February 5, 2009

Play it again, Scam


    
If the board members of Scammers Inc needed a blueprint for their plan to hoodwink wealthy investors with tales of crashed flying saucers and reverse engineered alien technology, they didn’t have to look very far. Conveniently for them, a blueprint already existed in the form of the Aztec UFO scam that fooled wealthy investor’s way back in the late 40′s and early 50′s.

Behind the Flying SaucersBlueprint for Deception
Frank Scully’s “Behind the Flying Saucers”, published in September 1950 by Henry Holt & Co, was a tale of crashed flying saucers and dead alien bodies, mixed in with a load of nonsense about where they came from, how they got here and why. Scully’s source of this unbelievable information was an acquaintance of his by the name of Silas Mason Newton and a mysterious “Dr Gee”. Dr Gee was allegedly a brilliant government scientist in the field of magnetic energy and told Scully he had examined crashed flying saucers for the government. In reality, Dr Gee’s real name was Leo GeBauer and he owned a radio and television parts store in Phoenix, Arizona. Newton was the president of his own oil exploration business, the Newton Oil Company. It was this field of oil exploration in which the two con artists were to make the money from their saucer scam.

Newton was no stranger to swindling wealthy individuals out of their hard earned money. In September 1934, he was arrested and charged with selling $25,000 of worthless stock to an individual. He was also investigated for two incidents of stock fraud and was sued for conning another person out of $28,000. Despite all of this though, nothing ever came of it and he was free to carry on with his illegal activities. His Flying Saucer/Brilliant Scientist scam were to make him and GeBauer more money than they ever could have dreamed of.

Signs of the Times
It is not difficult to discover what first gave the pair the idea of coming up with the flying saucer plan. They heard about an alleged incident near Death Valley in August 1949. A local newspaper, The Bakersfield Californian, reported the story of prospector Buck Fitzgerald who claimed to see a flying disc crash land followed by two “little men” jumping out and running away. There were many stories of people seeing things in the sky and assuming they were ships from other planets, with newspapers and radio stations alike often discussing the many sightings and what they might be, the technology they use and their purpose for being here.

Realising the potential of using such material for themselves, coupled with the “new” science they would be able to invent because it came from outer space, it didn’t take the pair long to get started. Only seven months later, in March 1950, an unidentified lecturer -later identified as Silas Newton- gave a fifty minute lecture on flying saucers at the University of Denver. In it, he talked about the crash of a saucer at Aztec, NM and proceeded to lay the foundations for the scam. He talked about the saucer and its (dead) personnel in great detail, he talked of alien artefacts in their possession “for research” and this is also where we see the introduction of the genius scientist by the name of Dr. Gee.

Fiction becomes intriguing possibility of a fantastic reality, invented characters become bona-fide people based on, well, nothing at really and before you know it, you have yourself an event. It matters not one jot that for the majority of people who hear the tale it will be written off as fantasist fiction, the story isn’t for them. It is for those people who are perhaps too trusting of folk and would never believe they are being set up for a hit. The believer will go out and tell the story to the people they know. Of them, a few will do the same thing -with embellishments of course- and the cycle will be repeated until eventually the story will be reported on the radio, talked about in bars and printed in newspapers etc. Imagine the potential if only six months later that same story appears in print in the form of Behind the Flying Saucers courtesy of Mr. Scully…

Men at Work
With all of this in place, the pair were free to bedazzle and befuddle those investors that were unfortunate to cross their path. The scam was both elegant and crude in equal measure. Newton would go into the desert and drill holes into which he would insert a quantity of oil. The next day, accompanied by potential investors, they would go out into the desert and demonstrate their amazing ability at locating oil using a wondrous device that had been invented by the brilliant Dr. Gee. Naturally, he was able to develop such a fantastic contraption thanks to the amazing secrets he had learned while examining the crashed flying saucer. Using this method, the pair not only managed to con some investors into purchasing worthless oil leases, but were also able to sell some of the devices at a lovely $18,500 each. The total figure they managed to squeeze out of the investors added up to $400,000 – which by today’s standards is estimated to be somewhere in the region of $19 million! One of those investors -Herman Flader- was fleeced for $231,000 all on his own. He would get his own back on the pair, however.

Reality Uncovered, Retro
Were John P. Cahn alive today, he would be made a honorary member of Reality Uncovered in a heartbeat. Who is he? You might ask. John P. Cahn was the investigative reporter who brought the Aztec UFO hoax crashing down around Newton and GeBauer’s ears. He also made Frank Scully look somewhat foolish in the process, with him having written the book that gave the conmen so much publicity in the first place.

John P. Cahn, or JP Cahn as he was known to his friends and associates, was a Stanford graduate and served in the US Navy. He subsequently worked as a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Denver Post. He also wrote for Coronet, True, Liberty and other national magazines, RKO Studios and for television shows including Alfred Hitchcock Presents. While on special assignment to True Magazine in 1952, Cahn first discovered that all might not be as it seemed in regards to the information contained in Behind the Flying Saucers.

The introduction from the September 1952 issue of  True Magazine, entitled “Flying Saucers and the Mysterious Little Men” really sets the tone for what had gone before, and what was to come.

Had flying saucers manned by crews three feet tall actually landed on Earth? That was the question. This is how TRUE and Mr. Cahn found the answer.

For four months, across 4500 miles and five western states, I tracked down visitors from the planet Venus.
It was a fantastic assignment. The story I was to dig up if I could was the weirdest that any reporter could dream of having handed to him. If I found the Venusians, I couldn’t interview them, even if I knew how to speak their language. For they were dead, those strange little beings, from unknown causes – half of their number crisped by heat to a dark brown color.
They’d come out of the sky in flying saucers. My job was to bring their story down to earth.
I got it – their full inside story. And though I didn’t find the dead Venusians, I uncovered some rather fantastic living characters…

On the crest of a wave of public excitement about flying saucers in the spring of 1950 came news from the West that topped any of of the hundreds of saucer reports that had been recorded up to that time. Newspapers everywhere printed and reprinted the rumor that, in Denver, several businessmen had been shown little pieces of metal, small gears and a curious little radio set. These things, it was said, had been taken from a fallen flying saucer.

The metal was an unknown stuff that defied analysis. The gears- well, they looked like ordinary gears. The tubeless radio set, however, was really something; it beeped every fifteen minutes, exactly on the quarter hours, with a single brief ethereal tone-note that was seemingly a signal from outer space.

 

The entire 13 page article is a veritable tour de force of investigative journalism and should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of UFOlogy. The absolute highlight for me is how Cahn managed to get hold of one of the discs that allegedly came from one of the flying saucers. According to Newton, the disc had been subjected to over 150 exhaustive tests and could even withstand heat of 10,000 degrees. Cahn knew he needed to get his hands on one and have it subjected to independent tests. How he went about achieving his goal is a joy to behold. Cahn had already met with Newton previously, and arranged to meet him a second time at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. This time he brought with him his close friend and Sunday editor of the Chronicle, Scott Newhall. It was during this meeting that Newton showed them both the discs of unknown metal. Only allowing them a brief glimpse of the metallic treasure, Cahn nonetheless saw enough to know he had to think of something in order to achieve his goal. Think of something is exactly what he did!
First, he and his friend Scott got to work on creating copies of the discs they had been allowed a brief glimpse of. Working entirely from memory, they produced several copies of differing sizes and thickness using various metals. Once completed, Cahn kept the copies in his pocket everywhere he went; in order to give them an “authentic” worn look, similar to that of the originals. For the next part of his plan, Cahn employed the services of professional magician Hal McIntyre in order to try and switch one of the discs with one of Cahn’s fakes. For that to happen of course, Newton needed to produce the discs again and allow them to have a look. At first the plan didn’t work, primarily because Newton didn’t show the discs at the next meeting. However, Cahn most certainly was not one for giving up. He had Hal the magician teach him how to make the switch himself. Eventually, after many false starts Cahn was to get his chance.

“Newton was in great form that day. He was wearing a very pale gray flannel suit and somewhere in his travels he had picked up a deep tan. The way he handled himself I got to feeling that $35,000 was really a pretty chintzy offer.

There was the usual amount of backing and filling. Newton mulled the proposition over and gravely considered what his people would think. Occasionally he digressed long enough to spin some colorful bit of saucerian information, but by and large he was strictly the business man negotiating.

It was a shock, then, when he rummaged around in a coat pocket, hauled out the grainy handkerchief, spread the gears and disks on the desk and said, “I suppose you wanted to see these again.”

It was a bad moment. One look at Newton’s disks and it was a cinch that the substitutes were at best pretty unreasonable facsimilies. But it could have been a lot worse – I could have been caught diskless. Luckily, I did have the fake disks with me, bad as they were. I was still carrying them around, aging them in my pockets.

The most obvious thing wrong with my fakes was that they were much too thin – all but the one made with monel metal. It was halfway thick enough, but if it had seemed too heavy when it was made up, now, by secretly sorting it out and hefting it in my pocket, it seemed hopeless.

While I was wondering what to do, Newton was talking about a saucer that had been sighted over Africa. As swept away as he was by his new story he never once lost sight of the disks, handing over first one and then the other and placing them on his open handkerchief as they were returned.

I didn’t dare stall any longer. Not only was there the chance that any minute Newton would wrap up the disks and tuck them away, but I was beginning to get the shakes. I palmed the monel fake by gripping it with the fourth finger between the palm and second joint, and tried to remember what my friend McIntyre the magician, had told me. “Let me see one of those disks again, Mr. Newton,” I said. I guess I’m not cut out for this sort of thing because my voice sounded like I was going to be sick and when I took my hands from my pocket I could see the skin creases shine where the sweat was forming.

I took Newton’s disk between my thumb and forefinger, held it up to look at it, and then let it drop into my cupped hand. I gave a kind of feeble cough with the idea that if it clinked against the fake, the sound would be covered. There wasn’t any clink.

I went through the motions of hefting the disk in my hand although actually I was holding the two of them tightly palmed to keep them from getting mixed up. Big, single drops of icy sweat were slithering down my sides.

I just sat there for a second or two hefting away and trying to look as if I were pondering some deep interplanetary problem. Then, looking Newton right in the eye as McIntyre had told me, I let the monel fake slide into my other hand and passed it back to him. Keeping my eyes from flicking down at that fake disk as I handed it over was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Newton took it, plunked it down on the handkerchief without even glancing at it, and went right on with his story. All I had to do now was get his disk into my pocket without his noticing the move. McIntyre had warned me not to do it too soon and above all, not to look at my hand while I put it into my pocket. I didn’t, but it was a struggle. Then I tried to sit there and listen to Newton with that disk of his burning a hole right through the side of my suit. As hard as I tried not to sneak a look at the fake sitting there in the handkerchief alongside of Newton’s disk, I couldn’t stop it.

When I saw the two of them together I almost passed out. The fake was so bad it stuck out like an Eskimo at a Boston social tea party.”

 

Newton never noticed the switch and Cahn finally had an original “alien” disk. Thanks to another friend of his, Dr. Hobson of (wait for it!) the Stanford Research Institute, the disk was subjected to a barrage of tests and was found to be nothing more than pots-and-pans-grade aluminium that melted at an earthly 657 degrees Fahrenheit. Armed with this new found knowledge, Cahn made easy work of dismantling the hoax perpetrated by Newton and GeBauer but with more than a little help from Frank Scully.

As a result of JP Cahn’s marvellous exposé, several investors who had been conned by the pair came forward with their stories. For some, the 3 year statute of limitations had already expired and they were unable to make a case. For Herman Flader however, the millionaire businessman who had been taken for over $230,000, it hadn’t. The pair were arrested by the FBI and charged with conducting a confidence game, and conspiracy to commit a confidence game. The trial at the District Court in Denver lasted for several weeks, with the jury taking less than five hours to find the pair guilty on both counts. Result.

Back to the future
When one looks at the elements of the Aztec hoax and compares them to more recent events in the field of UFOlogy, the resemblance is startling. Every single aspect of the Aztec hoax has a counterpart in the modern day Core Story hoax. Even the main characters today can be uncannily matched to the characters of Newton, GeBauer and even Scully. The only thing that is different -so far- is the modern day hoaxers have not been caught.

Well, we know who they are and we know how they did it. In just a few more updates, so will you.

–Stephen Broadbent

 


 

Resources

Behind the Flying Saucers
The original story by Frank Scully in MS Word format.

The Flying Saucers and the Mysterious Little Men, TRUE Magazine September 1952
The full 13 page article detailing the quite brilliant investigation by JP Cahn. Absolutely essential reading.

Flying Saucer Swindlers, TRUE Magazine August 1956
More essential reading by JP Cahn. This 6 page article details the investigative work done to uncover the motive of the scam and its victims. Also features some great anecdotes from the trial of Newton and GeBauer.

Further Reading

Flying Saucers and Frank Scully
Wonderful article discussing the book by Frank Scully and the great work done by JP Cahn.

Aztec (New Mexico) UFO Hoax - The Skeptic’s Dictionary
Short but descriptive version of events.

The Aztec, NM UFO Scam - New Mexicans for Science and Reason
More background information on the story.

The Fate of the UFO Crash Supposition - The Roswell Files
Excellent series, must-read resource.

The Other Side of Truth
Collection of Aztec-related blog posts by Paul Kimball. Some fascinating insights.








3 Comments

  1. avatar

    NICE article Steve! I posted a comment in the Play it again, Scam thread.

    Comment by Access Denied — February 5, 2009 @ 9:49 am

  2. avatar

    Excellent work Steve! Well researched and carefully laid out. I’m greatly looking forward to your upcoming piece…

    Comment by RyanDube — February 5, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

  3. avatar

    [...] why no one has sought to bring criminal proceedings against the hoaxers for fraud. As we have also reported previously, there is a precedent in the field of UFOlogy for this kind of [...]

    Pingback by The Colour of Money « Reality Uncovered — April 11, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

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