Growing interest, 1978–1994
Between 1978 and the early 1990s, UFO researchers such as Stanton T. Friedman, William Moore, Karl T. Pflock, and the team of Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt interviewed several hundred people who claimed to have had a connection with the events at Roswell in 1947. Hundreds of documents were obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, along with other documents such as Majestic 12 that were supposedly leaked by insiders. Their conclusions were at least one alien spacecraft crashed near Roswell, alien bodies had been recovered, and a government cover-up of the incident had taken place.
Over the years, books, articles, and television specials brought the 1947 incident significant notoriety. By the mid-1990s, public polls such as a 1997 CNN/Time poll, revealed that the majority of people interviewed believed that aliens had indeed visited Earth, and that aliens had landed at Roswell, but that all the relevant information was being kept secret by the US government.
According to anthropologists Susan Harding and Kathleen Stewart, the Roswell Story was the prime example of how a discourse moved from the fringes to the mainstream according to the prevailing zeitgeist: public preoccupation in the 1980s with “conspiracy, cover-up and repression” aligned well with the Roswell narratives as told in the “sensational books” which were being published.
Friedman’s initial work
In 1978, nuclear physicist and author Stanton T. Friedman interviewed Jesse Marcel, the only person known to have accompanied the Roswell debris from where it was recovered to Fort Worth where reporters saw material which was claimed to be part of the recovered object. The accounts given by Friedman and others in the following years elevated Roswell from a forgotten incident to perhaps the most famous UFO case of all time.
The Roswell Incident (1980)
The first conspiracy book about Roswell was The Roswell Incident (1980) by Charles Berlitz and William Moore, authors who had previously written popular books on the Philadelphia Experiment and on the Bermuda Triangle.
Historian Kathy Olmsted writes that the material in this book has come to be known as “version 1” of the Roswell myth. Berlitz and Moore’s narrative holds that an alien craft was flying over the New Mexico desert observing US nuclear weapons activity, but crashed after being hit by lightning, killing the aliens on board; a government cover-up duly followed.
The authors claimed to have interviewed over ninety witnesses. Though he was uncredited, Friedman carried out some research for the book. The Roswell Incident featured accounts of debris described by Marcel as “nothing made on this earth.” Additional accounts by Bill Brazel, son of Mac Brazel, neighbor Floyd Proctor and Walt Whitman Jr., son of newsman W. E. Whitman who had interviewed Mac Brazel, suggested the material Marcel recovered had super-strength not associated with a weather balloon. The book introduced the contention that debris which was recovered by Marcel at the Foster ranch, visible in photographs showing Marcel posing with the debris, was substituted for debris from a weather device as part of a cover-up.
The book also claimed that the debris recovered from the ranch was not permitted a close inspection by the press. The efforts by the military were described as being intended to discredit and “counteract the growing hysteria towards flying saucers”. Two accounts of witness intimidation were included in the book, including the incarceration of Mac Brazel. The book also introduced the secondhand stories of civil engineer Barney Barnett and a group of archeology students from an unidentified university seeing alien wreckage and bodies while in the desert.
Berlitz and Moore’s narrative was dominant until the late 1980s when other authors, attracted by the commercial potential of writing about Roswell, started producing rival accounts.
UFO Crash at Roswell (1991)
In 1991, Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt published UFO Crash at Roswell. They added 100 new witnesses, altered and tightened the narrative, and included several “sinister” new twists.
Some new details were included, including accounts of a “gouge …that extended four or five hundred feet [120 or 150 m]” at the ranch and descriptions of an elaborate cordon and recovery operation. Several witnesses in The Roswell Incident described being turned back from the Foster ranch by armed military police, but extensive descriptions were not given. The Barnett accounts were mentioned, though the dates and locations were changed from the accounts found in The Roswell Incident. In the new account, Brazel was described as leading the Army to a second crash site on the ranch, at which point the Army personnel were supposedly “horrified to find civilians [including Barnett] there already.”
Glenn Dennis was produced as a supposedly important witness in 1989, after calling the hotline when an episode of Unsolved Mysteries featured the Roswell incident. His descriptions of Roswell alien autopsies were the first account that said there were alien corpses at the Roswell Army Air Base.
Randle and Schmitt’s book sold 160,000 copies.
Crash at Corona (1992)
In 1992, Stanton Friedman re-entered the scene with his own book Crash at Corona, co-authored with Don Berliner – an author of books on space and aviation. Goldberg writes that Friedman too introduced new “witnesses”, and that he added to the narrative by doubling the number of flying saucers to two, and the number of aliens to eight – two of which were said to have survived and been taken into custody by the government.
The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell (1994)
Randle and Schmitt responded with another book, updating their previous narrative with several new details, including the claim that alien bodies were taken by cargo plane to be viewed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was curious about their appearance.
The Day After Roswell (1997)
Former Lt. Col. Philip J. Corso reported in his autobiographical book that the Roswell Crash did happen and that when he was assigned to Fort Riley (Kansas) in July 1947, 5 trucks of 25 tons and some semi trailers entered the base from Fort Bliss Texas. He claimed while he was patrolling the base he was brought into the medical facilities by Sgt. Brown and shown the remnants of bodies that were from an “air crash”. Philip Klass analyzed his claims line by line and exposed many inconsistencies and factual errors.
The existence of so many differing accounts by 1994 led to a schism among ufologists about the events at Roswell. The Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), two leading UFO societies, disagreed in their views of the various scenarios presented by Randle–Schmitt and Friedman–Berliner; several conferences were held to try to resolve the differences. One issue under discussion was where Barnett was when he saw the alien craft he was said to have encountered. A 1992 UFO conference had attempted to achieve a consensus among the various scenarios portrayed in Crash at Corona and UFO Crash at Roswell, however, the publication of The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell had “resolved” the Barnett problem by simply ignoring Barnett and citing a new location for the alien craft recovery, including a new group of archaeologists not connected to the ones the Barnett story cited.
Don Schmitt held that variations in narratives between different writers was not however an essential problem, commenting by way of comparison “We know Jesus Christ was crucified, we just don’t know where.”