Rex Heflin in Memoriam
The news came as a shock, since Rex had left a message a few days earlier on my answering machine that he wanted to "catch up" with what was happening on the four UFO Polaroid photos that he had taken on mardi 3 août 1965, which had been studied and restudied by numerous researchers during the ensuing years.
More recently, a team of scientists - Dr. Robert M. Wood, Dr. Eric Kelson, and I had reanalyzed Heflin's photos with state-of the-art computer technology, and had our findings published in a refereed scientific journal, the Journal of Scientific Exploration.'
Our paper clarified certain questions which various researchers in the UFO field had raised over the years concerning the validity of Heflin's four pictures.
Our study also revived the field's interest in these photos, which showed the nearby passage of an unidentified craft, and answered all doubts which had been raised over the years about them.
Rex Heflin had the unexpected privilege of photographing the close passage of an extraordinary UFO on 3,000 ASA Polaroid film shortly after 12 h on the afternoon.
At the time, he was a highway maintenance engineer for the Orange County Road Department, based in Santa Ana, CA, and had been in the midst of duties which involved detecting possible hazards to highway traffic.
Part of his job involved keeping all traffic signs clearly visible to motorists, and he had noted that branches of a tree were obscuring a railroad crossing sign in the vicinity. He attempted to report the obscured sign to his supervisor on his van radio, but for some unexplained reason his radio failed.
At about the same instant an unidentified flying craft flew across his field of view. Heflin saw it first through the window of his work van as it crossed Myford Road. The unidentified craft had a shiny dome and rim which reflected the sunlight, and a broad black band circumventing its midsection.
Intrigued, he grabbed his work camera, a Polaroid 101 loaded with 3000 ASA film, from the right passenger seat and
snapped a picture (Photo One) through the windshield. Then, as the craft spun off northwards from his position, it
tipped, revealing a dark underside with a greenish-white light beam rotating clockwise around the bottom, from the
center out to the rim.
He took a second picture (Photo Two)
through the van's passenger window. As the craft moved further away, the sunlit features were less distinct, but the black band still showed clearly. Heflin took a third picture (Photo Three).
Then the craft seemed to "wobble," then "stabilized", and gained speed. It headed quickly toward the northeast, traveling directly over the Santa Ana freeway that cut across the landscape about one and a half miles away.
After it disappeared from his sight, he saw a ring of bluish-black smoke in the sky; Heflin wondered if the strange craft had "blown off' its black band.
He drove about 1/2 mile toward the smoke ring, which was gradually rising in altitude.
Getting out of his van, he photographed the "ring" as it slowly traveled northeast at an angle of about 50 degrees elevation (Photo Four).
The only reference points in the fourth photo, besides clouds from the overcast sky, were a telephone wire and a small limb of a tree in an orange grove. Heflin judged the ring to be three to four times larger than the diameter of the craft which had apparently emitted it. It was bent out-of-shape by light winds, but Heflin was nevertheless surprised at the smoke ring's "solid" appearance; it did not dissipate like ordinary smoke.
He assumed that the object was some kind of experimental aircraft from EI Toro Marine Base, which was about one mile south of his position.
Still thinking he had photographed an experimental plane, he then noted that his radio worked well again. The demands of his work meant that he could not wait and watch the smoke ring, although intrigued with its cohesiveness. It was like nothing he had ever seen before.
He continued on with his work, leaving the area of the smoke ring. Returning later to his Santa Ana office, he showed the four Polaroid pictures to colleagues at the Highway Department, and it was then that the object first began to be regarded as a "possible UFO."
The fourth photo of the enigmatic "smoke ring" met with skepticism and negative remarks by some colleagues, and Heflin stopped showing it, figuring that "three photos were enough for one day."
Rex knew nothing about the UFO phenomenon, and had little interest in it at the time.
Within a few weeks, however, so many friends and relatives had become interested that the Santa Anna Register, a prominent newspaper in Orange County, checked at EI Toro Marine Base to determine if anyone on the base had seen the craft. The Register had been given the photos by one of Heflin's relatives. EI Toro officials denied that any re ports of a possible "UFO" had been received, and also denied that it was an experimental aircraft from their base.
Copies of Heflin's first three photos were made from Heflin's originals by the Registers chief photographer, Clay T. Miller, and these were published for the first time in the Register on Sept. 20 1965, together with an objective account of the event, six weeks after the event had occurred.
Heflin was never asked for permission to print the photos, and even though they were subsequently published widely in journals and magazines throughout the world, he never copyrighted them or asked any remuneration for their use.
Investigators from the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) were the first to research the event in an objective manner.
At that time, the Los Angeles NICAP Subcommittee, LANS, was headed by noted biophysicist Dr. Leslie K. Kaeburn, and later by Idabel Epperson, a talented and objective investigator whose public relations skills were vital to the subcommittee. Other LANS members, including this author, contributed peripheral research on other aspects of the case.
Two NICAP investigators from Orange County, Ed Evers and John Gray, who were aviation engineers employed at North American, and Dr. Robert M. Wood thoroughly investigated every aspect of the sighting and photos, including on-site study.
During the next three years, five expert teams of photographic analysts around the country studied them with then state-of-the-art technology, failing to find any evidence of a hoax.
Other aspects of the sightings, including the van's radio interference, were also thoroughly investigated. The radio interference was found to be unexplainable, and gradually became regarded as possible electromagnetic interference caused by passage of the unidentified craft.
According to Heflin's superior, Herm Kimmel, the sudden cutoff was akin to "button-release," except that there was no "blip," which occurred when the button was released normally.
The painstaking investigation of all these aspects of the photos and the event in general, together with thorough investigation of Heflin's veracity, resulted in the "Heflin Photos" being regarded widely in the field as among the very finest- and clearest- photos ever taken of a UFO.
Early on in UFO research, objective researchers had realized that only those reports where documented proof of the existence of UFOs could be obtained would convince the scientific community at large that the UFO phenomenon constituted a scientific problem that called for serious, interdisciplinary study.
In other words, only by presenting empirical evidence (the next thing to hard, scientific proof) could adequate funding be brought to solving the problem.
Lay investigative groups like the NICAP, APRO and CSI were some of the pioneer groups of skilled investigators possessing the necessary professional research skills to thoroughly investigate UFO reports.
From the early 1950s, however, the government was denying that unidentified flying objects existed at all, and scientists in general simply dismissed the subject.
One class of sightings that held out hope of proof that UFOs actually existed to civilian investigators and the few scientists who then studied them were UFO photo cases which held up under the most careful study by photogrammetric techniques available at the time.
Very few UFO photos survived scientific analysis, and the same situation, of course, still exists.
As the years of investigation continued on the Heflin photos, almost constant harassment from curiosity seekers plagued him, but through it all he maintained his remarkably calm and good natured equilibrium.
He changed his telephone number several times in an effort to ward off crank calls, but strangely his unlisted telephone number was soon "discovered" by other curiosity seekers. The Santa Ana Road Department was also swamped with calls.
During all this, Heflin cooperated with visits from several governmental sources, including Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force officials. The Air Force conducted an official inquiry on behalf of Project Bluebook, which was, at the time, the only publicly-known official Air Force group responsible for studying UFOs. The investigating officer, Capt. Charles F. Reichmuth, copied and re turned the photos, as had the Navy and Marine Corps intelligence officers. Reichmuth checked with Heflin's supervisors and learned that Heflin was a valuable employee mature, alert and trustworthy. Reichmuth noted in his report that he "could find no evidence to disagree with this estimate," and sent his report to Project Blue Book at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH! Through it all, Heflin displayed no interest in publicity, but whenever he was questioned by objective researchers was always forthright, good-humored, and extremely objective. In spite of Reichmuth's generally positive report, a later Project Blue Book "Photo Analysis Report" described a "comparison shot" made by other Air Force officials of a nine-inch vapor tray tossed into the air at 15-20 feet distance. The results of the vapor tray experiment evidently satisfied Project Blue Book; it officially listed the Heflin photos as a hoax in spite of Capt. Reichmuth's report which stated, "From all appearances, he is not attempting to perpetrate a hoax."
On Sept. 20,1965, a man representing himself as a NORAD colonel phoned Heflin and arranged to meet him two days later, warning him not to discuss the event further with the press. On the appointed evening two men in civilian clothes, claiming to be from NORAD, came to his door. One of them flashed a salmon & green card which Heflin thought looked similar to those carried by EI Toro Marines. He did not remember the name on the man's ID, but noted that it did not have a photo. The second man did not participate in the conversation. Heflin obligingly lent the self-styled NORAD men the three pictures of the craft, fully expecting that they would be returned as the USMC, the USAF, and the US Navy had done. No mention was made of the fourth photo of the smoke ring, for it had received little publicity, and Heflin retained it. The "NORAD" men failed to return the photos. Heflin tried to track them down with the assistance of NICAP- LANS, but NORAD disclaimed any knowledge of them. Heflin even contacted his congressman, Representative Utt, who inquired on behalf of Heflin and was assured that NORAD offices had been searched "from top to bottom" with no results. The identity of the two "NORAD" men remains unknown to this day. As a consequence, Heflin and UFO researchers were left with only copies of some of the most promising UFO photos that had ever come to light. Heflin was criticized by some in the UFO field for lending out his originals in what they considered a "careless" fashion. Heflin, however, was used to working with government and military officials in the course of his work. In addition, he was by nature a trusting individual, and at first had been rather indifferent about the photos. Being a natural skeptic about UFOs, he had, for weeks after the event, continued to think that the object was probably an experimental aircraft. Not until scientists and engineers connected with NICAP-LANS and other organizations took interest in the photos, and particularly after they were stolen by the so-called NORAD men, did he begin to think he had photographed something highly unusual i.e., a "UFO."
In the spring of 1966, a highly respected scientist, James E. McDonald, PhD, publicly entered the field of UFO research and began working closely with objective lay researchers, engineers, and scientists. As senior physicist at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Arizona at Tucson, he was a highly talented scientist who persistently pursued unanswered questions in science. To him, the government's apparent neglect of UFO reports was unsound and seemed to be a "grand foul-up."
Since 1958, he had quietly conducted an eight-year study of the phenomenon, and had come to the conclusion that UFOs were a serious scientific question that the establishment at large was neglecting badly.
McDonald worked closely with NICAP-LANS and other objective investigators on the Heflin photos, and came to the eventual conclusion that Heflin was completely reliable and that his photos were among the very few UFO pictures which could be considered "genuine."
He included them in his list of" 100 best cases" which he sent to the Condon Committee staff in 1967, suggesting that they be studied by that newly-funded Air Force study.
Extremely dubious of the Air Force "hoax explanation," McDonald wrote in his own "Heflin" file: "Wonder if anyone had taken Rex's camera, set it for 15 feet, shot a nine-inch vapor pan, and then checked for blurring of the freeway power lines visible in Heflin's photos?"
Photogrammetric analysis of the photos had already shown that the telephone lines (and the UFO) were in sharp focus, indicating that Heflin had held his camera steady as he snapped his four photos.
McDonald also re-investigated the interference on Heflin's van radio, since this was possible physical evidence.
He learned that other Highway Department radio systems in the area had been affected at the same time, including Heflin's superior, Herm Kimmel, who was in a mobile Traffic and Planning vehicle on the Santa Ana freeway north of Heflin's position.
The radio trouble was not normal static or interference-the system, it was "just dead."
Consulting a University of Arizona colleague, Walt Evans, McDonald satisfied himself that it was "quite conceivable that a strong [electromagnetic] field at the same frequency as Heflin was calling out on could "blank" the system, because the type of amplifier usually used in first stage would simply block or saturate at very high receiver signal strength and transmit nothing at all."
McDonald also investigated the Heflin photo event on-site. He had begun to wonder why the first three pictures of the craft in flight, taken from inside Heflin's van, apparently showed "flat" overcast skies, while the fourth photo, which Heflin had taken outside his vehicle about a minute later, showed what McDonald's meteorologist's eye identified as "substantial clouds" in the vicinity of the ring.
He checked with every available weather service within fifty miles of the Myford Road site and became convinced, from scientific data concerning humidity and temperature in the locality for that date and time that the clouds in Heflin's #4 Photo of the smoke-ring could not possibly have formed in the sky at that location on the date in question.
He slowly began to suspect that Heflin had taken the fourth picture at another time and place. He also wondered why the smoke-ring photo had not been printed in the Santa Anna Register s original article.
ldabel Epperson of LANS, one of the principal correspondents with McDonald, explained that Heflin had not emphasized Photo #4 partially because of his co-workers' negative reaction, but that he'd never intended to hide its existence.
Early on in the investigation, he had lent the fourth photo to NICAP investigator Ed Evers to be copied along with the other three, but it had not been copied by any other source except LANS. Epperson had also checked weather data concerned with Heflin's sighting.
G. W. Kalstrom of the U. S. Weather Bureau at LAX International Airport had assured her that thick clouds could, and did, form in portions of the Los Angeles Basin when the rest of the sky was merely overcast.
The main reason for the difference in the appearance of the sky, however, lay in the fact that the first three photos had been taken inside Heflin's work van, and the automatic light meter on his Polaroid camera had tended to minimize any features in the sky, whereas Photo #4, showing the smoke-ring, had been taken outdoors.
Epperson also noted that her copies of the photos, particularly Photo #1, showed quite heavy clouds, while McDonald's copies, which were a different "generation," showed a "flat" sky:
The differences between Epperson's and McDonald's images lay in the fact that the two copies had been made by different film developers using different degrees of exposure.
Since the so-called NORAD men had stolen the original Polaroids of Photos #1, #2 and #3, investigators had had to rely on copies of these pictures, not the originals.
Epperson had also noticed the difference in the sky in Photos #1, #2, and #3 from the definitely clouded sky in Photo #4.
She had learned from the National Weather Records Center and other weather stations close to EI Toro that an overcast sky could look essentially "flat" in pictures taken at a low angle from inside an enclosed vehicle, but would show the sky as it actually appeared with thick overcast in a photo clearance." taken outdoors, where the camera's automatic light meter performed in normal fashion.
McDonald remained doubtful, possibly because he was an expert in atmospheric physics, not photography!
By now, LANS members had become well-acquainted with McDonald's fierce persistence when bird-dogging a case, and assured Heflin that that it was typical of McDonald to affirm and re-affirm every possible aspect of sightings that captured his interest. Besides this, McDonald had written personally to Heflin: "As you know, your 1965 photos remain the outstanding photographic evidence yet submitted concerning UFO's."
By the time McDonald investigated the case on-site, LANS had done a two-year check on Heflin's character and work record, and had been assured by his superiors and co-workers that he was a straightforward individual, had 15 years of responsible duty in the County Road Department, and was not the type to pull a hoax that could jeopardize his job.
The fact that Heflin had an off-beat sense of humor and joked at times in a deadpan fashion, especially when irritated, in no way detracted from his truthful and responsible nature.
EarlyinNovember,1967,McDonald traveled to Southern California with William Hartmann, PhD, a University of Arizona faculty member who had been selected by the Condon Committee to be in charge of UFO photo cases.
They interviewed officials and radar technicians at El Toro Marine Base, learning that the investigating officer there had checked Heflin's character, work record, and reputation, and had interviewed his relatives and friends.
There had also been photographic analysis on the copies of Photos #l., #2, and #3. McDonald was also told that the unidentified craft had not been viewed on radar by El Toro or by any adjacent mi1itary facility.
At Electronics Communications Maintenance, they met with a 1st Lt. Leahy and what McDonald described later in his "Heflin" file as "a fellow in civvies….". The latter seemed to have the dope, but refused comment 'till got clearance..."
The "fellow in civvies," later identified as a Paul Schaen, apparently got clearance and talked freely when they went on to the Radar Air Traffic Control Center, a joint FAA-USMC facility.
This facility had no record of Heflin's sighting on its logs. During this morning meeting, McDonald was told by Marine Corps personnel at the base that the surface winds at the time of Heflin's sighting were from the NNW at 4 knots.
This was an exactly opposite direction that LANS' investigators and McDonald himself had been informed by several meteorological sources in the Santa Ana area.
At a Los Angeles NICAP Subcommittee (LANS) meeting that evening at the home of ldabel Epperson, 30 scientists and UFO investigators gathered to discuss the ongoing research on the Heflin photos. Dr. James McDonald, Dr. William Hartmann, and Heflin were the guests of honor.
Among the attendees was Dr. Robert Nathan, a scientist who had considerable interest in the UFO phenomenon, and who had attended LANS meetings from time to time.
He had analyzed all four Heflin photos for LANS at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), using what was, at the time, state-of-the-art computer enhancement equipment. His interest was purely unofficial, and had nothing to do with his JPL association.
He had concluded that the black band around the UFO was particulate matter-possibly atmospheric pollutants picked up by the craft as it flew through smog-ridden Orange County.
He also speculated that the black smoke ring left in the sky after the object's departure was most likely the remains of the same black band which had been photographed around the object in the first three photos, since the smoke-ring in Photo #4-which Nathan referred to as a vortex ring-appeared to be also be composed of particulate matter.
He also reconfirmed his earlier discovery that the object, although in sharp focus, had an unexplained "fuzziness" around it which was not due to camera motion or motion of the object itself.
Nathan had suggested, as pure speculation, that this effect might indicate a layer of ionized air around the craft. Researchers had hypothesized for years that the propulsion systems of UFOs ionized the layer of air surrounding them while they were in flight.
Also, while studying the photos at JPL, Dr. Nathan had brought out a wedge-shaped portion of light against the solid black of the UFO's underside in Photo #2, which was not visible ordinarily in the photo.
This corresponded with Heflin's description of "the revolving light-ray" seen around the UFO's underside. Heflin had speculated that possibly the greenish-white light was reflected from a slow-moving "propeller" or other rotating blade on the bottom of the craft.
Other scientists present at this November, 1967, meeting speculated that perhaps the particulate black band had been held around the craft by some type of electrostatic effect and was possibly associated with the craft's propulsion system.
Addressing McDonald's growing doubts about Photo #4, based on what seemed to him to be conflicting cloud data, Dr. Nathan countered that he saw no reason to doubt that the four photos had been taken within two minutes, as Heflin had testified. Some of the scientists present at this meeting were not generally part of the LANS investigative team. LANS investigators knew how to interview witnesses with objectivity and professional courtesy. But these other scientists who had gathered to interrogate Heflin were not acquainted with proper interviewing techniques, and asked him illogical and repetitive questions. Some openly expressed doubts about the photos, and asked Heflin personal questions which seemed to have no bearing on the case. In spite of his sturdy character and remarkable good nature, the constant hammering affected him to the extent that he went out in the Epperson back yard for awhile for a little quiet time. After he recovered his usual good humor and patience, he returned to the meeting, where the scientists were waiting with more questions. McDonald brought up the fact that Marine Corps personnel had told him that morning that the winds had been blowing from the NNW, and asked Heflin why he had testified that the smoke-ring left by the object was moving slowly in a northeasterly direction. Heflin answered that the smoke-ring was blowing in a northeasterly direction, that the winds in the EI Toro location had been checked by LANS early on in their investigation, and EI Toro officials had told them that surface winds at the time of sighting were blowing from the SW at 4 knots. This had been confirmed beyond doubt both by LANS and McDonald. The apparent attempt by El Toro Marine personnel to throw McDonald and Hartmann off track was never explained; the Marine Air Station, for some unknown reason, had given McDonald and Hartmann inaccurate data. This and other aspects which McDonald first regarded as discrepancies were later answered to his satisfaction during his unprecedented research into the Heflin case. This meeting, and the years of research which went into studying Heflin's set of photos, show the unprecedented importance of the Heflin case to the UFO field and to interested scientists at large. Never before had so much technical and scientific expertise- and skepticism'-been directed toward a set of UFO photos.
The meeting took a more dramatic turn when McDonald asked Heflin to describe the recent visit of a "U.S. Air Force man" to his home. Heflin had confided the event to LANS, but it had not been mentioned in any media coverage and was unknown to many in the room.
On the evening of Oct. 11, 1967, a man in a U.S. Air Force uniform came to Heflin's door, identifying himself as "Capt. C. H. Edmonds." His ID card was salmon and green and had no photo, similar to ID the "NORAD" men had used two years earlier.
Talking with him on the porch, Heflin noted that the man stood to one side while speaking with him. About 30 feet away, directly in Heflin's line-of-sight, was a '65 or '66 Chevy, parked at the curb. The auto was dark blue, with dark-on-dark lettering on tbe door which Heflin was unable to read.
He saw movement in the back of the vehicle, which he took to be a second man who was dimly lit by a purplish glow
emanating from the back seat.
Heflin's visitor, "Edmonds," asked if he planned to recover the photos he'd lent the "NORAD" men. He also asked various personal questions, such as what UFO groups Heflin was affiliated with; Heflin told him he had joined only NICAP).
The "Air Force" man continued to chat rather idly, and while they conversed Heflin heard crackles and pops coming from the hi-fi in his living room, which he'd been listening to when "Edmonds" knocked on his door.
He had never before heard interference like this on his hi-fi, and inwardly wondered if it was somehow linked to the purplish glow in the back seat of the vehicle parked at the curb. Later, he wondered if he had been secretly photographed or recorded.
After the "Air Force man" left, Heflin called LANS investigator John Gray and told him what had happened.
As the LANS meeting continued toward midnight, McDonald dropped a final bombshell, voicing open objection to Photo #4 on the basis that he had received information from reliable weather sources that there could not possibly have been any substantial clouds at the time of the sighting, such as those visible in Photo #4.
McDonald emphasized that he'd cross-checked all possible cloud observation sources concerning Los Angeles area meso-meteorology and the role of mean inversion depth and dry supra-inversion air.
The scientific terms didn't impress Heflin. "The meteorologists are going to have to find some clouds to go in these photos!" he told McDonald. He wasn't claiming there were clouds beyond the smoke-ring, because he simply hadn't noticed.
But he had photographed the smoke-ring only about a minute after taking his three photos of the UFO, and if the photo contained clouds, then there had to be clouds!
Various LANS members showed McDonald that in their copies of Photo #4 the clouds were not as dark as in McDonald's copy, demonstrating that different generations, processed from the originals, had been made at different degrees of exposure.
They also demonstrated in their copies of the photos that clouds were visible in Photos #1, #2, and #3.
McDonald still needed definitive answers, some of which were simply unavailable to him, since the three original Polarolds had been stolen by the "NORAD men," Traveling back late that night to Santa Ana in John Gray's car, McDonald tried to mend his strained relationship with FJeflin, pointing out the numerous aspects of the case which were positive.
He also told Heflin he planned to re-check the wind data, since the Marine air station had given him and LANS conflicting information.
He explained that, as a scientist, he needed to maintain strict objectivity in the investigation, for it was only by carefully weighing the pros and cons that the true facts would emerge.
He also assured Heflin that another startling multi-witness Orange County sighting, investigated by LANS, had occonted around the same time and date as Heflin's sighting and that other possible confirmatory sightings were being studied.
The following day McDonald, Heflin, Hartmann, and two visiting BBC documentarians, Philip Daly and a Dr. Black, who hoped to interview Heflin on-camera, journeyed to the site where Heflin had taken Photo #4.
McDonald measured the telephone poles shown in the photo at about 30' high. Heflin pointed out where the object had emitted the bluish-black smoke-ring east of Myford Road, and McDonald estimated that the smoke-ring had been photographed at about 400 feet altitude.
Since Heflin had, just the evening before, stated that the ring had been at about 150 feet altitude when photographed, the rise in altitude in 4-knot winds seemed reasonable.
The position of the smoke-ring confirmed the wind data gathered by both himself and LANS- that the wind had been blowing from the SW.
Dr. Hartmann and Dr. Black set about making test shots using small models on strings, attempting to duplicate Heflin's Photos #1, #2, and #3.
They were trying to demonstrate that Heflin had hoaxed the photos, even though Dr. Robert Nathan, using 1965 JPL state-of-the-art computer enhancement equipment, had demonstrated that there were absolutely no strings or other supporting mechanisms visible in Heflin's photos.
This didn't matter to Hartmann, for he later wrote up the Heflin case in the Condon Report, judging the photos "inconclusive."
Quietly watching Hartmann and Dr. Black photographing the models on stings, Heflin did not visibly show annoyance.
However, when Dr. Black began to ask him questions, beginning with the inquiry, "Are you religious?" Heflin replied that he was a Christian Scientist, adding that his religion "didn't let him recognize laws of the state."
This statement puzzled Black, but he didn't follow it up. He then asked Heflin if he was married. Heflin replied straight-faced, "More than once, but I don't want you to refer to it on camera lest my five wives find out where I am."
McDonald wrote all this down!! Realizing that Heflin was employing his own offbeat sense of humor which he typically used when irritated, rather than displaying open anger. LANS and other friendly colleagues had also recognized this, but the two BBC documentarians hadn't a clue.
Dr. Black suggested that they go ahead and film an interview. Heflin allowed them to film a very brief segment, in which he stated that he understood why various investigators were interested in the photos, and that everyone had the right to draw their own conclusions.
He explained how the automatic light meter on his camera had allowed the sky to appear flat and featureless in the first three photos taken inside his van, but showed the light cloud cover in Photo #4 which was taken outside the van in full light.
Black pressed him for a fuller interview, but Heflin flatly refused, stating that an American producer, John MacDonald, had already done a credible job for ITV. Why didn't they simply borrow his film? Bewildered, Black stopped talking to him.
- Why did Heflin act in this enigmatic way? For two and one-half years this honest, affable man had been hounded and harassed because he'd photographed a UFO at close quarters and presented to science a fine set of UFO photos showing features on the disc and other inexplicable effects.
Not being a man who showed anger easily, his instinctive defense was dead-pan humor. This was the way he handled most situations that irritated him.
It was not his fault that the photos contained more data than scientists could absorb. The enigmatic smoke- ring was not his fault. Neither was the fact that the automatic light meter on his Polaroid camera made the overcast sky appear virtually featureless in the first three photos and as a clouded sky in the fourth.
Philip Daly and Dr. Black later discussed with McDonald whether or not Heflin was serious about his religion and his "wives." Both Daly and Black thought Heflin was completely serious.
Dr. Black, however, thought that Heflin had not had five wives, but rather five relationships which were, in Rex's eyes, marriages in some odd legal sense, possibly connected to his religion. Daly, in turn, felt Heflin was serious about his religion and his "wives"!
Unbeknownst to the two English-men, McDonald had phoned Epperson the day before to get her reaction on the "wives-religion" question.
"She had already talked to John Gray on all this, and John had guffawed at the five-wife bit," wrote McDonald in his "Heflin" file. They had recently learned from Heflin that he was a Christian Scientist, but still a bachelor.
Epperson told him they all felt rather sure Heflin was pulling the leg of the BBC because he was inwardly seething at being called out there to witness the "hoax" tests. McDonald pointed out that no set-up had been intended.
Epperson stressed again how cooperative Heflin had been with LANS over the past two and one-half years.
She reminded him that Dr. Nathan had essentially replicated Hartmann's experiments long before and had found no evidence of any string or other supporting mechanism in any of the photos-and that he'd told Hartmann about this earlier!
Yet Hartmann thought it necessary, for some reason, to omit this from the" Condon report, choosing instead to term Heflin's three photos "Inconclusive"!
Back in Tucson, McDonald tackled the puzzle of the ID presented by the mysterious "Air Force man" who'd visited Heflin and learned from the FBI and the OSI that no official investigating agency had ID cards without photos, and that none were salmon-colored.
This proved that the "Air Force man" and the earlier "NORAD men" who stole Heflin's three photos were impostors-but from where has never been established. The eerie purplish glow which may have affected Heflin's hi-fi also remains a mystery.
In spite of his concern about the #4 "smoke ring" photo, McDonald continued to think that Heflin's photos #1, #2, and #3 were most probably genuine. He knew it was impossible to declare a UFO photo as absolutely authentic unless one had the actual UFO nearby to compare it to.
Hoax pictures can be replicated. Authentic UFO pictures cannot, and Heflin's photos have never been satisfactorily replicated.
For the next three years, McDonald pursued the question of the "smoke-ring," attempting to prove that it had been photographed by Heflin at a time and place other than on Aug. 3, 1965, in connection with Heflin's Photos #1, #2, #3.
He seems to have been led on a trail of false information, possibly in part perpetrated by intelligence agents connected with the U.S. government.
This part of his research endeavors is covered in my book, Firestorm! Dl: James E. McDonalds Fight for UFO Science, in Chapter Twelve, "The Photos That Almost Proved It."12
McDonald was led to the idea of an unproved "atomic bomb simulator" supposedly used at military bases on celebratory occasions, which apparently produced a "vortex ring" similar to Heflin's Photo #4.
There was never any adequate documentation found, however-no pictures of this device, nor any other physical proof that it actually existed.12
In spite of LANS' attempts to convince McDonald that Photo #4 was, rather, a picture of the "black ring" around Photos #1, #2, and #3 which had been apparently blown off by the unidentified craft before its departure, McDonald never conceded.
LANS and other researchers around the nation, as well as in foreign countries, respected McDonald's scientific expertise, and their personal regard for him kept the controversy from destroying their amicable cooperation with this remarkable scientist, which ended only with his tragic death in June, 1971.
Epperson, Gray, Evers, and the other LANS members remained convinced of Heflin's integrity.
His first three photos of the metallic craft survived as an example of an apparently genuine unidentified flying object, and in this McDonald shared our views wholeheartedly.
McDonald's doubts about Photo #4, however, affected other lay researchers. In the mid-1970s, William Spaulding, who headed an organization called Ground Saucer Watch, obtained copies of Heflin's photos and had them computer-enhanced.
Where he obtained his copies is uncertain: they may have been third, fourth, or even f1fih generation. GSW's analysis, conducted by GSW Photographic Consultant Fred Adrian, was published in a mid-seventies issue of GSW News Bulletin.
Heflin's photos, in GSW's words, "represent both crude and grandiose hoaxs [sic] or photographic anomalies and should not be considered evidence of UFO existence [sic]."13
Spaulding's widely-disseminated assessment of the Heflin photos was based on what he termed "a string" which extended from the top of the UFO to the top of the photo.
Idabel Epperson and David Branch of LANS and researcher David Schroth of St. Louis, MO, among others, strongly challenged Spaulding's findings.
They pointed out that several photo experts, including Dr. Robert Nathan, had looked for evidence of a string, but found no evidence of a string or any supporting mechanism associated with the object.
All these experts had worked with confirmed first-generation copies, which had been made directly from the originals before they disappeared.
Spaulding admitted to Epperson in a Sept. 29, 1977, letter that possibly the linear structure seen on the photographs was a scratch and not a string, and also admitted that copies of Heflin's photographs which GSW analyzed were from an undetermined source.
He never publicly withdrew his "hoax" assessment of the Heflin photos, however, causing a split in the UFO research field.
Many otherwise objective researchers tended toward the hoax explanation, while the original investigators and others continued to regard them as among the best UFO photos ever taken.
The Heflin photos were reprinted in many books and journals in the UFO field, but the fact that the original Polaroids had disappeared thwarted attempts to re-study them in greater depth as photogrammetric technology advanced.
Heflin continued to work for the Orange County Traffic department for 15 more years, but 30 years of working outdoors on the streets and freeways of Southern California caused a serious health condition, finally diagnosed as the accumulation of tetra ethylene lead ill his bone marrow-a condition that has no cure, and no standard medical treatment.
Suffering from fatigue, difficulty in breathing, and other symptoms associated with this medical condition, Heflin, who was now married, moved to a small town in Northern California where the air was relatively pure, and where an experimental treatment for the condition was available at a local hospital on an outpatient basis.
His doctors informed him that lead- poisoning in bone marrow was becoming more evident among the population, mostly in men who spent decades working in the open on freeways and major highways, such as policemen and highway engineers.
However, the American Medical Association, as well as the U. S. government, did not recognize it (and still do not recognize it) as a verified medical condition, and ordinary health insurance plans, including Medicare, do not cover costs of the treatments which are currently available.
Heflin maintained his good humor and positive thinking, however, and kept contact with LANS members, who were by this time either independent UFO researchers or MUFON members, NICAP having been essentially destroyed as an effective research organization by covert action of secret FBI and CIA operatives hidden within its staff.
One day in 1993 the phone rang in Heflin's Northern California home. A woman's voice asked, "Have you checked your mailbox lately?" The call was abruptly terminated. He went to the mailbox and found it empty.
About one-half hour later, the same unidentified woman called again with the same question. Before he could ask any questions, the caller hung up again. Heflin again went out to his mailbox and found a plain 9 X 12-inch manila envelope in it. It had no postage or other marks which would indicate how it had been delivered.
Opening it, he found that it contained the long-lost originals of Photos #1, #2, and #3 t Heflin examined them carefully, back and front, and concluded they were, in fact, the original Polaroids which had been stolen by the "NORAD men" in 1965.
Their size, texture, and general appearance matched Photo #4 of the "smoke-ring." He had numbered the photos sequentially after he first took them, marking them "1" through "4" with blue ink in the lower left hand corner.
The three photos which had been mysteriously returned had markings "1" through "3" in the identical place as the "4" on the original of the smoke-ring photo #4 which he'd retained for 28 years. The "4" was the only marking on the back of this photo.
There were other markings, however, on the backs of the three originals which had been so mysteriously returned.
Each had "ORIGINAL" printed in capital letters across the top, written apparently by the same person, using a white or ivory-colored grease pencil. The letters had been pressed lightly into the pictures, so that they showed slightly on the photo side.
Also, each of the three originals had the number "13" written on the back with soft black pencil; these markings did not disturb the photo side. One of the "13" marks was so carelessly written that it could be taken for a capital "B."
Heflin had no memory of putting these marks on the backs of the photos; they had apparently been put there by the person(s) who had possession of the photos from Sept. 22, 1965, to that day in 1993.
Most intriguing of all, perhaps, was the fact that the photos were in good condition, considering their age. Photo #4, which Heflin himself had retained, had developed light brown stains, particularly around the smoke ring.
He considered this effect both a result of its age and also of the fact that several researchers and photogrammeists had borrowed it to copy and study, subjecting the Polaroid smoke-ring image to bright lights.
The three returned originals also showed similar light brown stains, particularly along the lower portions, but the object (UFO) in these returned photos was not as deeply stained as was the smoke-ring in Photo #4.
Heflin was in a quandary. He suspected he would not live much longer, and wondered what to do with these originals of his UFO photos. He, like many other UFO researchers of his acquaintance, knew that these photos were perhaps the finest photographic evidence of the existence of UFOs.
His health was uncertain and failing, and he had no funds available for expensive experimental treatments for the detrimental effects of the lead in his bone marrow.
To add to his financial troubles, his pension and other funds resulting from his long-term employment in Orange County had been temporarily cut off because that large California County had gone bankrupt.
Learning about the return of Heflin's photos from Dr. Robert M. Wood, I contacted Heflin with the suggestion that the originals be analyzed with state-of-the-art computer enhancement equipment.
Such technology had recently become available in the Los Angeles area when Dr. Eric Kelson, a science professor at a top California university, had entered the UFO field a couple of years before. In addition to his professorial work, he was expert in computer enhancement techniques.
Happy that scientific interest in his photos had been regenerated, Heflin also expressed his concern that the photos be preserved for the future, so that other scientific analyses could be made on them as new technology became available.
Heflin trusted me as a veteran UFO researcher, familiar with his case from the beginning, and entrusted the four originals into my care.
A three-person team was formed to re-analyze the Heflin photos, since we were now able to work from the originals. The team consisted of Dr. Robert M. Wood, Dr. Eric Kelson, and myself.
We set about re-studying the case, particularly the unanswered questions which had been raised:
1. the so-called "string" which Spaulding and GSW claimed to have found; 2. the problem of the "flat sky" in the fIrst three photos; and 3. the enigmamatic "smoke-ring."
The question of Spaulding/GSW's "string" and "hoax" theory was quickly laid to rest. It was demonstrated beyond doubt that there was no string or other supporting mechanism visible in any of Heflin's photos.
Contrast-studies of the sky backgrounds in all four photos revealed similar overcast/cloudy conditions in all of them, the major point which had prevented McDonald from accepting the fourth photo as part of a set.
Our analysis also revealed the so-called "wedge of light" on the dark bottom of the craft in Photo #2, in exactly the same position where Dr. Nathan first detected it and which, shortly afterwards, Dr. Wood had also detected in an independent study.
By March, 1994, Dr. Kelson also found a trail of black particulate matter in Photo #3, streaming behind the unidentified craft, and denser in the immediate area just behind the craft.
This "trail" became apparent upon digital contrast enhancement of the third photograph, a standard process in which the image is first scanned and subsequently displayed to emphasize detail.
In the un-enhanced, original Photo #3, the intensity values for the trail and background sky were close enough to each other that the corresponding shades of gray are difficult to distinguish, thus not detected in prior studies in the 1960s and 1970s.
The trail was readily visible, however, when a computer program reassigned the output intensity range so that the darkest sky pixel became black and the brightest sky pixel became white. IS
The material in the Photo #3 smoke-trail seems similar to the particulate matter in the black band surrounding the object, as well as the particulate matter in the smoke-ring.
This constitutes rather thin evidence that the black ring around the object was beginning to separate before the object emitted the smoke-ring.
Computer enhancement also confirmed that the UFO in Heflin's photo is a large object, approximately 20 feet in diameter and more than 100 feet from the camera, as first estimated by Heflin and corroborated in later studies.
Kelson also independently detected an unusual "blurring" effect around the craft, particularly in Photo #1, which he stated was not due to motion, camera focus, or to the gaussian effect.
This correlates with Dr. Nathan's finding 30 years ago of an unexplained "fuzziness" in the craft image.
Our re-analysis of the Heflin UFO photos in 2000 has led to the following conclusions:
But friend Rex, as I wrote to you in a letter shortly before you died, a letter which was read to you in the hospital by your friend Larry Tarrant, the UFO field's study of your incomparable photos continues, and will continue in years to come.
Studies into more technical aspects are being conducted presently.
There is more evidence emerging that the unexplained "blur" around the object you had the privilege of photographing that noon on Aug. 3, 1965, might possibly be evidence of ionization, and long speculated by researchers and scientists to be involved in UFO pro- lsion.
Other studies are obtaining information that ionization around UFOs might possibly be related to so-called "angel hair," i.e., unexplained strands of whitish material which quickly sublimates, an effect seen many times by witnesses viewing UFOs in the sky, possibly involving a process termed electro polymerization.
As you requested when you gave your four original photos to me to preserve in perpetuity for the use of the UFO field, other scientists and researchers are lining up, awaiting their turn to re-analyze them.
Dr. Kelson continues his studies, having given an update on the 2000 re-analysis at the 2004 NUFOC convention, now held yearly at the beautiful Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, CA.16
Thank you, Rex, for your good-humored, objective attitude during our 40 years of investigation. I'm glad you received my last letter, catching you up on the latest of what was happening in our study of your photos.
Thank you for your willingness to give your photos to science, with no thought of any benefit for yourself. In the near future, Rex, your invaluable and beautiful UFO photos will yield more and more data, and eventually we will learn all they can reveal about the UFO mystery.
In the meantime, Happy Journey Home.
References I°Firestorm! Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight for UFO Science, Chapter 12, "The Pictures That Almost Proved
IIMcDonald, James E., "Heflin
File." In Jqrnes E. McDonald Personal
Collections, University of Arizona Library at Tucson, AZ. (See Ref. 5)
12 Any reader who has information
about the "atomic bomb simulator" is invited to contact the author.
13Spaulding, William, "August Summer News Bulletin: Result of Computer Photo Analysis," (undated) p. 2.
14See Firestorm! cited above, pp. 449-483.
15Letter from Dr. Kelson to author, dated 8 June 1997. Also described in detail in "Reanalysis of the 1965 Heflin Photos," Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 4, No.4, 2000 (See Ref. 1 above).
16For DVD of Dr. Kelson's talk, contact www.nufoc.org .
l. "Re-analysis of the 1965 Heflin UFO Photos," by Ann Druffel, Robert M. Wood, and Eric Kelson, JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC EXPLORATION, Volume 4, No.4, 2000, a publication of the Society for Scientific Exploration (ISSN 0892-3310), pp. 583-622.
2Dr. Leslie K. Kaeburn died in 1968, and Idabel Epperson succeeded him as LANS Subcommittee Head.
3Young, Mort, UFOs TOP SECRET; New York, An Essandess Special Edition, 1967, contains a copy of a report filed by Capt. Charles F. Reichmuth, USAF, who learned of the existence of the Heflin photos on Sept. 14, borrowed them on the 18$,~~ returned them on the 22nd.
4For an authorized biography of Dr. James E. McDonald's unmatched contributions to UFO research, see Firestorm! D7: James E. McDonald's Fight for UFO Science, by Ann Druffel, Wildflower Press, July 2003. 5McDonald, James E., "Heflin File."
In "James E. McDonald Personal Collections," University of Arizona Library at Tucson, AZ. Archived by Druffel under a grant from FUFOR and now available to the public. Contact Curator Roger Myers at the UA Library.
9lbid. Also see Firestorm! D7: James E. McDonalds Fight for UFO Science, Op. Cit. Ref (3) above, pp. 301.