Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sharp-Dressed Men: The Men-in-Black are Back

By Scott Corrales
Institute of Hispanic Ufology
Inexplicata – The Journal of Hispanic Ufology
A Journal of UFO and Paranormal Phenomena in the Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain
December 2004

     The success of the 1997 movie "Men In Black", starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, rekindled interest in this poorly understood aspect of UFO/paranormal phenomena. As the movie raked in millions at the box office and factual books on MIBbery appeared on the bookstands, it seemed impossible to believe that only three years ago, a Spanish magazine had wistfully mentioned "the almost forgotten Men-In-Black" in passing as part of an article on global UFO phenomena. The prolonged absence of these somberly-dressed, nefarious characters (believed by many to be either agents from a top-secret government agency, a "silencing" organization belonging to an extraterrestrial power carrying out clandestine operations on Earth, or manifestations of negative paranormal forces) had removed the aura of fear that envelops the phenomenon. However, recent years have proven that the dreaded Men-in-Black have returned to the scene with renewed vigor after their extended sabbatical.

      Men-in-Black reputedly harass eyewitnesses to UFO sightings and encounters, usually turning up at their homes (or places of business, as transpired in one Puerto Rican case) usually way before the witnesses have even thought about going public with their stories. Case histories have them dressing in black suits, white shirts and jaunty red ties (the fabrics, however, have often been described as being unusual or unearthly),travelling in threes, more often than not aboard spanking new models of large, outdated cars. With notable exceptions, they seem to deliver a boilerplate warning: do not discuss the particular sighting, if a witness, or cease and desist investigation, if a ufologist.

      These sartorial agents of silence have acquired mythic proportions in the UFO community over a timespan as lengthy as the phenomenon itself. From the first appearance of a black suited, red-cravatted man in the wake of the infamous Maury Island "Hoax", threatening witness Harold Dahl to silence, to a growing number of appearances in the '90s, MIBs remain an enthralling facet of the supernatural.

A Troubling Early History

      Early UFO sightings always ended with the involvement of the Air Force as the best qualified source of investigating the precise nature of these things. Airmen routinely turned up at witnesses' homes to ask questions, and in many instances, to confiscate evidence--such as samples of elusive "angel hair" taken from the home of journalist R.DeWitt Miller (author of You Do Take It With You) in 1954. When Asiatic-looking men in black suits started showing up claiming an affiliation with the Air Force, no one thought to question them, but their strange behavior--and uncanny psychic abilities--soon arose suspicion.

      After being pursued by a UFO over the Mediterranean in 1951, Col. Jim Doherty was visited by a spindly young man in an Air Force lieutenant's overcoat. The gaunt-looking fellow warned Doherty, in an oddly-accented voice, to forget all about the UFO encounter. Doherty was to learn later on that there was no such officer working for AFOSI. Years after the incident, Doherty was still nightmares about his UFO encounter in which a spindly being, reminiscent of the false lieutenant, figured prominently.1 The Air Force promptly denied any connection whatsoever to the Men in Black. A Pentagon colonel told author John Keel that they had looked into a number of Men in Black reports. The same Pentagon official stated that the UFO silencers, whoever they were, were committing a federal offense by impersonating a member of the armed forces. These trivialities did not seem to trouble the Men in Black: One such impostor, using the handle "Captain Munroe", turned up to threaten the teenage photographers of the Beaver Falls, PA UFO in 1968. The impostor told one of the young Pennsylvanians that something unpleasant might happen to him if he continued discussing his sighting.2

      The Men in Black phenomenon soon took on a life of its own when Albert K. Bender, director of the International Flying Saucer Bureau, announced his retirement from "flying saucer investigation" and the IFSB's shutdown in 1953, as a result of harassment by three men in black. As rumors flew concerning the provenance of the trio, Bender himself would later state that they were not from the FBI, but "from another branch."3 The Men in Black proved to have quite a long reach, as well: Edgar J. Jarrold, head of the Australian Flying Saucer Bureau, received a mysterious visitor who advised him that "the most fantastic situation it is possible to conceive by normal standards" 4. Jarrold would disappear mysteriously years later. Bender would try to expand on the reasons for his hasty departure from ufology in his UFOs and the Three Men, where he describes Kazik, the dismal homeworld of the Men in Black, and the experiences he endured at their hands.5 Bender could claim the distinction of being the first investigator to be molested by these unknown quantities, and his story would repeat itself in the lives of a number of investigators hence.

      Warren Smith, a noted writer during the 1970's (under the name Eric Norman), had acquired a piece of metal allegedly recovered from a UFO in Madison, Wisconsin which had dumped "slag" (á la Maury Island) over an interstate highway. Aware that someone was tailing him during the investigation, Smith chose to conceal the fragment of slag within a television set in his motel room. Upon returning to his room one evening, he was faced by two men who demanded that he turn over the find, threatening harm to his family if he chose not to.6

      While never caught red-handed, the disappearances of UFO related documents, even copies stored in different locations, have been blamed on Men in Black. A NJ housewife who made a one-line entry about a UFO sighting in 1973 in her diary lost the entire book, which was in a locked desk. UFO researchers Ivan Sanderson and Capt. Edward Ruppelt both had files containing UFO data stolen from their homes in break-ins where objects of value to an authentic burglar were left untouched.7

      Men in Black were also involved in the disappearances of children. In August 1969, an alarming number of children suddenly vanished from the Brazilian town of Vilha Verde, reappearing with equal abruptness weeks later. The children had no recollection of where they had been during their absence, but their last recollection seemed to be having taken a ride in an expensive automobile driven by a "gentleman all dressed in black." 8 One girl claimed that a man in black had led her to the outskirts of town to a strange machine, having asked her to take her a ride "in his airplane", but seeing her discomfiture, gave her a handful of candies and told her to go back home. Nor have they apparently shied away from involvement in the cattle mutilations

      John Keel, whose delving into the subject would make him the unquestioned expert in these matters documented the uncanny powers of these beings: in 1960, William Dunn Jr., a UFO investigator, had his home burglarized, his files burned, and his photos stolen.10 Men in Black were notably active during the West Virginia "Mothman" Sightings of 1966-67 as well as in Long Island, N.Y. Far from believing them to be extraterrestrial agents, Keel introduced the concept of the Men in Black as negative, paraphysical forces whose warnings were not to be taken lightly. His sentiments would be echoed by other writers and researchers. Some, like David Tansley, believe that they are a form of demonic psychic energy--a conjecture substantiated by records from past centuries. Others opine that they are thought-forms of some sort, although whose thought forms remains unclear.11

Mike Meets a MIB

      In 1966, Mike Lonzo wrote a 58-page UFO report for a high-school English class. His effort was awarded an "A" grade and placed on display in his school after he was asked to read it to an entire convocation of students. This coincided with his mother's interest in signing up for a correspondence course on creative writing, sponsored by an outfit known as "Famous Writers". The volume of work required clashed with Mrs. Lonzo's other duties, so she became discouraged.

      One afternoon (date uncertain, but school was out for the summer), a strange character paid a visit to the Lonzo household. Mike describes him as wearing an olive-green sharkskin suit and having dark wavy hair and the facial structure of a "Filipino/Pakistani". The man extended a business card and introduced himself as "Mr. Marx", a sales rep for "Famous Writers". Mrs. Lonzo was concerned at first, believing that he had come to chide her on her lack of progress in the writing course.

      "Mr. Marx", however, appeared more interested in UFOs and asked if either Mike or Mrs. Lonzo had seen any in the area. Mike promptly volunteered that he had recently completed an award-winning report on the subject. "Mr.Marx" went on to tell Mike that Wright-Patterson AFB had a museum in which captured saucers were "on exhibit". He later offered to take Mike's report to his superiors for possible publication as a pamphlet. "This was 1966," Mike observes, "and Kinko's [a commercial photocopying establishment] wasn't around yet." No other copy of the document, which included photos, was available at the time. As a curious aside, Mr. Marx told the Lonzos that he lived in West Mifflin (outside of Pittsburgh, PA) in one of two "round houses" built in the 1950's and which were well-known to townspeople due to their irregular, futuristic style.

      Mike went to bed excited about the possible publication of his project. But as days went by, no word was heard from Mr. Marx. A call was placed to the number on his business card, only to be told that there was no "Mr.Marx" working for Famous Writers as a sales rep. A helpful operator suggested that they try the Cleveland office. The reply there was the same: there was no Mr. Marx working in any capacity for their company.

      Mike and his father went to West Mifflin to find the purported Marx character at one of the "round houses". They were stunned to discover that there was no Mr. Marx or Marx family at either of the structures. The fate of his school report remains a mystery to this day.

A Chinese MIB

      Most readers will be surprised to learn that Men-in-Black are not an exclusively Western phenomenon. In his book, China and The Extraterrestrials (Difel, 1985--translation available in French and in Portuguese), author Shi Bo relates an interview between newspaperman Wang Shili and a military chaffeur named Li Jingyang, who had a UFO experience in Shansi province in 1963, when he was only six years old. While out with his friends, Li Jingyang noticed an awe-inspiring discoidal object emerge from the clouds in an otherwise clear sky. The terrified boys observed the UFO closely, which remained static in the sky for some ten minutes. The following day, while walking the streets alone, Li was surprised by a tall man "completely dressed in black" who stopped him in his tracks, barring his way and demanding to know what the boy had seen. "Since I didn't understand him very well," the hapless witness explained, "he repeated his question, and I replied yes. He pointed at the sky, where the luminous object had staged its appearance and asked me again: was it there? I told him yes. He advised me to never tell others what I'd seen. Only after I gave him my word of honor did he allow me to leave."

      Li Jingyang recalls the man as having dark skin, adding that many other people saw him and discussed the strange character, whose "gestures were incomprehensible." The Man-In-Black walked in a mechanical manner and its mouth did not move whenever it spoke. It disappeared suddenly after turning around a street corner.

South America's "Hombres de Negro"

      Mexican researcher Dr. Rafael A. Lara notes that on the evening of June 24th, 1967, over 110 UFO incidents were logged in a 24-hour period in the skies over Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay. Perhaps more astonishing than the scope of this UFO event was the fact that it had been foretold by a Man in Black.

      Four days earlier, the newsroom of the Cordoba (Argentina) "Los Principios" journal had received the visit of a very strange man dressed in black. The unusual character left a long letter addressed to the paper's editor, saying that before the week was out, the skies of the South American landmass would be swarming with extraterrestrial vehicles. The day before the sightings began, the paper received a phone call stating: "Attention! is about to happen at any moment."

      But the MIB's work in South America was hardly finished. During several days in the month of August, 1968, strange lights were seen in the night skies over Santa Fé, Argentina. Farmers were surprised to find strange circular burn marks on their properties as a result of these sightings; numerous animals died as a result of some sort of radiation in the area. A local family witnessed a jeep carrying four men in black coveralls drive up to their home. One of the men asked the owner what was the best way to get off the property. UFO sightings over the region ceased shortly after the incident involving these jeep-riding MIB.

      In 1971, two physicians -- Arguello de la Mota and Antonio Arocha -- were in San Juan de los Morros, a small town not far from Caracas, Venezuela when they were startled by the unexpected arrival of two characters dressed in black who drove into the dusty town in a sporty Mustang. Unaware that they were being watched, the MIB exchanged remarks and donned orange-colored belts. Suddenly, a brilliant object appeared in the sky, descending rapidly to the surface. The physicians, swore that the object was a 60-foot wide disk-shaped craft which produced a parabolic ladder while hovering inches off the ground. The MIB entered the vehicle, which rose into the skies and vanished out of sight (no information is available on the fate of the brand-new sports car they left behind). The story was circulated worldwide by United Press International.

      When Karl Brugger, author of the "Chronicles of Akakor" (a narration of "lost" underground cities in Brazil) was mysteriously murdered on the streets of Rio de Janeiro in January 1984, a number of South American investigators promptly placed responsibility for the crime on the HDN (hombres de negro, the Spanish acronym for MIB). Fabio Zerpa, editor of the now defunct Cuarta Dimensión, declared: "These deaths always have the appearance of being natural events, but curiously enough, every time someone has important information on a crucial subject, strange accidents seem to befall them."15

Paranormal or Political?

      The late British paranormalist F.W. Holiday had a personal encounter an unusual Man in Black in the aftermath of the exorcism of Loch Ness in 1978. The figure, which stood some 30 yards away from him, was six feet tall and clothed in black motorcycle leathers with a helmet covering its features.12 Holiday could detect no eyes behind the visor and felt "a strong sensation of malevolence" issuing from it. He walked within a few feet of it and past it, but when he turned around to look at it again, the figure had vanished.

      A more mundane origin for these elusive characters, in step with the "secret government agent" theory, is that they were in fact elements of the Air Force Special Activities Center (AFSAC), devoted to non-electronic intelligence gathering, in particular the 1127th Field Activities Group, comprising a varied array of shady types, ranging from lock-pickers and impersonators to ex-convicts, whose tasks were made even easier by the paranoia surrounding the UFO community. A corollary belief is that a great many Men in Black were Tibetan monks who followed the Dalai Lama and the Khamba riders into exile, placing their uncanny prowess at the service of the CIA. While fanciful, this would certainly account for the Asiatic physiognomy and unfamiliarity certain customs.

      Some Men in Black have upon occasion demonstrated non-stereotypical behavior: In November 1973 a young woman working for an employment agency in San Juan, Puerto Rico received an afternoon visit from a man clad in an immaculately black suit with a shirt that seemed to be woven of a texture unknown on Earth. The man had extremely long, tapering fingers (as reported in other Men in Black cases) and a mannequin-smooth complexion. The woman found herself mesmerized by his conversation, which ranged from the ecology to war, along with statements such as: "there were other worlds than this one." According to author Salvador Freixedo, the Men in Black often respond positively to courteous treatment.13

      The Men in Black seemed to have taken an extended furlough sometime in the late 70's. One of their last major appearances was in the wake of the failed hijacking of a private plane by three small UFOs over Lake Tequesquitengo, Mexico. The pilot, Carlos de los Santos Montiel, was harassed by Men in Black on his way to an interview with the late Dr. J.Allen Hynek. Many believe that the increased willingness to discuss the phenomenon in the wake of 1978's Close Encounters of the Third Kind spiked the MIB's usefulness as tools of fear and intimidation.

      But the Nineties have witnessed their disturbing return to the scene in a number of cases: Puerto Rican investigator Jorge Martín, editor of Evidencia Ovni magazine, unearthed an astonishing MIB story while interviewing the late Diego Segarra, a key witness to the Laguna Cartagena sightings. Segarra told Martín that a friend had had a chilling experience while exploring the vicinity of the lagoon, recording things on a small camcorder. The witness saw a bright flash that proved to emanate from a spherical UFO about to land. Hiding behind the dense tropical vegetation, Segarra's friend was able to see--and allegedly capture on video--jumpsuited Greys emerging from the craft, followed by a tall, albinoesque human figure clad in a black suit, white shirt, and red tie. The witness also added that the man in the black suit wore sunglasses and had silvery hair, and was whisked away by two soldiers riding a jeep--a notable step down from the ubiquitous black Cadillac.

      Pennsylvanian UFO investigator Lois Le Gros has studied a number of cases involving MIB activity in the 1990s: two witnesses, one of them an abductee, were cornered by a Man in Black in the aisle of a discount store near Pittsburgh. According to their testimony, the strange personage appeared intent on mesmerizing them with an unusual ring on one of the fingers of his hand. In a completely unrelated case, another young abductee from a Pittsburgh suburb would encounter a Man in Black every day--on her way to work.

      Describing him as "intimidating", the witness told Le Gros that he would board the bus every day and gradually sit closer to her. The sinister figure wore a full-length black trenchcoat, even in unseasonable weather, and hat, shoes, gloves and shirt of the same color. On one occasion, the stranger sat next to her on the bus, causing her to cringe against the window. In spite of the confined space on the vehicle, the witness expressed a belief that she may well have been the only one to have noticed the sinister, outlandishly dressed character.

      The strange "reanimation" of the Men in Black seems to have adapted itself to the belt-tightening Nineties: travelling in twos rather than threes, using public transport rather than the obligatory Cadillacs, and departing UFO landing sites in humvees or jeeps. This should not be surprising, given the phenomenon's propensity toward mimicry of the human condition. The fact that they have returned from their improbable reality to trouble our own, however, should be a cause for concern.


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