Sunday, December 17, 2017

Curse of Oak Island - A Mid-season Analysis

I have found the new season of The Curse of Oak Island to be a crashing bore. I haven’t posted much about it because I keep falling asleep in the episodes. I have tired of the artificial crisis of the week, the over the top claims and the failure to really find anything of significance no matter how many times they tell us they have found something of significance.

You all must remember that in the first minutes of the first episode they came to the washed-out road and wondered if they had lost the whole season because the road provided the only dry land access to the important locations on the island. Of course, they repaired the road and we all knew that was going to happen. If they couldn’t repair it, we’d have had a one hour special rather than the opening of the season.

Look what has happened since. Well, the government, either in Nova Scotia or the Canadian government, was going to shut down the operation. They feared, apparently, for the archaeological integrity of the island. Without a trained archaeologist on site, they weren’t going to allow the search for the treasure to continue. I wondered if the archaeological integrity hadn’t been compromised sometime in the last 220 years. Everyone one and his brother or sister (yes, my hyperbole) has been digging on the island. It would seem that anything that might have had any significance had already been destroyed, moved, broken, discarded, hidden or completely compromised.

But, of course, they found a suitable archaeologist who was approved by the governmental agencies and is now another person who has begun to fed at the trough known as Oak Island. Oh, don’t misunderstand. I’m sure the man is highly qualified and knows what he’s doing, but I’m not sure that he is all that important.
This whole program, meaning The Cures of Oak Island, is so important to Nova Scotia that they’re not going to stop the production. Millions of dollars are at stake, millions have been brought into the local economy and people are coming for tours of the island and tales of the treasure. Of course the government is not going to shut the thing down and stop the floor of dollars.

So, what have they found this season?

Well, Rick, who was suffering from Lyme Disease, another of the problems over blown this season (and, again, don’t get me wrong, the disease is serious), but Marty showed up to tell him they had found the Money Pit. It sounded like a dramatic announcement It had been teased in the trailers for the season. Now they were close to the treasure, but all it really meant was that Marty believed they had found the original hole dug back in 1795. Didn’t mean there was any treasure to be found, only that they had found, well, an old hole, which meant very little in the overall picture.

The guys with the metal detectors, who seem to be doing the most important work here, found the barrel of a gun. Before the commercial break, we got a glimpse of it, and by the sight on that barrel, it was clear to me that it had been modeled after the Colt Peacemaker, first produced in 1873, which meant its relevance was limited. Back from commercial and we learn that it was the barrel from a cap pistol made in the 1950s, so the relevance is further reduced. It might have belonged to Ricky Restall, youngest son of Robert Restall. For those who don’t know, Restall and his oldest son, Robert, Jr., died on Oak Island in a tragic accident that took two other lives, Karl Graeser and Cyril Hiltz.

Just to recap this tragic tale, Robert Restall had arrived on the island in the late 1950s sure that he could find the treasure. He brought his family with him and they spent their summers in their effort to recover what had been buried in the Money Pit. On August 17, 1965, about two in the afternoon, Restall told his wife, Mildred, that he had to go into town. He’d work for another hour or so and then return to clean up for the trip.

Restall, climbing down into shaft that he had been working in that day, fell into about four feet of water that had collected on the floor of the shaft. His older son, saw his father lying in the water and began to climb down to help him. He too lost consciousness and fell into the water. Moments later, Graeser, one of Restall’s backers and a marina operator from Long Island, arrived, saw the trouble and climbed down to assist. Behind him was 16-year-old Cyril Hiltz. Both of them lost consciousness and fell into the shaft. The final person to fall into the water was 17-year-old Andy DeMont.

By now there were calls for assistance and a group of tourists on the island, including a fire fighter, Edward White, ran to help. White apparently realized there was some sort of gas in the shaft. White tied a rope around his waist, and had others lower him into the shaft. He was able to pull the unconscious DeMont out of the water, but White was beginning to lose consciousness as well. He tried to find the others but failed. DeMont, and White were pulled out and given artificial respiration, regaining consciousness.

The other four did not survive. The autopsy suggested they had all died by drowning, which, given the circumstances, makes some sense. They all fell, unconscious, into about four feet of water.

This didn’t stop others, over the years, from attempting to find the treasure. Of course, all those attempts have failed, but none seem to have been as well financed and equipped as that begun by the Laginas boys. They keep digging and drilling and finding little bit of this and a piece of that. These have been promoted with great fanfare, but mean little to the overall solution. A bit or two of pottery, found far below the surface, seemed to suggest something to the Laginas and others, though I’m not sure what. Had the land been undisturbed, had there not been two centuries of people digging up that one end of the island, it might have been significant, but without some sort of context, it seems, to me, to mean little.

When we get right down to it, and which is the reason that I haven’t posted much of anything about this season is because it mirrors the last few seasons. Discoveries touted as important, but really, in the end mean little. The pieces of the cap gun were returned to Rick Restall, and seeing him and his sister certainly put faces on some of the tragedy of the island. And, we have learned a great deal about the history of the island, but nothing that gets us any closer to the treasure.

Yes, I will continue to watch. But I fear, at this point, it is a lost cause. The treasure, if there ever was one, was removed long ago, probably before the boys began digging in 1795. The little bits and pieces of history found on the island have almost nothing to do with the actual treasure and is more probably debris from all the searching that has been going on for centuries. I wish them luck, but according to those celebrity net worth pages I looked at, the Laginas have millions already and this is more a love of adventure than anything else. *

*I know that some of those celebrity net worth pages are completely wrong. I don’t know how they obtain the figures but it seems to be guess work at best.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Brigadier General Arthur Exon and J. Bond Johnson

The other day I was interviewed by Whitley Strieber for his radio show/podcast about my book, Encounter in the Desert. I mentioned the book just because I could and hope that some of you will be inspired to buy it.


During the course of the interview, we touched on the Roswell UFO crash case, and he mentioned Brigadier General Arthur Exon who had become one of the important witnesses in the case. He said that Exon was a witness that Stan Friedman had found but I said, “No,” I had discovered Exon (this is
BG Arthur Exon
something that has happened before… Friedman getting credit for something he hadn’t done, and yes, I can provide other examples).

Naturally, he asked how I had learned of Exon, and I explained that J. Bond Johnson had mentioned the name to me and I had tracked him down, calling him in 1990. But, that got me to thinking about all this and I went back to my notes and files about the interviews with Exon.

For those who don’t know, I had called him, but rather than mention Roswell, I said that I was interested in tracking some of the information about ATIC and Project Blue Book, retrieval operations or four separate incidents, figuring that once we got into the topic of UFOs, we could expand from that.

After we had discussed those incidents, which had nothing to do with Roswell and the name of the town hadn’t even been mentioned, we did finally get to the meat of the interview. Most of that isn’t all that important here. I did ask him if he had heard about the rumors of little bodies and he said, “Well, yes, I have. In fact, I know people that were involved in photographing some of the residue from the New Mexico affair near Roswell.”

And that was the first mention of Roswell in the conversation.

I asked if this was from 1947 and he said, “Yeah. It was in the late 40s.”

He then said, “What they had done… this fellow was in [the] PR business apparently in command there at Roswell at the time of the sighting was found when the rancher reported it and some of the people as you obviously know collected a good bit of the information and took it into the commander’s office and took photographs. This fellow took the photographs of the residue. I’m talking about metal and stuff.”

I suppose you all can figure out the next question I asked. “Do we know his name?”

Exon said, “His name is Johnson. He lives here in Long Beach…”

Naturally, I said, “I know him. James Bond Johnson.”

Exon said that he didn’t know him all that well but did say that he had his telephone number. I already had that as well.

Yes, I know what you all are thinking but that interview took place on May 19, 1990, before we all learned the truth about Johnson and his ever-shifting story. At the time I knew that Johnson held a commission and was a colonel in the Reserve. I hadn’t really thought about this in a long time, and in 1990, I didn’t realize the importance of the statement.

And, to be fair, I did provide copies of the transcript to several people including Philip Klass, Karl Pflock, Don Schmitt and Tom Carey. One page was missing from that I had sent Klass, and I replaced it. The point is that these people, and probably a couple more have had this information almost from the time that I collected it. Had the Air Force, during their investigation contacted me about Roswell, I would have sent them copies of the tape. In fact, I offered copies of a number of the taped interviews to them, but they seem uninterested in them. I always thought it was because they didn’t want to have to attack the reputation of a general officer.  Had they taken the tapes, they would have had all this information as well.

The other thing here is that Exon was right about knowing one of the photographers who took pictures of the residue. Johnson did take them and it was from Johnson that I got Exon’s name. I shared that information with Stan Friedman when were both in Roswell to film the segment of Unsolved Mysteries that dealt with Roswell.

What is the take away here?

Exon’s information about the photographer isn’t startling, and in fact, is somewhat depressing. Johnson took pictures of the weather balloon debris in General Ramey’s office. He didn’t photograph anything of overwhelming importance. Exon provided some additional details, but the fact of the matter is, that Johnson didn’t photograph an alien spacecraft and Exon’s statements didn’t do anything to provide additional information on this aspect of the case…

But I’ll bet my skeptical pals will suggest this is another reason that we should not place any emphasis on Exon’s statements. This is another example of how jumbled his memories were nearly a half century after the fact.

(For those who would like to but the book, Encounter in the Desert, you can find it here:


Saturday, December 09, 2017

Lonnie Zamora as the Hoaxer*

We have talked about the possibility of a hoax in the Socorro UFO landing case. We have, or at least I have, thought that the idea of a student hoax has been rejected as implausible. There were way too many moving parts that required way too many unpredictable actions to be a reasonable scenario. From the very beginning, it required Lonnie Zamora to react in a way the students needed him to react so that he would find his way to the location of the landing.

Socorro, New Mexico. Photo copyright by
Kevin Randle.
Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who seemed to have liked Zamora and thought of him as a good police officer also paid him a left-handed compliment. Hynek, according his “Report on Socorro New Mexico Trip” found in the Project Blue Book files, “That Zamora, although not overly bright or articulate, is basically sincere, honest, and reliable. He would not be capable of contriving a complex hoax, nor would his temperament indicate that he would have the slightest interest insuch (sic).”

Hynek seemed to be indicating that Zamora, on his own, couldn’t have pulled this off. He would have needed help which is suggestive of a conspiracy involving at least one other. Philip Klass thought that it was the mayor of Socorro who had a financial motive and the intelligence to set this up. Research by others, including Paul Harden, proved that this was not the case.

But then I got to thinking about it.

The hoax scenarios, as they have been developed over the years, are way too complex. They involve balloons, which should have been recognized as such, several different people who left no trace of their presence at the landing site, and no way for them to escape before the arrival of others on the scene to spot them. Sergeant Sam Chavez of the New Mexico State Police arrived within three minutes of receiving the call from Zamora but, unfortunately not long after the craft had disappeared.

All this presupposes that Zamora related, accurately, what he had seen. It presupposes that he didn’t embellish in any way, and it presupposes he wasn’t clever enough to have pulled it off, just as Hynek suggested.

Let’s look at this from, well, a different perspective.

According to what we know, no one else saw the landed craft. No one else saw it lift off and disappear in seconds. No one else saw the little beings near the craft. All of this came from Zamora and if he wasn’t telling the truth about it, well, then, the hoax becomes easier to accept. Just assume that he hadn’t really seen all these
Lonnie Zamora
things, and some of the arguments about the alien nature of the craft and its capabilities are no longer relevant. The whole thing becomes much simpler to explain in terrestrial terms.

Chavez said something during his interviews with the Lorenzens, when viewed in this light seems strange. According to The A.P.R.O. Bulletin of May 1964 (page 3, second column), “Sgt. Chavez also told the Lorenzens that he had looked into Zamora’s car to see if there were any implements of any kind with which the indentations and fire could have been effected. There were not. Mrs. L asked Chavez why he did that. Chavez admitted that Zamora’s story had been so strange, and he followed the regular procedure to establish evidence.”

Going back, and looking specifically at the descriptions of the landing marks, it seems that the various witnesses talked mostly about how the soil had been scraped to one side or the other. That seemed to indicate that something heavy had set down, but in the process, as the weight was applied, the landing pads shifted slightly. It didn’t seem as if they had been scraped out in the way it would look if a shovel had been used but more as if it was the result of something having landed there.

Ray Stanford reported in his book, Socorro Saucer in a Pentagon Pantry, in the caption on page 37, “The southwest imprint photographed on the morning after by New Mexico State Police Sergeant Samuel Chavez, giving the distinct impression of having been gouged into the earth by great weight from above.”

One of the landing pad traces.
And, finally, Hynek wrote in a letter to Dr. Donald Menzel of Harvard, on September 29, 1964: “…I have the word of nine witnesses who saw the marks within hours of the incident, who tell me that the center of the marks were moist as though the top soil had been freshly pushed aside.”

But we have to remember here that those nine people only saw the landing impressions and the burned vegetation. There might have some embellishment simply because it seems that no one really saw the bush smoking after the craft took off. Oh, it seems to have been reported that steam or smoke was rising from that bush by Chavez, but it is one of those things that is hard to pin down in the world today.

Although many rejected the idea that Zamora had created the hoax on his own for some unknown reason, the Zamora hoax explanation is by far the simplest. It eliminates the need for a balloon either hot air or helium filled, it eliminates the need for other participants to create the illusion of something landing there, and it explains the lack of physical evidence that the hoax scenario should have left behind. If Zamora had done it, he just needed his shovel and a tape measure. Then he called the station to make his report and request that Chavez come out to meet with him. This also explains why none of those other people who said they had seen something ever came forward. All the rest of it, from the alien creatures, the banging of the hatch, the red symbol… all of it was so much window dressing created by Zamora.

And while that theory is applauded for its simplicity, it fails when other facts are figured into it. We can begin with the three telephone calls into the police station. Again, we know little about them, we don’t know who made them, but they are documented in the records gathered that night and in the report filed by Richard Holder. It would mean that, at the very least, one other person had to be involved. He or she could have made the three telephone calls though it is more likely to have been three people.

It would have involved Opal Grinder who said that he had talked to the tourists from Colorado who mentioned the low flying aircraft. That adds another person to the conspiracy which is, of course, another person to spill the beans on this unless, of course, Grinder was the one who made the telephone calls to the police.

We also have to wonder what inspired Zamora to create the hoax. The Project Blue Book files confirm that there were no other reports of UFOs in New Mexico at the time and there had been very little publicity about them anywhere prior to Zamora’s sighting. In fact, from Hynek’s “Report on the Trip to Socorro – Albuquerque, March 12 – 12, 1965, we see, “One should remember that before the time of the sighting there had been no talk in the Socorro region of unidentified flying objects.”

Hynek also mentioned, “No paraphernalia of a hoax was ever found. It would be rather hard to have done away with all the tell-tale evidence, such as tubes of helium, release mechanism, etc.”

And one thing that might argue the loudest against Zamora doing it on his own was that the impressions on the ground, when corrected for the terrain features are symmetrical and the burned bush seemed to be located at the precise center where you would expect the rocket or jet used to lift it would be situated. That seems to be much too sophisticated for Zamora to have pulled off. It is one of those things that he might have lucked into, but it does seem to argue against a Zamora alone hoax.

I’m not a fan of the Zamora hoaxed the sighting without any real motivation and no real inspiration. Again, Hynek mentioned there had been no UFO sightings reported around Socorro prior to Zamora’s sighting, but afterwards, there were many (some of which were hoaxes). The sightings for April 1964 from other parts of the world are fairly mundane and didn’t receive much in the way of publicity if any at all. Had Zamora’s sighting come in the middle of the wave, it might be that these other reports suggested the idea to him.

I like this idea, that Zamora hoaxed it by himself because of the simplicity of it. However, when we add in other factors, all the factors, it seems that the theory is flawed. Hector Quintanilla suggested the solution for the case would probably be found in Zamora’s head, and had he hoaxed the thing, then Quintanilla had it right. But Zamora never suggested to anyone that he had made up the story, his friends and his actions that night seem to argue against hoax, and there is no real motivation for him to have created the hoax that included the landing site.

And any theory, or solution, that has to discount some of the evidence to work is no real solution. In this case there are too many factors that argue against a Zamora designed hoax, not the least of which is the physical evidence and the other, unidentified witnesses. If we can come up with a theory that explains all that, then we have something. Until that time, the case remains, “Unidentified.”

(Blogger’s note: I thought it important to say that in one aspect of my training as an intelligence officer, we were taught that you needed to review all possible scenarios when assessing a situation. In one example of that, I was analyzing the military and political situation on East Timor. In one of the most ridiculous scenarios, I had to determine the possibility of the United States and Australian peacekeeping forces engaging in some sort of conflict. The possibility of that happening was almost zero, but, given that armed military forces were occupying the same terrain, there was the possibility that something would go horribly wrong. Didn’t mean that it would, it was just one of the possible outcomes. I mention this because the idea that Zamora invented the whole tale it practically zero, but it is one possibility. I say this because I don’t believe it happened that way, but I do like the simplicity of that solution.)

*I had thought that "hoaxster" was a proper name for someone who had created a hoax... I just liked the sound of it better. But, after a number of people suggested that the word was not correct, I tried to look it up in my whopping, huge dictionary, but it wasn't there. So, I corrected it.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Lonnie Zamora, Lance Moody and purrgurrl

I was going to provide these answers to Lance and purrgurrl in the comments section but they really are a little too complex for that. Besides, there are a couple of other points to be made as well, so I thought I would expand the conversation a little bit.

First, for purrgurrl, I will note that the point about Zamora’s glasses is irrelevant. According to the timeline, and according to what Zamora told investigators, after he had made a close approach to the object, after he had seen the two figures close to the object and they had disappeared, the object, whatever it was, began to roar. Zamora said that he could feel the heat, and then turned to run, fearing an explosion. It was at that point, as he bumped into the rear of the police car, he lost his glasses. The point is that the majority of his observations, and in fact all the important points of the observation, were made while he was still wearing his glasses.

Second, is Lance’s point about one of the sentences in my rebuttal to the idea that this was a hoax created by local college students. Particularly, Lance objected to the line, "There were other witnesses who called the police station as the object passed overhead."

He then added, “No. There was an unnamed person on the phone who SAID they saw what you claim.”

This is splitting a fine hair here, and I had reported in the book, Encounters in the Desert, and in other places, that there was a problem with these people. Three of them had called into the police station but Nep Lopez, the police dispatcher didn’t take their names nor did anyone follow up on the telephone calls after Zamora’s report. We know about this because Captain Richard Holder, who was on scene literally within minutes (well, maybe an hour and twenty minutes) mentioned it in his report written about one in the morning on April 25, or, within hours of the sighting. These three people mentioned they had seen a flame in the sky and called the police prior to Zamora’s report but said nothing about a huge balloon envelop or some sort of apparatus (basket?) hanging beneath it.

So, yes, there were THREE unidentified people who SAID they saw something in the sky. And there were the Colorado tourists who told Opal Grinder, the service station manager, they had seen something so close that they believed it was going to strike their car. Before Lance jumps in here, let me point out that we don’t know who the tourists were and the story is what, second hand, at best. All this does is support the idea that something was in the sky and others beside Zamora saw it, whatever the source of it might have been but we don’t know who they are and I would ignore it completely except for that note in Holder’s report.

Finally, Lance wrote that my point about the flame being upside down was poor, but I think he might have misinterpreted what I meant. The flame of a hot air balloon points up, into the envelop, to keep the hot air, well, hot. If the flame pointed down, into the basket, it would burn the people riding there. If it wasn’t pointed down, then there would have been no way for it to have burned the bush and the surrounding vegetation, which was observed by Sam Chavez, among others who visited the site after the object, craft, balloon, hoax, whatever, had lifted off.

And I wanted to get into the hoax idea a little deeper because I don’t think this had been thought through completely. In what might be considered a red herring, we’re told that Zamora was enticed toward the landing site by a young speeder. There are two problems with this. First is if Zamora hadn’t broken off the chase to investigate the roar that he thought might have been a dynamite shack explosion, he wouldn’t have gotten to the site of the landing. Instead, he would be taken away from this as he chased down the speeder.

But let’s say the speeder’s job was to lure Zamora to a point where he would be able to see the object on the ground. Then, we must wonder if Zamora would have stopped or would he have continued the chase. If the speeder stopped near the landing site, then Zamora would have had the name of the speeder and that would have led police, the Air Force and the FBI to that second witness who then would have had to lie, or admit the hoax. Either way, the hoax would fail at this point. (Do I need to point out that lying to the FBI is apparently a crime, though I don’t know when that law was passed… Okay, I looked it up and it seems that the law, as used today, was adopted in 1948.)

The point here is that there were too many ways for all this to fail because the object, whatever it was, had to be on the ground already. In Tony Bragalia’s scenario, it was not a hot air balloon but another type of balloon which wouldn’t have created the roar. That had to be created by something else because without
Hot air balloon with the passenger below
the burners which pump hot air into
the balloon envelop.
the roar, Zamora would not have driven to the scene of the landing. Of course, for it to have been some other type of balloon you have to wonder what induced three people to call the police about seeing the flame in the sky.

All I’m really saying here is that the hot air balloon explanation fails because the balloon would have had to move into the wind, the huge balloon envelop would have been quite distinctive, the flame would have pointed up, into the balloon envelop rather than down to burn the bush and soil and it wouldn’t have left the landing indentations that were found.

I’m saying that Bragalia’s hoax scenario fails because there were simply too many moving parts to make it work, his theory provides for no explanation for the telephone calls into the police, or the tourist car from Colorado, he provides no names of the participants and no explanation on how all of this was accomplished. The statements he gathered were from those who weren’t there at the time and are based on second-hand testimony at best but do nothing to validate the hoax claim. The single first-hand testimony comes from an anonymous source who really admitted to nothing.

But, do not misunderstand what I’m saying here. I’m not saying that this proves the landing was of an extraterrestrial craft, only that there is no solid explanation for the sighting. There might be a reasonable terrestrial explanation but to date that hasn’t been offered. As I have said in the past and I’m sure I will be repeating in the future, this case is the very definition of “unidentified.” We don’t know what it was.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Lonnie Zamora's Sobriety

Lonnie Zamora and others on the landing site in 1964.
In one of the most outrageous statements about the Socorro UFO landing case, Tony Bragalia, in his latest assault on the case wrote:

Sergeant Zamora was not “Saint Lonnie of Socorro”. Many people over the years have elevated this man to a place of undeserving virtue. Dave Thomas (an employee of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and President of New Mexicans for Science and Reason) decided to set up an intranet website expressly for staff and alumni of the College. The purpose was to create a venue where people could place comments on the Socorro UFO event. It was hoped that such comments would provide further understanding of what happened that day.

Incredibly, the site generated several posts from those who had personal knowledge about the occurrence and about Zamora, people who were there in the 1960s. And what they said was revealing:

“It was widely believed then that it was a Tech student’s prank. There were numerous pranksters at Tech in those days.”
Larry Boucher

“Zamora did drink too much.”
Richard X.

“Lonnie Zamora was reported to have a fondness for drink.”
Bill Stockton

“I always felt that late afternoon on a Friday was pretty curious, and feels like ‘grand finale’ for pranksters to me."

“Tech has always had older grad students who were (are still) brilliant, quickly clever and just subtle enough to pull off such a believable prank.”
William S.

“Lonnie drank. I hung out at the Capitol Bar with him.”
Lou Clark

It should be noted here that Dave Collis, formerly of the College’s Energetic Materials Research Center and a student in the 1960s at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, told me in no uncertain terms that Lonnie was often seen drinking beers at the local tavern and was not averse to tipping the elbow. Others interviewed have indicated that Zamora (who worked for eight years at the College as a mechanic before becoming an officer) was irritated by the out-of-towner students and was quick to anger with them.

There is no real evidence to back this up, other than the statements made about Zamora long after the fact. There is, however, something that is more to the point and even more critical than these somewhat biased statements. There is a report in the Project Blue Book files which is the transcript or notes of an interview conducted with Zamora in the days that followed the landing. That document said, “Feeling good. Last drink – two or three beers – over a month ago.”

This, of course, is the relevant statement simply because it is Zamora’s words given in the days that followed the incident, not some memories that are decades old. We can put to rest any notion that alcohol had anything to do with the sighting, the perceptions of the events, or Zamora’s sobriety on the evening of April 24, 1964.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Socorro Solution - A Hoax?

In the last several days, there has been something of a controversy raging about the Socorro UFO landing. Although it started a couple of years ago when Ben Moss and Tony Angiola began a new investigation, the controversy exploded with the publication of my book, Encounter in the Desert and then Tony Bragalia’s web posting that he had solved the case, though the new information presented there wasn’t all that new or dramatic and the solution didn’t really answer the major questions. You can read his take on Socorro here:

To fully understand all of this, let’s take a look at the history of the Socorro case with an eye on the hoax explanations which is Bragalia’s “new” explanation. Dr. Donald Menzel, the Harvard astronomer who wrote a number of books explaining all UFOs as hoaxes, illusions, delusions, misidentifications and confabulations was quick to point to students as the culprits in this alleged hoax. On September 10, 1964, just over four months after the landing report, Menzel wrote to Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the Air Force consultant on UFOs, “It certainly sounds to me like a hoax or, perhaps a hallucination.” And then in a letter on February 19, 1965, to Hynek, Menzel and his partner Lyle Boyd suggested that high school students who didn’t like Zamora because he issued them speeding tickets, “planned the whole business to ‘get’ Zamora.”

Hynek responded, "Opal Grinder [owner of a gas station on the edge of Socorro] does have a high school student working for him, and I talked with him at length [meaning, of course, the teenager working for Grinder]. Teenagers generally hate Zamora’s guts, but it was added that they hate all ‘fuzz’ and that if they wanted to get even with Zamora, they would simply beat him up or do something more direct, like letting the air out of his tires or something with immediate results rather than resort to an involved hoax."

It does seem that such an elaborate hoax would have been beyond the capabilities of high school students no matter how bright and how clever they might be. It should also be noted that while Hynek was not thinking in terms of high school students, he did ask “My old friend, Dr. Jack Whotman, President of the New Mexico School of Mines (sic) [which is in Socorro], who said he knew of no geophysical or other types of experiments going on in the area at the time. He, as the rest of the townspeople, were puzzled by the event…”

That, of course, was not the end of it because in a new round of investigations suggested students at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology were now identified as the real perpetrators of the hoax. Tony Bragalia found a letter to Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling dated 1968 saying that the event was a hoax, but it should be noted that Pauling is only the recipient of the letter so his name here means very little in this context. In other words, that it was sent to Pauling is of little real note.

The letter, however, was written by Stirling Colgate, who was a reputable scientist, was at one time the president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology following Whotman in that position, who said the case is a hoax and was a person of note. We don’t know what he really knew about the landing for certain and since he wasn’t there in 1964, he might not know of anything special. It might just be his opinion that the whole thing was a hoax because, well, it couldn’t be the landing of an alien spacecraft. He talked of pranks and unidentified students, and even that he knew who the pranksters were but we have nothing solid to corroborate this allegation. He wouldn’t release names, though so many years after the event, when he was in communication with Bragalia, I’m not sure what harm it would have done to the former students, their reputations, or the reputation of the school. It certainly wouldn’t do the belief that something alien had landed anything good, but the allegation is often enough in something like this.

Bragalia located another source, Dave Collis, who, as a freshman in 1965, or a year after the landing, had heard some stories from fellow students. He provided what some, at the time, have considered new evidence of a hoax. According to Bragalia:

Dave Collis was a freshman at New Mexico Tech in 1965, a year after the Socorro UFO incident. Collis went on to become a published scientist helping to lead the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at NM Tech. He is considered a world expert in researching blast effects and explosives. Collis explained that he himself enjoyed planning pranks when he was a student at Tech. In 1965, he and his friends had planned a "paranormal" prank and shared the plan with one of his trusted Professors. The Professor (who had been with Tech for years) told him that NM Tech had a long history of pranking- and that one of them was especially noteworthy. Collis then said that the Professor (whose name he does not remember or does not wish to offer) had "confidentially told me that the UFO sighting by the town cop was a hoax done by Techie students." Collis did not want to press the Professor on who did it - or how. Collis says, "he was telling me this in confidence, so I didn't ask for the details and he didn't offer."

When asked if the Professor could have been making up the hoax story, Collis replied that in the context of his conversation with him - there was no reason for him to lie. The Professor had told him the truth about the hoax, of that he was sure. Collis, when told about Stirling Colgate's confirmation that it was a hoax said, "Colgate is a brilliant man and he was a great College President. From what I was told by my Professor, it was a hoax. And if Colgate also says it was a hoax, it was." Collis (who is a pyrotechnics expert and often directed NM Tech's July 4 Fireworks) said that it always has surprised him that people didn't seem to realize just how "terrestrial" the reported Zamora UFO seemed to be in the first place.[i]

Finally, there are names attached to people who supposedly had some inside knowledge of the hoax but who weren’t involved themselves, weren’t part of the prank and therefore had no first-hand knowledge. They had heard about it from someone else who still isn’t named but was there (or might have been there) who believed it to be a hoax with no reason to lie, according to them and Bragalia. We then go back to Colgate who reaffirmed that it was a hoax, but again, it is from others that he heard this and he supplied no names of the perpetrators. More importantly, there are no details on how they pulled this off which is an important consideration.

Bragalia, in his new, 2017 article about this, does up the ante slightly. He interviewed a man who was apparently part of the hoax or claimed that he was. He offers this as further proof. Bragalia wrote:

This author [meaning Bragalia] has found and spoken to an involved perpetrator of the Socorro UFO hoax, a student at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in 1964… 

There is also major disappointment over what was not shared and what cannot be shared. I cannot tell you with 100% assurance exactly how the hoax was performed… And I am unable, due to the requested anonymity, to tell you the names of involved people. But what I did learn is perhaps equally as important, just as enlightening.

I will step in here to say that I do understand this. Bill Brazel, he of Roswell fame, told me that since his name had been released in 1980, he periodically received telephone calls from strangers, often late at night wanting know if he had been quoted accurately. During the Roswell investigation we (that is Don Schmitt, Tom Carey and me) were asked by some to keep their names out of it. Given the world we live in, especially today, I get this, but also note that anonymous testimony must be taken much more lightly than testimony of a source whose credentials can be checked. But an anonymous source who provided no names and no details is hardly “just as enlightening.”

Bragalia continued: 

The individual did not reach out to me – I contacted him by phone. Retired and in his 70s, he is a man of accomplishment. Though he never denied being a perpetrator, he also does not want his name associated with the event. How many of us would want to recount our youthful follies to our children? Who amongst us would wish our names on the net, revisiting embarrassing moments during our late teens or early twenties? Where are those of us who will come forward to publicly explain our tricks and lies from college?

Again, I step in to point out that many of those who were pranksters in their teens and early twenties have long ago owned up to their pranks. And if the students did pull this off, would it be embarrassing to them today? Since he is an older man, of accomplishment, it would seem that he had little to fear by revealing the pertinent information about the hoax even if he was involved in it. Without that information we have just another unverified rumor.

I once asked Dr. James van Allen, whom I was interviewing about UFOs, if such a discussion would be harmful to his reputation. He didn’t think so because his body of scientific discoveries and his work was impressive enough that he could express his opinion without fear of it damaging him. At that late date in his career he didn’t have much to fear. But I digress. Back to Bragalia:

As he pointed out, there is a ‘damned if you do or don’t’ dynamic to admitting publicly to the hoax. When one asks, how was it propelled and navigated? How many were involved? What were their roles? – no answer that a perpetrator may provide will ever be sufficient. They will be victimized as liars. They will be told that they must reunite on camera and reenact the prank. They will be forced to play the ‘20 questions’ game – a game that they do not need or want to play for us. They would be demanded to show physical proof. They think instead, “Why do I need to show proof of anything to anyone?”

Well, that answer should be self-evident. If they pulled off a prank, then how they did it would be important information and while there are always those who will not let go of a prime UFO case, even when good evidence is presented, there are more of us willing to embrace a solid answer when it is provided. So, yes, we do need a name and we do need to know how it was done and to suggest that “no answer that a perpetrator may provide will ever be sufficient,” is just a cop out because there are no answers at this point. 

In fact, he thinks about the event so much less than many of us do, that I got the sense that, although he knows of the continued interest in the case all these years on, he was not aware of Dr. Colgate’s statements on the hoax. That is how I got him to say anything about the event of substance. When I told him Colgate said it was a balloon, he agreed, “Yes, it was.” When I said Colgate knew it to be students that were involved, he said, “Well, yes, of course, but that is all I am about to say any further on any of this.” I was not to get from him details on who or how many were involved, what balloon was sent up, how it was powered and controlled, how they hid from Lonnie, etc. He was clearly not going to offer up the identities of the others, nor the details of what they did. All he really wanted to say was how only grief would come to him were he to do so. 

Robert Sheaffer, over at Bad UFOs, has looked at all this evidence. He, I believe, comes into the discussion as nearly neutral as possible. Though he is known as a skeptic, he seems to be quite reasonable in his skepticism, which is always a good sign and something that you don’t always fine in skeptics. You can read his analysis here:

Early hot air balloon showing the flame and
the people standing near it.
Sheaffer did mention that I had rejected the hot air balloon because I believed that it was a non-starter. Here’s the reasons I believe that, which I think too many have ignored. The flame in a hot air balloon points up, not down. There were other witnesses who called the police station as the object passed overhead. It was moving against the wind. Once it had landed, the roar stopped, but in such a case, a hot air balloon begins to lose heat and the balloon envelop begins to deflate. Once the two occupants saw Zamora they ran around behind and there was the sound of a hatch closing. The object began to rise, but the flame was apparently pointed down rather than up, at least to one way of thinking. I looked at a whole bunch of hot air balloon pictures, starting with some of the very first and didn’t see any where the flame would have been pointed down (which is to say that I didn’t see any as opposed that there are absolutely none). A flame pointing down would have burned the riders or set the basket on fire. Finally, Sergeant Sam Chavez of the New Mexico State Police arrived at the landing site about two minutes after the object took off, but there was no balloon seen in the sky. It had disappeared, according to Zamora, lifting off and then flying against a rather strong wind before shooting up at high speed.

This leads to another point, which isn’t exactly relevant to this discussion but one I think needs to be made. Nick Redfern wrote a review of Encounter in the Desert. You can read that review here:

Redfern suggests that there is much in the book that has nothing to do with the Socorro case. He views it as padding. I believe that majority of those reading the book would not be as well versed in the history of the UFO phenomenon as Redfern or me, and that this other information was supplied for context. It helps to understand the importance of the Socorro case by contrasting it to other, similar cases, showing an Air Force attitude about Socorro that wasn’t present in those other cases. And, importantly, it shows that the Socorro case was not stand alone but there were other, similar sightings in New Mexico in the hours and days that followed. That suggests something more than a hot air balloon and while it might be argued that such a balloon might not be recognized as such given the timing of the sightings, those who were flying it around would have been aware of the interest in their flights. Oddly, they never came forward and the Air Force investigation failed to find them and according to Hector Quintanilla, who was the chief of Blue Book at the time, he tried very hard to find a terrestrial explanation.

There is one other thing that Bragalia brought up as a way of validating his new theory and that was Lonnie Zamora drank too much. A closed web site set up by Dave Thomas who is described as an employee of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and President of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, to solicit comments from those who had some association with the school. Many of the comments were anonymous and few had a first name and last initial, suggesting that Zamora drank. This seems to be the cheapest of shots because, on the night of April 24, 1964, Zamora was questioned by Captain Richard Holder and Arthur Byrnes, an FBI agent. There is nothing in the official Blue Book file to suggest that Zamora had been drinking before going on duty or while he was on duty which they would have mentioned if he had been. I’d say, “So what?”  to that. Zamora drank sometimes but that does not make him out to be a drunk nor does it suggest that alcohol consumption had anything to do with the sighting. It is a red herring without merit.
And then there is this used as further proof. Bragalia points to a picture that is labeled,
The picture used by Bragalia
to illustrate his theory.
The Small Figures in White Coveralls: New Mexico Tech Physics Department in the mid-1960s.” But the figures are not in New Mexico. They are actually students from UC Davis, according to information found by French skeptic Gilles Fernandez. The photograph was taken during a visit to Intel. Bragalia sent out a note saying that the caption was wrong and blamed his web master, but as of December 1, 2017, the incorrect caption is still there. And, Bragalia had been using this as further proof of a hoax for several years, sending it to me with the same indication about who were the students in the picture.
All this argues against it being a hoax. We have flawed information, poorly sourced information, an interview filled with leading questions, and a solution that can be rejected by a careful study of the facts. There should have been some evidence left behind by the perpetrators but that there wasn’t doesn’t tell us that it was not a hoax; only that they found no evidence of it which is not exactly the same thing but is an important observation.

The only part that is impressive are the opinions of Sergeant Chavez and FBI agent Byrnes. There were others who drove to the landing site right away and who were later interviewed by Coral and Jim Lorenzen, Ray Stanford and, of course, Hynek. To make the hoax viable, they all had to be in on it at some point or at some level and, of course, the FBI wouldn’t engage in a dirty trick of this nature (please note the qualification here). There is nothing to be gained by either the Army or the FBI by participation.

Hynek finally does suggest the real problem with the hoax idea. He wrote, "If the hoax comes off well, perpetrators like to gloat abit (sic), and there would have been no point in getting even with Zamora if they couldn’t have gotten some kudos for it."

Or, they would have exposed the hoax after they learned of Zamora’s reaction to the sighting and his sudden world fame as a way of making him look gullible. What better way to get even than to point out he was the victim of a hoax and overacted in a very unprofessional manner? What better way to make him look bad by showing how he had been fooled by a student hoax.

Hynek finally wrote, "Both Quintanilla and I find it impossible to dismiss it as a hoax unless we have some evidence that there was a hoax." Note here, they were looking for evidence of a hoax within days of the sighting and that they found none. Unlike many of those who offered opinions, at least Hynek had been to Socorro.

Even those who came at this from the skeptical side of the house have rejected the student hoax idea. In an article for Skeptical Inquirer, and later posted to “New Mexicans for Science and Reason,” David E. Thomas wrote, "Yet another hypothesis is that physics students with a little too much extra time played a trick on the town, but that rumor doesn't have much credible support."

This does two things for any analysis. It again points out that this hoax idea has been floating around for decades because the Skeptical Inquirer article is from the July 2001 issue and the Internet posting is from May 2006. And, it suggests that the idea doesn’t have much support even with the skeptics who often embrace any explanation to avoid the idea that the case has no terrestrial solution. Maybe the hoax was the students taking credit for the landing but had nothing to do with it. That, at least, would make a little more sense.

The real point here is that the hoax explanation has not been established, the evidence for it is weak at best, including a letter to Linus Pauling and an anonymous source who would provide no real information, and didn’t even make a solid case for his participation. This is just another explanation that really goes nowhere and while it should be a footnote to the case, that’s all it should be – a footnote.

(Note: For those interested in the whole Socorro story or for more information about what is discussed here, please read my book found at: