by Martin Kottmeyer
In the early morning of September 3, 1965, a teenage hitchhiker named Norman Muscarello encountered a UFO with brilliant red lights. It was barely a hundred feet up, and at one point he jumped into a ditch to keep from being hit. He caught a ride to the Exeter police station and reported the encounter to Patrolman Eugene F. Bertrand. Together they returned to the scene of the encounter, and Bertrand was soon witnessing the same object. It came so close he started to draw his gun but then decided that might not be wise. He radioed Patrolman David Hunt, who arrived a few minutes later in time to see the object a half mile away and moving off to the southeast, still at an altitude of about one hundred feet.
The case is a classic. John Fuller wrote a book centered on the case titled Incident at Exeter. It was a best-seller and continues to be reprinted. Ron Story ranked it among the top ten UFO cases of all time based in part on a survey of ufologists. Raymond Fowler prides himself on remarking as soon as it happened, "This one will go down in UFO history." That is most assuredly did. It was featured in the April 5, 1966, Congressional hearing that led to the Condon investigation. The involvement of two police officers gave it an official character that made it a bit harder than usual to dismiss. Attempts to explain it by invoking twinkling stars and planets, ad planes, or military operations were difficult to jive with descriptions given. Fuller insisted this constituted "convincing evidence" that UFOs were real and extraterrestrial. Other ufologists would agree, including Hilary Evans in an early work.
That there might be problems with such an interpretation seems to have troubled none of the proponents of this solution. I offer here several:
Why Exeter? Can anybody think of a good reason for aliens to visit such an out of the way spot as New Hampshire? There is no obvious strategic interest, economic resource, geological or geographic attractions, or biogenetic import to the place.
Muscarello, in his statement, observed, "The lights then moved out over a large field and acted at times like a floating leaf." Fuller's book expanded the description. A brilliant red roundish object rose slowly from behind two pines. It moved toward Muscarello and Bertrand "like a leaf fluttering from a tree, wobbling and yawing as it moved." The entire area was bathed in a brilliant red light. It was 100 feet above them and a football field's distance away. It was rocking back and forth on its axis, "still absolutely silent." It hovered for several minutes then slowly moved away. Its movement was erratic, defying all aerodynamic patterns. "It darted it could turn on a dime, then it would slow down." Hunt added, "I could see that fluttering movement. It was going left to right between the tops of the two trees." It had a "creepy type of look. Airplanes don't do this."
Indeed no, but nobody stops to ask if extraterrestrial craft ought to be doing this either. If it possesses any sort of mass at all, inertia alone would damp out any sort of fluttering behavior. If it is a result of mechanical vibration, why is the object so silent? Note other UFO reports exist from which noises like hums are heard. If UFOs are some sort of reconnaissance vehicle as Fuller and many others used to argue, such fluttering would surely impede the usefulness of the craft. What does it say for the erstwhile technological superiority of these interstellar visitors that they cannot stabilize their crafts?
Witnesses agree there were five lights, but they flashed one at a time and in the pattern of 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1. They were "extremely bright." Bertrand had been in the Air Force for four years, knew military aircraft, participated in refueling operations, and insists this wasn't like anything he had seen before. Okay, but shouldn't ufologists be saying the same thing? Where are there any prior reports of UFOs exhibiting and identical pattern of flashing lights? Even subsequent to Exeter, I know of only one other case which refers to this 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 flashing pattern and that is the Bill Herrmann abduction case. Curiously it involves lights inside the craft and causes feelings of relaxation, something rather opposite of the fear seen in the Exeter case. (UFO Contact from Reticulum, Wendelle Stevens, 1981, pp. 148, 226, 319.)
Can anyone think of a practical use for such a pattern of flashing lights and having them shine with extreme brilliance? My initial assumption would be that it is meant to attract attention. Yet aliens purportedly want to do things furtively and in secret. If they do want to attract attention, why are they doing this in a rural area in the early morning hours? It's a paradox.
"The lights were in a line at about a sixty degree angle They always moved in the same sixty degree angle," said Muscarello in his report to the Air Force (The Hynek UFO Report, Dell, 1977, p. 158). Bertrand said the same in his report to the Air Force: "The lights were always in line at about a sixty-degree angle. When the object moved, the lower lights were always forward of the others." For those UFO buffs who are wondering if their memories are on the fritz, you probably aren't suffering from amnesia. Fuller omitted this detail in his book and, as all later accounts based themselves on Fuller, you won't find it anywhere else in the literature but the Blue Book file copied by Hynek. Why are the lights as a group canted at this high angle? This is a definite violation of standard behavior. UFOs are usually drawn with the lights running horizontal and parallel to the horizon. They may tilt temporarily; they way wobble a bit off-plumb. If there are any other cases where a UFO or its lights move continually canted like this for periods of minutes, I haven't found it. Does this mean it isn't a real UFO? Presumably the only way to interpret this in terms of the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) is, "Hey, aliens are weird and will do whatever they darn well want to do." It doesn't really make sense.
At no point in the case does the object travel very far from the ground. When it moves away, it simply disappears into the distance. It doesn't thrust itself skyward. It doesn't show any great speed even in the horizontal direction. True, it darts and turns on a dime, but hummingbirds and dragonflies manage to do this without being extraterrestrial.
"When it seemed as if it was going to hit him, he dove down on the shallow shoulder of the road. Then the object appeared to back off slowly Finally it backed off far enough for Muscarello to make a run for the house. He pounded on the door, screaming." Officer Bertrand apparently also got the impression the object was behaving aggressively. He wrote in his police report, "I got out of the cruiser and went out into the field and all of a sudden this thing came at me at about 100 feet off the ground with red lights going back and forth. He drew his gun, but reholstered it after a moment's thought.
Aliens travel the vast distance to Earth and have nothing better to do than hang about and toy around with humans? This gives the appearance of nothing more profound than mischief-making.
These six points ought to be sufficient to make proponents of the ETH worry that something is very wrong with this case. As it happens, they are also clues to an alternate solution. Anybody care to guess what the answer to this puzzler is? Look for my guess in part two.
[All quotes from Incident at Exeter except where indicated otherwise.]
The Editorial Board encourages readers to try to figure out the answer to this puzzler. Please send your solutions to us at the REALL P.O. Box (they may be printed). Anybody who figures out where Martin is going with this, or who comes up with at least as good a solution, will have a free newsletter issue added to his/her subscription.