Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Project Blue Book Episode Seven - Sonny Desvergers, The Florida Scoutmaster

Last night we were treated to the Florida Scoutmaster case which was moved to Ohio for some unknown reason. The drama, as it played out did follow, to some extent, the true events on which the episode was based. We did have scouts and a scoutmaster except in this case he was armed because he liked to hunt. When they saw lights out among the trees, the scoutmaster advanced, fired a shot or two, and disappeared. The implication was that the scoutmaster had engaged in some sort of fight with the alien creatures, and he had disappeared because of it.
In a side issue, we had Captain Quinn attacking a man who might have been a Russian agent, well Soviet, and that he had been turned, meaning into a double
Captain Quinn talking with Allen Hynek in Project Blue Book.
agent. The powers to be were using him as bait to see if Quinn had stolen a bit of metallic debris, or some sort of unidentified object from an Air Force base that, apparently had some kind of connection to flying saucers.
What disturbed me here was that Quinn resorted to various forms of torture in his attempt to determine what had happened. I find it interesting that Hollywood seems to endorse the use of torture to recover information in their dramas but then, in reality, condemn its use. In the fictional world, they are telling us that torture is an effective investigative tool and in the real world it is a horrible breach of human dignity.
Yes, I can cite examples from other shows. In Law & Order SVU, Detective Stabler has been seen, more than once, using an enhanced interrogation method to extract information from a suspect. Oh, it’s always for a good cause, lives are at stake, but he is torturing the suspect. There is no other way to look at it. I have to wonder what message that sends to the audience. Are we teaching the viewers that torture, in some cases is acceptable?
But I digress…
And I point out that Quinn, as a military pilot with substantial aviation experience as shown by the wings he is wearing, is not the proper man to be conducting this interrogation. In fact, I resent the implication that military officers universally endorse the use of torture.
Back to the real story, however, with spoilers
The scoutmaster reappears, and while in his hospital bed, tells of shooting an alien creature. Its body dropped at his feet. He can’t believe that those who had been searching for him had been unable to find it. He leaps from his hospital bed (yeah, I exaggerate) to lead Dr. Hynek, a boy scout and the sheriff to the scene of the aliencide (yes, I just made up that word).
The man finds a skull with an elongated cranium that certainly looks alien, though I thought immediately of something that the Inca and Maya did. They wrapped their children’s heads to create that sort of thing. Hynek thinks that this is actual proof of alien visitation but does visit with a local anthropologist who sends him to a local Native America. This guy tells Hynek that the Choctaw sometimes did the same thing. I hadn’t heard that and thought it might be an error but thanks to the Internet, learned that the practice did extend into North America and one of the tribes mentioned was the Choctaw. I figured the show runners must have done the same thing, meaning ensured that the Choctaw did this form of child mutilation.
We learn that the whole thing is a hoax with the scoutmaster at the center of the tale (and I think of some of the news in the real world where an actor claimed to have been attacked, but the investigation on that seems to have headed south in a similar way… but I digress again).
At the end of the show, we are treated, again, to the quick notes on the real case. At the end of that explanation, which they note that Ed Ruppelt had labeled a hoax, they suggest the soil and grass samples taken at the time were unexplained. That was confusing… if you weren’t familiar with the case. For those interested in more information about it and a little more background on the real story, that follows.
Captain Edward Ruppelt wrote in his book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, about his UFO investigations into this case for the Air Force, "We wrote off the incident as a hoax. The best hoax in UFO history."
It all started about 9:30 p.m. on August 19, 1952. Scoutmaster D.S. "Sonny" Desvergers of West Palm Beach, Florida, was taking three boy scouts home after the regular meeting. They were traveling south, on Military Trail, when, according to Desvergers, he "caught a flash of light out of the corner of my eye. I looked around and saw a series of fuzzy lights like the cabin windows of an airliner."
He stopped the car momentarily, but started on again and then thought about it. If
Sonny Desvergers
it was an airliner that was crashing, or in some other kind of trouble, he wanted to help. He turned around and headed back. He stopped at the side of the road and told the boys to wait about ten minutes. If he wasn't back by the time a radio program ended, he wanted them to go for help.
Desvergers believed the lights were about two miles into the palmettos off to the side of the road. He kept his path straight by reference to the stars and was shining his light across the ground, searching for an easy path through the thicket. He glanced at his watch, found that he had been walking for only four minutes, and then noticed an open area in front of him.
He stopped, thinking he might have reached a lake or a marsh, but realized that it was just a clearing. Later, he told Air Force investigators, "I carefully stepped forward with the light pointing toward the ground. I had a second two-cell flashlight in my back pocket."
As he entered the clearing, he noticed a peculiar odor. He also had the feeling that someone or something was watching him. And, he began to feel heat, as if he was approaching a hot oven or fireplace. He glanced up but could no longer see the stars. The sky above him was black. Something was hovering just overhead, blocking a portion of the sky.
Now, according to the statement he provided to Air Force officers, "I stood frozen in my tracks. I wanted to throw something or hit it with my machete… The bottom of the object was dull black with no seams, joints or rivet lines. It was dirty streaks running straight across as if oil or dust had blown back. I tried to run but froze, I was so scared. The object was 6 inches to 8 inches above the pine trees."
Still feeling the heat, Desvergers backed out from under the edge of the ship which he could see silhouetted against the black night sky. He said that the ship was "round, with a dome shape top and with holes and fins running around the edge. The bottom edge seemed to glow with a spot of phosphorescent glow..."
Desvergers heard a metal against metal noise that reminded him of a hatch opening. He told the Air Force investigators that he said a million prayers and kept emphasizing how scared he was by the craft and his feelings of being watched by something. He finally saw "a red flare which appeared slowly to move toward me. It came out of the side, I couldn't yell I was so scared."
As the red glow came toward him, Desvergers put his hands up, over his face with his fists closed. He could see that the red glow that he now described as mist had engulfed him. That was the last thing that he remembered for a moment.
When he woke up, he was standing next to a tree. He couldn't see at first and his eyes burned. As his sight returned, he could see lights in the distance and began to run toward them. According to his statement, "I thought I might be dead. Next I met the deputies and we went back to get my light." The deputies had apparently been summoned by the boys after their scoutmaster had been engulfed by the red mist.
There were three boy scouts who had been involved in the sighting. The boys, Charles Stevens, David Rowan and the unofficial leader, Robert Ruffing were interviewed by Air Force officers including Ruppelt on September 9, 1952 at the regular meeting of the boy scout troop in West Palm Beach. I had hesitated in naming them because they were boys, but then realized, in the world today, they would be older than I am.
In the official report it said, "In general, the boy scouts were rather difficult to talk to. They were rather excited and nervous about the whole thing and in many cases their answers did not make a lot of sense. It is not believed that this was because they weren't telling the truth, but they were just youngsters and were a little bit nervous."
According to the boys, after the regular meeting, Desvergers took four boy scouts out to his car to give them a ride home. They first drove to the Wagon Wheel, a drive-in restaurant. They had a cold drink and then headed out toward a drive-in theatre, but something happened and they decided not to go. Air Force investigators noted that none of the boys would explain what had happened and that they didn't answer questions about that.
Instead, they drove toward a stock car speedway to see how much water was on the track from recent rains. Although the track was closed and dark, they stayed there for several minutes before driving down Military Trail. One of the boys was taken home so that only three remained in the car.
Now driving south on Military Trail, Desvergers saw something out of the corner of his eye, but the boys didn't see it. Desvergers told them, at that time, he thought it might be an aircraft in trouble or a flying saucer. He then got out of the car, giving the boys his instructions, and then walked into the palmettos.
Ruffing, interviewed separately for the others, told the Air Force officers that he saw Desvergers walk into the woods and that the next thing he saw was a series of red lights in the clearing. Ruffing said that as soon as he saw the red lights, he saw Desvergers stiffen and fall.
Air Force officer reenacting Desvergers' sighting.
The other two boys, Stevens and Rowan, were interviewed together. They reinforced the story about the ride out to the spot where Desvergers claimed to have seen the lights going down into the trees. They watched their scoutmaster moving through the woods, his progress obvious by motion of his flashlight. The light disappeared and a few seconds later they saw the red lights. They described it as a "lot like flares or sky rockets."
Frightened, they got out of the car and ran down the road for help. They found a lighted farm house and told the people that their scoutmaster was in trouble. The people called the sheriff's department.
The Air Force investigators noted, "All in all, the boys' stories were rather conflicting and it was very difficult to obtain the facts. The only fact that seemed to stand out in all of their minds was the fact that they did see red lights out in the palmetto grove after Desvergers had gone in."
Sheriff Deputy Mott Partin was one of those who responded to the call. As he reached the scene, Desvergers staggered from the woods. Partin told Air Force investigators and reporters who spoke to him later that he didn't believe that Desvergers was faking. He said, "In nineteen years of law enforcement, I've never seen anyone as upset as he was."
With the law enforcement officers, Desvergers returned to the palmetto to search for his dropped equipment. They found a place in the grass that looked as if someone had fallen there. They located his machete and one of his flashlights. It was still burning. They marked the spots.
One of the deputies took the boy scouts home. But the scoutmaster followed the deputies back into town. He complained about burns and when they arrived at the sheriff's office, they noticed that he had been burned on the arms and face. His cap had also been scorched. At that point one of the deputies called the Air Force.
It seemed that almost everyone was impressed with Desvergers’ story. There were corroborating witnesses, there was some physical evidence in the form of burns, and an examination of his cap revealed additional burns that had been overlooked further validating his tale.
Testing of the items carried by Desvergers revealed nothing unusual. The machete had not been magnetized, subjected to heat, or radiation. The same could be said about the flashlight. No radiation was found in the palmetto groves either. Nothing out of the ordinary.
The day after Ruppelt, along with Second Lieutenant Robert M. Olsson, a couple of Air Force pilots, the local intelligent officer and his sergeant interviewed Desvergers, his story appeared in the newspaper. Although Desvergers had asked Ruppelt if he could talk about the sighting and was told that the Air Force had no policy of restricting civilians, Desvergers told reporters he had been silenced. The newspaper reported that Desvergers had conferred with "high" brass from Washington, D.C. who had confirmed his sighting by telling him exactly what he had seen, but who didn't want him talking about it.
That irritated the Air Force officers. There had been no high brass, just several captains and a second lieutenant. They had not suggested to Desvergers that they knew what he had seen, though he had asked them repeatedly for an explanation. And they hadn't muzzled him.
Before Ruppelt left Florida, one of the deputies suggested they look into the background of Desvergers. The deputy had said that Desvergers was a former Marine, an aspect played up in the newspapers. He also told some stories of secret missions into the Pacific during the Second World War. He told of a horrible accident when a car had fallen on him and he'd spent months in the hospital recuperating from his injuries. All these were facts that could be checked and while they had nothing to do directly with the UFO story, they did speak to the character of the witness.
In his book, Ruppelt pointed out that Desvergers had a reputation for telling tall tales. In the official Project Blue Book file I read, it was noted:
Once during a birthday party, Desvergers stated that during the war he was a Marine and had been on sea duty on a battleship. He stated that one day he was contacted by an Officer of Naval Intelligence who asked him to go on a secret mission. He was taken to Washington and given a briefing by a group of Colonels then taken to California to go to school with some more Colonels from Washington. He was flown to the Pacific to map Jap held islands that were unchartered (sic). He stated that he was taken to the island under cover o darkness in a PBY aircraft along with his surveying cryptography equipment and that as they approached the island a life raft was inflated and thrown out the waist window of the PBY. The PBY landed in the dark in unchartered waters next to the raft and put Desvergers and his equipment into the raft. With the cover of darkness, he paddled up to the beach and buried all his equipment. Desvergers stated that at the beginning of the story the island was 7 x 3 mi. long and at the end, it was 25 x 50. After about two weeks of hiding from the Japs all day and digging up his equipment and surveying at night, he had mapped the island. In many cases he had brushes with Japanese Officers and once during his two weeks he was lying in some bushes hiding during the day when the Japs walked by so close to him they could touch him. When the job was finished he had set up a rendezvous with the PBY and it landed at night. However, the Japs saw the airplane land and knew that he was on the island. He inflated his rubber raft and started paddling toward the aircraft but the Japanese started to fire at him and sunk his life raft, however, in the raft he had a Gibson Girl radio with a balloon for an antenna. He quickly inflated the balloon, crawled on it and flowed out to the PBY. As he was being picked up by the aircraft, people were reaching out of the hatch helping him. During the time, the Japs were shooting at them and several of the sailors who were helping him were badly wounded."
The problems with this "war story" are many. First, it smacks of being just that, a war story. Secret missions are not developed in that fashion and they don't select the soldiers, or in this case a Marine, in such a haphazard fashion. These missions are given to highly trained personnel who have expertise that is critical to the operation.
But more importantly is the service record of Desvergers. Here is a man who was in the Marines during the Second World War. It was a time when the expansion of the various services including the Marines demanded huge numbers of recruits. The fighting in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific were grinding up men in terrible numbers. Yet, according to the record, Desvergers had been tossed out of the Marines with a less than honorable discharge in 1944. Ruppelt noted, "He had been booted out of the Marines after a few months for being AWOL and stealing an automobile." He apparently went from lone hero to disgraced Marine in a very short time.
To me, this spoke volumes about the reliability of the man. That is not to mention the other factors on his record. He had told various people at various times that he had been a PFC test pilot in the Marines and had flown every type of naval and Marine fighting aircraft. Of course, prior to the war, the Marines did have "flying sergeants," that is, enlisted men who were pilots. They had no PFC test pilots, however.
He told high school friends about his automobile accident. He said that he had finished work late, after everyone else had gone home for the day when, somehow, a car had fallen on him. For hours he was pinned under the car, screaming for help. But, when Air Force investigators checked, they learned that others had been there to help at the time of the accident. He had been taken to the hospital and released quickly. He had taken the real event and embellished the account into a truly horrifying tale.
Had a single person suggested that Desvergers spun tall tales, it might be suggested that some sort of a vendetta existed. But many people related that Desvergers had told them similar things. One man even said that if Desvergers had told him the sun was shining, he would go out to look.
Other details of his personal life were equally revealing. Many of the people who knew him had heard the stories and dismissed them as fantasy. Ruppelt, among others, "pointed out that this fact alone meant nothing..." The UFO sighting could have been the one time that Desvergers was telling the truth.
Then the Air Force investigators made another discovery. The clearing where Desvergers had been attacked by the UFO was invisible from the road. Olsson and the local intelligence officer tried to see the clearing under about the same lighting conditions as the night of the event. Only by standing on the car could they see down into the thicket where the boy scouts had thought their leader had been attacked.
Suddenly, the tale of a brave ex-Marine and boy scout leader, who had the corroboration of three boy scouts, didn't look so good. It wasn't that anyone believed the boy scouts were lying. They thought the kids had gotten caught up in the excitement and had imagined some of the things they thought they saw, especially under the careful guidance of their scout master. In the final analysis, they hadn't seen all that much anyway.
So, the tale hung on Desvergers and his reputation. His reputation had fallen apart. He wasn't the upstanding and honest ex-Marine hero of a secret Pacific campaign that he had seemed to be. His background was less than sterling and involved, among other things, petty theft. The case began to look like a hoax after all.
The day after Ruppelt and the others had interviewed Desvergers, he hired Publicity Agent Art Weil. Rather than providing his story to newspapers and magazines, Weil was going to sell the tale to the highest bidder. Desvergers had already been approached by a number of people including a couple of college professors, newspaper reporters, and at least one writer from a large circulation news magazine. Or rather that was what Desvergers had said.
Not long after that, Weil quit. He had learned about the problems with Desvergers' background and realized that no reputable magazine would pay for such a story. The only thing going for the story was the reputation of the man telling it. If his reputation wouldn't stand up to the background checks, which it wouldn't, then no one from a reputable magazine would take a chance on the tale.
It seems that this was just a hoax. Desvergers, to add weight to it, had singed the hair from his arms with his own cigarette lighter, or so the investigators believed. The slight reddening observed by some was gone within a day or two. The tale of lights, or a mystery craft, in the palmetto was not corroborated by anyone.
But Ruppelt had called this the best hoax in UFO history. There was nothing in the official Blue Book record to explain that. It seemed to be more of a routine, and not
Captain Edward Ruppelt
very clever, hoax. Except for one thing. According to Ruppelt in his book, they had forgotten about the soil and grass samples gathered in the clearing. They had taken the machete, the flashlight, and the cap for testing, but in the rush to get out of Florida, they'd left the soil samples behind. Ruppelt asked the local intelligence officer to forward them to Blue Book, which he did.
When the lab, which we now know to be the Battelle Memorial Institute, reported back to Ruppelt, they asked, "How did the roots [of the grass] get charred?"
What they had discovered is that the roots of the grass had been heated to about 300 degrees. They had no way to explain it and the only way they could duplicate it was to put the grass in a pan and heat it. Of course, that was not what had been done in the field. The samples had been taken from the undisturbed ground.
Ruppelt and the others checked the area carefully and found nothing that would account for the charring. He did learn that induction heating could duplicate the effect in the field but there was no evidence such was the case. Ruppelt quoted from an engineering text that suggested a method for induction hearing. A metal rod, when subjected to an alternating magnetic field, would create 'eddy currents' that caused a rise in temperature. Ruppelt suggested that by replacing the metal bar with the wet sand such as that in the clearing for the electrical conductor and an assumption of a strong, alternating magnetic field created by the proper equipment, the charred roots could be explained. Of course, it required heavy equipment to do it and there was no evidence of that equipment in the palmetto grove that night or at any other time.
Suddenly there was a bit of physical evidence that couldn't be explained easily. Ruppelt and the others were still convinced that the story was a hoax, even if they couldn't explain how the roots of the grass had been charred.
And Olsson, in a "memo for the record" found in the Project Blue Book files, had talked to the people at the "Flare and Signal Branch." They suggested that the burns in the hat were consistent with those from a flare, but that didn't mean the burns had occurred in that way or that Desvergers had used a flare.
But more importantly, Olsson learned that had a flare been used to hoax part of the sighting, the grass should have burned. He was told, "It seems likely that if a flare was used in the incident at West Palm, a fire would have started in the dry grass. No evidence of a fire was present down there as far as we could see."
These facts were what had made the case the best hoax in UFO history. That, and the fact that no one had proven that Desvergers was lying in this instance. As the deputy said, "It could have been the one time in his life that he told the truth."
What is interesting about the Project Blue Book file is there is nothing about these grass samples in it. There are "memos for the record" that cover the testing done on the machete, the flashlight and the cap. There are reports that suggest there was nothing unusual about the machete or the flashlight and detailing the holes burned in the cap. The scorching on the hat, along with some tiny holes burned in it were puzzling but not solid evidence that the tale told by Desvergers was the truth.
All these documents are in the file. There are even longer, detailed statements about Desvergers' background that suggest his character wasn't sterling. There are many tales that he had spun that had no basis in fact. These are particularly persuasive. It provides the profile of a man who enjoys the spotlight, who has spun more than one tale to put himself in that spotlight, and who seems to have invented the story of a flying saucer attack to grab the spotlight once again. In today's environment, he would claim to have been abducted and would appear on a dozen or so of the television talk shows to explain what had happened to him.
But there is nothing in the file about the grass and soil samples. Without Ruppelt's candid description of the case in his book, we would know nothing about this aspect of it.
To me, the evidence in the file is persuasive. I have no doubt that Desvergers invented the tale of the flying saucer attack. There are just too many instances where Desvergers made up stories to impress his friends and coworkers. With what I found by reading the file, I would be willing, in fact, I would be enthusiast, in labeling this case a hoax if not for one thing.
Where are those reports about the charred grass roots?

1 comment:

albert said...


Thanks for posting the historical background for the episodes of Project Blue Book, and also the Iterian interview.

I, for one, appreciate it a lot.

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