On the night of 19/20 September, 1961, on their way home to Portsmouth, New Hampshire from a short break in Canada, something happened to Betty and Barney Hill that began a new controversy in UFO research that continues even today. While modern polls show that as many as four million Americans could believe they might have been abducted by aliens, back in 1966 when the first book detailing the Hill case The Interrupted Journey was first published, the New England couple’s claims of alien contact were almost unheard of. There had been the famous Contactees of the 1950s, men and women who claimed they had been visited by the human looking occupants of flying saucers with warnings about nuclear war and environmental concerns. But the experiences of the Hills were completely different, reporting beings that were obviously not human, and had no such messages.
Instead under hypothesis the Hill’s told of how they were kidnapped and experimented on by short humanoid beings aboard a “cigar shaped ” craft that had pursued the couple that September night as they traveled home on Route 3 between Lancaster and Concord. The alien abduction phenomenon was born.
There are two major explanations often given to explain the Hills’ recollections under hypnosis. The first offered by some psychiatrists is that the Hills’ abduction experience was a hallucination brought on by the stress of being an interracial couple during the end of segregation era in the United States. But this explanation was discounted by Betty Hill, who said the couple’s interracial marriage caused no significant problems with their friends or family. This was echoed by Dr. Simon, who also thought that the Hills’ interracial marriage didn’t influence the couple’s abduction account in any way.
In 1990 Martin Kottmeyer suggested in his article “Entirely Unpredisposed: The Cultural Background of UFO Abduction Reports “ that Barney’s account of his abduction experience under hypnosis might have been influenced by an episode of the popular science fiction anthology series The Outer Limits, entitled “The Bellero Shield”, which was broadcast twelve days before Barney’s first hypnotic session. This episode featured an alien being with large wraparound eyes reminiscent of the eyes of the alien beings described by Barney under hypnosis. In his article Kottmeyer wrote:
“Wraparound eyes are an extreme rarity in science fiction films. I know of only one instance. They appeared on the alien of an episode of an old TV series The Outer Limits entitled “The Bellero Shield”. A person familiar with Barney’s sketch in “The Interrupted Journey” and the sketch done in collaboration with the artist David Baker will find a “frisson” of “déjà vu” creeping up his spine when seeing this episode. The resemblance is much abetted by an absence of ears, hair, and nose on both aliens. Could it be by chance? Consider this: Barney first described and drew the wraparound eyes during the hypnosis session dated 22 February 1964. “The Bellero Shield” was first broadcast on 10 February 1964. Only twelve days separate the two instances. If the identification is admitted, the commonness of wraparound eyes in the abduction literature falls to cultural forces.” (Entirely Unpredisposed: The Cultural Background of UFO Abduction Reports, Martin S. Kottmeyer)
When asked about The Outer Limits TV series Betty claimed to have “never heard of it”. Kottmeyer also pointed out that the medical tests the Hills’ described were reminiscent of scenes in 1953 science fiction film, Invaders from Mars.
Clearly there are superficial similarities between the ‘Bellero alien’ from The Outer Limits episode and the oval-headed beings described by Barney and Betty, there are significant differences between the two also. The Hill aliens were dressed in black, shiny uniforms and were “somehow not human”. The ‘Bellero alien’ in contrast was dressed in all white, and while humanoid, was very clearly non-human.
While it is possible that some of what the Hills ‘remembered’ under hypnosis could have been influenced by the science fiction films and TV shows of the 1950s and 60s, the best evidence that Betty and Barney Hill didn’t make up or imagine everything they said under hypnosis, is the star map drawn by Betty Hill.
In 1968, Marjorie Fish of Oak Harbor, Ohio read The Interrupted Journey. Fish was an elementary school teacher and amateur astronomer. Intrigued by the “star map”, Fish wondered if it might be “possible to determine which star system the space travelers came from. Assuming that one of the fifteen stars on the map must represent the Earth’s Sun; Fish constructed a three-dimensional model of nearby Sun-like stars using thread and beads, basing stellar distances on those published in the 1969 Gliese Star Catalogue. Studying thousands of vantage points the only one that seemed to match the Hill map was from the viewpoint of the double star system of Zeta Reticuli.
This was significant because the distance information needed to match three stars, forming the distinctive triangle Hill said she remembered, was not generally available until the 1969 Gliese Catalogue came out. Five years after Betty Hill drew the star map.
Fish sent her analysis to Webb and agreeing with her conclusions, Webb sent the map to Terence Dickinson, editor of the popular magazine Astronomy. Dickinson did not endorse Fish and Webb’s conclusions, but for the first time in the journal’s history, Astronomy invited comments and debate on a UFO report, starting with an opening article in the December 1974 issue. For about a year afterward, the opinions page of Astronomy carried arguments for and against Fish’s star map. Notable was an argument made by Carl Sagan and Steven Soter, arguing that the seeming “star map” was little more than a random alignment of chance points. In contrast, those more favorable to the map, such as Dr. David Saunders, a statistician who had been on the Condon UFO study, argued that unusual alignment of key Sun-like stars in a plane centered around Zeta Reticuli (first described by Fish) was statistically improbable to have happened by chance from a random group of stars in our immediate neighborhood.
Skeptic Robert Sheaffer, in an accompanying article said that a map devised by Charles W. Atterberg, about the same time as Fish, was an even better match to Hill’s map and made more sense. The base stars, Epsilon Indi and Epsilon Eridani, plus the others were also closer to the sun than the Hill map. Fish counter argued that the base stars in the Atterberg map were considered much less likely to harbor life than Zeta Reticuli and the map lacked a consistent grouping of sun-like stars along the lined routes.
Another interpretation of the star map was offered in 1993 by two German crop circle enthusiasts, Joachim Koch and Hans-Jürgen Kyborg, who suggested that the map depicted planets in the solar system, not nearby stars. The objects in the map, they said, closely match the positions of the sun, the six inner planets and several asteroids around 1960. This would parallel other abduction accounts where witnesses claim to be shown such depictions, though admittedly often elaborate and unmistakably our own solar system.
Barney Hill died in 1969 and Betty in 2004 and both stuck to their abduction account until the time of their deaths. While it is possible elements of their story were influenced by the Cold War science fiction films of the 1950s and 60s; the star map, if Fish’s interpretation is correct, couldn’t have been based on prior knowledge.