There are really just two popular theories about what happened in New Mexico in July 1947: either Mack Brazel found and the US Air Force recovered a balloon (either a weather balloon or some other type of balloon such as a Project Mogul balloon) or they found and recovered debris from one or more crashed alien craft and possibly the bodies of their occupants. The initial reporting, interviews and photographs, the two Air Force Roswell Reports and several de-bunking books support the balloon theory. Most other books, articles and documentaries about Roswell support some version of the crashed UFO/alien theory.
There is very little hard or documentary evidence here; proponents of both theories mainly use eyewitness testimony to support their views and attack testimony which appears to support the opposite view. Let’s look at witnesses from both sides of the argument. I’ll start by looking at those witnesses who have been cited as supporting the UFO/alien theory. There are a great many of these – researchers have claimed to have found anything up to 600 first or second-hand witnesses whose testimony supports this theory. I don’t have the time, space or inclination to look at each of these in detail so instead I’ll focus on a small selection of witnesses whose evidence has had significant input to one or more of the influential books about the topic.
When Jesse Marcel spoke to Stanton Friedman and then Bob Pratt in the late seventies, he seemed to believe that the debris he had recovered from the Brazel ranch was of extraterrestrial origin and he described a debris field that was much bigger (200-300 yards wide by three quarters of a mile long) than previously understood. In some interviews (though this wasn’t consistent) he also seemed to imply that the debris photographed for the second Press Release might not have been the debris he had collected. Marcel was one of the few people we know to have seen the original debris, so this is important testimony. However, there a couple of problems, especially if we consider that first interview with Bob Pratt. In this interview Marcel made a number of claims not directly related to Roswell (that he was a pilot, that he had flown as a pilot in combat in World War Two, that he had shot down an enemy aircraft and himself been shot down, that he was awarded five Air Medals and that he had a degree in nuclear physics) which are all demonstrably untrue, and that has to raise questions about his overall credibility.
Major Jesse A. Marcel poses with debris in General Ramey’s office, Fort Worth Air Base, July 8th 1947
It also seems odd that, when Marcel was first contacted by Friedman, he couldn’t even remember the year in which he had recovered the debris from the Foster ranch. If you had seen something which provided incontrovertible proof of the existence of an extraterrestrial craft as Marcel later claimed, you’d imagine that this would make enough of an impact that you’d remember at least the year in which it had taken place. It’s also notable that Marcel’s account is relatively low-key compared to many later versions – he simply talks about some odd debris and there is no mention of a crashed saucer or dead aliens or of any large scale-military clean-up operation at the ranch or even of a heightened level of security at Roswell AAF. Later witnesses claimed that Marcel told them he had seen alien bodies at the crash site, but there is no mention of this in the direct testimony that Marcel provided up to his death in 1986.
A teletype operator in the late 1940s.
Lydia Sleppy, a teletype operator at KOAT Radio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was featured in the dramatic opening to the very first book about Roswell, The Roswell Incident. According to testimony which she gave to Stanton Friedman in 1980 (and later repeated to several other researchers), in early July 1947, Lydia took a call from John McBoyle, General Manager and part-owner of KSWS Radio in Roswell. McBoyle explained that he had a story about a flying saucer crash near Roswell. Sleppy began to send a teletype version of the message to ABC News headquarters in Hollywood when her transmission was abruptly interrupted by an incoming message which read something like: “This is the FBI. You will immediately cease transmitting.” It’s a great opening to a book, but there are a number of problems with this story. First, the FBI did not have equipment capable of tracking teletype messages back in 1947 (nor did anyone else). Second, to receive a message on the teletype machine used by Sleppy required a “Receive” switch to be operated – it simply wasn’t technically possible for someone to remotely interrupt an outgoing transmission. If there is any truth in this story at all, it simply can’t have happened the way that Sleppy described it more than thirty years later. However, it is notable that Lydia Sleppy is one of the very few Roswell witnesses who provided her story prior to 1978 – A shortened version of her account first appeared (though it didn’t give her name or specifically mention Roswell) in an article about UFOs in Saga magazine in 1974.
Grady “Barney” Barnett, pictured in the 1940s
The second-hand re-telling of the story originating from Grady “Barney” Barnett was the first time anyone had mentioned dead aliens and this provided part of the impetus for the re-birth of the Roswell story in the early 1980s. Barnett died in 1969 and the story originally emerged through Vern and Jean Maltais, friends of Barnett to whom he had told the story of a crashed UFO sometime in the 1950s. Researchers contacted friends and family of Barnett and several of these confirmed that he had spoken about seeing a crashed UFO and dead aliens. Everyone spoke of Barnett in the highest terms, stressing his reliability and integrity. However, there were problems with his story. First, no-one who had spoken to Barnett about this experience remembered him giving a specific date for his experience. In the book The Roswell Incident, his story was conflated with accounts from Marcel and others in an attempt to show that all were talking about elements of the same event in July 1947. Barnett’s wife Ruth died in 1977, before researchers became interested in the new version of the Roswell story, but a daily diary for 1947 was discovered amongst her possessions. This diary showed that Barnett was present in his office in Socorro every day of the first week of July 1947 other than the 2nd and 8th. So, any field trip to the Plains of San Augustin could not have taken place on 4th or 5th July, the dates on which it would have to have happened in order to tie-in with the discovery of debris on the Foster ranch. Barnett also spoke about a group of archaeologists and a professor who had also been present at the crash site before the military turned up. Researchers have tried strenuously to locate these witnesses, but, though archaeologists have been located who were in the general area at the right time, none recall any crashed UFO or unusual military activity. We have no reasons to doubt Barney Barnett’s honesty or integrity. However, accounts of his story were told to UFO researchers at second hand by people who had first heard them anything up to twenty-five years previously. When we add this to the lack of a date for this sighting, the lack of corroborating witnesses and the evidence of Ruth Barnett’s daily diary, it’s very difficult to see how this testimony can be used to support the notion of a UFO crash on the Plains of San Augustin which also caused the debris on the Foster ranch.
Frank Joyce, pictured in the 1980s
Frank Joyce was an announcer for Roswell local radio station KGFL in 1947. He was also a stringer for United Press, feeding local news stories which might have a wider interest. Joyce is generally credited with placing the Press Release issued by Roswell AAF (the one which claimed capture of a UFO) on the wire service and therefore bringing it to national and international notice. In 1982 Joyce was interviewed by William Moore, co-author of The Roswell Incident. He told for the first time how, on 6th July 1947, he had spoken to Mack Brazel as he waited in Sheriff Wilcox’ office for the arrival of Jesse Marcel. Joyce had called Wilcox to find out if there were any newsworthy local stories, and the Sheriff had passed him on to Brazel. Joyce refused to go into detail but hinted that Brazel had told him that he had found not just debris but dead aliens on the Foster ranch. Moore pressed for more detail but Joyce responded:
“I think I’ve said all I want to on that. I made up my mind a long time ago that I would only go so far with that part of the story Whatever that thing was, the rancher saw it all, and it didn’t originate on this planet. What I heard later about the Air Force having bodies of little men from space… was totally consistent with what I had heard at the time.”
This was the first time that anyone had mentioned the possibility that Mack Brazel had found alien bodies. Joyce went on to explain that Brazel (accompanied by Air Force officers) returned to give and on-air interview to KGFL a few days later. What Brazel said during the interview backed-up the Air Force weather balloon explanation. After the interview, Joyce pointed out (off-air) to Brazel that what he had just said didn’t accord with their previous telephone call. Joyce claimed that Brazel’s response was: “Look, son. You keep this to yourself. They told me to come in here and tell you this story or it would go awfully hard on me and you” In 1989 Joyce was interviewed by Kevin Randle and added another detail to this conversation. He claimed that as Brazel was leaving, he said: “You know how they talk about little green men? Well, they weren’t green.” In 1997 Joyce repeated this statement in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. In 1998 Joyce expanded the story even further, quoting part of the initial telephone conversation with Brazel as he waited in Wilcox’s office.
Brazel: Oh, God. Oh, my God. What am I gonna do? It’s horrible, horrible, just horrible.
Joyce: What is? What’s horrible? What are you talking about?
Brazel: The stench! Just awful.
Joyce: Stench? From what? What are you talking about?
Brazel: They’re dead.
Joyce: What? Who’s dead?
Brazel: Little people.
Frank Joyce died in 2008. No-one has produced any valid reason to doubt his increasingly sensational stories of his conversations with Mack Brazel.
William Glenn Dennis was a mortician at a Roswell funeral parlour in 1947. In an interview with Stanton Friedman in 1989 he described how at around the time of the Roswell incident he had been asked by the mortuary officer from Roswell AAF about the availability of child-size caskets and preservation techniques for deteriorated bodies. He also claimed to have later spoken to a nurse from Roswell AAF who had told him how she assisted visiting doctors to perform autopsies on the badly damaged bodies of three alien creatures. Soon after, this nurse was suddenly transferred to the UK but was killed in an air crash. Dennis’ claims formed part of the basis for the 1991 book UFO Crash at Roswell. Researchers have failed to find any record of a nurse of the name provided by Dennis at Roswell AAF and no death of a nurse in an air crash at the relevant time (in 1992 Dennis said that she hadn’t died in an aircraft crash, but had become a nun). Dennis changing story and the failure of any researcher to find the nurse has led most people to doubt Dennis’ testimony. Kevin Randle, co-author of UFO Crash at Roswell later named Dennis as one of the least credible Roswell witnesses “for changing the name of the nurse once we had proved she didn’t exist.” In 1992 Glen Dennis became the co-founder of the International UFO Museum & Research Center in Roswell. Glen Dennis died in April 2015.
Bill Rickett, pictured in the 1940s
Master Sergeant Lewis “Bill” Rickett gave a detailed and lengthy interview to Mark Rodeghier, Ph.D., Director and President of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies in 1990. In this account, Rickett described how he had travelled with Sheridan Cavitt to a site in the desert near Roswell AAF in early July, 1947. Rickett doesn’t specifically identify this as the Foster ranch, but he says that he came into the CIC office one morning later than usual to find that Cavitt (his immediate superior) wasn’t there. He asked one of the secretarial staff where Cavitt was:
“I says, where did Cavitt go? And she says, well him and Major Marcel and some farmer looking person tore out of here all of a sudden. And she says, and they all got some vehicles and took off. And she says, the last thing when he went out the door, he says, when Rick comes back, tell him to be here at one o’clock.”
When Cavitt returned to the office, he requested that Rickett accompany him back out into the desert to “see something”. After a drive of less than one hour from Roswell AAF (Rickett estimated the distance travelled as being around ten miles), they arrived at an area of desert guarded by Military Policemen from the base under the Command of Major Darden. The MPs were guarding an area which looked to Rickett as if it had been used for some sort of landing, though he saw no landing tracks. Scattered round were pieces of metal which were very light and thin, but which Rickett could not bend or break. Jesse Marcel arrived in a “little pickup vehicle” and collected the pieces of metal. Marcel, Cavitt and Rickett arrived back at Roswell AAF at around 17:00 and the pieces of metal that had been collected were packed into boxes and flown out. Rickett went on to describe how, later, he had been detailed to work with Dr. Lincoln La Paz to investigate the Roswell incident. Dr La Paz was an eminent astronomer who, in 1947, was Head of the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy at the University of New Mexico. Rickett’s understanding was that Dr La Paz had been brought in to try to work out the trajectory of the craft which had left the debris near Roswell AAF.
Colonel Thomas DuBose (right) views the Roswell debris with Brigadier General Ramey, 8th July 1947.
Colonel (later Brigadier General) Thomas DuBose was based at Fort Worth Air Base in July 1947 where he was serving as Chief of Staff to Brigadier General Ramey, Commanding Officer of the Eighth Air Force. In September 1991 (when he was ninety years old) DuBose provided a signed affidavit on his involvement in the Roswell affair to the Fund for UFO Research. In this, DuBose claimed he received a telephone call from General Clements McMullen, Deputy Commander of Strategic Air Command asking about the object which had been recovered outside Roswell and reported in the press as a flying saucer. DuBose was told to arrange for the material to be flown to Fort Worth. DuBose also said that the material shown in the photographs taken in General Ramey’s office was of a weather balloon and that the weather balloon explanation for the material was a cover story to divert the attention of the press (though in later interviews DuBose claimed that the material photographed was the same material collected by Marcel). Supporters of the UFO theory take DuBose comments about a cover-up to mean that the actual object recovered was a UFO. However, it can also be argued that the weather balloon cover-up story was used by the Air Force to hide the existence of a top secret Mogul balloon. There is also a possible problem with the timeline proposed in DuBose’ affidavit. DuBose states that he was called by General McMullen who was concerned about press reports of a flying saucer and wanted the debris flown from Roswell AAF to Fort Worth Air Base. As a result of this instruction, DuBose then called Colonel Blanchard at Roswell and ordered the material flown to Fort Worth in a sealed container. However, the telephone call from General McMullen could only have happened during the afternoon of the 8th July when the first reports based on the 11:00am Press Release from Roswell began to appear in the press. But the Press Release by General Ramey at Fort Worth was issued at 04:00pm on the 8th July and included photographs of the debris in General Ramey’s office, indicating that it had already been flown there some time earlier. However, we have to accept that DuBose was talking about events which had occurred almost forty-five years before so it shouldn’t be surprising if his recall wasn’t perfect.
Jim Ragsdale, pictured in the 1990s
Jim Ragsdale was a truck driver who came forward in 1994 with a new eyewitness report on a UFO crash at Roswell. Ragsdale claimed that on 7th July 1947 around thirty-five miles northwest of Roswell, he had been spending some quality time in the back of his truck with a girlfriend when, at about 11:30 pm they heard an object roar overhead and appear to crash. They investigated the crash site and found a flying saucer embedded in a cliff and the bodies of several aliens. They stayed until morning and watched as an army clean-up crew arrived and removed every trace of the crashed saucer. Both Ragsdale and his girlfriend took pieces of debris from the site. When his girlfriend was killed a short time later in a road accident, the pieces of debris she had in the vehicle disappeared. Ragsdale also said that his vehicle and home were later broken into and every piece of debris stolen. The second Randle/Schmitt book about Roswell, The truth about the UFO crash at Roswell, used Ragsdale’s testimony. However, the story changed significantly over subsequent years with the crash site shifting by over twenty miles and new embellishments being added including Ragsdale not just seeing alien bodies, but entering the craft and removing several golden helmets from the dead aliens. Unfortunately, Ragsdale was not able to remember where he buried these helmets before the arrival of the military clean-up team. The changing story and the increasingly unlikely additions have made most serious researchers doubt Ragsdale’s credibility as a witness.
Following the broadcast of the Unsolved Mysteries show on Roswell in January 1990, Gerald Anderson called the show with additional information that seemed to corroborate the story that Barney Barnett had told. Anderson was passed on first to Kevin Randle (who claimed not to believe his story) and then to Stanton Friedman (who did). Anderson explained that, in July 1947 (when he was six years old) he had travelled on an expedition to the Plains of San Agustin to look for geological samples accompanied by his brother, his father his Uncle Ted and a cousin (all of whom were dead by 1990). On July 5th they discovered a crashed flying saucer and its four alien occupants, two dead, one injured and one unharmed. Soon after, Barney Barnett appeared as did a college professor and a group of students. Then the military arrived and began to clear the site having sworn all present to silence. In December 1990 Anderson gave an interview in which he also recalled that he had a diary written by his Uncle Ted and passed on to him by his father, which provided further details about the crashed saucer.
Andersons’ testimony was widely quoted to support the theories put forward in the 1992 book Crash at Corona by Stanton Friedman. However, there was some uneasiness as Andersons’ description of both the aliens and the crashed saucer changed over time (and all his accounts showed a remarkable level of recall for something witnessed as a six year old). Later, issues were discovered with Uncle Ted’s diary when it was noted first that the diary recorded newspaper reports claiming that the Roswell incident was due to misidentification of a balloon on 5th July (these didn’t appear until 9th July) and then a forensic examination of the diary revealed that, while the paper dated to the 1940s, the inks used hadn’t been developed until the 1970s, well after the death of Uncle Ted. Anderson later admitted faking the diary. In 1993 Stanton Friedman issued a statement noting that he no longer had “confidence in the testimony of Gerald Anderson, who claims to have stumbled upon a crash site with members of his family. Anderson has admitted falsifying a document and so his testimony about finding wreckage of a crashed flying saucer near the Plains of San Augustin in western New Mexico, can no longer be seen as sufficiently reliable.” Oddly, in 1998, Friedman claimed that he still believed Andersons’ claims.
Frank Kaufman, pictured in the 1990s
Frank Kaufmann provided testimony which was used in the 1994 book The truth about the UFO crash at Roswell. Kaufmann (who insisted on being referred to as “Steve McKenzie” in this book and “Joseph Osborne” in other Roswell books) claimed to have been a military radar operator who had witnessed the UFO crash as it happened and was then aware of or involved in almost every aspect of the subsequent recovery and clear-up operation. However, investigation later proved that Kaufmann had falsified many documents relating to his military service and the Roswell incident. He died in 2001 and by 2002 Kevin Randle, one of the co-authors of The truth about the UFO crash at Roswell announced that he no longer had any confidence in the stories told by Kaufmann.
And what of the witnesses whose first-hand testimony is used to support the balloon theory? This is a much shorter list. As above, I’m looking here at witnesses whose evidence has been cited in some of the Roswell de-bunking books and reports though there are many more witnesses who have given statements to support (for example) the general contention that there was no major recovery effort or increased security at Roswell AAF in early July 1947.
Sheridan Cavitt in the 1990s
The testimony of Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Sheridan Cavitt, the second person who Marcel claimed was present at the Foster ranch, is probably most often quoted by those who want to de-bunk the alien/UFO theory, but there are problems with this too. Cavitt initially denied that he had been at Roswell at the relevant time when approached by researchers in 1990. He repeated this in 1993 and added that the fact that he hadn’t been there proved that Jesse Marcel’s testimony (and the account given by Bill Rickett) were false. However, by May 1994 when he was interviewed by Colonel Richard L. Weaver, one of the Air Force officers compiling The Roswell Report, Cavitt’s recall about events in early 1947 had completely changed. He now remembered not only that he had been at Roswell AAF at the relevant time, but also that he had accompanied Jesse Marcel to the Foster ranch where he quickly identified the debris they found as coming from a weather balloon. The following is an excerpt of statements provided by Cavitt and included in The Roswell Report:
“When we got to this location we subsequently located some debris which appeared to me to resemble bamboo type square sticks one quarter to one half inch square, that were very light as well as some sort of metallic reflecting material that was also very light. I also vaguely recall some sort of black box (like a weather instrument). The area of this debris was very small, about 20 feet square, and the material was spread on the ground, but there was no gouge or crater or other obvious sign of impact. I remember recognizing this material as being consistent with a weather balloon.”
Cavitt’s statement concludes: “My bottom line is that this whole incident was no big deal and it certainly did not involve anything extraterrestrial.” In his statement Cavitt also mentioned the presence of CIC Master Sgt. Bill Rickett at the Foster ranch during the collection of debris and went on to note that Rickett and Marcel were “good men” but “prone to exaggerate on occasion.” Cavitt also denied ever meeting Mack Brazel and said that Marcel’s claim that they had spent the night at the ranch was “totally made up, or fabricated, or whatever.” Cavitt was the only member of the Air Force interviewed about his role in the Roswell incident for The Roswell Report. Indeed, Cavitt’s is the only interview and personal statement from a Roswell witness provided in the whole 1,000 page document. That’s more than a little surprising given that many significant witnesses (including people who served in the Air Force in 1947) were still alive in 1994/5. There are also a couple of further issues with Cavitt’s statement. Cavitt agreed that he was present on the Foster ranch when the debris was collected, but denied ever meeting Mack Brazel. However, the only way that the Air Force men could have found the debris was if Brazel showed them where it was, so this doesn’t seem to make sense. Cavitt was emphatic that what he had seen was the remains of a weather balloon, but even the Roswell Report, in which his account was included, concluded that this was unlikely and that the quite different and much larger train from a Project Mogul balloon was a more likely solution. Also, if it was immediately obvious to Cavitt that the debris was from a weather balloon, why didn’t he communicate this to Marcel and on his return to Roswell AAF? If he had, it’s difficult to see how the 11:00am Press Release on the 8th July noting the capture of a flying saucer would ever have been released.
A young Mack Brazel
Mack Brazel gave an interview to the Roswell Daily Record on 9th July and was interviewed by Frank Joyce on-air for local radio station KGFL soon after. In both interviews, most of what he said confirms the Air Force version that he found the debris of some kind of balloon. At one point he did say that “I am sure what I found was not any weather observation balloon” (he had found the remains of weather balloons on the Foster ranch on previous occasions). Those who support the UFO/alien theory maintain that this means he recognised that the debris was of extraterrestrial origin, but it could equally refer to his finding the train from a Project Mogul balloon which would have been much bigger and more complex than the relatively small package of instruments attached to a weather balloon.
Though Brazel’s interviews are often used to support the balloon theory, it also has to be noted that Frank Joyce claims that for the interview with KGFL that Brazel was accompanied by Air Force personnel and admitted off-air that he had been coerced to confirm the Air Force version of the story though he knew this to be untrue. The implication is that in the interview given to the Roswell Daily Record, he may also have been told what to say. There are also claims that Brazel gave an interview in the home of Walt Whitmore, the owner of KGFL on either 7th July or early on 8th July. The interview was recorded and Whitmore intended to use it as part of a broadcast from KGFL. Whitmore claimed that this interview gave a much more dramatic account of events at the Foster ranch, but the recording has disappeared – Whitmore claims that it was confiscated by the Air Force soon after. The Air Force emphatically denied this.
All we really have to support the opposing Roswell theories is eyewitness testimony and, as you can see, there are at the very least reasonable concerns about many of these accounts (on both sides of the argument) and all were provided thirty years or more after the event. Many of the witnesses interviewed were more than seventy years old. I’m well short of that age, but I know that I’d have major problems giving a detailed description of even very significant events in my life from more than thirty years ago.
Jesse Marcel in the 1980s
There are also a number of other witness statements which, though they don’t directly support the UFO/alien bodies theory, nonetheless suggest that something more than the recovery of a balloon happened at Roswell in 1947: For example, several people (including Bill Brazel, Mack’s son, Marion Strickland, a neighbor and Major Edwin Easley, Provost Marshall at Roswell AAF in 1947) have all separately claimed that Mack Brazel was detained by the Air Force for up to seven days after reporting his find, something that reportedly made him angry and bitter and which certainly doesn’t fit with his finding a weather balloon or even a Project Mogul balloon. The Air Force denied that this happened and Mack Brazel died long before the resurgence on interest in the Roswell story could have led to an interview. Against this there are also a number of witness accounts which claim that nothing unusual occurred at Roswell AAF in July 1947.
Those who support the UFO/alien theory have also looked for evidence of a heightened state of security at Roswell AAF during the period when debris was being collected. There are several witness statements which seem to support this, but no-one has been able to produce documentary evidence (in terms of, for example, changed work patterns for security and police personnel or even the drafting in of extra security personnel). In fact, all the records that have been examined to date seem to show that it was “business as usual” at Roswell AFF in early July 1947 and there were certainly no newspaper stories which indicate anything different (and you might reasonably expect that local newspapers would have been very interested in any operation that involved cordoning off parts of the countryside and the activity of numbers of troops outside their bases and normal training areas). Of course, supporters of the UFO/alien theory claim that the relevant documentation has been removed or amended and that reporting was suppressed as part of an Air Force cover-up.
The witness statements regarding Roswell often tell very different stories. On one side we have accounts of debris which certainly doesn’t sound as if it comes from any type of balloon, stories of one or more recognizable crashed flying saucers at one or more sites, accounts of the recovery of alien bodies or living aliens and heightened security at Roswell AAF. On the other we have witnesses who attest to a very ordinary story of the recovery of the remains of a balloon of some sort and who are emphatic that noting unusual in terms of base security happened in July 1947. It’s also notable that witnesses on both sides of the discussion rarely seem to agree in their version of events. How are we to reconcile these completely different perspectives? In the next part, I will attempt to come up with an explanation that fits all the available evidence.
Find out more
Direct download link to a .pdf version of the interview between Bill Rickett and Mark Rodeghier in January 1990.
Link to the Roswell Files website which includes details about witnesses and their testimony.
Link to a page on the NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) website giving a list of military witnesses.