Trying to get to the truth in an event that happened over sixty years ago is difficult at best. While I knew about the photographs taken by William A. Rhodes, had read the newspaper articles about them, and had read the Project Blue Book file about them, I had never delved too deeply into them. I just knew that the Air Force explanation of hoax was not based on any evidence that I had seen.
Rhodes, based on all this, seemed to be an eccentric guy who had a backyard workshop that he thought of as the Panorama Research Laboratory. He had letterhead paper and thought of himself as the Chief of Staff at the lab. He was not the first person to open a small enterprise and give it all a grandiose name. He certainly wouldn’t be the last.
The Air Force dismissed him as a fellow who lived off his wife’s income as a teacher and whatever he could make as a musician. They challenged his claim of a Ph.D. in a not very clever way, and suggested he was a crackpot not worthy of further discussion. His pictures were faked.
I regret that I never tried to find Rhodes and talk to him about his pictures. It wouldn’t have been all that difficult in the pre-Internet days. I mean, I found Delbert C. Newhouse who took movie footage of UFOs over Trementon, Utah. I intereviewd Carl Hart, Jr., in the mid-1990s about the pictures he took of the Lubbock Lights. I found Dewey Fournet and Al Chop who were involved with the official UFO investigations, the Washington National UFO sightings, and even sent Chop a copy of UFO, the movie about his experiences. But I never thought to find Rhodes. So now I have to do everything with Rhodes gone.
Rhodes is considered to be a genius by many who knew him. James McDonald, who investigated Rhodes in the 1960s made it clear that Rhodes was an inventor who held a number of patents, some of which provided a "modest" income. I don’t know how much money that might have been. Surely not more than a couple of hundred dollars a month, but enough to have helped.
His claim of a Ph.D., issued by the government is a little more difficult to prove. I have no doubt that during World War Two he was given some sort of test and scored high enough to be assigned work at a doctorate level. We still have that sort of thing in the world of the UFO. People who have not had the schooling, but who had worked at these high levels. Sort of a "bevet" degree, if you will.
Clearly Rhodes did not have a recognized advanced degree, and if this is enough of an embellishment for anyone to reject his photographs as faked, so be it. I think that Rhodes was honestly reporting what he had been told by a government official during his work for the Navy. He embraced it with an enthusiasm that is similar to that of others in similar circumstances. It’s not as if he invented the degree himself. But it’s not as if what he was told had any real merit in the world beyond that Navy job he held during the war.
Those who knew him tell me that he was very smart. One of those I contacted told me, "I remember Bill as a self-made genius. He even made the first image tubes that were sensitive enough to use at a telescope. But he seemed to lose interest in any of his detector advances as soon as he was satisfied that they would work. Unfortunately he had a knack of offending key persons at ASU [Arizona State University] and no doors opened for him. His portable 16-inch telescope was useful to me years later when I needed a network of independent amateur telescopes to monitor stellar "twinkling" as an indicator of the blurring ground objects as would be seen from a space optical system."
This seems to suggest he might have had an "abasive" personality. Note that it says here that he "had a knack of offending key persons at ASU and no doors opened for him." Doesn’t mean he wasn’t smart, just that he had no "people skills."
In my email to one of these supporters, he mentioned the "Phoenix Photographs" and offered an explanation for them. The object was some kind of classified balloon-borne camera that was being used to determine how crisp and clear pictures taken from high in the atmosphere could be. It seemed like a reasonable explanation and I asked for some additional details.
But, before I got those, I had some time to think and realized that the explanation made no sense because it had not been offered in the more than sixty years since the pictures were taken. To make it worse, the response suggested the object had been over the city for two days.
Not to mention that even if this was a classified project, as alleged, the answer would have been available to both the Air Force and the FBI and there is no indication in the files of this ever having been suggested. Remember, the Blue Book files (or in this case the Sign and Grudge files) were originally classified as "secret" so there would have been no trouble learning of the explanation, if such was the case.
Yes, you’re thinking "Need to Know." But in this case, they had a need to know. Even if the explanation was only offered quietly, those conducting the investigations had a need to know, and such an explanation would have been obvious in the files. Oh, they might not have mentioned the name of the project, but they certainly could have suggested the explanation was a classified project.
I was given the acronym of the organization that would have been in charge of this research, but according to everything I could find, it wasn’t created until the Eisenhower Administration. That would have made it six years too late, at best but this avenue deserves further investigation.
And there was even more trouble. According to a letter written by Rhodes and addressed to Colonel Howard McCoy, Chief of Intelligence (at ATIC at Wright-Patterson AFB), he said that he had been "trying to run down additional photographs of the unidentified object."
Rhodes added, "Mr. Lewis Larmore of this city has some [photographs] in his possession and I believe you can obtain copies of them by writing him. Whether or not they are real I do not know. Some of them look faked while others do not. The general shape of the ship as it was going away from me looked like this: there seemed to be a bubble on top and on bottom." (Rhodes illustration seen here.)
There is no evidence in the files, or anywhere else that I can find of a follow up to this rather startling information. Rhodes was invited to Wright-Patterson a year or so after he took the pictures. This was for another interview, but the government, or more specifically, Howard McCoy, wrote they could provide transportation but could cover no other costs. Rhodes declined.
So, now, though I had thought this would end quickly, there are more avenues to explore. I have found two documents, one running to over 350 pages, that deal with part of this story. No, not about the UFO sighting or photographs, but to the classified experiments that were being conducting and which might, and I stress the might, explain the pictures.
As far as I know, no one has ever found the alleged Larmore pictures, the Air Force did not follow up on Rhodes’ letter telling them about the pictures, they did not attempt to find and interview Larmore, and the pictures did not surface in any magazine or newspaper.
It seems to me that had an explanation been available, even if classified in 1947, it would have been noted in the file somewhere. Many of the documents in the file were originally classified so the mention of a classified project as a solution wouldn’t have been in violation of the regulations.
The Rhodes photographs, it seems, were ignored by the Air Force, the Air Force explanations don’t work, and it is clear they engaged in subtle character assassination of Rhodes. I believe, at the moment, that the follow up investigations were made, but not by the people at Project Sign (meaning Project Blue Book). Somewhere there is a file on this. The trick for me is to figure out where to send the FOIA request and what to ask for when I sent it.