Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: I Was Framed

In a January 1993 paper titled “Ed Walters, The Model, and Tommy Smith” written for the MUFON Journal, Art Hufford articulated the Mutual UFO Network’s response to allegations that Ed Walters had hoaxed his UFO photos. Hufford briefly mentioned that MUFON assigned two additional investigators, Rex and Carol Salisberry (left), but then dismissed them because they “failed to deliver a complete report on the allegations (as outlined by MUFON’s Deputy Director for Investigations, Dan Wright).” He then spent the rest of the paper announcing the results of a subsequent investigation by The Salisberrys’ “supervisor,” Gary Watson.

When presented with the model (right) found by Robert Menzer, and the sketch inside with his handwriting in it, Ed Walters explained that he had earlier heard people rummaging around his garbage. He didn’t mention it earlier because he didn’t realize the significance at the time. But now he contended that some “debunker” wanted to discredit him by stealing something from him, and putting it inside a model to discredit him.

Watson produced evidence corroborating this dog-ate-my-sketch scenario. Going through Walters’ records, he found only one proposed housing construction that matched the specs on the sketch: specifically for a 1740 square foot dwelling with a 2393 square foot slab area built on 712 Jamestown Drive. There was only one proposed project (later abandoned) that matched the specs completely, a house proposed by a Mr. and Mrs. Lynn Thomas in September 1989. Problem was, that Walters first began photographing the UFO in November 1987. So, contended Watson, and therefore MUFON, Walters could not have used that model to hoax UFOs two years earlier.

As for Tommy Smith, Walters admitted that he knew him, but not very well. This led Watson to wonder why Walters would let him in on such an intimate secret as a purported hoax. More important, although Smith said Walters created the hoax shots through double exposure, he could not account for some of the photographs (specifically those taken with the Nimslo 3D) which appeared genuine. Smith claimed that the Nimslo 3D photos were of an airplane, when no known airplane had that configuration. Moreover, the photographic techniques Walters allegedly showed him could not reproduce the effects seen in the photograph. For example, Smith said Walters created the effect of a blue beam by slowly peeling the back off the Polaroid, and exposing it to light. This will just produce a splotch. Smith claimed to know for certain that the infamous Photo 19 was a double exposure, but couldn’t give details of either the technique used to create the double exposure, or the circumstances of the photograph itself.

Worst of all, Smith had good reason to lie against Walters. As B.J. Booth pointed out in “The Gulf Breeze, Florida UFOs,” Ed Walters was running against Smith’s father, Thomas Sr., for city council that year. Furthermore, Mayor Ed Gray and Police Chief Jerry Brown were always critical of Walters’ claims, and had supposedly demonstrated some antipathy for the man. So if someone were willing to come forth and testify that they had helped create a hoax, they would most likely promote that claim without much scrutiny. Moreover, the revelation created a double political windfall for Thomas Sr. by (1) discrediting his main opponent, and (2) depicting himself and his family as upright citizens who told the truth no matter the personal consequences.

In short, Tommy Smith had an agenda, couldn’t really describe how the photos were produced, let alone faked, and it would seem unlikely that Walters would confide in him. This led MUFON to officially adopt a “final” position on Walters’ veracity:

Gary Watson's reinvestigation of the Ed Walters case also dealt with some of the other issues surrounding this case, but time and your interest do not permit going any further. Watson's reinvestigation found no basis for rejecting the original MUFON conclusion... that Ed Walters IS TELLING THE TRUTH. [emphasis original]
I’m inclined to disbelieve that Smith’s story is true, at least in its details. Yet, Ed Walters could very well have confided a hoax to another teenager, specifically Hank Boland, who confirmed Walters’ story to the Gulf Breeze Sentinel under the alias Patrick Hanks. Boland and Smith knew each other. In one newspaper interview, Smith named Boland as a co-conspirator.

Figure 1. Smith interview

Of course, even if one could absolutely prove Smith a liar, that still wouldn’t make Walters’ account any more accurate. In fact, despite MUFON’s insistence that the Walters photographs (and his subsequent sightings and reported abduction) were genuine, mounting evidence indicated that he had engaged in fraudulent behavior.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: A Model Citizen

The Gulf Breeze UFO sightings grew in intensity over 1989, with over 130 reports over a six-month time from independent witnesses. This attracted national media attention. Unsolved Mysteries aired two separate pieces on Gulf Breeze, one in which Ed Walters remained anonymous, and another after he himself had come out of the closet, and written his book with Dr. Bruce Maccabee.

In this second piece, Unsolved Mysteries began to examine some of the reports that indicated Walters hoaxed his UFO photographs. The accusations of hoaxing came from several different sources: (1) local citizens who knew, or claimed to know, Walters; (2) ufologists who found credibility problems in Walters’ claims; and (3) those critical of MUFON’s handling of the case.

In 1989, the resultant publicity surrounding Walters’ photos, story and coming out of the cosmic closet drove him and Frances out of their house. They purchased a new home, and sold their old one to Robert and Sarah Menzer, a couple who had recently relocated from the Washington D.C. area. As out-of-towners, the Menzers had no clue about the reported UFO activity surrounding it, and Walters offered them no information. So, it came as a surprise to Robert when, scrounging around in the attic to find a shutoff valve, he discovered a miniature flying saucer that looked like the one in Walters’ photographs.

Since he had no idea about the UFO flap in Gulf Breeze, Menzer didn’t know what to make of his discovery until June 1990, when Pensacola journalist Craig Meyers decided to write a follow-up piece on the Walters photographs. With other leads drying up, Meyers thought it wouldn’t do any harm if he talked to the people who bought the house at the center of all the hubbub.

I came by because, as I said, this house is where Ed and Frances claimed to have taken several of those photos in 1987 and 1988. I said.. 'Well, we were just wondering if possibly you had found or seen anything unusual since you moved in?'

The Menzers were beginning to look like the couple who had bought the home in The Amityville Horror.

'Found something? Like what?' Mr. Menzer said.

'Well, first of all, what about a UFO?' I asked, only half laughing.

'No, I can’t say we have,' Mr. Menzer said, chuckling.

'Okay. What about any photographs laying around?'


'Books about UFOs, photography, unexplained phenomenon?'

'Can’t say we have.

'Any models of UFOs…'

I was ready to write down another 'no,' but there was only silence. I looked up and they were looking at each other. Then they looked at me. My heart was once again pumping like a kettle drum.
The Menzers produced the model. Even more damning, Menzer found a sketch of a property inside it. Walters had worked on the property. Ed’s handwriting was all over it.

On 17 June 1990, a few days after the publication of Meyers’ account in the Pensacola News Journal, teenager Tommy Smith, after telling his father about pictures he helped Walters fake, stepped forward to expose the ruse. Gulf Breeze Mayor Edward Grey held a press conference two days later to pronounce Walters a fraud.

While that could have settled the question of authenticity once and for all, there were some MUFON people who saw the revelation as spurious. After some digging, they found evidence that the model, the plans, and even Tommy Smith were not what they appeared to be.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: The Investigations

Sometime around New Year’s Day 1988, Ed Walters disclosed to MUFON that he and Mr. X were one and the same. Moreover, his UFO encounters were ongoing. On January 12, a flying saucer identical to the one he photographed in his front yard buzzed him as he drove down Country Road 191B. He managed to get a photograph as the UFO flew away.

Figure 1. Ed Walters Photograph 19

Walters reported the incident to MUFON, as well as what happened the following day. Apparently, a “Special Agent McKathy” from the United States Air Force visited him, and demanded the photo. Walters told him he’d already given it to a Miami Herald reporter. He then reported another incident on 16 January, which prompted a visit from MUFON founder Walter Andrus. After interviewing Walters, and looking over the photo, Andrus declared, “This is one of the most amazing UFO cases that I have investigated in the past thirty years in the United States.”

From then on, Andrus set out to prove the validity of Walters’ assertions. MUFON sent investigators Robert Reid and Gary Watson to “stakeout” Ed’s place (with the Walters’ permission). That way, when he saw the flying saucer, they could be on hand to verify and record it. But on two separate occasions, when Walters alerted them of the UFO’s presence, neither investigator could spot it. Nevertheless, Walters still produced photographs of the encounters.

On 25 January, Walters led investigator Charles Flannigan to a spot where he said he saw a UFO land. They eventually came to a circular spot of dead grass covered with some type of liquid. They took samples of the liquid for further testing.

Since the investigators couldn’t see Walters’ UFO with their own eyes, and because the previous examination of his photographs from Dr. Nathan were inconclusive, MUFON decided to give him a Nimslo 3D camera. The Polaroid camera Walters had already used made double exposures difficult, but not impossible. The Nimslo camera would make it nearly impossible for an amateur photographer to fake. Moreover, the camera was pre-loaded and sealed. Reid warned that if Walters broke the seal, it would severely diminish his credibility.

In addition to the new camera, Flannigan set up an appointment for Walters to take a polygraph test. Walters stood them up, claiming he’d forgotten about it. Ed then arranged for someone else to administer the polygraph. Sure enough, operator Havery McLaughlin gave Walters a clean bill of health:

Following two separate multiple chart specific issue examinations there were no specific physiological reactions of a deceptive nature noted to any of the reviewed test questions. General areas of questioning followed as: "Did you lie or falsify the information you have furnished me concerning the UFOs you have seen?" "Did you in any way falsify or lie about the photographs you have presented concerning these UFOs?" "Did you in any way falsify or lie about the humanoid beings that you saw or any other physical evidence that you have presented?" With the information that is present at this time, furnished by the examinee, no consistent deceptive responses are seen....

With the information that is available to this examiner at this time it is felt that Mr. Walters truly believes that the photographs and personal sightings he has described are true and factual to the best of his ability.
Weeks went by with neither Ed nor Frances seeing anything resembling a UFO. They then thought to track one down by going to a local park in which others had seen UFOs. Now armed with a tamper-proof camera, they finally saw a cigar-shaped UFO on 26 February, and snapped away.

In a final effort to prove the validity of the Walters case, MUFON asked Dr. Bruce Maccabee to examine the photos. Dr. Maccabee, an optical physicist working for the United States Navy as a civilian, became convinced of the photographs’ validity. At the 1988 MUFON Symposium, he presented a paper validating that the photographs were not the result of a model, or trick photography, or double exposures. That meant they could only have been real.

In 1990, Walters and Dr. Maccabee co-wrote the book UFOs Are Real: Here’s the Proof.

MUFON, Dr. Maccabee, and perhaps many other ufologists relied on a number of evidentiary pieces to argue that Ed Walters had recorded a flying disc up close before being abducted on numerous occasions from 1987-1988. There were the photographs, first of all. Walters was, by no means, a professional photographer. So the Polaroid photographs, and those that he later took with a professional grade 35mm camera, could have been faked, but that would be difficult for an amateur like Walters. Then, there were the photographs taken by the sealed Nimslo 3D camera, which appear to be genuine, with no evidence of tampering or double-exposures. Then too many other people reported UFOs. Most of them didn’t know the Walters. There were also the polygraph tests. They seemed to corroborate the Walters’ truthfulness. Other things pointed towards their truthfulness as well. The Walters were pillars of the community. Ed’s wealth meant that he didn’t have a financial incentive to hoax (even though he secured a $200K advance for the writing of UFOs Are Real, and has since written other books). Moreover, if you have ever seen Mr. and Mrs. Walters in interview, they come across as sincere, long-suffering victims of UFO attacks and abductions.

After a little digging, however, a number of people representing the press, the police, debunkers, rival UFO organizations, and even a faction within MUFON didn’t find the evidence so compelling when held to scrutiny. What’s worse, they found evidence to refute just about everything in Walters’ story.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: Gettin’ His MUFON

Edited 11/2/10 for accuracy.

Three days after the Gulf Breeze Sentinel published his UFO photographs, Ed Walters claimed that the aliens made a return visit. He rushed out with his Polaroid camera. The aliens forbade him to take snapshots. So he photographed them anyway. Changing tactics, the aliens tried to distract him by telepathically sending images of nude women into his brain. Undaunted, Walters kept clicking the shutter.

Almost two weeks later, Walters heard a baby crying and a conversation in Spanish from his bedroom. He and rushed into his yard with the camera in one hand, and a gun in the other. This time his wife, Frances accompanied him and witnessed the flying disc for herself. The encounter didn’t last long, so they went back to bed thinking there wouldn’t be anything further. But when a dog’s bark woke him at 3:00 in the blessed AM, he, again armed with camera and gun, went into another room, pulled the blinds, and found himself staring eye-to-almond-shaped-eye with an alien. Frances crawled over to Ed, who said he would have shot if the creature had entered the house. Instead it turned away.

The following day, 3 December 1987, the Sentinel published another UFO, taken by a woman only identified as ‘Jane,’ purportedly taken the previous year. From then on, the newspaper found itself swamped in UFO reports and sightings from all over town.

Deciding he needed help, Walters then sought out UFO organizations in order to report his experience and get some help in dealing with it. Still claiming to represent a Mr. X, he eventually talked to the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), which dispatched investigators Don Ware and Charles Flannigan to the Walters’ place. They questioned him for awhile, gave him a form to fill out, and left it at that.

From then on, UFOs kept showing up at his door. Walters claimed that the aliens came back on numerous occasions. Sometimes, they abducted. Sometimes, they seemed like they just wanted to talk to him. They apparently implanted something in his brain. All the while, Walters kept taking pictures. When he could, he took samples of various fluids spewing out of the ship.

MUFON enlisted the help of NASA photoanalyst Dr. Robert Nathan to determine the authenticity of the Walters photographs. Although he could not definitely prove them fakes, Dr. Nathan was suspicious enough not to endorse them as genuine.

Yet, there were other witnesses reporting UFOs in Gulf Breeze during this time. Most of them didn’t know Ed Walters. But at least one of them did: specifically a teenager using the pseudonym Patrick Hanks. Hanks was really Walters’ friend Hank Boland, who confirmed that he saw the uniquely shaped flying saucer with Ed on 27 December 1987.

If you’re asking why a middle-aged man had one teenaged friend, truth was he had a lot of them. And they would shed important light on this case before all was said and done.

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