Saturday, February 26, 2011

Budd Hopkins, Walter Webb and the Santa Rosa UFO Crash

It seems that I am unable to get away from the alleged Santa Rose UFO crash of 1963. I have additional information about the episode that Budd Hopkins reported in his "Deconstructing the Debunkers: A Response." Since this has become something of an important case, not for the information contained in it but because of the conflicting views about, I thought we’d take a last, final run at it. (For those who wish to begin at the beginning, please see my posting about Santa Rosa on February 7 of this year).

I want to make one quick point that seems to have been lost, at least in my recital of the case. The Santa Rosa crash was originally discovered by two MUFON members identified by Hopkins as Brenda and Tom. They passed the case along, or rather, helped arrange for Hopkins to meet Beanie, currently the only known witness to the craft and bodies.

We pick up the narrative at the point that Hopkins wrote, "Meanwhile my friend Robert Bigelow agreed to pay my way to Santa Rosa, and that of astronomer Walter Webb, to look further into the case, and I immediately took him up on the offer... She [Beanie, the woman who witnessed the UFO crash/retrieval] was a short, plump, feisty woman who, like me, had suffered from both polio and cancer, but she seemed to be truthful and quite intelligent, speaking in a charming, homespun, country argot. Later, when Webb arrived, we chatted about the case which seemed to him rather dubious; for many researchers, UFO crash-retrievals were - and still are - a hard sell. I was also aware that he was not informed about many aspects of the Beanie case of which I had become aware. Essentially Walt was an astronomer, not someone with extensive experience in working face to face with people like Beanie and I was right to be concerned."

I had suggested, early on that Webb thought, that the Beanie case wasn’t worth further research when he learned the preliminary details. I was, of course, looking at this with hindsight and knew that Webb eventually came to believe that the case wasn’t an important one. He told me, however, "In the beginning we both [Hopkins and Webb] were impressed with what seemed like a consistent and somewhat logical story." This is, of course, in conflict with what Hopkins wrote.

And I think today, and even a decade ago, the idea of UFO crashes was not a hard sell for many researchers. The Roswell case had changed attitudes and almost everyone was now open to the theory that something might have crashed somewhere at some point. The idea had, in the 1970s and the 1980s, been a hard sell, but by the mid-1990s, many of us were looking at these stories carefully thanks to the work of Len Stringfield and his 1978 MUFON Symposium paper outlining many crash cases that he thought deserved another look. But this is a matter of perception and who is to say that my perception is correct and that of Hopkins is wrong?

Hopkins wrote, "In a rented car Walt, Beanie and I drove out to Santa Rosa and when we arrived at the house of the widow of the ambulance driver, I asked Walt to wait in the car for a few minutes until I came out and invited him in. I was afraid that two strangers 'from the East,' charging in together at an elderly woman's house, bearing a tape recorder and microphone, might seem a bit off-putting."

I certainly understand this, especially if the way hasn’t been cleared. But then, the people must have expected something about why they were gathered there. The situation as described by Hopkins might be somewhat different. Rather than Hopkins and Beanie entering the house when they arrived, Beanie went in first, to get acquainted with her old friends while Hopkins and Webb left to eat supper at a local restaurant. This provided Beanie with the opportunity, and I stress this, opportunity to "coach" the witness. I’m not saying it happened, just that there was the opportunity.

As they returned from their meal and pulled up to the house, the widow’s son, wife and children "trooped in from across the street and stood in the crowded room," according to what Webb told me. Webb speculated that there might have been some kind of signal to alert them or maybe they were just watching for the car to return. We now see that the situation, as described by Webb, suggests there had been some communication between Beanie and the widow and we weren’t going to see her facing the strangers from the east alone.

Hopkins then, according to his own report said that he entered the house and was "... received politely by our hostess..." He talked with them for a while and then mentioned he had a colleague out in the car. He said that he made up some excuse for leaving Webb in the car and went out to get him. Webb then entered the house and set up his equipment. 

About Webb’s entrance, Hopkins wrote, "If Walter Webb had set off a small cherry bomb in the room he couldn't have caused more of a disruption."

Webb told me that he brought in his tape recorder and that "Hopkins was aware that I had the device." It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for Hopkins not to know that Webb had planned to record the witness. The best way to take notes is with a recorder because you have the witnesses words right there. I don’t know how many times I have been accused to having misquoted a witness only to be able to prove, with the tape, that the witness said exactly what I reported he or she said. According to Webb, and his notes of the session, "It was only afterward that the informant [Beanie] said the recorder might have been a distraction."

Webb said later that they had agreed from then on not to pull out recorders or cameras until everyone was comfortable with the situation. Here, however, there seemed to be a sense of urgency to document the widow’s tale as it would support Beanie’s story.

Apparently both Hopkins and Beanie complained to Bigelow about this horrendous situation (yes, that is a little bit of hyperbole on my part). But what came from that was about twenty minutes of recorded interview with the various "participants." (And again, the quotes are mine, suggesting that these people, other than Beanie, participated only in the interview, but had not been at the scene of the alleged crash.)

Hopkins, as I noted in an earlier post, said that he returned later, in 1997, to conduct additional interviews and believed he was no longer a stranger to the family and developed a warm friendship with the witness. I have no doubt that this is true. Hopkins seems to be a very nice man, able to relate well to a variety of people, except, in my experience, those who might disagree with him. I found myself on the enemies list after the publication of The Abduction Enigma.

No, I’m not surprised about that. I knew that the message of that book would not be one that those who embraced all of the alien abduction field would want to read. We, meaning Russ Estes, Bill Cone and I were suggesting that alien abduction was less about aliens than it was about researcher manipulation of the situation. We drew the parallels among alien abduction, Satan Ritual Abuse (SRA) and past life regression.

But at the far end of the spectrum, I have had some very cordial email conversations with Hopkins... of course I was reviewing his book, Art, Life and UFOs. Draw your own conclusions.

The point is, however, that Hopkins continued his investigation of the Santa Rosa crash/retrieval without the help of Walter Webb. As I explained in the earlier post, he gathered more information from Beanie but was unable to find any substantial corroboration for her tale. Hopkins suggests there would be no reason for the government, or in this case "the Air Force to have gone to the ambulance and removed everything from the rear area – the sheets, various pieces of portable equipment and so on."

And there is no proof that this ever happened. All we know is that the widow seemed to corroborate that and the operative word here is "seemed."

Carol Rainey, in her article about Hopkins had reported that there had been a long list of possible witnesses to the case. In rebuttal, Hopkins wrote, "The first time I visited Santa Rosa, Beanie and I made a long drive to another town some distance away. She thought that a certain young trooper just may have been the officer in the second car that day, and through Tom [another trooper] we learned his address. I suggested that we not call the man in advance, that we just show up to take anyone there by surprise and thereby get a thoroughly unrehearsed account. [An ambush with recorders and cameras?] So we drove and drove, endlessly it seemed [which, given this is New Mexico, isn’t all that much of a surprise], and when we arrived, the ex-trooper's divorced wife was home and told us that her husband had moved out years ago and she had lost contact with him, though she recalled that he was possibly working for a security company in the far east somewhere. That was that, and I only mention this abortive trip because my ex put it this way: "Neither she [Beanie] or Budd had tracked down or spoken to any of the long list of witnesses." [Emphasis is Hopkins’] I wish we had had even a short list of witnesses from this thirty-year-old incident, but we didn't, so apparently the helpful Ms. Rainey invented such a list for us, but then scorns us for not trying to find them."

But Webb suggests that there had been a long list of possible witnesses and other informants that he had supplied to both Hopkins and Beanie. According to him, neither acted on the list, meaning that no one attempted to find any of those people. And yes, I have seen the list. These included some relatives of Beanie who might have heard her talk about the crash in earlier years, people at the hospital who might have been involved in some fashion, and others who could have had some knowledge... not that they necessarily did, but the questions that should have been asked never were. There were names connected with each of Webb’s suggestions.

Yes, I know from my own experience that sometimes the importance of a witness gets jumbled in the telling. I had once been told of an Air Force officer who had flown President Kennedy in Air Force One to see the Roswell alien bodies. When I finally located the officer I learned that he had been an alternate pilot on Air Force One, had flown with President Kennedy on board and that he, the pilot, had seen a UFO with an alien pilot visible. So the lead, which was supposed to confirm the alien bodies in storage story turned into something else. But it was a lead that had to be followed.

Hopkins wrote, "She [Rainey] quotes from an early letter from Walt Webb in which he berates Beanie for reporting some details about her initial experience which vary, one from one another."

But that’s not quite accurate. Webb said that he berated no one but had questioned Hopkins about some of the conflicting details that had emerged as he learned more about the case. Not embellishments, or additions to the story that could be memories that she had just accessed. Webb also pointed out that he was unaware of the changes when he traveled to New Mexico with Hopkins, and that when he wrote to Beanie, he hadn’t yet seen the transcript of the first interview. Webb’s letter to Hopkins was talking about changes in the story from the time that the MUFON representatives questioned Beanie and when Hopkins and Webb arrived on the scene. It wasn’t about embellishment. It was about contradictory information.

In fact, the one that caught my eye was that in the first interview, conducted by MUFON members in Albuquerque, Beanie said there were two bodies, one outside the craft and one partially out. She told Hopkins and Webb that there had been three bodies, all outside. Not the sort of detail that you would expect to change so significantly.

Here is something else to ponder. We now have information about the Santa Rosa UFO crash from three sources. You might say that two of those sources, Rainey and Hopkins have an interest in the way the story is perceived. I would say that Webb is a disinterested third party except that Hopkins called Webb’s investigatory skills, his experience working with potential abductees, and his motives in the case into question as a way to distract attention from the real weaknesses of the case.

The only person we haven’t heard from at this point is Beanie. I know what the various researchers will say. I know what the details are and have heard those details from three separate directions.

But I also know that there is simply nothing to support this tale. It is, in the end, single witness, and it doesn’t matter if you believe Rainey’s, Hopkins’ or Webb’s version. They all agree that it is single witness... No, the widow and her son didn’t see anything themselves. At best they heard about something strange and the son does seem to mention "alien bodies," but he didn’t see them. Worse still, the son’s memory might have nothing to do with the Santa Rosa crash.

Now I believe we all have enough information to make an intelligent determination about the case and the controversy that has erupted around it. Is this a good sighting, based on the story of an admittedly likeable woman? Does the lack of corroborative detail, other than some vaguely remembered events that might or might not be relevant suggest there is something of value here? Or have we found ourselves in another of Ufology’s turf wars where the cult of personality is more important than finding our way to the truth?

The answers to those questions are, at least to me, obvious. There was no Santa Rosa UFO crash and unless, or until, some kind of corroborative detail is found, this is just another footnote to what is becoming a long and overblown list of UFO crashes. And that is all is should be. 


tinyjunco said...

Hello Mr. Randle!

thank you for this informative article - it helps me to understand the investigation of this case. i appreciate that you quote Walter Webb extensively, and i think it would be helpful if you could indicate the time/manner/date/context of your conversations with him.

thank you again for your time and effort! steph

KRandle said...

The communications with Walter Webb took place after the first article posted by Carol Rainey about this. I wanted to get Walt's take on how she presented the information and if her reporting was accurate before I posted anything. He told me that it was essentially correct.

After the Budd Hopkins response, I emailed Walt with additional questions and for additional information. Walt provided some very detailed information for me. I then sent him the article before I posted it be make sure that I had reported accurately his take on Santa Rosa. He responded with a couple of minor corrections, mostly to do with timing of events.

I drew on what Rainey had said, what Hopkins had said with questions to Rainey, and then with Walter Webb's take on the whole thing.

tinyjunco said...

Thank you Mr. Randle - this is a great addendum to this very helpful article.

"I wanted to get Walt's take on how she presented the information and if her reporting was accurate before I posted anything. He told me that it was essentially correct."

This is an important piece of information for understanding Ms. Rainey's article. Please give Mr. Webb our thanks for his participation! steph