there resulted in a painful broken knee and he was taken from the venue to Washoe Hospital in Reno for emergency surgery. During the operation its understood that a blood clot was released and entered his lung which was the official cause of his death. Its particularly tempting to yell murder when someone so dedicated to conspiratorial thinking, and to bringing government abuses and cover-ups to the attention of the public dies under such freaky circumstances, and I don’t think any of us have any problem wondering why. But if the cause of death was as reported, a blood clot that had traveled to the lung, it is a legitimate one that, while tragic, is not unknown in many types of surgical procedures. If this was not the case of his death, as some still maintain, I doubt if we will ever learn what in fact it was. I didn’t know Jim Keith but several years prior to his death we did exchange emails on a subject of mutual interest, and even if I didn’t share some of his beliefs, I admired he efforts in attempting to unravel some of the more complext and ominous issues of our time.
Graham Birdsall was a founder and the Editor-In-Chief of England’s UFO Magazine, arguably the best newsstand UFO publication ever to appear in print in the English language. He was also a superb conference organizer and national, then international spokesman for responsible UFO research everywhere. He died of the effects of a cerebral aneurism in 2003 igniting speculation that he’d been murdered to silence his growing influence and outstanding work.
UFOs aside for the moment, Graham was one of my all time favorite people. I think my friend and colleague Nick Redfern would agree; he was even closer to Graham than I was. Birdsall was a big bear of a guy who grabbed life with both hands and really lived it. A native of Yorkshire England, where he lived his whole life, his intelligence, passion, generosity and great sense of humor literally drew people to him in droves. He was also a natural leader and a true friend to American and international ufology, bringing many of us from our homes around the world to England as speakers over the years. He was also a regular presence and featured speaker at such American venues as the Laughlin International UFO Congress where he was always accompanied by his wife Christine and daughter Helen. He was a riveting public speaker who could address a thousand-plus audience with the ease and intimacy you’d expect to hear in someone’s living room.
Graham began his UFO-related life as an independent researcher. In the early 1980’s he and his brother Mark, along with their friend Tony Dodd, a police constable, author and first rate investigator as well, established a newsletter called Quest UFO Magazine. Quest grew from a hand mimeographed and stapled several-page newsletter into an internationally distributed publication whose production values were second to none, and –in violation of almost every previously known law of UFO publications, a remarkably successfully business venture to boot. For more than twenty years UFO Magazine and the Leeds-based Quest International Organization went on to sponsor some of the best organized and most interesting UFO conferences, lectures and events ever staged anywhere. Graham’s curiosity was boundless and he was obsessive in following up leads on the stories he published, securing witness testimony, chasing down the details of whatever case he was involved in investigating, then getting it all into print in issue after issue – and on schedule. He also possessed the refreshing trait of actually correcting errors that might have gone into print.
But given his strong personal ethics and unbending opinions, the man was no stranger to controversy and never shirked a good fight. He had his share of fallings-out with colleagues over the years, but once convinced of a case’s inherent validity (or lack thereof), never hesitated to champion, or attack, or call it as he saw it. His keen business sense made him a highly respected and influential member of the Leeds business community, no mien feat in a city regarded as a major financial capitol of Europe, especially where your business is UFOs.
Not long after the SCI FI Channel aired their twenty hour long miniseries “Taken,” I’d arranged an introduction for Graham with another good friend of ufology, Larry Landsman, SCI FI’s Director of Special Projects, who I’m glad to say is here with us today. The two hit it off famously, and had Graham lived, he would have spent October of 2003 traveling around India as the SCI FI Channel’s goodwill ambassador promoting the upcoming broadcast of “Taken” on Indian television – with Hindi subtitles of course. But that was not to be. In mid September, Graham collapsed at work and was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. He passed away at age forty nine on September 19, 2003 as a result of complications following a cerebral aneurism, and when he died, UFO Magazine died with him. And this brings us to the understandable and unnerving speculation that he had been murdered.
The fact is, that Graham Birdsall’s death was devastating, not just to his family and friends, but to British ufology as a whole. He was not just a significant presence in the field, he was the most important presence in the field – a veritable linchpin whose magazine featured the latest cases and best known researchers, and whose conferences gave them, along with their leading international colleagues, a world class venue to present their findings in, and always to packed houses and overflow audiences. No one else even came close, and no one since has stepped forward with the necessary organizing skills, personal charisma and connections to pick up where he left off. I have to admit, that if I had wanted to destabilize British ufology, the only person I would have bothered to target would have been Graham Birdsall, so why do I think that he was not murdered?
The last night I spent with Graham was Christmas Eve 2002, and after Christine and Helen had gone to bed we stayed up late into the night talking, drinking, trading stories, analyzing a documentary we’d just seen, and smoking cigarettes, both of us admonishing each other that we really had to quit. Graham was not quite a chain smoker, but he was close to it. He was a type A workaholic who carried around about fifty more pounds than was good for him. His diet was, to put it mildly, not health-oriented, he laughed at exercise, and came from a family where none of the men – his father and uncles – had lived to see their fiftieth birthdays. Taking all of these factors into account, I think that his death, while truly tragic, was the result of natural causes. I still think about him often, remain in regular contact with his family, and doubt that we’ll see his likes again.
Dr. John Mack was a distinguished American psychiatrist whose unique credentials made him someone we in the abduction research community could point to with pride. He was best known for his research into how extraordinary experiences can affect personal, societal and global transformation, and his random death as the victim of a traffic accident was immediately and understandably suspect by many who worked with him or who followed his work. Learning that this irreplaceable individual ‘just happened’ to be mowed down by a drunken driver as he crossed a street did not sit well with any of us.
If scientists had tried to piece together an alien abduction researcher – hardly the most revered field of professional study out there – with establishment credentials which would have demanded respect from even the most hardcore skeptic, Dr. Mack would have been the product of their efforts. Born in 1929 into a socially prominent New York family, Mack received his undergraduate degree from Oberlin College and his medical degree from Harvard (Cum Laude) where he served a Professor of Psychiatry for many years. His academic and humanitarian accomplishments were many and varied. In 1983 for example, he was invited to testify before Congress on the psychological impact of nuclear arms on children.
Aside from maintaining a busy private practice and keeping up with his teaching responsibilities, John became a specialist in teenage suicide which he wrote extensively about earlier in his career. I first heard of him in this capacity several years before we met when I was working as a crisis intervention volunteer.
Dr Mack went on to found Boston’s Center for Psychology and Social Change, the Program for Extraordinary Experience Research (better known as PEER, and renamed the John Mack Institute following his death), and was also the founder of the Psychiatric Wing of Cambridge Hospital in Boston. He was also the author of several books, including Abduction, Passport to the Cosmos and A Prince of Our Disorder, a psychological biography of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) for which he received the Pulitzer Prize; extraordinary credentials indeed.
John Mack’s interest in UFO abductions was sparked by a meeting with Budd Hopkins in 1992. As he told me with a smile, he at first thought that Budd might be delusional, but once he had had an opportunity to familiarize himself with some of Budd’s scrupulously collected and evaluated data, and meet with some of the people who claimed to have had such experiences, his views on the subject shifted one hundred and eighty degrees. That same year he served as a co-chair of the Abduction Study Conference held at MIT. I met him is my capacity as Budd’s assistant and liked him from the start. John was amazingly well read and well traveled and possessed a wonderfully self-effacing sense of humor. In my opinion, my BFA placed me several light years beneath his doctorate, clinical work and numerous academic achievements, but the fact was I had considerably more experience in abduction studies and working with abductees than he, and he always treated me as a respected colleague, irregularly seeking my opinion on questions surrounding the phenomenon.
Given the controversial nature of this research, especially among academics, and John’s increasingly high visibility in the field, Harvard Medical School appointed a committee of peers in 1994 to review his clinical care and treatment of people who had shared their alien encounters with him. It was the first time that the distinguished college had censured a faculty member since Timothy Leary had been called on the carpet for his controversial support of LSD use in the nineteen sixties. After a grueling fourteen month investigation, during which the psychiatrist was called on to meet with the committee with his lawyer present, the Dean of Harvard’s Medical School, quote, “reaffirmed Dr. Mack’s academic freedom to study what he wishes and to state his opinions without impediment.” This decision was greeted with wide support by many of his colleagues at Harvard.
In 1993 or early 1994 John asked me to proofread his manuscript for Abduction, and when I discovered an error which would have proved embarrassing to him had it gone into print, he was truly appreciative, inscribing my copy “To our number one sleuth.” Over the years, we had quite a number of disagreements as to the nature of the abduction phenomena, but they never got in the way of our friendship or our professional relationship. When I could, I attended his lectures, always with great interest, and shortly after Left At East Gate was published, he invited me to lecture on it to the staff and guests of the Psychiatric wing of Cambridge Hospital with special emphasis on managing stress in UFO studies. It was one of the sharpest audiences I’ve ever addressed, and the questions they put forward the talk were incisive, respectful and sincere.
This brings us to September 27, 2004. John had traveled to England to speak at a T.E. Lawrence Society Symposium in Oxford. His afternoon presentation had been so warmly received that he was asked to stay and present an additional talk later in the day. He was returning ‘home’ that evening (he was staying with friends in London), and as he stepped into a crosswalk on Totteridge Road, was struck and killed instantly by an intoxicated truck driver whose license had been suspended several times previously for drunken driving. I’ve not had it confirmed, but John may have looked the wrong way as he stepped into traffic, an unfortunate trait that many of us American, right-side of the road drivers share. On October 7, 2005, the driver, Raymond Czechowski, pled guilty of “careless driving while under the influence of alcohol.” Dr. Mack’s family (he left two sons, three grandchildren and an x-wife) submitted a statement to the court which read in part, “Although this was a tragic event for our family, we feel that Mr. Czechowski’s behavior was neither malicious nor intentional, and we have no ill will toward him since we learned the circumstances of the collision. … We all believe John Mack would not want Mr. Czechowski to go to jail. As for ourselves, our grief will not be lessened by knowing that he is incarcerated.”
Presiding Judge Linda Stern appreciated the family’s statement and generous sentiments, but disagreed, noting that “a message must be sent. You shouldn’t drive with alcohol in your blood.” At the time of the accident Mr. Czechowski’s blood/alcohol level had been recorded at ninety seven mgs of alcohol in one hundred ml’s of blood. The legal limit in the UK is eighty mg’s. Czechowski was sentenced to fifteen months in prison and had his driver’s license suspended for three years. With good behavior he served only about six of his fifteen month sentence. I’m afraid that I’m not nearly as generous of spirit as John’s family were, and felt and continue to feel that the punishment in this case came woefully short of fitting the crime.
As in Graham Birdsall’s death, this is a case that almost screams for a world class villain to blame the tragedy on, and in a way there’s nothing I would have liked more than to have uncovered an appropriately evil conspiracy to blame for taking such an important person from us. But this was not the case. It was just a drunken driver doing what drunken driver’s do. And given the specifics of the accident, of his coming around the corner at exactly the moment he did, I do not believe that even the most practiced covert ops team could have carried it off and made it seem like the accident that it was. Like it or not, senseless loss is a part of life, and likely a more common aspect of it than is diabolical premeditation. I can only count myself fortunate to counted him as a colleague and a friend.
This final case is the one I’ve explored the most extensively, and was actually the first of the above to have occurred. James Forrestal was a man whose presence and policies dominated the news from 1940 until 1949, but today relatively few Americans have ever heard of him. The question here is did the man who headed up the creation our modern Department of Defense and served as its first Secretary take his own life, or was it taken from him?
The official account has it that early on the morning of May 22, 1949, the Secretary tragically fell to his death from a sixteenth story window at the Bethesda Naval Hospital where he was being treated for depression. But this account doesn’t hold up under study.
Forrestal’s death was precipitated by a profound nervous breakdown, brought on no doubt by a combination of factors. He was a complex, driven man who over the years assumed tremendous responsibilities in his public life while his private life suffered, in part as a result. His life read something like a novel, much of which resembled F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Born in a small town in upstate New York, he attended Princeton, went on to head a Wall Street brokerage, married an editor at Vogue, and become a full-fledged member of New York society. In 1937 at the request of the president he relocated to Washington and became a financial advisor to President Roosevelt, then Undersecretary of Navy, then a wartime Secretary of Navy. Following cessation of hostilities, President Truman asked him to lead the creation of the new Department of Defense which he successfully accomplished. Forrestal was sworn in as its first Secretary on September 17, 1947. But we need to backtrack several months to get some perspective on the situation he inherited that day. Kenneth Arnold’s June 24th UFO sighting in Washington State had of course become the subject of national, then international press coverage.
Then two weeks later, something, or things, crashed less than eighty miles from here. Forty-eight hours later the story was international news. When National Security Act was passed by Congress On later that month, the President immediately named Forrestal to be the new Secretary of Defense. The act’s passage also brought into existence the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, and Dr. Vannavar Bush’s Research and Development Board.
On September 17 Chief Justice Fred Vinson administered the oath of office to Forrestal, but the ceremony was very much a last minute affair. That afternoon, in route by battleship from a state visit to Brazil, President Truman sent a message to Washington instructing that the swearing in proceed immediately. No explanation was unusual change in plan.
Shocked by the President’s decision, former Vice President and now Presidential candidate Henry Wallace insisted, “if there is a genuine emergency, the people have a right to an explanation. If there is no emergency, this action rates as the very lowest method of breeding fear.” Was there an emergency, and if so, what was it?
While its provenance is controversial to many and downright unacceptable to others, this MJ-12-related document, also dated September 19, supplied the requisite emergency. It was titled “Examination of Unidentified Disc-like Aircraft near Military Installation in the State of New Mexico.” Even if we discount the contents of this memorandum, it still leaves the matter of a document dated only four days after Wallace’s publicly-posed question. That was the Air Material Command’s “Opinion Concerning Flying Discs,” a SECRET memorandum written by a future Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nathan M. Twinings. In it the General stated unequivocally, “The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious.”
Page two of the September 24, 1947 so-called Eisenhower briefing document discussed “a TOP SECRET Research and Development Intelligence operation responsible directly and only to the President of the United States.” James Forrestal was listed as number three of the twelve men named to this group. When the Briefing Document first surfaced in 1986, it was accompanied by a one-page attachment that authorized the new Defense Secretary to proceed “with all due speed and caution upon your undertaking.”
On January 7, 1948 Captain Thomas Mantell and two other Kentucky Air National Guard pilots were scrambled after a UFO “of tremendous size” was reported in the skies near Fort Knox. Mantell was killed when his plane explodes in an uncontrolled descent. One can reasonably assume that the Secretary of Defense would have been kept carefully appraised of the particulars of this incident, and of the other significant UFO sightings and events that occurred during his time at the Pentagon.
By Mid-October 1948 support for Truman had fallen to an all time low and victory seems all but assured for the Republican Presidential candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, then Governor of New York. Forrestal confided to his friend Bob Lovett, a future Secretary of Defense, that he was deeply concerned that, “since Dewey might be elected President, his representatives should be briefed in preparation for the possibility.” While such considerations have become an accepted common procedure in modern presidential politics, the
Secretary had miscalculated. His common sense proposal drew the resentment of some Administration officials who equated it with disloyalty to the President. Unfortunately this belief gained general acceptance and becomes a sore point for the President who refused to see his Defense Secretary for several weeks following his landslide victory. James Forrestal’s star had gone into decline at the Truman White House.
After reviewing all of the imaginable conventional explanations for the aerial unknowns, the newly-released classified report, Project “SIGN” turned its attention to the possibility of “Space Ships” and bluntly noted:
“If there is an extra terrestrial civilization which can make such objects as are reported than it is most probable that its development is far in advance of ours. … Such a civilization might observe that on Earth we now have atomic bombs and are fast developing rockets. In view of the past history of mankind, they should be alarmed. We should, therefore, expect at this time above all to behold such visitations.”
One of the report’s closing remarks may have had particular resonance for the Defense Secretary: “…they (the aerial occupants) must have been satisfied long ago that we can’t catch them.” With the most advanced, modern and awesome defense apparatus in history at his command, James Forrestal was unable to affect the situation he’d inherited even in the most rudimentary way, and to the best of our knowledge, nothing that he authorized or attempted during his tenure at Defense altered the UFO situation one iota, and that had to weigh heavily on the Secretary.
Following the election of a new president it is considered standard procedure for all standing appointees to submit their resignations for the president to accept or reject. The President accepted Forrestal’s resignation on March 3.
On March 28, the day of his retirement, James Forrestal joined Defense Department employees for a change of command ceremony at which the President presented the retiring Secretary with the Distinguished Service Metal, the highest civilian decoration authorized by Congress. The recipient, both surprised and moved, reacted in a truly unsettling way, and after receiving the decoration from Truman steps to the microphone and said, “It’s beyond my…” Clark Clifford, a young advisor of Forrestal’s and a future Attorney General was in attendance and remembered, “Unable to respond to the President’s generous words of praise, Forrestal is lead speechless from the room. It was suddenly apparent to everyone there that something was terribly wrong”
Following the ceremony, Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington, who had regularly challenged Forrestal’s authority, was overheard telling the now former Defense Secretary, “There is something I would like to talk to you about.” While there is no record of what Symington said, the effect on Forrestal was deeply upsetting, if not traumatic. He was found several hours later sitting at his now-former desk, staring at the wall and repeating the phrase “you are a loyal fellow. You are a loyal fellow..”
Once outside the Pentagon, Forrestal seemed bewildered and a shocked aide arranges for the nearby chauffer of the President’s chief science advisor, Vannavar Bush, to drive him back to his Georgetown home. Once there, he called Ferdinand Eberstadt who arrived soon after. Eberstadt was taken aback by his old friend’s manner and appearance and recalled Forrestal telling him that he was a total failure and considering suicide. The Secretary was also convinced that certain persons in the White House had formed a conspiracy to “get him” and had finally succeeded.
The columnist Drew Pearson, who had a long-standing vendetta against the former Secretary, made the following entry in his diary on April 1, 1949: “Forrestal seems to be off his beam. While Tom Clark (Truman’s Attorney General) was in Florida last week, Forrestal called him every day worried about something, wouldn’t say what…”
The next morning, April 2, Forrestal and Eberstadt flew to Hobe Sound Florida where friend and future Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett has a home. Lovett met them at the airfield and When Forrestal stepped from the plane, Lovett was shocked by his appearance but nonetheless tried to joke with him. “Jim, I hope you brought your golf clubs because the weather here has been just perfect for golf,” to which Forrestal replied, “Bob, they’re after me.” Over the next three days James Forrestal attempted to take his life several times; Lovett called it the worst three days of his life. At the request of the Navy, Captain George M. Raines flew to Hobe Sound. Raines was Chief of Neuro Psychiatry at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
Dr. Raines learned of the Secretary’s suicide attempts from Lovett and Eberstadt, but refused to see or examine their friend, insisting that he could not until the family’s psychiatrist of record arrived. Forrestal’s wife Josephine and/or his brother Henry, had already chosen the renowned Dr. William C. Menninger. Regrettably the doctor would not be able to arrive until the next day and Raines maintained that he was duty-bound to wait until the famous clinician arrived. Lovettt could only lock his guest in a bedroom for the night after cleaning out the medicine cabinet.
The following afternoon the two doctors conducted an examination of the patient, then consulted. Together they decided that the best course of action would be confinement at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Dr. Menninger, now Forrestal’s psychiatrist of record, then flew back to his clinic in the Midwest, and though he continued to be briefed on the Secretary’s progress, never saw his patient again.
Dr. Reins accompanied Forrestal on the flight from Florida to Maryland. During the drive from the airfield to the hospital he had to be restrained to keep him from throwing himself from the moving car. The patient was admitted to the hospital and once secured in a room on the sixteenth floor, a twenty-four hour Marine guard was put on his door. For most of the first month the patient was kept sedated.
For a week there was no mention of Forrestal’s breakdown or hospitalization in the press or on the radio, almost unimaginable by today’s journalistic standards. The Times first ran its first story on April 8. One of the first people the patient called when he is allowed phone privileges was Washington’s Monsignor Maurice J. Sheehy. Monsignor Sheehy was a highly regarded prelate who was friendly with many Capitol Hill insiders. Forrestal had drifted from the Church over the years and asked the Monsignor to help him return to it. Sheehy agreed and made plans for an initial visit to Bethesda.
While hospitalized, Forrestal telephoned the White House and was insistent that someone be sent over to check for a bug in the wall of his room. The White House sent Admiral Sidney Souers, the first Secretary of the National Security Council and a future Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Admiral Souers, one of President Truman’s closest confidants and advisors, assured the patient that the room was free of any listening devices. Secretary of Defense Johnson visited Forrestal on April 27 and reported that his predecessor looked fine and would be discharged in two to three weeks.
By May 17 Forrestal had gained twelve pounds since his confinement five weeks earlier, and visitors and hospital personnel alike seemed in agreement that his condition was improving. Bethesda Naval Hospital records noted that “Forrestal continued in good spirits throughout all of the twentieth and the twenty first. He shows no signs of depression, was well dressed, shaved, and in good appetite.”
On Friday May 20 Henry Forrestal telephoned the hospital. He had decided that his brother should complete his recovery in the countryside and informed hospital administrators that he would be arriving to take custody on Sunday, May 22.
That same Friday Secretary of Navy John Sullivan met with Monsignor Sheehy, a meeting set up at the Monsignor’s insistence. Since first speaking with Forrestal the Monsignor has visited the Bethesda Naval Hospital on six separate occasions and each time been told that the Secretary was unable to see him. Increasingly frustrated, the Monsignor took his case directly to Sullivan, who in turn contacted hospital administrators and was given assurances that Sheehy would be able to see the patient in time, but not enough time as it turned out. James Forrestal had two days left to live.
Official accounts of his death vary slightly, but follow this basic line. Early on the morning of Sunday May 22, staff psychiatrist Commander R.R. Deen was asleep in the room next to Forrestal’s. The Secretary’s regular attendant had not shown up for his shift and Hospital Apprentice R.W. Harrison had been assigned to look in on Forrestal. The patient appeared to be sleeping at 1:30 AM but was awake at 1:45 when the apprentice attendant found him copying a Sophocles poem out of an anthology. Harrison asked if the Secretary wanted a sleeping pill but it is declined. Allegedly Harrison then forgot to lock the Secretary’s door behind him and reported to Commander Deen’s room (or to the hospital security station on another floor) where he updated the officer. When he checked the room five minutes later it was empty and a search was immediately begun.
A few minutes later the seventh floor duty nurse reported hearing a loud noise from her window. It was the sound of Forrestal’s body hitting the overhang of the third floor roof. Hospital authorities surmised that the patient, finding his door unlocked as he wrestled with a sudden bout of suicidal depression, stopped writing, walked across the hall to the efficiency kitchen, pushed open the unsecured screen window, knotted his bathrobe sash tightly around his neck, tied the free end to the radiator below the window, then lowered himself out of the window and was killed when the knot at the radiator end of the sash slipped its mooring. He was fifty seven years old.
A first brief report on the tragedy appeared on page one of the Sunday New York Times Late Edition. It was entitled “Forrestal Killed in 13-Story Leap.” Full coverage followed in the next day’s edition. (Note: While Forrestal went out of a 16th floor window, he landed on the 3rd floor roof.)
In their May 23rd article, “Forrestal’s Leap Laid to Depression,” Captain Raines lamented that “..the former Secretary of Defense took his life in a sudden fit of despondency “extremely common” to the severe type of mental depression he suffered.” That day a five-man Naval Medical Board was convened to investigate the death. It was led by the head of the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda.
Two days later, Josephine Forrestal, who has remained in Paris throughout her husband’s confinement, returned to Washington, and without benefit of even a cursory investigation, absolved everyone of blame in her husband’s death. That afternoon, with six thousand in attendance, James Vincent Forrestal was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. President Truman gave the eulogy which was followed by a nineteen Howitzer salute.
The Naval Medical Board ended its hearings on May 30, having seen fit to conclude its investigation after only seven days. For the next two weeks “Navy and National Military Establishment press sections” promised to release the report but do not. July nineteenth’s Times reported that “Considerable mystery surrounds a delay in releasing the report made by the special naval investigating board that inquired into the death of James V. Forrestal. … Naval press officers gave the impression that at least a summary of their findings would be made public.”
On October 11 Navy Secretary Matthews make public the investigating board’s report absolving “all” of any blame in Forrestal’s death. The report concluded that 1., the body found on the third floor ledge was Forrestal’s, 2., that he died of injuries sustained in the fall, 3. that his behavior prior to death “was indicative of a mental depression,” and 4., “that the treatment and precautions in the conduct of the case were in agreement with accepted psychiatric practice and commensurate with the evident status of the patient at all times.” Considering the investigation’s ultra-bland findings, why the need to delay release for five months?
Driving home a ‘casualty of war’/‘operational fatigue’ rationale by both government and media greatly helped the Americans public to accept Forrestal’s death as a suicide. The Times editorialized, “His tragedy is directly traceable to his overwork on behalf of the country. … when it was announced that he was in the hospital with the diagnosis of “operational fatigue,” it was instantly understood that there was every reason why he should be there.”
This so-called “operational fatigue” referred to was traceable back to the time he was sworn in as Defense Secretary. Forrestal’s friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Arthur Krock recalled, “From the time of his appointment as Secretary of Defense in 1947, my wife had begun to detect inner disturbances in Forrestal that I had not.” And in late 1949, columnist Drew Pearson wrote, “the Defense Secretary’s nervous deterioration dated back over two years.” Both observations, one from a good friend, the other from an outspoken enemy, support the notion that Forrestal’s mental problems begin at about the time he was sworn in as Defense Secretary.
The so-called “Cutler Memorandum” dated July 14, 1954 was found in the National Archives and our colleague Stanton Friedman has done a great deal of research to validate its authenticity. The memo confirms that a “MJ-12 Special Studies Project” did indeed exist, though the memo does not specify what the group’s mandate is.
The Memorandum from Truman to Forrestal was dated September 24, 1947. The Truman Library has confirmed that this was the only day during the entire second half of 1947 that the President met privately with just Secretary Forrestal and Dr. Vannavar Bush. Uncharacteristically, the President’s appointment calendar does not note the reason for or subject of their meeting.
Immediately following the tragedy the New York Times assigned its features reporter Walter H. Waggoner to be the paper’s lead journalist on the story. Among other things, Waggoner established the following within hours of Forrestal’s plunge, and I quote:
1. “There were indications that Mr. Forrestal might also have tried to hang himself. The sash of his dressing-gown was still knotted and wrapped tightly around his neck when he was found, but hospital officials would not speculate as to its purpose.”
2. “Mr. Forrestal had copied most of the Sophocles poem from the book on hospital memo paper, but he had apparently been interrupted in his efforts. His copying stopped after he had written “night” of the word “nightingale.”
3. “…reports from his doctors and hospital authorities had indicated steady progress toward his recovery.”
4. “It had been accepted that continued treatment would have brought Mr. Forrestal to complete recovery in a matter of months.”
And 5, the very last line of May twenty third’s lead article, “On the window sill from which Mr. Forrestal jumped were marks suggesting he might have changed his mind and tried to climb back in the window.” So – why would he have stopped writing mid-word? The most common sense explanation I can grasp is that he was interrupted mid-word.
As for the theory that he’d tried to hang himself, but out of a sixteenth floor window, subsequent investigation established that the free end of Forrestal’s bathrobe sash had never been tied to the radiator, or anything else for that matter. If foul play was not involved, it meant that Forrestal himself must have knotted the sash around his own neck, tightly, then lowered himself out of the window, then changed his mind, indicated by the fingernail scratch marks investigators found on the window sill.
While none of us can say with certainty what a desperately depressed and suicidal person is capable of doing, the patient on the sixteenth floor would have to have acted in the highly unusual manner just described. Either that, or that one or more individuals tied the sash around his neck, then assisted him out of the window. For what it is worth, no mental health professional I’ve spoken with about the particulars of such a suicide scenario – and I’ve spoken with quite a few over the years – has ever heard of an attempt like it, successful or not, the consensus being that jumpers jump, and those who intend to hang themselves do just that.
Why was Hospital Apprentice R.W. Harrison, who had never had any previous contact with the V.I.P. patient assigned to Forrestal on this particular night? One account has it that the regularly assigned attendant did not appear for his shift that night due to drunkenness, something that had never occurred previously. For what its worth the regular attendant had become very close to Forrestal, and had been characterized as thinking of him as a father figure. Then there’s the matter of Monsignor Sheehy. Given that Forrestal had expressed a desire to return to the Church, and by implication the sanctity of the confessional, from the point of view of anyone who considered the Secretary to be a security risk, Father Sheehy would have been the last person the he should have been allowed to speak with. And in six attempts to see him, The Monsignor had never gotten beyond the reception area.
More, on Monday morning May 23 after learning of Forrestal’s death, the Monsignor returned to the hospital for a seventh time. Shortly after arriving there a hospital corpsman came up to him though the crowded reception area and quietly said into his ear, “Father, you know Mr. Forrestal didn’t kill himself, don’t you?” The corpsman then disappeared into the crowd before Monsignor Sheehy could say a word.
On May 20, Henry Forrestal had informed the hospital that he would be taking charge of his brother on Sunday May 22. Following James’ death that morning, Henry became convinced that his brother had been murdered, a view he maintained for the rest of his life. And he wasn’t alone in this belief.
Arnold A. Rogow’s book “James Forrestal: A Study of Personality, Politics and Policy” is a scholarly and insightful work based in great part on the author’s numerous interviews with many who were closest to Forrestal, including Dean Atchison, Clark Clifford, Louis Johnson, Robert Lovett, Arthur Krock, Henry Forrestal, Dr. William Menninger, Dr. George Reins and Harry S. Truman. Rogow, a professor of history at the University of California, was anything but a conspiracist, however early in the text he made this statement: “Officially of course, Forrestal committed suicide on May 22, 1949, but among those close to him, there are even a few that are certain he was murdered, or if not murdered, that his death was very much desired by individuals and groups who in 1949 held great power in the United States.”
As the man charged with the defense of the nation, responsibility for addressing the UFO threat – for that is how it was officially perceived at the time, fell solidly on his shoulders. The Secretary was famously known throughout his civilian, military and governmental careers for personalizing his failures and successes, and given the sweep and depth of his department’s failure to understand or affect the paradigm shattering situation he’d inherited, and as a result, came to see his own life as a profound failure as well. The Secretary finally broke under the strain on the day he retired and I’m convinced that he perceived his situation with little or no self-delusion. He now found himself in a freefall he could never recover from. For such a highly placed official, showing weakness in public was not forgivable. Real men did not have nervous breakdowns in 1949 – in the minds of many of the alpha males in government it simply could never happen, least of all to this larger-than-life competitive presidential advisor, Navy Secretary, Defense Secretary and key planner of the modern American defense establishment. Even if he ‘recovered,’ they could never fully trust him again. I think he understood this and saw the writing on the wall: if he did not ‘do the right thing,’ that is, take his own life, others would certainly take it from him.
And Forrestal did attempt to throw himself on his sword, but was prevented from doing so at each turn. However once the prescribed therapy had been given a chance to produce some results, the patient on the sixteenth floor grew stronger, and its fair to say, began to recover his sense of self and his will to live. This turn of events unfortunately sealed his fate and made it necessary for others to complete the job for him. James Forrestal’s mental collapse had to be treated as a priority national security matter of the first magnitude: the man knew everything, and might say anything. I don’t believe the decision to force him out of that window was in any way personal. It was simply the only way to resolve what this ‘inner circle’ had likely come to perceive as the single greatest potential security risk in the Western world. In my opinion, James Forrestal’s death is an undeniable case of a life terminated because, at least in part, he knew too much about UFOs.
Some of the implications of what UFOs represent are so potentially disturbing, and so disruptive to society as we know it, that I have no doubts that there are those who are capable of just about anything in their efforts to keep the subject from us, and to keep it in its place as an idiot child of history, politics and the media. For those individuals who have shown the desire and predisposition to become involved and remain involved is responsible research, a certain amount of stress and anxiety will be a given. But it is important work, and when approached in a scientific, methodical and principled way, may represent a far greater contribution to society than most of the sleepwalkers who populate the world are capable of imagining. Even in the extreme cases of those who’ve been taken from us before their time, it’s the quality of the lives they lived and the contributions they made that we should remain focused on, no matter what the circumstances of their deaths. So here’s to them, and to those who continue to do that work. They didn’t allow their lives to be governed by fear and neither should we. Thank you for your time and attention.
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1. The UFO Encyclopedia, 1st and 2nd editions, Clark, Jerome, Omnigraphics, Detroit, 1992 and 1998
2. The UFO Encyclopedia, Sachs, Margret, Perigee (Putnam), 1980
3. The UFO Controversy in America, Jacobs, David, U. of Indiana, 1975
4. The Philadelphia Experiment, Moore, William & Berlitz, Charles, Grosset & Dunlap, 1979
5. Other Mysterious Deaths: Lest We Forget, Schellhorn, G. Cope, UFO Universe Magazine, 1997
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Columbus, NC, 2003
7. Majic Eyes Only, Wood, Ryan, Wood Enterprises, 2005
8. UFOs, JFK and Elvis, Belzer, Richard, Ballantine Books, 1999
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10. The Flying Saucer Story, Le Poer Trench, Brinsley, Spearman, 1967
11. Liquidation of the UFO Investigators, Binder, Otto, Saga’s Special UFO Report, Vol 11, 1971
12. Taken, Turner, Karla, Keltworks Press, 1994
13. The Forrestal Diaries, Millus, Walter, Editor, Viking Press, 1951
14. James Forrestal: Driven Patriot by Hoopes, Townsend & Brinkley, Douglas, Naval Institute Press,
Annapolis, MD, 1992
15. “Unification Act Signed,” NY Times, July 27, 1947
16. “Forrestal is Sworn in Suddenly,” NY Times, September 18, 1947
17. “Wallace Criticizes Truman Order On Rush Swearing In of Forrestal,” NY Times, September 17, 1947
18. Demands Truman Tell What Emergency Caused Haste in Swearing In Forrestal,” NY Times,
September 19, 1947
19. Eisenhower Briefing Document of November 18, 1952, 8 pages
20. Memo from the President to Secretary Truman, September 24, 1947
21. “New Air Unit Operating,” NY Times, September 28, 1947
22. UFOs and the National Security State, Dolan, Richard, Hampton Roads Publishing Co.,
Charlottesville, VA, 2002
23. Memoirs” Krock Arthur, Funk & Wagnalls, NY, 1968
24. FBI Memorandum to J. Edgar Hoover, January 31, 1949
25. USAF Incoming Classified Message, January 31, 1949
26. Project SIGN, February 1949, page 25
27. “Thousands Look On As New Defense Secretary Takes Oath,” NY Times, March 29, 1949
28. “Forrestal Gets Distinguished Service Metal; Outgoing Secretary Speechless at Surprise,” NY Times,
March 29, 1949
29. Counsel to the President, Clifford, Clark, Random House, NY, 1991
30. “Forrestal Is Treated in Naval Hospital For Nervous and Physical Exhaustion, ” NY Times, April 8,
31. “Forrestal ‘Looks Fine,” NY Times, April 27, 1949
32. UFOs and the National Security State, Richard Dolan, Keyhole, 2000
33. “Forrestal Killed in 13-Story Leap; U.S. Mourning Set, Nation Is Shocked,” NY Times, May 23, 1949
34. “Hospital Absolved By Mrs. Forrestal,” NY Times, May 26, 1949
35. July 18, “Forrestal Data Held Up – Report on His Death Promised but It Is Not Released,” NY Times,
July 19 1949
36. “Navy Absolves All In Forrestal Leap,” NY Times, October 12, 1949
Many Thanks to our good friend Peter Robbins for providing us this article.
Compiled by Peter Robbins.