Betty and Barney Hill are best known as the first alien abductees to garner worldwide attention and media coverage of their 1961 close encounter with a UFO and subsequent abduction by non-human beings.
Betty (1919-2004) was social worker for the State of New Hampshire and Barney (1922-69) was civil service worker for the U.S. Post Office. The encounter transpired when the couple was returning to their Portsmouth, New Hampshire home on September 19, 1961 from a short vacation in Niagara Falls and Montreal. Hurricane Esther was whirling up the coast and threatening to strike New Hampshire’s Seacoast, so the Hills decided to cut their trip short. This decision would require a nighttime drive with an expected 2:00 a.m. arrival time, but Barney was up for the challenge as he was well rested from the night before and was accustomed to working the night shift.
Betty and Barney Hill
At the time neither had any particular interest in UFOs. Betty, however, was more open-minded about the possibility that UFOs may exist while Barney was convinced otherwise. The events of that fateful evening forever changed the couple’s lives when they experienced an unknown phenomenon superior to anything known on Earth. Both made confidential reports of the event to the appropriate authorities, but were troubled by a two-hour time lapse and physical evidence that they couldn’t account for. Hoping to break through the apparent amnesia, a little more than two years after the close encounter, Betty and Barney contacted renowned Boston psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Simon. Both recalled the traumatic details of being seized and subjected to physical examinations by non-human beings.
Much to their dismay, a breach of confidentiality led to the public disclosure of the Hills’ story in October 1965. The worst thing that could have happened to the Hills was for their story to become public knowledge because they felt they had much to lose and nothing to gain. Soon their tale emerged in popular culture as a fascinating chronicle of alien abduction; the topic of intense scientific interest; and the prime target of debunkers, who continue to attack it today.
Attempts to Discredit the Hills
As a social scientist, UFO researcher, and the niece of Betty and Barney Hill, it came to my attention, long ago, that mainstream publications were not very accurate in regards to the facts of the Betty and Barney Hill close encounter and abduction case. For example, the March 7, 1993 PARADE article by Carl Sagan entitled “Are they coming for US? What’s Going On?” led its readers to believe that Betty observed only a “bright star-like UFO” that seemed to be following them. Carl would have us believe that it remained a bright distant dot in the sky throughout the Hills’ journey through New Hampshire’s White Mountains on September 19, 1961. The fact is that it followed the Hills for approximately an hour and progressively closed in on them. The following day, Betty and Barney sketched pictures of the lighted, disk-shaped craft that hovered silently approximately 100 feet above their vehicle. Barney’s sketch showed figures standing in the windows. They reported their close encounter to the director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), Donald Keyhoe, and were interviewed for six hours by NICAP investigator Walter Webb, an astronomy lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium in Boston. The close encounter is part of the official record.
Marker commemorating the location of the Betty and Barney Hill incident. (Credit: Kathleen Marden)
Next, according to Carl, Barney left the main highway for “narrow mountain roads” because he feared they might be harmed. This is an outright fabrication but it conveniently explains the time lapse that the Hills and investigators couldn’t account for even after the investigation. The fact is that at no time did Barney intentionally turn off the main highway. The fact is that he wanted to stay on the highway because he was closer to human contact and because he wanted to report his close encounter to a police officer.
Carl continues, “They arrived home two hours later than expected” and Betty read a book (by Donald Keyhoe), claiming they were “spaceships from other worlds.” Next, we learn about Betty’s series of nightmares in which she and Barney were abducted. Donald Keyhoe’s book didn’t contain any information about UFO abductions or any of the details in Betty’s dreams, but Carl’s careful crafting leads us to believe that Keyhoe’s book provided the information in the five dreams/nightmares that occurred about two weeks after her close encounter. It is important to note that in reality Betty’s dreams about the abduction contained information for which she had conscious recall. Additionally, the abduction she recalled in hypnotic regression was markedly different than that of her dreams.
Carl’s article was intent upon debunking all UFO abduction claims by convincing his readership that experiencers are having nothing more than lucid dreams and sleep paralysis involving aliens found in popular culture. He bolstered his contention by declaring that none of the so-called evidence has been substantiated and no eye witness testimony carries much weight, even multiple witness testimony by reliable reporters. The truth is that people have been convicted in a court of law based upon the degree of evidence that suspected abductees have produced: physical trace evidence, radar evidence, photographic evidence, multiple witness lie detector testing, testing normal on psychological evaluations and personality disorder screenings, physiological evidence, multiple witness testimony, etc. But Carl informs us that all of this is completely inadequate and unreliable.
Carl Sagan with a model of the Viking lander. (Credit: NASA)
Returning to the Hill case, Carl bounded into another leap of faith when he stated that Barney overheard Betty describing the details in her dreams to friends and UFO investigators, and under hypnosis with Dr. Benjamin Simon several years later (it was only twenty-nine months later), he confabulated Betty’s dream information into his own abduction story. The truth is that Dr. Simon couldn’t bring himself to accept the possibility that the Hills had been abducted, although he stated several times that the first experience, the close encounter, came out clearly in both Betty’s and Barney’s hypnosis and probably was a real experience. His statement to Barney with regard to several hypotheses was “All of these things can happen. Anything can happen when you come right down to it.”
On the Hills’ hypnosis tapes, Barney swore that although he had overheard some of the information in Betty’s dreams, they were obviously dreams, not reality in his opinion. He rejected them. Dr. Simon probed the possibility that Barney might be lying or even that a telepathic transfer of information had occurred between Betty and Barney. In the October 1967 issue of Psychiatric Opinion, Dr. Simon wrote, “I had to be continually on the alert for distortions honestly made by them and had to test their revelations against the continuum of the entire picture. Even when they appeared to be lying, they were telling the truth if one could work out the general semantics of the situation.” As for telepathic communication, Dr. Simon rejected this hypothesis early on with the exception of Betty’s star map. He later stated that if science proved that Zeta Reticuli had planets with intelligent life, we must assume that Betty had acquired this information telepathically. Dr. Simon had only one viable option to explain the Hill UFO case. Because he had been informed that alien abduction was impossible, his only option was that Betty must have somehow transferred the content of her dreams/nightmares to Barney. In turn, he thought that Barney had simply reiterated the information in Betty’s dreams during his own hypnosis sessions.
Dr. Benjamin Simon
Dr. Simon repeatedly returned to what he considered was the only viable option—the dream hypothesis. He explored the possibility that Betty’s dreams were relived during her hypnosis sessions and that Barney had merely absorbed and repeated the content of her dreams in his own recall. The hypnosis tapes made it abundantly clear that the Hills made a convincing argument against Dr. Simon’s hypothesis. Betty stated that that her captors bore no resemblance to those in her dreams. Their appearance and mode of communication was completely different. The dream aliens had a southern European appearance and were dressed in blue military cadet uniforms and spoke with their mouths, not telepathically. In contrast, in hypnotic regression she described truly non-human aliens in appearance and communication. She stated that she understood them in English although their mouths didn’t move. Additionally, she recalled an extraordinary amount of experiential details that were not in her dreams. Barney too was convinced that his hypnotic recall had accurately explained the period of apparent amnesia and missing time.
All of the documented evidence available to me indicates that Dr. Simon remained retrospective about the Hills’ experience until the movie The UFO Incident, starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons which aired on NBC on October 20, 1975. On the October 25, 1975 Today Show, Dr. Simon stated publically for the first time that he believed the abduction was largely a dream. When asked directly if he had concluded that the memory of being aboard a spaceship was a fantasy, he replied “A fantasy. In other words it was a dream.” On November 24, 1975 he and Betty appeared on the Larry Glick show and he repeated his opinion stating, “Their story was fantastic and unreal and had to be accepted or rejected…If I this were real I’d have to believe these beings were from outer space.” Dr. Simon rejected that notion; after all, he had an outstanding reputation to protect.
It is telling that Dr. Simon incorrectly recalled much of the information on the hypnosis tapes. His memory appears to have been failing. For example, he stated that Betty’s abduction experience and her dreams were exactly alike except for the description of the ramp to the craft. As I noted above, Dr. Simon’s memory was inaccurate and wrong. He spoke about Barney’s increasing fear throughout the trip and its escalating intensity after the object was sighted. The fact is that Barney was sometimes concerned about the possibility of racial discrimination, but didn’t encounter it. It was only a periodic concern, not an overwhelming obsession. He did remove his gun in the wilderness area because he was outside at night in an area inhabited by bears—a very real concern. And he did become increasingly fearful as the silent, hovering, unconventional craft approached closer and closer. His fear reached an apex when he observed beings on the craft were “somehow not human,” as stated in Walt Webb’s NICAP report, and felt that he would soon be captured. It is not unreasonable for any well-adjusted human to have a strong emotional response to this kind of stimuli.
Dr. Simon correctly noted a difference between the Hills’ two stories, as did I. It is apparent that Betty sometimes abandoned her veridical memory of the event and escaped to some of her dream memories. Barney did not. His physical exam was nearly identical to that described by male abductees in subsequent abduction reports although they were not privy to Barney’s information. It is apparent that Dr. Simon didn’t examine Betty’s and Barney’s independent statements in detail vis-à-vis her dream account. He challenged Betty and Barney to explain why Betty knew everything about Barney’s experience on the craft but he knew nothing of hers. But that was an empty statement. Betty knew very little about Barney’s experience on the craft and certainly Barney knew nothing of Betty’s experience.
Setting the Record Straight
Unfortunately, Dr. Simon and Carl Sagan didn’t live long enough to read my book Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience, coauthored by scientific ufologist/nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman. Nor were they around to read my comparative analysis of the hypnosis tapes versus Betty’s dream transcripts. The detailed information that she and Barney independently offered would have dispelled that myth. The Hills gave detailed correlating information that was not in Betty’s dreams and could not have been passed from one to the other.
Kathleen Marden holding her books, Science Was Wrong and Captured! (Credit: Alejandro Rojas)
Returning to Carl’s article, I made the naive assumption in 1993 that Carl simply didn’t have his facts straight and I wrote to him listing his errors and the correct information. But I didn’t receive a reply, or more importantly a retraction. It was only later that I learned that Carl had sent a review copy of his article to Stanton Friedman, more than two months before the PARADE article was published. Stanton replied in a twelve-page letter giving detailed commentary on Carl’s inaccurate statements and supplying the correct information. Nevertheless Carl chose to misrepresent the facts.
In my new book with Stanton Friedman, Science Was Wrong, I question why Carl would knowingly misrepresent the Hill case to millions of readers and viewers of his Cosmos series and his PARADE article. Since that time I have been searching for the answer to my question. I recently found a clue in a letter written by Carl to debunker Philip Klass praising his Skeptical Inquirer review of the Condon study, an infamous committee established to study UFOs in the 1960s. Carl wrote, “I also take credit for convincing the O’Brien Committee of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, of which I was a member, to recommend a major academic skeptical study of UFO’s.” Notice that he did not use the word “unbiased.” As most readers probably know, the Condon study was both skeptical and biased. What you might not know is that Robert Low, the project coordinator, maintained a close relationship with Klass throughout the study, exchanging frequent letters and confidential information. It is not unfair, in my estimation, to say that Carl Sagan and Phil Klass had a vested interest in dispensing of the entire UFO problem. It would certainly let the U.S. government off the hook.
This article originally appeared in Open Minds Magazine. For more about Kathleen Marden and her work, visit her site: Kathleen-Marden.com.