A Bridge Too Far
In his Witnessed: The True Story of the Brooklyn Bridge UFO Abductions, artist and UFO investigator Budd Hopkins presents his third book recounting stories of people who claim that aliens from outer space abducted them and conducted medical and breeding experiments on them. The book focuses on the travails of one women, Linda “Cortile” (a pseudonym), at the hands of both alien and human tormentors. While the author boasts that this story proves that “powerful, nonhuman intelligences have long been at work on a covert agenda involving thousands upon thousands of traumatized men, women and children,” the case is as weak, if not weaker, than those he has presented before and so hardly supplies such proof.
As is well known to Skeptical Inquirer readers, critics of alien abduction claims have raised numerous problems with them (most tellingly in a NOVA special broadcast on PBS in February 1996), including the questionable reliability of hypnotically enhanced memory, the lack of physical evidence, and the similarity of many such stories to known sleep disorders. The most notable criticism, however, is the lack of third-party witnesses to any of the supposedly thousands (or even millions) of abductions allegedly occurring each year in the United States alone. With Witnessed, Hopkins believes he has now presented the case that will end such criticisms.
The supposedly witnessed abduction of Linda occurred around 3:15 a.m., November 30, 1989, five months after Linda first contacted Hopkins (after she read his popular second book, Intruders) and began attending one of his abductee support groups. The day after the incident, Linda reported to Hopkins that she saw a strange figure in her bedroom. The details came out in a hypnosis session held several days later: Linda was floated out through the closed window of her high-rise apartment and into a brightly lit UFO hovering outside.1 Hopkins reports that at this time the only unusual part of Linda’s experience was a verbal exchange she held with the aliens aboard their ship, apparently in their tongue: “NOBBYEGG.” “NO KAVE. KAVE.” “NOBBYEGG.” “NO. KAVE.” Because it was otherwise so typical, Hopkins filed Linda’s story away, where “it was nearly forgotten in the torrent of subsequent cases.”
Then in February 1991, he received a letter signed by two men who, using only the first names “Richard” and “Dan” (also pseudonyms), claimed to be police officers who witnessed Linda’s abduction from their police car, which had stalled near the Brooklyn Bridge. Richard and Dan stated they did not know if Linda was still alive, and they felt they had to contact someone to relate their experience from fifteen months before. Richard and Dan later contacted Linda at her apartment, without needing instructions from Hopkins on how to reach her.2
After Hopkins’ and Linda’s checks with the New York Police Department raised questions about whether Richard and Dan were really police officers, Richard and Dan wrote to Hopkins to admit that they were really security officers who had been guarding a VIP, and that the VIP also observed the abduction that night. Later, the story develops that all three of these men were kidnapped as well and transported to a beach where they watched Linda (identified by the aliens as “The Lady of the Sands”) dig sand samples with several aliens. Part of the ludicrous proof for this bizarre scene is Richard’s claim that he and Dan had to help the sand-covered VIP off the roof of their car after the encounter was over. Seemingly, the aliens were too inept to return the important passenger to the interior of the car and instead just dropped him onto the roof. While Hopkins refuses to identify this VIP in his book, calling him simply “The Third Man,” as early as 1992 several UFO newsletters and many mainstream magazines and newspapers revealed that he is allegedly Javier Perez de Cuellar, then Secretary-General of the United Nations. It should come as no surprise that neither the former Secretary-General nor the United Nations has any memory or record of his car having stalled at that time or place, much less of an alien kidnapping.
Other “witnesses” soon followed. Several months after Richard and Dan’s first letter, “Janet Kimball” wrote Hopkins saying she too observed the abduction when her car, along with many others, stalled on the Brooklyn Bridge. In her letter to Hopkins, Janet describes the other people on the bridge screaming in terror at the sight of the UFO. This was followed in 1993 by telephone conversations with a man named Frank Turner (his real name), who had been researching the then public Linda case and whose aunt, Cathy Turner, claimed to have seen a bright red UFO over a building in New York, but no abduction. Cathy Turner could not remember the exact year or month she saw the UFO (only that it was after 1988) or exactly what bridge she was on when she saw it. In fact, even Hopkins admits that her first guess that she was on the Brooklyn Bridge would have put her facing in the wrong direction to have seen Linda’s UFO, so Hopkins decides she was really on the elevated FDR drive. With further similar “corrections” to Cathy Turner’s scanty report, Hopkins convinces himself that it provides corroboration for Linda’s case.
Linda’s story doesn't end with mere alien abductions, however. In addition to her problems with extraterrestrial kidnappers, Linda has also been abducted off the streets of New York several times by Richard and Dan, with Dan, apparently obsessed with Linda, attempting on one occasion to drown her. Linda was even hit by a car while being chased by Dan through Manhattan, though unfortunately no accident report or witness to this incident is ever mentioned. Indeed, the sole evidence for these human abductions is a set of photographs of Linda running on a beach,3 an alleged tape recording of Linda and Dan, and the testimony of a bodyguard (provided by Hopkins) who says he saw the grey surveillance van that supposedly is driven by accomplices of Richard and Dan and follows Linda about, though even he admits that there is no real evidence that the van has any connection to Linda. Not surprisingly, with such “evidence” Linda has never reported these crimes to the police or any other investigative agency.
There are many fundamental problems with the story of Linda’s abductions (by aliens and humans), leaving many troubling, unanswered (or unsatisfactorily answered) questions. How, for example, did Richard, Dan, and Janet Kimball know to contact Hopkins, since at the time, the case was on Hopkins’ backburner and no one had publicized his involvement in the case? Why didn't any of those other people stalled on the Brooklyn Bridge report this amazing incident? Indeed, why didn't any of the other people who were surely on the streets at that hour in ever busy New York (including drivers going to and from the New York Post’s nearby loading dock) or the twenty-four-hour security guards from Linda’s apartment building report this blindingly bright UFO? Richard, in fact, claims that he, Dan, and the “Third Man” were not alone but were accompanied by fifteen other people, including “[t]wo U.S. government officials, two foreign Statesmen, [and] one World Leader.” Who were these people? Is there any proof of their witnessing this amazing event or of at least having suffered a delayed transit on November 30, 1989? Hopkins either ignores such questions or provides airy dismissals or silly solutions. For example, as one explanation for the lack of other witnesses, Hopkins says the aliens used their power to make themselves selectively invisible or to selectively “switch off” the consciousness of witnesses. Then why didn't they use complete invisibility or “switching off” to avoid all witnesses? Hopkins speculates that the whole abduction was “an overt attempt to affect the thinking of governments worldwide.” Then why not directly contact various governments or at least stage the event for maximum exposure instead of in the earliest hours of the day using partial invisibility or “switching off"?
The ultimate problem with Witnessed, however, is that Hopkins’ claim of independent witnesses proves to be unsupported. Magazine and newspaper articles report that Perez de Cuellar has denied several times that he ever witnessed any such occurrence.4 As for the two prime witnesses, Richard and Dan, no one other than Linda and members of her family have ever met them, nor has any independent confirmation been found to prove they even exist. Hopkins’ only contact with them is through anonymous letters and tapes mailed to him or provided by Linda. While Hopkins did meet Cathy Turner and speak to her on the telephone, Hopkins also reports she died in 1994, so unless an able psychic is available, her testimony will be hard to obtain. Hopkins also met Janet Kimball (once), but Omni magazine reported in 1994 that shortly thereafter she refused to discuss the case further, even with Hopkins. Saucer Smear, a popular UFO newsletter, further reports that Janet Kimball has also died (requiring even more contact with the beyond to find confirmation of Linda’s story). As it finally develops, Witnessed provides no confirmed, independent witness for its story, and so the very fact that is supposed to make this book the final proof that alien abductions are real events proves to be illusory.
Evidently realizing that he has a problem, Hopkins tries to buttress the case with other “corroboration,” mainly from other abductees’ recollections under hypnosis. One woman, “Erica,” says she saw Linda’s UFO while being floated, upright, together with numerous other people, to another UFO waiting on the banks of the East River. That Hopkins would present such a ridiculous tale as corroboration of his main claim shows with even greater force the lack of independent evidence for the claims in Witnessed and, since this case is supposed to be the “most important in recorded history,” alien abduction claims as a whole. The real question raised by Witnessed is not whether Hopkins has finally proven that alien abductions are real events, but rather, how much longer will the alien abduction craze last in the face of a continuing lack of evidence?
- Not surprisingly, Hopkins discovers that this is but one of many alien encounters experienced by Linda.
- There is an interesting inconsistency between Linda’s recounting of her abduction and that of these two witnesses. Under hypnosis, Linda stated that there were five aliens in her apartment before she was transported out the window. In their letters and talks with Linda, Richard and Dan reported only three aliens floating to the craft with Linda. Where were the other two during the abduction? Did they, like a burglar recently sentenced here in Houston, decide to raid their victim’s refrigerator and do some laundry using her washer and dryer?
- The contents of these photographs contradict Linda’s story of how they were taken. According to Linda, Dan had kidnapped her to a beach house and insisted she put on a nightgown like the one she wore on the night of her (now) famous abduction. She says she put the gown on over her clothes (she was wearing blue jeans) and fled down the beach, when the pictures were taken. Dan later tackled her in the surf and pulled off her wet jeans. The photographs, however, clearly show that Linda is not wearing jeans under her gown.
- See e.g., Patrick Huyghe, “The Great High Rise Abduction,” Omni, April 1994, and Jim Schnabel, “They're Coming to Take Us Away,” The Independent, January 2, 1994.