(Blogger’s Note: This review was written by Jerome Clark and
appeared in a slightly different form in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26, 3 (Fall 2012) pp. 707 – 714.
Reprinted with permission. And a thank you to Jerry Clark as well.)
The Aztec Incident: Recovery
at Hart Canyon
by Scott and Suzanne Ramsey, Dr. Frank Thayer and Frank
Warren. Mooresville, N.C.: Aztec 48 Productions, 2012.
217 pp. $24.95 (paperback). ISBN
scarcely knows where to begin. Perhaps
with this quote from a June 19, 1951, letter – reprinted in these pages (90-91)
– written by San Francisco Chronicle editor Paul G. Smith to Variety
entertainment columnist and author Frank Scully: “Frankly, I recall that when I
first saw your book I thought you were merely having fun with your
readers.” The book, the already
notorious Behind the Flying Saucers, which Henry Holt had issued the
previous September, was a marketplace success but a disaster in every quarter
that did not involve commerce. Even so
prominent an early UFO proponent as Maj. Donald Keyhoe, the first outsider to
investigate Scully's claims of a 1948 saucer recovery near Aztec, New Mexico,
rejected them as absurd and fanciful.
When I read Scully's book in junior high school, my impression – even as
a naive adolescent -- was the same.
Photo courtesy Paul Kimball
fact, though they circulated freely through the larger society, because of the
Scully taint rumors of UFO crashes were spurned by mainstream ufologists until
the late 1970s.
Around that time, a
respected colleague, the late Leonard H. Stringfield, began collecting what he
called “crash/retrieval reports” from mostly anonymous sources with whom he
In 1980 the first major book on the subject,
The Roswell Incident
by Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore, saw
Other books, mostly though not
exclusively focused on Roswell, followed (and an Air Force refutation followed
them in the late 1990s, succeeded by refutations of the refutation, and so on
in continuing loop to the present).
Scully's tale – at least in a cleaned-up version that did not incorporate the
dead Venusians of the original – would get a second look.
The first book-length treatment was William
S. Steinman and Wendelle C. Stevens's UFO Crash at Aztec
(1987), a work
notable only for its levels of paranoia (high) and coherence (low).
The second is the new The Aztec Incident
based on what we are told is a $500,000 investment in research expenses and
more than two decades' worth of inquiry.
so that future authorial references will be clear, the crowded by-line is
courtesy of a writing novice's error that no experienced author would have
There is only one author –
Scott Ramsey – who refers to himself in the first person throughout.
The other three, who participated in one way
or another in accumulating the material that made the book possible, ought to
have been cited in the credits, and not represented as co-authors.
Thus, in what follows, I refer to the real
author in the singular.
there is much to pan and little to praise in the comments that follow, let's
start on the most positive note circumstances render available. Aztec Incident
reprints some of the
private correspondence, never before seen as far as I know, of the principal
figures in the episode.
As one who has
written at length on the history of the UFO controversy in all its dimensions,
including its less lucid moments, I like that.
The off-stage voices, I have found, are illuminating.
however, the revelations are modest. One never imagines for a moment that
the efforts of investigative reporter J. P. Cahn (who
memorably uncovered the confidence swindle behind Behind
in a couple of
hard-hitting, entertainingly documented True
), but it is
interesting to read this record of his personal complaints about Cahn's
And who can
Though as late as 1984
Cahn observed that he had always liked Scully personally, clearly the affection
was not destined to be reciprocal.
the end of the job, Cahn had exposed Scully as -- in the most charitable
interpretation -- a fool.
one thing Incident
does not address – cannot address by its very
purpose, which is to turn dross into gold – is to what degree Scully was a
party to the hoax.
To his death in 1964,
Scully professed his confidence in what his informants, whose probity he
endorsed in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, had told him about the
crash in New Mexico along with others, less detailed, in Arizona, Maine, and
elsewhere in the late 1940s.
supposition, for which I make no larger truth claim than I can glean from
observation of his behavior over the years, is that Scully was initially gulled
into acceptance of the yarns, then grew eventually to perceive that he'd been
By that time, he was
sufficiently invested in the bamboozlement that he felt he could not disown his
silly book and the attendant controversy; if it took whopper-forging to sustain
his otherwise untenable position, then smalltime grifter Leo A. GeBauer – top
magnetic authority “Dr. Gee” in BFS
– would become, years later, a
composite figure representing not GeBauer but some of the leading magnetic
scientists in America.
(In reality, a
waitress had given GeBauer the nickname “Dr. Gee,” according to GeBauer's
widow, and Scully merely borrowed it for the book.)
In other words, Scully was complicit in the
The only remaining question is if
that complicity happened sooner or later.
Ramsey devotes an eye-glazing chapter (4: Dr. Gee and the Mystery Men)
to profiles of eight leading
magnetism-studying scientists of mid-century America.
“Without a doubt,” he insists (p. 51), “they
possibly knew or worked with Silas Newton, a man of science himself.”
Only a book as rhetorically hapless as Incident
could cram “without a doubt” and “possibly” into the same pronouncement without
betraying the faintest cognitive dissonance, and then proceed to characterize
lifelong swindler Newton not only as a “man of science” but as a major one at that,
sharing his purported colleagues' access to the U.S. Government's classified
extraterrestrial bodies and technology. Having declared as much, Ramsey feels
no obligation to provide a fragment of actual evidence that links these eminent
scientists to Newton.
For that matter,
he fails even to document his repeated assertion that Newton was an imposing
figure in the oil industry.
is Newton who was the intellectual author, if that's the phrase, of the Aztec
His stories would almost
certainly have been forgotten months after their concoction if not for
In the consensus-reality
version, here highly condensed and necessarily incomplete, is how BFS
came to be:
print record – no prior press references to the described event, said to have
taken place on March 25, 1948, have ever been located and are almost certainly
nonexistent – begins with Scully's Variety
column of October 12, 1949,
where he reports having learned from unnamed “scientists” of two saucer
retrievals, one in the Mohave Desert, the other in the Sahara.
The latter vanishes from the story hereafter,
but in Scully's account the scientists examined the American ship (intact but
for a small hole in a port window), presumed to be from Venus and housing 16
humanlike midgets – all dead and “charred black” – clad in 1890s-style
The ship, it turned out, flew
along “magnetic waves.”
All of its
dimensions are equally divisible by nine.
published 10 months later, mentions two Arizona crashes but provides few
details beyond the allegation that the bodies were identical to those found at
Aztec and that the alien mathematics appeared nine-based.
|Hart Canyon Crash Site|
Photo Courtesy Paul Kimball
developed that Newton and GeBauer had imparted these tales on to Scully in
GeBauer had shown Scully
parts from the saucer, among them a tubeless “magnetic radio.”
It is generally assumed that the location for
the story has its origins in a trip GeBauer took early that same month to Hart
Canyon near Aztec – a small town in the northwestern Four Corners part of the state
– to demonstrate his alleged oil-detection device (the sort of thing known
derisively in the industry as a “doodlebug”) to locals.
Hart Canyon would evolve into the location
where the ship came down and was recovered.
Cahn and – much later and in considerably more detail – ufologist William L.
determine, Newton and GeBauer had devoted their lives (the smart and polished
Newton more lucratively than the relatively slow-witted GeBauer) to various
confidence scams, many involving oil-finding schemes.
Characterized wryly by Moore as “the type of
character best avoided by anyone with money in his pocket,” Newton got into
trouble in the 1930s in New York, Kansas, and California for assorted shady dealings.
“Newton's tactic in every case was to suck in
additional investors,” Moore wrote, “and pay off the complaining
party with the money raised – in exchange, of
course, for the dropping of charges against him.”
When he died in Los Angeles in 1972, Newton
had 40 legal claims filed against him based primarily in fraudulent oil and
Two years earlier, he
had been indicted for grand theft.
saucer story was intended to draw the interest of the well-heeled, who would
soon learn that GeBauer's doodlebug (the “magnetic radio”), in reality made up
of ordinary mechanical parts (as Cahn determined), was a product of
words, if not for Scully's broadcasting the story to a national and
international audience, it would have been no more than another of
Newton/GeBauer's ephemeral efforts to separate fools from their hard-earned.
attempting to rehabilitate the Aztec “case,” Ramsey falls into the fatal
tactical error of defending the indefensible, namely Scully, Newton, and
GeBauer, rather than conceding their manifest flaws and drawing up an Aztec
episode that is not so fundamentally dependent upon their being who they
From one way of
viewing it, Ramsey's approach is ill considered.
From another, his book wouldn't exist without
and all it brought into the world.
There's little else outside Scully's pages, and even there, there isn't
much. One thinks of Woody Guthrie's famous words: “That stew was so thin even a
politician could have seen through it.”
defense is unlikely to sway any but guile-free readers.
To any critics Ramsey responds with the
self-serving, unverified words of Scully, Newton, and GeBauer, presented as the
equivalent of divine revelation standing unshaken against the darkly driven
contrary assertions of Cahn, portrayed relentlessly as pursuing a “petty
vendetta” motivated by pure “envy,” or else – and what else? – doing the dirty
work of some sinister official agency.
To any sensible
emerges as an old-fashioned, aggressive shoe-leather reporter of a type sorely
missed in this era of celebrity journalism.
If Moore is mentioned, it is so briefly that I missed it in the
extensive notes I took during multiple readings of Incident
The back pages that should have been devoted
to an index are taken up with irrelevant photographs of historic Aztec.
of unswerving faith in Scully's severely flawed sources is not quite all of
Ramsey's book, however.
After half a
million dollars and more than two decades, he has his own evidence to put
That evidence, he boasts,
makes the Aztec recovery “true beyond argument.”
Or maybe not.
|Aztec, New Mexico|
Photo Courtesy Paul Kimball
however, it must be stressed that for as long as they have been interviewed on
the subject, Aztec residents have with virtually one voice denied that anything
like a UFO retrieval happened there on March 25, 1948, or any other date.
That includes the man who was newspaper
editor during the period, the 1948 county sheriff, the son who succeeded him in
that office (all of whom actively sought out local informants without success),
the family that owned the property, and other longtime residents.
They first heard of an extraordinary UFO
incident through the publicity surrounding Scully's claims or its revival in
tellingly with residents of another New Mexico town, Roswell, to whom an
incident many tied to the crash of an unknown object – however conflictingly
interpreted -- was widely known.
has to prove that something
happened in the Roswell area in July 1947.
book opens with Ramsey's two claimants to first-person experience at the
Both contradict the original –
Scully – account in notable ways.
Newton's drawing of the craft, shown to a University of Denver class to
whom he lectured sensationally on March 8, 1950, depicts, in researcher Joel
Carpenter's words, “a bizarre contraption that … resembled a can on top of a
The alleged witnesses, on the other hand,
speak of a disc with a dome on top and a corresponding one on the bottom. In
Scully's account as related by Dr. Gee, it took a team of scientists two
to break into the craft, where as in Ramsey's version it took a few
hours for locals to gain entry well before the arrival of official
(In both stories a pole poked
through a small porthole opening manages to push a door handle, exposing the
are two, and only two, named persons who tell the story from what is supposed
to be first-hand experience
Noland, was interviewed by Ramsey after a “series of strokes.”
The other, Ken Farley, since deceased, was
“dying of a respiratory disease.”
has their alleged experiences occurring on the Scully-approved date of March
25, 1948, without ever explaining how they remembered it with such precision
decades after the alleged fact.
only suspect an editorial insertion into the narrative, hardly the first one.
as these narratives would have us believe that dozens of civilians congregated
at the site, independent testimony to that effect is hard to come by.
Ramsey's rhetoric is slippery enough to
mislead a careless reader, one who notices other names appearing in the
testimony and is lulled into thinking they amount to verification.
A police officer said to be present has
“since been identified as Manuel Sandoval” – even in the absence of any
testimony from Sandoval (presumably dead or otherwise unavailable; clearly, he
was never interviewed) pertaining to the event.
Noland's friend Bill Ferguson “died long before we got involved in our
research” (p. 5).
Later (p. 201) Ramsey
casually remarks that Ferguson “revealed his Aztec knowledge to very few
people” while offering no reason, in the first instance but for Noland's
testimony, that Ferguson possessed such “knowledge” and, in the second, that
Ferguson told anybody at all.
other informants claim to have participated in aspects of the recovery
One is identified only as
“George,” for whom Ramsey vouches, which – all else considered – does not
In any event, his story of a large operation run out of Roswell's Walker
Air Force Base lacks any supporting evidence.
Such supporting evidence, Ramsey notwithstanding, certainly does not
come from Fred Reed.
writes that in April 1948 – take notice of the date – Reed's military “team was
dispatched for a 'crash clean-up' as Fred would describe it to me years later
The clean-up, at the Hart
Canyon site, was to be of anything tied to the craft (which he later learned
was a UFO) and to a subsequent military presence at the site.
But this was not the story – as Ramsey does
not inform his readers – that Reed provided in a strikingly different account
just a few days before he faced questions, perhaps seriously leading ones, from
Here are Reed's
words as expressed in a March 27, 1999, letter to the Aztec newspaper:
Today, my wife
and I … went out to the site of UFO crash in late 1948 [note: not March 25] in
Hart Canyon..... The aliens had built stone
cairns marking the path from the oil field road to the crash site. These
cairns are still in place
today. The trees around the crash site
open to the south, which is a typical distress
signal for extraterrestrials.
The area looked
basically as it had in 1948 when the OSS [Office of Strategic Services, which
disbanded in 1945] sent our group
there.... We had heard rumors that a UFO had crashed there. But it did not look like a crash site. And we had heard that army personnel had
rushed in there and cleaned up the site.
But it did not look like a
clean-up site either....
So what it
boiled down to was this: No UFO crash.
Instead, the UFO landed there for some specific intent to place (bury?) some instrument or thing
there. Then they got into their saucer
and flew away.
While failing to mention that his
“witness” (whose eccentric beliefs about aliens and their ways also go
had flagrantly contradicted the
testimony he solicited from him, Ramsey effects his own (unacknowledged) clean-up.
Knowing, one infers, the OSS reference to be
unsupportable, he revises Reed's resume so that “he had worked for the OSS …
back in the early 1940s, [and] was now working for the military.”
everything that fails to
serve the narrative either undergoes revision or gets dropped into the memory
Among other reported witnesses is a
pastor who allegedly confided to a church officer and his son that he had
witnessed dead aliens and a saucer at Hart Canyon on (Ramsey would have it,
again without justification) on March 25, 1948.
Ramsey located the minister son's, also a pastor, who remarked that he
had never heard his father talk about such an experience, though he had
expressed interest in press accounts of the Roswell event at the time.
An Air Force man who supposedly participated
in the Aztec cover-up in 1948 confided it to a fellow Air Force member, an
Aztec native, in England in the 1960s.
The informant, Donald “Sam” Bass, cannot be found.
Experienced investigator Kevin D. Randle learned
that the claim related here that Bass was killed in an accident while serving
in Vietnam cannot be verified in military records.
In Ramsey's judgment of his own
work, he has established that an Aztec recovery occurred and nobody can any
longer argue otherwise, unless I suppose on the payroll of a sinister
is awesome and bottomless.
In a passing
aside (p. 203), he outs himself as a member of that small army of far-right
cranks who discern a conspiracy to
President Obama's birth certificate, apparently to protect his true identity as
a Kenya- born socialist Islamic jihadist.
In fairness, Ramsey is not always
impossible to take seriously.
Earlier in the book (p. 31) he acknowledges that in high school he “was never a
superior student” and that he has always been “disappointed in how history is
To those assertions, if to no
others, The Aztec Incident
offers compelling testimony.
would like thank Kevin Randle and Joel Carpenter for their generous assistance
in the research on which this review draws.