Article 34327 of sci.skeptic:
From: email@example.com (Robert Sheaffer)
Subject: Re: The Selling of the Travis Walton "UFO Abduction"
Organization: Netcom - Online Communication Services (408 241-9760 guest)
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1993 02:21:35 GMT
The Selling of the Travis Walton "Abduction" Story:
Some Background Information
P.O. Box 10441
San Jose, CA 95157 USA
March 4, 1993
Australian newspaperman Jeff Wells was a member of the
National Enquirer team that "packaged" the Travis Walton
abduction story for publication. Walton's story is now the
subject of a major motion picture from Paramount, "Fire in
the Sky." Wells is one of seven authors of the National
Enquirer story "Arizona Man Captured by UFO" published Dec.
16, 1975. Upon his return to Australia, Wells wrote up this
insiders' view of the sordid goings-on for his newspaper
column, the identities of the participants only thinly
disguised. "The kid" is obviously Travis Walton. "The
cowboy" is his brother, Duane Walton. "The professor" is Dr.
James Harder of Berkeley, at that time a leading figure in
APRO, the now-defunct Aerial Phenomena Research
Organization, and still a prominent "abductionist." The
polygraph examiner is John J. McCarthy, the senior polygraph
operator in the state of Arizona. This story was reprinted
in the _Skeptical Inquirer_, Vol. 5 Nr. 4 (Summer, 1981),
"Profitable Nightmare of a Very Unreal Kind" by Jeff Wells
(from _The Age_, Melbourne, Australia, 6 January 1979)
caption in photo box: "JEFF WELLS recalls his dealings with a
pathetic kid whose dream never quite got
off the ground."
The characters in this UFO story are real even if they
appear more like the inventions of a Hollywood hack.
A haunted young man, a ruthless cowboy, a strange professor,
a hard-drinking psychiatrist, a bunch of reporters and a
All were thrown together in the desert heat by a close
encounter of the third kind and maybe they did contribute to some
I was there and I can vouch for the motley human cast - but
you will have to make up your own mind about the
extra-terrestrials with fishbowl heads.
Some of the characters are still growing fat repeating their
version of the story in the seemingly limitless American market
for the bizarre.
The so-called facts, the carefully-woven tapersry that has
become the "official story" can now be counted as UFO lore,
pablum for those who turn their heads to the sky in search of
meaning for their lives.
I will never get rich on my version and I only tell it
because of the UFO madness the papers tell me is sweeping this
part of the world.
The UFO phenomenon is really rolling here, as it has rolled
for many years, and snowballed into juggernaut proportions in
other countries where it is very big business.
The stronger it gets here the closer the attention that will
be paid to so-called classic cases of UFO encounters.
You may recognize elements of this story among them. If so,
you will realise that my story is a warning that in such cases,
even the most celebrated and supposedly well-documented, there is
nothing so pragmatic as proof.
This incident happened a few years ago and made world
I was working in San Francisco as a bureau man for a
national weekly which has grown rich and powerful in catering to
the middle-class craving for cancer-cures, Jackie Onassis,
Hollywood gossip, psychic predictions, and like ingredients of
the crumbling cake that is the American mind.
It was naturally a matter of interest that a 22-year-old
forestry worker was missing and that six witnesses had passed lie
detector tests in saying that he had last been seen running
towards a huge UFO.
My paper had offered tens of thousands of dollars to anybody
who could positively prove that aliens had visited our planet -
in the knowledge that exclusive rights could be worth millions.
When, five days later, the young man we came to call "the
kid" stumbled into a small western town, phoned his brother and
claimed he had been kidnapped by the crew of an alien spacecraft
we were ready.
Within an hour I was on a plane to rendezvous in a desert
city with a team of reporters and photographers flying in from
Los Angelesand the East Coast.
At the desert airport I bumped into one of them, a dapper
young Englishman from the L.A. bureau, who briefed me. One
reporter was at the cowboy's home talking money; the kid was
inside in a state of shock.
The office was wiring $1000 to help east the kid's
discomfort and a celebrated UFOlogist, a California professor,
was being flown in, all expenses paid, to lend a hand.
Our immediate task was to bribe the brother with the
thousand to shack up with us in a luxury motel on the outskirts
of town, no names registered, where the rest of Press who were
about to descend and the sheriff, who was calling the whole thing
a hoax and demanding that the kid take a lie-detector test, would
not bother them.
"It isn't going to be easy," said the Englishman as we
pocketed our credit cards and headed for our rented Pontiacs.
"The brother has taken charge and the brother is some kind
of psychopath. The kid is scared to death of him and so is our
The cowboy was no disappointment. He was one of the meanest
and toughest-looking men I've ever seen - in his late twenties, a
rodeo professional and amateur light-heavyweight fighter, a total
abstainer, broad-shouldered, T-shirt packed with muscle,
chiselled-down hips, bow legged, eyes full of nails, tense,
He leaned against a pick-up truck with a gun rack in the
cabin and raked us with beams of cunning and hatred as strong as
the flash from the spacecraft that had pole-axed his brother as
the witnesses fled in terror.
"Nobody is going to laugh at my brother," he said.
Nobody wanted to laugh at his brother, we said. We only
wanted give his brother a chance to tell his story to somebody
who would understand.
To prove our bona fides, and to keep away all those other
jackals of the press, who would embarrass the kid with foolish
questions, we would hide them away and pay the kid a grand to
tell his story.
If we liked the story, and it could be properly documented,
and the kid could pass our lie-detector test, we would open up
our cheque books all the way and start talking in five figures.
To our relief the cowboy agreed - but not, he said, because
of the money, because his brother had a true story to tell which
would enlighten the world.
Our first sight of the kid was at dinner in the hotel
diningroom that night. It was a shock.
He sat there mute, pale, twitching like a cornered animal.
He was either a brilliant actor or he was in serious funk about
But the arrival of the professor saved the day.
He was as smooth as butter and he soon had the kid eating
out of his hand.
"You are not alone," he crooned. "There are many people,
more than you would think, who have been chosen to meet them."
Them? I began to wonder about the professor.
The cowboy was so impressed he began to talk about his own
UFO experience when he had been chased by a flying saucer through
the woods as a child.
Within a couple of hours the professor had talked the
brothers out of taking the sheriff's polygraph test and into an
hypnosis session in his room immediately.
It looked as if things were going smoothly enough, with no
hint that we were faced with four days of chaos.
The next day the office announced that the whole story was
to be filmed by a crew from the top-rating CBS muckraker TV show
We were to be on guard because CBS was out to shaft us, my
We were to present a bold front for good footage of
dedicated reporters sparing no expense to bring the public the
true story of one of the most amazing incidents in recorded
The kid's fantastic story had been coming out under hypnosis
but the brothers had become very conspiratorial with the
professor and would speak only to him. 
The professor seemed to have his own future on the lecture
circuit and the paperback bookstands very much in mind and we
didn't trust him.
So we taped everything and had the CBS crew film the kid's
story given under hypnosis.
It was a tale of little men with heads like fishbowls and
skin like mushrooms.
But suddenly the strain began to tell on the kid and he
lapsed into sobbing bouts. He was falling apart and so was his
It necessitated flying in a husband-and-wife team of
psychiatrists from Colorado to tranquilize the kid and keep the
cowboy from exploding.
The kid was a wreck and it was all the psychiatrist could do
to get him ready for the lie-detector expert we had lined up.
The test lasted an hour and I was in the next room fending
off the TV crew when I heard the cowboy scream: "I'll kill the
The kid had failed the test miserably. The polygraph man
said it was the plainest case of lying he'd seen in 20 years but
the office was yelling for another expert and a different result
To head that off we had the psychiatrist put the cowboy and
the kid through a long session of analysis.
Their methods were unique. The next day the four of them
disappeared into a room and soon a waiter was headed there with
two bottles of cognac.
At the end of it the psychiatrists were rolling drunk but
they had their story and the brothers were crestfallen.
It seemed that the kid's father, who had deserted them as a
child, had been a spaceship fanatic and all his life the kid had
wanted to ride in a spacecraft.
He had seen something out there in the woods, some kind of
an eerie light which had triggered a powerful hallucination which
might recur at any time. There was no question of any kidnap by
any mushroom men.
The kid needed medical help and the cowboy swore he would
shield him from further harassment.
Reports began to filter in that the witnesses' lie detector
tests were not much help either - they supported the story that
they had all seen the strange light but not that the strange
light was identifiable as a spaceship.
The CBS crew had left in disgust and I sat down to detail
everything that had happened in a 16-page memorandum designed to
kill the story. It was all over.
I paid the $2000 hotel bill - including a mammoth bar tab to
which the psychiatrists had contributed nobly - for the five days
and we all scattered to the airport.
It had been a lunatic experience from beginning to end, made
more disturbing by the fact that on several occasions, with
coaxings from the professor, I had almost believed that the
story was real.
As I drove to the airport I was never so glad to be leaving
a city and to this day the whole experience there remains in my
memory as some kind of nightmare.
As I neared the airport I switched on the car radio and
heard familiar voices - the kid, the cowboy, and the professor
giving an interview about the kid's shatteing experience on board
a flying saucer.
A few weeks later I picked up the paper I worked for and
found that with the help of the professor it had turned my
memorandum into a sensational front-page story.
The professor was calling me up demanding tapes for his
lectures and the kid was signing contracts for books and TV
And so another UFO hero was made.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Ground Saucer Watch" Memo on the Walton Incident:
Conclusions (undated: probably December, 1975)
"Ground Saucer Watch," a pro-UFO organization, was the very first
UFO organization on the scene. In cooperation with Dr. J. Allen
Hynek of CUFOS, Dr. Lester Stewart of GSW began to interview the
Walton family while Travis was still "missing." They immediately
smelled a hoax. These are their conclusions, without any changes
1. Walton never boarded the UFO. This fact is supported by the
six witnesses and the polygraph test results. 
2. The entire Walton family has had a continual UFO history.
The Walton boys have reported observing 10 to 15 separate
UFO sightings (very high).
3. When Duane was questioned about his brother's disappearance,
he stated that "Travis will be found, that UFO's are
friendly." GSW countered, "How do you know Travis will be
found?" Duane said "I have a feeling, a strong feeling." GSW
asked "If the UFO 'captors' are going to return Travis, will
you have a camera to record this great occurrence?" Duane,
"No, if I have a camera 'they' will not return."
4. The Walton's mother showed no outward emotion over the
'loss' of Travis. She said that UFO's will not harm her son,
he will be returned and that UFO's have been seen by her
family many times.
5. The Walton's refused any outside scientific help or anyone
who logically doubted the abduction portion of the story.
6. The media and GSW was fair to the witnesses. However, when
the story started to 'fall apart' the Waltons would only
talk to people who did not doubt the abduction story.
7. APRO became involved and criticized both GSW and Dr. Hynek
for taking a negative position on the encounter.
8. The Waltons 'sold' their story to the National Enquirer and
the story was completely twisted from the truth.
1. In other words, James Harder was using hypnosis to lead
Travis Walton into "remembering" a proper UFO abduction
story. UFOlogists cite the apparent consistencies of these
stories as proof that they are supposedly authentic! But
here we glimpse the real reason behind the apparent
2. The very existence of this polygraph session with John J.
McCarthy was kept secret by the National Enquirer and by
APRO, with McCarthy ordered never to speak about it. The
cover-up was revealed by Philip J. Klass in June, 1976. The
details of the Walton hoax, and its associated cover-up, can
be found in chapters 18-23 of Klass' book _UFOs The Public
Deceived_ (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983).
3. Apparently GSW thought that in order to have a "genuine" UFO
abduction, the UFO would have to land, and pick up its
Robert Sheaffer - Scepticus Maximus - firstname.lastname@example.org
Past Chairman, The Bay Area Skeptics - for whom I speak only when authorized!
"Truth is the summit of being: justice is the application of it
to affairs. All individual natures stand in a scale, according
to the purity of this element in them. The will of the pure runs
down from them into other natures, as water runs down from a
higher into a lower vessel. This natural force is no more to be
withstood, than any other natural force."
- Emerson: Essay, "Character" (1844)
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