Skeptical Information on the Travis Walton "UFO Abduction" Story

Revised Aug. 29, 2014

 Robert Sheaffer

"Profitable Nightmare of a Very Unreal Kind"
by Jeff Wells

(from The Age, Melbourne, Australia, 6 January 1979)

Australian newspaperman Jeff Wells was a member of the National Enquirer team that "packaged" the Travis Walton abduction story for publication. Walton's story is now the subject of a major motion picture from Paramount, Fire In the Sky. Wells is one of seven authors of the National Enquirer story "Arizona Man Captured by UFO" published Dec. 16, 1975. Upon his return to Australia, Wells wrote up this insiders' view of the sordid goings-on for his newspaper column, the identities of the participants only thinly disguised. "The kid" is obviously Travis Walton. "The cowboy" is his brother, Duane Walton. "The professor" is Dr. James Harder of Berkeley, at that time a leading figure in APRO, the now-defunct Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, a prominent UFO "abductionist" who died in 2006. The polygraph examiner is John J. McCarthy, the senior polygraph operator in the state of Arizona. This story was reprinted in the Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 5 Nr. 4 (Summer, 1981), pp. 47-52.

caption in photo box: "JEFF WELLS recalls his dealings with a pathetic kid whose dream never quite got off the ground."

National Enquirer story on Travis Walton. Jess Wells is one of the authors.

The characters in this UFO story are real even if they appear more like the inventions of a Hollywood hack. A haunted young man, a ruthless cowboy, a strange professor, a hard-drinking psychiatrist, a bunch of reporters and a beautiful girl.

All were thrown together in the desert heat by a close encounter of the third kind and maybe they did contribute to some Hollywood thinking.

I was there and I can vouch for the motley human cast - but you will have to make up your own mind about the extra-terrestrials with fishbowl heads.

Some of the characters are still growing fat repeating their version of the story in the seemingly limitless American market for the bizarre.

The so-called facts, the carefully-woven tapestry that has become the "official story" can now be counted as UFO lore, pablum for those who turn their heads to the sky in search of meaning for their lives.

I will never get rich on my version and I only tell it because of the UFO madness the papers tell me is sweeping this part of the world.

The UFO phenomenon is really rolling here, as it has rolled for many years, and snowballed into juggernaut proportions in other countries where it is very big business.

The stronger it gets here the closer the attention that will be paid to so-called classic cases of UFO encounters.

You may recognize elements of this story among them. If so, you will realise that my story is a warning that in such cases, even the most celebrated and supposedly well-documented, there is nothing so pragmatic as proof.

This incident happened a few years ago and made world headlines.

I was working in San Francisco as a bureau man for a national weekly which has grown rich and powerful in catering to the middle-class craving for cancer-cures, Jackie Onassis, Hollywood gossip, psychic predictions, and like ingredients of the crumbling cake that is the American mind.

It was naturally a matter of interest that a 22-year-old forestry worker was missing and that six witnesses had passed lie detector tests in saying that he had last been seen running towards a huge UFO.

My paper had offered tens of thousands of dollars to anybody who could positively prove that aliens had visited our planet - in the knowledge that exclusive rights could be worth millions.

When, five days later, the young man we came to call "the kid" stumbled into a small western town, phoned his brother and claimed he had been kidnapped by the crew of an alien spacecraft we were ready.

Within an hour I was on a plane to rendezvous in a desert city with a team of reporters and photographers flying in from Los Angelesand the East Coast.

At the desert airport I bumped into one of them, a dapper young Englishman from the L.A. bureau, who briefed me. One reporter was at the cowboy's home talking money; the kid was inside in a state of shock.

The office was wiring $1000 to help ease the kid's discomfort and a celebrated UFOlogist, a California professor, was being flown in, all expenses paid, to lend a hand.

Our immediate task was to bribe the brother with the thousand to shack up with us in a luxury motel on the outskirts of town, no names registered, where the rest of Press who were about to descend and the sheriff, who was calling the whole thing a hoax and demanding that the kid take a lie-detector test, would not bother them.

"It isn't going to be easy," said the Englishman as we pocketed our credit cards and headed for our rented Pontiacs.

"The brother has taken charge and the brother is some kind of psychopath. The kid is scared to death of him and so is our reporter."

The cowboy was no disappointment. He was one of the meanest and toughest-looking men I've ever seen - in his late twenties, a rodeo professional and amateur light-heavyweight fighter, a total abstainer, broad-shouldered, T-shirt packed with muscle, chiselled-down hips, bow legged, eyes full of nails, tense, unpredictable.

He leaned against a pick-up truck with a gun rack in the cabin and raked us with beams of cunning and hatred as strong as the flash from the spacecraft that had pole-axed his brother as the witnesses fled in terror.

"Nobody is going to laugh at my brother," he said.

Nobody wanted to laugh at his brother, we said. We only wanted give his brother a chance to tell his story to somebody who would understand.

To prove our bona fides, and to keep away all those other jackals of the press, who would embarrass the kid with foolish questions, we would hide them away and pay the kid a grand to tell his story.

If we liked the story, and it could be properly documented, and the kid could pass our lie-detector test, we would open up our cheque books all the way and start talking in five figures.Reward checks for the National Enquirer's Case of the Year

To our relief the cowboy agreed - but not, he said, because of the money, because his brother had a true story to tell which would enlighten the world.

Our first sight of the kid was at dinner in the hotel dining room that night. It was a shock.

He sat there mute, pale, twitching like a cornered animal. He was either a brilliant actor or he was in serious funk about something.

But the arrival of the professor saved the day.

He was as smooth as butter and he soon had the kid eating out of his hand.

"You are not alone," he crooned. "There are many people, more than you would think, who have been chosen to meet them."

Them? I began to wonder about the professor.

The cowboy was so impressed he began to talk about his own UFO experience when he had been chased by a flying saucer through the woods as a child.

Within a couple of hours the professor had talked the brothers out of taking the sheriff's polygraph test and into an hypnosis session in his room immediately.

It looked as if things were going smoothly enough, with no hint that we were faced with four days of chaos.

The next day the office announced that the whole story was to be filmed by a crew from the top-rating CBS muckraker TV show _60 Minutes_.

We were to be on guard because CBS was out to shaft us, my editor warned.

We were to present a bold front for good footage of dedicated reporters sparing no expense to bring the public the true story of one of the most amazing incidents in recorded history.

The kid's fantastic story had been coming out under hypnosis but the brothers had become very conspiratorial with the professor and would speak only to him. [1]

The professor seemed to have his own future on the lecture circuit and the paperback bookstands very much in mind and we didn't trust him.

So we taped everything and had the CBS crew film the kid's story given under hypnosis.

It was a tale of little men with heads like fishbowls and skin like mushrooms.

But suddenly the strain began to tell on the kid and he lapsed into sobbing bouts. He was falling apart and so was his story.

It necessitated flying in a husband-and-wife team of psychiatrists from Colorado to tranquilize the kid and keep the cowboy from exploding.

The kid was a wreck and it was all the psychiatrist could do to get him ready for the lie-detector expert we had lined up.

The test lasted an hour and I was in the next room fending off the TV crew when I heard the cowboy scream: "I'll kill the sonofabitch!"

The kid had failed the test miserably. The polygraph man said it was the plainest case of lying he'd seen in 20 years but the office was yelling for another expert and a different result [2].

To head that off we had the psychiatrist put the cowboy and the kid through a long session of analysis.

Their methods were unique. The next day the four of them disappeared into a room and soon a waiter was headed there with two bottles of cognac.

At the end of it the psychiatrists were rolling drunk but they had their story and the brothers were crestfallen.

It seemed that the kid's father, who had deserted them as a child, had been a spaceship fanatic and all his life the kid had wanted to ride in a spacecraft.

He had seen something out there in the woods, some kind of an eerie light which had triggered a powerful hallucination which might recur at any time. There was no question of any kidnap by any mushroom men.

The kid needed medical help and the cowboy swore he would shield him from further harassment.

Reports began to filter in that the witnesses' lie detector tests were not much help either - they supported the story that they had all seen the strange light but not that the strange light was identifiable as a spaceship.

The CBS crew had left in disgust and I sat down to detail everything that had happened in a 16-page memorandum designed to kill the story. It was all over.

I paid the $2000 hotel bill - including a mammoth bar tab to which the psychiatrists had contributed nobly - for the five days and we all scattered to the airport.

It had been a lunatic experience from beginning to end, made more disturbing by the fact that on several occasions, with coaxings from the professor, I had almost believed that the story was real.

As I drove to the airport I was never so glad to be leaving a city and to this day the whole experience there remains in my memory as some kind of nightmare.

As I neared the airport I switched on the car radio and heard familiar voices - the kid, the cowboy, and the professor giving an interview about the kid's shatteing experience on board a flying saucer.

A few weeks later I picked up the paper I worked for and found that with the help of the professor it had turned my memorandum into a sensational front-page story.

The professor was calling me up demanding tapes for his lectures and the kid was signing contracts for books and TV documentaries.

And so another UFO hero was made.


"Ground Saucer Watch" Memo on the Walton Incident

Conclusions (undated: probably December, 1975)

"Ground Saucer Watch," a pro-UFO organization, was the very first UFO organization on the scene of the Walton "abduction". In cooperation with Dr. J. Allen Hynek of CUFOS, Dr. Lester Stewart of GSW began to interview the Walton family while Travis was still "missing." They immediately smelled a hoax. These are their conclusions, without any changes - RS.

1. Walton never boarded the UFO. This fact is supported by the six witnesses and the polygraph test results. [3]

2. The entire Walton family has had a continual UFO history. The Walton boys have reported observing 10 to 15 separate UFO sightings (very high).

3. When Duane was questioned about his brother's disappearance, he stated that "Travis will be found, that UFO's are friendly." GSW countered, "How do you know Travis will be found?" Duane said "I have a feeling, a strong feeling." GSW asked "If the UFO 'captors' are going to return Travis, will you have a camera to record this great occurrence?" Duane, "No, if I have a camera 'they' will not return."

4. The Walton's mother showed no outward emotion over the 'loss' of Travis. She said that UFO's will not harm her son, he will be returned and that UFO's have been seen by her family many times.

5. The Walton's refused any outside scientific help or anyone who logically doubted the abduction portion of the story.

6. The media and GSW was fair to the witnesses. However, when the story started to 'fall apart' the Waltons would only talk to people who did not doubt the abduction story.

7. APRO became involved and criticized both GSW and Dr. Hynek for taking a negative position on the encounter.

8. The Waltons 'sold' their story to the National Enquirer and the story was completely twisted from the truth.


RS NOTES   (photo:  J. Allen Hynek, Robert Sheaffer, Travis Walton on Geraldo Rivera show, 1976)J. Allen Hynek, Robert Sheaffer, Travis Walton on Geraldo Rivera show, 1976

1. In other words, James Harder was using hypnosis to lead Travis Walton into "remembering" a proper UFO abduction story. UFOlogists cite the apparent consistencies of these stories as proof that they are supposedly authentic! But here we glimpse the real reason behind the apparent similarities: Harder rehearsed Walton's story over and over again until the latter was ready to face the press and tell a convincing story.

2. The very existence of this polygraph session with John J. McCarthy was kept secret by the National Enquirer and by APRO, with McCarthy ordered never to speak about it. The cover-up was revealed by Philip J. Klass in June, 1976. The details of the Walton hoax, and its associated cover-up, can be found in chapters 18-23 of Klass' book UFOs The Public Deceived (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983).

3. Apparently GSW thought that in order to have a "genuine" UFO abduction, the UFO would have to land, and pick up its passenger.



Philip J. Klass debunks Travis Walton, (white papers, correspondence, etc. never before published).

Miscellaneous news stories and memos documenting the origins of the story. 

The following appeared in the March/April, 1993 issue of The Georgia Skeptic, the newsletter of the Georgia Skeptics

"Fire in the Sky" -- The Walton Travesty
by Anson Kennedy

On November 5, 1975, a 22 year old logger by the name of Travis Walton was allegedly abducted by a UFO near Snowflake, Arizona. Witnessed by six companions, his experience is possibly the most unique and controversial alien abduction tale in the short history of the phenomenon. Now, some seventeen years later, Paramount Pictures has brought this incredible story to the silver screen. On March 12, 1993, Fire in the Sky opened in theaters across the country. Scripted by Tracy Torme', who also wrote last year's CBS miniseries on alien abductions, Intruders, the movie is loosely based on Walton's book, aptly named The Walton Experience. "Loosely" because Torme' has significantly altered the portrayal of Walton's experience on the UFO from what Walton himself described, because Torme' has created a fictional UFO investigating organization to replace the real group involved, and because Torme' combined several real individuals into "composites," all for the sake of literary license. However, after examining the full evidence of the case, he may be forgiven these fictionalizations -- for how can one be too critical of fictionalizing a work of fiction? Philip J. Klass, chairman of CSICOP's UFO Subcommittee (which also includes such noted skeptics as Robert Sheaffer and James Oberg), investigated the Walton case immediately after it occurred. As detailed in his book UFOs: The Public Deceived (Prometheus, 1983), in the months following Walton's disappearance, Klass found significant evidence of "gross deception."

According to Walton, he and six other loggers were driving from their work site at Turkey Springs in Sitgreaves National Forest to their homes in Snowflake about forty-five miles away. Sometime after 6:00 P.M., both Walton and one of his companions, Allen Dalis, saw a saucer-shaped object hovering over a slash pile of cut timber in a clearing. Walton jumped out of the truck (luckily, he was sitting next to the door) and ran towards the object, which was emitting a yellowish light. Suddenly, the object let loose a flash of brilliant blue-green light which reportedly "blew him [Walton] back ten feet" according to Walton's friend and employer Mike Rogers, who was driving the truck at the time. In a panic, Rogers sped off leaving Walton at the mercy of whatever controlled the UFO.

Upon reaching Heber (a small town between the work site and Snowflake), Rogers contacted Undersheriff L.C. Ellison, who met them in the village. Rogers and the rest of his crew told Ellison their story; Ellison then called Navajo County Sheriff Marlin Gillespie. Gillespie, his deputy Kenneth Coplan, Ellison, Rogers, and two other crew members (the other three refused to go along) returned to the site and searched for several hours for Walton.

Approximately 1:30 A.M. on the morning of the sixth (and after abandoning the search for the night), Coplan and Rogers went to notify Walton's mother, Mary Kellett, of her son's disappearance. Mrs. Kellett's calm response upon being awakened and told her youngest son had been kidnapped by a UFO was "Well, that's the way these things happen" and then she proceeded to described two instances when she and/or her oldest son, Duane, had also seen UFOs. Later that morning (approximately 3:00 A.M.) when Mrs. Kellett told Walton's sister, Mrs. Grant Neff, that "a flying saucer got him [Travis]," Mrs. Neff surprised Coplan with how calmly she too took the news.

The rest of the that day, November 6, was taken up by an extensive search of the area where Walton allegedly disappeared. Curiously absent from the site was any physical evidence of anything happening, in spite of the "explosive" force of the blue-green beam. No blood, no shreds of clothing, no evidence of the blast effects was found by any of the nearly fifty searchers involved.

By November 7, law enforcement officials were concentrating on the possibility that Walton might have been the victim of foul play at the hands of his coworkers. Walton's other brother Donald also felt that the UFO story was a cover for something else. To this end, Rogers and his crew volunteered to take polygraph examinations the following Monday, November 10. During the exams, C.E. Gilson of the Arizona Department of Public Safety asked four "relevant" questions; three of which dealt with whether Walton had been seriously injured or killed by the one or more members of the crew. The fourth question, added at the last minute, was: "Did you tell the truth about actually seeing a UFO last Wednesday when Travis Walton disappeared?" Not surprisingly, the six crew members were unanimous in their responses: "No" to the first three questions and "Yes" to the last. Five were judged to be truthful, results on the sixth (Allen Dalis) were "inconclusive." In his formal written report, Gilson said, "The polygraph examinations prove that these five men did see some object that they believe to be a UFO and that Travis Walton was not injured or murdered by any of these men, on that Wednesday (5 November 1975). If an actual UFO did not exist and the UFO is a manmade hoax, five of these men had no prior knowledge of a hoax. No such determination can be made of the sixth man whose test results were inconclusive."

On November 8, Phoenix UFOlogist Fred Sylvanus interviewed both Rogers and Duane Walton. The tape of this conversation reveals several striking details. Not once during the entire sixty-five minute interview did Duane or Rogers express any concern over Walton's well-being. Rogers described the UFO as "beautiful." Duane stated he had been seeing UFOs for the past "ten or twelve years. I've been seeing them all the time." He also stated that he and Walton had made an agreement to "immediately get as directly under the object as physically possible" if one of them ever saw a UFO. Duane went on the state that he felt Walton was "having the experience of a lifetime."

Later on the 10th, Travis Walton reappeared at a gas station in Heber.

Calling his sister collect after midnight, Walton begged for help when her husband answered the phone. Grant Neff picked up Walton's brother Duane and the two drove to Heber to pick up Walton after informing Mrs. Kellett of his call. The telephone operator who handled the collect call called Sheriff Gillespie to let him know of Walton's reappearance; Gillespie then called Deputy Glen Flake and asked him to keep a look out for the men returning to Snowflake.

Flake missed Neff, Duane, and Walton on the way in, so he went to Mrs. Kellett's house. It was after 2:00 A.M., but the lights were on and Duane was outside siphoning gas from one car to another. He made no mention to the officer that Walton had been found and Flake did not reveal the information the telephone operator had provided.

Duane did not inform the deputy that Walton was inside Mrs. Kellett's house, nor did he tell him of the physical examination Duane had performed on Walton. During the exam, Duane found no bruises, burns, or evidence of any physical injury except for a red mark on the inside of Walton's right elbow. Walton's physical condition was curious given his reported violent encounter with the blue-green beam.

In any case, Duane decided to drive Walton to a doctor in Phoenix after the deputy left. They made an abortive attempt to see a hypnotherapist, but Duane backed out saying that Walton was not ready for regressive hypnosis. It was not until the afternoon of November 11 that a cursory exam by two doctors was performed. Like Duane, they found no evidence of physical injury, except for the mark on Walton's arm. One of the doctors, Howard Kandell, stated it "was compatible with a puncture wound such as when somebody takes blood from you." He went on to note that Walton claimed he had not noticed it before, in spite of the fact that both Duane and the hypnotherapist had seen the mark earlier.

More telling, though, were the results of the urine analysis performed on a sample from Walton. It showed no trace of drugs, but also no trace of acetone. After going without food for more than a couple of days, the body begins to break down its own fat. The waste product of this is acetone, and it is excreted in the urine. If Walton had been without food for several days, his urine should have shown some traces of acetone. Also, Walton later claimed to have lost ten pounds during his missing five days.

The doctors who examined Walton were members of APRO, the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, and it was at this time that APRO became intimately involved in the case. It is also at this time that the National Enquirer became involved. Coral Lorenzen, who had made the arrangements for the doctor's examination, received a call from the National Enquirer about the case. She convinced the paper to pay Duane and Walton's expenses while being "sequestered" in a local hotel in exchange for exclusive rights to the story.

When Duane finally called Sheriff Gillespie to inform him of Walton's reappearance, he told the sheriff they were in Tucson where Walton was receiving a check-up. He changed the story in a later phone call, saying they were at a private home in Phoenix. At Gillespie's insistence, Duane reluctantly agreed to let him interview Walton. The Walton brothers refused to allow Gillespie to record the interview, but Travis did agree to take a polygraph exam later in the week.

Seven days after Walton had disappeared and two days after his sudden reappearance, his story was hitting the local newspapers. The Tucson Arizona Daily Star quoted Duane as saying, in part: "I'm not a UFO buff and neither is my brother" -- this flatly contradicts Duane's earlier statements to UFOlogist Fred Sylvanus.

Gillespie had scheduled Walton's polygraph examination for Friday, November 14, but Walton did not show up. The excuse was that the press had "laid siege" and Duane did not feel Walton was ready to face the press. This is curious, since a team of reporters from the National Enquirer had been interviewing Walton already. Also, Duane could have had the polygrapher come to the hotel where Walton was staying if he was concerned about exposing Walton to the media.

Some of the most damning evidence that the entire case was a hoax surrounds the various polygraph examinations and the behavior of the principles involved, Duane and Travis Walton, and Mike Rogers. APRO announced on February 7, 1976, that both Travis and Duane had passed an exam given by George Pfeiffer, who worked for Tom Ezell and Associates. But that test was flawed in a number of respects: Pfeiffer allowed Walton to dictate a number of the questions he asked. While it is not uncommon for polygraphers to allow the test subjects and/or sponsors to outline the general area to be probed, allowing the subject to dictate specific questions violates the basic principles of polygraphy and should invalidate the test results. Also, Pfeiffer was relatively inexperienced, having been practicing only two years. This inexperience expressed itself when he judged Walton's "No" answer to the question "Before November 5, 1975, were you a UFO buff?" to be truthful. Walton's answer directly contradicted information provided by both his mother and brother Duane and by Walton himself during an earlier psychological examination.

Later in March of 1976, when Pfeiffer's employer Tom Ezell had reviewed the charts, he concluded that it was impossible to determine if Walton and Duane were answering the test questions truthfully. Ezell stated in a letter to Phil Klass: "Upon review of this examination, I find that to me it is not acceptable. In the first place I would not be a party to an examination in which the subject dictated the questions to be asked ... Because of the dictation of the questions to be asked, this test should be invalidated. Also, upon examining the resultant charts, I find that I cannot give an opinion one way or another" whether the subjects had been truthful or not. Yet this is the examination to which Walton refers when he states he has passed a lie detector test.

But the real "bombshell," as Klass describes it in his book, was the fact that Walton had failed an earlier polygraph examination miserably and this information had been suppressed by APRO, which had been proclaiming the Walton case "one of the most important and intriguing in the history of the UFO phenomena." This test was administered by John McCarthy, who with twenty years of experience was one of the most respected examiners in the state of Arizona. His conclusion: "Gross deception." Proponents of the Walton case never mention this examination.

If the case is a hoax, what possible motivation could Walton and the others have? Two possibilities have been identified: every year, the National Enquirer offered a multi-thousand dollar award for the "Best Case" of the year (up to $100,000 for "positive proof" of ET). Walton and the other crew members divided a $5000 award from the National Enquirer. The second, and more compelling, motive involved a contract Rogers had with the U.S. Forest Service. Rogers had contracted with the Service to thin out the Turkey Springs area over a year before Walton's experience. He won the contract when he submitted the low bid of $24.70/acre in June of 1974. The contract term was 200 working days ("working days" to allow for bad weather and the long mountain winter) to thin 1277 acres, later reduced to 1205 acres. Rogers was seriously behind schedule and in fact had received an eighty-four day extension (accompanied with a $1.00 per acre penalty for missing the completion date). Only five days of this extension remained at the time of Walton's alleged abduction. At the time of Walton's disappearance, Rogers was in serious trouble: he had over a hundred acres left to finish in five days or he would default on the contract and lose some $2500 -- money sorely needed to get through the winter months -- or he request a second extension and accept another penalty for failing to finish on schedule a second time.

Just two weeks prior to Walton's disappearance, NBC-TV aired a two hour movie featuring the abduction tale of Betty and Barney Hill. Rogers has acknowledged watching the first portion of the movie, the portion that detailed the Hills' "abduction." Klass speculates in his book that "to a man facing two unattractive alternatives on his Turkey Springs contract, the account of the Hills' 'UFO-abduction' could easily suggest a third." By making Turkey Springs the site of an alien abduction, Rogers could claim his men were too afraid to return and continue working -- providing an "act of God" that could result in contract termination with no penalty and full payment to Rogers.

During the months after Klass revealed the results of his investigation, Rogers and Walton entered into a lengthy negotiation with him to have the flawed polygraph exams re- administered -- this time with a mutually acceptable, independent polygrapher. Rogers issued a "challenge" to Klass: Duane and Travis Walton and Rogers would agree to be retested by "a mutually acceptable examiner of high standing and proper credentials" and that, if all parties passed the tests, Klass would pay all costs involved; if any of them failed, Klass would be "reimbursed." Klass agreed in principle with most of the conditions, however as time progressed and negotiations continued it became clear that Rogers was engaging in delaying tactics and was, in fact, doing everything possible to not be retested. Ultimately, none of the principles in the Walton case was given new polygraph examinations.

And there the case laid for seventeen years, with proponents still proclaiming it one of the best documented abductions in history and skeptics decrying the multiple instances of intentional deception which imply "hoax." Then comes Fire in the Sky and a media blitz to promote the "true story." Travis Walton has made appearances on national talk shows (from CNBC's Tom Snyder show to Larry King Live on the night of the movie's premier), tabloid television shows (such as Hard Copy and Fox's Sightings), radio call-in shows, and has even appeared via satellite on local news programs (the week of the premier, Walton was interviewed on WAGA Channel 5's Good Day Atlanta morning show).

In the February, 1993, issue of the Mutual UFO Network's MUFON UFO Journal, Travis Walton "takes time to address his critics." Describing himself as a "naive country boy" (Walton hardly seemed naive when he accused Phil Klass of being a government disinformation agent on Larry King Live - a charge for which he has absolutely no proof) Walton tells of his shock at the "attacks" he received from skeptics such as Klass and repeats throughout his article that Klass' claims had been refuted time and time again. Unfortunately, Walton provides little information in the article which actually refutes Klass' evidence; instead he offers tantalizing tidbits which seem intended more to enduce the reader to buy a copy of his newly revised book (whose title he has changed to, oddly enough, Fire in the Sky) than to actually "set the record straight." Walton claims that the various charges against him "starkly contradict each other" [emphasis in original], but provides no specific examples of these contradictions. He says, "So the irony is that when one's foremost detractor [Klass] makes an internally inconsistent scattergun assault, he is actually making a perverse sort of endorsement because it says loud and clear that the detractor himself doesn't believe that any of his attacks has sufficient merit to stand alone." It is a perverse sort of logic which will go through such convolutions in an effort to justify a failing position.

In a recent issue of his Skeptics' UFO Newsletter, Klass wonders if Walton will refute the fact that his first polygraph exam indicated "gross deception," or that his mother was abnormally calm upon hearing word of his disappearance, or that he - along with his mother and brother - had a long history of seeing UFOs prior to November 5, 1975, or that the lie detector test he did pass was seriously flawed. The list can go on and on.

So what can we make of this long and twisted tale? At the time, the Walton experience seemed little more than yet another in a long line of elaborate hoaxes. It continued to have its supporters among the UFO community, but enough questions surrounded it that few considered it "proof positive." Now, a multi-million dollar movie billed as a "true story" is in theaters across the country. Prior to its release, UFO fans were predicting how this would "raise the public's awareness" of UFOs in general and the alien abduction phenomenon in particular. Of course, they said they same thing about last year's _Intruders_, which seems to have had little impact on the public's perception of these things. We expect that _Fire in the Sky_ will sway the public just as much. Unfortunately, we also expect that Hollywood will make more of such "fiction as truth" productions. The bottom line for the public is to always view these productions with a critical eye.

Anson Kennedy Internet: anson@netcom.com
VP, Georgia Skeptics Compu$erve: 71167,2435
(speaking only for myself, however) Prodigy(sm): DVCW08A

UFOlogist Karl Pflock comments on Travis Walton Case:

Karl Pflock (1943-2006) was a big promoter of the Betty and Barney Hill abduction case. He had an interesting theory about UFOs. He believed that "real extraterrestrials" arrived on earth sometime around 1947 or shortly before, but departed sometime around 1970. So many of the "classic" sightings of the 1940s-60s were genuine ETs, but all of the later cases are bogus.

One time we were discussing the Walton case. I brought up the matter of the five guys in the back of the truck, who didn't know Walton and Mike Rogers that well, who all passed polygraph tests (more or less) and went along with the story. This is often cited as strong evidence supporting the abduction story. Pflock replied "there would be no reason to bring those guys in on the hoax." This struck me as brilliant, because Klass and other investigators always assumed that these five guys would have to be motivated in some way to go along with the hoax. But according to Pflock, the only ones in the truck who knew what was happening were Walton and Rogers (the driver). Much more believable! According to the Fortean skeptic Peter Brookesmith, at the time of his death Pflock "had a highly plausible debunking solution (sadly never published in full) to the notorious Travis Walton ‘abduction.’

Pflock wrote in the Jan. 15, 2000 issue of James Moseley's UFO gossip sheet Saucer Smear (Vol. 47 Nr. 1) , disagreeing with Klass:

I thought Walton and his best friend Mike Rogers could have rigged up something convincing enough to make the other five think they'd seen a hovering, hostile UFO. * Properly primed with flying saucer talk by Walton and Rogers, with clever theatrics by the duo during the sighting/zapping, with Rogers whisking the crew away after but a few seconds exposure, it wouldn't have taken a "Day the Earth Stood Still" saucer to fool them. After the fact, in the forest gloom, with Walton and the UFO mysteriously gone, their impressions easily could have been further molded by Rogers continuing his act and repeating his version of the saucer and what it had done to Walton.

Experienced investigators know eyewitness testimony frequently is unreliable, a point often made by Klass in criticizing the work of ufologists. They also know people are highly suggestible during and in the wake of dramatic unexpected events. Yet, in pooh-poohing my suggestion, Phil implicitly accepts the accuracy of the Walton witnesses' publicized descriptions of the UFO.

Phil also ignores some very important testimony he obtained from witness Steve Pierce [one of the five workers] during a June 20th, 1978, tape-recorded telephone interview (a dub of which he kindly supplied me in early 1998), testimony which to my knowledge he's never revealed in any of his writings about the case:

Klass: What did you see?

Pierce: Uh, well, I thought it was something a deer hunter, you know, rigged up. You know, 'cause it was deer season, you know, so he could see. You know? And, uh, and, but I couldn't see the bottom or a top or sides, all's I could see was the front of it, you know. You couldn't tell if it had a bottom to it or, you know, or a back to it or anything...

Hmmmmm... A "Plan Nine from Outer Space" saucer, perhaps?

* I hasten to add that, while I think a hoax is possible, I have not made up my mind about the case.


John Harney corresponded with Karl Pflock about the Walton case, and wrote this piece in Magonia Magazine in 2001:
If you go down to the woods tonight: Another Look at the Travis Walton Case. It explains Pflock's hypothesis in greater detail.

 

Did Klass Offer Steve Pierce $10,000 to Say the Case is a Hoax?

Travis Walton claims Klass did, but Pierce himself did not (in 1978).

Today Pierce now says that Klass did try to bribe him, however Documents obtained from the archive of Klass' papers at the American Philosophical Society completely support Klass' version of the story.

Back to the UFO Skeptic's Page