• Fraser du Toit

Betty and Barney Hill - Taken by Aliens

The word alien has come to be synonymous with extraterrestrial beings. Originally, the word simply indicated an otherness of some kind. Some strange aspect foreign to the viewer. In the 1960s, in America, Betty and Barney Hill would have appeared a bit alien. They were a mixed race couple living in a world where acceptance was hard to find. Happiness had found them, and they were accepted by their friends and family. That happiness would be disrupted on the 19th of September 1961, when a bright light chased their car down. What began as a sighting, soon escalated into kidnapping, torture, and a story almost too unbelievable to believe. This is the story of the first reported alien abduction.

It all started with a spontaneous decision to take a road-trip to Niagara Falls and Montreal. So sudden was the urge for an impromptu honeymoon that the couple neglected to even withdraw money from the bank. They had $70 and an itch that only Canada could scratch.




Nothing to Gain from UFO Fame


Many people say that those claiming to have been abducted by aliens are only saying it to make some money. The truth is that stories like these usually have no paycheck at the end. Fame isn't always good either, you are as likely to be harassed as you are to be idolized. Hoaxers do exist, it's a fact, but even they realize soon enough that a story like this is most likely to destroy your life.

Betty and Barney Hill had never been particularly interested in the UFO phenomenon. They were active in their community, both being members of the NAACP. Barney was part of the board of the local chapter of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Betty served her community as a Social Worker, which is not an easy job.


The Interrupted Journey - From Here to Nowhere and Back


Betty and Barney were on their way back from a visit to Niagara Falls. They were racing a storm that had been forecast, and hoped to dodge the tempest by driving through the night. Delsey, their tiny dog, was along for the ride.

After passing through Lancaster, New Hampshire, they headed south, towards home. Betty spotted a bright point of light in the distance. Experts would later claim that this was simply the planet Jupiter. She thought that perhaps it was a falling star, which could be a reasonable explanation, if the object hadn't been travelling upwards in the sky.

The couple pulled over to the side of Route 3. Believing it to be nothing more than a weird, but natural, phenomenon, they took the opportunity to let little Delsey take a stroll. Barney, who had been driving, was probably also happy about the chance to stretch his legs.

Soon, the pinprick of light grew in size and strangeness. Barney took out his binoculars, and the pair took turns looking at the thing in the sky. Betty claimed to see a metallic craft with flashing multicolored lights crossing in front of the moon. Her sister had reported seeing a UFO in the past, so Betty assumed that that was what she was looking at. Barney insisted that it must be a satellite, or commercial aircraft headed to Vermont.

The object suddenly changed direction, and the two decided to get going. Barney drove towards the nearby mountain pass, Franconia Notch, with haste. He hoped to get out of the thing's way.


Unfortunately for them, the object seemed to be following their car. It wove its way through the mountain pass just as they did, finally emerging before them and passing near the Old Man of the Mountain landmark. Here they got their first size estimate for the craft, it was nearly twice the length of the height of the cliff. That face in the cliff has since collapsed, probably not due to alien intervention.

Barney drove on, hoping that their encounter was over. One mile further, they would be stopped by the massive aircraft rapidly descending before hovering above the road in front of them. It filled their entire view of the night sky.

Not a man to shy away from danger, Barney exited the car. He took his gun and binoculars with him. What he saw would freeze him to the spot. Around 10 figures were watching him from the window on the side of the craft. He felt a voice enter his mind unbidden, this voice commanded him to remain where he was and continue watching.

The craft descended even more, and Barney managed to force his rebellious limbs into action. He tore the binoculars away from his eyes and rushed back to the car. Barney was in shock as he exclaimed to Betty:


"They're going to capture us!"

He started the car and sped off. Betty kept an eye out for their pursuers, which she found to be keeping pace directly above the car. Strange noises began pouring out of the UFO, rattling their car and affecting their perceptions. Their bodies tingled, and their minds withdrew into placidity.

Another round of beeping noises shook the dullness from their brains. They vaguely remembered turning off of the road suddenly, encountering an orb of fire in the road, and being confronted at a roadblock. 2 hours and 35 miles had passed between the first and second set of beeps.



Physical Effects Affected Physically



Betty and Barney Hill arrived home around dawn on 20 September. The events of the previous night seemed to register only vaguely to the exhausted couple. Some signs of the strangeness lingered, though.

The top of Barney's previously immaculate dress shoes were scuffed to shreds. Betty's favorite dress, which she had been wearing during the drive, had been torn. Something about their luggage made Betty uneasy, and she insisted that they be left at the back door for fear of radioactive contamination.

Checking their watches, they discovered that both timepieces had broken at the same time. Their little gears would never turn again, a perpetual reminder of the two missing hours and the interrupted journey.

These details may sound par for the course now, as far as alien abduction goes, but it was all new to Betty and Barney. No context existed for their experience, they would provide a context for future abductees and fakers to operate in.

Sleep took them eventually, and the next morning brought more mysterious events to their life. Betty packed her clothes in the closet, but after a while she felt the urge to check on the clothes she had worn the night before. Her dress was torn along the zipper, and there was a strange pink powdery residue on the dress as well. The dress was hung up on the clothesline and the powder blew away. Strangely, wherever the powder had touched, the fabric seemed to have been damaged. Betty threw the dress away, but retrieved it soon thereafter on a whim. The dress would undergo several investigations by at least 5 labs to test for chemical residue.

They also noticed that there were marks on the car's trunk that hadn't been there the day before. Concentric circles had manifested, these marks had not been present when they left Canada. Driven by curiosity and strange instinct, Betty brought out a compass and held it close to the shiny circles. The needle of the compass would spin erratically when held near the markings.


Who You Gonna Call?




On the 21st of September, Betty called up the local Air Force Base. Surely these men of the sky were the right people to talk to. Logic dictates that they would have some more insight than your average citizen.

Betty reported a sanitized version of her story to the Air Force. She omitted the weirder elements for fear of being dismissed as a kook.

The next day, an Air Force Major, Paul W. Henderson, called her back. He conducted a more thorough interview over the phone. Ultimately, he would dismiss their encounter as a misidentification of the planet Jupiter in a report filed on 26 September. The conclusion would be changed several times before settling on "Insufficient Data".

Despite the dismissal by Major Henderson, the report was forwarded to the headquarters of Project Blue Book. This was the US Air Force's official UFO research task force.

To Betty, it seemed that the government had dismissed their experience. She wasn't the kind to take it like that. So she went to the one place where you are never far from knowledge, the local library.


The Man From NICAP



Betty was taking the lead in trying to discover what exactly had happened to them. Barney, it seems, wanted nothing more than to forget the event entirely.

The book Betty found in the library was written by a retired member of the Marine Corps, Major Donald E. Keyhoe. He was also the head of a civilian UFO research group called NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon). Finally, she had found someone who would take her story seriously.

On 26 September, Betty wrote a letter to Keyhoe wherein she laid out the entirety of their story as they remembered it. She adds in the letter that they were considering undergoing hypnosis in an attempt to uncover what had transpired in the missing hours.

NICAP activated a Bostonian member, Walter N. Webb, to investigate the Hills' claims. He would conduct a six-hour interview with the couple on 21 October 1961. Before he got to them, Betty experienced a series of dreams that would reveal further details.

Ten days after the event, Betty had five nights of fitful sleep. She was haunted by memories of their abduction. These dreams stood out due to how clearly they remained in her memory afterwards. She didn't experience the dreams as a linear recollection.

Betty's dreams remained with her well after waking up. Unlike other dreams that fade over time, Betty's dreams seemed to grow more concrete as time went by. Barney dismissed the dreams as nothing more than fanciful thoughts conjured by her sleeping mind. Dismayed, she decided not to mention it to Barney again. It would come up during her interviews.

Webb conducted the exhaustive interview with the Hills. Barney would claim to have some sort of "mental block" which kept him from remembering the details of the incident. He either couldn't, or didn't want to, remember what happened to them on the night in question. Psychologically speaking the human mind can block out traumatic experiences that would interfere with normal function.

Webb concluded his preliminary investigation with:


"they were telling the truth and the incident probably occurred exactly as reported except for some minor uncertainties and technicalities that must be tolerated in any such observations where human judgment is involved (e.g., exact time and length of visibility, apparent sizes of object and occupants, distance and height of object, etc.)."

What Dreams May Tell



Although dreams are even less reliable a source than eyewitness testimony, Betty's dreams do add to the story. She wrote down the events from her dreams and worked them into a timeline of sorts.

After the they decided to flee from the hovering craft they were stopped at a sort of roadblock. Betty had a gap in her dream-memory at this point where she concludes that she must have lost consciousness.

Upon regaining her senses she found that she was being marched through a dark forest. Two short men wearing blue uniforms and some kind of military cadet's cap guided her on either side. Barney was there too, but he seemed to not be fully conscious and was "sleepwalking". He also had a pair of the dimunitive men guiding him. Betty called to Barney, but he seemed unable to hear her. The "men" had grey skin with patchy black hair, blue lips and prominent noses.

Eventually they arrived at a large metal ramp leading up to the saucer-shaped craft they had seen. The Hills were led up the ramp and once inside, seperated. Betty was upset that they were leading Barney away. One of the beings, who she called "The Leader" told her that if they were examined together it would take much longer.

The next thing she remembers is arriving in the examination room and meeting a nicer being that she called "The Examiner". It was more calm and gentle than The Leader. While both beings communicated with her in English, The Leader was the only one that seemed fluent.

The Examiner told Betty that it would conduct a few tests to check the differences between humans and those on board the craft. She was put in a chair and a bright light was turned on. The Examiner took a lock of her hair, trimmings from her fingernails and checked her eyes, nose, ears, teeth and throat. It took what looked like a knife and scraped skin from Betty's feet onto a clear material.

Finally a large needle was inserted into Betty's navel. She felt incredible pain that sent her body into intense convulsions. The Leader waved its hand in front of her eyes and the pain instantly evaporated.

After the examination, The Examiner left the room and Betty was left with The Leader. They spoke about where the craft's occupants were from and The Leader showed Betty a star-map. She was given a book to page through as if she was doing nothing more than waiting at the dentist's office. The Leader told her that she could keep the book as a souvenir.

Eventually she was reunited with Barney and they were led out of the craft and back to their car. Along the way a disagreement broke out among their captors and the book was eventually taken away from Betty. The Leader claimed that its companions didn't wish to leave any trace of their encounter behind, not even memories. Betty defiantly replied that no matter what they did to her, she would remember it all some day.


More NICAP, Telling Their Story



One month after meeting with Webb the Hills were contacted by two more NICAP investigators, Robert E. Hohmann and C.D. Jackson, reached out to the Hills. They had read their colleague's report, and had more questions.

Their chief concern was the apparent missing time the Hills had experienced. According to UFO lore, experiencers often note that several hours are missing from their recollection after an encounter. Betty and Barney Hill had lost at least two hours on the 19th of September. What should have been a 4 hour journey had taken 7 hours. Even factoring in a relaxed pace, that's a long time.

Both Betty and Barney Hill claimed to have no memory of the 3 mile stretch between the Indian Head mountain pass and the town of Ashland. Vague memories of a fiery orb resting on the ground were the best they could do. They explained it away as the moon. Hohmann and Jackson informed the couple that the moon would have already set at that point in 19 September 1961.

Someone floated the idea of hypnosis, and although he was against trying it, Barney agreed, if only to put to rest Betty's "dream nonsense". The first person they approached to perform the hypnosis was Captain Ben H. Swett from the Air Force. They spoke to him after a talk he held at their church. Swett was very interested in the phenomenon of missing time, but he ultimately declined to perform the hypnosis. He warned them not to attempt the procedure with an amateur.

Betty and Barney Hill opened up publicly about their story for the first time on 3 March 1963. They spoke to a group at their church. People that they trusted. Later that year Captain Swett returned to the church to deliver a talk on hypnosis. Barney Hill told Captain Swett that he was seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Stephens. Swett suggested that Dr. Stephens could perform the hypnosis.

Dr Stephens referred Barney to a different doctor who was more practiced in performing hypnotic regression therapy, Dr Benjamin Simon. Betty and Barney first met with Dr Simon near the end of 1963.


Hypnotic Regression - So Much Screaming



Barney may have claimed to not be affected by the abduction event, but his health showed otherwise. He was suffering from classic symptoms of high-stress. Stomach ulcers wracked him with pain and he often experienced headaches.

Dr. Simon hypnotozed Barney first. He did so privately so as to avoid cross-contamination of the Hills' stories. Barney was reluctant to try hypnosis. He even told Dr. Simon that he would not be able to be hypnotized.

That first hypnosis session is available to listen to online. Trigger warning, it contains some use of strong language and a man reliving a trauma. There's a bit of screaming and a lot of mortal terror. You can watch the whole thing here:





Initially, Barney recalls simply looking at the craft through his binoculars. He observes the craft's crew watching him from what seemed to be an observation deck lined with large curved windows. Describing them as men, he does note that they seem weird. Only one of the observers seems friendly. What he describes as an almost Nazi-like leader figure radiates a sense of evil.

This is when Barney first reports non-verbal communication. Words come to him and he cannot describe their origin. The Leader tells him to keep watching and stay where he is.

There's a point where Barney is screaming about the Leader's eyes consuming his thoughts and entering his mind. Barney fights the leader's coercive will and finally tears the binoculars from his eyes.

From there he races back to the car and flees in terror. Things get quite muddy after this, but they are stopped at what he thinks is a roadblock. Some "men" help him out of the car and he describes being suspended in the air for a time. Whether that's him being held aloft or actually hovering is unclear.

Barney describes being taken somewhere. His recollection of the journey is vague because he kept his eyes closed for the whole event out of fear.

Finally he is laid face-down on some kind of table. At this point Barney is begging desperately to not be operated on. It gets quite harrowing. His abductors place some kind of device on his groin region.

Barney remembers being returned to the car and sat in it. He finds his dog cowering under the seat. Betty is also returned and she gets in the car next to him. They grin maniacally at each other.





Betty's story corroborates Barney's. Her recollection is more rich because unlike Barney, she opted to keep her eyes open. The details of her hypnotic regression largely match her dreams. Some details are different.

She remembers the road-block in greater detail. Barney pulls off into a side-road suddenly. He speeds along this road until the roadblock appears before them. Their car dies and won't start as a group of "men" approach the car.

Betty, terrified, tries to get out of the car. Just as she opens the door the men outside the car open it for her. She can't remember the men's faces, but she does remember them wearing uniforms.

According to her, Barney's eyes were closed as the men removed them from the car. They are led to a clearing in the trees. Betty has a conversation with one of the "men" and he tells her to not be afraid.

They come to what she describes as an object on the ground. She can make out a ramp and a door, which they take her up and into the craft. Betty is taken to an examination room and made to undress.

Her description of the "pregnancy test" where a large needle is inserted into her navel is particularly harrowing. Believe what you will, but the emotion on these tapes is very real.

One humorous moment occured after Betty's examination. The Examiner rushes back into the room and starts tugging at Betty's teeth. Apparently Barney's teeth popped out of his mouth (because he had dentures), and the "men" could not figure out why her teeth couldn't come out.

All in all her hypnosis is like a more detailed version of her dreams. This could be due to the memories surfacing first from her subconscious. Alternatively, she could be recalling the dreams.

Dr. Simon suggests to Betty that she should try to sketch the star-map that she had been shown. She produced a sketch without looking at what she was doing.



The most compelling detail of the star map is that what she drew matched up very well to a star system that wouldn't be discovered for years to come.



Dr. Simon wrote about the case in the journal Psychiatric Opinion, where he concluded that the Hills experienced something. He does not think they were abducted by beings from a UFO. The doctor concluded that Barney's memories were a fantasy constructed around Betty's dreams.

After the hypnosis sessions were completed, the Hills' anxiety faded. Barney would suffer from the trauma of it for the rest of his life, but his condition did improve after hypnosis.

Barney, reluctant before, was now ready to accept the abduction as fact. He never embraced the event as fully as Betty did.


In America, Fame Seeks You


After the hypnotic regression sessions the Hills went back to their normal life. They spoke sparingly to friends, neighbors, and UFO researchers (Ufologists). UFO fame was far from their minds and they never pursued publicity.

On 25 October 1965, the front page of the Boston Traveller was plastered with a version of their story. The article was part truth, part smear campaign, and part sensationalized drivel.


"UFO Chiller: Did THEY Seize Couple?"

The reporter, John H. Lutrell, had gotten his claws on confidential correspondence between the Hills and Ufologists, and audio of one of their public talks. His version would be picked up by international press the next day. In the end, he got his time in the sun.

One year after the unauthorized newspaper article dragged the Hills into the international spotlight, an author approached them. John G. Fuller wanted to tell their story as honestly as possible. The Hills agreed and "The Interrupted Journey" was published soon thereafter. The book was a success and went through several printings.


End of The Road - The Final Stop


Barney never fully recovered from the trauma of it all. He died three years after the publication of their book on 25 February 1969. He was only 46 when he passed. Betty would never remarry.

Fame suited Betty fine. She went on to dedicate herself to spreading her truth and became quite the celebrity in Ufology circles. Betty often appeared at UFO conventions as a speaker and she was regarded as a living legend until her death in 2004. She was 85 when she passed.


Theories and Skepticism



Of course there are those who are skeptical of the Hills' story. Mainly the rebuttals rely on the claim that the whole story was simply a set of false memories created during the hypnosis sessions.

The most compelling theory is that Barney had hallucinated the alien figures due to sleep deprivation. Inspired by an episode of The Outer Limits that aired a week before their encounter.

What do you think happened?