Gulf Breeze, Florida
Gulf Breeze, Florida, a town with a population of just slightly over 6000, enjoyed their anonymity. But in the winter of 1987, their sleepy little town became the focus of the world.
On November 11, 1987, Edward Walters, a local building contractor, was working late when he noticed a light outside of his window. Peering out, he saw a glowing object partially hidden by the 30 foot pine tree growing in his front yard. Ed went outside to investigate and was afforded a much better, if not stunning view of the unworldly object. He described seeing a top-shaped craft with a row of dark squares with smaller “portals” between them. The object, with its bright, luminous ring around the bottom, hovered slightly above the road. He quickly returned to his house and grabbed his Polaroid camera. Walters took several pictures from his front yard and decided to go into the street for a better view. While standing in the street the object began hovering directly above him. Walters claims that a bright blue “beam of light” shot out of the craft, stunning him as it raised him several feet off of the ground. He heard a voice exclaim “Don’t worry, we will not harm you”. He then described seeing images of “dogs” flashing in his head “just as if they were turning the pages of a book”. He then awoke and the UFO was gone.
The Evidence is Presented
Six days later, on November 17, Walters went to the local Gulf Breeze Sentinel editor and presented him with the photographs he had taken along with a complete description of the strange events that took place.
Bang! Something hit me. All over my body, I tried to lift my arms, I couldn’t move them. They were blue, I was blue, everything was blue. I was in a blue light beam. I was trying to breathe but my chest wouldn’t expand. My feet lifted off the floor, a voice groaned in my head, ” We will not harm you.” I screamed, the voice said “Calm down.” I screamed “Put me down!” No control, just a piercing smell, a little scent of ammonia mixed with heavy cinnamon that scorched, then stuck to, the back of my throat. A hum filled my head. Wham! I hit the ground, the blue light was gone. The hum was still in my head but quickly decreased and was gone.
Walters at first hid his identity by telling the newspaper that the photos were given to him by a Mr. X. He also presented the newspaper with a letter, also given to him by Mr. X. Soon afterwards Walters would claim more abductions. He produced more photos too. His entire family backed up his claims.
MUFON Lends a Hand
MUFON, a Texas based organization devoted to the scientific study of UFO reports, heard of the incident and quickly investigated. After examining the evidence they were thoroughly convinced that Ed Walters was telling the truth. J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) believed Walters was lying.
MUFON provided Walters with special photographic equipment and requested he use these during any subsequent encounters he had. Walters was given a special four-lens sealed camera (sealed with wax to rule out any tampering), a stereo Polaroid (which allowed the UFOs to be ranged), and a video camera. Much to their delight, Walters produced more stunning imagery with this equipment too. After subsequently examining the equipment, they were convinced that no trickery was taking place.
Skeptics Lend a Hand
Skeptics still doubted Walters claims and on February 18, 1988 and February 23, 1988, Ed was given two polygraph tests by Harvey W. McLaughlin Jr. He was also given a battery of psychological tests by Florida clinical psychologist, Dan Overlade. Walters passed the polygraph tests and the psychological profile indicated no personality abnormalities.
More Reports from Gulf Breeze
Meanwhile, reports began arriving from other Gulf Breeze residents. In a letter from Arthur Hufford, he exclaimed:
UFOs are real! I can state that because I personally witnessed a UFO hovering above some trees along the Bayou Boulevard in Pensacola in November, 1987. The UFO my wife and I saw around 4:30 PM that day looked exactly like the one photographed by Ed Walters on Nov. 11, 1987. Several weeks after our sighting we first learned that someone had taken photographs of what we had seen. Since that time I have talked to over 30 witnesses; many of these people also saw a craft which looked exactly like Walters’ photos.
Throughout the UFO epidemic, the local Gulf Breeze media continued to look for an explanation to the bizarre reports. Jackie Brooks, Associate Editor for News Journal wrote:
The accounts of what people say they have seen in the skies…have some of us jeering, some cheering and some peering – hoping to catch a glimpse of an unidentified flying object. But for those who have seen the objects, the question isn’t one of belief in UFOs or whether the sightings are real. They saw UFOs. The question is: what did they see?
She further strengthened the case by offering points attributing the reliability of some of the witnesses. Referring to Arthur Hufford (see letter above), she stated:
He is a long time employee with Monsanto. Quiet, sober, involved, intelligent, not given to improbable visions, Hufford is a man you would trust to tell the truth. He certainly isn’t anyone you would expect to make up a story simply to impress someone or to get on the ‘bandwagon’ of UFO sighters. And his wife shared his sighting – in Pensacola, not Gulf Breeze.
She also validated a well publicized sighting by Dr. Fenner McConnell by offering a ringing endorsement of his character:
He is a well-known pathologist, a mature, well-respected man in the community, a physical fitness advocate and frequent runner, a devoted family man and a quiet-spoken scientist not known for extreme views or exotic notions…in other words not a person to immediately doubt when he says he saw something unexplainable in the sky. His wife also saw it.
Editor Ms. Brooks believed that these and other reports offered more than enough evidence to convince her that something strange was going on in her home town of Gulf Breeze.
For me the conclusion is that there is something out there. We can speculate on what it is, but beliefs and hypotheticals and maybes have little to do with the reality of the phenomenon. The reality is that something observed, but so far unexplained, is going on in our skies…In the midst of all the speculations and investigation, debunking and debate, we have reputable reports of UFO sightings in our area.
Damaging Evidence Turns Up
Still skeptics doubted Walters outlandish claims, even while others in Gulf Breeze reported similar UFO sightings (over 200 reports have been filed since 1987). They theorized that the UFO photographs were hoaxed, taken using double-exposure techniques with the aid of a model. Damaging evidence was produced by Zan Overall, a California UFOlogist, who established that Walters did possess knowledge of double-exposure photographic techniques.
Despite skeptics claims, Walters became somewhat of a celebrity and even made and appearance on the popular TV shows Unsolved Mysteries and Hard Copy. His residence at 612 Silverthorn Road was constantly barraged with onlookers and media. To escape the curiosity seekers, Ed moved to a new home. The home at 612 Silverthorn Road was vacant for 10 months before being purchased by Mr. Robert E. Menzer.
The Infamous Model
On June 10, 1990, the Pensacola News Journal broke the big story:
A model spaceship resembling the UFOs reportedly seen above Gulf Breeze has been found in a house once occupied by the man whose photographs started a UFO craze that has focused worldwide attention on this community
Robert Menzer had made a fascinating discovery at Walter’s former residence and took his evidence to the Pensacola News. Menzer stated:
I was going to install an icemaker, and I needed to turn off the water. I was fooling around in the attic, and I was moving insulation aside when I saw it. I never would have found it if I hadn’t been looking for the pipe
“Model was 9 inches long across the top and 5 inches deep. Made of “two nine-inch foam plates attached to two six-inch foam plates; a six inch square blue-color gel (plastic film) and on six inch round orange paper ring, a 3.5 inch long tube, and a 2 inch wide paper ring between the 2 nine inch plates.” Windows were drawn on the model which was covered with drafting paper.
The drafting paper was removed and Menzer discovered a crude draft of a home complete with building measurements, all handwritten in a manner that closely matched Walter’s handwriting. After the measurement were publicly published, a man came forward and claimed that the measurements matched a home that Walters had contracted to build form him.
Walters was quickly contacted and exclaimed that “only a fool would leave behind such a piece of evidence”. He claimed that the model was a “plant” placed in his old home by someone wishing to discredit him and hinted that Menzer himself may have been responsible (Menzer did not come out with his story until 3 months after he supposedly discovered the model in his attic and only then when a reported showed up at his door). He also pointed out that the model, although similar, did not match any of the crafts that he had photographed. As for the draft paper, Walters conceded that the handwriting was his but that it was from a failed contract in 1989, two years after the first sightings. He stated that on several occasions he had caught people digging through his trash and theorized that the drawing had been obtained from his garbage can. This was later verified by researchers who discovered that the measurements on the draft did not match the measurements of the house as claimed by the first man but rather, matched plans for a house Walters was to build in September 1989. The case for a diabolical “plant” was strengthened by these discoveries.
Tommy Smith Appears
But one week later, on June 17, 1990, the Pensacola News Journal once again dropped a bombshell. Tom Smith Jr., a local teenager, had came forward and claimed insider knowledge in an interview with Mayor Ed Gray and Police Chief Jerry Brown (both skeptics of Walter’s claims). Smith claimed that he had assisted Walters in 1987 with the rigging of a model and faked photographs. Smith claimed that Walters had taken a pictures of the illuminated model and then shot pictures of the sky using the same frame of the film. He further stated that Walters had asked Smith to take the pictures to the Gulf Breeze Sentinel in order to add further credence to his story.
He wanted me as another witness. I had about a day to think about it, and I talked it over with Ed, and I just said it was a fraud, it wasn’t real smart. I do understand a practical joke, but when I realized that he was going to go all the way through with it, I just didn’t want to hurt my father’s reputation, and I didn’t want to get in the middle of a court case.
Smith’s father and mother quickly backed up his story and verified that they had known about the trickery for some time. They had continually urged their son to come forward with the truth and were very proud that he had complied.
Smith went on to describe other methods that Walters had used to forge the UFO evidence. He explained that evidence of the UFO landing was produced by Walters turning a trampoline upside down and jumping on it.
Believers countered Smith’s explanations with facts proving that he himself was misleading the public. For instance, they questioned how evidence manufactured with an upside down trampoline would produce dead grass that inexplicably resisted growth for 18 months afterwards – grass that was examined by a soil analyst who could find no chemical residue accounting for the odd growth resistance. Smith claimed that Walters produced the “beams of blue light’ emanating from the craft by slowly peeling back the back of the film. Experts countered by stating that it was impossible to produce such a “line’ using the method Smith described. They further dared Smith to explain how Walters could possibly produce double-exposure photographs using a rudimentary Sun 600 Polaroid camera, a feat that not even expert photographers could reproduce. They also questioned why Walters would place such great trust in a man whom he, nor his family, had any prior personal contact with.
Tommy Smith then proceeded to produce photos of his own. He claimed that Walters had taken the photos with Smith’s camera and that he urged Smith to take them to the Sentinel. Smith at first agreed but later changed his mind and declined. He claimed Walters had allowed him to keep the photographs. In an odd twist, researchers examined Smith’s photographs and could find no proof of any double-exposure method, a finding that seemed to indicate that Smith’s photographs were also authentic.
Despite these damaging incidents and their accompanying rationalizations by believers, the most damaging evidence soon became apparent from studies of the photographs themselves, many of which were obtained from a self-published book that Walters wrote. In one particular photo, the illuminated object casts a brightly lit reflection on the road below. Photo analysis of the picture seemed to indicate some discrepancies. The reflections on the road were analyzed by a physicists who claimed that the reflections were 9 times taller than they should have been. This indicated that the reflections were suspended in the air and not off of the road. He further pointed out the unusual shape of the reflection. The physicist also noted that the road should have absorbed much more of the light that the picture seemed to indicate.
MUFON Reverses Its Position
In 1990, the well respected MUFON, one of the most ardent supporters of the case, reversed their position. Investigators Rex and Carol Salisberry proclaimed:
We believe that UFOs exist. We entered this investigation with a natural and favorable bias toward the Walter’s case, but our investigation and analysis lend to the conclusion that several, if not all of the photos are probable hoaxes.
Believers and debunkers continue to debate the authenticity of this case. Salisberry himself summarizes the situation best when he stated, “The problem with Walters’ story isn’t a UFO problem, it is a human problem. If the Walters’ case is typical of most UFO cases, the debate will probably go on for years in spite of any evidence pro or con.”