Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The "Hottel Memo": an old UFO hoax.
News organizations across the world were taken in -- once again -- by a hoax that was perpetrated more than 50 years ago.
The infamous "Hottel memo" was posted on several sites, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation's "vault." It was touted as "newly revealed" this week. The memo supposedly confirms that alien ships landed in the U.S. in the late 1940s and the information was covered up.
But in fact the infamous memo has been making the rounds for several years. (It was never classified). The "vault" is simply a newer system put in place by the FBI over the past week to make accessing documents easier.
The memo describes what was told to an FBI agent, Guy Hottel, who was the special agent in charge of the Washington field office. It describes an "air force investigator" who described finding a crashed craft in New Mexico, and also said that alien bodies were found in it. Hottel only reports what the unnamed informant says, not what his own conclusions are. The informant says that the craft was disabled by "high powered radar" in the area.
Not only is the information not first-hand and far removed from New Mexico, it is connected to a 60-year-old hoax that resulted in a conviction for fraud.
The memo was the end of a long chain of tale-telling. The Hottel memo repeats a story from the Wyandotte Echo, a legal newspaper in Kansas City, Kansas in January of 1950, which was repeated to Guy Hottel by an Air Force investigator who read the story (and pasted into a memo himself. Such practices were common in the days before scanning documents was possible and memos had to be typed out). That news story draws from the account of a Rudy Fick, a local used car dealer.
Fick got the story from a two men, I. J. Van Horn and Jack Murphy, who said they got the story from a man named "Coulter" - actually a radio station advertising manager named George Koehler. Koehler got the story from Silas Newton.
The hoax begins with Newton and his accomplice, Leo A. Gebauer. Newton and Gebauer were peddling "doodlebugs" -- devices that could supposedly find oil, gas, gold, or anything else that the target of the con was interested in finding.
In an interview in 2003 for a documentary called The Other Side of Truth, written and directed by Paul Kimball, the late Karl Pflock, a UFO researcher, described the original hoax that led to the Hottel memo. Pflock notes that the difference between Newton and Gebauer's con and many others that preceded it was they said their doodlebugs were better because they were based on alien technology.
The two men told Frank Scully, a columnist for Variety, about the UFO crash. There were no other witnesses (local newspaper accounts don't show anything for the relevant dates). Scully claimed in his book that Newton and Gebauer told him the military had taken the craft for secret research.
Meanwhile, the story of the alien technology piqued the interest of J.P. Cahn of the San Francisco Chronicle. Cahn managed to convince Newton and Gebauer to give him a sample of the "alien" metal, which turned out to be aluminum.
Cahn's account of the alien ship hoax - and the two swindlers -- appeared in True magazine in 1952. The result was that several people who had been conned by Newton and Gebauer came forward. One of their victims was Herman Glader, a Denver millionaire who had the wherewithal to press charges. Newton and Gebauer were convicted of fraud the next year.
The Aztec hoax appeared again in 1986, when William Steinman and Wendelle Stevens published a book called UFO Crash at Aztec. In 1998 Linda Mouton Howe, a documentary filmmaker, claimed to have government documents proving that an alien ship had landed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. That proof was the Hottel memo.
Several news outlets have repotted the memo as "proof" that the government knew about crashes of alien spacecraft in Roswell. But not only does the memo say no such thing, it isn't even connected to the town of Roswell.
There are several other clues that something is wrong. The FBI has several documents that point to their knowledge of Newton and Gebauer both, as fraud schemes involving mining were common in the southwest at that time.
In addition, an alien craft disabled by "high-powered radar" is implausible given that ordinary airplanes can fly without incident through radar, and "high power" radar is not enough to damage even conventional electronics. (Radars were even less powerful in the 1940s). In addition, the description in the Hottel memo does not match any of those given at the time for purported Roswell UFOs.
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