Starting in February 1973 police in Piedmont, Mo., received over 500 reports of UFO sightings in this rural area.
“YOU WON’T believe this,” Reggie Bone told a FATE reporter, “but I don’t think there’s anyone around here who hasn’t seen one.”
Bone should know because his sighting on the night of February 21, 1973, precipitated the great Brushy Creek UFO scare and brought flying saucers back into the headlines four years after the Condon Committee declared them a dead issue. In sheer quantity of reports the Missouri flap parallels the famous waves of the mid-1960’s. UFOS, whatever they are, probably are going to be as significant a part of the ’70’s.
Southeastern Missouri seems an unlikely place for something so out of the ordinary. In a heavily-forested section of Wayne County between two giant man-made lakes in the eastern Ozarks, Clearwater and Wappapello, the Brushy Creek area encompasses Piedmont (population 1500) to the north and Mill Spring (population 225) to the south. The region is rich in both natural beauty and lead deposits but is not known for much else. Certainly its friendly but skeptical inhabitants were unprepared for a UFO invasion or the international attention following in its wake.
High school basketball coach Bone was no believer in UFOs — at least not before the night of February 21 when with two team managers and three of his players he was returning home along U.S. Highway 60 near Ellsinore, Mo., about 20 miles south of Piedmont. They were in poor spirits after losing a crucial tournament game by seven points and were rehashing their defeat. Suddenly Bone, who was driving, noticed a “bright shaft of light beaming down out of the sky.”
A few miles later as the car passed through the Brushy Creek area, player Randal Holmes noticed something else. “Look!” he shouted. “There’s that thing we saw back on Highway 60!” Bone pulled over to the side of the road and the six piled out.
“It looked like it was about 200 yards off the road hovering over an open field,” Bone said later. (Investigators from the International UFO Bureau (IUFOB) of Oklahoma City later estimated the object probably was about 400 feet above the ground.) “it was impossible to determine the size or shape because of the darkness. Anyway, we saw four lights that looked like portholes: red, green, amber and white. We figured they were about three or four feet apart, all in a row.”
“We just stood there and watched it for about 10 minutes,” Cary Barks, another witness, added. “Then all of a sudden the lights went directly up in the air with absolutely no noise and just disappeared over a hill.”
Half an hour later Mrs. Edith Boatwright of nearby Mill Spring saw the same or a similar object flying low near her farmhouse. “It was about 10:00 P.M.,” she told FATE. “I was lying on my bed — I wasn’t asleep — when I saw a flashing light. We live close by the highway so I thought something had happened on the road. I got out of bed quickly and looked over the lower part of the curtain and I could see very plainly a craft just clearing the utility wires. It was in a horizontal position. I think there were people in it. I could see objects inside but could not make out any form of a person. It made a very quiet noise like a whoosh slowly and evenly. When it changed into a vertical position, it made a louder noise, like a quiet motor pulling.
Edith Boatwright of Mill Spring, Mo., sketched the UFO she observed near her farmhouse on the night of February 21, 1973, as it flew low with its lights flashing.
“It didn’t have any chopper blades on top like a helicopter, just some rotary-like blades in front where an umbrella-like part extended up. It was about 30 or more feet long — very beautiful light-colored body with a darker tail.
“There were no lights on in our house at the time. I watched it for about one or two minutes. It was about 200 or 250 yards from my window, flying below the oak treetops.”
At first Mrs. Boatwright thought the object was “some kind of new nuclear-powered helicopter” but changed her mind in the next few days when she heard about the flood of UFO sightings. It is worth noting, however, that the “whooshing” sound Mrs. Boatwright reported was not heard by other southeastern Missouri UFO witnesses. Conceivably helicopter blades could have made that sound and IUFOB’s Daniel Garcia who interviewed the witness believes it is at least possible that the object was a military aircraft dispatched to the area to look for Bone’s UFO. Arguing against this idea is the fact that the craft as described by Mrs. Boatwright did not look like a helicopter.
Whatever the case, in the next two months the Boatwrights’ farm was to play host to other UFOs including one that apparently landed on a hill behind the house. “We didn’t try to go near it as we had company coming at the time,” Mrs. Boatwright explains.
On February 22, the night after the original Bone-Boatwright sightings. Roy and Beth Burch and Mrs. Kathy Keith, driving in the Brushy Creek area, spotted an object “blinking green, white, amber and red.” Burch tried to chase the UFO along the highway.
“Roy started speeding up to get a close look at it,” Mrs. Keith said. “He was doing about 70 miles an hour but we still lost it. We got to the Creek area and there were some other Piedmont people standing on the road looking at it.”
One of them, Bob Smith, had binoculars focused on the UFO but he could not make out any shape. The lights were visible for 10 minutes longer and then sank over a hill.
Four nights later, on the 26th, Pat Toney and Will Freeman watched a luminous object moving over the trees near the Tip Top Mountains. The UFO about 500 yards away “was solid with prongs on it,” Miss Toney informed the IUFOB. “A red light was on it.”
By far the great majority of sightings in the Piedmont-Brushy Creek-Mill Spring area were the kind UFOlogists call “nocturnal lights” — brilliant flashing lights far enough away that witnesses cannot discern their source.
From February 21 into late April sightings occurred almost nightly. The Piedmont police received over 500 reports and IUFOB director Hayden Hewes told FATE he and his associates, who conducted a detailed investigation, interviewed 200 witnesses. Most of the sightings were fairly routine as UFO reports go and not very revealing. We will concentrate on the more unusual sightings.
MOST RESIDENTS saw the UFOs more than once. Even so, Earl Turnbough’s experience was unique for he had three unusually vivid sightings of more than just lights.
His first encounter took place around 9:00 P.M. about the first of March. Turnbough had just passed over a hill on Highway 49 when he spotted something “lit up like a circus” hovering over the road in front of him. The lights went out within seconds and presumably the object escaped in the darkness.
Two weeks later on March 14 as Turnbough drove through the same area in a thunderstorm he saw an amber light hovering 30 feet above a field less than 200 yards from him.
“I slowed down and watched for five or 10 minutes,” Turnbough said. “When the lightning flashed I could see a dome-shape with sort of an antenna at the top. This amber light was shining from the antenna. All the other lights were off. I would say the thing was between 15 and 20 feet in diameter. It wasn’t making any noise at all.”
He saw a UFO for the third time a week later. “I was feeding cattle at the farm just about dark and I saw this thing come down over Brushy Creek,” he explained. “It was about a thousand feet in the air and shaped like a top. I couldn’t tell if it was rotating or if the lights were just flashing. The lights were yellow, green and red. They could’ve been portholes for all I know. The object sailed over the farm and didn’t make a sound.”
March 14, the same night as Turnbough’s second sighting, Mrs. Maude Jefferis, a photography teacher at Piedmont’s Clearwater High School, took a series of pictures of “a small reddish ball” high in the air. She spotted the object around 11 o’clock and mounting a Crown Graphic 4×5 camera on a tripod, she took a 10-minute time exposure which unfortunately shows little more than a dot in the night sky.
“As a professional photographer,” she said, “I cannot explain the object. It is not a lens flare or light reflection.”
Mrs. Jefferis is referring to a theory proposed by Dr. J. Allen Hynek of Northwestern Univer- sity, former U. S. Air Force UFO consultant, who arrived in Piedmont on March 31, talked briefly with eight persons and left 24 hours later. Hynek’s suggested explanation also has been disputed by photographic experts at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who say that a lens flare would be widespread over the entire negative rather than a small speck. They further point out that the lens in Mrs. Jefferis’ camera is coated to prevent flares.
That same evening Carl Laxton saw an object shaped, he told IUFOB, “like a barrel with protrusions like arms sticking out of it . . .
“The only way I could see the shape of this thing was when the object seemed to tilt; a brilliant white light appeared to go behind it. The object was tilting from a vertical to a horizontal position and then back to a vertical position again. Then it moved straight up and disappeared into the night sky.”
Seven days later, on March 21, Mrs. Jean Coleman and Mrs. Cathy Leach were crossing the Clearwater Dam about 9:00 P.M. when they saw an object rise out of the lake. Theirs is one of the most spectacular sightings reported.
They were first alerted by a “red flash” on the lake. Stopping their car, they got out to see blinking lights ascending. Each time a red light flashed, the object got brighter.
“We could see it climbing,” Mrs. Coleman said. “It looked like the lights were red, white and yellow. There was no sound. We tried to make out the shape but each time the lights went out we could see nothing . . . We watched it for four or live minutes until it circled out of sight.”
Ken Johnson, owner of the Piedmont Boat Dock, confirmed the women’s story. Shortly be- fore they saw the UFO leaving the water, unnamed campers told Johnson they had seen a “bright light moving right under the surface of the lake.” These latter “aimed a flashlight beam at the traveling light and it went out immediately.”
Later in March two divers from the East Side Divers Supply Company of Granite City, Ill., made three attempts to explore the lake for evidence of the underwater UFO. Unfortunately, unusually heavy spring rainfall (seven inches in March) had raised the water level 30 feet above normal. The lake was extremely murky and the divers found nothing in its depths.
GRAND TOWER, Ill., on the Illinois-Missouri border, is almost 60 miles northeast of Piedmont but the UFO Oscar Wills sighted the evening of March 22 sounds very much like those from Brushy Creek.
Wills, an operating engineer at the Central Illinois Public Service Company’s power generating station on the Mississippi one and a half miles from Grand Tower, first saw the object when fellow-employee, Willis Hughes called from his home to say something was hovering over the transformer yard.
“I went out by myself to take a look,” Wills recounted in an interview with FATE, “and there it was, hovering about 1500 feet in the air and about 200 yards from me.
“It was a round saucer-shaped object about 25 to 30 feet in diameter. It looked like a high-intensity red light with a lot of lights coming out of what seemed to be portholes. The lights were flashing and causing a spinning effect. I couldn’t see any image of its bottom, which may have been concave, I’m not sure.
“I kept walking and got to within 100 yards of it. I looked at it for two or three minutes until it darted behind the power plant almost like a blur. I went north of the power plant to see where it had gone and found it hovering over a water intake pump on the other side of the station. I stood there for a couple of minutes and watched it.”
Wills’ vigil was interrupted by a phone call from another employee (not Hughes) who wanted to know what was going on. By the time Wills got off the phone and enlisted two other men to go outside with him the UFO was gone.
Wills then called Hughes who informed him the object had flown across the river and disappeared into the Missouri hills. Within minutes, however, Wills and his crew saw four jet planes making passes over the plant area as if searching.
“The most amazing part,” Wills says, ” is the way this object moved rapidly with no effort and perfectly silently. I just can’t get over that. I don’t know what it was but I know this much: we don’t have anything like this. “
Wills claimed that a nearly identical object appeared over Grand Tower nearly a month later, on the evening of April 16.
On the night of Wills’ first encounter, March 22, back in Piedmont newsman Dennis Kenney of local radio station KPWB saw “a big orange light, glowing from white to orange. it appeared to just go out and then would come back on.” Gary Sutton, who was with him, snapped eight pictures of it with a 35mm Petri camera loaded with black-and-white infrared film. These photographs show a ball-shaped object with a bright glowing band across its midsection. This sighting took place at 7:30 P.M.
Three hours earlier, at 4:30, a UFO had made a rare daytime appearance. Joe King of Mill Spring and Ron Miller of Piedmont, both students at Southeast Missouri State University (Cape Girardeau), were traveling along Highway 34 near Patterson (eight miles east of Piedmont) when they noticed an oval-shaped object above the nearby treetops. The UFO, “metallic” in appearance, flat on the bottom with a dome on the top, was moving rapidly and leaving no vapor trail.
The following evening, Friday, March 23, Leonard Adams and his 13-year-old daughter Alma of Piedmont encountered a “high-intensity, bright white light” at 7:10.
“It blinked on and off,” Alma recounted, “and every time it blinked it shot up 10 feet. When it got about 300 to 500 feet in the air red and green lights came on and then the object flew horizontally.
“Actually the red and green lights were very dull in comparison with the white light, which was so intense that our eyes couldn’t adjust to it. The light was almost blinding. The farther away the object got, the better you could see the other lights.”
The UFO passed over radio station KPWB, which was not on the air at the time. The next morning the station was unable to sign on because one of its transformers had blown out. Hayden Hewes of IUFOB believes the Adamses’ UFO may. have had something to do with the malfunction but the station’s news director Dennis Hovis, who has conducted his own exhaustive probe into the Brushy Creek flap, disagrees. “It could have been from any number of causes,” he says.
FATE could not confirm any reports of so-called electromagnetic effects but Hovis assured us that some local residents told him of radio and television interference when a UFO was close by. “These people say that when the TV starts rolling and reception gets bad, they can go outside and see a flying object,” Hovis says, adding that some witnesses have heard sounds from the objects — “a sort of high-speed drilling sound.”
Among other reports Hovis has collected is one from a Patterson farm family who heard a high-pitched drilling sound which began around 10 o’clock in the evening all during April. Sometimes it was so loud it shook their house. Too frightened to go outside, they had not, at the time of this writing, discovered its cause. Hovis refuses to release their names to us, explaining that the family in question gave the story to him in confidence.
THE SINGLE most important UFO sighting occurred on April 3 in the daylight. It involved a landing of sorts and provided some physical evidence.
Mrs. Raymond Stucker of Ellsinore traveling down Highway 60 at about noon “saw this thing in the air off to the side of the road,” she told IUFOB investigators. “. . . It looked like something I never saw before. It was round, with the exception of a dome on top . . . three . . . one on top of the other. (*Hewes explains that this means the object had three Pyramiding domes on top, each one smaller than the one below It.) It appeared to have a dull band or something going around the center. The bottom had something like a tripod landing gear.
“The object was hovering just above treetop level off to the right of the road . . . There is a possibility that it came up from the ground and stopped right above the trees.”
She said the UFO was silent and appeared to be made of aluminum.
Two days later Mrs. Stucker led IUFOB officials to the area where they found trees in a 35- foot circle turned counter-clockwise with some of their tips broken off. Geiger counters failed to pick up any unusual radiation but they found a mysterious “ash” near the tops of the trees although there was no evidence the trees had burned.
On Friday, April 13, newsman Hovis and a physicist from Southeast Missouri State University (who has asked not to be identified) made four sightings in the space of three and a half hours. The skeptical scientist had come from Cape Girardeau to see the UFOs for himself and he was not disappointed.
Hovis and the physicist had set up a telescope with a degree-finder on the side in an area near Black River seven miles south-east of Piedmont. At 7:18 P.M. the men saw what Hovis calls a “a light — no visible body or object attached to it — white in color with some yellow.” It was moving from north to south at a 10-degree angle off the horizon. The unnamed physicist speculated it might be a satellite.
At 7:28 a similar iight appeared, moving in the same direction, five degrees off the horizon.
This time the scientist suggested that the booster had followed the satellite into orbit.
But by 9:30 when the third object cruised across the sky the man’s faith in satellites was shaken. This object was traveling south to north, 10 degrees off the horizon and for a brief period it flew toward the witnesses before resuming its northbound course. A fourth UFO, heading from north to south at 10 degrees off the horizon, passed by at 10:45, leaving behind a deeply perplexed scientist.
WHILE NO one has reported seeing UFO occupants Reggie Bone does have a strange story to relate of something he, his wife and two other couples saw around Christmastime in 1971 when they were driving down a little-traveled road in a deserted section of the Brushy Creek area. The time was about 2:00 A.M.
“Suddenly,” Bone says, “we saw this fellow walking up the road toward us in a frogman’s outfit. He was wearing flippers or something resembling them on his feet and he was carrying something in his hands.
“We couldn’t see very well — visibility was poor — so we couldn’t see his face but his body was completely covered. The suit didn’t look wet. Black River is about a quarter-mile away from the road but it’s rather inaccessible from the point where we ran into this figure.
“The temperature was well below freezing and I don’t know of anyone who lives in that area. We were so taken aback that nobody even said anything for several miles. Finally somebody asked, ‘Did you see that?’ “
Bone, with Hovis, has carefully studied the local UFO situation and does not necessarily connect the figure with the mysterious aerial phenomena but he does admit that the recent sightings recalled the earlier incident to his mind. He says he and Hovis found that UFOs have been seen regularly in the more remote sections of Brushy Creek since 1967.
To the UFOlogist, Bone’s 1971 encounter is reminiscent of numerous landing reports that include beings dressed in what witnesses almost invariably describe as “diving suits.” A more mundane explanation for this incident may exist but the story deserves being recorded here for whatever it may be worth.
Dennis Hovis offers the only possible commentary on Brushy Creek’s flying saucer onslaught: “I don’t know what we’re seeing but I do know we’re seeing something. It’s not swamp gas and it’s not satellites either. On the other hand, I can’t say they’re aliens — I’m just a newsman, not a scientist.
“All I’ll say is this, this is some kind of aerial phenomenon. It’s simply unexplainable. From the reading I’ve done lately, I guess that these things always have been around and no one anywhere has ever been able to explain them. “