Christopher Allen, among others, has raised questions about the Lydia Sleppy story and I believe it’s about time that those questions are addressed. It seems that there is a lot of misinformation out there about this aspect of the Roswell case and it is, as are all other parts of the story, now wrapped in controversy. Given our perspective today, meaning we’re about ten years removed from all the investigative activity and can peer at the case with 20/20 hindsight, let’s see if we can wade through all of this.
As mentioned last time, the first known publication of the Sleppy story came in 1974 in the old SAGA UFO Report. That article said, in its entirety, "...[I]n New Mexico, a woman with a responsible position at a radio station received a call from the station manager. He had been out checking reports of a UFO which had crashed in a field and was trying to track down the rumor that pieces of the object were supposedly stored in a local barn. In his excited call to the newsroom, the station manager verified the UFO crash report, and also claimed he had seen metallic pieces of the UFO being carried into a waiting Air Force plane which was destined for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
"As the woman began typing out the fantastic news item over the teletype to their other two radio stations, a line appeared in the middle of her text, tapped in from somewhere, with the official order: "Do not continue this transmission!"
The next appearance of Sleppy, as far as I know, was in The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William Moore. They write, "Understandably bemused, Lydia placed the phone in the uncomfortable position between ear and shoulder and started to type McBoyle’s startling statements into the teletype. But after she had typed only several sentences the machine suddenly stopped itself. As this was a common occurrence with teletypes for a variety of reasons, Lydia was not concerned, though she had never been cut off the air before in the middle of a transmission..."
[A moment for editorial comment... Berlitz and Moore said this was common and then said that it had never happened before... so which is it, common or not? Yes, I know there is a qualification in this because she was typing and the machine had stopped the other times when she was receiving... but still, a clarification would have been nice.]
"...Moving the telephone from her neck to her hand, she informed McBoyle that the teletype had stopped at her end.
"This time, according to her recollections, he seemed not only excited but under pressure and apparently speaking to someone else at the same time. His voice seem strained. ‘Wait a minute, I’ll get back to you... Wait... I’ll get right back.’ But he did not. Instead the teletype went on again by itself and started addressing Albuquerque, or Lydia directly. The sender was not identified and the tone was formal and curt: ATTENTION ALBUQUERQUE: DO NOT TRANSMIT. REPEAT DO NOT TRANSMIT THIS MESSAGE. STOP COMMUNICATION IMMEDIATELY."
Note here that the FBI has not entered the case and while there are people quoted, it is not indicated if those people said those things, if it was one person quoting someone else, or if it was exactly what Sleppy had told to Moore and Berlitz.
In Crash at Corona by Stan Friedman and Don Berliner, we learn something interesting. They write, "While he [meaning Johnny McBoyle here] refuse to discuss the matter even after almost half a century, another principal has been found. Lydia Sleppy, the teletype operator whose message was interrupted so mysteriously. Long thought to have died, she was located by Stanton Friedman in October 1990 and interviewed. Apparently Friedman had forgotten that he and Bobbi Slate had used the Sleppy story long ago (or even he failed to make the connection after he began his Roswell research).
The critical paragraph in that interview is, "I went back and asked Mr. [Karl] Lambertz (he came up from the big Dallas station) if he would come up and watch. John was dictating and [Karl] was standing right at my shoulder. I got into it enough to know that it was a pretty big story, when the bell came on [signaling an interruption]. Typing came across: ‘This is the FBI, you will cease transmitting.’"
Well, now we have the FBI involved, but there is nothing to suggest where that came from. Sometime between the publication of The Roswell Incident and the investigations that began in the 1990s, Sleppy became convinced that it was the FBI who had interrupted her.
Please note one other, now important, fact. She said that the bell came on signaling an interruption. We’ll see what that means later.
When I interviewed Sleppy, she told me, "I called Mr. Lambertz, Karl Lambertz, who was acting in Mr. Tucker’s place [that would be Merle Tucker, the station owner who was away on business]... He was the program director. I called Mr. Lambertz up, there was something coming through and I had just started - I don’t know how much I typed but I was typing what John [Johnny McBoyle] dictated when the signal came on that this was the FBI and we [should] cease transmitting."
I asked if she knew what FBI office but she didn’t. She said, "It was the FBI that stopped us."
When I was writing my book, UFO Crash at Roswell, we suggested that it was the FBI office in Dallas and I frankly don’t know where that notion came from. I believe that Don Schmitt suggested that because the FBI office in Dallas had been involved in the balloon end of the story, meaning that we have a document from the FBI about the balloon as told to them by Major Kirton from the Fort Worth Army Air Field, that Don might have assumed that the FBI office in Dallas was involved... of course that might have been my assumption as well.
Karl Pflock in his Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe, wrote, "Subsequently, I did some further investigating. Merle Tucker told me the Teletype in KOAT’s office [that is the Albuquerque office of his fledgling radio empire] had both a send and receive capability, but did not know if it was possible for an incoming message to be automatically printed on it without some enabling action being taken first. I was told by several journalistic old-timers that in the 1940s send-and-receive Teletypes definitely had to be manually set in one mode or the other. If a machine was sent to sent, it could not receive an incoming message. A bell would ring to alert someone to switch over to receive."
Kal Korff in his book wrote, "In researching the technical aspects of what would be required to place such a "tap" on the kind of machine that Sleppy had to have used at KOAT, it was discovered that the particular model she used had both send and receive capabilities. This discovery seemed to initially support the feasibility of Sleppy’s story. However, the credibility of Lydia Sleppy’s account began to unravel when the Dallas FBI field office noticed that in order to have received a message, the bell on top of her teletype would have gone off to indicate an incoming transmission. At that point, in order for Sleppy to receive the incoming message and have it print out for her to view, she would have to have then thrown a manual switch to put the machine into the receive mode."
The implication here is clear. The Sleppy tale can be discounted because there had to have been a warning bell and she would then have to flip a switch.
So, here’s where we are. I don’t know when the FBI entered this tale. Sometime between Sleppy first appearing in the old UFO Report and later in The Roswell Incident and the 1990s. I don’t know if this something she remembered, if it was something someone suggested to her and she incorporated into her story, or if it is a bit of confabulation. In the end, it might not be an important fact, other than to suggest that memories are fallible and we must be careful when interviewing witnesses after decades have passed.
Assigning it to the Dallas office is something that Don Schmitt or I did based on our research at the time. That doesn’t mean that there was no message into KOAT, nor does it mean that the FBI didn’t send one. Only that we found no paper trail for it and others who have followed have found no paper trail. That would be nice, but we don’t have it.
I might point out that those who discount the tale because the FBI said they had no paperwork forget that if the case is classified, they might not have the sufficient clearances to see that paperwork. Yes, I can point to other FBI operations that were so highly classified that only a handful of agents knew of them, and one project, Operation Solo, was so highly classified that even presidents were unaware of it and agents working in the same New York office didn’t know it was happening.
The important facts, though, are these. Lydia Sleppy told this story to researchers prior to the publication of The Roswell Incident, she was quoted in that book, and in the magazine article. She told us all that her transmission was interrupted and she was told to cease that transmission. Karl Pflock and Kal Korff told us there was a mechanism for interrupting transmissions, but it required that the operator then make a manual change... Sleppy told Friedman, prior to Pflock’s and Korff’s criticism that, "...when the bell came on [signaling an interruption] [Emphasis added]."
In fact, in the affidavit, published in Pflock’s book (and gathered by the Fund for UFO Research) Sleppy said, "As I typed McBoyle’s story, a bell rang on the teletype, indicating an interruption. The machine then printed a message something to this effect, "THIS IS THE FBI. YOU WILL IMMEDIATELY CEASE ALL COMMUNICATION."
In other words, Pflock and Korff were right about a signaling bell, and Sleppy mentioned that in her interview with Friedman and later in her affidavit. She would have then made the manual switch and the result would have been the message typed out in the middle of the story that she was putting on the teletype. The fact that she mentioned that bell in two separate interviews is important to this. And that both Pflock and Korff who wrote their books after this information was available, and Pflock actually has the signed affidavit in his book is interesting. It suggests they were interested in dismissing testimony rather than finding facts.
There is nothing that has been offered that disqualifies the Sleppy testimony. She told the tale prior to the overwhelming interest in Roswell and that is documented. She told us that her transmission was interrupted and said that there was a bell to alert her to incoming transmissions. No, she didn’t say that she flipped the switch, but clearly she did. Sometime after her first telling the story, the FBI connection entered the picture, but I have found nothing to suggest how that happened.
What we have here is another of the witness testimonies that is not fatally flawed as the debunkers have suggested. All we need to do is look at it carefully... and if there is a flaw, it’s that we don’t have the teletype copies to prove the point. Once again, the documented evidence as eluded us (and yes, I’m getting tired of that).
Korff wrote, in his book, "...McBoyle also mentions to Sleppy that there’s talk of ‘little men being on board’ and asks her to begin immediately typing up his story..." He references The Roswell Incident. His discussion at this point is accurate, meaning that The Roswell Incident does mention this.
The quote that appears in The Roswell Incident is, "Lydia, get ready for a scoop! We want to get this on the ABC wire right away. Listen to this! A flying saucer has crashed... No, I’m not joking. It crashed near Roswell. I’ve been there and seen it. It’s like a big crumpled dishpan. Some rancher has hauled it under a cattle shelter with his tractor. The Army is there and they are going to pick it up. The whole area is now closed off. And get this - they’re saying something about little men being on board... Start getting this on the teletype right away while I’m on the phone."
In the text, there is no way of telling who was relating this. Was it dialogue created based on what Sleppy had said to investigators? Was it the story told by McBoyle? Just who is speaking here, and what is the attribution for it? We have no answers to any of these questions.
Here’s what I know. When I interviewed Lydia Sleppy, after we had talked about the teletype interruption, I asked, "He [meaning McBoyle] didn’t mention seeing bodies or anything like that to you?"
"No... I mean I’ve read everything that I can get my hands on..."
This means that we can’t reject Lydia Sleppy because Berlitz and Moore cobbled together some dramatic dialogue that suggests McBoyle told her about bodies. According to her, this simply isn’t true.
The Bitter End
All of this means that the reasons for rejecting the Sleppy tale have fallen by the wayside. She told her story prior to the Roswell explosion, she has remained fairly consistent (though I would like to know when this FBI idea entered the story), there was a mechanism for interrupting the transmission which was published before either Pflock or Korff raised the issue, and the talk of bodies comes back to Berlitz and Moore with no way of knowing where they got it or why they halfway attributed it to Sleppy.
On the other hand, we do not have any written records from the time. There is no copy of the teletype message, no handwritten notes, and nothing to corroborate her tale, other than she did work for KOAT, she did use the teletype, and Merle Tucker did say that when he returned from his business trip, he was annoyed at both Sleppy and McBoyle because he was afraid they might have cost him his FCC permits.
The bottom line is this. We have nothing to suggest we reject the Sleppy tale and the only corroboration for it is other testimony. Yes, documents would be nice.