In the spring of 2012, Chicago videographer Adam Dew received a mysterious phone call from his former business partner Joseph Beason. “I have something to show you,” Beason said with urgency in his voice.
Later that day, Beason showed Dew a series of slides. The slides had been found 14 years earlier by his sister, who had been hired to dispose of the belongings of an elderly woman who had recently died. His sister couldn’t bring herself to jettison the collection, and so she took the box home, placed it on a shelf and forgot about it.
Many years later, she finally projected the slides on to her bedroom wall. She saw vivid color photographs of Dwight Eisenhower on what appeared to be on a postwar victory train tour, pictures of Bing Crosby and Clark Gable, as well as several photos of European towns. Figuring they had some historical significance, she sent them to Beason, who had worked in book publishing.
Now Dew scrolled through the slides. Some were stunning and had the unmistakable clarity of Kodachrome – Kodak’s revolutionary postwar color processing. He wondered how the person who took them was able to get so close to Eisenhower. They must be important, he thought.
Then Beason showed him another picture, the first of two nearly identical slides. These had not been in the tray, but tucked underneath, wrapped in parchment paper.
Dew gasped. Staring at him was a small, brown, withered body inside what appeared to be a glass case. The figure had withered arms, shriveled legs, a large triangular skull with elongated eye sockets, and a tiny sliver of a mouth.
He had but one thought.
He was looking at a dead space alien.
Until that day, Dew had spent little time pondering UFOs. He’s a stout father of three who shoots freelance sports videos for a living. People would describe him as gruff, diligent, short on chit-chat – hardly the type to be chasing little green men. But he just couldn’t stop thinking about the slides.
“I knew immediately it was a good story,” Dew told me a few months ago as we sat outside a coffee shop in Fredrick, Maryland. “Whatever was on that slide was a great story.”
Dew had long dreamed of making a documentary, and suddenly he had the ultimate topic. He convinced Beason, his friend, they should research one together.
The pair found out that the pictures were found in the garage of a woman named Hilda Blair Ray near Sedona, Arizona.
Dew only knew of one UFO place – Roswell, New Mexico, just a state away. A UFO supposedly had crashed there in 1947, and many believed it to be one of America’s biggest government cover-up. (In its 231-page report about the incident, released in 1997, the US air force denied all of it).
Could this be related?
News accounts and military documents all confirm a celestial device tumbled to earth that night in Roswell, but this is where the stories divide.
Witnesses and their relatives describe a destroyed flying saucer that broke into two wreckage fields. Aliens, many of those witnesses say, were found in the mangled craft, and then transported to a top-secret site. The military, after first announcing a flying disk crash, quickly revised their story, saying it was actually an experimental weather balloon.
For years, the Roswell incident was largely unknown outside New Mexico until 1978, when a Canadian nuclear physicist named Stanton Friedman met an air force officer who had been there. Intrigued by the man’s story, Friedman researched the case, and helped make a documentary called UFOs Are Real. Soon after the documentary’s release, the town turned into an extraterrestrial mecca, giving birth to a culture of self-declared researchers yearning to find the “truth” about the event.
Some of those, like Tom Carey, a retired Philadelphia businessman with a background in anthropology, and Don Schmitt, who owns a ranch in southern Wisconsin, have written several books on the subject. But so far their evidence is only anecdotal, and their years of research have not provided any physical proof aliens crashed at Roswell.
“If Roswell turns out to be true, it’s the story of the millennium,” Schmitt says.
By 2012 time was running out on Roswell. With nothing tangible to link the accident to aliens, Roswell was becoming a cold case.
Then Joseph Beason contacted Tom Carey.
At first, Carey was suspicious. He had been disappointed enough times by phony claims of Roswell evidence, and his first reaction was to distrust any new discovery. To make matters worse, Beason also struck him as secretive, insisting that anyone who looked at the slides must first sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Still, Carey felt an obligation to pursue any Roswell possibility so he signed the non-disclosure, and in return he was emailed a scan of one slide.
When Carey opened the email attachment in his Philadelphia-area home office , he jolted in his seat. Clearly visible on the figure’s head was a dark mark similar to other black blotches across the body’s torso. It appeared to be some kind of skin discoloration, but to Carey, who has anthropology degrees from two different universities, that mark on the head was something else.
“Child of earth,” he said to himself.
In the American south-west lives a small reddish-brown insect called the Jerusalem cricket. It has a faint, dark indentation on its head, almost like a newborn’s still melding skull. The Jerusalem cricket’s more common name is the potato bug but in Spanish it is known as el nino de la tierra – “the child of earth”.
The daughter of Dan Dwyer, a Roswell firefighter in 1947, has said her father saw three of the aliens at the crash site. When pressed by his children to describe them, he had said: “Child of earth.”
Those three words had haunted Carey for years. What did that mean? Carey assumed it had something to do with the Jerusalem cricket, but how?
Now the answer glowed from his computer screen.
“For me, that was almost like a fingerprint,” Carey says. “When I saw that image and saw that marking on that body lying on the slab, it jumped right out at me. That’s what Dan Dwyer was talking about. Also, the body looked exactly like what had been described to me by several eye-witnesses: frail, big head, et cetera. My first thought was: this has to be one of the Roswell bodies. It wasn’t a sketch, it was a photo – and it was taken right after recovery.”
Suddenly, Roswell had its most promising lead in years.
“What do you want of me?” Beason remembers Carey asking.
“I want you to help verify,” Beason replied.
With Carey and Schmitt’s guidance, Beason and Dew began what UFO experts call “an investigation”. They took the slides to professors, color experts and animators. They cut one of the images from its cardboard border to look for a date code, then had it run through a drum scan to improve clarity. A digital illustrator made a 3-D image of what the body might look like alive.
They consulted people at the Kodak headquarters in Rochester, New York. The experts told them the slides were real, had not been tampered with, and were from between 1945 and 1950, making it possible the photos were taken right after Roswell.
They looked more into Hilda Blair Ray’s life. She had a pilot’s license and worked as an attorney. She was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Minnesota’s law school, that married a geologist named Bernard. The couple moved to Midland, Texas. Bernard became head of the powerful West Texas Geological Society. They never had children. They roamed the world.
Beason and Dew started to suspect Hilda might have known Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie. (Eisenhower’s great-granddaughter Laura once claimed the president actually met aliens while he was president.) They wondered how deep Hilda and Bernard’s connections went. Looking at a map, they realized Roswell, New Mexico is 250 miles from Midland, Texas. They thought that seemed close.
“You start to fill in the blanks,” Dew says.
Carey took a photo of one of the slides to an old associate at the University of Toronto, Richard Doble, who noticed the figure had half as many ribs as a human, no collarbone and its arms attached to the top ribs.
“The more you look at it, the more you realize it is not from earth,” Doble later said.
But finding other opinions was challenging. Schmitt says American scientists “hold up a cross like to a vampire” when the word extraterrestrial is used. He and Carey also worried that any Roswell evidence taken to an US college that received federal funding would be shipped to the military and disappear forever.
Dew still wasn’t sure he believed in UFOs but he was starting to think the figure in the slides was something. The more he went around Roswell, the stranger people acted. “Does the government know you have this?” one woman asked. Several others told him to “be safe”.
Soon, Dew grew paranoid. He worried powerful people were interested in his slides. He wondered why the same white van kept parking in front of his house. His wife thought his UFO pursuit was absurd and wanted nothing of it.
Finally, he loaded a copy of the slides on to his phone and went to Roswell. He showed the photos to the children of witnesses and filmed their responses. Then he tracked down Eleazar Benavides, an air force base veteran who claims to have seen the aliens when they were brought to the Roswell base.
“That’s what I saw in 1947,” Benavides said after looking at the slides.
“That was a chill-inducing moment for us,” Dew says.
Dew started to put together the trailer for his documentary, which gives a flavor of his truth-seeking efforts.
By the fall of 2014, whispers trickled through the UFO community that Carey and Schmitt had photographs of a Roswell alien.
The world of UFO research can be a vicious one, filled with self-proclaimed researchers certain they can find evidence others have not. “You don’t need an advanced degree to be a UFO researcher,” says Kevin Randle a UFO researcher, himself as well as an author, blogger and radio host. “In 10 minutes you can say: ‘I’m a UFO researcher’ and start posting on [internet message] boards.”
Many of these “investigators” turn on each other, and Carey and Schmitt could hear the sniping about their slides. People wondered what they were hiding. They couldn’t respond – they had signed a non-disclosure.
Finally, Carey couldn’t hold back. While speaking at a UFO conference in November 2014 at Washington, DC’s American University he blurted: “We have the smoking gun!”
He told the audience about Hilda and Bernard, about the Eisenhowers, about the slides in the box, about the shriveled body in the pictures and about the Toronto anthropologist who said the figure wasn’t human.
Within days, the entire UFO world knew about alien in the slides.
But since Beason and Dew wouldn’t show the slides publicly until they proved the body was an alien, the UFO community was flustered. Tom Carey had access to the smoking gun, and he couldn’t show it? Rather than hail Carey’s proclamation, the message boards and chatrooms that make up the vast extraterrestrial internet buried it in scorn.
“Smells like bullshit,” said one Reddit poster.
“Sasquatch community is rife with charlatans like this,” said another.
“A carefully-prepared scam,” wrote a UFO blogger.
Carey and Schmitt were shocked. While accustomed to criticism for their research, they lived shielded from the modern internet’s rage. Carey couldn’t comprehend someone calling him “a hemorrhoid with glasses”.
“Say it to my face!” Schmitt wanted to scream to his invisible attackers.
By early 2015, Beason and Dew knew they had no choice but to reveal the slides. The pressure to do so was extreme and Dew needed money to fund his documentary. Dew spoke to a reality show producer, hoping to build a TV special around the slides, but the offer was too small.
The only appealing proposal came from Jamie Maussan, an investigative journalist based in Mexico City. Depending on whom you talk to, Maussan is either a fearless crusader tackling environmental issues or a sensationalist with an unhealthy UFO obsession.
Maussan wanted a great slide-revealing spectacle in Mexico City. He said attitudes about UFOs are more open there than in the US.
He imagined renting the Auditorio Nacional, Mexico City’s grandest theatre, and said they could sell a live stream of the event around the world. He had a name for his extravaganza: BeWitness. He promised Beason and Dew enough money to fund a documentary.
Beason and Dew hated the idea: it sounded like an overblown fiasco. But Maussan was their best option, so in early 2015 they signed an agreement for BeWitness, and sent Maussan a scan of the slides. He took the scan to Mexico’s National Forensic Institute where researchers found 20 anomalies in the figure’s body that they said made it different from a human’s, including the extra-large head, four sets of ribs instead of 10, the position the eyes, and the fact it lacked a pelvis.
On 5 May 2013, Cinco de Mayo, nearly 7,000 people paid between $20 and $86 to attend BeWitness.
The show was more than four hours long, the list of speakers endless.
Carey and Schmitt gave a PowerPoint presentation. Doble testified that the body was not human. The forensic scientists described the anomalies they discovered.
Beason found BeWitness too much of a spectacle to attend. Almost to prove his point, a person dressed as a giant alien strolled the stage.
Then Maussan projected the two slides on to enormous screens.
At first, there was little response from the UFO world.
Though the slides had been on huge screens in the auditorium, they weren’t easy to see online. Many people noticed what appeared to be a reflection of a woman’s leg and the corner of a bench in one photo. It looked suspiciously like something from a museum. No one could tell for sure.
Three days after BeWitness, someone involved in the show leaked a high-resolution scan of one slide to a group of skeptics. The next morning, Beason called Dew as he prepared to leave Mexico.
The placard they could never read had been deciphered.
A member of the Roswell Slides Research Group posting under the screen name Neb Lator examined the high-resolution image using SmartDeBlur Pro, a software program easily found on the internet. Several hours later, the placard’s top words had cleared enough to be deciphered.
“MUMMIFIED BODY OF TWO YEAR OLD BOY”
Further deblurring revealed most of the placard’s other writing:
“At the time of burial the body was clothed in a (unreadable) cotton shirt. Burial wrappings consisted of these small cotton blankets. Loaned by Mr (unreadable) San Francisco, California”
Dew was stunned.
“No way could they read in two days what it took us three years trying to decipher,” he says.
The deblurring had to be phony, he thought.
For a few days Carey and Schmitt, much like Dew, refused to believe the placard actually had been read. They accused the Roswell Slides Research Group of photoshopping the placard. Carey released a statement calling the members “a cast of characters” and accused one of “being party to a UFO hoax years ago”.
But soon more information was unearthed. A better reading of the placard identified the mummy’s donor as an SL Palmer. Debunkers located government records showing Palmer discovered the body in 1896 near Montezuma Castle, a series of cave dwellings cut into the Arizona cliffs about 30 miles from the garage where Beason’s sister initially found the slides. The records included evidence that the child was Native American, and photos of the burial site along with pictures of the body spread on blankets not long after its discovery.
The mummy was traced to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum in Mesa Verde, Colorado. The museum confirmed the child’s body had been on display for years. Which is where it seems an attorney and geologist named Hilda and Bernard might have snapped photos of it in the later 1940s.
“The Smoking Gun: RIP To The Roswell Slides,” screamed a UFO blog headline.
“Fraud Put To Rest,” said another.
“Busted,” shouted one more.
The UFO world mocked Carey and Schmitt for not realizing their Roswell alien was a mummy in a museum. “The whole investigation was amateurish,” scoffs Kevin Randle, the UFO researcher and radio host. How could everyone not see the pictures clearly came from a museum? Did they really think that even if Dwight Eisenhower somehow knew the Rays he would let them look at something as top-secret as a dead Roswell alien?
Not long after the placard’s deciphering, Carey was pulled from a prime speaking role at a top UFO conference. Humiliated, Carey and Schmitt apologized to the Roswell Slides debunkers.
“I came back to the States thinking: the only redeeming thing is that 99% of the American press has no clue or idea about this or that it happened,” Schmitt says.
They wondered how they could have been so wrong. They considered the previous three years, and concluded that Beason and Dew had duped them by distorting the slides and blurring the placard, making it impossible for anyone to read. They said Beason and Dew only showed them a low-resolution photo that kept them from realizing the body was in a museum.
“It was a very sophisticated hoax,” Carey says. “Dew manipulated the slides. The one clue we couldn’t figure out was the placard, but they played hocus pocus with the placard. We were given something that had been altered.”
“These guys would tell you they were being up front and honest, but they were controlling the slides,” says Schmitt. “I shouldn’t have trusted them as much as I did.”
“M.O.N.E.Y. That’s why (Dew) did it,” Carey says.
Night is falling outside the coffee shop where Dew tells his story. He gazes into the inky darkness then shakes his head.
He says he and Beason did show Schmitt a high-resolution version of the slides early in their investigation, and the experts they approached were those recommended by Carey and Schmitt. He insists he has always tried to “remain neutral” about the slides, even as he and the others let their imaginations stretch random pieces of Hilda’s background into believing they had the world’s only photos of a Roswell alien.
When asked if he wanted too much for the body to be an alien – something Carey and Schmitt both admitted to me that they themselves did – and that he was willing to set aside all good sense, he said: “I’m definitely guilty of not discouraging the talk [of it being alien]. It was good for the project.”
Beason has moved on, but Dew wants to finish the documentary. He will call his film Kodachrome, a tribute to the red processing label stamped on each of Hilda’s pictures. It is, after all, the reason he dedicated four years to the slides and why he still clenches his jaw as he denies Carey and Schmitt’s charge that he manipulated the photos.
“They got their hopes up,” he says. “They will never get the answers they are looking for. They dedicated their lives to this. Me, I just go back to shooting high school football.”
His laugh clanks empty under the vast night sky.