Although Roswell is the most famous alleged UFO crash, it is not the only one, nor is it the first. Some researchers believe there may have been dozens of UFO crashes. Below is a collection of some of the more well-known cases in the United States.
Aurora, Texas, 1897
In 1896 and 1897, news of mysterious airship sightings was sweeping the nation. Many of these reports were similar to modern UFO sightings and consisted of strange lights darting around the sky. Other stories, however, referred to giant dirigibles (lighter-than-air aircraft). Even though there were a few inventors building dirigibles at the time throughout the world, for the most part, this explanation has been dismissed. There were no known successfully built dirigibles in the United States. The descriptions were also often much larger and flew much faster than the experimental blimps of this era.
Some witnesses reported seeing human-looking occupants in the airships. A few newspapers, including The Washington Times, went so far as to speculate that these were visitors from Mars. One of the last reports of mysterious airships was the curious report of S.E. Haydon in the Dallas Morning News on April 17, 1897. In his article, Haydon claimed that witnesses spotted an airship at 6 a.m. in the town of Aurora, Texas, on April 16. It flew low to the ground, descending until it finally collided with a windmill on the property of Judge J.S. Proctor. The collision resulted in a massive explosion, “scattering debris over several acres of the ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judge’s flower garden.”
According to the article, the townspeople were surprised to find the pilot’s body among the debris. It appeared to “not [be] an inhabitant of this world.” The local signal service officer speculated that he was from Mars. They also allegedly found papers containing strange hieroglyphics, which they assumed comprised a journal of the pilot’s travels. They were unable to determine the craft’s method of propulsion, but they did recover metals that appeared to be a mixture of aluminum and silver.
Nearly seventy-six years later, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), decided to take a closer look at this UFO legend. By then, rumors had circulated that Haydon had fabricated the entire story. When Haydon wrote the story, the town of Aurora was reeling from a string of bad luck. Several residents had died from typhoid that winter, cotton crops had failed, and a railroad planned for the city had gone broke. It was believed that Haydon, a local cotton buyer, created the story to try and breathe some new life into the town. MUFON investigators found surprising evidence; however, that supported the idea that something extraordinary may have taken place.
According to MUFON’s report, Texas state director, Bill Case, found two individuals who testified that their parents had witnessed the events described by Haydon in his article. The first was Mrs. Mary Evans, who says that she was fifteen-years-old when her parents went to the crash site and when they returned home, described to Mary the explosion and the small man who was killed in the crash. She recalled they had informed her the townsfolk buried what was left of the pilot in the local cemetery. The other witness was Charlie Stephens, whose father said he had seen the crash, which caused a massive fire that could be seen for three miles.
Using the witness testimony, MUFON investigators found what they believed to be the site of the crash. Radiation levels were checked and were typical for the area. The investigators found metal fragments with metal detectors that indicated something had crashed and spread debris over a two-or-three-acre area east of where the windmill was located. One-piece, in particular, caught their attention.
The mysterious piece of metal was found beneath four inches of soil and appeared to have been in a molten state when it penetrated the Earth and smashed against a limestone rock where it was found. Under analysis, the metal was determined to be a very pure form of aluminum alloy, oddly devoid of traces of copper, which is typically seen with this sort of manufactured aluminum. It had also gone through a heating-and-cooling stage consistent with that of an explosion.
The next part of MUFON’s investigation was to find the remains of the UFO pilot. They located a headstone with a triangle and some circles carved into it, possibly an etching of the craft. The metal detectors also alerted to metal below the surface at this location. Paperwork was submitted to exhume the body, but townsfolk vehemently denied the request and asked that researchers not enter the cemetery. Soon after MUFON’s investigation, the headstone disappeared altogether, leaving the location of the grave unknown.
In an article published in the Houston Chronicle in 2007, Aurora business owner Karen Tedrow said she understood the townspeople’s reluctance: “My parents are buried there, and I don’t want them digging around. Earthly body or not, they ought to let it rest in peace.”
In the end, MUFON investigators determined that there was more to the story than previously believed and that they had found “sufficient evidence to cast reasonable doubt on the hoax theory.”
Aztec, New Mexico, 1948
Another famous alleged UFO crash case occurred in March 1948 in the remote town of Aztec, New Mexico, in the northwest corner of the state. This story began with the publishing one of the first UFO books, Behind the Flying Saucers, written by Frank Scully in 1950.
Scully was a writer for the entertainment magazine Variety. He says some of his Hollywood friends recommended that he get in touch with Silas Newton, a successful oilman, who had some interesting UFO crash stories. Newton shared his stories with Scully and explained the electromagnetic nature of the propulsion of crashed UFOs. Newton, along with an anonymous scientist referred to as Dr. Gee, became the primary source for Scully’s book.
According to Newton and Dr. Gee, advanced radar stations in New Mexico caused the crash of a disc-shaped UFO near Aztec. The craft was mostly intact with just a puncture near one of the windows. Scientists, including Dr. Gee, who were first to arrive on the scene, saw bodies inside the craft. Without visible doors on the object, the scientists were eventually able to get into the craft by sticking a pole inside and pressing a button on a wall that opened a hidden door.
Inside, the scientists found sixteen charred bodies of beings that were humanoid in form but only three-to-four-feet tall. They appeared to have been killed by a fire inside the craft. The craft was made of a solid material that looked similar to aluminum and was very lightweight. Eventually, the aircraft was disassembled and taken to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, which is often rumored to be the home base for recovered extraterrestrial objects.
Once Scully’s book was published, it quickly became a bestseller. However, doubts about the credibility of the main witnesses began to surface. J.P. Cahn, a freelance reporter, wrote an investigative piece for True magazine, claiming that the whole book was based on lies. Cahn claimed that he could prove that the metals Newton was purporting to be from an alien spacecraft were just a standard grade of aluminum used in pots and pans. He also said that he discovered the true identity of Dr. Gee.
According to Scully, Dr. Gee was a very accomplished scientist, with “more degrees than a thermometer.” However, Cahn discovered that Dr. Gee was a business associate of Newton’s by the name of Leo GeBauer. GeBauer owned a radio-and-television-parts company in Phoenix, Arizona. Although technologically inclined, GeBauer did not have the myriad of degrees claimed in Scully’s book. Scully’s response to this accusation was that GeBrauer was only one of many scientists represented by Dr. Gee in the book.
Cahn also uncovered that, although never formally charged, Newton had been accused of making false claims regarding stocks and oil prospects. Cahn believed that Newton and GeBrauer conned Scully into accepting their story to convince investors that they had access to secret alien technology capable of finding oil fields.
All of this has tarnished Scully’s book; however, there are UFO investigators who believe they have found evidence that supports the Aztec crash happened, including FBI documents. One such report can be found in Timothy Good’s book, Above Top Secret. In the book’s appendix, there is an FBI document from March 1950 that includes the report of an air force investigator on rumors of a crashed “flying saucer” discovered in New Mexico with three small bodies inside. It says the crash was the result of nearby “very high-powered radar.” Skeptics believe that Newton and GeBrauer had been peddling this story everywhere, and it eventually got back to the air force and the FBI.
Researchers Nick Redfern and Scott Ramsey obtained additional FBI documents regarding the Aztec crash. Ramsey says that these documents describe Newton as a very successful businessman and philanthropist. Although Newton told some tall tales to his investors, Ramsey says the investors seemed to be mostly happy with Newton’s results.
Ramsey has also been able to unearth alleged witnesses to the actual crash. Ken Farley claims he was driving from Durango, Colorado, to San Diego, California, on March 25, 1948, when he stopped outside Aztec to visit a friend. Having heard recent talk of emergency vehicles headed into the desert, Farley and his friend decided to check out what was going on. They arrived at a mesa with a large disc sitting next to it. There were several oilfield workers and a couple of police officers at the scene. They described an object much like the one Scully had written about, which appeared to be undamaged. Police eventually asked them to leave.
Another witness was nineteen-year-old Doug Noland, a gas company employee. He says that on that day, he had picked up his boss, Bill Ferguson, and drove to the desert to put out a brush fire. When Noland and Ferguson arrived at the scene, oilfield workers that were already on the scene told them that the fire was under control and showed them a mysterious large disc-shaped object.
Ramsey says he started as a skeptic, but twenty years later is still finding evidence that convinces him there may be something more to the crash at Aztec, New Mexico.
Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, 1965
On December 10, 1965, newspapers across the country reported events that took place the prior evening. Witnesses from Pennsylvania to Illinois, and even as far north as Canada, reported seeing a fireball race across the sky. In Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, debris was reported falling from the fiery object. Outside of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, witnesses reported a flash of light and a fire in the nearby woods.
On the evening of December 9, Robert Gatty, writer for the Tribune-Review out of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, was asked to report on an alleged UFO crash site in a forest outside Kecksburg. When he arrived, Gatty found the area was roped off by police expecting the arrival of “Army engineers and, possibly, civilian scientists.” Gatty claims that police threatened to arrest him if he proceeded into the forest. He reported that the roads were jammed with curious spectators and news reporters.
One of the other newsmen on location was John Murphy, the news director for one of the local radio stations, WHJB. According to his wife, Murphy arrived before the authorities, took pictures, and recorded some witnesses’ audio interviews. He would later put this all together in a radio documentary called Object in the Woods. Murphy later told listeners that he left out some conversations because the witnesses feared reprisal by the police or the army. Murphy’s wife and a coworker both have since said Murphy was visited by men claiming to be with the government. They confiscated some of his recordings and photographs.
To this day, the military maintains that it did not find anything in the forest that night. Nonetheless, Stan Gordon, a local UFO researcher, has gathered several witnesses who attest to the event and the object. Witnesses at the scene reported seeing an acorn-shaped object in the forest that was the size of a “Volkswagen.” Some witnesses later reported seeing the army hauling the tarp-covered object away, revealing only the lower lip of the object. Others reported a band of strange hieroglyphs around the base of the object.
Some scientists have speculated that the object was just a meteorite seen in Lake Erie’s vicinity that night. Russia’s Cosmos 96 space probe re-entered the atmosphere over Canada that day, and some have speculated that this is what landed in the woods. Witnesses claimed that the object changed direction several times before slowly falling in a downward trajectory towards the forest. Neither a Russian space probe nor a meteorite would change directions.
In 2002, inspired by Gordon’s work, the Syfy channel decided to investigate the Kecksburg case and, to do so, enlisted the help of journalist Leslie Kean. Together, they formed the Coalition for Freedom of Information (CFI). According to Kean’s report on the CFI website, the team set out to obtain official documents from NASA using the procedures allowed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In doing so, the CFI team was determined to “not accept the usual ‘no records’ responses” that are usually given for such requests.
Their initiative caught the attention and support of President Bill Clinton’s then Chief of Staff, John Podesta. He joined a press conference held by the Syfy channel on October 22, 2002, in which the CFI announced the efforts to obtain NASA files on the Kecksburg incident. Podesta stated before the press,
I think it’s time to open the books on questions that have remained in the dark on the question of government investigations of UFOs… It’s time to find out what the truth really is that’s out there. We ought to do it because it’s right; we ought to do it because the American people quite frankly can handle the truth; and we ought to do it because it’s the law.
The CFI focused on obtaining records from NASA instead of the air force or army because Gordon had previously received files from NASA, indicating that there were more files yet to be uncovered. In particular, CFI pursued the “Fragology Files,” which were described as “reports of space objects’ recovery, [and] analysis of fragments to determine national ownership and vehicle origin.” NASA responded that the files were destroyed, and, in a separate letter, NASA claimed that the records had been missing since 1987.
NASA continued to stall and claim that it had no relevant files, even files that had already been retrieved by Gordon. The CFI appealed the NASA responses and won, but NASA continued to stall. The CFI was then forced to sue and announced its intentions at a press conference on October 21, 2003. NASA finally agreed to send specific files, but only sent unhelpful pieces of information. CFI continued to pursue the lawsuit.
During this time, the chief scientist for orbital debris at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Nicholas Johnson, reviewed whether the Kecksburg incident could have been a human-made object that simply re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. In an interview on October 10, 2003, he told Kean, “I can tell you categorically, that there is no way that any debris from Cosmos 96 could have landed in Pennsylvania anywhere around 4:45 p.m.” Kean’s report demonstrates that “Johnson’s data shows that no man-made object from any country entered our atmosphere and landed in Pennsylvania on the afternoon of December 9.”
Although Johnson made strong statements to the contrary, in 2005, NASA spokesman David Steitz told the Associated Press that “the ‘UFO’ [Kecksburg object] was a Russian satellite, but government records documenting it have been lost.” This response was particularly strange in part because NASA had said that it did not even investigate the Kecksburg case. So, where did Steitz get this information? Kean tried to follow up with Steitz to clear up these discrepancies but could not obtain any particularly useful explanation.
Finally, after being tied up in court for two years, the final hearing on the CFI’s case against NASA occurred on March 20, 2007. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, clearly dissatisfied with NASA’s conduct in the case, reprimanded NASA’s attorney and, at one point, stated, “heads should roll” at NASA, and “I can sense the plaintiff’s frustration because I’m frustrated. It’s totally frustrating.” Judge Sullivan ruled in favor of the CFI and required NASA to pay for all legal fees for the case, to reexamine the files, and declassify relevant documents if necessary, explaining any redactions.
NASA sent more files to Kean, but none of them pertained to the Kecksburg incident. NASA searched hundreds of boxes. Kean feels that NASA made a genuine effort in the end, but that the filing systems were so weak that it was difficult to find anything. She concluded, “In summary, we’ll never know whether any documents in the missing or destroyed boxes might have shed light on the Kecksburg incident, even if only by providing a small lead that could open doors for researchers. It only takes one page to change everything.”
A version of this article originally appeared in Issue #8 (June/July 2011) of Open Minds UFO Magazine. Back issues can be found here.