Although my posting had been about Philip Klass and some of his letter writing campaigns (which, of course, got nasty, his letters, not my posting), we have diverted into the Socorro UFO landing case and Klass’ investigation of it. We have gotten into arguments over semantics and site locations and just who owned what and when.
|Philip Klass centered|
First, the semantics. Some of us have suggested that Klass claimed the landing was a hoax created by the mayor of Socorro at the time, Holm Bursum and perpetrated by police officer Lonnie Zamora. Others suggested that Klass never said it, at least not in so many words.
Klass wrote, in his 1974 book, UFOs Explained (and I have a personalized, autographed copy), “The property where the UFO reportedly landed had, prior to the incident, been worthless ‘scrub land.’ But now, if the site became a long-lived tourist attraction, there could be need for refreshment stands, perhaps even a motel for those who might like to spend the night near the spot where an extraterrestrial spaceship had seemingly landed. By a curious coincidence, the property where the UFO reportedly landed was owned by Mayor Bursum, officer Zamora’s boss! The mayor’s principal business? He was the town banker and as such would not be unhappy to see an influx of tourist dollars.”
In his interview with Gary Posner published on the web at:
Klass makes this claim again. He said, “And I found out that Socorro's mayor owned the ‘landing site’ property and the town's only bank, and earlier had sought approval to build a new road to the UFO site for the benefit of tourists. So, when I wrote UFOs: Identified, I was confident enough to suggest that this case might be a hoax. And by the time my second UFO book, UFOs Explained, was published, I did unequivocally characterize the case as a hoax, as I've done subsequently regarding a number of other highly suspicious cases.”
For those of us who can understand this, Klass is saying that there was some kind of plot to develop a tourist attraction and the mayor was behind it. His subordinate was Lonnie Zamora. No, Klass doesn’t say they were working together on this, he just hints at it, knowing that we all can put it together. Since he is not actually making the allegation, he is safe from legal entanglements.
Posner (who is shown as “Skeptic,” in the online interview) said that the tourist attraction was never built. Klass has an answer for that, as well. He said, “Yes, but the plan had been initiated. On the first anniversary of the ‘landing,’ a newspaper article quoted a city official as saying outright that they intended to use it as a tourist attraction, and it reported that the road to the site had recently been upgraded. It also mentioned that a movie about UFOs had recently shot some scenes in Socorro. Perhaps when members of the City Council learned the truth, they opted not to proceed any further with the plans.”
But what is not said is that there is no evidence of this plan prior to the landing. They would have had no way of knowing that the landing report would get any sort of national publicity because most UFO sightings go unreported by the national media. They would have had to count on the Air Force investigation getting attention and that the attention would be from the media. If they were planning this all out, it was a very clever plan that worked... at least the part where they drew the national media attention.
The real flaw in Klass’ logic, however, is that the plan seemed to have been created after the media attention and someone thought there was a potential there. The real point is that even after they thought about it, the tourist attraction was never built.
Or maybe that’s not the real flaw... it seems that the mayor didn’t own the land in 1964. According to the Socorro newspaper, El Defensor Chieftain, which did a long story about the Socorro landing after it was suggested in 2008 that a historical marker be erected at the site, noted that the land in question had been part of the estate of Delia Harris in 1964. In 1968, the land was bought by the Richardson family and they apparently still own it. Mayor Bursum had never owned it. I don’t know where Klass got that idea. Maybe someone mentioned it to him and he believed it, figuring they should know.
Or maybe it was because in 1966 the Chamber of Commerce president, Paul Ridings, suggested they do something to promote tourism and thought the landing site would be a good place to start. They created a path lined with stones around a landing site, but it was in the wrong place. Apparently there was a lack of vegetation at the real site that frightened people. Some believed there was residual radiation, so they just moved the site over an arroyo or two. The mayor didn’t seem to have a hand in this aspect of it either.
But this leads to a second question. Which site did Phil Klass visit? If he was unaware that the Chamber of Commerce had moved the site, then his investigation would be flawed. His observations about the location and who could see what would be in error. Can we, at this late date, determine which site Klass “toured?”
Klass mentioned, in his book, “Although the policeman [Zamora] said the UFO’s [sic] roar could be heard over the noise of his speeding patrol car, from a distance of 4,000 feet, Mr. and Mrs. Felix Phillips, who lived only 1,000 feet from the UFO site reported they heard no such noise though they were home at the time.”
Klass also wrote (page 108, hardback, UFOs Explained), “During Hynek’s visit, he talked with one local resident who suggested that the case might be a hoax. The man was Mr. Felix Phillips, whose house is located only one thousand feet south of the spot where the UFO allegedly landed. Phillips said that he and his wife had been home at the time of the reported incident, and that several windows and doors had been opened – yet neither of them heard the loud roar that Zamora reported during takeoff... Hynek briefly mentioned the man’s suspicions in his second trip report to the USAF, but he strongly rejected all possibility of a hoax.”
In the online interview, Klass said, “When I interviewed a man who lived right near the landing site, and had been working in his garden when the UFO supposedly blasted off, he told me that he hadn't heard a thing, and that when he visited the site soon afterwards he saw no physical evidence to support Zamora's story and suspected that it was a hoax.”
|Dr. J. Allen Hynek|
Let’s answer the question about which site Klass visited. Based on this, I believe that Klass was on the correct site. He found the man who Hynek had interviewed. In the report that Klass cited, Hynek had written, “Although I made a distinct attempt to find a chink in [name redacted but is obviously Zamora] armor, I simply couldn’t find anyone, with the possible exception of a [name redacted, but I believe is Phillips] who has a house fairly near the site of the original landing, who did anything by completely uphold [again, the name is redacted but is Zamora] character and reliability, and I again talked with people who had known him since childhood.”
This then, suggests that Klass was on the right site. He is talking to the same man who Hynek interviewed. But then Klass slips off the rails, telling us the man was in his garden and that he saw nothing on the site.
|One of the landing pad prints.|
While I will give Klass the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he is talking from memory rather than inventing facts not in evidence, his claim that the man “visited the site soon afterwards he saw no physical evidence,” simply doesn’t make any sense. Why would he inspect the site if he heard nothing? What would be his motivation to walk over there?
More importantly, what about the claim that he saw nothing? This is in direct contradiction of the police officers, FBI agents, and Air Force officers who toured the site on the evening of the landing.
From Hynek’s first report (which I must assume that Klass saw since he was talking about the second report), “I questioned Mr Art Burns of the FBI, and several others who had been on the site within the first hours after the sighting as to the alleged freshness of the tracks. They were all of the opinion that the tracks were, indeed, fresh.”
Hynek also reported, “Although Zamora was the only witness to the actual sighting, nine people in all saw the markings.”
In Hynek’s second report, dated March 12 and 13, 1965, Hynek wrote, “All that seem definitely to agree on is that the green snakeweed and the green greasewood, which are notoriously hard materials to ignite, showed evidence of having been charred, as though they have been seared by a hot flame and not burned in an ordinary fashion.”
Regardless of the claim the Phillips saw nothing, there is good testimony that markings were there and that burning (or charring) of the bushes were there. Klass’ claims were in error, and if he had been speaking as one who thought that the UFO was extraterrestrial, these claims would have been challenged. They have not, until now.
Klass suggests that Phillips and his wife were home at the time. In his book, he wrote, “Phillips said that he and his wife had been home at the time of the reported incident, and that several windows and doors had been opened – yet neither of them heard the loud roar that Zamora reported during takeoff.”
In the Posner interview, he took it further, saying, “When I interviewed a man who lived right near the landing site, and had been working in his garden when the UFO supposedly blasted off, he told me that he hadn't heard a thing...”
This is a much more damaging statement. Rather than being inside with their doors and windows open, now Phillips is outside, where he should have been able to hear the UFO.
The maps that I have, crude though they all are, show that Phillips lived to the southeast of the landing site. This is important because, according to Hynek’s report, “The wind at that time was blowing very strongly from the south...”
Which means, of course, that the sound was blown away from Phillips. If he was inside, as had been suggested in the earlier accounts, including that by Klass, then there is a real possibility that he would have heard nothing. And, importantly, if he was inside, it would explain why he and his wife saw nothing. With no sound, they wouldn’t have gone to the windows so see what was making all the noise.
What we learn in this brief little study is that, semantics aside, Klass did hint that the mayor and Zamora were involved in a hoax to create a tourist attraction. It might be suggested that Zamora had been fooled, but the implication is clear. The fact is that no evidence has ever surfaced that anyone talked about a tourist attraction prior to the landing.
Klass was wrong about the ownership of the land and never presented any evidence that he knew who the owner was. He merely slung his allegation as evidence that the mayor wanted to create a tourist industry in Socorro, and by implication, make some money.
Klass has claimed the case was a hoax because Felix Phillips, who lived close to the site heard nothing. But Klass moves him from inside his house to the outside, working in his garden. He also claimed that Phillips walked the area of the landing but saw nothing.
But that doesn’t track with the evidence. There were a number of people who were there, who saw the physical evidence and who photographed it. While you might claim that the mayor and Zamora were involved in a hoax, you could not make a case for the FBI agent, Air Force officers and Hynek who did see the physical evidence.
Hynek, in his investigation made one observation that is important to us. He said the wind was blowing strongly from the south, and the map in Klass’ book puts the Phillips house to the southeast, meaning that the wind is blowing away from the witness. It is possible he heard nothing because of the wind.
For these reasons, we can reject the Klass conclusion of hoax because his evidence is, to put it kindly, quite thin. Does this mean that an alien craft landed in Socorro? No. It means that the case for a hoax, as identified by Klass, does not exist.
And, we’ve caught Klass in a couple of mistakes in his reporting of the case. I believe that there was nothing nefarious in his embellishments. It was, as the skeptical community is quite happy to point out, probably a problem with memory. Klass might truly have believed what he said in the online interview, but he was just as clearly in error.
But, I could say that Klass had accomplished his mission, which was to explain the Socorro landing. He said it was a hoax, and continued to say that far and wide. He said it enough that some people believe that it was a hoax. The problem is that Klass never proved it to be a hoax and he offered no evidence that it was.