13 June 2011


Jim Keith, Casebook on the Men in Black, Adventures Unlimited Press, 2011.

Nick Redfern. The Real Men in Black. New Page Books, 2011.

The Jim Keith book is a new edition, with a foreword by Kenn Thomas, of a book first published in 1997. Jim Keith died in 1999. After a short summary of stories about mysterious men in dark clothing, dating from the 15th century, there is a discussion of the modern version of the tradition. The author's argument here is that, while some of the men in black (MIB) reports are modern developments of the old traditions, others can be attributed to "interventions by the military, government intelligence, or other human agency".
The Maury Island affair of June 1947 is one of the notorious cases cited in support of this notion, where Keith considers "the possibility that Maury Island was a government-sponsored hoax". However, he does not consider why government agents would have felt the need to carry out such a hoax, particularly in view of the inevitable publicity that it would generate.

It is very difficult to establish what did or did not occur at Tacoma at that time, in view of the somewhat unreliable sources, combined with wild conspiracy theories. Kenneth Arnold, the man generally considered - correctly or incorrectly - to have started off the whole modern flying saucer tradition because of the publicity generated by his sighting of 24 June 1947, was hired by Ray Palmer to investigate the sightings of UFOs and debris from one of them at Maury Island, Washington. Palmer, a publisher of science fiction stories, had been informed by one of the alleged witnesses, Fred Crisman.

The results of this investigation were written up in a book by Arnold and Palmer (The Coming of the Saucers, privately published, 1952). It is not clear which of the events described are strictly factual, particularly, as will be obvious to anyone who reads the book, that Arnold's account of his investigations has been professionally edited. Keith, though, does draw attention to some of the numerous contradictory reports and rumours concerning this case.

It seems odd to include the Maury Island case in a book on this subject, as the only alleged apearance of a MIB is that, according to Harold Dahl, a man in a black suit had breakfast with him in a local restaurant and warned him not to discuss his UFO experience with others. Some of the other cases discussed also seem irrelevant to the MIB theme, including some elaborate hoaxes, such as UMMO.

Keith admits that many of the MIB stories were hoaxes and that one of the most notorious hoaxers was Gray Barker. It was Barker whose attention was drawn to the claim by Al Bender, who had founded the International Flying Saucer Bureau, that he had been visited by three MIBs who had told him the secret of the UFOs and threatened him with imprisonment if he revealed the information.

Barker contacted Bender and wrote up his findings in his book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (1956) which, in Keith's words, "launched the modern day MIB tempest". In 1962 he published Bender's story, Flying Saucers and the Three Men, which he heavily edited, as he acknowledged in his introduction.

Keith's book ends with a lot of speculative waffle as to how the MIB stories should be interpreted, but I believe it was Gray Barker who received the correct answer, as he revealed in his epilogue to Flying Saucers and the Three Men:

"The editor of a popular saucer publication, in criticizing my book, claimed he had found out who the three men actually were and identified them by name: 'Boredom, Frustration, and Disgust.' These three men, unfortunately, are often real, and lurk constantly in the shadows. You may be their next victim." -- Reviewed by John Harney

In his latest book Nick Redfern again acts as a lightning-rod for UFO rumour and conspiracy. He carries on from where Jim Keith’s book leaves off, and spreads it over a wider range of experience. We start of with the classic account of Albert Bender’s experiences and Gray Barker’s reworking and development of the themes. Redfern rightly identifies Barker as the primary source of the MIB mythology, largely through his notorious book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers.

The problem is that, as Redfern continues his account of these mysterious ‘silencers’ it becomes clear that there is really no such thing as a ‘Men in Black’ phenomenon. What has happened is that Barker had created a category, with an exciting name, and since then people have felt obliged to supply examples to fit the category. Very few of the accounts described in this book have anything in common with Bender’s original experiences, and most have little in common with each other.

Redfern’s ability to attract strange stories is demonstrated at its best with the account of one Colin Perks, who “had an overriding obsession with finding the final resting place of the legendary King Arthur”. In the year 2000 Perks meets a tall, beautiful woman dressed all in black who claimed to know all about his Arthurian research even though he had apparently never published anything about it.

She told the baffled investigator that she represented a “select group of people within the British ruling elite” (not the Bullingdon Club, surely?) who were determined to prevent anyone finding the site of Arthur’s tomb, as it was a portal to a nightmarish other-world which would explode into our own with devastating results. If Perks did not give up his probing, his next warning would be from something far more unpleasant than this attractive woman. And so it was: a hideous winged creature attempted to attack him as he drove home one night.

Even so he continued his work until dying of a heart attack on Salisbury Plain in 2009, nine years after his original encounter. Redfern does point out that Perks was a chain-smoker with an unhealthy lifestyle. You may have your own views on this episode; I could not possibly comment, except to say that it does seem to be reminiscent of a number of Doctor Who storylines.

The problem with any MIB story is that we seldom have any alternative viewpoint other than that given by the ‘percipient’ or the original investigator. However in one instance cited by Redfern we are able to step back and take another look.

The case of Herbert Hopkins is well known in the UFO field. He was the doctor who performed hypnotic regression on two men who had encountered creatures with “mushroom-shaped heads” during an abduction experience in Maine, USA in 1975. Shortly after he had conducted the hypnosis Hopkins was allegedly visited by a weird, hairless, lipstick-wearing individual in a black suit, who conducted a bizarre interview, dematerialised two coins from Hopkins’ hand, made threats and then left and dematerialised himself, in the classic MIB manner.

More information has come to light about Hopkins which throws a different, but still quite disturbing account on this episode. Hopkins’ nephew, also called Herbert, has revealed that his uncle “was, unfortunately, a fantasy-prone individual, craved the center of attention and limelight and on a base level he sometimes just made things up—no matter how hyperbolic—to top everybody else. As brilliant as he was in many areas, however, he was unskilled at fiction.” You can read a fuller account HERE.

Not all MIB events are as strange as these, and Redfern rightly notes that many reports were, like UFO reports, simply misinterpretations of mundane events, the activities over-enthusiastic amateur ufologists and a few genuine government agents checking out if there was anything behind all these crazy UFO reports! Some of the incidents described in this book seem so trivial as to wonder why anyone would be concerned about them, and probably tell us more about the reporter than they do about the MIB. One person was convinced that two men in dark suits who walked out of an empty building across the street from where she lived were MIB, largely on the basis that they didn’t smile when she joked at them, and drove off quickly when they saw that she was trying to get a look at their car number plates. This encounter was apparently “chilling”.

Redfern is eager to recount his contacts tales, and no wonder, for they do make curious reading, and provide a useful summary of activity at the fringe of ufology. He is less useful when it comes to arriving at any conclusion as to what this all means. And this is because, as I said at the beginning, the book proves there are no Men in Black, just lots of people with stories – whether or not they are real, subjective, paranormal or just fictional – that have, through an accident of publishing history, been classified as ‘MIB’.

I blame Gray Barker

(Oh, and a nerdy, librarianist footnote, the book has an adequate index but a good list of sources) – Reviewed by John Rimmer.

1 comment:

cda said...

Re Maury Island, Fred Crisman, the instigator of the story, was an old friend of Ray Palmer and claimed to have met one of Shaver's 'deros' in a cave while serving in Burma in WW2. The dero supposedly burned a hole in his arm with a ray gun. Crisman also allegedly got involved in the JFK affair and, according to John Keel, had a finger in many other pies and was even shot at from a passing car one night in Tacoma by someone who wanted him 'out of the way'.