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For those of us with an open mind, certain stories can drive us crazy. We want to believe them. We want to be all in. And yet something won't let us a detail, a comment, an uneasy feeling in our gut. The Travis Walton abduction is that kind of story. A young man went missing for five days, and when he returned, he said he'd been abducted by aliens and he wasn't the only one to tell this story. His six co-workers reported it to police the night that he went missing because they witnessed it and they all took lie detector test to prove it.
But despite this, Travis's account has been debated and picked apart for 45 years.
Every skeptic has tried to debunk it, but somehow nobody can say this is supernatural.
A podcast original. And I'm your host, Ashleigh Flowers. Every Wednesday, I'll be taking a deep dive into a real unexplained occurrence to try and figure out the truth. You can find all episodes of Supernatural and all other cast originals for free on Spotify. And if you like what you're hearing, reach out on Facebook and Instagram app podcast and Twitter at Sparkasse Network. This week's episode is about the Travis Walton abduction. It's probably one of the most famous alien encounters in history and the only alien abduction in which the victim was reported missing for several days before being returned to Earth.
It's also one of the very few encounters to actually have eyewitnesses, in this case six.
We'll get into all that and more coming up.
Stay with us. Most of what you're about to hear is taken from Travis's book. It's called Fire in the Sky. And there was actually a movie made off the book with the same name that came out in 1993.
The first thing to know about Travis Walton is that in 1975, when all this went down, he wasn't a science fiction buff. In fact, his tastes ran more towards muscle cars, rodeo and karate. He lived in a small town called Snowflake in eastern Arizona. Snowflake is about a 45 minute drive from the Apache sit Greeves National Forest, where Travis worked as a logger. At times, he worked under his best friend, Mike Rogers, who would bid contracts for the U.S. Forest Service.
In November 1975, Travis was on one of Mike's crews, cutting down about 100 acres worth of sick and damaged trees. Besides Travis, there were five other men on that crew Ken Peterson, Alan Dallas', John Goulette, Dwayne Smith and Steve Pearce. Besides Travis and Mike, none of them were all that close of friends.
And by all accounts, they were racing to meet their deadline. At around six o'clock on the evening of Wednesday, November 5th, the crew quit work, piled into Mike's truck and began the slow drive down the mountain to Snowflake. Travis sat in the front and behind him, four of the men sat smoking, so he cracked the window for some air. That was when, out in the darkening forest, he saw a strange light up ahead through the trees.
The other men saw it, too. At first, Travis thought it was the sun going down until he remembered that the sun had already set. Then he thought it might be some headlights or even a big campfire. The light was so bright it spilled out onto the road in front of them through the break in the trees. Eventually they caught up to it and off to the right. About 30 yards away from the road was a UFO. Everyone is stunned.
It was almost like looking at a photograph. The spaceship isn't moving, just like hovering fifteen feet above a pile of cut trees. And it's not even making a sound. It's sleek and shiny with no antenna or doors. Travis says it looks like two pie plates have been stuck together with an upside down bowl on top. Everyone's eyes are just glued to it, and Travis is so awestruck that he actually gets out of the truck. He has to get closer before it flies away because he knows this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
So he starts walking toward it. Mike and the other guys yell at him to turn around. But Travis just keeps inching closer and closer, almost like a moth drawn to a flame. He can hear a quiet beeping sound coming from inside of it, a mix of high and low pitched sounds. Eventually, he's standing almost right underneath it. And that's when he hears what sounds like a deep rumble inside the ship, almost like an engine starting up.
The UFO starts to wobble, he says, like a spinning top. And Travis scared, now crouches behind a lock. Finally, he decides to make a run for it back to the truck. But when he stands up, a ray like blue green lightning shoots out of the spaceship and electrocute him. He can feel it, strike him in the head and chest. And after that, he blacks out from the truck. The crew watches as Travis is blasted into the air and then backwards about ten feet, they see him hit the ground, land on his right shoulder and then go limp.
As some of the guys scream in shock, Mike turns the ignition and slams his foot on the gas. He just wants to get out of there before the same thing happens to that. He drives like a maniac down the twisty turny road until he has to stop at a small barrier in the road, too shaken to drive around. It might take a moment to catch his breath. He looks in his mirrors and sees nothing, so he's pretty sure this thing isn't coming after them.
Mike and his crew definitely don't want to go back, but they realize they kind of have to. Travis could be really hurt or even dead. Plus, none of them want to wait alone in the dark woods while the others drive back and search for him.
But when they get back to the site, Travis is gone. There is no sign of him or the spaceship. They walk around searching for 20 minutes. Mike thinks he sees a bright object arc across the sky and disappear, but he can't be sure. And honestly, nothing is making sense right now. Everyone is rattled. The men get back in the car. Now, the only thing they can think is that Travis has been taken by the spaceship.
They know they need to tell the cops, but what exactly do they tell them? At seven thirty five p.m., they pull over to the first phone booth. They see Ken Peterson calls the Navajo County Sheriff's Office and he reports his friend missing. But he doesn't say why. By the time Deputy Sheriff Chuck Ellison shows up, he can tell that these men have had a huge shock. I mean, they look terrified. A couple have bloodshot eyes and tear stained faces from crying.
They tell him the story. And while it seems hard to believe, Ellison can't imagine that they're acting. These are lumberjacks, for God's sakes. They're not the type to make up a story about UFOs or cry in public, for that matter. Ellison radios the sheriff, Marlin Gillispie, and tells him about the missing man and that a UFO may be involved. Then he asks another deputy to go to Travis's house just to make sure he really is missing.
And sure enough, Travis isn't there. Less than an hour later, Sheriff Gillespie and the undersheriff, Ken Coplin, arrive on the scene. Now, Gillespie is a no nonsense guy, and he's definitely seen and heard it all. But these men don't seem to be lying, Gillespie tells the crew. He's had his own UFO sighting before. So to him, it's not completely far fetched. But he is naturally skeptical.
He decides the first order of business is to go back and do another search. So the three officers and a few of the men, Mike, Ken and Allen, head back to the site. But again, they find nothing, no footprints, no disturbed branches, no evidence at all that a spaceship had been anywhere nearby.
They decide they'll restart the search first thing in the morning, but in the meantime, Travis's family has to be informed that Travis is missing. That night, Undersheriff Ken Coplan and Mike Rogers drive to the home of Travis's mother, Mary Kellert. She's a single mother of six who lives alone in the mountains. But when they tell her that a UFO has zapped her son and likely flown away with him, she's a little too calm, almost as if this is something she's heard of happening to people before.
Under-Sheriff Coplan makes a mental note of this. It seems a little suspicious to him, or at least a little strange. Mary asked to be driven over to the house of her daughter, Allison Neff. From there, they called Travis's older brother, Dwayne. Dwayne is who everyone in the family leans on in crisis and he immediately jumps in his car and starts the three hour drive from Phoenix to Snowflake the next morning, which is now Thursday, November 6th.
The search starts in earnest. About 50 men spread out over the area with instructions to look for a man fitting Travis's description. But after a full day of searching, they find nothing. Again, no sign of a spaceship and no sign of Travis. The search continues Friday, also fruitless and on into Sunday, November 8th. By then, police have added helicopters. A half dozen men on horseback and planes flying overhead. But still they find nothing. And by now, word has leaked that this might be due to a UFO abduction.
So not only is the site covered with searchers, it's also now crawling with UFO experts.
When it all ends the next evening, Sunday, the 9th, police have put in four days and 10000 dollars. And there's zero evidence of where Travis Walton could have gone.
The cops start to wonder if the cruise story can really be true.
Is it possible that one or all of them murdered Travis and this fantastical story is just some kind of cover up to everyone involved?
There's only one way to find out. The crew needs to take a lie detector test. Now, in 1975, the usefulness of lie detector tests was already under question, but they were still used routinely by police. And because so much rested on this eyewitness account, it felt necessary for the crew to do whatever they could to prove that they weren't lying.
So on Monday the 10th, the men go to the courthouse in the nearby town of Holbrook to take the test. An examiner named Cy Gilson from the Arizona Department of Public Safety has driven in from Phoenix.
He wires up each man and asked them the same four questions. The last one being, did you tell the truth about actually seeing a UFO last Wednesday when Travis Walton disappeared? All the men pass except for one Alan Dallas. He actually walks out of his test midway. Now, the reasons aren't exactly clear, but it seems like he got angered by what he takes to be the examiners suspicious attitude. In any event, his test results are inconclusive. So the men leave.
Glad to have finally proven their innocence. Even Sheriff Gillispie has to admit that it's clear the men were telling the truth. They did see a UFO, or at least they all believed they had.
And then that night, just after 12 a.m., the phone rings at Travis's sister's house.
Her husband, Grant, picks up the phone and there's a man on the other end calling collect. It's Travis Walton and he needs a ride home. We'll hear more about Traviss abduction when we come back. Hi, listeners, there's a new Spotify original from podcast you do not want to miss.
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Now back to the story. When Travis returns were able to finally hear his account of the story, the first thing he remembers seeing when he wakes up on the forest floor is a spaceship. It's hard to tell from his book, but it seems as if this is a different, bigger ship than the one he originally saw. It hovers above him for a few minutes, then takes off silently into the night. Travis gets to his feet. He's weak and has a little bit of pain in his chest and head, but he's oriented enough to know which direction to walk in.
He's still wearing the same clothes and at this point he thinks he's been gone maybe just a couple of hours. Eventually, he gets to a payphone, calls his sister, and a little while later, his brother in law, Grant, and his brother Dwayne, pick him up. They can see right away that he's lost weight. Travis will claim later he lost a full 10 pounds.
He also has about five days worth of beard on his face, but he doesn't seem physically harmed when Dwayne checks him out for injuries at their mom's house. All he can find is what looks like a red dot on the inside of Travis's right elbow. It almost looks like a puncture wound, but Travis has no memory of how it got there. And honestly, it seems like the kind of wound that he might have suffered in his logging job. Plus, he has no bruises even on his right shoulder where he hit the ground.
All in all, Travis seems physically intact, but psychologically, he's a mess. He mentioned creatures with whitish gray skin and big eyes. His family asked him if he'd been hurt and he says no. But clearly, he's disturbed.
Duane sees his brother in this fragile state and makes a fateful decision. He decides to hide the fact that Travis is back. Another account says that this was actually Travis's idea that he had actually begged his brother not to call police. Regardless, this decision presents problems for anyone wanting to believe Travis's story. After all, if he had nothing to hide, why wouldn't they call police? But Dwayne, who's a bit of a hothead and used to being in the driver's seat, decides that he knows what's best.
His brother seems way too vulnerable right now and not up to being quizzed by police or especially reporters. And ever since Travis disappeared, the phone has been ringing all day and all night. Everyone, the press, the UFO community, they all wanted to reach them.
Some of them have even been leaving sinister messages telling Dwayne to be wary of government suppression. So Dwayne puts Travis in his car and drives to Phoenix in the middle of the night. He wants to get Travis to a doctor and have them examined in privacy. So they leave town with the police, seemingly none the wiser, except the cops already know that something is up because the operator who put through Travis's collect call has let police know that someone called Travis's sister close to midnight from a payphone.
When Sheriff Gillispie hears this, he's almost positive that the caller was Travis. He sends deputies to dust the three pay phones for prints. They find some on two of the phones at the booth. But from what they can tell, the prints don't belong to Travis. Meanwhile, Dwayne and Travis drive through the night and get to Phoenix around dawn on Tuesday, the 11th. After a short rest, Dwayne calls Sheriff Gillispie. He tells him that Travis is back.
But instead of revealing where they are, he tells them that Travis is in a private hospital in Tucson. Now, this is a risky move, but he wants to postpone a police interrogation until Travis can see a real doctor. By now, Dwayne has decided that a regular M.D. isn't going to cut it. He wants a doctor experienced with abductions. They speak to a group called the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, or apro apro sends to doctors over to Dwayne's house that same afternoon.
Travis seems physically fine and everyone's relieved, except he doesn't show any medical signs of starvation. If he hadn't eaten the entire time he was gone, there would have been evidence of this in his urine. But everything looked totally normal that same night. Sheriff Gillispie comes to Dwayne's house. He's heard that Travis is there. And needless to say, he is not too happy about this. Travis tries to tell the sheriff what happened to him while he was gone.
He gets about as far as he did with the family, telling them about the weird creatures. But pretty soon he's falling apart. Gillispie seems sympathetic, but Travis can tell he's on the fence. So Travis says he'll take a lie detector test under one condition. It has to be private, no press, no media circus. And Gillespie agrees.
But before Travis can take the polygraph, they get approached by the National Enquirer. The Enquirer does a lot of UFO reporting and Apro happens to be on their panel of experts. The Enquirer smells a great story here. So they spring into action. They offer to pay for a hotel room for Travis and Dwayne to escape the incessantly ringing phone. They'll also pay for all of the, quote, scientific testing that Apro thinks should be done. But in exchange, they want an exclusive.
But to Travis, that's fine. He doesn't want to talk to a bunch of press.
But according to an inquiry reporter who was there behind the scenes, the magazine also paid Travis 1000 dollars. And they said Dwayne Walton was essentially the one calling all of the shots. In any event, this is where things start to get a little wacky. On Thursday, November 13th, Dwayne and Travis check into the Scottsdale Sheraton. There are a bunch of Enquirer reporters there, the folks from Apro and a UFO expert who's been flown in to do further testing.
At this point, Travis still hasn't told the full story of what happened to anyone. It's still not even clear that there really is a story there, except for a spotty memory of creatures with huge eyes. But The Enquirer knows how to get around this. The expert that they've brought in is planning to use hypnosis. Now, regressive hypnosis is often used with people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, but many psychiatrists consider hypnosis to be unreliable.
In fact, hypnosis can often create memories that weren't even there in the first place, making it virtually impossible to tell what, if anything, about someone's experience has actually happened. Regardless, the UFO expert at the Sheridan puts Travis under hypnosis, and soon enough, in full view of the reporters, Travis is remembering exactly what happened to him.
It seems his first memory is lying on a table in a room with a triangular ceiling. He looks down and sees he's still in his clothes, but his shirt has been pushed up. And there's a medical instrument that he doesn't recognize attached to his chest. At first, he thinks one of his friends has brought him into the E.R. But then Travis sees the figures in the room. There's three of them and they aren't human. They are short under five feet and hairless with huge, oversized heads.
All of their features seem to be underdeveloped except for their enormous dark eyes and their skin is this whitish gray. Color and they have very thin fingers without any fingernails. Travis sits up, pushes two of them away and gets to his feet, but he's very weak. It's almost like they've drugged him with something and it's all he can do just to stay upright. There's also this terrible pain in his head. He picks up what looks like a glass tube and tries to break it to make it into a weapon.
But he can't. Then he gets ready to try and fight them with karate. But the alien simply just leave the room. Travis goes out into a curved hallway to follow them, but they've completely disappeared. Then he wanders into a smaller room that only has one chair. As he moves toward the chair, the walls around him seem to grow dark and stars pop out. It's almost like he's seeing a projection in a planetarium. But for all he knows, this may actually be real.
He may be looking out at space as they're flying through it. At that point, a human man walks into the room. He's tall and handsome with thick, blondish brownish hair underneath a clear helmet. But his eyes are strange. They're this brilliant Heysel color, a color that Travis has never seen before. The man takes Travis by the arm and leads him out of the room through another door. The fact that he looks human puts Travis at ease.
He asks him where they're going, but the man doesn't answer. They go down a ramp into a hangar sized room past a couple of spacecraft and into another small room. They're Traviss. Three more human figures waiting for him. All of them had the same hair color and the same features as the man Travis is with. But one of them is female. She helps Travis to lay down on another table. The very last thing he remembers is something akin to a clear plastic oxygen mask being placed over his face.
And then he wakes up. Hypnosis finally gets Travis's story out, but he still has one more hurdle, the lie detector the morning after he meets the hypnotist. This is Friday, the 14th. Travis is scheduled to take the lie detector test. Sheriff Gillispie had promised him that it would be private and no reporters will know about it until after it's been done. But as Travis is getting ready to leave, reporters call the house and ask him to make a comment.
Apparently, word has gotten now that he's about to take this test and both Travis and Dwayne are furious. Travis phones Gillispie and tells him he's not coming. Then he and Dwayne go back to the Sheraton, where the Enquirer has now flown in a few psychiatrist to bolster Travis's fragile condition. The magazine decides they want to give Travis their own lie detector test, but the psychiatrist don't think it's a good idea. So they work out a deal. If Travis doesn't pass, they won't published the results.
So Travis agrees he's got nothing to lose at this point. But when it's done, everyone is in for a shock because according to the test, Travis Walton is lying. We'll find out more about Travis's story when we come back. Now back to the story. When Travis Walton fails his polygraph, the psychiatrists say it doesn't mean anything, that Travis was simply too stressed. This isn't totally off the wall because polygraphs don't actually test someone's truthfulness. They test their stress levels.
Lying creates stress, which is how examiners can tell which answers on a test may be lies.
So if someone takes a polygraph who's already stressed, it can appear that they are lying, even if they're not. By all accounts, Travis was extremely stressed by the time he took this test. At this point, the Enquirer should have probably just packed up and left. But instead they decide to publish Travis's story anyway. On December 16th, 1975, the Enquirer runs a piece on Travis's abduction using the story he told under hypnosis. Then, in February of 1976, two months after the story came out, Travis, Dwayne and their mother Mary all take a polygraph and this time all pass.
And these results are published. The police basically wash their hands of this, and that's where the story seems to end, at least until a famous UFO skeptic named Phillip Class starts to do a little digging.
His name might be familiar because we've already mentioned him in a couple of our episodes. Philip Class was probably the foremost debunker of all UFO encounters. For almost four decades. He was an electrical engineer by trade, but became a passionate UFO skeptic later in life. In 1976, class starts looking into the Travis Walton case, and soon he amassed enough evidence to rip the story to shreds to begin with. Class finds an interview Mike Rogers did with a UFO investigator sometime during the four day search for Travis.
In the interview, Mike admits on tape that he and his crew are way behind on their logging contract and that he hopes the U.S. Forest Service will forgive their lateness now that Travis has disappeared.
Then Travis's brother Dwayne makes a surprising comment. He says that he knows for sure that Travis is with a UFO because he himself saw almost the exact same spaceship when he was a teenager.
In fact, he and Travis apparently had an agreement for years that if either brother ever saw a UFO in person, they were going to get as close to it as possible. Needless to say, class has a field day with this taped interview. He argues that the UFO story was a hoax, plain and simple, that Travis and Mike Rogers cooked it up to avoid being docked 10 percent of their fee when they knew that their contract wouldn't be finished on time.
The fact that Travis and Dwayne were obviously UFO buffs probably gave Mike the idea, or maybe one of them saw it on television. It actually turns out that NBC ran a movie about a true alien abduction just a couple of weeks before Travis went missing. In fact, the movie was about some of the very first people to ever see a great alien. Betty and Barney Hill class also says that the same night the movie aired, Mike Rogers wrote the Forest Service trying to get an extension on his contract.
Then class reveals Traviss failed polygraph for the Inquirer.
The Examiner, who administered it, tells class he is sure that Travis was lying, that it wasn't just stress that threw off the results. Class even attacks the credibility of the test. Travis and his family did pass.
All in all, Phillip classes accusations run to around 17 pages. He sends his white paper, as he calls it, to all the UFO organizations and, of course, all the skeptical publications as well. When the public hears that Travis took and failed a lie detector test and then agreed to a cover up, it casts a lot of doubt on his story. But April and the Enquirer argue that they hid the results because they thought the examiners questions weren't fair and they didn't agree with his methods for a time.
Travis and Mike Rogers go back and forth with class about retaking a polygraph. But when they say they want to pick the examiners, class refuses and the negotiations fall through. In any event, those who believe Travis aren't swayed. In July of 1976, right after class publishes his findings, the Enquirer awarded Travis and his crew 5000 dollars for best UFO story of the year. Then in 1978, Travis wrote a book. In 1985, a screenwriter named Tracy Tormé decided he wanted to make it into a movie.
That movie Fire in the Sky came out in 1993. It brought fresh attention back to Travis's UFO story. And in February of that year, Travis Mike Rogers and Alan Dallas, the same crewman who walked out Midwest, all retook lie detector tests again and all of them passed. But despite this class remained Waltons special nemesis. Things came to a head on March 12, 1993, the opening day for Fire in the Sky. Travis, Mike Rogers and Philip Glass all appeared together on Larry King Live.
Hardly five minutes had passed before a shouting match broke out. Mike Rogers accused class of being a disinformation specialist from Washington, D.C. class responded by calling Mike Rogers a goddamned liar. Watching this today, it's interesting to see class get so worked up so quickly. It actually does look like he's got a special agenda, perhaps one that wasn't totally his own.
Rumors have swirled for years that the U.S. government has actively suppressed UFO sightings and tales of abductions and that certain UFO skeptics like class were paid by the government.
Their job was basically to poke holes in stories, come up with alternate explanations and even perform a little character assassination along the way. But there is another faction that believes the government has actually done the opposite feed stories about aliens and alien sightings in order to distract the public from, you know, say, spy planes or nuclear testing that it wants to keep quiet. At any rate, 15 years after Philip Glass and Mike Rogers brawl, Travis Walton put himself in the hot seat one more time.
On July 31st, 2008, he appeared as a guest on a game show called The Moment of Truth. The idea of the show was to give contestants a lie detector test behind the scenes, but not let them know which questions they passed and which they didn't. Then they were asked the same questions again on camera. If the answer they gave on camera turned out to be false. The contestant would be disgraced in front of friends and family and presumably not win any money.
Of course, Travis Walton is asked, were you abducted by a UFO on November 5th, 1975? And he answers confidently, yes. Then a voice off camera announces that his answer was false on camera. Travis looks shocked and apparently the first thing he did when he got home was take another lie detector test. And this one he passed. So what are we supposed to make of this story 45 years later, is it true or does all the controversy surrounding it mean that it isn't?
And what about all of those lie detector tests? Does it make any difference that Travis passed almost as many as he failed?
Or should all of them be disregarded? No new evidence has ever come out to support Travis's story. There's never been another eyewitness claimed to have seen the same UFO in that same area that night. But apparently there was another abduction reported just a couple of months earlier in New Mexico. And it's unlikely Travis would have heard about it before his own abduction because the victim was only starting to remember the details in early November of 1975. In August of 1975, an Air Force sergeant named Charles Moody was sitting on the bumper of his car in the desert having a smoke when he noticed a strange light in the sky.
He thought at first that it was a meteor, but it seemed to be moving straight toward him. It approached and hovered about 70 feet away from him. Then Moody just went numb and passed out. He woke up to see the UFO flying away and couldn't remember anything else. But over the next few months, Moody began to piece his memory back together through meditation. And just like Travis Walton, his memory was of being on a table and being examined by an alien that looked just like the ones Travis saw.
But this story was also being investigated by April, the same organization working with Travis. So could they have possibly fed Travis the same information? I mean, of course, it's possible at this point anything seemed possible.
Still, people say that whether or not you believe Travis's story has everything to do with how much you actually believe in aliens to begin with, up until now, there's been no hard evidence that they exist. It always comes down to an eyewitness account that eventually shot down or question, and then the eyewitness has to defend themselves for the rest of their lives. Travis Walton has spent years doing this, but he's also managed to lead a quiet, ordinary life.
He still speaks at UFO conferences and stands by his story. Maybe one day the rest of the world will to. Thanks for listening.
I'll be back next week with another episode, you can find all episodes of Supernatural and all other cast originals for free on Spotify. Spotify has all your favorite music and podcasts all in one place, and they're making it easier to listen to whatever you want to hear for free on your phone, computer or smart speaker. And if you like the show, follow at podcast on Facebook and Instagram and our podcast network on Twitter. Supernatural was created by Max Cutler and stars Ashley Flowers and is a studio's original, it is executive produced by Max Cutler, Sound Design by Carrie Murphy with production assistance by Ron Shapiro and Carly Madden.
This episode of Supernatural was written by Joanna Philbin with writing assistants by Kate Gallagher. To hear more stories hosted by me, check out Crime Junkie and all audio check originals.
It's the most powerful position in American politics and arguably the world, but behind the oath to preserve, protect and defend lie dark secrets posed to leave some legacies in disgrace.
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