Saturday, December 09, 2017

Lonnie Zamora as the Hoaxer*

We have talked about the possibility of a hoax in the Socorro UFO landing case. We have, or at least I have, thought that the idea of a student hoax has been rejected as implausible. There were way too many moving parts that required way too many unpredictable actions to be a reasonable scenario. From the very beginning, it required Lonnie Zamora to react in a way the students needed him to react so that he would find his way to the location of the landing.

Socorro, New Mexico. Photo copyright by
Kevin Randle.
Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who seemed to have liked Zamora and thought of him as a good police officer also paid him a left-handed compliment. Hynek, according his “Report on Socorro New Mexico Trip” found in the Project Blue Book files, “That Zamora, although not overly bright or articulate, is basically sincere, honest, and reliable. He would not be capable of contriving a complex hoax, nor would his temperament indicate that he would have the slightest interest insuch (sic).”

Hynek seemed to be indicating that Zamora, on his own, couldn’t have pulled this off. He would have needed help which is suggestive of a conspiracy involving at least one other. Philip Klass thought that it was the mayor of Socorro who had a financial motive and the intelligence to set this up. Research by others, including Paul Harden, proved that this was not the case.

But then I got to thinking about it.

The hoax scenarios, as they have been developed over the years, are way too complex. They involve balloons, which should have been recognized as such, several different people who left no trace of their presence at the landing site, and no way for them to escape before the arrival of others on the scene to spot them. Sergeant Sam Chavez of the New Mexico State Police arrived within three minutes of receiving the call from Zamora but, unfortunately not long after the craft had disappeared.

All this presupposes that Zamora related, accurately, what he had seen. It presupposes that he didn’t embellish in any way, and it presupposes he wasn’t clever enough to have pulled it off, just as Hynek suggested.

Let’s look at this from, well, a different perspective.

According to what we know, no one else saw the landed craft. No one else saw it lift off and disappear in seconds. No one else saw the little beings near the craft. All of this came from Zamora and if he wasn’t telling the truth about it, well, then, the hoax becomes easier to accept. Just assume that he hadn’t really seen all these
Lonnie Zamora
things, and some of the arguments about the alien nature of the craft and its capabilities are no longer relevant. The whole thing becomes much simpler to explain in terrestrial terms.

Chavez said something during his interviews with the Lorenzens, when viewed in this light seems strange. According to The A.P.R.O. Bulletin of May 1964 (page 3, second column), “Sgt. Chavez also told the Lorenzens that he had looked into Zamora’s car to see if there were any implements of any kind with which the indentations and fire could have been effected. There were not. Mrs. L asked Chavez why he did that. Chavez admitted that Zamora’s story had been so strange, and he followed the regular procedure to establish evidence.”

Going back, and looking specifically at the descriptions of the landing marks, it seems that the various witnesses talked mostly about how the soil had been scraped to one side or the other. That seemed to indicate that something heavy had set down, but in the process, as the weight was applied, the landing pads shifted slightly. It didn’t seem as if they had been scraped out in the way it would look if a shovel had been used but more as if it was the result of something having landed there.

Ray Stanford reported in his book, Socorro Saucer in a Pentagon Pantry, in the caption on page 37, “The southwest imprint photographed on the morning after by New Mexico State Police Sergeant Samuel Chavez, giving the distinct impression of having been gouged into the earth by great weight from above.”

One of the landing pad traces.
And, finally, Hynek wrote in a letter to Dr. Donald Menzel of Harvard, on September 29, 1964: “…I have the word of nine witnesses who saw the marks within hours of the incident, who tell me that the center of the marks were moist as though the top soil had been freshly pushed aside.”

But we have to remember here that those nine people only saw the landing impressions and the burned vegetation. There might have some embellishment simply because it seems that no one really saw the bush smoking after the craft took off. Oh, it seems to have been reported that steam or smoke was rising from that bush by Chavez, but it is one of those things that is hard to pin down in the world today.

Although many rejected the idea that Zamora had created the hoax on his own for some unknown reason, the Zamora hoax explanation is by far the simplest. It eliminates the need for a balloon either hot air or helium filled, it eliminates the need for other participants to create the illusion of something landing there, and it explains the lack of physical evidence that the hoax scenario should have left behind. If Zamora had done it, he just needed his shovel and a tape measure. Then he called the station to make his report and request that Chavez come out to meet with him. This also explains why none of those other people who said they had seen something ever came forward. All the rest of it, from the alien creatures, the banging of the hatch, the red symbol… all of it was so much window dressing created by Zamora.

And while that theory is applauded for its simplicity, it fails when other facts are figured into it. We can begin with the three telephone calls into the police station. Again, we know little about them, we don’t know who made them, but they are documented in the records gathered that night and in the report filed by Richard Holder. It would mean that, at the very least, one other person had to be involved. He or she could have made the three telephone calls though it is more likely to have been three people.

It would have involved Opal Grinder who said that he had talked to the tourists from Colorado who mentioned the low flying aircraft. That adds another person to the conspiracy which is, of course, another person to spill the beans on this unless, of course, Grinder was the one who made the telephone calls to the police.

We also have to wonder what inspired Zamora to create the hoax. The Project Blue Book files confirm that there were no other reports of UFOs in New Mexico at the time and there had been very little publicity about them anywhere prior to Zamora’s sighting. In fact, from Hynek’s “Report on the Trip to Socorro – Albuquerque, March 12 – 12, 1965, we see, “One should remember that before the time of the sighting there had been no talk in the Socorro region of unidentified flying objects.”

Hynek also mentioned, “No paraphernalia of a hoax was ever found. It would be rather hard to have done away with all the tell-tale evidence, such as tubes of helium, release mechanism, etc.”

And one thing that might argue the loudest against Zamora doing it on his own was that the impressions on the ground, when corrected for the terrain features are symmetrical and the burned bush seemed to be located at the precise center where you would expect the rocket or jet used to lift it would be situated. That seems to be much too sophisticated for Zamora to have pulled off. It is one of those things that he might have lucked into, but it does seem to argue against a Zamora alone hoax.

I’m not a fan of the Zamora hoaxed the sighting without any real motivation and no real inspiration. Again, Hynek mentioned there had been no UFO sightings reported around Socorro prior to Zamora’s sighting, but afterwards, there were many (some of which were hoaxes). The sightings for April 1964 from other parts of the world are fairly mundane and didn’t receive much in the way of publicity if any at all. Had Zamora’s sighting come in the middle of the wave, it might be that these other reports suggested the idea to him.

I like this idea, that Zamora hoaxed it by himself because of the simplicity of it. However, when we add in other factors, all the factors, it seems that the theory is flawed. Hector Quintanilla suggested the solution for the case would probably be found in Zamora’s head, and had he hoaxed the thing, then Quintanilla had it right. But Zamora never suggested to anyone that he had made up the story, his friends and his actions that night seem to argue against hoax, and there is no real motivation for him to have created the hoax that included the landing site.

And any theory, or solution, that has to discount some of the evidence to work is no real solution. In this case there are too many factors that argue against a Zamora designed hoax, not the least of which is the physical evidence and the other, unidentified witnesses. If we can come up with a theory that explains all that, then we have something. Until that time, the case remains, “Unidentified.”

(Blogger’s note: I thought it important to say that in one aspect of my training as an intelligence officer, we were taught that you needed to review all possible scenarios when assessing a situation. In one example of that, I was analyzing the military and political situation on East Timor. In one of the most ridiculous scenarios, I had to determine the possibility of the United States and Australian peacekeeping forces engaging in some sort of conflict. The possibility of that happening was almost zero, but, given that armed military forces were occupying the same terrain, there was the possibility that something would go horribly wrong. Didn’t mean that it would, it was just one of the possible outcomes. I mention this because the idea that Zamora invented the whole tale it practically zero, but it is one possibility. I say this because I don’t believe it happened that way, but I do like the simplicity of that solution.)

*I had thought that "hoaxster" was a proper name for someone who had created a hoax... I just liked the sound of it better. But, after a number of people suggested that the word was not correct, I tried to look it up in my whopping, huge dictionary, but it wasn't there. So, I corrected it.


Curt Collins said...

Not that it's central to the points being made here, but I recently wrote a piece about the film featuring Zamora's story. The mayor and Chamber of Commerce of Socorro hoped would boost their tourism dollars. They were pinning their hopes on Frank E. Stranges' "Phenomena 7.7. "

Robert Sheaffer said...

Perhaps we should allow Dr. Hynek to have the Last Word on Zamora. Hynek says in a letter to Philip J. Klass, 23 January 1967,

"No matter what we say about the Zamora case, it is still, because of its one-witness character, a low-order case. It is a (Sigma)5 C4 case in my classification system: taken at face value the report has a high strangeness index, but a low credibility rating primarily because I do not go above 5 in my scale of 1 to 9 if there is only one witness."

Anthony Mugan said...

@Robert Shaeffer
Thanks for the Hynek quote...I wasn’t aware of that one and it seems to sum the situation up very well.

@Dr Randle
I also like the idea that Zamora may have made this up / hoaxed the ground traces on the grounds of its simplicity. I would suggest that the calls to the police present no difficulty as we do not know who made them. As to later claims...well, we all know from Roswell and other major cases how problematic they can turn out to be (or not).
The major difficulty with it is the lack of any real evidence in it’s favour, beyond other explanations being very unlikely.
I did try to find online newspaper records from the area for the day, to see if there could have been some utility in moving Sgt. Chavez off his normal patrol area, but the local paper doesn’t seem to be online for the time period. If anyone is more local than me (in the U.K.) that might be one way of testing this possibility, along with police records. It’s a long shot I know and I for one would be happy enough with no real evidence to support this idea.
I am very glad that Hynek called this right, too much depends on one witness to draw any conclusions on this. Sometimes the world is ambiguous.

Paul Andrew Kimball said...

My fundamental problem with the Zamora-as-hoaxer theory is simple - the risk of being caught would have far outweighed whatever reward we can imagine might have motivated him. Zamora would have had to lie, to falsify official police reports, and engaged with others to pull those phone calls off. All doable, but all certain to land him on the unemployment line if and when caught.

Do police officers lie? Sure - a lot more than one might think. But do they lie about a UFO hoax, at the risk of their reputation and their career? No, it just doesn’t track.

Anthony Bragalia said...

Last word on the whole matter goes to something that Kevin chooses to ignore. The first words that Zamora uttered to anyone after his sighting were those radioed to his police partner: "It looks like a balloon."

KRandle said...

Tony -

Actually, it did not go to his partner, but to Nep Lopez, the police dispatcher. Zamora told Lopez to "'look out the window, to see if he could see the object.' He asked what is it? I answered it looks like a balloon.'"

Now, contrast that to these other statements made about the object to various people over the next couple of hours.

From Hector Quintanilla to Colonel Eric de Jonckheere, April 27, 1964…
“The witness claims that he saw a ball shaped object approximately 15 feet long…”

Various reports: initial impression was that he was looking at an overturned car…

From “Summary of UFO Report received by phone on 25 April 1964:”
Caller: Captain Theodore W. Cuny 1005th Special Investigation group to Major K. S. Sameshima… “He [Zamora] claims to have seen two men in white coveralls get into the silver colored foot-ball shaped object about 15 feet long…” (Which, BTW, is more consistent with the object as drawn by Zamora than a balloon.)

In a narrative given to Major William Conner (UFO officer at Kirtland, primary duty as public relations), described flame, mentioned he (Zamora) thought it was an overturned car… said, “Object was like aluminum – it was whitish against the mesa background… Seemed like [oval] in shape.” Illustration in the report suggests something that it an oval standing on the end rather than something balloon shaped.

The narrative that Tony quotes, is the one written by Connor. So, we have a number of descriptions of the object, but only one in which he mentioned it looked like a balloon and that is in response to the question asked by Lopez... It also suggests that Zamora knew what balloons looked like and that he was giving a description to Lopez of a common object to help Lopez spat the thing in the sky.

I just love the way Tony slings an allegation that I choose to ignore Zamora's first description when we have illustrations, we have various descriptions, and landing traces that argue against a balloon. I wonder who is actually ignoring the evidence.

Brian B said...

Zamora certainly did use many different descriptions of this object.....looks like a balloon....overturned car.....round shaped. I believe some of those descriptions are simply references to what he initially though it could be which can clearly be taken out of context. His own drawings are rather simple and show an oval not standing on its end. Obviously Zamora was no artist.

I’m curious though as many artists have drawn something different based on these comments.

Are we to assume the first image shown in the APRO bulletin is most accurate? Or are we talking about an upright egg shaped object or football standing on its end?


Or this:

Or this?:

KRandle said...

Brian -

Had you bothered to read my book (and yes, I plan to use every opportunity to promote it) you would have your answer. Rick Baca made a detailed drawing based on Zamora's description, to which he then added the symbol he saw. For those of you keeping score at home, it appears on page 7 of the May 1064 APRO Bulletin, under the pictures of Zamora and Sam Chavez.

Since this drawing was made under the guidance of Zamora, I would say that it is the most accurate.

KRandle said...

Oh, screw it... it's the middle link you sent.

TheUFOGuy said...

An elliptical device, seen on end, would resemble a balloon. AB again likes to focus on what he promotes, instead of the facts, a huge flaw, and not scientific. But his comments have been about about what he believes, and is not worthy of more comment. As to the one witness comments, again, that shows a complete lack of knowing anything about this case and kills the messengers credibility. I find it sad that so many add their 'OPINION" without knowing the basic facts of this multiple witness case, but that is what armchair debunkers do. As Stanton Friedman always says, they "don't want to be bothered by the facts, their mind is made up."

Paul Young said...

Anthony Bragalia said...
Last word on the whole matter goes to something that Kevin chooses to ignore. The first words that Zamora uttered to anyone after his sighting were those radioed to his police partner: "It looks like a balloon."

The thing about balloons is that they are incredibly labour intensive. From what I can gather, flying in them is the easy's bringing them down and keeping them stable on the ground that's the tricky bit. I came across a load of hot air balloon enthusiasts (if that is what you call them) some years back and for every couple of people who went up in them there were an army of other people trying to keep the damned things stable on the ground...armed with ropes pulleys and all sorts of gear. These things are huge and take a lot of handling.

If Zamora saw a balloon with a couple of people the size of 9 year old boys (or whatever)...then where was everybody else?

Forgetting all the other stuff that has been discussed in the past here (ie...this balloon could seemingly fly, straight as an arrow, into an oncoming wind,etc)'s beyond ridiculous to think that Zamora saw a couple of people on a balloon jaunt.

Either Zamora was an out and out liar or he saw something extremely odd.

TheUFOGuy said...

Again for the reading impaired:
An elliptical device, seen on end, would resemble a balloon.

Brian B said...

@ Kevin

- I was already aware (from your blog) that you favored the second linked illustration. I just wanted to hear why others think the object looked different hence the many artistic versions that have been proposed (teardrop, ball, egg on end, egg on side, football, oval, etc.) The various artistic interpretations can easily influence a person to believe the object was something other than what Zamora described.

@ Paul

- We agree on just about nothing, but I do agree that this was not a hot air balloon as you commented. Having been a passenger several times in a hot air balloon and also assisted in take off and landings, there’s zero chance this object was a hot air balloon. You need at least 10 people to work a hot air balloon safely and Zamora would have clearly seen them as it isn’t a fast process on either end.

@ Ben Moss

- The problem with verbal descriptions is they conjure up images in the reader’s mind that may not be accurate at all. These mental depictions can run the gambit based on a person’s imagination. I might easily imagine an “elliptical device standing on end” as a pharmaceutical pill rather than a hot air balloon.

atennisfan said...

This is a most fascinating case- no matter what. I don't understand, though, why the idea of a hot air balloon has developed considerable traction. As others have pointed out, these balloons are notoriously difficult to operate. Even to come up with a reliably scheduled flight is difficult. A few years ago I received a gift certificate for a balloon flight.I was never able to make it because we had to be ready on very short notice when wind and weather allowed a safe flight on an acceptable route. The constantly changing weather in Germany made it quite unpredictable. And the things are huge and on the ground quite unstable. So, the Socorro UFO can't have been regular sized hot air balloon.
But what about a much smaller model hot air balloon - as the student hoax theory would suggest? Well, it has been said that the logistics still seem to be daunting. And the described egg shape is still wrong and would probably be unstable because the hot air needs to go upwards and not expand to the sides. Also, those toy hot air balloons don't make the kind of whooshing noise described by Zamora. The hoaxers would've to come up with a sound illusion on top of the optical illusion. And they would've needed to select or hire some really small persons/students as well who had to play the part of the aliens. A lot of people would've been in the know. IMO the only fact which lends some credibility to the student hoax theory is that without the speeding youngster Zamora wouldn't even have gone towards the location of the sighting. That is indeed a bit of a head scratcher.
So, if it wasn't a student hoax, did Zamora really see a craft which sported unknown or even alien/extraterrestrial technology and personnel, or was he himself the hoaxer? Kevin lined up all the problems with the Zamora-was-the-hoaxer theory - and yet - if I have to choose between the genuine sighting of an alien vehicle and Zamora-as-hoaxer I might go with the latter. It's not so much because I totally exclude the idea of alien visitors. But without being able to lay my fingers on it, something of Zamora's account makes me feel uneasy. Does the described egg shaped vehicle and it's alleged movements even make sense technologically? Zamora said it had the size of a small car. That's not very big for at least two passengers. And are the reported movements compatible with the apparently fuel burning propulsion? Maybe commenters more knowledgeably than me can help out. The fiery fuel burning vehicle has very much the taste of the 1960s. Also, I read somewhere that in order to create a lift-off this kind of propulsion should've reduced that patch beneath the vehicle to ashes and would not have just incinerated a few scrubs. Then there's the thing with the apparently humanoid aliens. How come that in all those alleged encounters the creatures from outer space are so similar to us? And many aliens don't seem to have a problem with our atmosphere at all. Why are there never aliens who are more like octopusses? But this dicey question which all ufologists who believe in close encounter reports, need to answer, is a whole different kettle of fish. Someone suggested that aliens who visit the earth might not do the nuts and bolts exploring in person. For the dirty field work they send sophisticated robots or androids who deliberately mimic basic human features. That's an interesting suggestion (although the disguise often seems to be superficial and sloppy - but who says that the aliens always get it right?). But it doesn't answer the questions around the Socorro UFO. As I said above: fascinating - even if for some reason Zamora made it all up.

atennisfan said...

I should add that my musings about aliens using humanoid robots or androids for surface exploration jobs are meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I'm not implying that Zamora's teenaged-sized persons in white overalls were actually robots or androids. They could've been simply humans who were either perpetrating an elaborate hoax or using technology which wasn't in the public domain at the time and hasn't left any publicly accessible records - or a figment of Zamora's imagination. But if one believes in the possibility of aliens visiting the earth then the many reports of their decidedly humanoid figures who seem to cope quite well with the atmosphere of our earth need some extra explaining. Even their body language often seems to be somewhat humanoid. Why should the evolution of intelligent species have favored humanoid forms? Even on earth we have intelligent primates, intelligent marine mammals and intelligent birds. Keas and crows are expert problem solvers and can use rudimentary tools. Then there are theories that some dino species could've developed high levels of intelligence. And insect societies have developed what we could call "crowd intelligence". Of course, in order to progress eventually towards a space conquering civilization, intelligent beings need not only smarts but also the necessary dexterity in order to be able to manipulate their enviroment. That pretty much rules out all marine mammals, because limbs seem to be necessary. But octopusses are very smart and they can manipulate their surrounding expertly. Aquariums can tell astonishing tales of octopusses breaking out of their tanks and invading neighboring tanks in order to supplement their dinner - or maybe because they are bored. Unfortunately their average life span is so short that they don't have a chance to make much of an impact. But it shows that in principle a totally alien shape and neurology could work just fine. The excellent movie "Arrival" which describes the possibility of communication with a species so different from us that communication seems hardly possible.Interestingy these beings somewhat resemble giant octopusses with seven limbs.
The reports of alleged close encounters with humanoid aliens remind me of natural scientists who create decoys which resemble the species they want to observe. In one of his more amusing tv episodes the great marine explorer Jaques Cousteau once built a hollow hippo in order to observe and film safely a community of hippos. I'm sure the real hippos have been somewhat puzzled by the strangeness of this encounter ;)