Everyone has heard of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But what about close encounters of the fatal kind? The field of UFO is rife with unsettling examples of suspicious deaths. Accounts of accidents that might have been accidents after all, abound. Researchers and witnesses have vanished, never to be seen again. Here we share an excerpt from Chapter 6: Flying Into Oblivion from author Nick Redfern's new release.
At about 9:30 a.m. on November 10, 1953, Karl Hunrath and Wilbur Wilkinson, two friends originally from Wisconsin but at the time living in California, hired a small airplane and took to the skies of Los Angeles. It was the last time either man was seen alive. It was the last time the aircraft was seen, too. Maybe they crashed shortly after takeoff and died fiery deaths. If so, where was the wreckage? Where were the bodies? No one, including the emergency services that launched a hasty search and rescue operation when it became apparent that something was awry, could find a single piece of telltale evidence of such an accident anywhere. It was almost as if Hunrath and Wilkinson had been abducted by aliens. In fact, that may have been precisely what happened to them.
When news of the pair’s vanishing act surfaced, many of California’s UFO researchers voiced their suspicions that Hunrath and Wilkinson had been whisked away to a faraway world by benevolent aliens—the so-called Space Brothers that dominated so much of the West Coast world of Ufology in the 1950s. Others researchers took a far bleaker approach to the whole thing and pondered the possibility that deadly aliens had lured the pair to their deaths somewhere in the mountains of California. Such thoughts were not at all unreasonable ones. Hunrath and Wilkinson were big players on the Los Angeles UFO scene at the time and, in the weeks and months leading up to their disappearances, were making it widely and loudly known that they had made contacts with at least two races of extraterrestrials—via ESP, drugs, and Ouija boards, no less. But how had the two men become embroiled in the UFO controversy in the first place? The answer is a strange one.
Hunrath, Adamski, and the FBI
The deeply curious saga all began when Hunrath—a man with a violent, hair-trigger temper, a dislike of women, and a flair for creating all manner of electronic gadgets and gizmos—decided to get hot on the flying saucer trail. That meant heading out to where most of the alien action was taking place: California. In late 1952, Hunrath quit his job in Wisconsin, left his rental house firmly behind, and took a one-way flight to Los Angeles. After quickly establishing new roots in L.A., Hunrath wasted no time at all in hooking up with the major UFO players in and around town. That included George Hunt Williamson, George Adamski, and George Van Tassel—three of the most famous, but undeniably controversial, UFO contactees of all time. As well as the three Georges, Hunrath also spent much time getting to know Frank Scully, the author of the very first book on crashed UFO incidents, Behind the Flying Saucers, which Scully cranked out in just six weeks in 1950. But, it was on January 12, 1953 that matters really began to develop.
On the morning of the day in question, Hunrath was hanging out at the home of George Adamski—on Palomar Mountain, California—along with Jerrold Baker, one of Adamski’s faithful followers. Quite out of the blue, Hunrath boasted loudly that only a few days earlier he had met with a group of long-haired, human-like aliens in a desert area on the outskirts of Joshua Tree, California. Not only that, the hippy-like ETs had supposedly given Hunrath a fantastically advanced weapon that had the ability to destroy aircraft in flight. Rather oddly, Hunrath gave the deadly device its very own name: Bosco. Having no love for his own government, or even for his fellow citizens, Hunrath practically bellowed to Adamski that he might even test the weapon on an aircraft or several of the U.S. military, just to see how powerful it really was. An outraged and worried Adamski immediately ordered Hunrath off his property. And that’s when the problems began.
Unknown to Hunrath, Adamski, and Baker, Adamski’s secretary, Lucy McGinnis, overheard Hunrath’s less-than-patriotic rant and was quite understandably unnerved by the whole situation. As a result, she chose to quietly phone the soon-to-be wife of Jerrold Baker, whose name was Irma, to let her know that her fiancé was mixing with distinctly disturbing company, namely Hunrath. Irma utterly freaked out when the details of the aircraft-destroying technology were outlined to her, petrified that her beloved Jerrold might be hauled off to jail by the Feds. So, Irma took her own course of action: She quickly called the FBI.
Within just a few hours, two unsmiling special agents of J. Edgar Hoover’s crime-fighting agency were sitting on Adamski’s couch, grilling him all about Bosco and Uncle Sam’s aircraft, and specifically the potential threat the former posed to the latter. The pair told Adamski they had heard rumors that he, Adamski “had in his possession a machine which could draw ‘flying saucers’ and airplanes down from the sky” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1953). Although this was completely untrue, Adamski realized immediately that the FBI agents were actually talking about Hunrath—who, up until the bust-up earlier on that very same day that led to the FBI arriving, had been fairly chummy with Adamski for two months or so.
Hardly impressed by Adamski’s tales of the alien variety, but finally satisfied that it was Hunrath, and not Adamski, that they needed to focus on, the G-Men left, but not before giving the petrified Adamski a stern order to keep away from Hunrath from now on. Adamski didn’t need telling twice. His path never again crossed with that of Hunrath.
For the next few months, the FBI kept a careful, secret watch on just about every move that Hunrath made, just in case he really was in possession of advanced technology—whether of extraterrestrial or human origin—that could bring down military aircraft, or UFOs, in fatal fashion. Another reason for such intense surveillance of Hunrath was the fact that the FBI uncovered never-substantiated rumors that he was working for the Russians, trying to find out the truth about UFOs for Kremlin paymasters! During this same period, Hunrath convinced Wilbur Wilkinson, an old friend from Wisconsin, to join him in Los Angeles in his quest for the truth about UFOs. Given that Hunrath was very much a crazed Dr. Frankenstein–type to Wilkinson’s meek and subservient Igor, it didn’t take much to persuade Wilkinson to make the move, which occurred in March 1953.
Seeking Out the Saucer People
When Wilkinson and his wife reached Los Angeles, they found themselves a pleasant home, settled into their new lives, and became more and more immersed in the UFO issue. Whereas Wilkinson’s wife was content to remain an interested, but somewhat detached and slightly cynical, observer of the phenomenon, Wilkinson himself became overwhelmingly obsessed by all things of a flying saucer nature. On several occasions in the months that followed, Hunrath and Wilkinson traveled to the Prescott, Arizona, home of George Hunt Williamson to further their UFO pursuits.
The three spent hours engaged in nighttime experimentation—under the stars—trying to contact extraterrestrial entities on a telepathic-style basis. Reportedly, this was achieved by taking hits of mescaline and plunging their minds into decidedly altered states. Supposedly, such experimentation worked all too well. On one particular night during the first week of November 1953, Hunrath and Wilkinson received the mind-to-mind invite from their disembodied contacts from above that ultimately relegated them to oblivion, and provoked wild rumors that the pair had been kidnapped, or even killed, by alien entities. With matters having now reached their peak, the two said their goodbyes to Williamson—who was the very last person in the flying saucer field to ever see them—and planned the final countdown to cosmic contact. As to what happened next, it’s still a matter of conjecture, six decades later.
Ten days after the two disappeared, the Los Angeles Mirror newspaper highlighted the mystifying affair in its pages—as well as the attendant theory that their vanishing act was the work of aliens, good, evil, or indifferent. Suddenly, and hardly surprisingly, pretty much the entirety of the rest of the city’s media descended upon the Wilkinson home. When the press arrived they found that the walls of Wilkinson’s den were covered—from almost floor to ceiling—with photos, drawings, press clippings, and more, all on the subject of UFOs.
On top of that, what the Los Angeles Mirror described as strange signs and formulas—but which Mrs. Wilkinson said was actually an interplanetary language—were scrawled on numerous sheets of paper that lay in haphazard, discarded-looking fashion on the floor. When questioned about all of this, Mrs. Wilkinson stated that although she was not overly into the subject of UFOs, her husband certainly was, chiefly as a result of Hunrath’s bullying encouragement. She added—in a fashion that only increased the weirdness—the two men had recently been in contact with an alien name Regga, from the planet Masar. Quite what the Los Angeles media thought of that is anyone’s guess. (“Saucer Investigators in Strange Disappearance,” 1953)
Was it true? Were Hunrath and Wilkinson invited to take a one-way trip to another, faraway world by benevolent aliens? Or was the whole thing a fatal ruse—a terrible ploy engineered by deadly extraterrestrials, as some of their friends and family members suspected? Others speculated that the whole affair could be explained away as mere accident and offered that nothing stranger than engine trouble had probably led to terrible tragedy and death on the mountains of California. Some, however, weren’t quite so sure that the baffling disappearance of Hunrath and Wilkinson was just due to careless pilot error or mechanical malfunction. But those same souls weren’t looking to ET for the answers, either. They were looking across the border or to the government. And not just the U.S. government.
George Hunt Williamson, who, as we have seen, spent considerable time with Hunrath and Wilkinson, was one of the more vocal ones on this matter:
Some people think the two men went to Mexico, but they didn't have enough fuel for the trip. It has also been reported that Karl is in England and will reappear shortly and also that he has been seen recently in Los Angeles with his hair dyed. He has been called a spaceman, a man possessed of evil spirits, an angel, a member of the F.B.I., and a Russian spy. What he really was no-one [sic] knows (Williamson, 1953).
Despite having occurred more than 60 years ago, the story of the baffling disappearance of Hunrath and Wilkinson refuses to fully roll over and die. Shortly before his death in November 2012, at the age of 81, longtime UFO researcher Jim Moseley shared with me his decades-old notes on the Hunrath-Wilkinson affair, compiled as part of a plan to write an ultimately aborted book on the 1950s-era UFO scene.
In part, Moseley’s December 1953 notes state that certain, pertinent information was brought to his attention by Manon Darlaine, a rich, elderly woman who worked with French Intelligence during the First World War and who later moved to Los Angeles to follow her passion for UFOs. In Moseley’s own words, and according to Darlaine, the aircraft in which Hunrath and Wilkinson vanished “has been found, but the men have not. The plane was dismantled, i.e., taken apart carefully and willfully, but not destroyed or damaged as it would be in a crash. This fact serves to deepen the mystery” (Moseley, 1953).
It certainly does deepen the puzzle. With Darlaine, Williamson, Adamski, Hunrath, and Wilkinson all long gone, and Moseley having now passed on, too, it seems that whatever really led to the disappearance of that curious pair of UFO researchers in the November 1953 skies of California is something destined to remain a mystery.
A Plane Crashes; Two Men Die
Despite the long and winding nature of the story, and its undeniable links to the UFO phenomenon, one has to wonder if Karl Hunrath and Wilbur Wilkinson really were taken out of circulation by extraterrestrials or if their vanishing act was carefully staged. There’s a very good reason for that speculation. It revolves around two things in particular. Recall that Hunrath was (a) originally from Racine, Wisconsin and (b) had supposedly been given an advanced alien weapon that could disable and destroy U.S. military aircraft. This was the oddly named Bosco, you will recall. Under very weird circumstances, less than two weeks after Hunrath and Wilkinson went missing, and only a short distance from Racine, two baffling and deadly events occurred, both involving military jets, one of which crashed and the other vanished, never to be seen again.
It all began on the afternoon of November 23, 1953, when a Northrop F-89 Scorpion aircraft, flying out of Truax Field, Madison, Wisconsin, plunged from the skies and slammed into the swampy shores of Lake Wingra, a small body of water, also in Madison. On board were pilot First Lieutenant John W. Schmidt and radar operator Captain Glen E. Collins. The story was big news for the people of Madison. It was tragic news, too, because both men were killed in the crash.
Madison’s local newspaper, the Capital Times, on November 24, 1953, noted that one Colonel Shoup, a spokesperson for Truax Field, was “convinced that the men had stuck with their plane in an attempt to keep it from crashing into densely-occupied areas of Madison. He praised the cooperation of police, fireman, members of the press and radio and others in trying to find the men” (“Second Truax Jet, 2 Fliers Missing,” 1953). The newspaper added that a “sudden mechanical failure” caused the crash—a “failure” that occurred so quickly neither Schmidt nor Collins had time to bail out or make a distress call (Ibid.). Significantly, when Major Donald E. Keyhoe—a noted UFO investigator from the 1950s to the 1980s—looked into the matter, he learned from a colleague, Frank Edwards, that “several witnesses said a saucer flew near the plane, just before it dived into a swamp” (Ibid.).
The distance from Karl Hunrath’s hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, to Madison, Wisconsin, was just 104 miles by road, which would have presented no problems in transporting the allegedly shoebox-sized Bosco and deploying it somewhere in the vicinity of Madison.