As someone who identifies as a skeptic, I’ve hoped my whole life that someday we’ll have solid, testable proof of some of these strange stories that I love so much. Obviously a UFO landing on the white house lawn would be pretty straight forward. I’ll take a handful of Bigfoot hair, tested and shown to be an unknown species through DNA testing. Give me a psychic that can continuously show their ability under lab testing conditions, or a ghost that not only appears on camera but also leaves behind some of that ectoplasm that Peter Venkman got soaked in….something testable. Despite our reputations, skeptics (as opposed to denialists) absolutely will accept evidence that challenges the accepted world view. It’s got to be good, testable evidence, but we’d be excited for it. I think there are a lot more people like me interested in these topics than is currently portrayed…..we need evidence, but we’re open to all kinds of possibilities.
Some evidence may not be so solid as a Whitley Strieber Gray knocking on the front door of the New York times, but still may be pretty good indication that something weird is up. Let’s say a small group of people report a UFO sighting. Then they suffer health effects that seem to be a form of radiation poisoning, with no other odd event save for the sighting. Sure, that’s not proof positive that what they saw was a ship with little green dudes in it, but it DOES point to the idea that they saw SOMETHING. Maybe they misunderstood what they were seeing, but something physical is happening to them likely caused by the event. There seems to be something real to the sighting.
I was rather surprised to find that there not only is a case that seems to follow the above script almost to the letter, but that it may be the only case of a UFO sighting that lead to a lawsuit against the US government.
I had never heard of this case, even in my long years of loving weird stories and sightings, until my adulthood. The way I found it was almost as weird….an episode of the Adult Swim cult classic cartoon “The Venture Brothers.” I’ve been a fan of the show since day one, and own many of the DVD box sets. I also love director’s commentary.
Well, in the episode “Home is Where the Hate Is”, Hank and Dean are terrified by a shadowy flying object wreathed in red haze and fire that approaches their home. Just turns out to be their dad’s new super-villain arch nemesis stopping in for a meet and greet before he officially starts henching them. But in the scene, Dean turns to Hank and says “Hank, if the big man walks out of the burning cloud do not be afraid! That’s Jesus!”
At the time I thought it was just a funny non sequitur from the brothers Venture as the show is so famous for. But later watching the episode with the director’s commentary, one of the creators noted that the line was based on a UFO incident he had read about where a kids Grandmother told him basically the same thing.
Fascinated, I looked it up. Low and behold, I found the Cash Landrum UFO Incident.
The story starts on Dec 29, 1980 in the Dayton Texas area. Betty, Vickie, and Vickie’s 7-year old grandson Colby, had all headed out on a brisk winter evening. Apparently the two women were BINGO fans, and had been looking to find a game in the area. The night however was frustrating, as all their usual places were not holding games at that time due to the holiday season.
Around 9pm, the women noticed a light in the sky at some distance. They didn’t think much of it as they were fairly close to Houston Intercontinental Airport. They were in a fairly low population area, although not completely devoid of homes and other cars. However the hour was late, and the night dark, and they recalled driving for quite some time before seeing another vehicle.
A short time after they noticed the light, it came back into view. Now it was much bigger and much brighter than it had been. As they got closer, they saw it was a diamond shaped object that was vertical in the sky above them. From the tip closest to the ground, a blue flame kept spurting. Even within the car, they could feel heat coming from it.
At this point Vickie told Betty to stop, fearing if they got any closer it would burn them. Colby was very frightened, and Vickie tried to comfort him by saying “That’s Jesus. He will not hurt us.” She was a born-again Christian and said later she thought that were witnessing the second coming and the end of the world.
They decided against turning the car around as the road was narrow and they feared getting it stuck in the mud on the side of the road. Instead, the adults got out for a better look. Vickie quickly returned to the inside of the car as Colby was terrified and started to cry, in order to comfort him. Betty remained outside the vehicle watching the object.
It was reported later by author Jerome Clark that “The object, intensely bright and dull metallic silver, was shaped like a huge upright diamond, about the size of the Dayton water tower, with its top and bottom cut off so that they were flat rather than pointed. Small blue lights ringed the center, and periodically over the next few minute’s flames shot out of the bottom, flaring outward, creating the effect of a large cone. Every time the fire dissipated, the UFO floated a few feet downwards toward the road. But when the flames blasted out again, the object rose about the same distance.”
This has been interpreted by some investigators to suggest the object was in distress, and trying to gain altitude while interrupted by some kind of malfunction.
Betty later reported the heat was so strong it made the metal of the car impossible to touch with her bare hands. She had to wrap her coat around her hand to get back into the car without burning herself. Vickie also claimed that the heat softened the vinyl dashboard so much, that her hand left a print sunk into the surface.
The object finally made it higher into the sky, where the witnesses say it was surrounded by military helicopters that flew out of the night. Now able to pass, Betty started the car again and drove away up the road. The women claimed they could see the object followed by the helicopters for a short time in the distance as they drove away.
The whole thing had taken roughly 20 minutes.
The sighting alone is interesting, especially with some of the detail the women reported. But what followed really made the case stand out.
Betty took Vickie and Colby home, and then returned to her own home. Overnight, they all started to experience similar symptoms with Betty having the strongest reactions. They all reported nausea with vomiting and diarrhea. This was paired with weakness over the entire body, burning eyes, and painful skin as if they had suffered sunburns.
The common report states Betty also developed large blisters all over her body, and hair loss. She ended up in the hospital for 12 days, starting on January 3, 1981. This became a pattern as she returned to the ER with symptoms several times.
Vickie and Colby were not affected as badly, although they also had the sores and hair loss.
The symptoms were similar to secondary damage to ionizing radiation, according to a MUFON report not long after the incident. However, several other doctors have pointed out that symptoms from radiation poisoning setting in so quickly would indicate a lethal dose that should have killed them all in only a few days. There has been an alternative theory that they were exposed to some kind of chemical from the strange object.
MUFON became involved because Vickie started calling government agencies to get answers, and was eventually directed to NASA scientist John Schuessler who had interest in the subject, and got MUFON involved as he looked into the case.
There was also a local policeman who claimed he and his wife had seen the military helicopters that same night, but not the UFO.
Eventually after being interviewed by personnel at the Bergstrom Air Force Base in summer of 1981, they hired a lawyer and sued the government for 20 million, complaining of long lasting health damage, pain and suffering.
However, in August of 1986, the case was dismissed, in part because they could not prove the helicopters sighted were in fact from the US Government, and no proof had been offered the object itself was owned by the government.
This case however, did not disappear. Several books were written on it, and its often sited as a case with concrete evidence. These women didn’t lie their way into documented health issues.
That’s where it gets messy.
Betty reported the most severe health issues. As it turns out, she had some pretty serious health issues to start with. Before the reported sightings, she had complained about some of the symptoms she later linked with the UFO. When some of her medical reports were reprinted in the book that John F. Schuessler wrote on the subject, it came to light that doctors had diagnosed her with Alopecia Areata. This is an autoimmune illness that causes hair to fall out in clumps, sometimes completely.
But what about Vickie and Colby? Didn’t they lose hair too? Well, they might have, but in all the medical records that came to light after, there is no mention of this symptom. Not until far later, after Betty’s diagnosis, did that claim become part of the story. While there are pictures of Betty’s hair loss that I have found, but I can’t find any of Vickie with the same. In fact it appears the only post sighting medical condition on Vickie’s record is a cataract.
That’s part of the issue here. A lot of the symptoms claimed in retellings of this story don’t show up in the original medical records. It appears Vickie and Colby were only on record seeking treatment for eye irritation, that was diagnoses as basic conjunctivitis, and a sunburn.
Betty’s records show the Alopecia Areata, a swollen and sunburned face, and a headache. She apparently did return, but the records seem to indicate that nothing else was found. Betty did end up with heart issues and breast cancer later on. No link to her sighting or the after effects could be proven.
That of course doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but with the information we have that link can’t be made solidly. There are a few interesting points. They did not have radiation burns and sickness, but I find it interesting they all had sunburns. That doesn’t mean it was caused by the thing they reported, but I wonder if anyone has checked to see if the women were seen to have the before that night. A sunburn effect is something that has come up in other UFO cases. It’s not completely unreasonable to leave the possibility that what they saw caused the sunburn, on the table.
There’s also the possibility that they saw something earthly but unrecognizable to them, and that the health issues (while actually unrelated) were connected in their mind. As someone with chronic health issues myself I know how easy it is to find yourself scrutinizing even the smallest things in your day to day life looking for a connection to solve the mystery and give doctors a way to help you. It’s not such a huge leap that a big event that sticks out in one’s mind would even more likely be attached as an answer to a medical mystery.
Another interesting theory presented by researcher Curt Collins is that what the women might have seen could involve some extremely powerful military flares. That doesn’t seem to be something that might cause a sunburn effect, but who knows. Just the right circumstances may say otherwise.
So what are we to make of this case? I think it’s safe to say it’s not the magic bullet of evidence that a lot of enthusiasts make it out to be. No one is sorrier about that than I am. Not that I ever wished ill on these women, but had the popular reports of the after effects been accurate we would have a body of extremely rare and interesting evidence to look at. That does not seem to be the case.
However, I think we can say that this is still an interesting case. There’s something about how the women told their story that makes me believe at the very least it wasn’t a hoax. They may have seen something completely earthly that they simply didn’t recognize. They may have stumbled on a military craft that was not supposed to be seen by civilians. They may have jumped to conclusions and attached meanings to things that were actually unrelated. But I don’t think they lied. I think they were honestly scared and confused, and I think they told the tale as they remembered it. (Let’s not forget how pliable memory is as well, for that may have a part in it).
Whatever they did see, Jesus didn’t walk out of it to take them to heaven. But I think that line really sums up the heart of this case: People trying to make sense of a weird thing using the framework they understand.
The Mufon Report on the Case
The Paranormal Podcast Article
UFO Insight takes on the case
Blue Blurry Lines Examines the case, and the Skeptoid Article
The Cash-Landrum UFO Incident
John F. Schuessler
The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon from the Beginning, Volume 1: A-K
This Paranormal Life Podcast
Oct 15 and Oct 22, 2018
Bigfoot Collectors Club Podcast
Aug 20, 2019
Dec 3, 2018
Unsolved Mysteries. Season 3. Episode 19.
February 6, 1991.