The Roswell Mystery – Part 1

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Roswell. That word has permeated the lexicon of popular understanding in a way that no other UFO story ever has. Everyone has heard of Roswell. Everyone knows what they think it means. The problem is, there are as many different interpretations of this case as there are twists and turns in the Roswell story itself. Does Roswell stand for government cover-ups, crashed UFOs and dead aliens? Or for self-delusion, hoax and the stretching of credulity to the point where it becomes a kind of monomania?

The problem I often face when attempting to research a mystery is a lack of written information, especially source information. With this mystery, the problem is just the opposite. There have been at least a dozen books written specifically about Roswell and it rates a mention in countless others. There are movies, documentaries and more websites than you might believe devoted to this mystery. When the US Air Force released a report looking at the Roswell incident in 1995, it ran to 1,000 pages of densely packed text. And many of these sources directly contradict each other – there is hardly a single “fact” here that isn’t the subject of dispute. This isn’t going to be quick or easy so, I advise you to get comfortable, equip yourself with copious supplies of your favourite beverage and let’s see if we can make any sense of that word: Roswell.

This article has ended up so large that I have decided to split it into three parts. Part one includes the Just the Facts section. Part 2 will include the Theories section and Part 3 will provide My Thoughts.

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To try to make sense of this story, I will divide this section into two separate parts. The first covers events from 1947 to 1978 and the second part looks at developments from 1978 to the present.

1947 -1978

In June 1947, forty-eight year old William Ware “Mack” Brazel was working as a foreman on a sheep ranch owned by J. B. Foster and located around 30 miles southeast of the small town of Corona in New Mexico. Brazel’s wife Maggie and children lived in the family home in the village of Tularosa, around thirty miles southwest of the ranch, but while Brazel was working he lived in the Hines House, an isolated shack on the ranch which had neither electricity nor a telephone.

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Mack Brazel and his wife Maggie, pictured in 1951

On Sunday July 6th 1947 (though some accounts claim Monday July 7th), Brazel drove to the office of Chaves County Sheriff George Wilcox in the nearby town of Roswell. He took with him a small sample of debris that he had found on the ranch some time previously. The report of a sighting of several UFO’s by pilot Kenneth Arnold had made the national press just two weeks before and what had become known as flying saucers were big news in early July. Rewards had been offered in the press to anyone who could provide proof of the existence of these craft and Brazel wondered if the items he had found might have anything to do with a flying saucer?

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The Hines House, the shack in which Mack Brazel lived when he was working on the Foster ranch

Sherriff Wilcox suggested that it might be better to report the matter to the Air Force and a call was placed from the Sheriff’s office to nearby Roswell Army Air Field, the location of the 509th Bombardment Group, the only nuclear capable bomber unit in the world at that time. It seems that three men from Roswell AAF responded to the call (though even this is disputed: some versions say two or even just one): Major Jesse A. Marcel, Air Intelligence officer for the 509th Bomb Group and Captain Sheridan Cavitt and Master Sgt. Lewis “Bill” Rickett of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) a unit established during World War Two for the detection of acts of espionage and sabotage against the US Army. These men came to the Sheriff’s office, examined the items that Brazel had brought in and suggested that they accompany him back to the ranch to see the remainder of the debris.

Brazel took the three men to the ranch and showed them the debris. They collected some or all of it and returned to Roswell AAF. Some accounts claim that they stayed on the ranch overnight and returned to Roswell the following day, others claim that Major Marcel stopped en-route on his way back to the air field in the early hours of 7th July in order to show the debris to his wife and family.

However long the three (or two, or one) men stayed on the ranch and whatever time they returned to Roswell, at around 11:00am on July 8th a sensational press release was issued by Lieutenant Walter G. Haut, the Public Relations Officer at Roswell AAF. We don’t know precisely what the Press Release said as no copies seem to have survived, but local newspaper the Roswell Daily Record and several West Coast newspapers quoted extensively from it in a series of articles. Reconstructing the Press Release from the various newspaper reports, the text appears to have been something very similar to this:

“The many rumors regarding the flying disk became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eight Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the co-operation of one of the local ranchers and the Sheriff’s Office of Chaves county.

The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the Sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Major Jesse A. Marcel, of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence office.

Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.”

When he was asked later why he issued this press release, Lt. Haut claimed that he had been specifically ordered to do so by Colonel William Blanchard, Commanding Officer of the 509th Bombardment Group and senior officer at Roswell Army Air Field. The morning issue of the Press Release allowed reports to be carried in the evening editions of several newspapers on the 8th July and to be included in the news bulletins of several radio stations. The Roswell Daily Record put the story on their front page under a banner headline which read: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region”.

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Roswell Daily Record, 8th July 1947

However, even before people had a chance to read this article in their evening newspaper, the Army Air Force had issued a second Press Release which directly contradicted the first. Major Marcel had flown with the debris from Roswell AAF to Fort Worth Army Air Base in Texas where it was examined by several people including Brigadier General Roger M. Ramey, Commander of the 8th Air Force and his Chief of Staff, Colonel Walter DuBose. The second Press Release was issued from Fort Worth on the instructions of Brigadier General Ramey and noted that the debris had been examined and was not the wreckage of a crashed flying saucer. Instead it had been identified as the remains of a weather balloon. The second Press Release included photographs of Major Marcel and others posing with the debris laid out on the floor of Brigadier General Ramey’s office and mentioned Mack Brazel’s name for the first time.

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One of the photographs issued with the second Press Release – this one shows Brigadier General Ramey and Colonel DuBose in Ramey’s office with what was claimed to be debris from a weather balloon.

During the early evening of 8th July, an officer from 8th Air Force HQ at Fort Worth also telephoned the Dallas Field Office of the FBI to make them aware of the situation. The FBI duty officer sent a teletype message at 6:17pm to the Director and SAC (Special Agent in Charge), Cincinnati, giving an account of this conversation.

Flying Disc, Information Concerning

Headquarters Eighth Air Force telephonically advised this office that an object purporting to be a flying disc was re covered (sic) near Roswell, New Mexico this date. The disc is hexagonal in shape and was suspended from a balon (sic) by cable, which balon (sic) was approximately twenty feet in diameter. Further advised that object found resembles a high altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector, but that telephonic conversation between their office and Wright Field had not born out this belief. Disc and balloon being transported to Wright Field by special plane for examination. Information provided this office because of National interest in case and fact that National broadcasting company, Associated Press, and others attempting to break story of location of disc today.    

Air Force concern about the breaking story was understandable – the timing of the issue of the two press releases meant that many newspapers ran a story based on the first Press Release but had already gone to print by the time that the second Press Release was issued in Fort Worth at around 4:00pm. Most newspapers ran a second article covering the retraction of the first Press Release on the following day, 9th July. The Roswell Daily Record ran this as a front page story under the headline: “Gen. Ramey Empties Roswell Saucer”.

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Roswell Daily Record, 9th July 1947

In the same issue the Roswell Daily Record also ran an article titled : ”Harassed Rancher who Located ‘Saucer” Sorry He Told About It”. This was based on an interview given to the newspaper by Mack Brazel on the morning of 9th July. The article included the following details of what Brazel had found:

Brazel related that on June 14 he and 8-year-old son, Vernon were about 7 or 8 miles from the ranch house of the J.B. Foster ranch, which he operates, when they came upon a large area of bright wreckage made up on rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks.
At the time Brazel was in a hurry to get his round made and he did not pay much attention to it. But he did remark about what he had seen and on July 4 he, his wife, Vernon, and a
daughter Betty, age 14, went back to the spot and gathered up quite a bit of the debris.
The next day he first heard about the flying disks, and he wondered if what he had found might be the remnants of one of these.
Brazel said that he did not see it fall from the sky and did not see it before it was torn up, so he did not know the size or shape it might have been, but he thought it might have been about as large as a table top. The balloon which held it up, if that was how it worked, must have been about 12 feet long, he felt, measuring the distance by the size of the room in which he sat. The rubber was smoky gray in color and scattered over an area about 200 yards in diameter.
When the debris was gathered up the tinfoil, paper, tape, and sticks made a bundle about three feet long and 7 or 8 inches thick, while the rubber made a bundle about 18 or 20 inches long and about 8 inches thick. In all, he estimated, the entire lot would have weighed maybe five pounds.
There was no sign of any metal in the area which might have been used for an engine and no sign of any propellers of any kind, although at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil.
There were no words to be found anywhere on the instrument, although there were letters on some of the parts. Considerable scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed upon it had been used in the construction.”

The article also noted that the publicity which had surrounded the finding of the debris had irritated Brazel to the extent that: “...if he ever found anything short of a bomb he sure wasn’t going to say anything about it.”

And in 1947 at least, that was that. There was no further reporting on the Roswell story in the local, National or International press and when, six months later, the US Air Force established Project Sign at Wright Patterson Air Base to investigate UFO sightings, the Roswell incident was not considered important enough to be included in a review of existing UFO sightings. Even those passionately interested in UFOs didn’t seem to regard this as a particularly significant incident. In early books about UFOs including The Flying Saucers are Real by Donald E. Keyhoe (1950), The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt (1956) and in the Condon Report, Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (1968) for example, you will find no mention of the Roswell incident.

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One possible reference to a UFO crash in Roswell was provided in a 1950 book written by Frank Scully and titled Behind the Flying Saucers. Although it didn’t talk about Roswell specifically, this was one of the first (or perhaps the first?) popular books to discuss the theory that a crashed UFO and its occupants had been secretly recovered by the US Air Force in New Mexico. Scully based this book on information provided to him by businessman Silas M. Newton and a shadowy scientist identified in the book only as “Dr Gee”. Gee was later identified as Leo A. Gebauer. Newton and Gebauer were both convicted of fraud in 1952 when they were found guilty of trying to sell a device which they claimed was capable of finding underground oil and which they explained had been created using alien technology obtained from a crashed flying saucer. Most people now accept that the information given to Scully by Newton and Gebauer was entirely invented and was simply an attempt to make their fraudulent claims of having obtained alien technology more credible. It’s certainly notable that none of the serious attempts to deal with the UFO phenomenon in the 1950s and 1960s included reference to the claims in Scully’s book.

On March 22nd 1950 Guy Hottel, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI field office in Washington DC, sent a one page memo to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover titled Flying Saucers – Information Concerning. The text read in part:

“An investigator for the Air Forces stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico. They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 feet in diameter. Each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only three feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture.

…the saucers were found in New Mexico due to the fact that the Government has a very high-powered radar set-up in that area and it is believed the radar interferes with the controlling mechanism of the saucers.”

This memo has been taken by some people as definitive proof that UFOs and alien bodies were recovered at Roswell in 1947. However, while this is certainly a genuine FBI document and Guy Hottel was a real person, there are a couple of points worth noting. This is a third-hand account passed on to the FBI by a person who claimed to have talked to an Air Force investigator (the name of the informant was included in the original memo, but has been redacted on the version publically released by the FBI). This isn’t a memo telling J. Edgar Hoover that UFOs exist; it’s a note letting the Director know that a claim has been made by an informant and that no further evaluation of the accuracy of the report was attempted by Guy Hottel. This is interesting certainly, but the only thing it proves is that someone claimed that an un-named Air Force investigator told them about UFOs and aliens.

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The Hottel Memo

No-one has been able to find any follow-up material on the Hottel memo in the FBI files and the memo doesn’t give a date for the claimed UFO crashes – it’s only the naming of New Mexico that has led some researchers to conclude that this must refer to Roswell. However, many people now believe that the information provided to the FBI may have come from Silas Newton in an effort to provide substance to his attempts to con money out of investors by claiming to have access to alien technology. Newton also provided very similar information to author Frank Scully and the number nine (three bodies in each of three flying saucers) was claimed by Newton to be very significant in the account he gave to Scully. There was a media frenzy about this memo in 2011 when it was posted for the first time to the new on-line FBI archive vault, though that’s a little difficult to understand – this memo had been publically available since the 1970s and was available on the FBI web-site for several years before 2011 (and had been referenced in more than one book about Roswell) before it was included in the launch of the Vault.

In 1966 the book “Flying Saucers: Serious Business” by Frank Edwards did mention Roswell, though only in passing. Edwards mentions a rancher near Roswell who called the local Sheriff to report seeing a flying disc crashing into a hillside near his house and recounts the story of a large military presence on the ranch while the debris was inspected. This account doesn’t give much detail and doesn’t really fit with  other versions of the Roswell story, but it appears to have been the first time that a book about UFOs specifically referenced Roswell in terms of s UFO crash.

The only other pre-1978 mention of a UFO crash in New Mexico in 1947 that I have been able to find was in an article in the very first issue of the magazine Flying Saucer Review, published in 1955. In the article, British television star Hughie Green (then famous for hosting the hit television show Opportunity Knocks) told how, in June 1947 he was driving from Los Angeles to Philadelphia for a business meeting. He kept the car radio tuned to local radio stations during the journey and heard several bulletins reporting that a flying saucer had crashed in New Mexico and was being investigated by the US Army. When he arrived in Philadelphia, he bought several newspapers but was surprised and disappointed to find no mention of the story. Which led him (and the readers of Flying Saucer Review) to wonder whether the story of a crashed saucer in June 1947 had somehow been suppressed? Green’s placing this event in June 1947 clearly pre-dates the breaking of the Roswell story, but we should probably be cautious about putting too much emphasis on this. When Green was interviewed in the 1990s about this story he confidently placed the event as taking place in 1957, which clearly isn’t possible as he gave the interview to Flying Saucer Review in 1955. No-one else has come forward who remembers such reports in June 1947 and it seems much more likely that Green simply got his dates wrong and was referring to radio reports on 8th July which broke the flying saucer story based on the initial Press Release from Roswell AAF. It is entirely possible that Green arrived at his destination before radio reports based on the second Press Release were broadcast which retracted the flying saucer claims and effectively killed the story.

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Hughie Green

In the years that followed, many of the key characters involved in this story died. Chaves County Sheriff George Wilcox died in 1961, Brigadier General Roger M. Ramey died in 1963, Colonel William Blanchard died in 1966, Mack Brazel died in 1968 and his wife Maggie in 1975. However, more than thirty years later, sensational stories would begin to emerge which cast doubt on almost every fact which had previously been accepted about this case and which suggested that what happened at Roswell was much, much more complex than had previously been understood.

1978 – Present

By the early 1970s, interest in UFOs had dropped off markedly compared to the fascination this subject aroused in the 1950s and 60s. However, towards the end of the 70s interest rose again, partly due to the popularity of the Steven Spielberg movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind which was released in 1977. During the seventies, Dr Stanton T. Friedman, a Canadian nuclear physicist who had worked for General Electric, Westinghouse, and other companies, dropped his day job and became a full-time writer and lecturer on the topic of UFOs.

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Dr Stanton Friedman

In 1978 Dr Friedman was giving his popular talk: “Flying Saucers are real!” at Louisiana State University when he started chatting to a local television station manager who mentioned a radio ham friend of his who claimed to have handled pieces of a crashed UFO many years before. Friedman called the friend the following day. This turned out to be Jesse Marcel, now retired from the Air Force and working as a television repairman in Houma, Louisiana. Marcel confirmed that he had handled parts of a crashed UFO during his Air Force service, but couldn’t remember the date of the incident. Friedman made a note of this conversation but did nothing more until, at another UFO talk, he was approached by a couple, Vern and Jean Maltais, who also wanted to talk to him about an incident involving a crashed UFO. They explained that their late friend, Grady “Barney” Barnett, a soil conservationist who had worked for the government, had seen a crashed UFO and alien bodies while he was working in a remote area near Socorro, New Mexico (around 125 miles from the debris discovered by Mack Brazel), but that US military personnel had quickly sealed off the site and ordered all witnesses not to talk about what they had seen. Barnett had died in 1969 so Friedman couldn’t verify what the Maltais had told him, but combining this story with the information from Marcel was the beginning of what Friedman later described as “the most important discovery of the millennium.”

Friedman alerted one of his contacts, Robert Vance Pratt, a journalist then working for weekly newspaper the National Enquirer, about Marcel’s story. Pratt, who generally published under the byline Bob Pratt, had become interested in UFOs following a series of interviews with people reporting sightings in 1975. Pratt interviewed Marcel in late 1979 and the transcript of that interview became the basis for an article which was published in the National Enquirer in February 1980. During the interview Marcel described meeting with Brazel in Sheriff Wilcox’ office and then travelling out to the Foster ranch. He claimed that it was late when he and Cavitt arrived and the two men spent the night in Brazel’s shack before searching the debris site the next morning. Then Pratt asked for details of what Marcel had seen there. The following are extracts from the transcript of the interview.

Pratt: When you got out there, what did you actually see, bits of metal or what?

Marcel: I saw – Well we found some metal, small bits of metal, but mostly we found some material that’s hard to describe. I’d never seen anything like that, and I still don’t know what it was. We picked it up anyway.

Pratt: Were there any markings?

Marcel: Yes, there were. Something indecipherable. I’ve never seen anything like that myself. Oh, I call them hieroglyphics myself. I don’t know whether they were ever deciphered or not.

Pratt: There were some markings, though?

Marcel: Oh. Yes – little members, small members, solid members that could not bend or break, but it didn’t look like metal. It looked more like wood.

Pratt: You’ve been flying since 1928, twenty years when this happened. Was this part of any aircraft that you recognize?

Marcel: No, it could not have been part of an aircraft.

Pratt: Nor part of a weather balloon or experimental balloon?

Marcel: I couldn’t see that it could be, no. For one thing if it had been a balloon, like the parts that we picked up, it would not have been porous. It was porous.

Pratt: How many pieces were there?

Marcel: It might have been hundreds. I don’t recall. It’s been so long since I handled all this stuff. I’d just about dismissed the whole thing from my mind.

Pratt: When you went out there that morning, you could see this stuff scattered for quite a ways in the distance?

Marcel: Lord, yes, about as far as you could see – three-quarters of a mile long and two hundred to three hundred feet wide. I tell you what I surmised. One thing I did notice – nothing actually hit the ground bounced on the ground. It was something that must have exploded above ground and fell. And I learned later that farther west towards Carrizozo, they found something like that, too. That I don’t know anything about. It was the same period of time, sixty to eighty miles west of there.

Pratt: Ranchers found something similar out there?

Marcel: I think it was discovered by some surveyor out there.

Marcel added that the debris: “…was nothing that came from Earth. It came to Earth but not from Earth.” Shortly after publication of the article in the National Enquirer, the first book about Roswell appeared: The Roswell Incident (1980), by Charles Berlitz and William Moore. This book, which included contributions from Stanton Friedman, claimed that the authors had interviewed a number of witnesses (including Jesse Marcel) who told a very different version of what happened at Roswell in 1947. The scenario proposed in this book was that an alien craft had been damaged over the Foster ranch (accounting for the debris there) but had flown on to crash in a desert area known as the Plains of San Augustin, west of Socorro where it was seen by Barney Barnett. The book also claimed that the US Air Force had recovered not just a crashed alien craft but also the bodies of its occupants. These were taken for study and all witnesses were cajoled, threatened or persuaded to remain silent about what they had seen. The book also mentioned for the first time a claim that Mack Brazel had been held in custody by the US Air Force for a period of up to one week after reporting finding debris on the ranch.

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In December 1984 an odd package was delivered to the home of documentary producer Jamie Shandera. The package contained a film cassette with photographs of what appeared to papers relating to a 1952 briefing for President Eisenhower on the subject of UFOs. The papers identified members of a secret government group responsible for investigating UFOs which was identified as “Majestic-12” or “MJ-12” (for this reason these papers are now generally known as the Majestic-12 papers). However, one of the papers also gave specific detail of the Roswell incident:

“…little of substance was learned about the objects until a local rancher reported that one had crashed in a remote region of New Mexico located approximately seventy-five miles northwest of Roswell Army Air Base (now Walker Field).

On 07 July, 1947, a secret operation was begun to assure recovery of the wreckage of this object for scientific study. During the course of this operation, aerial reconnaissance discovered that four small human-like beings had apparently ejected from the craft at some point before it exploded.

These had fallen to earth about two miles east of the wreckage site. All four were dead and badly decomposed due to action by predators and exposure to the elements during the approximately one week time period which had elapsed before their discovery.”

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One of the Majestic-12 papers

Jamie Shandera wasn’t particularly involved with UFO research, but one of his close friends was William Moore, co-author of The Roswell Incident (Moore also published Crashed Saucers: Evidence in Search of Proof in 1985). Shandera passed the Majestic-12 documents to Moore who shared them with Stanton Friedman. The two men studied the documents privately for two years before making them public in early 1987. Their conclusion was that the documents were genuine (Friedman went on to publish a book, Top Secret Majic, in 1996 explaining why he believed this to be so). However, a number of researchers who subsequently studied these papers believe that anomalies in the Majestic-12 papers mean that they are almost certainly fakes.

In September 1989 the hugely popular television documentary show Unsolved Mysteries, hosted by actor Robert Stack, aired an episode on Roswell which included a reconstruction based on events described in The Roswell Incident and citing the Majestic-12 papers.

In 1991 Kevin Randle (a retired US Air Force Captain) and Donald Schmitt (Director of special investigations at the Center for UFO Studies – CUFOS) published UFO Crash at Roswell in which they presented eyewitness accounts which seemed to support the contention that the Air Force had recovered a crashed UFO and the remains of alien occupants from one or more sites in New Mexico in 1947.

In 1992 Stanton Friedman published Crash at Corona which discussed the Majestic-12 documents, expanded on the scenario first put forward in The Roswell Incident and postulated a second crash site several miles away.

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International UFO Museum & Research Center, Roswell

In 1992, Walter Haut (the former Public Relations Officer from Roswell AAF who had released the original Press release in 1947) and Glenn Dennis, one of the witnesses who had provided eyewitness testimony of the recovery of alien bodies, opened the International UFO Museum & Research Center in Roswell. This very successful museum is still in operation and exhibits “information on the Roswell Incident, crop circles, UFO sightings, Area 51, ancient astronauts and abductions.

In 1994 Kevin Randle and Donld Schmitt published a second book about Roswell, The truth about the UFO crash at Roswell, which expanded on their first book and added more new eyewitness testimony.

By 1994 public interest in Roswell was at a very high level and the idea that the US Air Force had recovered parts of a UFO and alien bodies in New Mexico in 1947 had gained wide acceptance. In February, Congressman Steven Schiff of New Mexico applied to the General Accounting Office (GAO), an investigative agency of Congress, to undertake a formal audit of agency records to ascertain “the facts regarding the reported crash of an UFO in 1949 (sic) at Roswell, New Mexico.” This audit was to investigate all government agencies but with special focus on the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force designated two officers, Colonel Richard L. Weaver and 1st Lieutenant James McAndrew to produce a detailed report in response to this request.

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The report was published in 1995 as The Roswell Report – Fact versus fiction in the New Mexico desert. This report (which was almost 1,000 pages long) included the transcription of an interview with Sheridan Cavitt (who had accompanied Marcel to the Foster ranch) but not with Jesse Marcel himself as he had died in 1986. The finding of this report was that the debris recovered from the ranch was that of a balloon, but not a weather balloon. Instead, it was claimed that what was recovered was a balloon and radar reflective train from a Project Mogul balloon – Mogul was a secret project in 1947 which involved flying high-altitude balloons from Alamogordo Army Airfield in New Mexico. The purpose of this project was to investigate the use of balloons to detect sound waves generated by Soviet nuclear detonations and to identify the acoustic signatures of ballistic missiles as they entered the upper atmosphere. The Roswell Report found no evidence of any cover-up nor that the US Air Force had recovered alien crash debris or bodies in 1947.

In 1995 Ray Santilli, a British music and film producer, announced that he had obtained a film from a retired US Army cameraman (who wished to remain anonymous) which showed the autopsy of one of the bodies of the aliens recovered from the Roswell crash. The 17 minute black and white film gained massive publicity when excerpts were shown on television in August 1995 and, despite concerns about its authenticity, it was watched by millions of viewers in more than thirty countries.

The full alien autopsy video

In 1996 the city of Roswell Chamber of Commerce launched an annual UFO Festival featuring carnivals, trade shows, alien costume contests and lectures from UFO researchers. This generally light-hearted event remains very popular and attracts many thousands of visitors to Roswell each year not just from the US, but also from Europe, Asia and South America.

In 1997 the US Air Force published a second report on the Roswell incident: The Roswell Report: Case Closed, written by Captain James McAndrew who, as a 1st Lieutenant, had also co-authored the previous Roswell Report. Case Closed looked at testimony from several witnesses who claimed to have seen alien bodies and concluded that they were all mistaken about the dates of these events and that they had actually seen anthropomorphic test dummies used by the Air Force during the 1950s or were referring to the badly burned bodies of aircrew from a number of aircraft crashes from 1948 onwards.

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In 1998 an attempt was made to examine detail from one of the photographs of the Roswell debris taken in 1947. The photograph showed Brigadier General Ramey and Colonel DuBose posing with the debris. In his right hand, Ramey is holding a piece of paper which appears to be a teletype message.

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In The Roswell Report, it was claimed that an attempt had been made to enlarge the area of the photograph showing the paper so that the text could be read. However, the Air Force claimed that this was not possible. In 1998 J. Bond Johnson (the person who had originally taken the photograph) and a team that included engineers and computer and photographic experts re-examined the image.

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Rotated enlargement from the above photograph, taken from an original held in the Fort Worth-Star Telegram Photograph Collection, The University of Texas.

This team claimed that they could now decipher some of the text which read “victims of the”, “emergency powers are needed site two SW of Magdalena NMex.” and “the “crash” story”. This seemed to confirm the UFO/alien theory, but not everyone agreed. Russ Estes, a professional documentarian, used high-tech cameras and software on a 16” x 20” print supplied by the University of Texas in 1998. His conclusion was that he could not reliably decipher any of the text in the photograph and that other viewers were seeing “faces in the clouds” – that is, they were assigning more shape and meaning than were actually contained in the image. Debate still rages about whether or not it is possible to read the text in the photograph. It’s certainly tantalizingly close to being readable and, like many others I have spent a long time squinting at the image above without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. It has also been pointed out that, if this was a military teletype, it should have its classification (i.e., Secret, Restricted, etc.) printed at the bottom of the page. We can see the bottom of the page in the photograph and there does not appear to be any classification marking there. J. Bond Johnson also later said that he personally handed the teletype message to Ramey when he entered to office to take photographs and that it might be a communication from his employer, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about the earlier Press Release from Roswell AAF. However, just like many other Roswell witnesses, Johnson’s recollection of events seems to have changed over time.

By the mid to late 1990s, serious doubts were being raised about the authenticity of some Roswell eyewitness reports and the autopsy film and the pendulum of public opinion seemed to swing towards believing that the whole notion of a crashed UFO and alien bodies was a hoax. Several books were published during this period (The Roswell UFO Crash (1997) by Kal Korff, The Real Roswell Crashed-Saucer Coverup (1997) by Philip J. Klass and Roswell : inconvenient facts and the will to believe (2001) by Karl T. Pflock) which de-bunked the Roswell alien/UFO theories and supported the Air Force contention that it had recovered only debris from a balloon.

However, interest in the alien/UFO theory remained sufficiently high that in 2002, the Sci-Fi Channel sponsored an archeological dig at the supposed debris site on the Foster ranch. The dig was conducted by personnel from the University of New Mexico Office of Contract Archeology (OCA) assisted by Roswell writers and researchers Donald Schmitt and Tom Carey. The purpose of the dig was to look for any small fragments of debris that might have been missed by a military clean-up team. The only possible artifact recovered was a tiny piece of light, silver material (described as being “about the size of a fingernail”). Subsequent analysis seemed to indicate that this was not, as had first been thought, a piece of heavily degraded duct tape, but failed to suggest what it might be. Nothing in the analysis suggested an extraterrestrial origin or unknown alloys or metals. The dig team also reported recent soil disruption in what was assumed to be the location in which some witnesses in 1947 had claimed to have seen a gouge in the ground (though others considered this to be nothing more than an old cattle trail or even a coyote hole). A book based on this dig, The Roswell Dig Diaries, was published in 2004. In 2006 the Sci-Fi Channel funded a second dig at the same location, but nothing of significance was recovered.

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Digging at the claimed crash site on the Foster ranch, 2006

In 2005, a message was posted from an anonymous source (who claimed to be a formerly highly placed US Government employee) to a UFO related online message board. The message referred to “Project Serpo”, an alleged top secret program which had involved not only the recovery of a living alien from the Roswell crash, but the secret establishment of a personnel exchange scheme with entities from the planet Serpo in which twelve US servicemen subsequently travelled to that planet. It took a surprisingly long time for supporters of the Roswell UFO/alien theory to accept that this was nothing more than a clumsy hoax.

In 2006 Ray Santilli admitted that the alien autopsy film was not genuine, but he continues to claim that it is a staged reconstruction of a genuine film he had been shown in 1992. He has claimed that the original film was so badly deteriorated that it could not be used and the reconstruction was staged to replicate the events shown. He also claimed that some frames of the original film were used in the reconstruction, though he did not specify which frames. Most people now accept that the alien autopsy film is a hoax and does not provide evidence for aliens at Roswell.

In 2007, Donald Schmitt (who had previously co-authored two books on Roswell with Kevin Randle and acted as advisor to the first Roswell dig) and Tom Carey published Witness to Roswell. This book claims that the authors are aware of more than 600 witnesses who have provided either first or second-hand testimony supporting the UFO/alien theory. This book included a new statement by Walter Haut (the Public Relations officer at Roswell AAF who released the initial Press Release and more recently co-founder of the International UFO Museum & Research Center in Roswell) in which he claimed to be aware of the recovery of a crashed alien craft and bodies during the Roswell incident. Witness to Roswell also quotes two witnesses who claim that Jesse Marcel told them about finding alien bodies at the crash site.

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Donald Schmitt (left) and Tom Carey (right), authors of Witness to Roswell, on stage at the Be Witness event in Mexico City, May 5th 2015.

On May 5th 2015, an event called Be Witness was held in the National Auditorium in Mexico City. This event was hosted by a group of UFO researchers which included Donald Schmitt, Tom Carey, Anthony Bragalia, Jaime Maussan, Adam Dew and Richard Dolan. At the event this group finally revealed a set of images taken from Kodachrome slides which were said to show an alien from the Roswell crash. These images (which became known as the “Roswell Slides”) had been the subject of intense speculation and debate for over eighteen months before their release. Pre-publicity included claims that the images provided stunning visual evidence of a humanoid creature that was found crashed near Roswell, NM in 1947.” “…the Kodachrome images have now been authenticated by expert scientists and their provenance has been confirmed.” Which all sounded very exciting, but it took less than 24 hours after the release of the images to conclusively demonstrate that they showed not an alien but the mummified body of a young child which had been photographed while on display in a museum in the mid 1940s.

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One of the “Roswell slides

This has been a quick run through the main highlights of the Roswell chronology. It’s not exhaustive by any means, but I hope that it provides enough detail to show the evolution of the Roswell story. What began in 1947 as a story about small pieces of debris being found on a ranch became the story of a UFO crash and recovered alien bodies before morphing once again into a story of multiple crash sites and the recovery of living as well as dead aliens. In the next part I’ll be looking at the various theories around what may actually have happened at Roswell and some of the eye-witness reports on which these are based.

Related pages

The Roswell Mystery – Part 2

The Roswell Mystery – Part 3

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Webpage providing a download link for a .pdf version of the first US Air Force report on Roswell, The Roswell Report – Fact versus fiction in the New Mexico desert

Direct download link to a .pdf version of the second US Air Force report on Roswell, The Roswell Report – Case Closed.

The FBI Vault archive of publically available information on unexplained Phenomena from The Vault. Includes documents relating to Silas Newton, the Majestic-12 papers, Roswell and the Hottel memo.

Webpage which provides a complete transcript of the December 1979 interview given by Jesse Marcel to Bob Pratt.

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