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Flying Saucers & The Descent Into Madness:

Can UFO Study Make You Crazy?


(originally published May 2011)



The study of mysteries can be all-engrossing. The truth about UFOs is something that is wholly unknown (or something kept cautiously concealed). It therefore excites curiosity and wonder. We are driven to solve the seemingly unsolvable. Before he died, the noted UFO skeptic Philip Klass actually included a “curse” in his Last Will and Testament that was related to this drive to solve the UFO mystery. In his will drawn in 1983, Klass included a bequeathal to UFO researchers:


No matter how long you live, you will never know any more about UFOs than you know today. You will never know any more about what UFOs really are, or where they come from. You will never know any more about what the U.S. Government really knows about UFOs than you know today. As you lie on your own death-bed you will be as mystified about UFOs as you are today. And you will remember this curse.


Will the forever “unknowable” UFO only lead one to eternal frustration, as Klass cursed? Can the study of something so very elusive – with perhaps no solution in our lifetime – take over our life? Has researching the Flying Saucer even driven some researchers to the brink of madness?



Peter Gersten

Peter Gersten is an unsung hero in the world of UFO research. Originally from New York and an articulate and accomplished attorney since 1970, Gersten gained the name “UFO Lawyer” due to his dedicated and serious efforts in uncovering UFO truth. Gersten skillfully utilized FOIA, the courts, and other legal tools.  He represented various research groups including CAUS (Citizens Against UFO Secrecy) and GSW (Ground Saucer Watch) as early as 1978 and through the 1990s in winning access to UFO records that were held by various government agencies including the CIA. Gersten teamed regularly with researchers such as Brad Sparks, Todd Zechel, Larry Bryant and Barry Greenwood in these legal efforts.


Gersten was also notable for his work in filing a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of Betty Cash and Vicky and Colby Landrum. The three Texans had attested to witnessing a UFO in December 1980 that was accompanied by helicopters that somehow has ‘irradiated’ them and caused life-long illnesses. This is the famous “Cash-Landrum” UFO case. Though Gersten was unsuccessful in his claim against the government, he worked tirelessly to prove the case.


The cracks in the egg began to show, however, in 1998. Gersten began making off-the-wall pronouncements that he possessed ‘special knowledge’ about the

phenomenon. In fact, he issued a statement that a UFO would publicly land in Arizona on December 7th of that year. Of course, no such saucer ever did land. From that point on, Gersten began to assume a more “mystical” tone in his writing and beliefs. He even took to donning ‘wizard robes’ and roaming the desert in search of truth:


A far more frightening turn was taken this year when Gersten proclaimed that he actually intends to leap off of the towering summit of Bell Rock near Sedona, AZ on December 21, 2012 at precisely 11:11. Gersten believes that the date of Winter Solstice 2012 is very significant, as is “11/11.” He maintains that on that date, at that time and at that place, an “interdimensional portal” will open up to “elsewhere”. He believes that this cosmic portal can be entered by leaping off of Bell Rock.

Bell Rock, Arizona
(From Where Gersten Will Hurl Himself)

It was in 1998 (the year he predicted a public UFO landing) that Gersten began noticing symbolism and “meaning” in 11:11. Gersten began “seeing” 11:11 and variations of these numbers everywhere, including in digital devices. Somehow in his mind he combined the supposed significance of this time with the 2012 date and the "sacred" place, Sedona. They will “coalesce”, he believes, and when he throws himself off of the mountain, he will be “saved” by a swooping Flying Saucer which will “catch” him before his body crashes to the desert floor. It will then whisk him away to a new, and presumably better reality. Gersten maintains a website that details this plan.

This author has communicated with Peter Gersten about this and other UFO matters. I have always appreciated his early contributions to the field and enjoyed dialoging with him.  On June 23, 2010 I received an email from Gersten explaining to me his current belief about the Roswell crash and about ET. In part it read:


Anthony – I believe that something crashed at Roswell and that a continuing policy of secrecy was instituted in the form of the National Security Act of 1947. But I believe it was because of an unusual technology that was discovered in the object. I do not believe that any strange creatures were found.


I respected Gersten’s opinion and had sought out his thoughts on the issue due to my interest and his prior work on the matter.


But when I found out that Gersten has now proclaimed that he will jump off a mountain – and make a “leap of faith” that he will be saved by a UFO – I became profoundly disturbed. I could barely believe that the man I had earlier corresponded with and had respected all these years really meant that he would do this. 


Frankly horrified and appalled, on May 12, 2011 I emailed him:


Peter – I have valued your work at CAUS and your early work using FOIA, the courts and other legal tools to access UFO truth. This is why I beseech you to re-consider your decision to enter a cosmic portal by leaping from Bell Rock on December 12, 2012. You have offered the research world much, and you have much more to offer. Please stay with us.


Are you not concerned that others may wish to follow your leap from Bell Rock? What if others who read of your planned endeavor seek to join you in the Leap? How will you respond to them and what will you advise them? What has your family said about this? Are you not concerned that when you leave, they will be left without you?


Gersten replied to me that same day:


Tony – I do not know what the exact details of my leap of faith will be, though I am now prepared to risk my life for what I believe in if necessary. I neither encourage nor discourage another’s actions now or in the future. I will not tell another how they should live or die. I am not responsible for the actions of others. I no longer have any responsibility regarding my family. And if I did it would end on my death. But once again, I do not know how my story will end and probably will not know until 12-21-2012.


It is obvious that Peter has committed to what is certain suicide. His comments and attitude about his family are of special concern. Where are they? Why are they not stepping forward to help? I also have concern that others may elect to join Peter next year in this obviously fatal exercise.  I implore anyone who may personally know Peter Gersten to counsel him against his decision.  If they do not, it will be too late and we will look back wondering how it had ever happened.

(Update: Gersten did not wind up flinging himself off of Bell Rock and killing himself. He wisely elected to not jump and remains alive.)


Bill Knell

Bill Knell has been active in UFO research and reporting for decades. Known as the “UFO Guy,” he operates several websites and online stores that offer DVDs, videos and cassettes on the phenomenon. Knell has been featured on the Coast-to-Coast national radio show, and has written numerous online articles and privately printed treatises. Knell did much good early work on UFO incidents on Long Island and in the New York region.

In recent years, however, Knell has taken a turn. Knell has been accused of criminal activities such as making illegal copies of other researchers' copyrighted UFO documentaries and videos and selling them on his site and on other web stores. He also began to make over-the-top claims of having met Jackie Gleason (who told him of crashed ETs that he had seen) and Walter Cronkite (who confirmed the UFO reality). This author contacted Knell about two years ago regarding a claim made by Knell that he had interviewed the daughter of the Roswell Base Chaplain. When I called out Knell on this and indicated that I

had actually found the RAAF Base Chaplain’s daughter and that she bore no resemblance to how Knell had described her, he harshly accused me of being a “disinformation agent” who was “in bed with the enemy.”


Knell had as his arch-rival another Long Island based UFO researcher, John Ford. Ford operated his “Long Island UFO Network”, while Knell operated the “Long Island Skywatch” organization.

John Ford

John J. Ford was a Long Island court officer and a long-time UFO enthusiast. He established a UFO research organization in the late 1980s. Ford garnered the attention of other researchers such as Phil Imbrogno and Linda Moulton Howe for his early investigation of Long Island area sightings and events. By the 1990s however, Ford began to believe that a UFO had crashed near Long Island’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. He further believed that the Suffolk County authorities were involved in creating “diversionary” fires in Long Island’s Pine Barrens to conceal the alien’s crash landing. Writing in 1993, Ford’s rival Bill Knell took to the Net to begin deriding Ford’s claims. Knell also accused Ford of harassing and threatening him, with Ford accusing Knell of the same.

Ford’s beliefs became even more bizarre by 1996. Ford, at the time 48, was arrested on charges that he was scheming to kill John Powell, the chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, as well as Fred Towle, a Suffolk County legislator, and Anthony Gazzola, Chief Investigator for the Brookhaven Town Attorney’s Office. Ford planned to put deadly radium in their cars and lace their toothpaste with radioactive metal. Ford wanted the three killed because he believed that they were purposely interfering with his

investigation of the Brookhaven UFO crash and with his efforts to contact aliens. Ford was found unfit to stand trial and was committed to the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center where he has remains to this day.  Bill Knell gloated over his rival’s turn of events.


A decade and a half after his rival John Ford was committed to a mental institution, Bill Knell himself degenerated to lows in mental health that have never been seen in the UFO world. We learn in an article appearing in the March 30, 2011 edition of the Lebanon (Indiana) Reporter:


Testimony by the Indiana Department of Child Services and the Lebanon Police Department revealed the Knell home at 1610 Ashley Drive was layered in filth, overrun by cockroaches, with rotting food in the refrigerator, bathrooms and bedrooms, and toilets filled with feces. The chair that Mr. Knell had been sitting in appeared to be covered in urine and feces.

The article continues that Knell, 55, and his wife, 47, faced up to 10 criminal charges of child neglect.



As readers know, this author is a proponent of the ET reality of the Roswell crash. Because of this, I have had dialog with Bill Moore, one of the original Roswell researchers (and author of the first book on the subject, 1980's The Roswell Incident). Along with Stan Friedman, Moore “re-surfaced” awareness of the Roswell crash. Moore’s story is well-known. Despite early pioneering work on the Roswell crash that was of considerable quality, Moore slowly began to become more ‘wild’ and gullible in his research. He started to affiliate with people such as Richard Doty, a known con man who had an association with Air Force Intelligence. Moore played a role in the release of the scurrilous “MJ-12” papers, and put together what he termed an “Aviary” of supposed military and intelligence insiders seeking the “core story” about ET truth. He assigned these individuals aliases, using the names of birds. The “birds” (many of whom I have spoken with) often did not even know that they had been “named” – and that what Moore was referring to about testimony by Aviary “members” was simply their speculation and private thoughts. Moore simply “looped back” this speculation to other members, creating “mystery” where there was none.

This “cloak and dagger” fantasy of Moore’s extends to this day!  Moore lives in a dreamt-up world of supposed agents and counteragents and of spy games and codenames of his own making. In an email to me dated March 31, 2010, Moore responded to my email to him from the previous day. I had inquired of Moore about his thoughts on a particular facet of the Roswell crash. Though I had

William Moore

corresponded with him previously, Moore had now become totally nonsensical and utterly paranoid in his reply to me:


“Mr. Bragalia – If you can answer these three recognition questions correctly, you will have identified yourself as someone I can safely talk to. Otherwise I have nothing more to say.  I understand that you have an Aunt who is a famous dancer. (1) What is her name? (2) Where does she dance (3) And what is her favorite bird? Best, WM”


So, decades after Moore began his ‘Aviary,’ he has worsened. Bill Moore remains oddly suspicious of others, obsessed with the “birds” and “Aviary” motif that he invented, and he continues to be compelled to fashion himself as a “James Bond”. Needless to say, I did not have the answers to Moore’s made-up “pre-screening” questions and thus I never received an answer from him to my original question.


This childish and psychologically revealing email reply from Moore had me wondering: What exactly had become of him? I phoned my research associate Tom Carey (co-author of Witness to Roswell) to ask him if he knew anything about Moore’s livelihood or whereabouts. Tom replied that though circumstances may have changed by now, the last that he had heard, Bill Moore had taken to repairing motorcycles for a living. He was residing in an apartment above a seedy bar in West Hollywood. It appears that no one hears much from Bill Moore anymore.



Of course, the above are rather extreme examples of how UFOs can tax the psychological well-being of those who study them. But one does not need to announce public suicide, attempt to kill, become neglectful of basic hygiene, or think himself a James Bond in order to suffer the torments of research unrequited.


Traveling down paths with no end, knocking on doors with no answer, UFO researchers do their work often without any real reward. The UFO puzzle continues to puzzle them, decade after decade. The mind reverberates as it dwells on this elusive, confounding mystery. It could drive even the most stable of us to disorder on occasion. This author himself confesses to nights of sleeplessness and to periods of elation and of profound disappointment over research on the UFO.  Perhaps the curse that Phil Klass made in his Will to Ufologists, that we will die not knowing the truth, is indeed true.

Researchers are limited by resources and time, as nearly all do this work as an avocation. Academia ostracizes them. The mainstream press giggles. It is no wonder that those who study the UFO often feel like one-eyed men in a kingdom of the blind.


Obviously such study can affect different people in very different ways. For some it is an intellectual exercise. For others it is a matter of detective research. For still others it is an obsession and ‘extreme hobby’. But for a minority, it can become unhealthy and even dangerous as we have seen. But we might do well to consider the words of Mark Twain: “When we remember that we are all mad – the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”

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