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The Hill Abduction

Loy Lawhon, About.com

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: Overview article on the Betty and Barny Hill abduction case by Loy Lawhon.

19 September 1961

New Hampshire is a marvelous and mysterious place. In the southern part of the state is North Salem, near which lies Mystery Hill, "America's Stonehenge", a collection of stone structures with a mysterious origin. Also in the south, near New Hampshire's small strip of coastline, is Exeter, the site of a large number of UFO sightings in 1965.

In the eastern central part of the state is Ossipee Lake, an area sacred to the Indians. In 1800, an Indian burial ground was discovered in the area that contained over ten thousand bodies arranged in concentric circles. There are numerous "kettle" lakes in the area that were carved out by glaciers during the ice ages, and the area is ringed by ancient volcanoes. Some of the ponds are considered bottomless and may be connected to each other by volcanic vents. It is said that UFOs have been seen plunging into these deep ponds.

Further north and in the center of New Hampshire lies the White Mountains National Forest. In the summer, the area is filled with vacationers and campers and hikers and fishermen. There are various sights to see, such as the Flume, The Old Man of the Mountain, Mount Washington, and Indian Head. In the winter, skiers flock to the slopes and hunters to the forests. But during the in-between times, the early fall and the early spring, the area is quiet, resting.

It probably wasn't easy having a mixed marriage in 1961, even in liberal New Hampshire, but the Hills seemed to have adjusted well. Betty Hill was a white social worker, and Barney Hill was a black postal employee. Barney was working in Boston, commuting back and forth daily from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the couple lived. Barney had developed an ulcer, perhaps from stress at work, and when the opportunity came for a few days' vacation, he took it. Betty was able to schedule her vacation for the same time, so they decided to go to Canada. They took their little dachsund, Delsey, with them, staying in motels that would allow the dog in their room.

They went to Niagara Falls and to Montreal, and on September 19th, they were on their way back home to Portsmouth. They stopped in Colebrook for a burger and then wound on down Highway 3 through Lancaster.

At about 10:15PM, just south of Lancaster, Barney noticed a light in the sky below the moon, and called Betty's attention to it. At first they thought it was a planet, but then they noticed it was moving. Barney began trying to convince himself that it was only a satellite or a plane, becoming more and more agitated at anything that contradicted this view. Betty, whose sister had seen a UFO, was convinced from the start that the light in the sky was something unusual. They stopped the car to let Delsey do her business, and observed the object with a pair of binoculars they had.

By the time they reached the Flume, north of North Woodstock, the object had grown in size and Barney noticed that it had an unusual motion in that it would dart away to the west and then back, closer each time. At Indian Head, Barney stopped the car again and looked at the object with the binoculars. He could now see multi-colored lights and rows of windows on the pancake-shaped object, which was huge and was only a hundred feet away. He walked closer to the craft, and could see occupants standing inside, one of which he said seemed to be the "leader". He became very frightened and ran back to the car, where Betty was waiting. He started the car and took off quickly. They could no longer see the object, but they heard a beeping noise.

Sometime later, they heard the beeping noise again, and noticed that they were thirty-five miles south of Indian Head, at Ashland. They drove on home to Portsmouth without further incident.

They slept until afternoon, and when they awoke, Betty called her sister Janet and told her about their experience. Janet urged her to report the UFO sighting to nearby Pease Air Force Base. Over Barney's objections, Betty called the base and gave a report to Major Paul W. Henderson of the 100th Bomb Wing. When asked to do so by the Major, Barney reluctantly gave his version of the sighting. Curiously, Pease AFB was the home of the 509th Bomb Wing in 1961, the same 509th Bomb Wing whose home had been Roswell AAFB at the time of the "Roswell Incident" in 1947. According to Jacques Vallee in Dimensions, the Hills' sighting was corroborated by a radar sighting at Pease AFB on 20 September 1961, but his reference for this is unclear. It's an excerpt from Report No. 100-1-61, that says simply:

...a strange incident occurred at 0214 local on 20 Sept. No importance was attached to the incident at the time.


After reporting the incident, Barney preferred to forget about the event, but Betty went to the library to look up books on UFOs. She found Major Donald Kehoe's The Flying Saucer Conspiracy and read it avidly. She even wrote Kehoe a letter detailing their sighting. A few days later, ten days after their sighting, Betty began to have a series of nightmares that lasted five days and then stopped. The nightmares involved she and Barney being stopped at a road block and then being taken inside some large craft. At the urging of a friend, Betty wrote down the dreams.

Meanwhile, Betty's letter to Kehoe had been passed to Walter Webb, a lecturer on the staff of the Hayden Planetarium in Boston. Webb was a scientific advisor for NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon), Kehoe's UFO organization. Webb was asked to interview the Hills. He drove up to Portsmouth and spent several hours interviewing them. He was much impressed with their sincerity and with the detail they provided, and he wrote a long report for NICAP.

After talking to Keyhoe, and after reading Webb's report, two technical writers who were interested in UFOs, Robert Hohman and C.D. Jackson, made arrangements to interview the Hills in November. It was during this interview that one of the writers asked a key question: Why had it taken the Hills so long to get home? Calculating the time and the mileage from Colebrook to Portsmouth showed that they should have gotten home two hours sooner than they did, even allowing for stops. Also present at this interview was Major James MacDonald, a former Air Force Intelligence officer and close friend of the Hills. It was he who first suggested hypnosis to recover their memory of the missing time period.

In March of 1962, they spoke to a psychiatrist about hypnosis, but decided to put it off until a later date. That summer, Barney's ulcers returned, and his recurring hypertention returned. Feeling that his problems were emotional in origin, he began therapy with a psychiatrist in Exeter, Dr. Stephens. He continued this therapy through the next year, but the UFO sighting was not explored as part of this treatment at first. But, not long after Betty and Barney had been asked to speak to a church group about their sighting, Dr. Stephens decided that the sighting was important. He also decided that hypnosis was needed to help Barney deal with the incident. Not being proficient in hypnosis himself, he referred Barney to Dr. Benjamin Simon, a well-known Boston psychiatrist and neurologist.

Dr. Simon quickly determined that he should treat both Betty and Barney for an anxiety syndrome that could be traced back to the incident on the night of September 19-20, 1961. He began by hypnotizing Barney, then Betty. Over the next six months, the story of the two hours of missing time began to emerge. Betty and Barney Hill told of being stopped at a roadblock and being taken onto the UFO, where they were given medical examinations before being returned to their car. Betty reported being shown a "star map" that was later interpreted to mean that the aliens came from Zeta Reticuli. Their story was later written into a two-part article in Look magazine, a book titled The Interrupted Journey by John G. Fuller, and later a TV movie called The UFO Incident starring Estelle Parsons and James Earl Jones as the Hills.

The Hill's story was the first "modern" abduction story. There was no Communion back in 1961, and no X-Files. Abduction stories had not become part of the popular culture yet. People had claimed to have contact with aliens, but they were "contactees" in the mold of George Adamski, who claimed to have been visited by friendly Venusians with long blond hair who gave him a warning for all mankind about nuclear war. Skeptics such as Martin S. Kottmeyer claim that the elements of the Hill abduction could be found in movies like 1953's Invaders From Mars and in the pulp science fiction magazines. They also say that an alien with wrap-around eyes such as Barney Hill described was portrayed on an episode of Outer Limits just 12 days before the hypnotic session during which he described the aliens. These claims might be compelling if it had ever been proven that Betty and Barney had seen the movie or the Outer Limits episode or that they were science fiction fans. But investigators such as Karl Pflock say that there is no evidence that they had been exposed to any of those things. Skeptics also point out that Betty's nightmares began after she read Keyhoe's book. That's true, but Barney had not read Kehoe's book when he saw the UFO with double rows of windows with "people" behind them on the night of the sighting.

Even if the dreams and the hypnotically recalled "abduction" are excluded for whatever reason, the sighting itself still stands as one of the most reliable and inexplicable on record.

Dr. Simon, the psychiatrist who worked through the post-traumatic stress of the incident with the Hills, did not believe that they were lying. He was unable to explain the sighting as anything other than an actual occurrence, and stated as much in a letter to the insurance company regarding the case. However, he did not believe that the abduction took place. His final diagnosis was that Betty's mind had created dreams of an abduction to fill the amnesia period, and that Barney's mind, when he heard the content of her dreams, had unconsciously absorbed her dreams for the same purpose of filling the missing time period. None of this, of course, explains exactly what DID happen and why it took the Hills two hours longer than normal to drive from Colebrook to Ashland.

Read more articles on this topic:

Betty & Barney Hill Abduction Case