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At 84, original 'abductee' still wants to believe (Betty Hill case)

The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) - 12/20/2003

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Betty Hill sits in her living room, an inquisitive, highly engaging woman of 84. Surrounded by the mementos and clutter of a lifetime that is waning as the cancer afflicting her progresses, she is serene, even as she reflects on her role in one of the strangest events of the 1960s, one that helped spawn a mass cult phenomenon.

Article published in the Globe and Mail, a leading Canadian newspaper.


Saturday, December 20, 2003 - Page F8

PORTSMOUTH, N.H -- Betty Hill sits in her living room, an inquisitive, highly engaging woman of 84. Surrounded by the mementos and clutter of a lifetime that is waning as the cancer afflicting her progresses, she is serene, even as she reflects on her role in one of the strangest events of the 1960s, one that helped spawn a mass cult phenomenon.

Her petite frame initially takes one by surprise. By reputation alone, you would think that she would be more physically imposing.

You could say Betty and Barney Hill's last meal -- at least, the last while they still led normal lives -- was eaten in Montreal, one of their favourite cities. The Portsmouth, N.H., couple were already fairly unusual: He was black and she was white, at the dawn of the racially explosive decade, when they were on their way back from a short vacation in Niagara Falls.

But at 11 p.m. on Sept. 19, 1961, the Hills were on Route 3, south of Lancaster, N.H., when the best-documented case in UFO history began: There was a puzzling object in the sky. Mr. Hill thought that it was a satellite or star initially, but its erratic movement brought a plane to mind. They were alone on a deserted road, approaching the enormous silhouetted shape of Cannon Mountain, when the object seemed to be heading straight for them.

After that night, anxiety plagued the Hills. Both experienced nightmares. Mr. Hill developed chronic ulcers. And neither could account for a disturbing sense that something otherworldly had happened, and why two full hours of their journey were unaccounted for. It was only two years later that the story emerged, under hypnosis monitored by respected Boston psychiatrist Benjamin Simon: The Hills had been stopped by a group of aliens on a side road, taken aboard their craft, experimented upon and released unharmed.

Though Mr. Hill died in 1969, Betty Hill has actively discussed the incident in the media and at conventions across North America ever since. "They were under five feet tall" Mrs. Hill says of the aliens. "They look more like us, like actual people, than weirdoes. The main difference is that their eyes are huge, and they have thin noses and thin lips. The leader spoke English, rather than using telepathy, as they are often portrayed"

Why, then, were the couple abducted? "They grabbed us to see if we were similar to them" Mrs. Hill says. "I can understand why they were interested in us physically. I don't hold that against them, to this day"

She adds that the aliens were particularly interested in the lanky Mr. Hill's bone structure, while they performed a painful procedure on her, similar to one that would not be done on Earth for another eight years -- an amniocentesis. They were also, she reported during the psychological sessions, interested in the structure and colour of her skin.

Mrs. Hill is certain that something extraordinary happened to her and her husband 42 years ago, a view Dr. Simon came to share after their sessions. His findings appeared in John G. Fuller's 1966 book The Interrupted Journey: Two Lost Hours Aboard A Flying Saucer.

Their experience was also the subject of a 1975 movie of the week, The UFO Incident, starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons. "The movie was quite accurate and I thought the actors did a good job portraying us" Mrs. Hill says. "The producers had a big problem with their portrayals of the aliens, though. They really do look more like us"

Though it's easy to dismiss Betty and Barney Hill as crackpots or publicity hounds, sitting with the humble, keen-minded Mrs. Hill might persuade you otherwise.

Stanton Friedman, the New Jersey-born nuclear physicist and UFO lecturer who has been dubbed the Father of Roswell, knows Mrs. Hill well. "First, the outstanding professional background of Dr. Simon, who kept a very tight rein on John Fuller, certainly lent legitimacy. He was a world-class expert on the use of medical regressive hypnosis to help World War II veterans make their way through traumatic experiences. No one would call him a nut" says Dr. Friedman, who now calls Fredericton his home base.

Mrs. Hill came from an old New England family (the Dows, as in Dow Jones, dating back to the 17th century), was a college-educated supervisor in the New Hampshire Welfare Department, and was "respected and active in her community" Mr. Hill sat on the state governor's Civil Rights Commission.

"Dr. Simon's work unlocking the memory took care of Barney's ulcer problem when medication could not" Dr. Friedman says. "They did not seek publicity, but were forced into the public arena when a Boston Herald article came out, without their knowledge. Add to that the fact there were physical marks on Betty's dress, warts on Barney's groin, and the extraordinary emotionalism of their sessions with Dr. Simon. . . .

"This was definitely a pioneering case" he adds. "The publicity . . . helped other abductees to have the courage to seek help in understanding their own missing-time experiences"

The Hills were also administered lie-detector tests by lawyer F. Lee Bailey, which they passed with flying colours. Mrs. Hill points out that the object that confronted them that evening was also tracked by nearby Pease Airforce Base. And then, says Dr. Friedman, there was the alien leader's star map that Mrs. Hill reproduced under posthypnotic suggestion, which portrayed Zeta Reticuli 1 and 2, years before they were charted by amateur astronomers and confirmed by the Hipparchos satellite.

Were Betty and Barney Hill the victims of some sort of hysteria, or were they indeed abducted for two hours by alien visitors from another solar system? Whatever the truth is, Mrs. Hill remains convinced that we are not alone and, what's more, "that our government leaders have known about these UFO contacts for decades"

Mrs. Hill's cancer was originally confined to her stomach about 15 years ago, and she has done well battling the affliction. By last month, however, it had spread to her lung. Still, she says, "I'm feeling pretty good"

Asked what her alien encounter taught her, Mrs. Hill's response is striking: "They've proven to me that God is universal"

No matter what you believe, that's a giant leap of faith for mankind.

Bram Eisenthal is a Montreal freelance writer and an aficionado of science fiction and fact.

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