When it comes to the issue of what really happened on what was once known as the Foster Ranch, Lincoln County, New Mexico in early July 1947, there are things we know, things we suspect, and things we will probably never know. But, that something happened – something which caused the U.S. Air Force to offer multiple explanations for the event – is not a matter of any doubt at all. It was an incident that clearly concerned elements of not just the military, but the government, too, and to a highly significant degree. Eye-witnesses – both military and civilian – were warned not to talk about what they had seen and / or heard. More than a few of those warnings crossed the line and can only accurately be described as death threats. People were plunged into states of fear. Lives were changed forever; even scarred. Some lives may have ended; as in terminated. It was on July 8, 1947 that the strange event surfaced publicly. Associated Press (among many other news outlets) reported on the startling, then-breaking news: “The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chavez County.
“The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Major Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office. “Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.” The story was quickly picked up not just across the United States, but across the planet, too. In barely no time at all, however, the flying disc angle was blown out of the sky: the whole thing was nothing but a huge, embarrassing mistake. The materials found on the massive ranch – by rancher William Ware “Mack” Brazel – were not the remains of a disc, after all. What had really been found, and subsequently collected and brought to the Roswell Army Air Field, was weather-balloon debris. Or, so the military was careful to try and assure everyone.
With Brazel at the time of the discovery – which had actually occurred days earlier – was a young boy named Dee Proctor. He would go on to be one of the most important people in the Roswell story. We also know for sure that three, key military men, all of whom were destined to become part and parcel of the Roswell affair, were also present at the ranch – and specifically before a veritable battalion was on-site and ordered to recover the massive amount of whatever-it-was. They were Major Jesse Marcel, the intelligence-office of the 509th Bomb Group at Roswell; Captain Sheridan Cavitt, of the Counter-Intelligence Corps; and CIC Master Sergeant Lewis S. “Bill” Rickett. All three were at ground-zero. They all saw the wreckage. Years later Marcel would open up wide on the matter of the debris he saw and collected. Cavitt and Rickett may have seen more than debris. Way more. Possibly bodies, strange bodies. Brazel and little Dee may have seen one or more of those bodies, too.
Although not a well-known figure in the field of Ufology, Zerbe had a strange and illuminating story to tell. It was a story which has its origins in none other than Ufology’s Number One case: Roswell. It was back in early July 1947 that an object crashed to the ground on a remote ranch in Lincoln County, New Mexico – which is about a ninety-minute drive from the city of Roswell itself. Although the Roswell affair is seen by most Ufologists as the most important case of all time, it’s a fact that numerous theories have been put forward for what, exactly, came down on that fateful day. They include – obviously – a spacecraft from another world. Other possibilities include a secret device of the military with a crew of human guinea-pigs used in high-altitude exposure experiments, and an advanced craft of the Russians. Even time-travelers have been suggested as good candidates. And that’s just a few of the now more than twelve theories for all the fuss.
What we know for sure is that the military from Roswell quickly descended on the ranch, ensuring that no-one was allowed on the property. The rancher was warned never to talk about what was seen and found. Death threats were made to local people who had seen the wreckage and several strange, small bodies before the military managed to get there. As a result of the silencing, the case vanished into almost complete oblivion. That is, until the mid-to-late 1970s, when two Ufologists, Bill Moore and Stanton Friedman, began digging into the story. As a result, ultimately hundreds of people were tracked down, many of them in old age by then and ready to talk. The floodgates were about to open. Roswell has now been the subject of dozens of books, a movie, and several investigations by the Government, specifically the U.S. Air Force and the Government Accountability Office. The official line is that the unusual wreckage found on the ranch came from a huge, military balloon array. As for the bodies? The military maintains they were crash-test dummies used in parachute experiments. Ufologists roll their eyes at such claims. All of which brings us back to Conrad Zerbe.
Someone whose story has gone well under the radar of most Roswell researchers, Conrad Zerbe played a notable role in the Roswell affair. Whatever it was that plummeted onto the ranch, Zerbe saw it all. There is a very good reason for that: he was an integral part of a team brought in to photograph and film the site, and to chronicle just about every aspect of the affair on-film. Zerbe died in 1992 and his remains are buried in California’s San Joaquin National Cemetery. In the 1980s, however, he revealed portions of what he knew about Roswell – and his role in it, too. It was in 1980 that Charles Berlitz’s and Bill Moore’s book on the crash, The Roswell Incident, was published. When word got out in the world of Ufology that the book was due to surface, word also got back to Zerbe – who thought now might be time to reveal what he knew. The story was an extraordinary one. According to Zerbe, his photographic team was comprised of a Colonel Loomis, a Captain Edward Guill, a man named Roland S. Cliff, whose rank Zerbe could not remember, and a civilian attached to one of the intelligence agencies – possibly the CIA, which was created in 1947 – whose name was Bohanon. The entire team was at the site, filming and shooting the debris, and photographing the badly damaged, dead bodies – which were already significantly decomposing under New Mexico’s hot summer sun. It was made abundantly clear to everyone that silence was the name of the game. The alternatives didn’t even bear thinking about.
According to Zerbe, while he and his team were out at the crash-site, they experienced a period of what in alien abduction terminology has become known as missing time. Having kept up with the UFO journals and books of the day, he strongly came to believe that aliens had abducted him and his comrades from the ranch – for a period of at least several hours early on the second morning of the incident – and experimented on him; something which he did not expand upon. Now, in 1980, it was time for Zerbe to blow the lid. Surely, after all those years, the U.S. Government wouldn’t still be watching him, would they? Well, as it happens, yes, they would. Drugged and interrogated – all in the name of Roswell and national security. It was on one particular morning in the latter part of 1980 that Zerbe got a knock on the door of his small apartment in a rundown block in Los Angeles. He opened the door to a man dressed in a smart suit and with what looked like a classic military crewcut. The man’s air and approach clinched it. As did the Air Force ID he thrust in front of Zerbe’s worried face. More than thirty years after the events of the summer of 1947, the Air Force wanted to talk to Zerbe again. Zerbe invited him in. Warily, it must be stressed.
Probably deducing that Zerbe was worried by the sudden arrival of the man, he told Zerbe that he was not in any trouble – chiefly because he hadn’t done anything wrong. At least, not yet he hadn’t. And that’s how the Air Force wanted it: no loose lips and no telling his story to the press or the UFO research community. The Air Force guy, Zerbe couldn’t fail to note, arrived with a couple of sodas. The pair sat opposite each other: Zerbe in a recliner and the man from the military on Zerbe’s couch. The mysterious man passed Zerbe a soda, and Zerbe proceeded to chug it down. In barely a few minutes, he began to feel weird, spaced out. When the man then asked what he, Zerbe, had been doing for the last few years, Zerbe found himself almost babbling, talking all about his life and – when prompted – what happened at Roswell, including the missing time angle, which the Air Force man seemed particularly intrigued by.
There then followed another period of missing time: half an hour, or thereabouts, had seemingly passed and the officer was gone. Zerbe, still a bit groggy, but with his mind back to normal, was now in a state of fear: the military had drugged and questioned him to make sure they knew all about his role in Roswell. After all those years, the Air Force was still watching Zerbe, still waiting for the day when he decided to reveal all about the events at Roswell, and the nature of the old photos and film-footage. And, of course, that period of missing time on the ranch, which Zerbe suspected had been a full-blown abduction by aliens. Probably, he thought, by the comrades of the dead aliens who lost their lives in the high-speed crash. In light of that fateful day, Zerbe – suspecting probably correctly that his phone was monitored – chose to hardly ever talk about the events again.
There’s no doubt at all that this is one of the strangest stories that ever came out of Roswell, New Mexico. Of course, the whole story makes it abundantly clear that something far more than just a weather balloon – or even a Mogul balloon of the U.S. military – came down at the time and at the Foster Ranch in Lincoln County, NM. What is particularly intriguing, though, is the undeniable fear that had been placed into Zerbe. Clearly, the man was scared to death almost. That suggests Zerbe knew much more than most of the rest who were in Roswell, briefly, at the time. Maybe, one day we’ll know the truth of what it was that had Zerbe so terrified. Certainly, not any kind of balloon. Bodies, maybe? Almost certainly. Of course, that then provokes an interesting, further question: if there were bodies, were they human or extraterrestrials. Or, maybe, Mac Tonnies’ Cryptoterrestrials? Maybe, one day, someone will come forward with an investigation of the Zerbe story and we’ll finally know the answer. Or answers. One final thing about this: supposedly, one of Zerbe’s comrades had “taken” certain files from New Mexico and kept them. Maybe, that was the cause of all the fear of what happened. In other words: someone knew the whole thing and hid the documents. Maybe, someone has them. That, more than anything else, would cause fear. For both Zerbe and the U.S. military.