Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Lonnie Zamora, Socorro UFO, and New Theories

Egg Shaped UFO Seen in Socorro
By Kevin Randle
A Different Perspective
© 10-1-09

     Let’s see if I have this right. The solution to the Lonnie Zamora UFO landing of April 1964, according to a big story posted at www.ufocon.com/ and written by Tony Bragalia is hoax. And this is startling news because...?

Reading over the posting by Bragalia I wondered why Dr. Stirling Colgate at time president of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, if he knew this to be a hoax back in the 1960s, had not let Dr. J. Allen Hynek (seen here) in on it.J Allen Hynek Hynek, at the time, was the Air Force consultant to Project Blue Book and investigated the case in person and on the scene not long after it happened. It would seem to me that if Colgate had the answer, he could have let Hynek know without violating any confidences about those who had perpetrated the hoax and saved Socorro some public embarrassment.

In fact, looking at the newspaper clippings that appeared in the Socorro newspaper, the El Defensor Chieftain there was one headlined "Air Force Consultant Checks UFO Site Here. Dr. Hynek Feels Zamora’s Account Not a Hoax." That seems to indicate that everyone in town would know about Hynek, his visit and his investigation. Had there been any indication of hoax, it would seem that this would have lead those who suspected it, meaning the staff and faculty at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology to try and get some word to Hynek. I mean, Hynek is a scientist on the faculty of a university and would certainly wish to have that information, the Air Force would certainly need the information so that they could clear this case from their books but there is nothing to suggest that ever happened. Instead, everyone kept quiet about it for decades. It is only recently that we learn the case is a hoax...

Or is it?

I remembered the late Philip Klass claimed that he too had solved the Socorro landing case and he had found evidence that it was a hoax. Klass wrote, in his 1974 book, UFOs Explained:
During my two days in Socorro, I talked with many residents in addition to Zamora and [Sgt. Sam Chavez, Zamora’s superior] Chavez, including several scientists – professors at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, the town’s principal "industry." I was amazed to find that with one exception, these scientists exhibited no interest in the Socorro UFO case, despite the fact that it had achieved international fame and had brought thousands of curious tourists to the town [Well, dozens, at least]. If the story was true, the most exciting scientific event of all time – a visit from an extraterrestrial spacecraft – had occurred almost with sight of the institute. How could these scientists be so uninterested? [Which, by the way, is a damn fine question and says more about the scientists and their perceptions of UFOs than it does about the validity of the case.]

When I pressed one man for an explanation, he urged me to "nose around a bit." When I sought clarification, he pointed out that except for the Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro had no industry, and some citizens feared the town was "going to seed."
After explaining all this, Klass noted that one way to attract tourists was to use the UFO landing though, at the time there was no evidence that a UFO landing would increase tourism. And then he drifted off into bizarre speculation, writing:
The property where the UFO reportedly landed had, prior to the incident, been next to worthless "scrub land." But now, if the site became a long-lived tourist attraction, there could be need for refreshment stands, perhaps even a motel for those who might like to spent the night near the spot where an extraterrestrial spaceship had seemingly landed. By a curious coincidence, the property where the UFO reportedly landed was owned by Mayor Bursum, officer Zamora’s boss! The mayor’s principal business? He is the town banker and as such would not be unhappy to see an influx of tourist dollars.
So, apparently to Klass’ way of thinking, Zamora and the mayor cooked up the UFO landing as a way of generating tourism in Socorro and dragging those tourists to a spot owned by the mayor. We all know how well that has worked out more than a quarter century after Klass made this rather ridiculous suggestion.

Phil KlassIn fact, it’s even worse for Klass’ (Phil Klass seen here) theory. According to the public records, in 1964, the land where the UFO landed was owned by the Delia Harris estate and in 1968 it was sold to the Richardson family. The mayor never owned it.

Just goes to show us that skeptics will grab onto anything to explain a case even if they have no facts to back it up. (Yes, I know the skeptics are out there saying... and the UFO nuts will latch onto anything to prove their case even if they have no facts to back it up... so we’re both right.) There is, of course, no evidence that Zamora and the mayor were working together on this. Just speculation about it, published as if there was something truthful here with no qualification.

And now we have this latest revelation of a proven hoax. Students at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology were the perpetrators of the hoax. Dave Collis, who as a freshman in 1965, or a year after the landing, provided what some have considered new evidence of a hoax. According to Bragalia:
Dave Collis was a freshman at New Mexico Tech in 1965, a year after the Socorro UFO incident. Collis went on to become a published scientist helping to lead the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at NM Tech. He is considered a world expert in researching blast effects and explosives.Collis explained that he himself enjoyed planning pranks when he was a student at Tech. In 1965, he and his friends had planned a "paranormal" prank and shared the plan with one of his trusted Professors. The Professor (who had been with Tech for years) told him that NM Tech had a long history of pranking- and that one of them was especially noteworthy. Collis then said that the Professor (whose name he does not remember or does not wish to offer) had "confidentially told me that the UFO sighting by the town cop was a hoax done by Techie students." Collis did not want to press the Professor on who did it -or how. Collis says, "he was telling me this in confidence, so I didn't ask for the details and he didn't offer." When asked if the Professor could have been making up the hoax story, Collis replied that in the context of his conversation with him- there was no reason for him to lie. The Professor had told him the truth about the hoax, of that he was sure. Collis, when told about Stirling Colgate's confirmation that it was a hoax said, "Colgate is a brilliant man and he was a great College President. From what I was told by my Professor, it was a hoax. And if Colgate also says it was a hoax, it was." Collis (who is a pyrotechnics expert and often directed NM Tech's July 4 Fireworks) said that it always has surprised him that people didn't seem to realize just how "terrestrial" the reported Zamora UFO seemed to be in the first place.
So there it is. We have one name who wasn’t involved, and wasn’t there but heard about from someone else who isn’t named but was there who believed it to be a hoax with no reason to lie. (I could point out here that if he truly believed the story told by the unnamed professor, and that if the unnamed professor truly believed the story of a hoax to be true, then he wasn’t lying. Misinformed... Yes... but lying, no.) We can go back to Colgate who will reaffirm that it was a hoax, but again, it is from others that he heard this and he supplies no names of the perpetrators. We’re still without names and we’re without details on how they pulled this off.

Collis had an explanation for the hoax which sounds valid and is presented as if the information is new.

Collis also explained that Lonnie Zamora had a reputation for "hounding" the Techie students during that time. The students and the Socorro police did not have a particularly good relationship back then. He said that there was "a lot of friction" at the time between what were felt to be "elitist and educated Techies" versus the "under-educated and simpler town folk." Zamora was always harassing the students for seemingly no reason, and at every opportunity. Many of the college kids just did not like him. What better way to "get back" at Zamora than for them to fool a fool?

In that same posting, Bragalia points out that Colgate had written in a letter dated 1968, that the whole thing was a hoax created by the students. The date here is important because in a letter written on September 10, 1964 by Donald Menzel of the Harvard College Observatory and sent to Dr. J. Allen Hynek Menzel wrote, "It certainly sounds to me like a hoax or, perhaps, some sort of hallucination." This is four years before the Colgate response and I suppose we should note that Menzel had not set foot in Socorro, not talked to a single witness and apparently gathered all his information from the newspaper reports. Colgate, on the other hand was right there in Socorro, so Colgate wins on that point.

Hynek however, wrote back to Menzel and said, "With respect to the Socorro case, I wish I could substantiate the idea that it was a hoax or a hallucination. Unfortunately, I cannot."

Menzel and Hynek exchanged a number of other letters over the next several months and finally, on April 29, 1965 or three years before Colgate communicated his thoughts on the matter, Hynek wrote a six page letter outlining his take on the Socorro landing. He also said that he had discussed the case with Major Hector Quintanilla, the then chief of Project Blue Book and said, "...he and I are in agreement on what follows."

Let’s remember one point here. I’m using documents found in the Project Blue Book files and given the timing, meaning the mid-1960s, I don’t think that anyone suspected that all this material would end up in private hands. In other words, they were writing for a very limited audience and didn’t expect the civilian UFO world to ever see these letters. In that respect, I believe them to be very candid.

On the second page of his long explanation, Hynek wrote, "The hoax hypothesis is, of course, one that suggests itself immediately. It is Quintanilla’s and my opinion that both Chavez and FBI agent Byrnes must have been in on the hoax if we adopt the hoax hypothesis. They testified that there were no tracks in the immediate neighborhood and so that the hoaxsters must themselves have arrived and left by balloon! Had it been a hoax, certainly some paraphernalia should have been left around if the pranksters beat a hasty retreat."

Okay, I’m not overly convinced by that either. How many times have we heard similar statements only to learn that a hoax had been perpetrated. Yes, there should have been some evidence but that there wasn’t doesn’t tell us that it was not a hoax. Only that they found no evidence of it which is not exactly the same thing.

The only part that is impressive are the opinions of Sergeant Chavez and FBI agent Byrnes. There were others who drove to the landing site right away and who were later interviewed by Ray Stanford. To make this work, they all had to be in on it and, of course, the FBI wouldn’t engage in a dirty trick... Okay, a cheap shot, but the point is that the FBI had no reason to get involved in a hoax like this.

Lonnie ZamoraHynek goes on to write, "Opal Grinder [owner of a gas station on the edge of Socorro] does have a high school student working for him, and I talked with him at length. Teenagers generally hate Zamora’s guts, but it was added that they hate all "fuzz" and that if they wanted to get even with Zamora (seen here), they would simply beat him up or do something more direct, like letting the air out of his tires or something with immediate results rather than resort to an involved hoax."

Hynek finally does suggest the real problem with the hoax idea. He wrote, "If the hoax comes off well, perpetrators like to gloat abit (sic), and there would have been no point in getting even with Zamora if they couldn’t have gotten some kudos for it."

Or, exposed the hoax after they learned of Zamora’s reaction to the sighting and his sudden world fame. What better way to get even than to point out he was the victim of a hoax and overacted in a very unprofessional manner.

Hynek finally wrote, "Both Quintanilla and I find it impossible to dismiss it as a hoax unless we have some evidence that there was a hoax." Note here, they were looking for evidence of a hoax within days of the sighting and that they found none.

Even those who came at this from the skeptical side of the house have rejected the student hoax idea. In an article for Skeptical Inquirer, and later posted to New Mexicans for Science and Reason, David E. Thomas wrote, "Yet another hypothesis is that physics students with a little too much extra time played a trick on the town, but that rumor doesn't have much credible support."

This does two things for us here. It points out that this hoax idea has been floating around for years because the Skeptical Inquirer article is from the July 2001 issue and the Internet posting is from May 2006. And, it suggests that the idea doesn’t have much support. Maybe the hoax was the students taking credit for the landing but had nothing to do with it.

When the most recent article was published, we were treated to second and third-hand information. We have no names associated with it, but we are supposed to accept it as if it proves a hoax. However, there is another side to this. In a report from Colonel Eric T. de Jonckheere (I think... each place his name appears in the various reports I have, the copy is fuzzy or smeared so it’s difficult to read exactly how he spelled his name) reported on additional witnesses. On May 28, 1964, in his evaluation of the case, he wrote:
The El Defensor and Chieftain [sic] of Tuesday 28 Apr 64 carried an article indicating that an unidentified tourist traveling North on US 85 saw the UFO just before it landed. He also observed the police car heading up the hill toward the spot where the UFO landed. If this is true, the UFO not only disappeared in the direction of White Sand’s but also same from that direction.
On Wednesday, April 29, 1964 the Dubuque, Iowa Telegraph-Herald carried an article headlined, "Two Dubuquers Spot Flying Saucer. In this article, the men, identified as Paul Kies, 24 and Larry Kratzer, 26, said they were driving along Highway 60 a mile east of Socorro when they saw something "shining." The article noted that a sergeant with the New Mexico State Police said that he saw the object on the ground in the desert.
I believe they mean Zamora in this case because the report continued, "He [the sergeant though Zamora wasn’t a sergeant] described it as ‘egg-shaped, about the size of a car.’ He said he saw two ‘creatures’ in white near the craft..."

Now, if this is true, then the hoax scenario fails because Kies and Kratzer were not in a position to see the object on the ground and therefore not in a position to see anything if the sighting is a hoax. What makes this more interesting than most of these most recent postings is that two men are named.

Other UFO researchers spoke to both these men, but some fourteen years after the fact. Researcher Ralph DeGraw said that their stories deviated from that told by Zamora and then from that told by each other. In other words, it seems that their report might not mean much, but in a case where we’re dealing with second and third-hand testimony, it would seem that testimony from named sources who claimed to have been there would be of more value than the vague statements attributed to unidentified others.

In fact, if the unidentified tourist is real, then there are three other witnesses who saw the craft in the air or close to the ground before Zamora found the landed object. These other people, while they certainly could have been fooled by a hoax, were simply not in a position to see anything if it was a hoax.

But I’m not arguing for the validity of any of this testimony. I’m only pointing out that it is there and is the same value as that we have from Colgate. We have faculty in Socorro saying hoax, we have Air Force investigators and consultants saying no hoax, and we have other witnesses, two of whom are named, who might have seen something in the sky.

Since the story appeared, Tony Bragalia and I have engaged in a very cordial email exchange about the case. He’s convinced that Colgate is telling the truth and that Colgate knows the truth. I pointed out that Hynek’s investigation in Socorro was well publicized and that I found it interesting that Colgate, if he knew it was a hoax, had not suggested this to Hynek, which clearly, he had not.

Bragalia wrote:
Colgate said that the perpetrator's did not want their cover blown. Perhaps Hynek did not get to the right people. More likely the right people simply did not want to talk. As Klass said, the NM scientists were strangely silent about the whole matter, why? Well, they didn't want to involve the school, or implicate any of the students, that is why. And the students themselves were certainly not going to implicate themselves!
Which, I suppose makes some sense, but the real problem here is that Hynek’s investigation was official and taxpayer money was being spent in his attempt to find a solution. As I have said, and as Hynek wrote, they were looking for any solution and even a hint of a hoax would have been enough to push this from the unidentified category.

Bragalia wrote back:
Perhaps Colgate did not learn the truth about the hoax until after the USAF investigation. I think that this is likely. Maybe he learned of the details only some years later and saw no reason to bring up the whole thing again. Perhaps sometime after the event – in the mid or late 60s – someone told him the whole story. By 1970 Colgate had returned to Los Alamos. It could even be that he learned the full story many, many years later when he and his student friend were by then old me. But the point is... he says that it was the hoax with the certainty of a scientist.
And while that might be the truth, we don’t know that it is. We only know that Colgate said that it was a hoax and Bragalia’s belief that it is the truth. I still have trouble accepting the fact that Colgate, as the ranking member of the faculty could have learned this vital information and not communicated it to Hynek but only sent it off to Linus Pauling some four years later.

Where does that leave us? Right where we started. The new information isn’t all that new. All that has happened is that Bragalia found a letter to a Nobel Laureate, Linus Pauling, but, of course, Pauling is only the recipient of the letter so his name here means nothing. It is Colgate, who is a reputable scientist, who says that the case is a hoax, but we don’t know what he really knows for certain. He talked of pranks and unidentified students, and even that he knows who the pranksters are but we have nothing solid.

If Colgate comes through with the details of the hoax, if those who created the hoax come forward and admit it was a hoax, then we have some powerful information and some extremely important evidence. But right now we have nothing new, other than a letter written some four years after the fact suggesting a theory that was purposed at the time the sighting was reported. In other words, we have nothing new.

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