The UFO phenomenon is a marvelous mystery that is sometimes terribly scary. One of the things I find difficult to understand is why other people don't find it as fascinating as I do.
Take this story, for instance. An Alabama woman named Jackie, who worked as a newspaper compositor, told it to me. Her husband was a police lieutenant. She described something that she saw about nine o'clock one Sunday night as she was driving home from work.
"It just disappeared bit by bit by bit, and I was all alone,” she said. “That's what was so bad about it. Nobody believed me. My husband said I was crazy."
Jackie laughed, although at the time this happened it wasn't funny. She had just turned down a side street and was only a few blocks from home.
"I happened to look up and just above the trees on the left side of the street half a block ahead was an oblong object glowing blue with orange flame color at the back end."
She stopped her car in the middle of the street, dumbfounded.
"It was just clearing the tree tops and crossing the street to my right. I couldn't tell how big it was. There's a house on the left and a church on the right, and when it got over the church it began disappearing.
"You've seen these TV commercials where bites are taken out of a hamburger with trick photography? That's the way this looked, with bits of it disappearing from right to left. I wondered how it could do that. It was frightening at first, fascinating but scary."
In ten seconds it had disappeared completely. She quickly looked around, hoping someone else had also seen the strange apparition. But she was alone.
This is just one of many strange tales I've picked up in more than twenty-seven years of investigating UFO reports.
The incident took place in 1976. At the time, I had been in the “UFO business” for only about ten months and by then had heard many people say a UFO had simply vanished before their eyes. But nobody one had ever seen one disappear a chunk at a time.
Maybe Jackie saw a McFlying Saucerburger. Who knows what it was or why? Many people, if they think of UFOs at all, simply envision disc-shaped objects flitting through the skies. But the disc is only one of an infinite variety of shapes, and there's nothing simple about the phenomenon.
It is unbelievably complex and seems to be constantly evolving. Just when you think you might have heard it all, along comes some new twist – like the "popcorn UFOs" that a woman named Susie saw.
One night while Susie and her two young sons were watching TV, she went to the kitchen to get a drink of water and happened to look out the window. There was a forty-acre field behind her house in Minnesota but in the darkness she could see none of it. What she could see, though, scared the hell out of her. Something horrible was about to happen.
"RUN!" she screamed at the children as she ran back into the living room. "A jet's gonna crash into the house!"
She'd seen a strange parade of lights rushing down out of the sky toward her house, but at the last minute they veered to her right and, almost as if they'd put on the brakes, seemed to leisurely float over the house next door.
Thinking a plane was going to crash into her house was frightening enough, but she became almost panic-stricken as she and her sons ran to a front window.
By the time they got there, the weird formation of lights was just beginning to come into view off to their left. They were barely moving.
Susie and the boys edged cautiously out onto the front porch. From there they could see five balls of red light in a V formation and a number of white lights trailing behind.
The white lights were moving in a frantic, crazy pattern, Susie said, sort of caterpillar fashion or like popcorn popping all around, in and out and over each other. They were hopping around so fast that she couldn't count them. There were at least four and maybe as many as six.
The whole "fleet" of red and white balls of light drifted steadily toward Lake Superior, just several miles to the east, all the time making a low, muffled whooshing noise. Susie had never seen or heard anything like it.
Sometime during all this, she frantically phoned a friend and the friend had phoned the sheriff's office. Minutes later, a deputy turned into Susie's driveway just in time to see the lights disappearing over the horizon. Susie and the two boys were nearly hysterical, and it took him a while to calm them down.
He couldn't explain to them what they had seen. He was an Army veteran familiar with aircraft and he knew the lights couldn't have been airplanes or helicopters.
Probably no one knows what they were. The things that Jackie and Susie saw fit nothing in our range of knowledge, yet in both cases something obviously was there in the sky. When all known possibilities are considered and eliminated, we then call such things, for lack of a better name, unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.
The one that Susie and her boys saw wasn't just one of your run-of-the mill disc-shaped flying saucers with a dome on top. This was a group of lights, and apparently was more than one UFO.
"We could see stars between those lights," Susie told me when I talked to her several weeks after the incident. "I knew none of them were connected. It was like there was a whole bunch of them."
This occurred at nine in the evening and it was especially bad for her because at six-thirty that morning she had seen something else very odd and it had worried her all day.
"I was looking out the kitchen window and I saw a single, large white light go across our field, real fast, and it was pulsating like a heartthrob. It was real low, close to the ground."
Contrary to what some people might think, the deputy sheriff did not consider her a kook or a liar. She and the boys were quite upset, and something had frightened them badly.
I got in touch with him and he told me that as he drove up to Susie’s house he caught a glimpse of something whitish disappearing in the sky but didn't see enough to know what it was. Furthermore, he said, people in the area had reported seeing strange things for several weeks.
The deputy was, in fact, quite sympathetic. Fifteen months earlier, he had seen what he believed was a UFO himself just five miles to the north while on road patrol.
He and another deputy watched five huge bright lights in the sky about half a mile away, moving along fairly close to the ground. The lights then simply blinked out in sequence one by one, from left to right.
Susie and her sons saw the "popcorn" lights on the night of April 1, 1975 – April Fool's Day – but what they saw was no joke.
They lived near Two Harbors, Minnesota, and in the hour and fifteen minutes after the lights vanished, at least a dozen other people between Two Harbors and Silver Bay to the north saw similar groups of lights out over Lake Superior. Some of the lights blinked out in sequence just as did those the deputy saw. (For more on that story, click here.)
Although it was terrifying at the time, Susie, like Jackie and her strangely disappearing McUFO, was able to laugh about it later. Not everyone who has had a UFO encounter is able to laugh about it, but neither is everyone terrified by what they see. Some are thrilled at having witnessed something truly phenomenal.
A retired biologist in Arkansas, for example, was delighted that she had seen a UFO. She and her husband, a nuclear chemist who was one of the scientists who helped develop the atom bomb, saw an enormous object with two huge "headlights" pass slowly and quietly overhead.
She had been a pilot all her life and was a woman who had been "everywhere and done everything." When they realized they were seeing a UFO, she said, she "was just delighted."
Who wouldn't envy her?
On the other hand, there are many UFO witnesses that no one would envy. These are people who have suffered physically and emotionally from a close encounter. I have talked to a number of them.
A close encounter, as almost everyone knows, is one in which a person comes within shouting distance of a UFO and, sometimes, eyeball-to-eyeball with whoever or whatever is inside one of them.
Terrible headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, impaired vision, thirstiness and extreme sensitivity to heat are only the mildest of the symptoms that have been reported. Some people have been affected more permanently.
In Texas, a woman was exposed to extreme heat and other radiations from a large, brilliantly lit object that settled down over the highway in front of her car one December night in 1980. Fifteen minutes later it rose up and, glowing a dull red color, drifted off toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Four days later, she had to be admitted to a hospital and it was a month before she went home. She was in hospitals at least ten times in the years after that and eventually she died of cancer.
Another woman and a young boy who were with her in the car suffered many of the same early symptoms, but neither was as seriously affected as the first woman. Both women, though, lost most of their hair several weeks later and it was nearly a year before their hair grew back. (For details of this case, see John F. Schuessler’s book, The Cash-Landrum UFO Incident.)
I have also investigated a number of cases in Brazil in which people were burned or otherwise injured by UFOs, some of them fatally.
Not all encounters involving injury are tragic. It took a Brazilian farmer two months to recuperate after a UFO zapped him but he was very happy about it.
He had been deaf and had poor eyesight as the result of a nose operation some years earlier. When he woke up after a beam of light from a UFO knocked him unconscious, he discovered he had regained his good eyesight and could hear loud sounds again. After that, he wanted to be zapped again in the hope of getting his full hearing back as well. (For more details, click here.)
These are very unusual stories, all of which defy common sense and logic. These people had encounters with an unexplained phenomenon that has been around for decades, if not centuries, and it shows no sign of going away.
After twenty-seven years of studying the strange phenomenon, I have no doubt that UFOs are real.
This belief – I have never seen a UFO – comes solely from having talked with the woman who saw the object disappearing bit by bit and the "popcorn UFO" woman and the deputy and the biologist and her chemist husband and the people in Texas and the Brazilian and about two thousand other people around the world who have had UFO experiences.
This belief began to form the week I heard the popcorn story. It was the first week I ever took a serious look at the UFO phenomenon. It was a week that gave my life an entirely new focus.
The story of what happened during that week is told elsewhere, but what happened was that I "discovered" what so many others had before me, a genuine mystery that was then and still is far beyond comparison with anything else I know of.
Something alien is definitely in our midst and has been for a very long time, decades, perhaps centuries. Whether the craft and intelligence behind the phenomenon come from other planets or star systems or universes or whether they're native to this earth is something that, in my opinion, no one yet knows.
Whatever it is, when the mystery is finally solved it will undoubtedly be one of the greatest stories of all time.