Not all that long ago, I found a report on the MUFON Symposium held in Denver, Colorado in 2010. The author reported on my presentation which was a tribute to Len Stringfield (seen here) and the pioneering work he had done on UFO crash/retrieval cases.
I pointed out that Len had opened the door for the rest of us, and a subset of the UFO field, that is crash/retrievals, was now something that was viewed with new interest and new respect. If not for Len’s work, we wouldn’t be looking at these cases simply because we had been "educated" by the destruction of the Aztec UFO Crash case and the information about the reliability of the two men who were at the heart of it.
In his landmark paper, Len began with what seemed, in 1978, to be a strong report given the source of the information. I confess that the fact the witness claimed to be a retired Air Force colonel colored my thinking about it. In fact, in A History of UFO Crashes, I gave the case high marks. Later, in Crash - When UFOs Fall from the Sky, I would reevaluate the case. I thought of it as taking it to the end, which, I believe Len would have wanted.
In his 1978 presentation in Ohio at the MUFON Symposium, Len reported:
Those are the basics of the case, and I selected this one, I say, not only because it was the first in his original paper, but because he had more to say about it later. And, I have found a great deal of information about the case in the last year or so. Some of you might have recognized the details as presented here, but are puzzled by the date.In 1948, according to reports from hazy sources, a UFO with occupants numbering anywhere from one to sixteen, had crashed in a desert region of the southwest United States or Mexico and was retrieved by U.S. military authorities. But the reports never got beyond rumor because 1948 was the year when Frank Scully’s book unloaded an alleged hoax on the public about a crashed UFO in Aztec, New Mexico.
In the Fall of 1977 new word of a 1948 crash came to me from a well-informed military source. His information, however, was scanty. He had heard from other "inside" military sources that a metallic disc had crashed somewhere in a desert region. His only details indicated that the craft had suffered severe damage on impact and was retrieved by military units.
By coincidence, months later in 1977, I was to learn more about a crashed disc occurring in 1948. This came from researcher Todd Zechel, whom I had known since 1975 when he became Research Director of Ground Saucer Watch. Formerly with the National Security Agency, Zechel stated that an Air Force technician told him that his uncle, then a Provost Marshal at Carswell Air Force Base near Ft. Worth, Texas, had taken part in the recovery of the crashed UFO which was described as a metallic disc, 90 feet in diameter.
The crash occurred about 30 miles inside the Mexican border across from Laredo, Texas, and was recovered by U.S. troops after it was tracked on radar screens. The job assigned the Provost Marshal, now a retired colonel, was to cordon off the crash site.
The retired colonel [Provost Marshal], now living in Florida, was tracked down by Zechel. Among other facts revealed by the colonel was that one dead alien was found aboard the craft which was described as about 4 feet, 6 inches tall, completely hairless with hands that had no thumbs.
Zechel learned from his source that the troops involved in the retrieval were warned that if they said a word about the incident they would be the "sorriest people around".
Continuing his investigation, Zechel pieced together other eyewitnesses to the 1948 event. In his statement, Zechel relates the following: "I traced another Air Force colonel, now retired in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He had seen the UFO in flight. He was flying an F-94 fighter out of Dias [in reality Dyess] Air Force Base in Texas and was over Albuquerque, New Mexico, when reports came of a UFO on the West Coast, flying over Washington State. Radars clocked its speed at 2,000 miles per hour.
It made a 90 – degree turn and flew east, over Texas. The colonel, then a captain pilot, actually saw it as it passed. Then suddenly it disappeared from radar screens. At Dias base, the radar operators plotted its course, and decided it had crashed some 30 miles across the Mexican border from Laredo. When the captain got back to base, he and a fellow pilot got into a small plane and took off over the border after the UFO. When they landed in the desert at the crash site, U.S. troops were there before them.
The craft was covered with a canopy, and the two pilots were not allowed to see it. They were then called to Washington, D.C. for debriefing and sworn to secrecy about the whole event.
In his The UFO Crash/Retrieval Syndrome published in January 1980, Len reported that a fellow named James Minton had told him about another fellow, named William Draeger who talked about a UFO crash in 1950.
Len wrote, "I knew the incident well, and that it had been disputed by some researchers, however, I had not pursued the case beyond having referred to the alleged crash in my pervious paper. At that time, I had used information related by Todd Zechel to the Midnight Globe (not exactly the most reliable of sources). Since, further research into the case by Zechel and others has revealed that not only the year of the incident was wrong, having changed from 1948 to 1950, but also the crash site was changed."
He printed a letter from Draeger who said that he had learned more about the crash, including information from an unnamed high-ranking Mexican Army officer. Draeger said he talked to the general on the telephone who told him that he knew about the crash but he had no papers or documents to prove it. Draeger asked if the general would go on camera for an interview and the officer agreed. When they arrived at his home, however, the general denied any knowledge of the incident. On camera, the general said he knew nothing about the crash.
Since that time, I have learned that Zechel never bothered to "vet" the retired colonel he had found in Pennsylvania. Everyone, including Len, believed that Zechel had done that. When I attempted to verify the "colonel’s" credentials, all I could learn was that he had been a low ranking enlisted soldier who entered the service in December 1945 and was released from active duty in January 1947.
I have learned that the this colonel, the Pennsylvania man, was an officer in the Civil Air Patrol who has now changed the date of the crash to 1954, or 1955, or maybe 1957. He wasn’t flying F-94s out of Dyess because the F-94 didn’t exist as an operational fighter in 1948 and Dyess didn’t exist in 1948. He has made many changes to the original story as some of his "facts" were found to be inaccurate.
And, I found, in the forerunner to the MUFON UFO Journal, Skylook, an article from 1968 that gives us the original information that set Zechel on his quest, and which, I believe, would have tipped off Len to the believability of the sighting if he had known about it. According to that article:
Col. R. B. Willingham, CAP squadron commander, has had an avid interest in UFO’s for years, dating back to 1948 when he was leading a squadron of F-94 jets near the Mexican border in Texas and was advised by radio that three UFO’s "flying formation" were near. He picked them up on his plane radar and was informed one of the UFO’s had crashed a few miles away from him in Mexico. He went to the scene of the crash but was prevented by the Mexican authorities from making an investigation or coming any closer than 60 feet. From that vantage point the wreckage seemed to consist of "numerous pieces of metal polished on the outside, very rough on the inner sides."Len’s research here, then, provided some of the basics of the case and opened it up to the research of many others. When Len first reported the case in 1978, it seemed to be a very good one, especially because of the high rank claimed by the witness. Later, as I became interested in UFO crash/retrieval stories, I accepted it as well because an Air Force colonel had signed an affidavit about it. High-ranking military officers simply wouldn’t jeopardize their reputations by telling a story that was so incredible unless it was true. I knew of many witnesses who claimed high military rank who had not attained it but just claimed it, but I was also convinced that a real officer who had worked all his career to get to this high rank would not make up such a story. I believed then, as Len did, there was some truth to this. But it all hinged on that Air Force colonel. Without him, the tale took a nose dive.
As I have reported in the past, the man was not an Air Force officer, but a CAP officer. The difference is that CAP officers are volunteers in a civilian auxiliary of Air Force, but they are not Air Force officers. Those who have served in the Air Force or the CAP know the difference. This guy, Robert Willingham tried to blur the difference to make him into something that he wasn’t.
So now I have taken one of Len’s first reports, actually Abstract I from his 1978 MUFON presentation and followed the investigation to the end. We now have what I believe to be a solid answer for this case which is, simply, it didn’t happen. Len started this process by publishing his information about it and I ended it for him. I believe Len would appreciate what we all have learned about this case. He would appreciate that we could now close it.
But this was not a criticism of Len or his work. He used, in 1978, the best information available to him. In 1980, he added to our knowledge by reporting on the changes to the case which made him suspicious. It wasn’t until 2008, as I was preparing my book on UFO crashes, that I found, originally through the Internet, more data, and that I discovered no one had bothered to learn if Willingham was telling the truth about his military career. Len thought others had done it and I thought others had done it. It wasn’t until I asked those others what they knew that I learned that truth.
This case unraveled because of Len’s work. He raised the original suspicions about it. He was the one who supplied the information about the shifting date, and without Len, we would never have learned what we did.
In that article I saw, it seemed to suggest that I was criticizing Len, but such was not the case. He was a valuable member of the UFO research community, and would have published the latest and best information the moment he had it. Len’s work and legacy can’t be ignored. He was a true pioneer, a true researcher, and the UFO community is much poorer with him gone.