There are, however, other witnesses -- people who say they saw something the night of the abduction, even if they didn't see Cortile with any aliens.
One of them was Cathy Turner, whom Hopkins describes in the book as an "ailing, middle-aged bookkeeper from Brooklyn," and who said she saw a UFO that matched the description of what Richard, Dan, and Janet Kimball say
they saw, hovering late one night in the vicinity of Cortile's building. How she and Hopkins pinned down the location and the date is a complex story; anyone interested can find the details in chapter 30 of Hopkins's book. Cathy
Turner died since Hopkins talked to her, but her nephew, Frank Turner, corroborates everything that Hopkins wrote. He'd heard the story from her, in fact, before she ever talked to Hopkins; what's in the book, he told me, is
exactly what his aunt told him.
So that checks out. A second partial witness is the woman Hopkins calls "Francesca," who used to live in Cortile's building, and saw the courtyard flooded with an eerie
light on a night she's sure was at the very end of November, 1989. She knows the year because of an event in her then-husband's life which I'll be discreet and not name, but which was certainly distinctive, the kind of thing anyone
would remember. She knows the day at least approximately because, she says, she saw the light not more than a few days after her husband's birthday, which is November 27.
She'd never told anyone involved with the
case about the light until 1995, when she, Cortile, and another neighbor got together in Cortile's apartment for some drinks on Easter Sunday. "We were talking about different phenomena," she told me, including ghosts,
which the other neighbor said she'd seen in her apartment. "I hope youse don't think I'm crazy," Francesca remembers this woman saying. (Like Cortile, Francesca is a real New Yorker, with a savory New York accent.)
If the other neighbor had seen ghosts, Francesca had seen a strange light. So she told the story, and noticed, as she remembers, that "Linda's eyes were getting wider." (Cortile adds another sign of how
dumbstruck she was: "I ran back to the kitchen to make more screwdrivers!") "I asked what's the matter," Francesca continued to me. "Did you hear the story about me getting abducted?" was Cortile's
answer. Francesca says Cortile quizzed her about the date, and only after that was established did she go to her wall unit, and bring out things Hopkins had written, showing that her abduction had taken place at the same time. It's
worth noting that Francesca says that Hopkins was just as careful. "I thought Budd was being cold to the point of being standoffish," she told me. Later, though, she realized he didn't want to tell her anything, so he
wouldn't taint her memories. "Budd never tried to coerce me, never tried to plant anything," she firmly says. "The few times I met him, he was very professional. I was very impressed with that."
As for the light, Francesca's story is simple enough. The head of her bed was right by the window. The shades were most of the way down, leaving a six to eight inch gap. She woke up, she says, "to complete apprehension. The
courtyard was illuminated. It wasn't a light that I'd ever seen before. I was terrified. I'm a native New Yorker, I'm nosy. If someone gets stabbed, I'll be looking, but I wouldn't look out the window. Whatever was outside, I
didn't want to be confronted with it. I was so scared, I woke my husband. He opened the shade." But by then the light was gone.
Why, I wondered, was the light so unusual? And were there other times the
courtyard was lit up at night? No, she said, there weren't; the building has spotlights now, but didn't have any then. In any case, "the spotlights cast an incandescent glow. But this light wasn't like that. It wasn't like
sunlight, or bright moonlight. It wasn't pulsating or flashing. It was what you'd look at, and say it doesn't belong there. To me it looked like the whole courtyard was the same color. Like the whole courtyard was painted the same
One detail puzzled me. Francesca vividly remembered that "the trees were like black silhouettes against the light." But she was on the fourth floor. How could she have seen the trees so
unmistakably? I was imagining the kind of trees I've got on my own block in New York, thin trees barely four stories high (and often less), with thin branches. Here was Francesca, peering out a six-inch gap between the sill and the
shade. She'd be looking across, not down; why would the trees have caught her eye? But when I saw the courtyard in Cortile's housing complex, I understood. These are massive trees, thick and numerous, eight to ten floors tall.
They'd be prominent in any light; in the unwavering illumination Francesca described, they'd be unforgettably forbidding. (Allowing, now, for one elaboration: The light would have to have been coming down at a slant, painting the
courtyard across from Francesca's window, but not the trees right near it.)
I asked Francesca if I could speak to her former husband, whom I'll call "Carmine." She said she'd call and ask him, and within
five minutes he called me, and confirmed everything she'd said -- except, of course, that he hadn't seen the light. "She was shaking," he remembers, "and so nervous. And if she said she saw a light, she saw it."
I asked him how he felt, and he cheerfully responded, "I felt normal, nothin' bothers me!" Later he added "I could see that if there's money in it, then that's something [she might lie about]. But it's not about
that!" Oddly, no one involved with the case, including Hopkins, had ever asked to talk to him.
(As a footnote, I should say that Francesca thinks she might have been abducted, and also thinks that Hopkins has
been! A skeptic, I can well imagine, would stress this, to destroy her credibility. But in their full context, her beliefs are harmless, even understandable. Francesca says that she has felt "presences" in her house. Once
exposed to abduction lore, she started thinking that the presences might be aliens. As for Hopkins, she thinks "he has a lot of empathy for people," and then wonders, since his empathy extends so strongly to abductees,
whether he's had their experiences himself. That's all there is to it; she's only using an innocent kind of common sense, applied to someone she doesn't know very well, and to an unfamiliar subject. The true test is of her
objectivity is that her abduction beliefs don't rule her life, and that when her eight-year old decided he's been taken, too, she sensibly concluded that she must have influenced him.)
If I couldn't talk to Richard, Dan, or Janet Kimball, I still could test their reality in other ways.
To start with, I could hear them talk on tapes. Hopkins gave me one of Richard -- or, to be cautious, somebody who says he's Richard -- describes what he says he saw the night of
Cortile's abduction. The first thing I noticed was the voice. It sounded like cop's voice, masculine, a little husky, and (like Cortile and Francesca) very New York in its phrasing and
emphasis. "What were we gonna do?" the person asks, describing his helplessness when he saw the UFO. "Shoot at it?" His pronunciation, too, is entirely New York, with dentalized
"t"s and "d"s, dropped "r"'s, and darkened vowels. "If I'm going to do this," he says (almost turning "this" into "dis"), "I want to
do it right, even if I feel like jerk." Lots of stress on "jerk," and a rueful, almost bitter tone, as if he's shaking his head, not quite able to believe he's recording these words.
He's also painstaking, in two ways. First because, almost as if he's writing a police report, he's scrupulous about details: "There on the side of the craft near the top of it, just above the
protruding saucer ledge, I could see horizontal rectangular-shaped windows around the object. at the very edge of the object, on the edge of the protruding saucered ledge
were green rotating lights rotating around and around while the craft stood still just hovering, off of the building."
And secondly he's painstaking because he wrote his
statement out, to make it easier to record. "Please excuse my reading voice," he says, "there can't be much feeling in reading." But here he's dead wrong; feeling is exactly what anyone
hearing the tape would first notice. "With my binoculars," he reads, "I could see three of the ugliest creatures I ever saw." Here he makes a sound midway between an embarrassed laugh
and a gasp of fear. "I don't know what they were. They weren't human. Their heads were all out of proportion, with no hair. Their eyes were very large, very large eyes…" For a moment
his voice trails off. Later he says "those buggers were escorting her into the craft," and he sounds as if the words hurt so much he can barely get them out.
If this is fake -- if "Richard" is an actor -- it's a brilliant fake. Most actors, even good ones, sound like they're acting.. This one, if that's what he is, sounds real. Not because he shows
emotion; that's not hard to do. Take, for instance, the first hypnotic regression in the TV movie of Intruders. The actress screams and moans, and tugs at your heart. But that's what they
teach you how to do in acting school. Anyone naturally flamboyant could do it with no training at all. Great actors do it better, of course; eventually you get to the level of the great
Russian basso Fyodor Chaliapin, who was so powerful that officials of the Paris Opera stopped a rehearsal he was singing in. They thought something on the stage had frightened him, not
realizing -- since they didn't know the Russian opera they produced for him -- that his fright was part of the story. He was that good.
Close your eyes during Intruders, and listen carefully to the
regression, and you realize why this actress isn't Chaliapin: She's Joanie one-note. Having reached her emotional peak, she just stays there, varying the volume now and then, but never
altering her tone. And that 's where routinely good actors differ from the great ones, or from reality. Great actors change their emotions, slipping in and out of the depths, and coloring their
deepest feelings differently each time. This is what I hear Richard -- or whoever it is -- doing on the tape. If he'd recited his lines at fever pitch, or mumbled them in a depressed, dazed
monotone, I wouldn't be impressed. Instead, he tries to hold his feeling back. You hear it haunting him; you hear him fighting it and losing, sounding for all the world as if the highs and lows of
real experience were fighting in his voice.
Likewise Janet Kimball. I have tapes of four phone calls between her and Hopkins, plus a recording of their face-to-face
encounter, over cheesecake at a restaurant. She's lively and engaging, a New Yorker whose speech slides towards "awl" for
"all," "huh" for "her," and "pictchiz" for "pictures." (She says she lived in the city before moving to the Hudson Valley.) But her
New York speech is more middle-class than Francesca's, which isn't as pungent as Linda Cortile's, or as forceful as Richard's; we're getting a varied New York demographic here.
The talks on the tapes sound like true conversations. Hopkins sounds a little distant, at the start, and I realized he was doing just what Francesca says he does -- sounding "cold,"
withholding information, so he wouldn't contaminate Kimball's memory. He leads her through the same material several times, no doubt wondering if she'll contradict herself. As I've heard
him do when he hypnotizes abductees, he tries to lead her away from the story she's telling, just to see how firmly she'll stick to it. For instance, in the midst of the commotion she says broke
out on the Brooklyn Bridge, she says she noticed that the bridge's lights were out. She couldn't see her watch, she says; she had to use a cigarette lighter to see what time it was.
Hopkins tries to talk her out of that. He'd taken a late-night drive on the bridge himself. "The bridge is well lit," he says.
"Yeah," she answers, "but I'm almost positive the lights were off. I mean, I could swear, if the bridge lights were on, why couldn't I see, you know?" Then, as he persists, she hesitates.
"But you know, like I said, that part I really couldn't swear to. I just thought everything was so black, that everything was out. Like when you have a power failure."
When he grills her again, later on, she thinks of something else. She drives a lot on the Saw Mill River Parkway (a four-lane road that snakes north from the west side of New
York city). Some of the lights, she says, are often out there, and she always notices. Wouldn't she notice the lights out on the bridge as well?
And when Hopkins returns to the lights one last time, she's
firm again: "There couldn't have been any lights on the bridge because I would have been able to see my watch, but I distinctly remember taking a cigarette lighter and putting it on to
see what time it is." Which is what she had said in the first place, but Hopkins kept testing her. We can judge her reactions just as he could; they sound genuine, as if she's really searching through
her memory, trying to be sure she knows what really happened.
Her description of the other drivers on the bridge is classic New York. "Were they screaming?" Hopkins asks. "No, no,"
she corrects him, "they were kind of like, they were blowing horns, you know what happens when there's a traffic jam? Everybody was kind of blaming everyone else for their car stalling."
When, deep into their third talk, Hopkins finally tells her that he knows the woman floating to the UFO, Kimball's shock is almost tangible: "You know her? What happened? Is she all
right?" After a brief digression, Kimball asks again, in an amazed, puzzled voice, "But what happened to her?" True to form, Hopkins hasn't told her anything about abductions.
Other details emerge. Kimball says she watched something on TV about the Travis Walton case, and -- comparing her own experience to that of Walton's crew, who saw a brightly
glowing UFO at close range -- she wonders, sensibly, "why their [vehicle] batteries didn't go dead, and their flashlights?"
She notes, several times, that she's afraid of the unknown.
"I'm very apprehensive about things that are far out," she explains, even things in her Catholic faith. She once attended a healing mass given by the Catholic charismatic movement, she
elaborates. "It scared the hell out of me when they started with that gift of the tongues!" (The participants spoke in tongues, apparently, just as some evangelicals do.)
And this might help explain her reluctance to come forward, especially if you add something else that has never been published. Hopkins says that Kimball once worked as a
telephone operator, and added, to me, that she'd been a receptionist for a TV station in the city. She says, however, that she also ran a business, and that she's currently an officer of
church and political groups that she belongs to. In other words, she has a position in her community, and doesn't want to be known as some nut who saw a UFO.
And that's just the beginning. The day after she watched the abduction, she says she told her son and daughter. "They thought it was a joke," she remembers, "and when they kind of
realized I was serious, they said stop this, what are you having, a breakdown?" Then she told her sister and her brother-in-law. "Their first reaction was 'were you drinking?'" And then, she
says, her brother-in-law decreed: "It's best for you not to dwell on this, because you're only going to drive yourself crazy, and you're going to get people looking at you and asking what's wrong with you."
As Hopkins mentions, Kimball says her brother-in-law is the supervisor of the town they live in, so he, too, has a public
reputation to maintain. Loyally, she kept quiet, until her sighting became, as she says, "one of those things you put in the back of your mind." But one day she was at a bookstore, looking for a
Chinese cookbook. She saw one of Hopkins's books, and, she says, "had a flashback." Suddenly she felt encouraged. "This guy wrote a book on this," she says she remembers thinking. So
maybe she wasn't crazy after all.
She wrote to Hopkins, talked to him twice on the phone, and finally agreed to meet him. By then, she wasn't just looking for
reassurance; in her own words, she'd developed "a certain amount of curiosity," but that's an understatement. She sounds delighted as she talks, as if she's thrilled to hash out what she
saw with someone who's willing to listen to her, and can actually tell her something about it.
Her family, however, hadn't known she'd talked to Hopkins. And here, perhaps, he makes a mistake. He asks her to ask
them if they'll talk to him (to confirm that she really talked about her sighting just after it happened), and that suggestion proves disastrous. He calls her once again, and she's busy. When he
calls the next time, she has bad news for him. "I'm sorry I started this," she says. "My family is furious with me. They're very angry with me for even contacting you. They don't want
any part of this. It's a lot of nonsense. In their mind, it's nonsense. They've very upset with me for getting involved with you."
"Budd," she finishes, "I'm not going to cause dissension. I
think I had mentioned to you my daughter is pregnant, and she really got upset with me. And my son-in-law said to me, what you do is your own business, but I would really prefer that you
didn't tell her this stuff, because now she's got herself really worked up. I think they're afraid that something is happening to my mind. and I think that's why my daughter is mostly upset.
But I wouldn't pursue this any further Budd, I just want to drop it now. Okay?"
To which Hopkins replies, after thanking her (and asking one
last question about a detail of her sighting), "I won't call you any more." Possibly, if he hadn't asked to speak to her family, she wouldn't have told them that she'd talked with him, and -- if he
vouched for my discretion -- she'd now talk to me. As I've said, her withdrawal from the ranks of active witnesses clearly is a weakness of the case. Now, though, I have to add that the
weakness largely disappeared for me when I heard her voice. On tape, "Janet Kimball" sounds exactly like what Hopkins says she is -- an ordinary woman who saw something unbelievable,
talked about it, pondered it, got ridiculed, and ran for cover when she couldn't take the heat.