Is anyone left on Planet Earth unaware of The Roswell Incident? That's the reported 1947 crash of a saucer-shaped unidentified flying object in southeastern New Mexico accompanied by subsequent accounts of alien body sightings.
Years of sensational publicity, numerous books, the dubious "alien autopsy" film and frequent references on the TV show The X-Files has made Roswell internationally famous and all but synonymous with UFO. Now comes this summer's blockbuster movie Independence Day, the plot of which turns on the fact that the U.S. actually recovered a functioning flying saucer and its not so functioning occupants in New Mexico.
So David Letterman sends a crew to the desert and even Ted Koppel's "Nightline" drops by for a look. It's even fair to say that Roswellian UFO interest resides at the highest level of world leadership. After receiving an inquiring letter from a teenager in Northern Ireland, President Clinton actually told an audience during a 1995 visit to Belfast, "As far as I know, an alien spacecraft did not crash in Roswell."
Indeed, the Roswell Incident—so called because of the 1980 book of the same name by Charles Berlitz and William Moore, assisted by Stanton Friedman—is easily the world's most-investigated UFO happening. It might just live up to the book cover's immodest claim of "the most important UFO encounter of our century."
So why does the crash site keep moving around?
Yes! In spite of all the books and all the alleged investigations and all the attention, veteran UFO researchers cannot agree on the location of the world's most celebrated UFO incident. Over the years at least six different southern New Mexico crash sites have been identified several hundred miles apart, spanning an area far bigger than Delaware. Four have emerged in the past few years alone.
One site, outlined in a book and video just published in Roswell, is surrounded by questionable paperwork, a changed story, monetary inducement and, yes, even sex. This site is also the one supported by the most prominent UFO museum in Roswell, which stands to profit from it.
Surprised there's more than one impact site? Well, Roswell now has three competing UFO museums that draw money from nearly 100,000 tourists annually. Why not competing crash sites?
The frenzy about Roswell started in early July 1947 from a most unlikely source: the Federal Government itself. A July 8 press release from the Roswell Army Air Field said that it had come into possession of "a flying saucer." The statement was conveyed to local media by Lieutenant Walter Haut, the base's public information officer. Higher-level Army Air Force officials disavowed the statement within hours, saying that what actually crashed was a weather balloon hit by lightning. (In 1994 the Air Force said it was really a top-secret balloon helping to monitor Soviet nuclear testing.)
Haut, who today lives in retirement in Roswell, recently confirmed that his press release referred to a crash site 75 miles northwest of Roswell on a ranch near Corona, New Mexico, just off State Highway 247, managed by W. (Max) Brazel. Undoubtedly, metallic debris of some kind fell there. Brazel himself was quoted at the time as saying the media and military furor made him sorry he had ever reported seeing anything. That ranch, now controlled by the Bogle family of Dexter, New Mexico, is essentially closed to the public.
Call it Site No. 1 (Click here to see the map.)
To much of the world, this is the true place of the Roswell Incident. Never mind that the location is almost as near far-bigger Albuquerque as Roswell. However, neither Brazel nor any of the other witnesses ever reported seeing anything at Site No. 1 resembling a craft capable of carrying passengers, much less bodies of dead or dying aliens. This eventually prompted speculation that this location was merely the location of whatever incident disabled the UFO—a lightning strike during a storm, perhaps, or, even more wildly, a collision of two or more UFOs—and that the corpus of one UFO fell to ground elsewhere.
And for a time the main claim was that the actual, final resting spot sat upon the Plains of San Agustin, a grandly named oblong expanse of desert about 200 miles west of Roswell. That's nearly the distance between New York and Washington—a rather wide margin of error. The main evidence buttressing this theory was first outlined in 1980 in The Roswell Incident. It was the hearsay account attributed to one already deceased Grady L. (Barney) Barnett. Unfortunately, for the Berlitz/Moore/Friedman theory, it turned out after the book was published that Barney's wife kept an incredibly detailed diary of the couple's doings in 1947. She somehow failed to note the crash of any flying saucer.
Nevertheless, the Plains of San Agustin is Site No. 2. (Click here to look at the map again.)
This didn't convince a rival pair of UFO researchers, Kevin Randle of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Don Schmitt of Hubertus, Wisconsin, author of several books about Roswell. They made a interesting pair. Randle has authored dozens of pulp fiction novels under a variety of names as well as nine books about UFOs. Schmitt, who claimed to be a medical illustrator with two college degrees and enrollment in a doctoral program in criminology, turned out to be a long-time mailman in Wisconsin with no academic credentials. Randle was eventually forced to disown him.
Still, Randle and Schmitt spent a lot of time flopping around Roswell. In 1991 they had written a book called The UFO Crash at Roswell. That book said alien bodies were recovered at a site about 2 1/2 miles from the aforementioned debris field on the Brazel ranch.
Call that Site No. 3. (For another look at the map, click here.)
Since that book, Randle and Schmitt continued their research. They found retired military people who said they had been involved in a UFO recovery--at a location much closer to Roswell, about 30 miles north by northwest of town off U.S. Highway 285. Tracking down people said to have handled UFO crash debris, they came across the name of a former oil field worker named Jim Ragsdale. Then 66 years old, Ragsdale suffered from lung cancer—he had been on a respirator for years due to a work accident—and his days were clearly numbered.
Schmitt first visited Ragsdale in January 1993. The ailing man told a story beyond his interviewer's wildest dreams and repeated it in an affidavit that he signed the next day before a notary. On that summer night in July 1947, the 22-year-old Ragsdale had been "in the company of a woman"—both "buck naked" in the back of his pick-up truck, he would say later—when they saw a "bright flash" and a "bright light." The following morning they found the nearby crash site and "a number of smaller bodied beings outside the craft."
Ragsdale's short, two-paragraph affidavit said the site was "approximately 40 miles northwest of Roswell." That was at best an ambiguous geographic description. But Randle and Schmitt had already taken pictures of this new location. In a tape recorded interview, Ragsdale identified the place from those pictures. (By this time, Ragsdale's lady friend was long deceased.)
In any case this is the genesis of Site No. 4. (You can see the map again by clicking here.)
The new home of the famous Roswell Incident sat on a tract that had been purchased in 1976 by farmer Miller (Hub) Corn. Corn's father, grandfather and great-grandfather had worked nearby land flanking Highway 285 in a dynasty reaching back to 1894. Hub Corn had heard UFO tales while growing up. But he said he never heard the stories told in connection with the family farm or environs. Site No. 4 is reached by driving four miles west from Highway 285 on a county road and then taking a private dirt road across Corn's land for another four miles. Corn's farm house sits 10 miles away, just east of Highway 285.
During early 1994, Corn noticed a number of persons going down that county road and then trespassing upon his property. Soon thereafter, things started hopping around the Corn homestead. Randle and Schmitt approached the farmer with the big news that he was the proud owner of the renowned Roswell Incident site. About that same time, Corn was invited to a meeting with officials of the International UFO Museum and Research Center, the largest and best known of Roswell's three UFO museums. It sits on North Main Street across from the Chaves County Courthouse.
Among those at the meeting was Walter Haut, the 1947 issuer of the Air Force's most famous press release and then president of the museum. Also present was the museum's secretary/treasurer, Max Littell, a deal-making real estate broker whose business cards exuberantly exclaim, "To Buy or Sell--See Max Littell!!" As it turned out, Littell had notarized Ragsdale's affidavit a year earlier for Randle and Schmitt, although to Crosswinds Littell would later deny—somewhat implausibly—that he remembered much about its contents.
Here the versions diverge. Corn—who has been telling his story without change for more than a year--said that museum officials offered to buy Site No. 4 with an eye toward developing a tourist attraction. Corn said he refused to sell but offered to lease them the spot in return for a percentage of the revenues, a proposal that museum officials rejected. Haut and Littell acknowledge that the meeting took place—"We just wanted to know what's going on," Haut said—but deny they made any offers or did anything that would amount to implicit recognition of the site's validity.
Still, the Corns quickly realized they had a new source of revenue to help them weather the periodic New Mexico droughts. Sheila Corn started taking tourists out to the site—at $15 a head. Last month, she had 300 paying customers during the July 4 weekend UFO Encounter Festival alone and expect 650 visitors for the year. The ability to collect good money from people for merely visiting a farm has brought Hub Corn considerable envy from many Roswellites.
In mid-1994 Randle and Schmitt published their new book The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell, which relied heavily on the Ragsdale material and reproduced his affidavit concerning Site No. 4.
End of story? Far from it. Although growing weaker, Ragsdale was still alive. Max Littell had further discussions with him. And soon Ragsdale had profound second thoughts about that amorous night in the pickup truck in '47.
In September 1994 Littell wrote a memorandum of understanding saying that Ragsdale had identified a new location for the well-traveled Roswell Incident. This fresh venue was about 55 driving miles west by northwest of Roswell on the edge of the Capitan Mountains a few miles south of State Highway 248, also known as Pine Lodge Road. The spot, off a jeep path in Lincoln County, is owned and controlled by the U.S. Forest Service. As the crow flies, it's about 30 miles southwest of Site No. 4 on Hub Corn's land.
Welcome to Site No. 5. (To poinpoint it, click here for the map.)
It eventually emerged that Ragsdale, though dying, had sold his new account, including "any designation of the impact site," to something called Ragsdale Productions Inc. This can be reasonably characterized as a Littell family business. According to corporation records in Santa Fe, the state capital, the president and registered agent is Danny Boswell, Littell's son-in-law. The vice president is Max Littell himself. The secretary is Lana Boswell, Littell's daughter. Also on the board is Ragsdale's daughter, Judy Lott of Crescent, Oklahoma. In an interview Littell said all profits will be split between Ragsdale's heirs and the UFO Museum once the corporation's expenses are recouped.
Sometime in 1995, Ragsdale's signature appeared on a second, much-longer, first-person statement containing additional—and different—detail. Besides firmly identifying Site No. 5, he recounted for the first time how the bodies were four feet tall and that "I tried to remove one of the helmets, but was unable to do so." He changed the time of his examination from "at sunrise" in the first affidavit to the middle of the night using flashlights.
But in addition to the varying detail, Ragsdale's second statement had another big problem. The document carried the seal of notary Kathy Weaver of Logan County, Oklahoma—home of Ragsdale's daughter, Judy Lott—along with Weaver's written declaration that the two-page document was "subscribed and sworn to before me this 15th day of April, 1995."
An accountant with a local business, Weaver recently admitted to Crosswinds that Ragsdale didn't actually sign the statement in her presence. "I swear to God he did not," she confessed.
Faxed a copy of the statement, Weaver recalled that she added her signature and embossed notarial seal after Judy Lott, a co-employee of the same firm, brought the document already signed to Weaver's office. The notary said she was familiar with the Lott family and was quite sure she had never met Ragsdale. Weaver readily agreed that it's bad practice for notaries to attest to a signature not written while they're watching but that "we do it all the time."
In fact, under legal precedent, such a procedure invalidates the force of the notarization. All that remains is an unsworn statement—a mere piece of paper, really—without the added credibility that it has been rendered in the presence of Almighty God subject to the laws of false swearing and even perjury.
Contacted by telephone about this, Judy Lott first denied to Crosswinds that Ragsdale had signed the affidavit sans notary. "We had a notary come to our home because Dad was too ill and couldn't leave the house," she said. But after being informed that the notary had denied ever meeting Ragsdale, let alone witnessing his signature, Lott finally acknowledged that her father "did not" sign in the presence of the notary.
Lott insisted that she herself had typed up the statement from what her father had told her. However, Littell, a fellow board member of Ragsdale Productions Inc., said he prepared the statement himself. (The 80-year-old Littell, by the way, also said he had been unaware of any problems with the Ragsdale notarization.)
In any event Ragsdale died on July 1, 1995, his 70 years ended but definitely not forgotten. This spring Ragsdale Productions Inc. issued a video, for $29.95, and a book, for $14.95, both entitled The Jim Ragsdale Story. The book reproduces that April 1995 Ragsdale statement, including the false claim that he signed it before a notary. The video more properly should be called The Judy Lott Story, since she does far more talking than her dad, especially about the juicy stuff concerning alien bodies.
Both on the video and in the book Lott says her dad often took the family camping out near Site No. 5, and that when she asked why, he said there had once been a plane crash in the area, with no survivors. "I had no idea it was a UFO crash he was referring to then," she wrote. In fact, long-time residents said there have actually been at least three plane crashes in that immediate area since the end of World War II. Judy Lott said she was unaware of these other incidents.
Given the conflicting evidence that seems to attach to any element of the Roswell Incident, it's fair to ask what kind of detailed research Ragsdale Productions Inc. undertook to bolster Ragsdale's credibility concerning the newly revealed Site No. 5. This is especially so since Littell's UFO museum, the spiffiest in Roswell, is now subtly pushing the Ragsdale site over Hub Corn's Site No. 4 as the true home of the Roswell Incident.
The Ragsdale tale turns out to be pretty thin gruel. For example, it's reasonable to assume that a genuine UFO crash would be accompanied by a lot of notable occurrences. Among them: a massive military operation including the closing of the only road through the area, the movement of many military vehicles, some kind of flat-bed truck to remove what has been described as an alien craft 20 feet in diameter (wider than the road, which would have required the craft to be trucked out upright on its side as well as removal of overhanging utility lines), the presence of military and civilian big-shots, and lingering local gossip like you'd never believe.
Although the Capitan Mountains area is thinly populated, perhaps several dozen homes sit within a 10-mile radius of the new crash site, many occupied by long-time residents. Max Littell freely acknowledged to Crosswinds that Ragsdale Productions Inc. never tried to find or talk to any of these people—not one. "As far as we were concerned, this story of Ragsdale was valid," an indignant Littell said in explaining his absolute, positive lack of any interest in meaningful due diligence to protect the public interest. "What am I trying to prove he's lying for? We're not going to do that. You go ahead and prove he's lying. I'm just telling you what the man said."
As it turned out, something short of a Herculean effort on the part of Crosswinds—old and current telephone books, to be exact—was needed to locate credible people who bluntly declared the crash never happened in the Capitan Mountains and that Littell essentially was peddling snake oil. A few examples:
—Bill Edgar, who moved to Pine Lodge Road as a farm hand in 1945 or 1946, was there in July 1947 and remained until 1991. "Never happened," he said from his room at a Roswell rest home just a few blocks from the UFO Museum. "I never heard about saucers or soldiers moving around."
—Kenny Schear, manager of the large Armstrong Ranch, just three mile north, who arrived in 1955. "No way," he said. "I've talked to all the old-timers over the years. I think it's the biggest damned joke I've ever heard."
—Dorothy Epps, 82, whose family has owned the closest private land to the new site, a mere half-mile away, since 1907. "I don't think so," she said. "I'm quite sure we would have heard about it if it were true. It's all a hoax."
—Sam Tobias, official with the Ruidoso office of the U.S. Forest Service, which owns Site No. 5. "This is the first we've ever heard about it," he said.
Kevin Randle's arch-rival UFO researcher, Stanton Friedman—who previously endorsed the far-away Plains of San Agustin site as well as the two Brazel Ranch sites—finds Ragsdale's new account "believable," if for no other reason than it amounted to a deathbed statement; Ragsdale was said to have been videotaped talking about alien bodies just five days before his death. However, in a Roswell UFO book Friedman authored entitled TOP SECRET/MAJIC, now hitting stores, he does not pass explicit judgment on Site. No. 5. The book does attack the bona fides of Site No. 4 while re-endorsing Sites Nos 1, 2 and 3.
Enough sites? Well, even Europeans are getting into the New Mexico act. Last year, in conferences and subsequent Internet postings, German UFO researcher Michael Hesemann identified a 1947 crash venue near Socorro, New Mexico—150 miles west of Roswell.
Site No. 6. (For one last look at the map, click here.)
Badly embarrassed by Ragsdale's seeming about-face, Randle is sticking by his second book's and Ragsdale's original identification of Site No. 4. And Randle may be getting a late laugh, too, at least at the bank. Testor Corp., the Rockford, Ill., maker of model replicas, is about to release "The Roswell UFO." The $15 (suggested retail) kit will consist of a flying saucer miniature based exclusively, according to the model's designer, Bill McDonald, on descriptions of witnesses at Hub Corn's Site No. 4. Randle and Schmitt—but not Corn—will get part of the royalties. Testor Corp. spokesperson Nancy Rainwater said the packaging will probably carry a disclaimer that the company can't confirm the veracity of anything.
Another person with an understandably strong view is Vennie Scott, Ragsdale's former wife. Asked by Crosswinds whether she believes his tale about a UFO encounter at any location, she replied, "You want me to be honest with you? No I do not." In more than 40 years together—they were married in 1953, six years after the supposed crash, and were finally divorced in 1994—she said Ragsdale never talked about seeing any bodies until Schmitt came calling in 1993. Before that, she said she had heard Ragsdale mention witnessing any kind of UFO crash "one time" in the 1960s—while "he was drunk" with a friend.
Having just read the printed version of The Jim Ragsdale Story, Vennie Scott scoffed at the claim that damaged trees around Site No. 5—where her family did in fact camp and hunt deer for decades—was evidence of a UFO crash in 1947. The trees were injured, she insisted, in 1969 or 1970 by a fire she witnessed that was caused by nearby inebriated campers. "These drunks let their fire get away from them," she said. "That fire just burnt a circle and quit. And that's the place that he's saying he saw the spaceship land ... That burnt spot is not what the spaceship made because I was about 400 feet from where the drunks set the fire ... We helped them put the fire out."
Retorted Judy Lott, who is estranged from her mother, "If my mother's lips are moving, she's lying.’’
The sliding around of the crash site is actually in perfect harmony with the overall tenor of the Roswell Incident. Although die-hard UFO researchers would disagree with this conclusion, there is virtually no piece of evidence proving an extraterrestrial event thereabouts that is totally undisputed and would easily stand up in a court of law. Besides Ragsdale, a number of other key witnesses have either contradicted themselves or embellished their tales decades after the fact, calling their credibility into serious question. Known, proven artifacts from the crash are nonexistent. Much of this has been entertainingly and meticulously chronicled over the years in the bi-monthly Skeptics UFO Newsletter, edited in Washington by veteran aviation journalist Philip J. Klass.
From conversations around Roswell, it's clear that generally the locals are quite skeptical about any extraterrestrial claims. One of the most ardent UFO proponents, Deon Crosby, the UFO Museum's executive director, admitted that a huge majority of Roswellites—who support 106 churches, one for every 472 residents—dismisses the whole UFO tale: saucers, bodies and sites. Even Roswell business leaders, whose increased tourism marketing efforts has adroitly turned little green men into big green dollars, appear a little leery. Acknowledged Chamber of Commerce president Don Cox, "There are still fears here that by promoting the incident, Roswell will be viewed as Kook City."
William P. Barrett, who now works in Seattle, is a veteran journalist for national publications. This article was adapted from Crosswinds, at the time New Mexico's largest alternative newspaper.
The Roswell Incident is the world's most investigated UFO event. So why does its impact site keep moving around?
Adapted from CROSSWINDS
New Mexico’s largest alternative newspaper
Special Projects Editor