“Nobody should have to suffer like that,” says John Schuessler of the mystery that has haunted him for 30 years. “I do connect (their deaths) to that event. Their lives were never the same. They were ill from that day forward.”
Cash-Landrum, gone with the wind
By Bill Cox
By Bill Cox
But the former project manager for shuttle flight operations at Johnson Space Center did his best to figure out what happened along a remote stretch of highway outside Houston on Dec. 29, 1980. In fact, during a medical briefing Schuessler prepared for Laurance Rockefeller a dozen years later as the billionaire philanthropist attempted to nudge the Clinton administration toward UFO transparency, two radiation experts felt compelled to add their voices to the record. “They said we needed a national warning system to let people know just how serious this is.”
Thirty years ago, 51-year-old motorist Betty Cash and two passengers — 57-year-old Vickie Landrum and her grandson Colby, 7 — were startled around 9 p.m. by an enormous, glowing, diamond-shaped object straddling rural Highway 1485. Blocking her path, the spectacle brought the Oldsmobile Cutlass to a halt and compelled an awestruck Cash to get out for a better look. Vickie partially exited the passenger side but had to contend with her terrified grandson, who tried wrestling her back in.
As the UFO ascended and cleared the treeline, the three counted 23 helicopters, some with military markings, some of which they later identified as twin-rotor CH-47 Chinooks. To varying degrees, all three would report symptoms consistent with radiation exposure — blisters, hair loss, burns, nausea. Cash would require hospitalization. Other witnesses to the choppers and/or the UFO would come forward, and the U.S. Army was forced to defend itself from a $20 million lawsuit alleging the military was responsible for the victims’ injuries.
Driving the investigation was Schuessler, MUFON’s former International Director who navigated a tricky path between his work for NASA and his curiosity over The Great Taboo. He was evidently successful, because he was rewarded with a NASA Public Service Medal for his contributions to spaceflight prior to retirement.
Schuessler organized a multidisciplinary team that was able to discover additional eyewitnesses, scorch marks on nearby trees, and the fact that the stretch of highway in question was quickly repaved without leaving a paper trail of work orders from the county or the state. Not even Army Inspector General Lt. Col. George Sarran could challenge the veracity of the victims.
“Ms. Landrum and Ms. Cash were credible,” Sarran wrote in his summary. “The policeman and his wife were also credible witnesses. There was no perception that anyone was trying to exaggerate the truth.”
But a federal judge tossed the lawsuit in 1986 after Sarran’s report convinced him that Army assets were not involved.
“Poor ol’ Sarran,” Schuessler says from his home in Littleton, Colorado. “It wasn’t his fault; he did the best he could do. He didn’t have a top secret clearance so he wasn’t able to check into classified operations that may have been going on. And my understanding is, he was new to the job and this was the first field investigation he’d conducted.”
Schuessler’s real empathy is reserved for the victims. Throughout her painful ordeal, Betty — a restaurant owner with a sweet disposition whom De Void interviewed on numerous occasions — remained devoutly shocked that Uncle Sam would lie to her. She died in 1998. Vickie died in 2007. “The last time I saw her, it was upsetting to see, to look at what the burns had done to her arms,” Schuessler recalls. “She was having a horrible time of it.
“Vickie would get taunted about how bad she looked. Somebody even told her she shouldn’t come to church looking like that. It broke her heart.”
Colby Landrum still lives in the vicinity of that life-altering event, but De Void was unable to reach him for comment.
Schuessler doubts he’ll ever learn what happened, but “I concluded it wasn’t one of ours. We still don’t have the technology to hoist the kind of vehicle the witnesses described, which we estimated was at least 90 feet tall. If it had been a military project, the helicopters would’ve probably been there from the beginning. But everyone who saw them said it looked like they were trying to catch up to it.”
The only thing you can take to the bank is the obvious: They got away with it.