Among the most influential and widely known UFO incidents is the story of Barney and Betty Hill, a middle-aged New Hampshire couple who in 1961 were returning from vacation. Driving late at night through the White Mountains, the Hills encountered a UFO whose alien occupants reportedly took them on board and subjected them to a thorough medical examination. Several factors seemed to argue strongly in favor of the authenticity of the case. First, the narrative of the abduction was not consciously remembered by the Hills but was extracted by a psychiatrist using hypnosis. This fact seemed to rule out any chance of a deliberate hoax. Second, one particular piece of information (similarly retrieved from Betty Hill’s subconscious) was a "star map," which was subsequently deciphered by experts to indicate the alien ship's home solar system. Over the years, the "Barney and Betty Hill Abduction" has become accepted as a "classic" close encounter of the third kind. Since then, dozens of similar cases have been reported. A bestselling book (Interrupted Journey by John Fuller) and a made-for-TV movie (NBC's UFO Incident) have boosted the case's fame. Betty Hill (Barney died in 1969) has become a popular feature at UFO conventions nationwide.
Questions Are Raised
Two questions come to mind concerning this famous case. First, can anything really be concluded about the authenticity of the original incident? Second, have UFO organizations and the news media generally handled this case in a responsible fashion? While no final conclusions can be drawn (as in most UFO cases there is enough uncertainty and doubt to hide the Seventh Fleet), some very interesting insights about the UFO phenomenon can be gained by examining the Hill incident. The case would almost have to be labeled authentic if the hypnotic interrogation of the Hills had turned out to be based on true subconscious memories of real events. Also, the case would be very strong if the astronomical information revealed in Mrs. Hill's "star maps" was valid. And, of course, any corroborative testimony on the part of other possible witnesses would lend further credibility. Indeed, as reported in the books and magazines that cover the Hill case, all these criteria have been satisfied. But have they really been?
Hypnotic regression (or abreaction) can be a useful tool in psychoanalysis and has been gaining wider acceptance as an interrogative technique in police investigations. Cooperative witnesses can recall details about an event they may have forgotten or may never actually have noticed consciously.
But the technique has its pitfalls. A subject in the highly suggestible state may actually concoct fictitious details or an entire imaginary theme to please the subconsciously sensed desires of the interrogator. Researchers in California have hypnotized subjects with no previous UFO experiences or interests and asked them leading questions about a-nonexistent UFO abduction that the subjects were led to assume they had just undergone. They responded with a wealth of details conjured up from their imaginations. The stories sounded no different from any of the classic abduction cases already on record, including Betty and Barney Hill's. Dr. Benjamin Simon, the Boston psychiatrist who conducted the hypnosis sessions with the Hills is still convinced that the entire UFO abduction story was this kind of phenomenon, an innocent fabrication based on subconscious anxieties and vivid imaginations. Dr. Simon, whose psychoanalytic expertise is generally portrayed as the backbone of the Hill case's authenticity, does not believe the incident as reported ever took place! Under hypnosis, Betty Hill drew a pattern of dots, lines, and circles that she said was a star map shown to her by the UFO commander. Several years later, an amateur astronomer in Ohio produced a view of nearby stars that seemed to match Betty's drawing. Astonishingly, the map's viewpoint was from deep in space, looking back at our solar system. Most of the identified stars on the map were similar in size and brightness to our own sun, although such stars (the only kind likely to have planets with intelligent life orbiting them) are a distinct minority in the galaxy.
The alien home system was identified as a double star called Zeta Reticuli. Skeptics claimed that an "identification" of the alien world could be made with any random collection of dots and lines and that the predominance of sun like stars on the decoded map should not have been surprising since to shorten the work all others had dropped from consideration. Some sun-type stars should have shown up but didn't; The remaining dots on the drawing were assigned to handy non-sun-like stars or dismissed as "background" decoration. With that, any number of different (and mutually exclusive) map interpretations could be made. And so they have. It's also odd that Betty Hill recalls her UFO abductors telling her that Earth is off the beaten galactic track and is rarely visited. Where are all those other UFOs coming from? Mrs. Hill's ability to accurately reconstruct events and details became suspect when UFO investigator Robert Sheaffer showed that she was unable to draw a reliable chart of the alleged UFO's position in the sky. In place of the moon and two bright planets that were actually there, the Hill account shows the moon, a bright planet, arid the "star like" UFO. Sheaffer concludes that the original UFO sighting which so frightened the sleepless Hills, was a not uncommon "car chasing UFO" phenomenon caused by the sporadic appearance of the bright planet Jupiter from behind clouds.
Betty Hill Blunder
Over time, Betty Hill became something of an embarrassment to the UFO movement. Her stories told of a secret UFO landing field, of her car being blasted by a UFO's heat ray, of UFOs with their undersides painted to look like ordinary airplanes, of the local plundering of a supernatural chicken mutilator, of her neighbor's levitating cat, of her own precognitive and clairvoyant ESP powers, of her continual harassment by sinister government agents, of the visit to her home by the capricious poltergeist of a dead six-year-old orphan, and other equally unbelievable tales.
UFO buffs found these fables hard to swallow, but they swallowed hard and pointed to the details of her original testimony. Skeptics suggest these stories simply underlined her vivid imagination and her propensity for fantasizing whether conscious or under hypnosis. Moreover, studies critical of many aspects of the original Hill abduction reportedly circulated among pro-UFO groups for several years. According to people who claimed to have seen these documents, they are stamped with the UFO equivalent of TOP SECRET. That is, there are embarrassing facts about the original Hill case that some UFO groups believe the public is better off not knowing. Defenders of the original Hill abduction case dismiss Dr. Simon's incredulity by suggesting that the Boston hypnotist was unaware of other similar reports and thus believed the Hill testimony was an anomaly. Proponents defend the legitimacy of the decoded star map (but they disagree on which interpretation is the legitimate one). They believe there were many corroborative radar reports of UFOs that night, though the reporter who revealed that information in a local newspaper has since lost his notes and cannot now say where he learned those facts. So there is adequate uncertainty to a warrant further study of the Hill encounter.
What is apparent, however, is that the most publicized accounts of this case are heavily biased in favor of its insolvability, even to the extent of deliberately helping the case stay "unsolvable" by slanting key pieces of evidence and omitting others. As long as this remains the standard approach to UFO documentation, so will UFOlogy remain an unborn science. The Betty Hill case is an excellent touchstone against which such standards of behavior can be measured…
Ex-astronaut L. Gordon Cooper had become something of a celebrity with his TV talk show accounts of personal UFO sightings in Europe and California in the 1950s and his cooperation with international UFO investigators. Books and magazines are full of detailed accounts of Cooper's encounters with UFOs in space during the Mercury and Gemini programs. An exciting and provocative UFO revelation attributed to the astronaut appears on the package of a "Close Encounters Alien Doll," distributed by Columbia Pictures Industries as part of the commercialization of the famous UFO movie. Says the quotation, "Intelligent beings from other planets regularly visit our world in an effort to enter into contact with us… NASA and the American government know this and possess a great deal of evidence. Nevertheless, they remain silent in order not to alarm people. I am dedicated to forcing the authorities to end their silence." The problem is, claimed Cooper, he never said that and never even attended the New York City UFO conference at which he is alleged to have made those comments. And to express his profound displeasure at having his name exploited by Columbia, he sued them for two million dollars. Columbia, meanwhile, refused to comment on which UFO buff gave them the alleged quotation and why they never tried to verify it. Nor did Cooper see any UFOs on his space flights, it turns out. "Complete fabrications," he called the stories that for more than 15 years have enlivened UFO literature. Cooper did remain intrigued by the real UFO problem, he maintains, and his own UFO experiences remained uninvestigated and unexplained. But the UFO movement evidently was unsatisfied with the honest realities of an astronaut's UFO stories and piled fantasies and fabrications upon them.
Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience gives readers an inside look at the UFO abduction of Betty and Barney Hill. Published 46 years after the abduction, it takes a look at previously unpublished information about the lives of the Hills before and after Barney's death in 1969, their celebrity status, and Betty's UFO investigations.