Friday, March 11, 2011

The Kelly-Hopkinville UFO Occupant Sighting

The Project Blue Book files contain very few cases in which alien creatures were reported. The most famous example is the Lonnie Zamora sighting from Socorro, New Mexico in 1964, which, in a twist for the Air Force was labeled as "Unidentified." For this discussion, we’ll let that go and look at another of the Blue Book cases, although, according to a letter in the files, "the incident has never been officially reported to the Air Force, [and] it has not taken official cognizance of the matter."

What that letter, dated 29 Aug 1957 referred to was a landing and an attack by aliens near the small town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky a few days earlier. A group of people there were confronted by very strange, alien creatures (Illustration based on witness statements seen here). The Air Force would create an "information" only file about the case and ask a couple of officers to "look into it." Two years later, as questions began to be asked, the Air Force would initiate a short investigation but apparently only so they would be able to answer questions about an investigation, rather than actually attempt to learn anything about the sighting.

The story officially began early on the evening of August 21, 1955, when Billy Ray Taylor, a young friend of Elmer "Lucky" Sutton, had gone to the well behind the farmhouse, and came running back telling all that he had seen a flying saucer. The object, described as bright with an exhaust that contained all the colors of the rainbow, passed above the house. It continued over of the fields, finally came to a hover, and then descended, disappearing into a gully.

No one in the Sutton house, including Glennie Lanford, Lucky Sutton, Vera Sutton, John Charley (J.C) Sutton, Alene Sutton, three Sutton children, June Taylor and O.P. Baker, believed the story of the flying saucer. None of them considered walking out to the gully to see if something might be down there. The whole idea was preposterous.

Not long after Taylor told his tale, the dog began to bark. Taylor and Lucky Sutton went to investigate that, but the dog ran under the house, not to reappear that night.

Out in the fields, away from the house, was a strange, hovering glow. As it approached, they could see a "small man" inside it. He was about three and a half feet tall, with a large head that looked to be round, and long, thin arms that extended almost to the ground (Seen here). The creature's hands were large and out of proportion with the body, and were shaped more like a bird's talons than a human hand. The two eyes were large and seemed to glow with a yellow fire.

As the creature continued to move toward the house, the two men retreated, found a rifle and a shotgun inside, and then waited. When the creature was within twenty feet of the back door, both men fired at it. The creature flipped back, regained its feet and fled into the darkness.

The two men watched for a few minutes, searching for the creature and then walked into the living room where the others waited. The creature, or one just like it, appeared in front of one of the windows and the men shot at it, hitting it. This one also did a back flip and disappeared.

Now the men decided it was time to go out to learn if they had injured or killed the creature, or animal, or whatever it was. Taylor was the first out, but stopped on the porch under a small overhang. A claw-like hand reached down and touched his hair. Alene Taylor grabbed him to pull him back into the house. Lucky, pushed past him, turned and fired up, at the creature on the roof. It was knocked from its perch.

Someone, probably Taylor, shouted, "There's one up in the tree."

Both Taylor and Lucky shot at it, knocking if from the limb. But it didn't fall to the ground. Instead, it seemed to float. They shot again, and it ran off, into the weeds.

At the same moment, another of the creatures appeared around the corner of the house. It might have been the one that had been on the roof or one of those seen in the backyard. Lucky whirled and fired. The buckshot sounded as if it hit something metallic like an empty bucket. Just as had the others, the little creature flipped over, scrambled to its feet and fled, moving rapidly into the darkness.

Having failed to stop the creatures with either the shotguns or the .22 caliber rifle, Lucky decided to leave them alone. Someone noticed that the creatures only approached from darkened areas. It seemed that they were repelled by the light.

At some point they heard noises on the roof and went out the back door to investigate. One of the creatures was back on the roof. They shot at it, knocked it off the roof, but it floated to a fence some forty feet away rather than falling to the ground. Hit by another shot, it fell from the fence and ran away, seeming to use its arms to aid its locomotion.

Some of the others in the house were still unconvinced that there were real creatures outside, believing instead, that the boys were playing some sort of a prank on them. With the lights in the house turned out, they had taken up a position close to one of the windows. Taylor told Lankford to wait and she would see for herself.

After twenty minutes or so, one of the creatures approached the front of the house. According to Lankford, it looked like a five gallon gasoline can with a head on top of two thin, spindly legs. It shimmered as if made of bright metal.

Lankford, who had been crouching quietly near the window for a long time, tried to stand, but fell with a thud. She shrieked in surprise and the creature jumped to the rear. Taylor fired at it through the screen door.

About three hours after the first creature had been seen, about 11:00 that night, they decided it was time to get out. Everybody ran to the cars. One of the kids was screaming and had to be carried. They all raced to the Hopkinsville police station for help.

At the police station, there was no doubt that the people have been frightened by something. Police officers, and the chief, interviewed after the events, made it clear they believed the people had been scared by something. That doesn't mean they were "attacked" by strange little metallic men, but does mean they were relating what they believed to be the truth to the assembled police officials.

Within minutes, the police were on their way back to the house, with some of the Sutton men in the cars. The police also called the Madisonville headquarters of the Kentucky State Police. A call was even made to the chief, Russell Greenwell at home. He was told that a spaceship had landed at Kelly. Greenwell then told the desk sergeant that it had better not be a joke.

There were now Kentucky State Police, local police, the Chief, and a sheriff's deputy either heading out to the Sutton house, or already there. One of the state troopers, who was only a few miles from Hopkinsville, on the road to Kelly, said that he saw what he called several meteors flash over his car. They moved with a sound like artillery, and he looked up in time to see two of them. They were traveling in a slightly descending arc, heading toward the Sutton house.

The yard around the Sutton house was suddenly filled with cars, and more importantly light. The men tried to point out where the various events had taken place. The chief searched for signs that anyone or everyone had been drinking but found nothing to indicate that anyone had even a beer. Glennie Lankford later said that she didn't allow alcohol in the house.

Once the police arrived, the situation changed radically. Although the atmosphere was tension charged, and some of the police were nervous, they began to search for signs of the invasion from outer space. There were apparent bullet and shotgun blast holes in the screens over the windows, and there was evidence that weapons had been fired, but there were no traces of the alien creatures. The hard packed ground did not take footprints.

The search of the yard and fields around the house revealed little, except a luminous patch where one of the creatures had fallen earlier and was only visible from one angle. The chief said that he saw it himself and there was definitely some kind of stain on the grass. There is no evidence that anyone took samples for analysis later.

But with no real evidence to be found, with no alien creatures running around, and with no spacecraft hidden in the gully, the police began to return to their regular, mundane duties. By two in the morning, only the Suttons were left at the house.

A half an hour or so after the last of the police left, and with the lights in the house down, Glennie Lankford saw one of the creatures looking in the window. She alerted her son, Lucky, who wanted to shoot at it, but she told him not to. She didn't want a repeat of the situation earlier in the night. Besides, the creatures had done nothing to harm anyone during the first episode.

But Lucky didn't listen to her. He shot at the creature but the shot was no more effective than those fired earlier in the night. Other shots were fired with no apparent affect. The little creatures bounced up each time they were hit and then ran away.

The little beings kept reappearing throughout the night, the last sighting occurring just a half an hour before sunrise. That was the last time that any of the beings were seen by any of the Suttons or their friends.

Although it seems that military personnel, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, did visit the Sutton house, and interviews with the witnesses were conducted in 1955, an investigation by the Air Force didn't take place until two years later. According to Project Blue Book files, apparently, in August, 1957, prior to the publication of a magazine article that would review the case, someone in the Air Force decided they should "investigate."

In a letter from the ATIC at Wright-Patterson, to the commander of Campbell Air Force Base, Wallace W. Elwood wrote, "1. This Center requests any factual data, together with pertinent comments regarding an unusual incident reported to have taken place six miles north of Hopkinsville, Kentucky on subject date [21 August 1955]. Briefly, the incident involved an all night attack on a family named Sutton by goblin-like creatures reported to have emerged from a so-called 'flying saucer.'"

Later in the letter, Elwood wrote, "3. Lacking factual, confirming data, no credence can be given this almost fantastic report. As the incident has never been officially reported to the Air Force, it has not taken official cognizance of the matter." Here, once again is the Air Force attitude that if the case has not been reported to them, then it simply doesn’t exist.

The matter was apparently assigned to First Lieutenant Charles N. Kirk, an Air Force officer at Campbell Air Force Base. He apparently spent about six weeks investigating the case before sending the material on to ATIC on October 1, 1957. He researched the story using the Hopkinsville newspaper from August 22, 1955 and September 11, 1955. He also had a letter from Captain Robert J. Hertell, a statement from Glennie Lankford, one of the witnesses, and a statement given to Kirk by Major John E. Albert about his involvement in the case, and a copy of an article written by Glennie Lankford.

Albert's statement provides some interesting information. Remember, the Air Force was claiming that the case had not been officially reported and therefore the Air Force had not investigated. It seems that here we get lost in the semantics of the situation and the question that begs to asked is, "What the hell does all that mean?"

It sounds like a police officer who, seeing a robbery in progress, then ignores it because it hadn't been reported to the station and he wasn't dispatched by headquarters. A police officer can't ignore the crime and it seems reasonable to assume that the Air Force shouldn't have ignored the story. The sighting was outlined in the media including the radio broadcasts, and newspapers from various locations around the country were reporting what had happened. Although the Air Force officers at Blue Book or ATIC must have known that the sighting had been made, they chose to ignore it. If the sighting wasn't reported through official channels, directly to them, then it simply didn't exist. Since no one reported this case through official channels, the sighting could be ignored.

Or was it? Lieutenant Kirk, in his report in 1957, sent a copy of the statement made by Major John E. Albert on September 26, 1957, to ATIC. The very first paragraph seems to suggest that notification was made to Campbell Air Force Base which should have, according to regulations in effect at that time (1955), reported it in official channels, to ATIC and therefore Blue Book. The regulation is quite clear on the point and it doesn't matter if everyone in the military believed the sighting to be a hoax, or if they thought the sighting too outrageous, it should have been investigated because the regulations required it.

That investigation would not have been conducted by ATIC and Project Blue Book but by the 4602d Air Intelligence Service Squadron. AFR 200-2 tells us exactly what should have happened to the report. It went on to the 4602d and apparently disappeared into some bureaucratic limbo there.

In the statement found by Kirk, Albert said, "On about August 22, 1955, about 8 A.M., I heard a news broadcast concerning an incident at Kelly Station, approximately six miles North of Hopkinsville. At the time I heard this news broadcast, I was at Gracey, Kentucky, on my way to Campbell Air Force Base, where I am assigned for reserve training. I called the Air Base and asked them if they had heard anything about an alleged flying saucer report. They stated that they had not and it was suggested that as long as I was close to the area, that I should determine if there was anything to this report. I immediately drove to the scene at Kelly [for some reason the word was blacked out, but it seems reasonable to assume the word is Kelly] Station and located the home belonging to a Mrs. Glennie Lankford [again the name is blacked out], who is the one who first reported the incident. (A copy of Mrs. Lankford's statement is attached to this report)."

Albert's statement continued:

Deputy Sheriff Batts was at the scene where this supposedly flying saucer had landed and he could not show any evidence that any object had landed in the vicinity. There was nothing to show that there was anything to prove this incident.

Mrs. Lankford was an impoverished widow woman who had grown up in this small community just outside of Hopkinsville, with very little education. She belonged to the Holly Roller Church and the night and evening of this occurrence, had gone to a religious meeting and she indicated that the members of the congregation and her two sons and their wives and some friends of her sons', were also at this religious meeting and were worked up into a frenzy, becoming emotionally unbalanced and that after the religious meeting, they had discussed this article which she had heard about over the radio and had sent for them from the Kingdom Publishers, Fort Worth 1, Texas and they had sent her this article with a picture which appeared to be a little man when it actually was a monkey, painted silver. This article had to be returned to Mrs. Lankford as she stated it was her property. However, a copy of the writing is attack to this statement and if it is necessary, a photograph can be obtained from the above mentioned publishers.

There are a number of problems with the first couple of paragraphs of Albert's statement, but those are trivial. As an example, it wasn't Glennie Lankford who first reported the incident, but the whole family who had traveled into town to alert the police

It is the third paragraph, however, that is filled with things that bear no resemblance to reality. Lankford was not a member of the Holly Rollers, but was, in fact a member of the Trinity Pentecostal. Neither she, nor any of the family had been to any religious services the night of the "attack." This unsubstantiated allegation was made in a recent book, suggesting, once again, that the religious tone of the family had somehow contributed to the attack on their house. Or rather, that they were "hysterical" people who would see things that simply were not there.

And, Lankford couldn't have heard about any "article" from the newspapers or magazines as it was read on the radio because there was no radio in the farm house. And there was no evidence that Lankford ever sent anywhere for any kind of article about flying saucers and little creatures, those painted silver or any other color. In other words, Albert had written the case off as a hoax, almost before he began his "investigation" because of his false impressions. Apparently he was only interested in facts that would allow him to debunk the case and not learning what had actually happened.

I have to say, at this point, I would have been quite skeptical of this tale. It is outrageous and beyond belief, but then, things we do today would have been thought of as outrageous and beyond belief fifty years ago. So, we approach with a skeptical attitude, but we listen to what the witnesses have to say and look for ways to corroborate their statements.

Further evidence of the investigators attitude is provided in the next paragraph of his statement. "It is my opinion that the report Mrs. Lankford or her son, Elmer Sutton [name deleted but it is reasonable to assume it was Elmer Sutton], was caused by one of two reasons. Either they actually did see what they thought was a little man and at the time, there was a circus in the area and a monkey might have escaped, giving the appearance of a small man. Two, being emotionally upset, and discussing the article and showing pictures of this little monkey, that appeared like a man, their imaginations ran away with them and they really did believe what they saw, which they thought was a little man."

It is interesting to note that Albert is not suggesting that Lankford, the Suttons, and the Taylors (other members of the family present that night) were engaged in inventing a hoax. Instead, with absolutely no evidence, Albert invented the tale of an escaped monkey that fooled the people. That does not explain how the monkey was able to survive the shots fired at it, especially if it was as close to the house as the witnesses suggested. In other words, with shotguns and rifles being fired, someone should have hit it and there should have been broken bits of monkey all over the farm land. And, remember, the various witnesses talked of a number of little men, not a single individual.

But Albert wasn't through with the little monkey theory. "The home that Mrs. Lankford lived in was in a very run down condition and there were about eight people sleeping in two rooms. The window that was pointed out to be the one that she saw the small silver shining object about two and a half feet tall, that had its hands on the screen looking in, was a very low window and a small monkey could put his hands on the top of it while standing on the ground."

The final sentence said, "It is felt that the report cannot be substantiated as far as any actual object appearing in the vicinity at that time." It was then signed by Kirk.

What is interesting is that Albert, and then Kirk, were willing to ignore the report of the object because there was nothing to substantiate it, other than the witness testimony that there had been an object. Both Albert and Kirk were willing to buy the monkey theory, though there was nothing to substantiate it either. They needed a little man, of at the very least, a little humanoid creature for the family to see and they created one because a "monkey might have escaped."

Glennie Lankford might have inspired the little monkey story with her own words. In a handwritten statement signed on August 22, 1955, said, "My name is Glennie Lankford age 50 and I live at Kelly Station, Hopkinsville Route 6, Kentucky.

She continued:

On Sunday night Aug 21, 55 about 10:30 P.M. I was walking through the hallway which is located in the middle of my house and I looked our the back door (south) and saw a bright silver object about two and a half feet tall appearing round. I became excited and did not look at it long enough to see if it had any eyes or move. I was about 15 or 20 feet from it. I fell backward, and then was carried into the bedroom.

My two sons, Elmer Sutton aged 25 and his wife Vera age 29, J.C. Sutton age 21 and his wife Aline age 27 and their friends Billy Taylor age 21 and his wife June, 18 were all in the house and saw this little man that looked like a monkey.

So the Air Force, which, of course, didn’t investigate sightings of creatures at the time, seized on her description and turned it into a possible solution, suggesting, with no justification that the Suttons had been attacked by a horde of monkeys which were immune to shotguns. They overlooked the evidence of the case, or ignored the testimony, dispatched someone to look into it unofficially at the time, and then denied that they had ever investigated.

From my point of view, which is sympathetic to extraterrestrial visitation, this case is extremely weird. Like those Air Force officers, I would be inclined to ignore it, just as most of us ignore the tales of the contactees. But then again, I would want to follow up on this case, talking to the witnesses and looking for evidence, unless there was something else going on...

And there might have been. Back in 1955 there were only a few nuclear stockpiles in the world and one of them was at Campbell Air Force Base, not all that far from Hopkinsville. Could it have been that some high-ranking Air Force general, who knew what was stored so close to this alien invasion site, wanted the story buried, not because of the alleged little creatures but because he didn’t want a lot of reporters in the area asking a lot of questions that might compromise an atom secret.

No, the storage of the weapons there has little to do with the story but the story focuses attention on the area. The Air Force, not one at the time to favorably entertain any UFO stories and especially those with creatures, didn’t bury the case because of the UFO connection, but because of the secret facility close by.

This is one case that I’m quite ambivalent about. It seems quite improbable, based on what we know, but then, it seems improbably that the whole family would get caught up in this story without some sort of precipitating event. I would think there is a core of truth in the tale, but I don’t know what it might be...

Maybe radioactive monkeys that had been exposed to the atomic weapons after they escaped from that mythical circus that was in town... Hey, it would make a good movie and we could have a lot of fun with it. But that doesn’t answer the question about what happened that night. That’s just something we might never know.


me said...

Actually there Spielberg nearly did a movie about this event. It was to be called "Night Skies" but due to one thing or the other it didn't happen.

Some of the material was eventually developed into movies like "E.T.", "Gremlins", and "Poltergist".

Some Guy on the Innernets said...

I can't say I blame the air force for wanting to bury Albert's silly hatchet job. It seems as bizarre as the rest of the Kelly-Hopkinville case. The whole episode seems to have been designed to make everyone go "Huh?" Which just might be the whole point.

Kandinsky said...

I guess people can read anything they like into this odd case?

I just wish that someone had the sense to search for and save some of the bullets that allegedly struck the 'critters.'

Anonymous said...

But if the plods or anyone else had found some bullets with alien flesh stuck to them, then the flesh would turn out to be indistinquishable from human flesh.

As Jacques Vallee perspicaciously said, all contact events are manipulated or set up by the extraterrestrials. You only get as much proof as they want you to get.

starman said...

Lol, what alien "flesh"? If Edwards's old account is accurate, they seemed to be made of metal. Bullets are said to have glanced off.

Kandinsky said...

Modern forensic ballistics can tell us a lot about bullets. What the bullet struck or if it struck anything at all could have shed light on the claims. The guys said they'd fired a few shots...

As it stands, it's just one more in the pantheon of bizarre stories.

Steve Sawyer said...

I'm not sure which is more fantastic--the account on the part of the Lankford/Sutton family, et al, witnesses or the Albert/Kirk USAF invulnerable "silver monkey" explanation. And I agree that at this point it's like to remain a mystery.

Speaking of which, Kevin, what do you think of the somewhat similar Braxton County, West Virginia "Flatwoods Monster" case of Sept. 12, 1952? This is another, extraordinarily bizarre, multiple witness case, and I was wondering what you thought of it. Perhaps a companion piece blog post?

starman said...

The "silver monkey" notion is definitely more fantastic, in the sense of being less credible. Even if bizarre monkeys existed, there would've been at least one carcass lying there.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the creatures were robotic. Since one of them made a sound like an empty bucket when hit by a shotgun, its possible that they were metallic in nature, or perhaps wearing metallic armour.

You are correct it would have been a good idea for an investigator to have looked for the bullets and lead shot to check them for metallic or other residues, but obviously the cops weren't interested in taking things that far.

Perhaps the bullets are still there? Is this a job for the UFO Hunters? Or have they done this one already?

But given the Iron Law of Plausible Deniability which applies to all ET contact except for the stuff that's kept under the table, I would expect that any residues found would turn out to be indistinguishable from normal materials.

Anonymous said...

BTW I should explain that the Law of Plausible Deniability is also known as Kooky's Law of ET Contact. I thought I had better get in early before someone else claims it.

Ray Palm (Ray X) said...

Has anyone made a possible connection between this case and the movie, Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)? Note the general shape of the aliens in the movie and the Hopkinsville creature. Also, the Hopkinsville aliens seemed to be sensitive to bright light. Compare that to a plot point in the movie:

"Joan and Johnny escape from the police and discover, after several narrow escapes with the dismembered hand that got into the back seat of the police car they were driving, that the one weakness of the saucer-men is that light disentegrates them. At the climax, Joan and Johnny, with the help of their teenage friends, who had been "parking" at the local lover's lane, destroy the monsters by shining the headlights and spotlights of their cars on them in the middle of a country road."

Some interesting parallels. I wonder if the movie or at least the trailer played in the Hopkinsville area and maybe some of the family members saw it.

And some clips from Invasion of the Saucer Men:

Ray Palm (Ray X) said...

Another detail: Invasion of the Saucer-Men -- Release date: June 19, 1957 (on a double bill with I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF). The Hopkinsville incident: The end of August, 1957 (a few days before Aug. 29). (Info re: release date from

Were there drive-ins or movie theaters in the Hopkinsville area? It would be interesting to pull newspaper ads for that time to see if Invasion of the Saucer Men was playing. If it wasn't, then that angle could be possibly be ruled out.

If it was, it doesn't necessarily invalidate what the family claimed happened to them, but any possible influence of the movie should be considered.

Ray Palm (Ray X) said...

OK, scratch that theory. You wrote the incident occurred a few days before Aug. 29, 1957 but now I see the incident happened in 1955, two years before the release of the movie. But the parallels are interesting.

Stogie said...

I watched a television episode about this event. It seems to me that there is something to it. Although I am not convinced that we have been visited, I tend to think that we have. Stories like this cannot be easily dismissed.