Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Recent Fuss About The Exeter Case

Some time ago I mentioned the famous Exeter, NH case after midnight on the third of September 1965. [I think that it was in one of the blog entries on CE1s]. Lately I've become aware of a lot of hullaballoo and even name-calling about the case. This regards a debunking effort being made by notorious CSICOP member, Joe Nickell [pictured to the left], and James McGaha [pictured next below]. Now I have read many debunkings by Nickell. Sometimes I can agree with what he's doing [his reconstruction of a Nazca Plain image was right on target and eliminated one extremist comment that some people were making about how "impossible" it would be to make an accurate design on that scale without having some aerial oversight --- everything from ancient astronauts to hot-air balloons were being hypothesized.] But I believe that Nickell seems [to me anyway] to be enjoying his debunking hobby so much that he is always on the hunt for another kill. So, he has put the Exeter case into his sights, and believes that he has blown it away.

This is naturally of some interest to me. The case has long stood as a CE1 classic, was investigated by not only the local Pease AFB UFOB officer [who credited it], but also one of UFOlogy's best, the 1965 version of Ray Fowler. J.Allen Hynek was impressed by the case and included it as a foundational example in his The UFO Experience.

The case was judged as having credible multiple witnesses [by everybody] and a strong smoothly visualizable narrative [i.e. the story had a natural context and flowed]. Also, though somewhat irrelevantly, it was the subject of a major book in the field, John Fuller's Incident at Exeter. So this is important in UFOlogical history, if one can say that anything is.

The other author of this debunking attempt is a person named James McGaha. I really don't know much about him. I seem to remember someone saying that he's retired USAF but claim no insight. I've heard his name occasionally over the years, but none of his debunks seem to have made an impression on me.

So, what are these guys claiming? N&M are saying that the Exeter CE1 was caused by the witnesses seeing a lengthy re-fueling operation where the fuel-bearing tanker was using red-colored strobe lights to guide the plane-to-be-refueled into place. That's the nub of their concept anyway.

At Exeter the general concept of the witnesses report was of bright red lights flashing, so one can see how a superficial analyst could read that and begin to build up an alternative hypothesis to debunk the case. Happily, this is another example of the debunker's predilection for having a simple brain gush, disregarding massive amounts of the actual witness testimony, and force fit an inadequate thought into an inappropriate situation.

Fortunately for us, and the search for Truth [which these --- jeez I want to put an uncivilized adjective in here --- "speculators" care almost nothing about], we have almost all the field investigation forms for Muscarello, Bertrand, and Hunt [ which were made very promptly at the time] available to any veteran researcher in one's files. My own Exeter file is about an inch and a half thick with all the USAF, Fowler, and Fuller interview materials.

Just to give you the answer that you already expect: those interview files show that the N&M speculation is itself bunk. Who would have guessed?

My modus operandi today is to give information directly out of those reports. Two of the witnesses were policemen [Hunt and Bertrand, pictured to the left] and were deemed as of the highest credibility/honesty. Since the third witness, 19-year old Norman Muscarello, basically agrees with them, one can reasonably give him high marks as well. Three witnesses... high credibility... was there enough "strangeness"?

Muscarello originally was confronted by the object [a thing with several very bright lights in a line] while, in his judgement it was nearby over a farm house. He was looking almost West at the time. He said that the object wobbled as it flew, the line of lights changing angles constantly from sloughed downwards left to flat to sloughed downwards right. The thing scared him greatly and he ultimately got to the police department and told his story.

One of the police officers [Eugene Bertrand] had interacted with a near hysterical woman [unidentified] earlier who said that her car had been chased by a brilliant red glowing object, which dived at her auto several times. He hadn't taken that seriously before but now he was beginning to. He went back with Muscarello to the farm area. Nothing. They walked down into the field. Nothing.

Then Bertrand saw a bright red light rise over a treeline. In fact it was a line of bright red lights which encompassed about a quarter's diameter [held at arm's length] when first spotted. Then the object began to come nearer --- now a baseball diameter --- now a grapefruit in diameter.

It seemed to Bertrand that this thing had to actually swing around a tall tree in order to enter the field in which they stood. They were looking just north of east at the time, so whatever it was had been moving about.

Bertrand was so astonished by the severe brightness of the lights as the thing approached, that he thought that there was a chance that they could be burned by them if the thing came right up to them. They turned and ran from it and, in their estimation, the thing stopped at about 100' closest approach. Meanwhile, farm animals and a neighbor's dog were in full distress. Bertrand called for back-up.

The thing then began to move off to the southeast. In five minutes, Officer Hunt got out there and watched the thing continue to move to the southeast, towards Hampton and the sea, for another five. Sometime later, a hysterical man called Hampton police and said that he had been chased by a UFO.

That's a thumbnail with the most significant elements of the case. Note that a distant re-fueling operation seems hardly cogent. Why then would anyone come up with this? It's classic debunker brain-rot. One of the debunkers heard that the angle of the Exeter lights was about 60 degrees, and, since this is the angle which the re-fueling hose dangles, by gum THAT must be it!! Witness testimony? Say no more!! I've heard all that I need to!!!!

I'd like to put this stupidity out of its misery by just noting one clear and dramatic fact. Bertrand and Muscarello were so staggered by the severe brightness of the red light that they thought they were in danger of being damaged by it. Now, how in the hell could anyone say, with a straight face, that this could be caused by a distant airplane operation?? Answer: no one with a properly operating mind and conscience.

And that's where a lot of the truth may lie here. I participate in a football fan board just for some mindless fun. It's my old university and I still like to watch them play [when they win]. Often on that board we get idiots whose "fun" is posting things just to get people riled up. It is a type of soul-dead nastiness which resides in some people. Sick brains who enjoy causing other people stress just for their own ha-ha-ha's. I'm becoming more convinced all the time that this is the big motivator for the majority of debunkers. On the boards we call them "trolls". Ugly morons who "troll" the internet waters trying to hook naive fish with their intellectual worms. On internet boards, these trollers have found that the best trolling is just to invent things bearing little relationship to Truth. Well, fellas, CSICOP beat you to it long ago. They've been scaling to new heights of intellectual dishonesty and un-care for decades. All Hail the "mental" criminals!!!

So, there is Exeter. Still strong after all these years. No USAF vehicles about to nearly burn the witnesses with their brightness. But plenty of skeptical dimness to last a lifetime. If those boneheads actually wanted to try to construct an alternative hypothesis which had a chance, they might expand their universe a bit and bring in the Real trolls to replace ET. At least They might be able to pull the appearances off.

Oh, wait a minute... I said those guys expand their view of the Universe ..... Nevermind.

Addendum: some of you might appreciate this. In 1991, when CUFOS officer John Timmerman was taking the photo exhibit around the country, he made a stop in Tucson, AZ. Several very interesting encounters were told him there in the now [to me] legendary depository of wonderful real-people UFO reports called "The Timmerman Files". As John stood with the exhibit one of the days, who should step up to him but James McGaha. It did not take John long to assess the value of his approach to our mystery.

"James McGaha. And I live in Tucson, AZ. I retired from the Air Force about forty days ago, as an air force pilot. I've been an amateur astronomer for 35 years and I'm currently a graduate student at the University of Arizona in astronomy. Chairman of Tucson Skeptics and I'm on the UFO subcommittee of CSICOP."

John: "That's enough. I appreciate your coming by." "End of tape".

Bless you, John.


  1. Prof, I think your analysis of this debunking operation is right on the money. Since you mentioned this case not long ago I found Fullers book and am reading it now. The work done here was clearly solid. While skepticism is helpful this is way over the edge. The debunker's answer is even stranger than the actual facts of the case. Yeah...Trolls.....

  2. Magaha has shown up on TV from time to time, appearing in UFO "documentaries", punching holes in high-profile cases. He is one big blow hard. Doesn't come off as being at all credible, as Michael Shermer often does. In fact, usually seems more of a crackpot than the UFO proponents appearing on the same show.

    Nothing about the Exeter experience fits a midair refueling. That Pease AFB investigated at the time and didn't explain it away as a tanker just shoots truck-sized holes in the tanker story.

    Exeter might still have a prosaic, terrestrial explanation, but a mid-air refueling sure isn't it.

  3. Given the hassles that the Exeter sitings caused the folks at Pease AFB you'd think that if it HAD been a tanker the Air Force would have spoken up by now.

  4. b"h

    According to a report at the site we have:

    "Within five minutes, Patrolman Eugene Bertrand pulled into the station. Bertrand, an Air Force veteran during the Korean War, with air-to-air refueling experience on KC-97 tankers, reported an odd coincidence."

    So it seems the "'Exeter Incident' Solved" boys epic-failed on their homework and their claim.

  5. I agree with all of the above. It has been the "insider" pre-publication discussion of the Exeter alleged solution on Fran Ridge's NICAP site which inspired this blog entry. Sadly, some of the UFOlogists who are part of discussions on that board have been pixy-led by the N&M goofiness and couldn't bring themselves to see VERY simple statements from Ray Fowler's original report forms. Folks, even in UFOlogy Land there are real fraidy cats and also guys-grown-so-old that they are desperately "lookin' for love in all the wrong places".

  6. McGaha has left plenty of unfavorable impressions with me. In particular, here's a perfect example of McGaha's distinct brand of negative bias: ( It really is laughable when he confronts a couple of witnesses of the Phoenix Lights after they insist on having witnessed a single extremely large vehicle. He asks them how they know it wasn't multiple aircraft in formation and when they answer that "they looked up and it blocked out the stars in the sky", he then asks if they are "qualified to look at the sky at night?". I mean how pathetic can one individual be? Are we really supposed to take him as a serious authority?

    His bio claims that he is the director of the Grassland Observatory which effectively consists a tin shack sporting a rather unimpressive (my emphasis) "24 inch reflector. It also states: "He held a TOP SECRET compartmented security clearance and was involved in numerous classified operations including operations in the so-called "Area 51.", which makes one question his objectivity and wonder if he remains on someone's payroll in order to spew this swill. If so, they sure aren't getting their money's worth, irregardless of his salary. (for bio reference info see

    1. Excellent work, Professor. These debunkers are so absurd- they sit there and try to convince people that they aren't every bit as obsessed with--and emotionally invested in-- UFOs as the most credulous Space Brother crystal kisser. How do they do that? By dredging up old cases and doing the old revisionist history bit on them. Why do they care? Why do they bother? No one is discussing Exeter or the Lockheed case or whatever ancient flap these obsessives are still obsessing over so why the hell are they? That's the dead giveaway there.

  7. "One of the debunkers heard that the angle of the Exeter lights was about 60 degrees, and, since this is the angle which the re-fueling hose dangles"

    Funny that he is willing to consider an eyewitness guesstimate of an angle but discounts the less error prone description of a line of lights. So the eyewitnesses apparently can accurately measure angles of lights in the sky by sight alone but when it comes to judging the behavior and configuration of lights in the sky they turn into Mr. Magoo.

  8. There’s nothing I could add about the Exeter case that hasn’t already been written. Martin Shough got forensic on a rebuttal recently (updates list) and your own immersion in the case is similarly at odds with the notion of re-fuelling aircraft.

    Rather than the Exeter case specifically, it’s the general approach, by some, to UFO reports that can be alarming. Some guys take the condescending view that witnesses are like cartoon housewives screaming at mice from atop a chair. Saturated by media reports of saucers, woefully undereducated and prone to magical thinking, these poor saps see what they want to see. The witnesses need to have their accounts rewritten by ‘those who know better.’ For example, descriptions of large objects in front of them (Damon, Texas) are combinations of Arcturus and helicopters.

    It seems to me that this approach signifies a low opinion of the intelligence and experience of witnesses. It also suggests an inability to put themselves in another’s shoes. I mean, try and imagine the circumstances whereby a helicopter, Venus or refuelling exercise can be misperceived as a large, silent object passing overhead? It's tough huh?

    Can they themselves conceive of a situation in which they might duck to avoid Venus? They’d baulk at the notion and attribute it to the lesser folk out there.

  9. Shough is a very tough guy to convince that any UFO case is a good one [therefore he tends to prefer instrument-assisted cases a la radar] but he immediately saw that Nickell's idea was in his terms "bankrupt". Some of the confusion in the case [having in my mind no bearing whatsoever upon the reality of this thing as a very close encounter, but whenever a perceived error of any kind appears in a case description skeptics go nuts and rush to dump the whole affair], has been caused by the initial error of the second policeman [Hunt] as to what direction he was facing. Muscarello and Bertrand knew perfectly well that they were facing north, but Hunt, driving down from the Exeter area to the north, got his head turned around and thought that he was facing south. So, he gave the USAF guy the wrong direction for the object's flyaway. He also apparently told the first newsman [or someone else] he was interviewed by that same wrong direction. By the time he figured it out that cat was long out of the bag. He DID get it right once Ray Fowler got there with his more precision way of investigating. But the error was repeated by John Fuller in his book, and so sat there to boggle people. Again, although it's nice to clear details up, this is not an essential in the Exeter case, as no amount of distant US aircraft can come at you with lights so bright you think you're in danger from them.

  10. Readers can find out more about McGaha by watching a 2 hour DVD "Are Flying Saucers Real"? He and I had a formal debate with moderator at Middle Tennessee State University, January 24, 2004.We had a packed audience, but no vote was taken at the end. The DVD is available via my website .He has also appeared on Larry King several times. His basic rule is "Anything But Alien".

    Stan Friedman

  11. HI, Mike,

    I've known Joe Nickell casually for years, since he wrote several articles for Fate while I worked there. They were good pieces. They were good because their targets (e.g., specific Fortean tall tales) were debunkable via solid research, evidence, and analysis with which no reasonable person could quarrel. In the years since then, Nickell's work has grown ever shakier as it's addressed more difficult, better documented cases, of which Exeter is only the most recent example.

    To correct the record: debunking is not Nickell's "hobby" but his job. As far as I know, he's still on the payroll of the parent organization for the former CSICOP. (I can never remember what either organization is called these days, since neither has much relevance in my life.) A bright and often interesting guy with whom I've never exchanged a heated or other unkind word, Nickell personifies what happens, sadly, when an otherwise smart guy embraces an unquestioning -- dare I say unskeptical? -- ideological skepticism. It's the difference between being skeptical, which every sensible individual is when the occasion calls for it, and being _a_ skeptic, a wholly different matter altogether, as much unhappy history attests.

  12. b"h

    The analysis by Martin Shough at the following link tears the CSI Exeter Solved article apart point by point.

    Also, the following link has a better view of the KC-97 director lights panel that the Exeter Solved article says was responsible for witness testimony of the five bright red lights:

    You will notice that there are four red panels and a blue or dark green panel in the middle. In fact you can see the blue pane in the Exeter Solved article if you look closely. Moreover, both photos are of the same KC-97 at the Pima Museum, so it would seem that Mr. McGaha knew the center light was blue, not red, when he posted his article.

    You can also see that the top panel has the letters DWN, the next with FWD, then the blue center pane, then ? F ? (probably AFT) and you can make out UP on the bottom red pane. So for the greater part of a refueling operation these lights were steady and low, not sequencing (if they ever actually "sequenced" - I don't think that assertion has been proved yet!), to let the pilot being refueled read positioning directions.


  13. Thanks. I'm aware of Martin's excellent ripping apart of CSICOPs Exeter debunking. He feels that such things need a minutely specific thrashing and if that's how he sees it, that's fine by me. The larger picture, in my view, is, however, that no distance airplane activity comes anywhere near dealing with the witness testimony. The growing apparent size of the set of sequencing lights and the terrifying brightness just blows all such ideas away.

    What this is leading to, in a negative way, is not that any reasonable human will sign up for CSICOPs crazy opinion, but that some UFOlogists will war with one another about some "directional dispute" which has arisen because of this new more minute examination of some of the case details. This [to me irrelevant] dispute will involve what direction Bertrand saw the object coming from, and then what direction did he see it leave. I will give you a hint at the answer: it is clear --- totally clear --- that Bertrand and Muscarello while standing down in the field, saw the object come from the ESE direction across the trees and right at them, lights a-blazing. Once B&M were back at the squad car, it is clear at least to me, that they saw the object skim across the treeline generally [by eye] east to west, but getting northernly as it went. Once sinking into a gap in the treeline, the thing drifted a little --- a LITTLE not a lot --- back easterly in that gap while moving generally northerly roughly towards Pease AFB. You, if you continue to follow this, will hear that the thing instead came back severely east and left in the direction that it came. This confusion/error has arisen in the record from three sources: Hunt and Bertrand initially having their heads turned around thinking they were facing south instead of north --- and error which got into the USAF report, but which they figured out BEFORE Fowler even got up there. #2: Bertrand being a flighty conversationalist while describing the event to Fuller, and Fuller a lousy interviewer so as not to insist upon a clean step-by-step recounting of the action. And #3: the fact, sadly, that Fuller uses dramatic license while putting together quotes in his book. In a key quote he has Bertrand say that the object left "towards Hampton". which Bertrand does NOT say in the typed transcript of the interview.

    As I say, this will all cause a big brouhaha even though it has nothing to do with how powerful the in-your-face action of the object was in the case.

  14. b"h

    After looking at an online map of the Exeter area I agree Professor that the "directional dispute" is pretty much irrelevant. I grew up in a place where the paved and gravel roads of the county were nearly all aligned to N S E W. But the area around Exeter has roads curving in every crazy direction EXCEPT N S E W. So at 3 A.M., when your prime concern is a brilliant intimidating set of lights that are not stationary, but floating around, are you going to remember to unpack your compass and shoot an azimuth every ten seconds? The sloppiness on this point is regrettable, but it still doesn't explain away what the three experienced and maintained without denial from that time on.

  15. prof

    are there known high strangeness stuff happened in exeter encounter ? is this real BoL type ufo phenomena or a straight magonia type apparation aka trickster type ? i mean if that thing terrorize that women driver by diving at her repeatedly thats horribly scary but did the car also experienced shutdown like most ufo encounter ? also when the officer and witness got suprised by the ufo, i read somewhere that the officer draw his gun and said he is going to fire if it come closer, in other CE3 type case didnt the UfO phenomena usually paralyze or incapacitate a person who display hostile act?

    based on the data from exeter case file, what do you think happened (your opinion off course)


    1. This is not a BOL but a CE1.

      No "woman driver" is mentioned in the post, so this inquiry is strange to me.

      There was also no pulling of gun.....

  16. I received these two posts in my email, being still susbcribed to this year old thread. (not complaining though, enjoying it!)

    I'm wondering if the anonymous poster Milo might be referring to an account he read in one the books written by Ray Fowler or John Fuller regarding the Exeter NH ufos. For whatever reason the woman being chased (stalked) by a ufo rings a bell with me. I just don't know where exactly I read it from ( I'm thinking Fowler or Fuller). Right now, I'm too lazy to pour through my copies of those two authors books.

    ~ Susan

    1. Hi, Brownie.

      I'm almost certain that Milo must be remembering another incident. There are certainly a small pile of "stalker" cases in my files [might give an entry on them actually now that this is being mentioned] --- the last one mentioned on the blog was one of the Wanaque cases.

  17. from

    "Meanwhile, at the Exeter Police Station, Officer Eugene Bertrand received a call from a frightened woman who stated that a large, silent object with flashing lights had followed her car for twelve miles from the city of Epping to a spot on the road where she pulled off in fear."

    according to Bertrand :

    ""Well, it seemed to tilt and come right at us. Norman told me later that I was yelling, 'I'll shoot it! I'll shoot it!' I did automatically drop on one knee and drew my service revolver, but I didn't shoot. I do remember suddenly thinking that it would be unwise to fire at it, so I yelled to Norman to run for the cruiser, but he just froze in his tracks. I practically had to drag him back!"

    i assume the case as described in that website is correct and the same with what you read , prof ? if im mistaken the sorry for the trouble


    1. well, it's the Exeter case, but I'm not going to go there and evaluate their published details to say whether they are "correct". That's not a reasonable request to assess other website's treatments of any information. I'll be willing [within reason] to respond to specific details about anomalies [regardless of origin] when I can, but "cleansing" other site's materials? No.

  18. ah apologies if i am sounding like im requesting you visit other sites and verify their stories, not my intention at all.

    by the way , i just want to clarify that the woman driver part i mentioned is from your post above , here is your paragraph in the above post

    One of the police officers [Eugene Bertrand] had interacted with a near hysterical woman [unidentified] earlier who said that her car had been chased by a brilliant red glowing object, which dived at her auto several times. He hadn't taken that seriously before but now he was beginning to. He went back with Muscarello to the farm area. Nothing. They walked down into the field. Nothing.


    1. ??? Yes, I see that you have quoted my paragraph from above.