Incident at Aztec

Did a UFO crash to Earth in the New Mexico desert in 1948? Did the US military recover charred alien corpses from the site and cover up the incident? Nick Redfern uncovers the FBI’s involvement in the case and finds that, more than 50 years later, the Aztec UFO affair is anything but a closed book.

UFO VillageNext to the so-called ‘Roswell Incident’ of July 1947, the most talked-about, dissected, championed, promoted and discredited ‘UFO crash’ case of all is that which is alleged to have occurred in the vicinity of Aztec, New Mexico, in 1948. According to information related to the author Frank Scully in the late 1940s (and subsequently published in his best-selling 1950 book, Behind the Flying Saucers), a number of incidents in 1947 and 1948 had led to US authorities recovering the wreckage of four alien spacecraft and no fewer than 34 alien bodies, all of which were being studied under cover of the utmost secrecy at various defence establishments in the United States.

As Scully was willing to admit, the bulk of his information had come from two sources: Silas Mason Newton (described in a 1941 FBI report as a “wholly unethical businessman”) and one ‘Dr Gee’, the name given to protect eight scientists, all of whom had supposedly divulged various details of the crashes to Newton and Scully. According to Scully’s sources, one such UFO was found in Hart Canyon, near the town of Aztec, in March 1948.

Located in the spectacular Four Corners Area, where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona meet, Aztec lies 180 miles (290km) northwest of Albuquerque and 300 miles (480km) southwest of Denver. Surrounded on three sides by Indian reservations (Navajo, Ute, and Apache) Aztec sits at the heart of Indian Country. Sandstone mesas overshadow lush river valleys, the snow-covered peaks of the San Juan mountains shimmer in the north, the unique badlands of the Bisti Wilderness lie to the south, and, heading west, you cross the Navajo reservation, passing Shiprock on the way to Monument Valley. The town is also home to the famous Aztec Ruins National Monument, a 12th century, 450-room pueblo ancestral to the modern Pueblo communities of New Mexico. But what of the most controversial aspect of the town’s history?

According to the story, after the Aztec saucer had crashed, it was located, essentially intact, by elements of the US military that gained access to the object via a fractured porthole. Inside were found the bodies of no fewer than 16 small, humanlike creatures, all slightly charred and undoubtedly dead. The UFO was then dismantled and transferred, along with the bodies of the crew, to Wright Field air base, Dayton, Ohio, for study.

At the time of its release, Scully’s book caused a major sensation. In 1952 and 1953, however, JP Cahn, a reporter who had previously worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, published two detailed exposés which cast doubt on the claims of Newton and ‘Dr Gee’ (identified by Cahn not as ‘eight scientists’ but as one Leo Gebauer, whose background was as dubious as Newton’s).

Yet, as the passing years have only gone to show, the Aztec UFO crash refuses to roll over and die – indeed it has gone on to spawn a whole industry. In 1974, for example, Professor John Spencer Carr revealed that he had in his possession what was deemed to be credible information relating to the case, including testimony from a senior US Air Force officer who was allegedly involved in the UFO retrieval. A year later, however, the event was once again demolished, this time by one Mike McClellan, in a persuasive paper titled The UFO Crash of 1948 is a Hoax.

In view of this, it came as something of a surprise when, in 1987, the researcher William Steinman published the book UFO Crash at Aztec, in which he asserted that the incident did occur and that Frank Scully’s book was in essence factually correct. And just to compound things further, following the release of the Steinman book, Fate magazine reported that: “[the book] draws on speculation, rumor, unnamed informants and unbridled paranoia to defend and elaborate on the original story.”

Here we see the major problems with the Aztec story: both Newton and Gebauer were, at best, dubious conmen. Scully published their testimony without question and Steinman looked at the affair from the perspective of a believer. As a result, the story remains unresolved – even after more than half a century has passed. Did a UFO crash to Earth in the harsh deserts of New Mexico? Were diminutive alien bodies recovered at the crash site? Was the incident successfully concealed by a concerned US military? Were the key players in the story all that they appeared to be? And if not, then exactly what did occur at Aztec, New Mexico, on that fateful day in 1948?

To answer those questions, we have to turn – perhaps surprisingly – to the US Government. While documentation pertaining to the allegedly similar events at Roswell nearly 12 months before is practically nonexistent, precisely the opposite can be said of the Aztec affair.

Born on 25 February 1903, Leo Arnold Julius Gebauer – Frank Scully’s mysterious ‘Dr Gee’ – is the subject of an FBI file no less than 398 pages long (to put that in perspective, Eleanor Roosevelt’s FBI file ran to 3,271 pages). Interestingly, fewer than 200 pages of the file have been declassified under the provisions of the US Freedom of Information Act. Nevertheless, as the available papers demonstrate, Gebauer was, to put it mildly, a colourful character.

To begin with, he went under numerous aliases, including Harry A Grebauer, Harry A Gebauer, Harry A Greybauer, Harry A Barbar, Leo AJ Gebauer, Leo Arnold Julius Gebauer and Arnold Julius Leopold Gebauer. And as a Confidential FBI report of 19 December 1941 states, Gebauer had made some disturbing statements some seven months previously: “What this country needs is a man like Hitler; then everybody would have a good job… It would be God’s blessing if we had two men in the United States to run this country like Hitler. The English people are nothing but a dirty bunch of rats. We should stay home and tend to our own damn business and let Germany give England what they had coming.”

Even more controversially, Gebauer went on to describe Hitler as a “swell fellow”, adding that: “the guy who shoots President Roosevelt should be given a gold medal”. As FBI Special Agent JJ McGuire noted: “Gebauer is always pointing out the good points of the German Government over the English and our democratic form of Government.”

Controversy continued to surround Gebauer, as a memo from the Denver office of the FBI, dated 14 February 1969, shows. It refers to an unnamed source who “threatened to do bodily harm to Gebauer and demanded ,000 as part of commissions due him”.

Silas Mason Newton, Frank Scully’s main source for the Aztec ‘crashed UFO’ story, attracted his own fair share of controversy. An FBI document dated 30 September 1970 states:

Newton was born on July 19, 1887, at Shelby County, Kentucky. He is divorced and is a college graduate. He has claimed his occupation was that of a geologist, who has an income of 0 a month. He claims to have a Bachelor of Science in geology from Baylor University and to have studied for six months at Oxford University.

Newton’s geological credentials sound very respectable, but a further FBI report of 1970 reveals: Silas Newton, presently under indictment in Los Angeles, California, for fraud, returned to Silver City, New Mexico, area January 1970, and began to organize what appears as a mining swindle.

Newton and Gebauer were clearly somewhat shady characters, but what brought them and the whole crashed UFO story into the world of Frank Scully? The FBI took a keen interest in the intricacies of the Aztec affair and its files of 1952 tell a notable story:

Regarding the saucer story in July 1949 Gebauer, as a specialist in geomagnetics, became consultant to Newton, an alleged geophysicist, using instruments of his own design to make microwave surveys of oil pools. Newton had been a friend of Scully, who writes a weekly column for Variety; and in the fall of 1949, Gebauer discussed saucers with Newton and Scully at which time he claimed to have conducted secret inquiries with the government and other scientists on several saucers which had landed in New Mexico and Arizona.

Gebauer claimed to have recovered from these saucers the tubeless radio, some small gears and small disks, all of which material had been secreted by Gebauer from the other scientists and government investigators. The three men agreed to publish a story of Gebauer’s discoveries, but because of Gebauer’s connections with the matter, he was to be identified only as Dr Gee. To determine the reaction of the public to an unauthenticated story of the actual existence of flying saucers, on March 8, 1950, Newton, as Scientist X, appeared as a guest lecturer before a science class at Denver University.

Newton told of Dr Gee’s findings, and the substance of the lecture leaked out to the newspapers. As a result, Scully wrote his book setting forth Dr Gee’s discoveries and revelations.

After reading the saucer story, JP Cahn noted several inconsistencies, and he determined to make an investigation to determine whether the story was based on facts or a hoax. In the beginning he went to Scully, but was unable to obtain the identity of Dr Gee, and Scully was reluctant to produce Newton. Cahn met Newton in Scully’s home at which time Newton claimed to be a graduate of Baylor University and Yale University, and a post-graduate of the University of Berlin. Newton promised to discuss with Dr Gee the proposition to disclose fully an authenticated announcement that space ships were landing on Earth, together with photographs, metals, and other evidence.

Newton exhibited a couple of gears, fine-toothed and about the size of pocket watches, and two disks of unknown metals, all being tied up in Newton’s handkerchief. He alleged these items were obtained from one of the saucers. Newton also told Cahn of seeing secret detailed plans on the Airflow system of B-26s in Dr Gee’s laboratories in Phoenix on which the mysterious Dr Gee was doing research for the government. Dr Gee had developed a magnetic fog, rain and darkness dispelling screen to be fitted on the windshields of airplanes to enable the pilot to see through any weather.

While, in Scully’s book, Dr Gee was said to have degrees from the University of Berlin, Gebauer only claimed electrical engineering degrees from Louis Institute of Technology in Chicago in 1931 or 1932; that while the book claimed from 1943 to 1945 Dr Gee had headed 1,700 scientists doing experimental work in the secret magnetic research, Gebauer was merely chief of laboratories of Air Research Company in Phoenix and Los Angeles, mainly in charge of maintenance equipment.

Cahn talked with Gebauer and obtained a signed statement from him denying that he was Dr Gee mentioned in Scully’s book, and stating that he had no connection with Scully, his book, or statements, and had given Scully no authority to infer that he was Dr Gee. Gebauer did state that he was acquainted with Newton.

On 8 March 1950, Newton delivered a lecture at Denver University, where he was billed as Scientist X. If the lecture was not attended by agents of the FBI, it was certainly monitored by them. An ‘Urgent’ teletype of 9 March from the FBI office at Denver confirms their awareness of Newton’s talk:

Two sources advised today that Silas Newton has given at least one and possibly more lectures before classes at Denver University yesterday or today in which he discussed flying saucers which he allegedly personally observed. This person claims to have seen several such objects, one of which allegedly landed in New Mexico. He also claims to have observed occupants of saucers described by him as of human form, but about three feet [90cm] tall.

Newton had been escorted to the lecture by George T Koehler, a staff-member of the Rocky Mountain Radio Station. Curiously, in Behind the Flying Saucers, Frank Scully reported that within two hours of Newton’s lecture, US intelligence agents were asking questions about Newton and the nature of his talk, and what the general consensus of opinion was with respect to Newton’s revelations. In addition, there is evidence to show that George T Koehler was ‘relieved’ of certain audiotapes after he had the foresight to surreptitiously record an interview between himself and a representative of the US Army. “We know you have been recording these interviews,” Koehler was told. “Now hand them over.”

Matters took an even more bizarre turn when a Kansas City car dealer, named Rudy Fick, began telling stories to the effect that Koehler had informed him that he, Koehler, had “crashed the gate” at a radar station near the New Mexico-Arizona border and had seen two flying saucers the military had in its possession. One of the craft was supposedly badly damaged, while the other was relatively intact. Once again, officialdom took note, as the following extract from FBI records makes clear:

According to the information given Koehler around 50 of these flying saucers have been found in the United States in a period of 2 years. Of these, 40 are in the US Research Bureau in Los Angeles. Each of the craft had a crew of 3. The bodies in the damaged ship were charred, but the other ship’s occupants were in a perfect state of preservation, although dead.

All were uniform height of 3 feet, beardless and their teeth were completely free of fillings or cavities. They wore no under-garments but had their bodies taped and were dressed in a sort of wire. Mr Fick feels that the security department of the military fear that the sudden shock of a surprise announcement that interplanetary travel is possible might cause mass hysteria. OSI District 13 will interview Fick. The editor of the Kansas City Star stated that while they were aware of this story they did not dare publish it in the paper because it is too fantastic.

They say the neon lights are bright in Aztec. “Fantasy of Lights”, a local organisation, decorates this bridge each year.

A partly censored FBI document of 22 March 1950 shows that a story very similar to the one told by Fick was also in circulation in Washington, DC. A one-page report from the FBI Special Agent-in-Charge at Washington, Guy Hottel, to J Edgar Hoover, reveals that:

An investigator for the Air Forces stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico. They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 ft [15m] in diameter. Each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture. Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed flyers and test pilots. According to Mr [Deleted] informant, the saucers were found in New Mexico due to the fact that the Government has a very high-powered radar set-up in that area and it is believed the radar interferes with the controlling mechanism of the saucers.

Although its contents appear, at first glance, eye-opening, investigator William Moore (co-author, with Charles Berlitz (see obituary, p24), of The Roswell Incident) asserts that the document is largely worthless, since its origins can be traced from Fick, to Koehler, and ultimately to Newton, whose testimony has to be examined very carefully. Of course, pro-Aztec researchers maintain that if Newton and Gebauer were in possession of information that was even remotely accurate, then the memo of 22 March 1950 should not be ignored outright.

So was the Newton-Gebauer-Scully story factually correct? Was Gebauer really the elusive Dr Gee? Or was the entire matter without foundation? Here, things become decidedly murky. In 1953, both Newton and Gebauer received suspended prison sentences for their part in defrauding one Herman Flader, a Colorado businessman who owned the Stay Put Clamp and Coupling Factory on the outskirts of Denver, which doesn’t exactly inspire a great deal of confidence in their word.

And yet, for all Newton and Gebauer’s seeming unreliability, there are a number of intriguing pointers that continue to breathe life into the Aztec affair. As far as Gebauer is concerned, it is a proven fact that in the 1940s he most definitely was employed as chief of laboratories at the Air Research Manufacturing Company, Phoenix.

It so happens that of the four alleged UFO crashes discussed in Frank Scully’s book, one allegedly occurred north of Phoenix, at Paradise Valley, in 1947. The researcher Timothy Good has revealed that he has spoken with a private pilot, Selman Graves, who described witnessing aspects of an operation to retrieve a “large aluminium dome-shaped thing” in the Paradise Valley area, around which were “pitched buildings – tents – and men moving about.” Given that, in the early 1940s, Leo Gebauer had been employed in the aerospace industry relatively close to where this event supposedly occurred, the possibility that he may have gleaned details of the alleged event from former colleagues at Air Research cannot be dismissed.

And, with respect to Gebauer, there is one final point that should not pass without comment. Of the portions of his FBI file that remain classified, a number of pages are exempt from release “in the interest of national defense,” according to the FBI.

Concerning Silas Newton, a number of issues should be noted. First, although a 1970s FBI file on Newton describes him as “an accomplished con man of many years standing, who is knowledgeable in the field of petroleum and mining, and has exploited this knowledge in swindling people,” earlier FBI papers refer to an interesting statement made by Newton in the 21 October 1952 issue of the Denver Post. According to the newspaper: “Newton had advised that he had never seen a flying saucer nor had he ever pretended to have seen one. Newton stated he was merely repeating what he had heard from other sources.”

Considering that Newton was “an accomplished con man,” why, on this occasion, did he seem curiously intent on playing down his role in the Aztec case in general and the UFO controversy as a whole? If Newton suspected that he was possibly in possession of classified information, things become clearer.

Secondly, a further fascinating piece of documentary evidence relative to the Aztec case has surfaced, thanks to the investigative author and (shock-horror!) former CIA man, Karl Pflock: namely, extracts from Newton’s personal diary from the 1970s. In the diary Newton revealed that, in the early 1950s, he was contacted by US military officials who wanted to speak with him about his crashed UFO story. Newton was told that the military knew that his UFO-crash-at-Aztec story was bogus. Incredibly, however, they wanted him to continue spreading the story far and wide, and to whoever would listen. Newton asserted in his diary that while he might not have known too much about crashed UFOs, he had no doubt that his mysterious contacts certainly did know a great deal about the subject. This raises a number of important questions:

Was Newton (as a convicted and known con man) asked to continue telling his largely discredited tale because it acted as a convenient smokescreen behind which the military could hide a real crashed UFO? Or is there another reason why the military would want to spread fake stories about the US Government being in possession of a crashed UFO?

Well, possibly. The US Intelligence community is known to have made use of the UFO controversy as a tool of psychological warfare in the 1950s. Is it conceivable that such stories were deliberately spread – at the height of the Cold War – to try and convince the Soviets that the US had access to a technology the like of which the Soviets could only dream of? Or is this yet another of Silas Newton’s grand games – a game designed to ensure that even from beyond the grave he continues to stir the Aztec cauldron?

The key figures in this puzzling and bizarre story – Silas Newton, Frank Scully and Leo Gebauer – are all long dead, but their legacy ensures that whatever did – or, indeed, did not – occur at Hart Canyon in March 1948, the legend of the little men of Aztec, New Mexico, continues to live on.

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