It was July 5, 1947. A day seemingly like any other in the sleepy, desert town of Roswell, New Mexico. A nurse who worked at the Roswell Army Air Field hospital, a base with about 5,000 military personnel, was going about her usual routine over the long July Fourth weekend, when she stumbled onto a scene that shook her to the core. In search of supplies, she opened the door to an examination room and watched two strange doctors bent over the bodies of three small humanlike creatures. Oh, they resembled humans, all right, but there was a difference: Their bodies were too small, their arms too spindly, and their heads too bald and big.
Two were badly mangled and decomposed, while a third appeared relatively intact. A stench permeated the air. The physicians quickly enlisted the nurse's help and the autopsies continued until all concerned were overwhelmed by the smell from the rotting bodies.
At least this is what happened if you believe a story long held true by those who say a UFO crashed into the desert near Roswell, New Mexico, one summer night long ago, spitting five extraterrestrials into the arms of U.S. Army medics, who autopsied the shattered remains. According to the legend -- because by now, in UFO circles, it has become that -- one lone nurse, referred to by pundits as Nurse X, decided to tell all. The recipient of this extraordinary confidence: 22-year-old Glenn Dennis, the town mortician. But Dennis would be privy to the strange revelations on one condition: He would, forever, keep the identity of Nurse X under wraps.
Dennis, who talked to OMNI in the interview titled "Roswell: Star Witness", said he knew Nurse X because of his second job -- driver of the town ambulance. As such, he was on the base frequently to drop off injury victims.The day of the alleged ET incident, Dennis says that he drove an injured man to the hospital and then was rudely ushered out and even threatened by Army officers who he had never seen before.
"All of these people came in from out of town," Dennis told OMNI , "and just kind of took over. They were in the halls and everywhere. I didn't see the regular doctors or anybody. The only familiar person that I saw was her." Naturally, Dennis wondered what was going on and a few days later set up a luncheon date with Nurse X to find out. Afterward, Dennis claims, she returned to the base, never to be heard from again. Dennis tried to contact her but was told she had been transferred. And still later "the rumor was," says Dennis, "that she went down in a plane that was on a training mission."
After six months the incident died away, according to Dennis, and wasn't raised again until the 1980s when UFO investigators descended on Roswell. "I just didn't want to be bothered," says Dennis. "I never told my wife or anyone else. My father is the only one I ever talked to. It was never brought up, you know. It never was."
There is much more to the alleged 1947 UFO crash near Roswell than the recollections of Glenn Dennis, of course, and throughout the 1980s a swarm of investigators pieced a story together through the accounts of many other people.
Even so, Dennis's part is an important one and central to the event. So I was all ears one day last year when, while interviewing Don Schmitt, one of the two major researchers on the Roswell case, the topic of missing nurses came up. Schmitt, who with Kevin Randle wrote The Truth About the UFO Crash at Roswell, said there were no official records to show that Glenn Dennis's nurse, or five other nurses who appeared in photos in the Roswell base yearbook, ever served in the military.
"Once again it appears as if they really covered their tracks," said Schmitt, referring to what he says is a government cover-up of the evidence of the crash. And, he went on to tell me, since 1989 he and Randle had looked. They had scoured the planet up, down, and sideways for those nurses, he told me, to no avail. The suggestion: The government had willfully purged the nurses from the record, and, possibly, the earth, in its effort to hide the alien crash at Roswell. After all, the assumption went, dead women tell no tales.
Schmitt said he had worked with the Army Nurse Corps Historian's Office at the Department of Defense in an attempt to track the five yearbook nurses who, it was assumed, might have talked to Nurse X, heard something, or participated in some way in the Roswell incident. He had also checked with such organizations as the WWII Flight Nurses Association, the Military Reference Branch of the National Archives, and Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper in Washington, DC, for some sign that the nurses had served. No luck.
Even the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Washington, DC, had never heard of them, Schmitt told me, adding, "We are working now with some Pentagon officials who are more than a bit fascinated by the fact that even though we have photographs of these nurses from the yearbook, there are no records on these people."
Randle had also tried to uncover the trail of the Glenn Dennis nurse -- the infamous Nurse X. He had, he told me, looked through the unit history of the 509th Atomic Bomb Wing that was stationed at Roswell, as well as the unit's transfer orders. He said he'd scoured the base phonebook and the town newspaper, which frequently welcomed newcomers to the base. He also did credit searches on the woman -- whose name, he says, Glenn Dennis had divulged to him -- and her alleged brother, but came up empty. Then Schmitt tried birth certificates and baptismal records, based on home town information supplied by Glenn Dennis, with equally dismal results.
The Schmitt-Randle conclusion, communicated emphatically, was plenty clear: Either Glenn Dennis had fabricated Nurse X, they said, or the government had eliminated all vestiges of actual, and documented, life.
When I told my editors at OMNI this intriguing tale, I proposed writing it up as an example of investigatory diligence and the lengths to which UFO researchers would go to uncover witnesses. To my surprise, OMNI saw something entirely different. It was an opportunity to double check Randle and Schmitt's claims -- a situation that does not arise that often in UFOlogy. Had they exercised due diligence? Could I find the nurses' records? And, my editors asked cagily -- the expense budget being small -- could I do so from my desk in Hawaii, without leaving home?
The task was especially important since the missing nurses pointed to sinister government activity -- in other words, the presence of an official, high-level conspiracy to cover up the events at Roswell, as Randle and Schmitt claimed. If the nurses had been wiped off the face of the earth, as the researchers insisted, that would mean someone had gone to great lengths to "erase them." But if the nurses could be found, if there had been no effort to purge them from the databank of life, that would deal the conspiracy theory a notable blow.
I halfheartedly agreed to look for the nurses myself, but didn't have highhopes. Hadn't these guys been at it for five years? This was their life. What chance did I have, given my limited travel budget and my time frame -- a few mere weeks?
I had the names of the six nurses -- five from the Roswell Army Air Field yearbook for 1947, previously supplied by Randle, and Nurse X, given to me by Randle as well. (For more on the true identity of Nurse X, held by some to be Naomi Maria Selff, see "The Truth About Roswell".) So I began by digging in the mid-1940s volumes of the Army Register in the Federal Government Document Depository of the Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii. The Air Force was part of the Army until they went their separate ways in 1947, and the Register purportedly listed the dates of enlistment, promotion, death, and retirement for all personnel. There was even a section devoted to the Army Nurse Corps -- column upon column of names and serial numbers, but no Roswell nurses.
Next I tried Lieutenant Colonel Carolyn Feller at the Army Nurse Corps Historian's Office in Washington, DC. She couldn't help me but suggested Bill Heimdahl at the Air Force Historian's Office, also in Washington. Heimdahl put me on to the World-Wide Air Force Locator at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. A Captain Tom Gilroy found a listing for one of the nurses, Major Claudia Uebele, and her retirement date, 1965. I checked the Air Force Register for 1965, found her, and jotted down her serial number.
With that in hand, I again called Lieutenant Colonel Feller, thinking that with a serial number, she might be able to get me an address or phone number, assuming Uebele was still alive.
No luck. But this time she recommended Bill Siebert, archivist at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which purportedly has records for all past and present military personnel. Bingo. Siebert had records for the five nurses but nothing for Nurse X. Records were complete for Majors Joyce Godard and Claudia Uebele and partial, reconstructed records existed, because of a 1973 fire, for Captain Adeline Fanton, First Lieutenant Angele LaRue, and Lieutenant Colonel Rosemary McManus. To access these, all I had to do was make a formal request using the Freedom of Information Act, which enables citizens like me to ask the government for information and, provided it isn't classified, have some realistic expectation of receiving it.
Amazingly, I had located the records in three days flat, something the Roswell researchers told me they'd been unable to do in five arduous years. But could I find the nurses themselves?
Finding a Nurse
Three weeks later, the records arrived in the mail. Fanton had died in 1975 and Godard in 1981. Then, one of LaRue's relatives told me she had been dead for three or four years. That left Uebele and McManus. The records only gave the city of last-known residence. That was Phoenix in 1978 for McManus and Seal Beach, California, in 1971 for Uebele. But the Personnel Records Center would forward letters to the exact addresses. After calls to directory assistance in both cities turned up nothing, I decided to write letters and send them through the Personnel Records Center.
To do this, I began working with Charles Pelligrini, a management analyst at the center. Two months later the letters were returned -- addressee unknown. Pelligrini suggested I try the Veterans Administration (VA). If the women had collected disability benefits, they would be in the VA files, and I could at least find out if they were dead or alive. The VA had nothing on McManus, but found that Uebele had died just three months earlier in May 1994.
Pelligrini then suggested the Defense Finance and Accounting Office in Cleveland, which cuts pension checks. They had nothing under Rosemary A. McManus, the name on her personnel records. This led to another chat with Pelligrini. McManus had been married twice and had thus also been known as Rosemary M. Jentsch and Rosemary J. Brown. "Try Rosemary J. Brown," said Pelligrini. He was right. And to my surprise, a clerk in Cleveland not only pulled up her name, but gave me her city of residence, too. Directory assistance even supplied a phone number.
Brown was 78 and in a nursing home, but alert. She had already been approached by two other investigators, possibly Schmitt and an associate, but the names escaped her. Yes, she had been stationed at Roswell in July 1947. She remembered the other four yearbook nurses, but not Nurse X, and not Glenn Dennis himself.
What's more, she told me, she had witnessed nothing to suggest a crash at Roswell or any unusual goings-on at the base hospital. "I had no sense of anything weird happening at all," stated Rosemary Brown, formerly McManus.
Interestingly enough, based on readings in recent years, she felt the crash scenario along with the recovery of bodies was plausible. "I know that something went on, and I know it was very hush-hush. And I know I didn't know anything about it (at the time). It was closed up tight as a drum, you know, by the base officials."
She didn't hear any scuttlebutt about it from base personnel, either. "I can tell you that people who I knew, who were on active duty at that time, if they knew anything, they kept their mouths shut -- you know, the pilots and others. I heard nothing directly."
And she says she wasn't told to keep quiet. "We were in the medics. We were not involved in anything like that. If anybody was, it might have been one of the doctors on duty."
She had not kept up with the other nurses. But through the grapevine, she knew that Angele LaRue had married, had had twins, and had moved to Carswell Air Force Base in Texas. She also knew that Joyce Godard had died, but was surprised to learn that Adeline Fanton and Claudia Uebele had passed on as well.
The Roswell Researchers React
What would Schmitt and Randle say to all this? Schmitt wasn't returning my calls, so I gave Randle a ring. He was surprised that I had found the records and asked how I had done it. When I explained that I had gone through the St. Louis Records Center and that I was amazed Schmitt hadn't done the same thing, he agreed. "Surprises the hell out of me, too. I thought that would be the first thing Don would do."
Although Randle had located some witnesses through St. Louis, he was also astonished that they would send out records on living people, particularly when I didn't have serial numbers. "It sounds as if there were two ways to get there," said Randle. "One was the interstate highway system, and the other was the back gravel roads. And Don took the back gravel roads."
My take on that: Don had tried to use some special connections, possibly through his secret government contacts or the Internet, instead of asking right out. I also began to feel that though billed as a team, Randle and Schmitt actually worked independently. When the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, what kind of investigation is that?
Randle said he was impressed with my straightforward approach. In the future, he told me, he would follow my lead in seeking other military witnesses who had seemingly disappeared. He also said he would have Schmitt give me a call.
Weeks passed, and finally Schmitt left an enigmatic message on my machine. I tried to call him to talk directly, but he did not return my calls. Frustrated, I finally called Randle again. He was incredulous that Schmitt had not gotten back to me. "I told Don it was imperative to get back to you," he explained. "I don't want you to say something in your article that is not true, just because we have not made proper connections."
He also said that Schmitt would send me documentation showing he had tried St. Louis in 1990, but had been told that there were no records. Schmitt would definitely call me, said Randle, "so we don't look like clowns bumbling around out here."
He had cause for concern. My investigation was coming at the same time as the Air Force's attempt to discredit their Roswell research with its own Roswell report ("Report of Air Force Research Regarding the Roswell Incident"). In the major thrust of this new, 1994 report, the Air Force contended that the object found at Roswell was actually a high-tech weather balloon, part of the Air Force's once-top-secret Project Mogul.
But the Air Force report also contained other information of special interest to me. One of the Roswell books, apparently the Randle/Schmitt volume, had claimed there were no records on file with the Veterans Administration or the Department of Defense for eleven servicemen stationed at Roswell in 1947. The Air Force went on to say, "That claim sounded serious, so investigators checked these eleven names in the Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Using only the names (since the authors did not list the serial numbers) the researcher quickly found records readily identifiable for eight of them. The other three had such common names that there could have been multiple possibilities." Still, Randle seemed unphased by this discovery.
To Randle, the explanation was simple: Because he and Schmitt had raised a stink about the disappearing records, someone was returning them to the St. Louis files. Randle said this wouldn't harm their reputation, however, because Schmitt had the documentation to prove that the records were unavailable when he had requested them in 1990.
It wasn't necessarily an Air Force plot, either. Randle was willing to entertain the possibility that the records were misfiled or in use by other researchers when Schmitt asked for them. He offered as evidence the fact that the records of some military personnel critical to the Roswell story were easily located, while others less central to the reported events of July 1947 had seemed to evaporate. "This would suggest that there was another reason why those records were missing," according to Randle, "and it had nothing to do with Roswell."
What about the nurses? To my amazement, Schmitt, who had finally reached me, did an about face: In a total reversal of his position, he told me he'd known about the St. Louis records and had documentation of his search. In fact, he said, he'd even found and interviewed Lieutenant Colonel Rosemary J. Brown.
I was incredulous. Here I'd been about to base a national magazine story on Schmitt's fruitless search for the missing nurses, and he says he's been pulling my leg. "It is not that we were putting out misinformation," he said,"it is just that we were denying that we found anything." He also expressed surprise that four of the five yearbook nurses were dead.
Why the initial claim of the vanishing records, which is what resulted in myinvestigation? His explanation goes something like this: Schmitt believes that Brown may actually be Glenn Dennis's nurse -- the woman who allegedly was present at the alien autopsy -- even though her name is not the same as the one Dennis gave him "because she is about one and a half hours from Minneapolis-St. Paul, which Glenn was under the impression was Nurse X's home town." Granted, Brown does not admit to any knowledge of the alleged crash, but Schmitt still hopes that she might be won over and persuaded to talk. "She may or may not know something, but she is the closest thing that we have. That is why we have treated her with kid gloves," says Schmitt, "and why I haven't publicized the fact that we have found her."
I later confronted Randle, and he agreed Schmitt's current claim was true as well: "What we found in the past," said Randle, "is that when we have let stuff slip out early that it has come back to haunt us in some fashion." So now they kept information quiet until it was thoroughly researched. They even knew about the death of Major Joyce Godard, another one of the Roswell nurses, but didn't reveal it, because they wanted to talk to her surviving relatives, said Randle, before other researchers got to them.
All well and good, but then why make an issue of the missing nurses in the first place, as if their very absence were proof of a government attempt to perpetrate conspiracy, erase information (and even people), and be sinister in the extreme?
The Slippery Sands
I was now deep in the heart of conspiracy country, and I had to watch my step if I wanted to get at the truth, because these were slippery sands. Here's how my logic went: On the one hand, it was possible that Randle and Schmitt had, as they now claimed, known about the nurses from the git-go, deciding to feed OMNI erroneous information on some lark. It could be that when I contacted them they said, "Ah, there's our stooge!" On the other hand, perhaps they hadn't found the nurses -- perhaps their original story, the one they wanted me to write for OMNI initially, had been delivered straight. Could they have been embarrassed that their five-year search, including private detectives, elaborate inside connections, and computer expertise, had been largely unsuccessful, while I'd come up with the goods in three short days? Might they have invented their latest story just recently to save face?
Like the nurses themselves, I reasoned, I could find the truth in documentation. I would press Randle and Schmitt to show me proof. And the evidence I'd ask for would be specific. I myself, after all, had found the nurses through St. Louis. I had documents to that effect, including the papers received by way of the Freedom of Information Act. Randle and Schmitt claimed they had traveled that route -- the superhighway for information in this case -- as well. If so, they should have papers, too.
Again I left my messages on answering machines and waited weeks for my calls to be returned. I'd just about given up hope of ever hearing from them again when, one day, Schmitt called. He had been in Roswell, he said, had returned, and was, as usual, ready to help me in any way that he could.
To get the documentation on the St. Louis searches he told me to contact his assistant, Brad Radcliffe, a Wisconsin therapist, who had done the work. But when I called Radcliffe at his place of employment, using the number Schmitt had given me, Radcliffe didn't know who I was or what I wanted. In fact, in keeping with his practice of not mixing UFO work with his day job, he asked that I fax my request for the documentation.
The next day I got even more "help" from Schmitt. Sarah Gillmore, another assistant, called to say that several months earlier she had talked to Lieutenant Colonel Brown and that she would answer any questions that I had. Even though I had not asked Schmitt for any information on Brown, Gillmore and I had a pleasant chat, and I eventually discovered that Gillmore didn't know anything about the St. Louis records search or its documentation. I reiterated my request for documentation, and assumed that it would get back to Schmitt -- again.
My take was this: Schmitt wanted to show me he could be helpful, even if he didn't have any documentation showing that he had queried St. Louis.
The following day my fax cranked out five pages from Radcliffe. Unfortunately, it was all about his attempts to get confirmation from the Pentagon, various retired nurses groups, and other organizations that the nurses had served in the military -- information I had not asked for -- while my request for St. Louis documentation was completely ignored, except to say that St. Louis had no listing for the women. The next day I left a message with his wife indicating that what I really needed was the St. Louis material. She said her husband would get back to me.
When I hadn't heard from Radcliffe in four days, I gave him a ring just to make sure that he knew what I wanted. He was confrontational and disdainful of my efforts, even though he wouldn't let me tell him what I was doing. "I really don't have time now," he said. Nor did he offer to make it. He again told me to follow up with the Pentagon and the nurses organizations and didn't want to hear anything about St. Louis. The message I got was that if the women weren't on file with the places he had checked, then it was unimportant that I had found their records at the St. Louis center.
"I could have my twelve-year-old go to St. Louis and get records," said Radcliffe, as if to offer the ease of getting information there as his reason for not pursuing that avenue first, if at all.
I was beginning to think Radcliffe was the end of the chain. The nurses had been his responsibility, and he had not tried the obvious -- St. Louis. On top of that, could the airmen, whose records the Air Force so easily unearthed for their Roswell rebuttal, also have been his responsibility? No wonder he didn't want to talk to me.
Even so, I decided to take Radcliffe's advice and touch base with his sources. I would redo Radcliffe's search and see what he had found. If Schmitt was correct and the Air Force was now covering its tracks, the evidence, after all, would be here.
I started with Stars and Stripes. I was told they had back issues of their newspaper but no records for the Roswell nurses or any other nurses. I was referred to Stars and Stripes, Pacific and European, housed at the Pentagon.They didn't keep records of nurses, either, but suggested the Women in Military Service Memorial Foundation, also in Washington, a source Radcliffe had not cited, but which Schmitt had mentioned.
At the foundation, Lieutenant General Wilma Vaught, Retired, entered all the names into her database, but couldn't find a match. Still, there was a rub.Vaught pointed out that someone had to submit the names of the women in order for them to get into the database. It is something anyone can do, but "there's a potential of 1.6 to 1.7 million names and we've only got about 150,000, so there are all kinds that have never been entered," she said. It's not surprising, then, that the Roswell nurses weren't there.
Following Radcliffe's lead, I also contacted Captain Ethel Cerasale, Retired,a Floridian and past president of the World War II Flight Nurses Association, who has been active in the group since 1960. She didn't check her records because she has been involved with the organization for so long that she has the members' names in her head. "As far as my records go, I've had them around for a long time, and I am very familiar with them. And I don't recognize any of the names," she said. But she also said that there was no reason to assume that there was something strange or suspect about a woman not being on file with her organization. "It was a very small group who were Air Evacuation Nurses," said Cerasale, "and we only have about 500 members now."
Undeterred, I called Colonel Ruth Fussell, Retired, another Radcliffe source in Florida, who I assumed was the head of, or an officer in, the Society of Retired Air Force Nurses. To my surprise, she was not an officer in the organization and never had been. "I don't even go to the meetings anymore,"she said. She didn't have any records, but did check her membership directory -- the sort of booklet all members receive -- which didn't list any of the Roswell nurses. But that didn't surprise Fussell since the society is a voluntary organization. "People don't have to belong," said Fussell. Why had Radcliffe approached her? "I don't know," said Fussell.
Maybe I did: Perhaps Radcliffe didn't know how to do this sort of research. In any event, I slogged on.
But the story was the same at the National Archives and at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, both in Washington, DC. Experts in both places directed me, specifically and emphatically, to the records center in St. Louis.
"The St. Louis Records Center has the personnel files, which are proof that someone served," said Archivist Deanne Blanton of the Military Reference Branch of the National Archives.
"This is only a small office," said the Nurse Corps Historian, Major Connie Moore . "The people who keep personnel records are in St. Louis."
It was uncanny. Even when I replicated Radcliffe's search, all roads led to St. Louis. Even if I'd done it his way, I would have gotten to the Roswell nurses in three days tops.
Radcliffe, on the other hand, had asked these organizations for the records,and when they couldn't comply, concluded he'd come up against a plot to hide the fact that these women had ever served in the Army Nurse Corps at all. In his fax to me he even cited the records of the Society of Retired Air Force Nurses and the WWII Flight Nurses Association and wrote, "They claim to have everyone who was ever a nurse." Right.
Where does this leave us? If we can believe the records, and I suppose if we are entertaining conspiracies, we have to enter the caveat that maybe we can't, the mystery is solved. The records have been found and the whereaboutsof all the nurses -- except for the elusive Nurse X -- have been determined. And remember: We have little more than the word of Glenn Dennis that this woman ever existed because, like 10 or 15 percent of Roswell personnel, her photo was not in the yearbook. In any event, it can no longer be claimed that the women vanished, if it ever could.
As to the second mystery -- the mystery of Randle and Schmitt -- that remains unsolved. Were they feeding me misinformation from the start? Did they know, all along, that Captain Joyce Godard was dead and Lieutenant Colonel Rosemary Brown was still alive? If so, why did they lead me on, deliberately encouraging a national magazine to publish a story they knew was a lie?
Or, on the other hand, was their research just unforgivably sloppy? Did they delegate so much responsibility to untrained help that they lost oversight and ultimate control? Did they really think the nurses had vanished off the face of the earth after service at Roswell, only to learn otherwise in the face of OMNI's investigation and then, in a panic, try to hide their mistake?
Their explanations aside, I don't think I'll ever really know.
Anyone who has read the books of Randle and Schmitt knows they have put in a lot of work over the years. Here are a couple of guys trying to reconstruct an event that occurred almost 50 years ago. No easy task. And if they are right, they are also butting heads with elements of the federal government. But they have been caught with their pants down on this one. Not only do they now say they fabricated their "vanishing nurses" claim, which they hoped would be published in OMNI, they also cited evidence that just didn't stand up to inspection. It seems to me that in UFOlogy, more than in fields where follow-up and replication are common, researchers have a special obligation to get it right and not inflate their claims. To paraphrase astronomer J. Allen Hynek, one of the scientific fathers of the field, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Randle and Schmitt have not produced the latter here.
(Originally appeared in OMNI Vol. 17, No. 8, Fall 1995)
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