The Aerial Phenomenon Research Organization (APRO) field investigator on the scene of the Travis Walton case (Nov 5, 1975), Ray Jordan, has made a statement reflecting on his involvement. So today I'm reflecting on one deceptively tiny detail of the case that I think symbolizes a bigger problem.
Sometimes it takes 46 years for the full picture to emerge. But this particular red flag was waving in the faces of the investigators from the get-go.
Firstly, the bigger problem: when investigators think of themselves as scientists gathering evidence but act more like journalists hoping for a scoop, that's not how they're going to get closer to the truth.
Back in 1975, the different UFO investigative organizations apparently saw each other as rivals. Ray Jordan's statement unfortunately serves to emphasize this. Who has the biggest organization, who was first on the scene - these things aren't relevant to the truth. If the truth matters, then information sharing between researchers matters. Nutting out theories together matters. Welcoming skeptical viewpoints matters. This approach at least attempts to more closely mimic actual science.
For the Travis Walton case, the compass rose on a map matters. We'll get to that in a bit.
Before we look at the tiny detail that sent me on this rant, I'll address a couple of other issues Jordan raised.
Can we retire the polygraphs already?
In part, Jordan states that in interviewing witnesses and meeting them subsequently over the years, he "never saw anything that caused me to doubt the honesty of Walton or the witnesses or to think that it might be some sort of a hoax." He cites the polygraphs, like every true believer who doesn't understand why this is not evidence that supports their case.
Granting the arguable premise that polygraphs indicate truthfulness, the witnesses passed because they were telling the truth.
The polygraphs tell us that the witnesses didn't harm Travis, and did see a flying (actually hovering) object they couldn't identify. They don't tell us anything at all about whether Travis was abducted by aliens in a flying saucer.
Given the aforementioned insular information bubbles in UFO circles, it's possible Jordan never knew that only 3 months after the incident Ray Fowler (MUFON) wrote to Allen Hynek and posed the theory that two of the men hoaxed the other five with a huge flying saucer balloon. This of course explains why the witnesses were so credible - they really had seen a UFO, and they really did think Travis had vanished when they returned to search for him a few minutes later.
But it was MUFON's idea. I guess they didn't share it, or APRO didn't want to hear it.
This theory did not gain traction, overshadowed by Klass in the late 1970s who believed all seven men were lying. The two-hoaxed-five theory was revived by Karl Pflock, and now we have a ton of new supporting evidence as well, not to mention plot holes in the official story leaking like a sieve.
So, original investigators on the case who profess an opinion have a choice to make: stick with the 46-year-old story because they feel secure it was properly investigated at the time, or examine the new evidence that's since come to light (which Jordan inexplicably lumps together as "recent squabbling").
But here's the thing - in this case, there was that little red flag waving its little self at the time, and investigators ignored it.
On the case
On Saturday Nov 8th when Jordan arrived to investigate for APRO, there were (according to APRO Bulletin Nov 1975) three other organizations on the scene that same day: GSW, Center for UFO Studies, and MUFON. Four outfits were "on-site during the time that Walton was missing", and in fact Travis's book suggests GSW was first on the scene after Duane Walton called Bill Spaulding.
Regardless of who was first on the scene, and obviously I don't care, it's clear Jordan does care and I can't helping thinking this attitude is indicative of the aforementioned counterproductive rivalry.
Today Jordan wants us to know that "APRO was perhaps the largest civilian UFO investigation organization in the country (or perhaps the world)". Back in 1975, the APRO Bulletin also wanted us to know that "Ground Saucer Watch" - the name set off in derisive quote marks - was Spaulding's "own outfit". Insignificant.
While I would guess GSW's conclusions about UFOs in general were probably as silly as any other organization's, the fact is Spaulding was right in surmising this case was a hoax, although not because of the little red flag. APRO (via Jordan and then the Lorenzens) was wrong - Travis's stolen Heinlein spaceship adventure fooled 'em. Mike's emotional breakdowns fooled 'em. A complete lack of physical evidence fooled 'em.
But to get to the point of all this: while an original investigator on the case could examine new evidence so that their opinion comes across as informed, the little red flag isn't a new development. It was staring those investigators in the face on that Saturday afternoon in November as they poked around the "abduction site" looking for radiation and footprints and landing pad marks.
"Mr. Jordan interviewed each of the men and Rogers at the scene of the sighting," APRO Bulletin reported in Nov 1975. So Jordan had the piece of information in his notes. Spaulding of GSW had a similar piece of information in his notes, independently acquired. What a great idea it would've been for them to compare notes at this moment.
Let's quickly run through it: The guys were examining the "abduction site" about a quarter-mile south of the woodcutters' worksite in Turkey Springs. These locations are not mysteries. Nobody has disputed where they are. My website provides a ton of evidence to accurately locate them.
Witnesses told Jordan the UFO was seen in the northwest. Spaulding's incident report corroborates this - the truck was driving due west.
Map it out!
Maybe it's because I'm a visual person instead of a credulous UFO investigator but my first task if I went to an alleged UFO site with the witnesses would be to draw a map. To scale. With a compass rose.
Did anyone draw a map, while on the site, showing the worksite, the logging trail, the truck's approach, the UFO's position, the route of the truck's dash when Mike drove off, stopped, chased a camper trailer, and returned? There was a lot going on that night and... we've got nothing.
The investigators were working with bad information, that's true - they were misled by Mike Rogers to the wrong site - but had they actually pieced together what they'd been told, gotten over their jealousies long enough to compare notes and double-check, they would've realized their information created an impossible picture. They were told what appeared to be an obvious error or lie (though it was actually the truth, everything else was a lie) about the truck's direction of travel. Why was it allowed to stand unchallenged?
We have four UFO investigative organizations on the scene who somehow independently reconciled the impossibility that they were at the UFO site a few hundred yards south of the worksite, but that the truck was driving west and the UFO was seen ahead in the northwest to the witnesses' right.
Once we take into account the more recent admissions from Mike Rogers and John Goulette that they drove 5 to 15 minutes before seeing the UFO (not the 200 yards Jordan was either told or surmised), we can reconcile the accidentally accurate details in the APRO report. The true location of the UFO was a few miles due west along Rim Road and was indeed up a slight incline (the fire tower is at the highest point in the area). The approach is via a right-hand curve in the road, and since Travis was able to jump out of the moving truck we know Mike did slow down, no doubt to draw out the drama.
Look, I wouldn't expect an investigator to come up with the whole "fire tower 5 miles down the road" theory on the basis of a couple of incongruous compass directions. But with this red flag overlooked and buried (and it's not the only one), it boggles the mind that anyone could be patting themselves and their organization on the back for a job well done.
I'm blogging about the Three-Dollar Kit.