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?
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 (In yet another unpublished tidbit, Richard later said that Dan returned from the abduction clutching the dead fish, and would have held onto it, if he hadn't been persuaded to drop it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:
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.
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?