There's something out there... UFO sightings in Central Kentucky
By Christopher Kemp

Photo by Matt Borgerding

Jerry Black is looking for UFOs.
A sighting has been reported somewhere over rural Blanchester, Ohio, near the northern Kentucky border, and, as the cool fields grow dark, he monitors the sky expectantly. For Black, maybe tonight will be the night. Perhaps, for just an instant, he will see something unusual moving above the tree line, blotting out the clean, bright stars. More likely, though, like last night and the night before it, he will see nothing.

Black has been investigating UFOs for over 40 years. Whether by untangling well-wrought hoaxes or trying to make sense of confused eyewitness accounts, most of Black's cases have been resolved.

There isn't a shred of evidence that UFOs are extraterrestrial, that they have ever landed on Earth, or that aliens have abducted people, Black reports. In 92 percent of cases, UFOs reported by rattled eyewitnesses turn out to be either aircraft, mistaken celestial bodies and other natural phenomena, or elaborate hoaxes, he says. But that still leaves eight percent; and it is these remaining cases, the ones that cannot easily be explained, that most interest Jerry Black.

In 1976, after 20 years of researching UFOs, Black finally worked on a case that couldn't be solved, a case that still baffles him today.

On January 6, 1976, at about 11:15pm, driver Louise Smith and passengers Mona Stafford and Elaine Thomas were traveling along US Route 27 in Stanford, Kentucky, about an hour south of Lexington, when they claim they were abducted by aliens.

"The women were driving down the highway, coming back from the Redwood restaurant," Black says quietly. "They were leaving the restaurant in a very happy mood because they had just celebrated Mona's birthday. All of a sudden they saw this object in the sky which they perceived to be an airplane on fire," he recalls. "The object appeared to be red in color and coming, dropping from the sky. They assumed this was an airplane on fire and were bracing themselves to see if it was going to crash somewhere near there. All of a sudden the object stopped on a dime - that's one of the characteristics of UFOs that we don't have."

With the disc-shaped UFO clearly visible through the side windows of Smith's 1967 Chevy Nova, the car began to accelerate. Although Smith took her foot off the gas pedal, the car continued to go faster, reaching speeds of 85 miles per hour; as Smith struggled to control the car, the women never lost sight of the brightly lit UFO, keeping pace with them over the treetops.

"It hung right above the trees less than 100 feet in the air. So the women were terrified," Black says. "It went behind the car, revolving lights going round, these were yellow lights, took the car, pulled the car backwards."

According to Black, the women later recalled that when the car was pulled backwards: "We could feel these bumps in the road, like at a Frisch's ... "

"They saw a blue light come into the car," says Black, "and Louise, the driver, said 'Oh, it's the Highway Patrol.' But as it turned out, it wasn't the Highway Patrol; the blue light was a UFO. The next thing they remember was [being] back on the highway, riding in the car. They were quite hot like they had been subjected to extreme heat, or put under a sunlamp. When they got back home they realized they had lost an hour and 25 minutes worth of time."

The women, burned and shaken, immediately went to a neighbor's house, and the neighbor told them to draw what they had seen and write down what they remembered. "We came into the case several months later," Black recalls. "We contacted the women; they were reluctant to talk to us and we finally convinced them [to talk] with my wife coming down."

During the investigation, Black subjected all three women to polygraphs, and they all passed. "Under hypnosis all three women claimed that they were taken aboard this object and given a physical examination," he says. "Elaine was put in a glass cubicle, it was pretty dark, but she could see the figures of small beings walking around the glass outside. She had a skin scraping taken off of her chest. Mona had her eyes actually removed from her sockets, she claims, laid on her cheeks and replaced again," Black says.

The women claimed their arms and legs were twisted in a very painful manner, but when asked if they felt like they had been tortured they all said no. "We've got eight hours of tapes of hypnosis of these women and, believe me, they're not pleasant to hear," Black says. "Most of it, they're crying."

According to Richard H. Hall's The UFO Evidence, which includes a report of the incident, all three women suffered eye inflammation, excessive thirst, abrupt weight loss and skin burns that took weeks to heal. Following the women's experience, Louise Smith's watch, alarm clocks, and car malfunctioned and in 1978, two years after the incident, Elaine Thomas died of unknown causes.

Although he investigated the case almost 25 years ago, Black still keeps in touch with the two surviving women. As each year passes, he says he believes less and less that UFOs could be extraterrestrial in origin; if it wasn't for the Stanford, Kentucky abductions, Black says, he might have stopped believing altogether.

The abduction claims of Louise Smith, Mona Stafford and Elaine Thomas are unusual, says Black, but not unique. "There's still thousands of people on this planet, sincere people like yourself, like me, like anyone walking out on the street today, who sincerely believe they were abducted," he says frankly.

For four decades, Black has tried to expose the hoaxes, the false claims, and the lackluster investigating, and focus on the cases that, even after thorough investigation, cannot be explained.

"There's something out there," he says. "You can believe what you want to believe, but there's something out there."

Black's interest in UFOs began not too long after Roswell, in the mid-1950s, while still attending high school. "I was actually researching and investigating UFOs when I was 16-years-old," Black recalls.

To properly investigate cases, Black has assembled what he calls "a little empire;" its inhabitants include photographic experts, soil analysts, psychologists, other UFO investigators and staff in the air traffic control towers of both Lunken and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airports who can verify sightings. Black says that, besides collecting thousands of eyewitness accounts, he has thoroughly investigated as many as 15 to 20 UFO sightings or alien abduction claims.

"I'm in the business of researching, scientifically and objectively, UFOs," says Black, matter-of-factly. "I just wish I had an answer for you people. I wish I could tell you that UFOs are, you know, nothing to worry about. But they've frightened a lot of people."

During the late 1980s, Black researched a much-publicized spate of UFO sightings in Gulf Breeze, a sun drenched coastal town on Florida's Panhandle, near Pensacola. Black explains the hoax exposed by investigation, "He took a picture himself of this model, with a light underneath it, and then left it in the camera, went outside, took a picture of the night sky, and there it was - a UFO."

The Gulf Breeze sightings, and those like it, represent the 92 percent of cases that can be explained with careful investigation.

Recent research has provided scientists with several other credible explanations for UFO sightings and abductions, most of which involve some kind of psychological disorder or neurological problem. According to a 1993 paper published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology: either UFO reporters are "psychologically or psychosocially disturbed" or "fantasy-prone individuals who confuse their vivid imaginings with external happenings."

Researchers also found that 81 percent of alleged abductions occur at night and, according to victim's accounts, almost 60 percent are linked with sleep, either occurring as they fall asleep, while they dream, or when they are waking up. In light of these results, scientists think many accounts of alien abductions are just descriptions of sleep paralysis, an episode of total body paralysis that occurs just prior to sleep or upon awakening.

Then again, some studies claim that alien abduction experiences are really fetal memories stored at the moment of birth. Other findings suggest that the temporal lobes of the brain might be responsible. Acting as a gate to all kinds of incoming information, especially sound and smell, the temporal lobes tell us a lot about our surroundings; when they stop working properly, patients suffer visions, hallucinations, and altered behavior, and often have intense religious experiences.

Armed with these findings, researchers believe temporal lobe damage probably accounts for a lot of UFO sightings and alien abduction claims. In other words, after ruling out psychological problems, neuroses, sleep paralysis, fetal memories, mistaken natural phenomena and hoaxes, scientists think faulty temporal lobes could explain almost all remaining UFO phenomena; including the people who allege they are carrying alien probes and women who claim aliens have impregnated them.

"There are many women out there who claim to have been impregnated by aliens," Black confirms. "I'm sure you've heard these stories, but not one story has ever been authenticated. Period. Not one story. There's always a hitch."

But the psychological and neurological explanations for UFO phenomena don't explain every single case. For one, they do nothing to address UFO sightings that involve whole crowds. Michael Persinger thinks he has the answer. A professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, Persinger believes UFOs, or "luminous anomalies" as he calls them, are generated by movements or stresses in the Earth's tectonic plates. Persinger has been studying the link between earthquakes and UFOs since the late 1960s, and says there is often an increase in the number of UFO sightings in the six-month period leading up to an earthquake.

Appearing as strange lights, luminous displays can move around, change color, rotate and change shape, says Persinger, but they are not UFOs; instead, they are little pockets of electromagnetic energy produced when energy that has built up in the Earth's crust is released through natural fault lines.

"Their color reflects their temperature," says Persinger. "If they rotate, different areas will have different temperatures and different colors which, to the naive eye, may be perceived as a craft ... "

Lights like these are seen often in California, where there are lots of fault lines, and also were reported in the Yakima Indian reservation before the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Most recently, after the Turkish earthquake in August 1999 that claimed over 7,000 lives, Persinger received a glut of reports describing similar events.

"Afterwards, our lab was inundated with requests from scientists in Turkey," says Persinger, "pointing out that, for two weeks before the big event, fishermen were reporting their nets being burned and bizarre lights in the sky and strange vibrations and all kinds of odd things going on." Persinger hopes one day his research will be used to predict earthquakes, allowing those in danger to evacuate the affected areas ahead of time.

Meanwhile, as night cools the dusty fields and the yellow rows of corn, Jerry Black will continue to search the sky for anything unusual. He says it's a good place for a UFO investigator to live, away from the city lights and the highway, where the sky is clear. He'll continue to collect reports of UFO sightings, adding to the thousands he has already managed to accumulate over the last four decades. It's possible that some of them were just luminous anomalies, caused by the slow cooling of the Earth; and maybe others were imagined by psychologically disturbed or fantasy-prone individuals, or products of faulty temporal lobes misfiring as they relay information around the brain; and then again, maybe some of them weren't.

l Area 51

To get some idea of the number of UFO eyewitness reports logged each year, one need look no further than the recently published The UFO Evidence (Scarecrow Press) by Richard H. Hall. Included is an exhaustive and chronological collection of UFO reports from between 1952 and 1995. It is all here: luminous objects outpacing airplanes, scorched landing sites and mutilated livestock; cone-shaped objects, cigar-shaped objects, globes, balls and spheres; silver-suited beings, stocky humanoids with grayish skin; alien abductions, abrupt weigh-loss, burned skin, and amnesia; secret desert rendezvous, government cover-ups, conspiracies and interrogations.

Although these accounts date back to 1952, the story really began five years earlier on July 3, 1947, when something strange happened in the arid scrubland near Roswell, NM. According to the Air Force, a weather balloon crashed in the desert; but almost immediately, rumors surfaced of disc-shaped objects, little men, deep gouges in the ground and a trail of scattered debris.

There in the thin desert air, as confused reports were confirmed and then abruptly denied, the study of UFOs, or ufology, was born. Whatever really happened at Roswell in 1947, the incident and the uncertainty surrounding it still serve as a backdrop to our perception of 1940s American culture; that same year the House Un-American Activities Committee convened to blacklist suspected Communists, the CIA was formed, and the Cold War began in earnest. As a result, government secrecy, conspiracy theories and ufology also were conceived; and over 50 years later, all three continue to thrive.