John Alva Keel, born Alva John Kiehle (March 25, 1930 – July 3, 2009) was an American journalist and influential UFOlogist who is best known as author of The Mothman Prophecies.
Life and career
Keel was born in Hornell, New York, the son of a small-time bandleader. His parents separated and he was raised by his grandparents. He was interested in magic (illusion) and had his first story published in a magicians’ magazine at age 12. He left school at the age of 16 after taking all the science courses. He later worked as a freelance contributor to newspapers, scriptwriter for local radio and television outlets, and author of pulp articles such as “Are You A Repressed Sex Fiend?”. He served in the US Army during the Korean War on the staff of the American Forces Network at Frankfurt, Germany. He claimed that while in the Army he was trained in psychological warfare as a propaganda writer. After leaving the military he worked as a foreign radio correspondent in Paris, Berlin, Rome and Egypt. In 1957, he published Jadoo, a book describing his time in Egypt and India investigating the Indian rope trick and the legendary yeti. In 1966 he produced the “spy and superhero” spoof novel The Fickle Finger of Fate. Influenced by writers such as Charles Fort, he began contributing articles to Flying Saucer Review and took up investigating UFOs and assorted Forteana as a full-time pursuit. Keel analyzed what he called “windows” and “waves” (or flaps, as they are often called) of reported UFO events, concluding that a disproportionate number occurred on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A member of the Screenwriters Guild, Keel reportedly wrote scripts for Get Smart, The Monkees, Mack & Myer for Hire, and Lost in Space.
In 1967, Keel popularized the term “Men In Black” in an article for the men’s adventure magazine Saga, entitled “UFO Agents of Terror”. According to Keel, he initially sought to explain UFOs as extraterrestrial visitations, but later abandoned this hypothesis. His third book, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, published in 1970, linked UFOs to supernatural concepts such as monsters, ghosts and demons. Keel used the term “ultraterrestrials” to describe UFO occupants he believed to be non-human entities capable of taking on whatever form they want.
His 1975 book, The Mothman Prophecies was Keel’s account of his investigation into alleged sightings in West Virginia of a huge, winged creature called the “Mothman.” The book combines Keel’s account of receiving strange phone calls with reports of mutilated pets and culminates with the December 15, 1967, collapse of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River. The book was widely popularized as the basis of a 2002 film of the same name starring Richard Gere.
Prolific and imaginative, Keel was considered a significant influence within the UFO and Fortean genre.
Keel lived for many years in the Upper West Side of New York City. He was a bachelor.
He died on July 3, 2009 in New York City, at the age of 79.