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“Alien Autopsy” Hoax

Investigative Files

Joe Nickell

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 19.6, November / December 1995

It keeps going and going and...

The Roswell crashed-saucer myth has been given renewed impetus by a controversial television program ”Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?” that purports to depict the autopsy of a flying saucer occupant. The “documentary,” promoted by a British marketing agency that formerly handled Walt Disney products, was aired August 28, and September 4, 1995, on the Fox television network. Skeptics, as well as many UFOlogists, quickly branded the film used in the program a hoax.

“The Roswell Incident,” as it is known, is described in several controversial books, including one of that title by Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore. Reportedly, in early July 1947, a flying saucer crashed on the ranch property of William Brazel near Roswell, New Mexico, and was subsequently retrieved by the United States government (Berlitz and Moore 1980). Over the years, numerous rumors, urban legends, and outright hoaxes have claimed that saucer wreckage and the remains of its humanoid occupants were stored at a secret facility — e.g., a (nonexistent) “Hangar 18” at Wright Patterson Air Force Base — and that the small corpses were autopsied at that or another site (Berlitz and Moore 1980; Stringfield 1977). [See the SI Special Report on Roswell by Philip J. Kiass in this issue.]

UFO hoaxes, both directly and indirectly related to Roswell, have since proliferated. For example, a 1949 science fiction movie, The Flying Saucer, produced by Mikel Conrad, purported to contain scenes of a captured spacecraft; an actor hired by Conrad actually posed as an FBI agent and swore the claim was true. In 1950, writer Frank Scully reported in his book Behind the Flying Saucers that the United States government had in its possession no fewer than three Venusian spaceships, together with the bodies of their humanoid occupants. Scully, who was also a Variety magazine columnist, was fed the story by two confidence men who had hoped to sell a petroleum-locating device allegedly based on alien technology. Other crash-retrieval stories followed, as did various photographs of space aliens living and dead: one gruesome photo portrayed the pilot of a small plane, his aviator’s glasses still visible in the picture (Clark 1993).

Among recent Roswell hoaxes was the MJ-12 fiasco, in which supposed top secret government documents including an alleged briefing paper for President Eisenhower and an executive order from President Truman corroborated the Roswell crash. Unfortunately, document experts readily exposed the papers as inept forgeries (Nickell and Fischer 1990).

Sooner or later, a Roswell “alien autopsy” film was bound to turn up. That predictability, together with a lack of established historical record for the bizarre film, is indicative of a hoax. So is the anonymity of the cameraman. But the strongest argument against authenticity stems from what really crashed at Roswell in 1947. According to recently released Air Force files, the wreckage actually came from a balloon-borne array of radar reflectors and monitoring equipment launched as part of the secret Project Mogul and intended to monitor acoustic emissions from anticipated Soviet nuclear tests. In fact, materials from the device match contemporary descriptions of the debris (foiled paper, sticks, and tape) given by rancher Brazel’s children and others (Berlitz and Moore 1980; Thomas 1995).

Interestingly, the film failed to agree with earlier purported eyewitness testimony about the alleged autopsy. For example, multiple medical informants described the Roswell creatures as lacking ears and having only four fingers with no thumb (Berlitz and Moore 1980), whereas the autopsy film depicts a creature with small ears and five fingers in addition to a thumb. Ergo, either the previous informants are hoaxers, or the film is a hoax, or both.

Although the film was supposedly authenticated by Kodak, only the leader tape and a single frame were submitted for examination, not the entire footage. In fact, a Kodak spokesman told the Sunday Times of London: “There is no way I could authenticate this. I saw an image on the print. Sure it could be old film, but it doesn't mean it is what the aliens were filmed on.”

Various objections to the film’s authenticity came from journalists, UFO researchers, and scientists who viewed the film. They noted that it bore a bogus, non-military codemark ("Restricted access, AO I classification”) that disappeared after it was criticized; that the anonymous photographer’s alleged military status had not been verified; and that the injuries sustained by the extraterrestrial were inconsistent with an air crash. On the basis of such objections, an article in the Sunday Times of London advised: “RELAX. The little green men have not landed. A much-hyped film purporting to prove that aliens had arrived on earth is a hoax” (Chittenden 1995).

Similar opinions on the film came even from prominent Roswell-crash partisans: Kent Jeffrey, an associate of the Center for UFO Studies and author of the “Roswell Declaration” (a call for an executive order to declassify any United States government information on UFOs and alien intelligence) stated “up front and unequivocally there is no (zero!!!) doubt in my mind that this film is a fraud” (1995). Even arch Roswell promoter Stanton T. Friedman said: “I saw nothing to indicate the footage came from the Roswell incident, or any other UFO incident for that matter” ("Alien or Fake?” 1995).

Still other critics found many inconsistencies and suspicious elements in the alleged autopsy. For example, in one scene the “doctors” wore white, hooded anti-contamination suits that could have been neither for protection from radiation (elsewhere the personnel are examining an alien body without such suits), nor for protection from the odor of decay nor from unknown bacteria or viruses (either would have required some type of breathing apparatus). Thus it appears that the outfits served no purpose except to conceal the “doctors"’ identities.

American pathologists offered still more negative observations. Cyril Wecht, former president of the National Association of Forensic Pathologists, seemed credulous but described the viscera in terms that might apply to supermarket meat scraps and sponges: “I cannot relate these structures to abdominal contexts.” Again, he said about contents of the cranial area being removed: “This is a structure that must be the brain, if it is a human being. It looks like no brain that I have ever seen, whether it is a brain filled with a tumor, a brain that has been radiated, a brain that has been traumatized and is hemorragic...” (Wecht 1995). Much more critical was the assessment of nationally known pathologist Dominick Demaio who described the autopsy on television’s "American Journal” (1995): “1 would say it’s a lot of bull.”

Houston pathologist Ed Uthman (1995) was also bothered by the unrealistic viscera, stating: “The most implausible thing of all is that the ‘alien’ just had amorphous lumps of tissue in ‘her’ body cavities. I cannot fathom that an alien who had external organs so much like ours could not have some sort of definitive structural organs internally.” As well, “the prosectors did not make an attempt to arrange the organs for demonstration for the camera.” Uthman also observed that there was no body block, a basic piece of equipment used to prop up the trunk for examination and the head for brain removal. He also pointed out that “the prosector used scissors like a tailor, not like a pathologist or surgeon” (pathologists and surgeons place the middle or ring finger in the bottom scissors hole and use the forefinger to steady the scissors near the blades). Uthman further noted that “the initial cuts in the skin were made a little too Hollywood-like, too gingerly, like operating on a living patient” whereas autopsy incisions are made faster and deeper. Uthman faulted the film for lacking what he aptly termed “technical verisimilitude.”

The degree of realism in the film has been debated, even by those who believe the film is a hoax. Some, like Kent Jeffrey (1995), thought the autopsy was done on a specially altered human corpse. On the other hand, many — including movie special effects experts — believed a dummy had been used. One suspicious point in that regard was that significant close-up views of the creature’s internal organs were consistently out of focus ("Alien or Fake?” 1995).

“American Journal” (1995) also featured a special effects expert [TD. Co note: it was our pal Rick Lazzarini] who doubted the film’s authenticity and demonstrated how the autopsy "incisions” — which left a line of “blood” as the scalpel was drawn across the alien’s skin — could easily have been faked. (The secret went unexplained but probably consisted of a tube fastened to the far side of the blade.)

In contrast to the somewhat credulous response of a Hollywood special effects filmmaker on the Fox program, British expert Cliff Wallace of Creature Effects provided the following assessment:

None of us were of the opinion that we were watching a real alien autopsy, or an autopsy on a mutated human which has also been suggested. We all agreed that what we were seeing was a very good fake body, a large proportion of which bad been based on a lifecast. Although the nature of the film obscured many of the things we had hoped to see, we felt that the general posture and weighting of the corpse was incorrect for a body in a prone position and had more in common with a cast that had been taken in an upright position.

We did notice evidence of a possible molding seam line down an arm in one segment of the film but were generally surprised that there was little other evidence of seaming which suggests a high degree of workmanship.

We felt that the filming was done in such a way as to obscure details rather than highlight them and that many of the parts of the autopsy that would have been difficult to fake, for example the folding back of the chest flaps, were avoided, as was anything but the most cursory of limb movement. We were also pretty unconvinced by the lone removal sequence. In our opinion the insides of the creature did not bear much relation to the exterior where muscle and bone shapes can be easily discerned. We all agreed that the filming of the sequence would require either the use of two separate bodies, one with chest open, one with chest closed, or significant redressing of one mortal. Either way the processes involved are fairly complicated and require a high level of specialized knowledge.

Another expert, Trey Stokes — a Hollywood special effects “motion designer” whose film credits include The Abyss, The Blob, Robocop Two, Batman Returns, Gremlins II, Tales from the Crypt, and many others — provided an independent analysis at CSICOP’s request. Interestingly, Stokes’s critique also indicated that the alien figure was a dummy cast in an upright position. He further noted that it seemed lightweight and “rubbery,” that it therefore moved unnaturally when handled, especially in one shot in which “the shoulder and upper arm actually are floating rigidly above the table surface, rather than sagging back against it” as would be expected (Stokes 1995).

CSICOP staffers (Executive Director Barry Karr, Skeptical Inquirer Assistant Editor Tom Genoni, Jr., and I) monitored developments in the case. Before the film aired, CSICOP issued a press release, briefly summarizing the evidence against authenticity and quoting CSICOP Chairman Paul Kurtz as stating:

The Roswell myth should be permitted to die a deserved death. Whether or not we are alone in the universe will have to be decided on the basis of better evidence than that provided by the latest bit of Roswell fakery. Television executives have a responsibility not to confuse programs designed for entertainment with news documentaries.


Joe Nickell

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Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at