the linda cortile case

What's the most unbelievable UFO claim of all time? Ufologists could pass an amusing afternoon debating that. Would it be the George Adamski saga, or perhaps the supposed installation deep under Dulce, New Mexico, where aliens are said to store human body parts?
    But if I narrowed the inquiry, and asked for the most unbelievable story ever vouched for by a major UFO investigator, I can't imagine there would be much disagreement. It would surely be the "Linda" case, which Budd Hopkins describes in his recent book Witnessed. And when I call the case "unbelievable," I don't mean that we shouldn't believe it, though there are plenty of people -- including some ufologists -- who most certainly don't. Instead, I'm using the word in its most informal sense, the sense I'd use if someone told me that my elderly aunt had just become a race car driver, and I replied "Unbelievable!"
    Consider what Hopkins asks us to accept. To begin with, he tells us that, for the first time ever, a UFO abduction has been witnessed. Linda "Cortile" -- a housewife who lives on the lower east side of Manhattan with her husband and two sons (Cortile isn't her real last name) -- was supposedly seen just after 3:00 AM on November 30, 1989, floating upwards from her apartment to a brightly glowing UFO, accompanied by three of the standard gray aliens. One witness (though this isn't published in Hopkins's book) even says he saw tears running down her cheeks.
    And who were the witnesses? One, Hopkins says, was a retired woman he calls "Janet Kimball," who was driving across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan, on her way home to upstate New York after a late party. In letters, on the phone, and in person, she told him her car had stopped, and along with other drivers -- the scene she describes was quite chaotic, with people honking horns, and shouting in dismay -- she watched what she first thought was a movie being filmed, though she quickly realized that it couldn't be.
   She sounds reasonable enough (Cortile's apartment is very near the bridge), but the other three witnesses send the case reeling into pretty wild territory. Two of them wrote to Hopkins, introducing themselves as New York policemen who'd seen the abduction from a car parked under the FDR Drive (a highway that runs along the east side of Manhattan), facing Cortile's building. (See
map .) That wasn't the whole story, though. Later they revealed that they were security officers, working for an unnamed American agency and guarding a man Hopkins describes simply as "an international political figure," but who is widely known to be Javier Perez de Cuellar, at that time Secretary-General of the United Nations.
   De Cuellar supposedly saw the abduction, too, and with that one stroke the case seems to get even more unbelievable (though we might ask ourselves why de Cuellar should be any less likely to witness an abduction than any ordinary person). To make matters worse, de Cuellar allegedly wasn't the only top official there. Allegedly he and his guards were part of a group coming late at night from the heliport on Governor's Island (at that time a military installation in New York harbor). With them, in other cars, were (as one of the agents put it, with quaint capitalization, again in a statement Hopkins didn't publish) "two US Governent officals [and] two foreign Statesmen," along with guards of their own. Hopkins doesn't know who these dignitaries were.


And now things get really strange. The two security officers, known only as "Richard" and "Dan"  -- Hopkins says he never met them, doesn't know their last names, and knows their story only through letters and audio tapes they sent -- became obsessed with Cortile. They spied on her, showed up at her apartment, and even kidnapped her, spurred by a confused mixture of feelings -- fear for her safety, fear that she herself might be an alien, a sense of professional failure (shouldn't they have tried to stop the abduction?), and, finally, a need to be near Cortile, simply to prove that what they'd seen had been real.
   Dan, who began to lose his emotional moorings, then kidnapped Cortile a second time, and might have raped her if Richard hadn't shown up to stop him. Earlier, however, he'd told Hopkins that he, Richard, and de Cuellar now remembered that they'd all been abducted along with Cortile. The aliens, Dan wrote, had telepathically identified her as "Lady of the Sands"; she'd held up a dead fish, and told the three men "Look and see what you have done." (In yet another unpublished tidbit, Richard later said that Dan returned from the abduction clutching the dead fish, and would have held onto it, if he hadn't been persuaded to drop it from the car's window.)
   Cortile hadn't consciously remembered that. But under hypnosis she did recall the same details, and can be seen on video after her hypnosis, reacting with shock as Dan's letter is read to her. One curious sidelight here, and yet another amazement in this case, is that Richard, Dan, and de Cuellar remembered everything without hypnosis. Richard, in fact, recalled a lifetime of abductions, and set off another bombshell when he told Hopkins that he and Cortile had been abducted together many times, beginning in their childhood. They had formed a secret, shadowy relationship, one that existed only on the alien ships, and had become lovers; Richard, who had never married, was convinced he was the real father of her youngest child. Cortile, duly hypnotized, remembered all this, too, right down to the pet names Richard said they called each other when they were with the aliens. Again her shocked reaction was caught on video (though she won't comment on her son's paternity).
   Anyone who needs a pause right here -- to pour a drink, perhaps, or just to hyperventilate or scoff -- should take one. Why, responsible UFO researchers might ask, did things have to get this messy? Why did de Cuellar have to be involved? And must we have this tabloid love affair?
   It isn't reassuring to learn that Richard (during his abduction with Cortile, Dan, and de Cuellar) saw the aliens processing samples of earthly sand, and brought some back with him. That 's another first -- the first time any abductee came back with anything from an alien ship. (The aliens should abduct trained security operatives more often.) Richard even was alert enough, he said, to snatch "before" and "after" samples, which, when examined with an electron microscope, allegedly show subtle differences.
   We're also asked to believe that yet another abductee, called "Marilyn Kilmer" in the book, was separately abducted with Cortile, de Cuellar, and Cortile's younger son, Johnny. Allegedly, Kilmer identified de Cuellar from photographs (though not with complete certainty). She and Cortile described what they saw each other wearing, and here again there's a video, documenting their amazement as each correctly names what the other swears she to bed that night.
   But even now we're not quite finished. In what might be the strangest episode of all, de Cuellar had his driver stop his car while Johnny passed them on the street (Johnny then was nine), and asked Johnny if he'd like a present. When Johnny said yes, against his better judgment, de Cuellar arranged to deliver the gift, which turned out to be an antique diver's helmet! I've seen the helmet; it sits in ornate bronze splendor on a wall unit in the Cortile's tiny living room, unabashedly out of place among the photos and other items you'd expect a lower middle-class family to display. How do we know it came from de Cuellar? Because Hopkins showed Johnny photographs of distinguished older men, and Johnny picked de Cuellar's, without a moment's hesitation.

My assignment, if I accepted it -- and, rashly, perhaps, I did -- was to investigate all this, or more reasonably to conduct a preliminary inquiry (which is all anyone could do without writing a book as long as Hopkins's own). The question to ask was obvious. Could this -- any of it, some of it, even all of it -- be true? The stakes, I thought, were pretty high, because two things are immediately clear:
  • The case is either real or hoaxed. There isn't any middle ground. We can't say, as we might in a normal abduction case, that everyone sincerely believes it's real, but suffers from some psychiatric syndrome. After all, we've got people saying that they watched Cortile's abduction. We've got Cortile corroborating tiny details Richard mentions. So either the abductions really happened, or the whole thing is a scam. Maybe Hopkins staged it all, or maybe he and Cortile contrived it, or maybe Cortile -- forging a dozen letters, and hiring actors to record Richard's voice and portray Janet Kimball on the phone and in person -- staged an elaborate drama for Hopkins. (Or maybe there's an outside chance that it's all the result of government mind control. Maybe Linda was brainwashed to believe in her abductions. But with no evidence that government operations of this kind really exist, I'd say this explanation is purely speculative -- and, in its way, just as exotic as believing that the whole thing took place as advertised.)
  • If these events really happened, this is the most spectacular UFO case of all time.

It's also clear that there are some immediate problems. First, de Cuellar has denied he was involved. He denied it more than once, in fact, most recently in a fax to the PBS science show Nova (which was preparing its 1996 abduction episode), in which he said:

    I cannot but strongly deny the claim that I have had an abduction experience at any time. On several occasions, when questioned about that matter, I reiterated that these allegations were completely false and I hope that this statement will definitely put an end to these unfounded rumours. [de Cuellar's spelling]

Not that this denial means very much. If de Cuellar really was abducted, would we expect him to admit it? But still we have to note his statement.
   Second, there's a major unanswered question. Why would American agents be guarding the Secretary-General? According to a United Nations spokesman, the UN has its own security force. If the Secretary-General travels to Washington, the spokesman said, the Secret Service would protect him (as part of its mandate to guard important foreign visitors), but never in New York. We can speculate that, on a late-night secret mission (especially, perhaps, on one instigated by the American government), these rules might be broken. But until a diplomatic or intelligence insider confirms that, we don't know that the relationship the book describes between de Cuellar and Richard and Dan is even possible.
   Finally, the most crucial witnesses are unavailable. Apart from de Cuellar, the three known people who (supposedly) saw Cortile's abduction are Richard, Dan, and the woman Hopkins calls Janet Kimball. And, with one exception, the only people who've ever met any of them are Cortile and Hopkins. The exception is Cortile's husband, who supposedly met Richard on the street one Sunday morning, when Richard saw the couple on their way to mass and stopped to say hello. (One of Cortile's sons and one of her friends supposedly saw Richard and Dan, without meeting them.) But for reasons I'll discuss more fully in the second part of this report, Cortile's husband won't be part of my investigation. (He and Cortile are seriously estranged.) Which brings us back to Cortile and Hopkins. If we believe the case, we're believing what Cortile and Hopkins tell us. And since Cortile has made very few public appearances, has never been extensively interviewed, and has never even taken a polygraph test, we end up believing her only because Hopkins does.


Why won't Dan and Richard talk? Dan, to begin with, is out of commission. According to Richard, he suffered a mental breakdown, and was removed from the scene by the agency the two men work for. (Was he hospitalized? Imprisoned? Killed? We don't know.) Richard won't go public, he says. because his career and, perhaps, his safety would be threatened. In one more unpublished passage from his letters, he discusses the character Ben Vereen played in the TV movie based on Hopkins's book Intruders -- a military man who sees a UFO crash, and is hounded by the government when he tries to talk about it. This, Richard says, is what might happen to him.
   As for Janet Kimball, she told Hopkins that her family disapproved of her involvement, and that she didn't want to talk to him again. I could call her, I suppose. I know her real name, and her address. But as a member of the UFO community I feel I should respect the privacy a UFO witness asks for. Besides, Hopkins told Kimball he'd protect her. Should I make a liar out of him? In any case, calling her might do no good. She might hang up on me, and then -- if she felt she'd been betrayed -- we might lose any chance that she'll someday change her mind, and talk more publicly.
   Which leaves me feeling honest, but also helpless. Normally, in UFO investigations, you have to figure out if witnesses are accurate. Here there's a much more basic problem. How do we know that Richard, Dan, and Janet Kimball even exist?
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