Cortile, page 3

Now that we've seen how, even in the most unlikely UFO case of all time, at least a few details can be corroborated, we'll turn to some documentary evidence -- or at least to some documents. Budd Hopkins received letters that he says are from Richard, Dan, Perez de Cuellar, and "Janet Kimball." Can these be real? What can we learn from them?
   The ironic answer to the second question is that we can't learn anything at all, because the letters look genuine. If they were plainly fake -- if, let's say, they all showed the same typeface, the same formatting, and the same writing style -- then we could laugh, and conclude we'd seen a truly stupid hoax. But of course things aren't that simple, and we can assume that anyone who'd fake such a complex affair wouldn't make such a childish mistake. Though if we want to find something suspicious in these documents, we might look at the way they're addressed. All four correspondents -- and Linda Cortile, in a letter she wrote before she and Hopkins ever met -- address themselves to "Mr. Budd Hopkins," not to "Budd" (or, laconically, to "B"). But this could just be coincidence. I looked through some of my own recent mail, and found half of it addressed to "Mr. Greg Sandow," including letters from such unlikely conspirators as Lincoln Center, AT&T, and the American Symphony Orchestra League.
   What might be more significant is that some of the letters from Richard and Dan look like they were addressed on the same typewriter. But these men (assuming, of course, that they exist) were friends, and apparently shared the beach house Dan took Linda to. Again, the resemblance doesn't prove anything.
   So what do the letters look like? Well, Richard's and Dan's, with one exception, are postmarked New York City, and are sometimes stamped and sometimes metered. The meters are either from Peck Slip Station or from Knickerbocker Station (these designations refer to post office branches), and are have meter numbers 3371811 and 969310, with one number unreadable. (Do these details matter?)
   One of Dan's letters stands out from the rest. It's the threatening note to Linda that he supposedly wrote from what seems to be a mental institution. ("The staff here keeps me pretty much sedated," he says; for details, see page 217 of Witnessed.) This is typed on what looks like the same machine as his other letters, and was mailed at the United Nations. Did Dan take his typewriter with him when he was confined? Does the postmark suggest a de Cuellar connection? Did a friend who also had ties to the UN mail the letter for Dan? Or should we theorize that Dan mailed the letter after he escaped?
   What's more notable is that -- apart from the uniform "Mr. Budd Hopkins" -- the addressing isn't identical. One letter from Richard, note-sized, bearing two Abbott and Costello commemorative stamps, has Hopkins' address double-spaced, instead of single-spaced. It's marked "PERSONAL," in caps, and as its sole return address has the word "RICHARD," again in caps. Another letter, bearing two American flag stamps and one flower stamp, has Richard's name with only an initial capital; "PERSONAL" is underlined. A third letter is enclosed in a manila envelope, with the addresses on labels, and "MR. BUDD HOPKINS" all in caps; the designation "personal" doesn't appear.
   Richard's letters stand out, in fact, because he never keeps to any one format. Dan's notes, even the crazy one, are mostly uniform, single-spaced (except between paragraphs), and without indents. Richard doesn't stick to any size or type of paper. He indents paragraphs two or five spaces or not at all, sometimes changing indents within a single letter. Sometimes he'll type a gap of three or more spaces more or less at random in the middle of a sentence. Alone of all these correspondents, he scrawls corrections by hand. Linda Cortile handles her mistakes quite differently. In a lengthy narrative about Richard and Dan that she wrote for Hopkins, she types corrections between her double-spaced lines, flagging them with a slash.

Janet Kimball? Her letters bear postmarks from the upstate town where Hopkins says she lives (though of course he didn't print the town's name in his book). She favors big padded envelopes. On one package she handwrites Hopkins' address; on another she uses big red-rimmed labels, marking the letter "Confidential. Re: Brooklyn Bridge." De Cuellar (if it's really him) doesn't sign his letter, which can hardly be a surprise; he prefers to identify himself -- coyly, perhaps -- as "The Third and Last Man." He writes on slightly gaudy UN stationery, apparently the kind you could buy in a UN gift shop. His language is expansive and literate, unlike that of Richard and Dan, who express themselves with an everyday American tone, complete with mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation: "we did'nt know"; "the third party wanted to swimm out to find her."
   De Cuellar's tone can be coy, or at least avuncular, though a certain detachment is mingled with awe. (Again, see Witnessed; the text of this letter starts on page 166.) As Hopkins has remarked, the presumed de Cuellar writes in a British-style English consistent with the real de Cuellar's background. (He's Peruvian, but spent time as a diplomat in England; he was never posted to the United States). His English, precise as it is, can be strange, however, and he's not immune to mistakes: "I shutter [sic]," he wrote of watching Cortile's abduction, "at the thought of this dreadful sight and how it materialized, as we observed vigilantly." At one point, in a passage Hopkins doesn't quote, he tries to use an American idiom he's apparently heard spoken, but never seen in print; he writes "mind-bottling" when what he means is "mind-boggling." If these letters are faked, the hoaxer's biggest triumph was this de Cuellar persona -- a man with a wholly personal way of using a language he doesn't fully know.
   But is this missive really from de Cuellar? In an appendix to Witnessed, Hopkins cites precisely similar formatting -- each paragraph indented six spaces, most lines no longer than 53 characters -- in an apparently genuine de Cuellar note, one that's signed, written on informal but official "Office of the Secretary General" stationery, and sent to a European political leader. I've seen this document, and it does look remarkably like the letter Hopkins received. There is, however, another de Cuellar document relating to this case, his written denial of any involvement, which he faxed to the PBS science program Nova, and which I quoted in the first part of my report. It's typed on de Cuellar's private stationery, is also signed (the signature matches the one on the message to the European leader), and displays a format very different from the letter Hopkins has, with a larger indent and longer lines.
   Does this different format proved Hopkins wrong? No. In 1991, when Hopkins got his letter, de Cuellar was still Secretary-General; in 1995, when he faxed his denial to Nova, he was a private citizen, and would have had a different office, perhaps with different equipment. And there's a reason for the larger format. The letters Hopkins compares are written on note-sized paper, while the denial is letter-sized.
   And Hopkins even thinks that the denial helps to prove his letter genuine! He cites its language:

    I cannot [de Cuellar wrote] but strongly deny the claim that I have had an abduction experience at any time. On several occasions, when questioned about that matter, I reiterated that these allegations were completely false and I hope that this statement will definitely put an end to these unfounded rumours [sic].

Indeed, the British spelling and what Hopkins calls a "weird, convoluted" use of English -- "rumours"; "I cannot but strongly deny" -- are consistent with de Cuellar's alleged note to Hopkins, though the denial is far more judicious, and certainly less zany. Taken together, I'd say that all these documents -- the note that might be from de Cuellar and the letters apparently from Richard, Dan, and Janet Kimball, along with two samples of writing from Linda Cortile -- don't suggest a hoax. They look like exactly what they're supposed to be: communications from five different people, each of whom writes differently, in the style you'd expect each one to use.

On now to a more intriguing and certainly more public document, the January 1993 attack on Hopkins' case by three disbelievers,
   Joseph J. Stefula, Richard D. Butler, and George P. Hansen. This has circulated widely on the Internet, and in my experience has been widely influential, since I've seen it quoted by responsible UFO investigators. There's a reply from Hopkins, published in the March-April 1993 issue of IUR, which, curiously, is much less well-known. Peter Brookesmith, the most charming of all UFO skeptics, cites the Stefula document in the reference notes to his book UFO: The Government Files, but he doesn't mention Hopkins's response; I've never seen the Hopkins document on the Internet, except on the Intruders Foundation site, maintained for Hopkins by John Velez.
   Hopkins' response is more than a little intemperate; he calls his critics infantile, ignorant, vengeful, and fanatical, not to mention liars, and says they bullied abductees at meetings of his support group. Even if these charges should be true, he might have done better if he'd simply stuck to his version of the objective facts. Though he does have one unarguable grievance: Stefula, Butler, and Hansen "outed" Linda Cortile, publishing her real name in what Hopkins correctly calls a "flagrant and unethical violation" of the confidentiality usually granted to UFO witnesses of any kind, and especially to abductees.
   This is why I haven't identified the critics' report by its title; the title uses Cortile's real name. Hansen defended himself and his associates to me, saying that Cortile threw away her privacy when she spoke at a MUFON conference in 1992, even though she'd appeared under her pseudonym. I can't agree, and what's especially sad is that there wasn't any investigative reason to publish Cortile's name. Not one argument in the Stefula, Butler, and Hansen critique depends on knowing it. And there's worse: Cortile charges that the three told the manager of her apartment building and her husband's employer that she's a UFO abductee. Hansen confirmed this to me, again contending that Cortile had given up her privacy. (Since I object to publishing her real name, I should explain that I'm printing de Cuellar's only because, unlike Cortile, he has commented publicly on the case, denying his involvement at no apparent cost to his reputation.)
   But what about the Stefula document itself? It's a strange piece of writing, plodding, solemn, and not always literate (Hopkins, we read, published "a couple five page articles" on the case). It's also out of date by now, since it was written long before Witnessed appeared, and Witnessed is the only source for the full Linda Cortile story.
   Some of the trio's questions are simply silly. Why, they ask, did Richard and Dan contact Hopkins? Why did Janet Kimball contact him? "Why [Stefula and his colleagues write] didn't she contact other UFO investigators? Why only Hopkins?" Don't they know that he's the most widely visible writer on UFO abductions, and that UFO witnesses, especially reluctant ones like Kimball, don't normally contact more than one researcher?
   The three sound more substantial when they ask, "Has there been any investigation of [Janet Kimball] such as checking with her neighbors, friends, family, or previous employers? What is her background? Has she had any previous relationship with Linda?" Ive already noted that Hopkins hoped to question Kimball's family. But they wouldn't talk to him. In Witnessed (page 156), he says that Kimball gave him an ex-employer's phone number, and told him how to find the hostess at the party she said she was coming from when she saw the abduction. He told me that he never called these people, and that (apart from his attempt to question Kimball's family) made no checks other than to look Kimball up in the telephone book, to verify that she really had the phone number she'd given him.
   I can sympathize with his reluctance. Suppose, for instance, that he'd called Catholic churches in Kimball's town, to verify her statement that she's an officer of a church group? Now suppose a parish priest or other church official asked him why he wanted to know. What reason would he give? If he'd been a policeman calling on official business, he could tell the truth: "Ms. Kimball's name has come up in a criminal investigation, though she herself isn't a suspect." But what could a UFO researcher say? Should Hopkins tell the priest -- along with leaders of the political party Kimball says she's active in, and her friends and neighbors -- that Kimball saw a UFO? Should he, in other words, do what Stefula, Butler, and Hansen did to Linda Cortile? (Though, since she did give permission, he might have called her employer, and the hostess of the party.)
   On to another point. Stefula et al report that Cortile wasn't too "surprized" [sic] when Richard and Dan knocked on her door, introducing themselves as police officers; police, they say she said, "frequently canvass her apartment complex looking for witnesses to crimes." But Cortile, they go on to state, wasn't telling the truth:

    We found that Linda's apartment complex has a large courtyard with guard house [sic] manned 24 hours a day. We talked with the security guard and his supervisor and asked if they had ever heard about a UFO encounter near the complex. They reported hearing nothing about one. We also asked if the police routinely enter the complex and undertake door-to-door canvassing in order to find witnesses to crimes. They said that this was a very rare practice.

As it happens, however, the guard houses -- there now are two of them -- are not very effectively manned. I walked right by, unchallenged, when I went to visit Cortile. So did a friend of mine, checking at another time, to see whether access really was that easy. Police, especially in plainclothes, could come and go all day, and I doubt the guards would notice. (I might add that when I visited, there were signs at every entrance, asking residents to help police with a murder investigation.)

The three have a more reasonable point when they ask why Hopkins didn't ask the guards about the UFO. He stresses that the investigation began 15 months after the event, and says that, in his experience, the guards aren't well informed about the building. He did make signs that Cortile and her family posted in the neighborhood, unsuccessfully seeking witnesses. Stefula, Butler, and Hansen are also right when, elsewhere in their critique, they say that Hopkins didn't check the weather for the night of the alleged abduction. Again, Hopkins learned about the witnesses 15 months afterwards. How could he be sure that weather allowed them to see anything?
   It's a moot point, really, because the three critics checked on their own, and found the skies were clear. Hopkins says he didn't have to check; as we know from Witnessed (page 12), Cortile called him the morning after the abduction, to tell him something had happened. So he maintains he knew what the weather was. That's not quite good enough; in effect he's telling us to trust his memory. But then the three seem silly when, as if underlining the obvious for an audience of children, they inform us that "the visibility could have been greatly hampered" if "the weather had been foggy, rainy, or snowing." I've lived in New York most of my life, and have only rarely seen rain, snow -- or sleet or hail, for that matter -- intense enough to stop anyone from seeing a brightly lit event just two blocks away (which is how close Richard and Dan supposedly were to Cortile's apartment).
   As for fog, I've never seen it thick enough to swallow a building like Cortile's, which (counting the tower on the top) can't be more than 16 stories high. When I mentioned that to Cortile, she corrected me, and said that fog on the East River hides the Brooklyn Bridge from her apartment three or four times a year. Obviously, if she can't see the bridge, then Janet Kimball, on the bridge, couldn't see her floating in the air. But that's just three or four times a year! Stefula, Butler, and Hansen should have known that the weather they're concerned about would be extreme and rare.
   Other questions the three raise seem far more substantial, though. In conversation, Hansen told me that, back in 1989, some of Hopkins's abductees had read a now-forgotten science fiction thriller, Nighteyes, by Garfield Reeves-Stevens. This novel, he, Stefula, and Butler charge in their report, has similarities to the "Linda" case, similarities that are "sufficiently numerous to lead us to suspect that the novel served as the basis for Linda's story." They list the parallels in tabular form, beginning with these:

  • Linda was abducted into a UFO hovering over her high-rise apartment building in New York City. Sarah [a character in the book] was abducted into a UFO hovering over her high-rise apartment building in New York City.
  • Dan and Richard initially claimed to have been on a stakeout and were involved in a UFO abduction in during early morning hours. Early in Nighteyes two government agents were on a stakeout and became involved in a UFO abduction during early morning hours.
  • Linda was kidnapped and thrown into a car by Richard and Dan. Wendy was kidnapped and thrown into a van by Derek and Merril. [These, of course, are other characters in the book.]

By the time they're finished, the three find 15 alleged resemblances, some of which, I have to say, are pretty frivolous. "Linda claimed to have been under surveillance by someone in a van. Vans were used for surveillance in Nighteyes." Stop the presses! "Before her kidnapping, Linda contacted Budd Hopkins about her abduction. Before her kidnapping, Wendy contacted Charles Edward Starr [a UFO researcher in the book] about her abduction." As if this weren't simply art imitating life. Don't many abductees seek out abduction investigators?
   Some parallels, though, do seem impressive -- until, that is, you read the book. Take the kidnapping. What Stefula et al don't mention is that Derek and Merril -- a renegade intelligence agent and a newspaper reporter, by the way, not two active intelligence agents like Richard and Dan -- were really kidnapping the abduction researcher, Charles Edward Starr, whom they thought knew more about the aliens than he'd said in public. Wendy, an abduction-prone teenager, was snatched by accident, along with her father, because both of them happened to be standing next to Starr. Does this sound even remotely like the "Linda" case? (Starr, by the way, does indeed know more than he's letting on. He's in league with the aliens, yet another difference from the Cortile affair -- unless, of course, Budd Hopkins has sinister allegiances that he's hiding from us.)
   The stakeout, too, has no resemblance to the case. It takes place on a California beach, and the agents -- who end up fighting with the aliens -- are watching someone from their own agency. But to see how fanciful these supposed similarities really are, just look at the first one, which -- once you read the book -- turns out to be a mighty stretch, verging on a fabrication. There simply is no scene in Nighteyes where a UFO hovers over any building in New York.
   The closest thing to it -- and maybe this was what Stefula et al were referring to; Hansen, when I spoke to him, wasn't sure -- is an episode in an Upper West Side penthouse, where Stephen, Sarah's husband, lives. He and Sarah have been separated, but the trauma of Sarah's and Wendy's abductions has brought the family back together. But just as the three are relaxing in the penthouse, savoring their renewed attachment, the aliens strike! The nasty little buggers come right down through the ceiling. Stephen somehow fights them off, but when the smoke clears, Sarah is missing. Stephen races to the roof, where he finds his faithful bodyguard dying of wounds sustained in a gun battle with the aliens. A UFO, with Sarah aboard, is disappearing in the sky above.
   This doesn't come within miles of Linda Cortile's story; the tone, atmosphere, and details are entirely wrong. The most crucial event is entirely missing; even if the UFO had been hovering, nobody observed it, which (as the title of Hopkins's book tells us) is the central fact of the "Linda" case. But then, as I've said, there's nothing in the novel to tell us that the UFO did hover. It might have, while the aliens came through the ceiling. But it also might have landed on the roof, or, for all we know, flown off to Manhattan's only drive-through McDonald's (at 10th Avenue and 34th Street), so the pilots could have a snack while their commando team dispatched the pesky humans.

And now for the final, most widely quoted criticism from Stefula, Butler, and Hansen -- the celebrated question of the New York Post loading dock. The three write:

    We also visited the site under the FDR drive [sic] where Richard and Dan purportedly parked their car. This was in a direct line of sight and nearly across the street from the loading dock of the New York Post . [See map.] We spoke with an employee of the Post, who told us that the dock was in use through most of the night. A few days later, we called the New York Post and spoke to the person who was the loading dock manager in 1989. He told us that the dock is in use until 5:00 a.m. and that there are many trucks that come and go frequently during the early morning hours. The manager knew nothing of the UFO which supposedly appeared only a couple blocks away.

Implication: There couldn't have been a UFO, because if there were, the Post employees would have seen it. Skeptic Peter Brookesmith says this explicitly on page 103 of his book UFO: The Government Files, where he prints a photo of Linda Cortile's building, as seen from the loading dock just two blocks away. In a caption to the photo, he comments:

    The UFO that hovered outside was supposedly three-quarters the width of the building across. Despite its size, workers at the busy night-loading bays of the New York Daily Post [sic] noticed nothing unusual. [These last words are a stretch. Brookesmith told me that he did no research, other than to visit the site in the daytime. Here he's only paraphrasing Stefula and company, who, however, never say that the workers didn't see the UFO. They only note that the manager didn't know about it, which isn't the same thing at all.]

Hopkins, in his response to Stefula et al, objects:

    The newspaper owns about 45 trucks, most of which are, at any given time, on the road or parked in a West Side garage. The loading dock at the newspaper office has bays for six trucks. It is located inside an enclosed garage which faces south rather than west toward Linda's building. The work of loading bundled newspapers by the drivers takes place from conveyor belts at the open backs of the trucks; from there, visibility outside the garage, up and to the west where the UFO action took place, is nil.

    When drivers arrive at the Post and find the garage filled, they park their trucks and go either into the loading area or into a cafe which faces east, away from Linda's building; they do not sit there in their vehicles.

In Witnessed (p. 360) he simply says, "I originally hoped that some of the workers employed by the New York Post might have witnessed at least part of the November 1989 incident." And there's every reason to believe he'd thought of the loading dock before his critics did; a private connection with someone who works there would have made him well aware of where it was. He didn't inquire, though, because of everything he said in response to the Stefula trio. Repeating those points in Witnessed, he adds: "[T]he area is hardly a sea of activity at 3:00 AM."
   But he's wrong; the loading dock is wildly active at that time, as I found out when I went there at 3:00 one Thursday morning this past February. Joined by an insomniac neighbor, I stayed an hour, and saw nearly constant traffic. The loading bays were full of trucks. More trucks were parked across from them. Every few minutes, still more trucks would come around the corner from South Street, creeping west toward the docks and Linda Cortile's apartment, only to find there wasn't any space for them. They'd wait right on the street, their motors idling. Meanwhile, trucks would leave the docks, grinding west for half a block until they turned right on Water Street, and rumbled off into the night.
   Some of the drivers stood around their trucks, or walked back and forth between their trucks and the dock. Others went around the corner to the South Street Diner (where I had hideous, greasy scrambled eggs at 4:00 AM). At one point there was an impromptu union meeting in the street, involving perhaps 15 men.
   Could these drivers have seen the Cortile UFO? Of course they could. But they also could have missed it. According to Janet Kimball's recollection, the object was in view for only 90 seconds. (Hopkins, as I heard in his taped meeting with her, worked hard to reconstruct the exact timing of her experience.) While I watched the loading dock, I clocked 90-second intervals, despite the heavy traffic, when nobody was on the street. Besides, the cabs of the trucks are high off the ground. Maybe the drivers could see the top of Linda Cortile's building when they turned the corner toward the dock, but as they drove forward, the ceiling of their cabs could block their line of sight.
   And then there's this. To see the UFO, the drivers walking on the street would have to look up, and it's not clear why they'd do that. The area around the loading dock is bathed in light from street lamps and the loading bays. When you're there, you feel like you're enclosed in an illuminated bubble, cut off from the rest of the city and above all from the sky. Cortile's building, which looks so close in Brookesmith's photograph, recedes far into the background. Suppose a UFO were hovering over it. Would it be bright enough to attract attention, even if you weren't looking upwards? There's no way to answer that. One driver told me that he and the other guys always noticed when someone was threatening to jump off the nearby Brooklyn Bridge (and yes, apparently that happens even at 3 AM), because police helicopters would appear. But helicopters would attract attention. They're noisy, and, if police were dealing with a jumper, they'd stay around for quite a while.
   So the drivers might have seen the UFO, or they might not have; the famous issue of the loading dock ends up as just a shrug.
   Linda Cortile, I should add, told me that there was a cafeteria inside the Post in 1989, and even a bar. The Post confirms this. Leaving aside the none too fetching spectacle of drivers drinking while their trucks are being loaded, we now have another reason why they might not have seen the UFO. They'd be inside.
   Meanwhile, though, my visit suggested two further issues. First, from the general area where Richard and Dan supposedly were -- you can't get to the exact site; it's now fenced off -- the streetlights are so bright that Cortile's building tends to get lost in the glare. Assuming that was true in 1989, how could Richard and Dan have seen everything so clearly? Not, of course, that there aren't spots where the glare isn't so bad. Should we assume that Richard and Dan had parked in one of them?
   Second, as we know from Witnessed, Richard and Dan didn't simply watch Cortile's abduction. They were abducted themselves, taken right from their car, along with de Cuellar. Does it matter, then, whether the drivers saw the UFO over Cortile's building? Shouldn't we ask why they didn't see it when it swooped down right across the street from the Post to take Richard, Dan, and de Cuellar, and when it came back later to return them? Though maybe the UFO was invisible when it descended on South Street. If abductions really do occur, the aliens, or so it seems, can arrange things so they won't be seen. But then why were they visible when they took Linda Cortile? Hopkins thinks they were staging a demonstration, but I'd rather not assume that. It's time to shrug again, and quote physicist and science fiction writer Gregory Benford, who has one of the characters in his novels about the galactic rim say: "The thing about aliens is, they're alien." How can we know what they would do?