A few points about Hopkins' investigation:
- Hopkins never checked to see whether de Cuellar was in New York the night of his supposed abduction. Clearly, this was a lapse.
- Hopkiins' questioning of Cortile's son, Johnny, was flawed. In one of the most outlandish episodes in this outlandish case, Johnny, then nine, was stopped on the street by a distinguished older man, who arranged to have
an antique diver's helmet delivered as a gift (Witnessed, pp. 290ff). Hopkins then showed Johnny photographs of 20 older men, asking him to pick the one he'd met; with no hesitation, Johnny chose de Cuellar.
Hopkins can document this, because, as he writes (Witnessed, p. 300), "It was in order to counter the skeptics that I decided to present Johnny with the twenty photographs on camera"
[his emphasis]. But the videotape shows that Johnny's identification can't be trusted. The boy seems honest, as he also does on an audio recording of another conversation with Hopkins. But Hopkins hands him the photographs one by one and asks for his reaction, a faulty procedure, since Hopkins could have been giving subliminal cues. Someone who didn't know the right answer should have asked the questions. Or, failing that, Hopkins should have asked Johnny to take the photos to another room, and sort through them alone.
- Hopkins also made a mistake about the beach house where Dan took Cortile, when he kidnapped her (Witnessed, pp. 122ff). From what Cortile remembers about the drive, it's clear that the house is on Long Island,
east of New York City. Because photographs Dan took of Linda on the beach showed unbroken water, Hopkins thought the house must be far from New York, past Fire Island, a long thin barrier island that's easily seen from
the shore. (Witnessed, pp. 141. He knew Cortile couldn't have been on Fire Island itself, because it can only be reached by a ferry that she didn't remember taking). But Dan's beach house couldn't be so distant,
because Cortile says the entire episode lasted less than four hours, and a one-way drive past Fire Island would take most of that time. Dan's house is more likely to be on two other barrier islands, closer to New York
and reachable by bridge. (I drove to the closer one with Cortile, who didn't spot anything familiar.)
And there's one other problem to report. An abductee identified in Witnessed as "Marilyn Kilmer" has apparently defected. She plays a small but striking role in the book (pp. 303ff): Supposedly she
remembers being abducted with Cortile, Johnny, and De Cuellar, whom she identified (tentatively, anyway) from photographs. Cortile remembers the same abduction; she and Kilmer can be seen on video, reacting with shock as each
describes what the other was wearing.
Now, however, Kilmer won't agree that this abduction ever happened. Or so I'm told; I called her, and she preferred not to speak with me, saying only "Budd and Linda know
the truth" (and offering no further explanation). I've been told -- and not just by Hopkins and Cortile -- that she's emotionally unstable, though she wasn't at the time the case was investigated. Of course, there's the video,
which does seem convincing, powerfully so. But then couldn't Kilmer and Cortile have faked the whole thing? That's what skeptics will charge, and -- even though the list of world-class actors in the overall hoax would now reach
Oscar-night proportions -- there's no way to prove them wrong.
On a happier note, I want to say that -- despite the problems that I've named -- I don't doubt Hopkins's work. His mistakes, in fact, can be exaggerated. Take for instance the way he got
messages to Richard, rumored in the UFO community to have been through a letter drop located right outside Linda Cortile's apartment door. The rumors, as it happens, are true, but so
what? The skeptics scream "gotcha," thinking that if Hopkins left messages for Richard outside Cortile's door, then Cortile could have known what was in them, and -- if she had any part in
hoaxing the case -- would have known what to say in reply.
But that's ridiculous. If the case is a hoax, it was a hoax long before Hopkins used the mail drop. He'd already been getting
letters from Richard; if the case is a hoax, then those letters were part of the deception. And since Richard was the one who proposed the drop (I've seen the letter where he did that), it
could have been anywhere, even on Hopkins' own block, and the hoaxers would have known where it was.
Besides, once Richard made that suggestion, what was Hopkins supposed to do? Argue with Richard? He was at a
disadvantage here; Richard could simply choose not to accept messages from him. As things stood, Hopkins was getting something he wanted, in a situation he couldn't control. Why be
surprised that he agreed to Richard's plan? (Since Richard and Dan said they'd had Cortile under surveillance, her apartment was, in any case, a logical location.)
And there's one event in Witnessed
that's more impressive than you'd guess from the book. This is the uneasy meeting with de Cuellar in Chicago's O'Hare airport, described in chapter 32. A reporter Hopkins knew had set up an interview while de
Cuellar waited out a layover at O'Hare, officially to discuss international affairs, but intending to ask point-blank about the "Linda" case. Hopkins came along, and felt that de Cuellar's
manner -- first when he was asked about UFOs in general, then when he was asked about the case, and finally when Hopkins handed him a package, containing letters from Cortile and her son -- betrayed his involvement.
It's easy to dismiss that, as nothing more than Hopkins's all too subjective view. But the reporter tells a more substantial story. He's a seasoned journalist, a type I recognized instantly
from my own years in the field; he says he has interviewed "hundreds" of political figures, and always asks them what they think of UFOs. He asked Ronald Reagan, who answered with
some airy boilerplate; he asked Gorbachev, who simply laughed. But de Cuellar -- who otherwise was "very loquacious and very friendly" -- wouldn't answer the question about UFOs
at all. "I've never seen anyone go to the lengths de Cuellar went to avoid this subject," this reporter summarized to me, "and I've asked the question hundreds of times." Stressing that he's
judging only by intuition, the reporter still concludes: "Everything I saw first hand would corroborate Budd's suggestion that de Cuellar either is the third man or knows some other high-ranking diplomat who is."
And now for Cortile herself. I've spent perhaps 12 hours with her alone, and seen her at abductee support group meetings and at two public appearances, one on the radio, the other at a
book signing. (She arrived very late, and was firm but quite subdued in the few words she said.) I find her completely credible.
Nor am I alone. I'd like to repeat here something I said at the
start of my first installment -- that, barring some exotic essay in government mind-control, this case has to be either real or a hoax. There isn't any middle ground. Richard sent Hopkins
letters, detailing memories of abductions he says he shared with Cortile, both on November 30 and earlier, right back to early childhood. Cortile, under hypnosis, came up with the same
memories. Some abduction recollections, it's possible, are psychological constructs, but not these. Two people who haven't talked to each other can't share the same delusion, so
either Richard and Cortile really were abducted together, or the whole thing is a fake. Maybe Cortile knew in advance what Richard's letter would say. Or maybe her hypnotic recollections
weren't really fresh; maybe she'd dreamed or fantasized those events before, and someone who knew her heard her talking about them, created Richard's letter, and now is sitting somewhere reading this, laughing very hard.
But then how do we explain the full depth of Cortile's trembling astonishment, preserved for Hopkins' files on video? You'd swear that, until she was hypnotized, Cortile had never
heard these things -- that the aliens had taken her, Richard, Dan, and de Cuellar to a beach, for instance, or that when she was a child she'd called Richard "Mickey" on the alien ships,
and that he'd called her "Baby Ann."
Was she being honest? Hopkins had the foresight to invite observers to these sessions. I've talked to both of them, and
they don't think that she was lying. One of these neutral judges, Charles Strozier (who attended just the first session, in which Cortile was confronted with Richard's account of her abduction
on the beach), is a MacArthur prize-winning historian who, impressively, also works as a psychoanalyst. He also doesn't think abductions are physically real. "I don't buy the
phenomenon," he told me. Still, he feels that Cortile "certainly wasn't a fraud. She was trying to understand her own experience and convey it. She was articulate in her feeling, and
appealing in the sense that you got drawn into her story. I didn't feel that the scales dropped from my eyes. But she wasn't trying to fool or con me."
The other observer, Gibbs Williams (who attended both
sessions), is a psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapist. He not only watched Linda react to Richard's letters, but also saw her at abductee support groups meetings and met with her
privately. He thinks abductions might be possible, but he's inclined toward a psychological explanation. Yet about Cortile he says, "The lady is for real. She really was shaking. You can't fake that."
Or, he elaborates, she couldn't fake it -- and not just in his encounters with her, but in all her behavior with everyone in the six years since investigation of the case began -- unless she was
"psychopathic on an extreme level. And she's no psychopath. I've never seen a discrepancy from her, and my business is looking for discrepancies."
I haven't seen discrepancies either. Linda Cortile doesn't like to tell her age; let's just say she's over 40, and, if truth be told, on the steep side of that decade in her life. She lives on the
Lower East Side of Manhattan, just a few blocks from where she grew up. She's usually described as Italian-American, but while her mother was Italian, her father was Swiss, of Austrian
descent. Still, her upbringing was entirely Italian, in flavor, style, and culture. There's a line in Witnessed (on page 200) that I've seen a skeptic laugh at. Cortile, hypnotically regressed to age
10 or 11, recalls an alien preparing to abduct her. She remembers saying: "You better go away before I go and get my dad, and my uncle Mike and my uncle Dominic and my uncle
Salvatore." This may sound too cute to be real, but it's exactly how a girl from an Italian family would talk.
Her building is usually described as a "Manhattan high-rise,"
but that's misleading, since it sounds far more upscale than the complex really is. The Lower East Side is a working-class neighborhood, once Jewish, now mostly Asian and Hispanic. It
has spread to include areas that once were part of Little Italy. Signs in Cortile's building are in English and Chinese. The grounds and hallways are clean enough, but they're spare, and
hardly luxurious. Cortile's apartment isn't large; someone visiting from midtown or the suburbs might wonder how Cortile, her husband, and her two sons could squeeze themselves into it.
Cortile had one glamorous moment in her past; she worked with some success as a singer and a model, under the name Lynn Long (which she says she hated; her full-time job,
throughout that time, was as an executive secretary). She gave up show business when she got married, and anyone who thinks she hoaxed her case and wants to know her motivation doesn't
have to look any further. Maybe she's been bored for years, and needed glamour and adventure.
Though if that were true, why doesn't she milk her fame as an
abductee? I've seen Cortile be lively, but when I've watched her at abductee support groups and at a public UFO event (the opening of an exhibition of abductee art) she's been much more
reticent. She hardly acts like a would-be star; instead, she sits quietly, and talks to friends. There's no sign, in fact, that she enjoys her role as "Linda Cortile" at all. Her former neighbor,
called "Francesca" in the book (she's the one who says she saw the light from the UFO, as I described in my first installment), thinks Cortile hasn't gained at all from her experience. "I've
known her 15 years," Francesca told me. "She had a well-founded existence, and this has trashed it. If you had known her before, you would see the look of stress on her face."
Francesca's husband, whom I've called "Carmine" (and whom nobody involved with the case had talked to before) thinks the same thing. "People pick on her kids," he told me,
"saying 'your mother's crazy, your mother's crazy.'" (This, we should remember, might be because Stefula, Butler, and Hansen told the manager of Cortile's building that Cortile has been
abducted. Cortile herself didn't tell her neighbors about it. "Who wants to be known as a UFO space cadet?" she sadly asks.) Francesca stresses that Cortile hasn't pushed her kids -- both
of whom might have been abducted -- into the world of abductees. "She could have pushed the boys to be hypnotized," Francesca says. "But John doesn't want to have any memory of
it. Linda is a mother all the way, she's just left it at that." Cortile says, "That's up to them, when they grow up."
Cortile seems confident in public, but when you hear her speak more than once, you realize that she only says the same few things at each appearance. Many people wonder what effect
her case had on her marriage, something Witnessed discreetly doesn't reveal much about. But it's a fair question. Richard fell in love with Cortile, and -- believing that he and she were lovers
during their abductions -- thinks that Johnny is his child. What could her husband Steve -- conservative, working-class, Italian-born -- think of that?
The answer, says Cortile, is that he doesn't even know about
it; he hasn't read the book. And to anyone who can't believe that, let me say that I've encountered something similar before. Once I interviewed a Florida policewoman, who'd gone
undercover to catch a poisoner. She'd become his best friend, sharing lunches with him for over a year, afraid to visit the ladies' room for fear of what he'd put in her food while she was
gone. But she succeeded. She found evidence that led to his conviction, and written a book -- which her husband, also a police officer, hadn't read. His reasons might have been the
same as Steve Cortile's; both surely felt helpless, jealous, and neglected. In chapter six of Witnessed we read that Linda made a special dinner, then broke the news to Steve that Richard and Dan had kidnapped her.
"They did what?" Steve roared, and stormed out to find his brothers. But Cortile says that there's more to the story. She'd also told her husband that Richard was
"sweet on me." Steve slept on the couch that night, and the marriage hasn't functioned since.
Is this the portrait of a hoaxer? Cortile had a year, she says,
when she didn't want to leave the house. She's rallied lately, gotten active on the Internet, and even slammed Joseph Stefula in a slashing online debate. But I don't think her confidence runs
very deep. When I told her that de Cuellar had denied his involvement, she said she was relieved. "I was frightened he'd admit it," she sighed. "And then nobody would ever leave me alone."
If she's hoaxing this affair -- if she hasn't let her cover slip for six years, with anyone -- then, as Gibbs Williams says, she's deeply psychopathic, and in his view, there's no sign of that.
And since I began my report by naming this the most unbelievable case ever vouched for by a major UFO investigator, let me finish by asking how believable a hoax would be. Think of who would have to be involved. At the very
least, Linda; her son Johnny; an actor playing Richard on the tape I heard of him; an actress playing Janet Kimball; "Marilyn Kilmer"; another actress playing Francesca, and an actor
playing her husband (who might have been recruited just after Francesca got off the phone with me, since she hadn't known I'd want to talk to him, and he called me no more than 15
minutes later). Then, of course, there's Cathy Turner, the other witness who said she saw the UFO over Cortile's building, and her nephew Frank, who vouches for her.
And then we have the documents, which someone skillful had to forge. Or maybe, as a skeptic said to me, no professional forger was involved. Maybe four separate people (one of whom
is highly literate, and whimsical, as well) created the letters from Richard, Dan, de Cuellar, and Janet Kimball, working separately so each could preserve a personal writing style, to
make it look as if the letters came from four real people.
But were these letter-writers also the actors? The hoax is getting cumbersome; its dramatis personae keep multiplying.
And where's the evidence for all of this? There isn't any. It's not enough to say "de Cuellar couldn't witness an abduction" or "Richard and Dan don't even exist" or "this whole abduction
thing is nonsense" and think you've proved the whole thing is a hoax. The hoax, complex as it is, should leave a trace. Skeptics have a right to ask for evidence that the case is real. So why
can't believers -- or, for that matter, people on the fence -- ask for proof that it isn't? As I've said, this proof doesn't exist. There's nothing conclusive on either side of the "Linda" case,
and even skeptics will have to live with that.
[This study originally appeared in two parts, in the Spring and Summer 1997 issues of International UFO Reporter, the publication of the Center for UFO Studies. I've made some minor changes, and corrected some small errors.]