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Although little known in the United States before 1979, the case of Eduard Meier would emerge as one of the most controversial in the history of UFO phenomena. No case had ever offered so much evidence; in fact, Meier seemed to possess more evidence than nearly all previous UFO cases combined. But that evidence would be seen by few and studied by even fewer, because Meier's preposterous and sometimes misunderstood stories of traveling back in time to see Jesus and photographing the Eye of God would be laughed at and dismissed as nonsense - the same as Lee Elders had reacted before he had seen with his own eyes the conditions in which Meier lived, talked with the witnesses, and walked the sites. Meier's stories couldn't be true, but neither could the witnesses and the evidence be dismissed easily. Instead of space potatoes from the Moon and piano music from Saturn, Meier offered scientists what they had asked for for thirty-two years - something they could place under a microscope or enter into a computer and examine. And Lee Elders held all of it in his hands.
But in the late 1970s in the United States at least a dozen private groups vied for such evidence. The Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), headquartered in Tucson, and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), in Sequin, Texas, were the largest now that NICAP was defunct. Both organizations boasted several scientist; and experts in various fields who lent prestige to the groups" activities and publications. But the research, the gathering of facts, the interviewing of the rancher who had observed the strange light in the night sky, often was conducted by volunteers whose only qualification was the dues they paid to be members of the organization.
"Hobbyists," Stevens called them. "Often their investigations are no more than meeting the witness in his living room and discussing his experience over tea or coffee."
Usually short-lived and poorly financed, most investigations generated one or two pieces of paper to be mailed to the organization's headquarters, which most often was the home of the director.
Though united in a common cause, this small community churned with dissension. Because each organization remained viable only through the energy, dues, and contributions of its members, keeping their interest high was important, and this often led to intense competition for the more compelling stories. Should one group discover an intriguing case with claims or photographs to captivate its membership, it would often conceal such discovery as long as possible. Debate over old cases raged for years. Newsletters and bulletins mailed to memberships of a few hundred or a few thousand became forums for attacking not only cases, but other ufologists. Emotions ran high and accusations were sometimes vicious.
When Stevens returned from Switzerland after meeting Eduard Meier in the fall of 1977, he felt the case was so big, complex, and potentially sensational that if he took it to one of these groups it would become embroiled in the politics of the UFO community. He wanted to avoid this. (Stevens had his own critics: One prominent ufologist, Stanton Friedman, had labeled him a case "collector, not investigator.") Stevens also knew that most ufologists still automatically dismissed contact cases, especially claims of repeated contact. But he felt that the Meier case had hard evidence and that this evidence needed more than the typical short-term, poorly financed investigation by one of the UFO groups. Instead, he had approached the Elders and Welch, who were experienced in investigation and the preservation of evidence, and, most important, had no connection with any UFO organization. Immediately, Elders had capped the case with a tight lid of security.
"I guess I was overly protective with this case in the beginning," he said later. "And rightfully so. I still wasn't totally convinced it was for real, but I'd be damned if I would let anybody get near the evidence. We're talking about hard evidence. I made a lot of enemies that way. Our problems really began right after that with the UFO community."
In the summer of 1978, Jim Dilettoso set out to explore, experiment, and talk to people about how the Meier evidence might be legitimately tested. If he was to organize the testing, he needed to know the latest equipment, the qualified scientists, and the proper procedures. He searched first for the experts. Then he spent a year writing and phoning them, sometimes interviewing them in person, before he understood what tests should be performed and what equipment should be used, and which scientists were not only knowledgeable, but also open-minded enough to analyze evidence associated with UFOs. After he felt he understood the procedures, he tried to locate and use the equipment at various labs and universities before he approached one of the scientists with the actual evidence in his hand.
"At times I cringed about it," said Welch. "It would have been much nicer to have somebody with a Ph.D. who'd spent five years in research at Harvard to be there carrying on that conversation for us. Also, I cringed many times because we couldn't be sitting there with a 820,000 check in our hand when approaching someone to ask to use their equipment or to do the work." Once he understood what needed to be done, Dilettoso then had to convince the scientists themselves to perform the actual procedures on the metal, sound recording, and photographs, and that proved difficult. A scientist's reputation remains only as good as his credibility, and many if not most scientists felt their credibility would be seriously threatened if it were known they were studying UFOs. But after many tries, Dilettoso discovered an Achilles' heel he suspected might exist - the natural curiosity of the scientist.
Marcel Vogel was a research chemist, one of less than a dozen senior scientists at the IBM facility in San Jose that employed 9,000 people. The holder of thirty-two patents, he had worked for IBM for twenty-two years, inventing for the huge computer company the magnetic disk coating memory system still used in IBM disk memories throughout the world. Research begun in 1960 by Vogel also had introduced the use of liquid crystals for optical display. Now a specialist in the conversion of energy inside crystals, Vogel probed the interior of crystalline structures with the most complete optical microscopic equipment available in the world - a system of scanning electron microscopes costing $250,000.
In his forty years as a scientist, Vogel had received many unusual requests for his expertise, but the strangest came in mid-April 1979, in a phone call from Jim Dilettoso. Searching for scientists to examine the Meier evidence, Dilettoso had discovered Vogel at IBM and felt he represented the perfect blend of expertise and curiosity: Eminent in his field, he had a reputation for being open to new ideas, even those on the fringe of science. When Dilettoso contacted Vogel, the scientist seemed amused with the story, but intrigued as well. Stevens followed with a letter cataloguing the samples in his possession - various crystals that Meier had labeled as coming from certain planets in other star systems, and four states of metal used in forming the hull of the Pleiadian beamships.
"These specimens are available for any kind of nondestructive analysis," wrote Stevens.
Both men explained to Vogel that the samples had been entrusted to Stevens by a Swiss farmer named Eduard Meier, who claimed since 1975 to have met face-to-face over one hundred times with beings from the star cluster known as the Pleiades. "I am personally convinced that the contact is actually taking place," wrote Stevens, "and is still to this date proceeding on an irregular basis."
Skeptical but curious, Vogel agreed to conduct an analysis. Later he admitted, "I've had a rather negative feeling toward UFOs because, I said, 'Unless I have something physical that I can get my hands on, just reported sightings and things like that have no interest to me.' "
One Saturday morning, not long after he had agreed to examine the Meier evidence, Vogel found lying on his doorstep a small padded mailer addressed to him. Upon opening the package he was surprised to find a note from Stevens and four smaller packages, one enclosing a lavender crystal, two filled with darkened metal specimens, and the last containing a half-inch triangle appearing to be an alloy of silver and gold.
Vogel studied the samples in his hand and conducted elementary testing in his IBM laboratory. Except for its clarity and the beauty of its soft violet tinge, the amethyst crystal revealed no unusual properties. And the two metal specimens darkened by oxidation contained only small and impure quantities of aluminum and sulphur, with some silver, copper, and lead. But they held at least one surprise for him.
"When I touched the oxide with a stainless steel probe," Vogel later remembered, "red streaks appeared and the oxide coating disappeared. I just touched the metal like that, and it started to deoxidize and become a pure metal. I've never seen a phenomenon like that before. It's just something that was unusual." Though the two darkened samples exhibited this unusual property, Vogel considered them no better than standard silver solder. "You could have gone to a jeweler and gotten a specimen of that," he said. "The other fragment that I had, the triangle, was different."
In the separate packages, Vogel had found handwritten notes with information about each specimen. The note enclosed with the triangle said that when the Pleiadians gave it to Meier in 1975, Meier recorded in the contact notes that they had warned: Earth scientists would easily be able to analyze the components of the alloy, which included the basic building blocks of the universe. But the alloy was bonded in a unique way involving seven separate development stages that by twentieth-century earth technology would be impossible to duplicate.
"This information," one of them told Meier, "can be only a suggestion to the earth scientists for the still distant future."
One evening, several days later, Vogel remained late at IBM to begin analyzing the burnished triangle. Placing the metal in the electron microscope, he turned on a video tape to record his analysis and peered through the lens. Though he had expected to encounter nothing new in the specimen, to his surprise he was looking at the most peculiar maze of elements he had ever seen.
Since arriving in Tucson in 1966, Stevens had investigated cases for the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, sometimes piloting a private plane to the sites. Though he was friends with Jim and Coral Lorenzen, who had founded APRO in 1952, he told them nothing of the Meier case for over a year. "I didn't want them meddling in it yet," he said, "because I didn't know where it was going." But after visiting the farm and talking to Meier in April 1978, he and Elders had discussed bringing APRO in on the case: The UFO organization had connections in the science community that might prove useful in having the evidence analyzed.
"So we decided to invite APRO to come into the case with us," said Elders. "I really respected at that time the work they were doing, and so did Steve. They were the oldest and largest UFO group in the world, and they had a great reputation, they were dedicated, they had pioneered in a lot of areas. I liked Jim Lorenzen. And Jim was interested in the case, he seemed sincere."
Lorenzen said later he had "serious doubts" about the case. But he would reserve judgment until the evidence had been examined by "outside experts." For the present, he said, he considered Meier's photos to be "art." "They were exciting and interesting," he added, "but we didn't consider them proof of anything."
The alliance with APRO began with a basic misunderstanding. Lorenzen saw the gesture as an invitation to him to supervise the investigation so that the APRO stamp would make the efforts of Stevens and Intercep "beyond question."
"I got involved in this with the idea it was to be an objective investigation and that I was to have control of the investigation," said Lorenzen. "I would decide what tests would be done and what scientists and labs to use."
"Mostly," said Stevens, "he asked questions about where I was on the investigation. Had I tested this? Had I looked at it this way or that way? Did I ask this or that question? The only inclination he gave me that he was sympathetic to it was that he said several times, 'There seems to be an awful lot here for one party to fake. Either it's a big group with a big scam, or something is going on.' "
For a while Lorenzen met frequently with the investigators. He talked at length with the producer John Stefanelli and traveled to San Francisco to speak with Marcel Vogel, the scientist Dilettoso had discovered at IBM; he met with representatives of a computer company that manufactured image processing equipment for analyzing photographs. But as time went on, Stevens held back on much of the evidence and information coming from the case. He did not want to lose control to Lorenzen. Furthermore, Dilettoso was now digging into the science for them, and he had begun to establish his own contacts; they no longer needed APRO's connections in the science community.
At the same time, Lorenzen had been speaking with other ufologists who had European contacts, and one of them passed on a rumor that the whole case was a big joke, that each time the Americans left Switzerland to return home, the Meier group laughed behind their backs at how easily they had been fooled. Lorenzen also heard that affidavits from alleged witnesses not only failed to support Meier's claims, but actually refuted them.
"I think he used models," Lorenzen said later, "and he threw away those pictures that didn't turn out. See, they never checked out his avenues of developing and printing to see if they stood up. They never checked anything like that, which is one of the first things I would have checked." Lorenzen said that as far as he knew, no scientist ever analyzed the photographs.
Then, over a year into the investigation, Lorenzen and Elders had a disagreement.
"Lorenzen asked if we would cover his expenses to Europe," said Elders. "At that time, we were using our own money, Intercep money, to cover our segment of the investigation. Wendelle was using his retirement pay from the Air Force. So we were operating on the 'ten dollars a day through Europe' program to save money to try to conduct the investigation. We told APRO no, we couldn't do it. APRO said, 'Okay then, fine, we want all the evidence turned over to the APRO organization.' Hell, who needs someone to help you under those conditions? So we said, 'Thanks, but no thanks.' Made them mad."
"We all finally agreed," Stevens admitted later, "that we wouldn't discuss the facts in the case anymore with anybody outside our group, and if anybody pressed for answers, try to get out of it, and if we couldn't get out of it, try to drag a hare across the trail and throw them off. It was probably not the best thing to do, but we were trying to keep people from stirring our pot at that time. We already were inside government laboratories, and we didn't need anybody else trying to help us get in there."
Before 1978 scientists had used image processing exclusively to extract data from a photograph everyone knew was legitimate: A satellite had beamed it back from the Moon or Mars; it was real. The challenge with the Meier photos was to detect possible fabrication. Dilettoso discovered a UFO group in Phoenix, Ground Saucer Watch, that claimed to have a reliable computer method for authenticating UFO photographs. Since 1974 they had received five hundred photographs from around the world, subjected them to their new process, and pronounced a large majority hoaxes. A few, less than 5 percent, they proclaimed to be genuine.
Unknown to Dilettoso, a West German researcher had sent ten Meier photos to GSW for analysis two years earlier. After analyzing the photos, GSW had reported: "All of the pictures are hoaxes and they should not be considered evidence of an extraordinary flying craft." Nearly every method of photo fakery possible had allegedly been employed by the one-armed Meier - a suspended model, the double exposure technique, the double print method. The West German UFO group had immediately ceased their investigation of the Meier case.
Later, Ground Saucer Watch had received a photograph of a disk-shaped craft taken by a man in Calgary, Canada. They analyzed the photograph and found it to be "genuine," which they announced publicly. Sometime later, through an intermediary, the man from Calgary sent a second photograph he had taken of the same disk on the same roll of film. GSW concluded that the photo "depicts the crudest attempt at a hoax that we have ever seen." Since that blatant contradiction was publicized, few people had given weight to the findings of the organization.
In his research of equipment and procedures, Dilettoso learned that GSW performed none of the alleged computer work. They sent all photographs to a firm in California, where technicians entered them into a computer by taking another picture with an inexpensive video camera, and applied basic software programs to enhance the photographs with bright colors. Then they took another picture off the computer screen and sent these pictures back to GSW to be studied with the naked eye. By then, the information in the original photograph had been greatly distorted.
"This frustrated Jim," said Welch, "it frustrated Steve and me. Because there was no structured approach. They could have been looking at stuff that came from a dirty lens."
"Or," said Dilettoso, "the angle of the light on the photo could be wrong and create surface reflection from the gloss on the picture. There's a hundred things that could happen. I spent a lot of time talking to GSW and found I wasn't going to get anything out of them. They really were playing with toys."
After GSW, it took Dilettoso little time to discover the father of image processing, Dr. Robert Nathan at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Dr. Nathan had conceived image processing in the 1960s and developed it for nearly twenty years. Although other government labs now had comparable equipment, as well as scientists competent in image processing, JPL was considered first in the field. After several calls form Dilettoso and Stevens over a period of months, Nathan finally agreed to look at the photos, but he would not commit himself to examining them: The procedure was costly and time consuming, and though Nathan's job was to detect and analyze objects in space, whatever their nature, he had no time to waste. Still, he kept an open mind. In his office, before even viewing the photographs, Nathan told Stevens and Dilettoso he would look at the photos as an individual, not as a scientist at JPL, and that any opinion he rendered would be his own, not that of the NASA facility. That made clear, Stevens pulled out several 11 x 14 prints he had had made of Meier photos and laid them on Nathan's desk. The scientist perused them, saying nothing. Then he reached for the phone and called the photo lab to tell them he was coming over. After looking at the photos for a few more minutes, he escorted Stevens and Dilettoso to the lab to have copies made of a set of transparencies also in Stevens's possession.
"We took the internegatives that I had to their processing facility," recalled Stevens. "And they made copies from those. They wanted to keep the internegatives, but we wouldn't let them, because every time somebody has kept one they end up talking with it in front of them and little spit balls fall on it, and when you put it under super magnification the next time you've got little blues in the picture."
Bob Post, the head of the photo lab where every JPL photo of planets, stars, asteroids, and comets was processed and printed, had worked there for twenty-two years. "Over the years of looking at photographs and judging photographs," he said, "you get to the point where you can see a lot of things in a photograph that the average person doesn't see."
About four o'clock in the afternoon, Nathan entered the lab and showed the large prints to Post. "I'd seen pictures of UFOs before," said Post, "and I looked at them as a bunch of bull. There's no definition to anything. But these were good. Whatever they were, they were good. You've got a nice spacecraft sitting there, you've got some good ground out here, you've got a sky with clouds in it once in a while, and you can see some detail. The pictures look good. Under further scrutiny you might find out, 'Yeah, they're fake.' But some of his pictures I thought were gorgeous, absolutely the best stuff I've ever seen for UFO pictures. From a photography standpoint, you couldn't see anything that was fake about them. That's what struck me. They looked like legitimate photographs. I thought, God, if this is real, this is going to be really something." Nathan reserved judgment.
By the summer of 1979, the Elders, Welch, and Stevens had spent over $30,000 traveling to Switzerland to see Meier, traveling to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other locales to speak with scientists and computer companies, and telephoning all over the United States. With Dilettoso beginning to open doors at major laboratories, they decided they needed more money if they were to continue investigating the case properly. A few scientists had conducted preliminary tests on some of the evidence, and so far they were getting interesting results, but nothing conclusive as yet. Without consulting Lorenzen further, Intercep formed Genesis III Publishing and produced UFO . . . Contact from the Pleiades, a large-format photo journal containing many of the Meier photos, a sampling of quotes by Semjase, a brief outline of Meier's experiences since 1975, astronomical and mythological information on the Pleiades, and some of the preliminary findings on the testing of the evidence. "Sort of a mix of what we had done up to that point," said Elders.
Seventy-one pages long, the Pleiades book claimed that a number of scientists had been consulted on the Meier evidence and that some now were conducting "a most exhaustive and painstakingly detailed investigation." But the text mentioned no names. The book displayed pictures of various people sitting around a table in the Meier kitchen and noted there were "a substantial number of local witnesses who had personally observed these remarkable events," though it identified no one in the pictures. The book informed that scientists were analyzing the Meier photos more thoroughly than any UFO photos had ever been analyzed, "utilizing additional, highly advanced procedures and technology drawn from sophisticated aerospace and nuclear medicine applications," but it included no signed reports or statements from the scientists. Near the end of the book was one page comprised of two short paragraphs entitled "Metal Samples Analysis." The first paragraph claimed: "From the beginning, unique qualities in the metal samples were detected." But the text referred to those who had performed the analysis only as "the scientists involved." Then it claimed that these scientists "had never seen anything like it before," and that "these detailed analyses continue today." The text failed to divulge even one source, yet the writing abounded in hyperbole.
Elders's earlier refusal to release any of the evidence to the UFO community had caused considerable controversy over the Meier case months before publication of the photo journal. Many ufologists thought Meier's claims of having traveled in space and time were outlandish; they laughed when he said that a tree in a photograph had later disappeared because Semjase had "erased its time," and reports constantly drifted back from Europe that someone had seen small models hanging in Meier's barn. With Intercep's extravagant claims now public and totally unsupported in the text of the photo journal, accusations from the UFO community increased and became more heated. While pretty to look at, alleged the kinder criticism, the pictures, and whatever other evidence the Elders and their group claimed to have, represented no proof of anything. Harsher critics screamed fraud.
Mutual UFO Network director Walt Andrus wrote in 1980 in the MUFON UFO Journal that the photo book produced by the Intercep group "is an outright fraud perpetrated upon the public for financial gain." He added: "A U.S. investigation had identified a balloon in several of the photographs that supports the model on a string while Billy Meier, with one arm operating his camera, moves through several different angles." Andrus lamented even mentioning the photo journal in his group's publication. "However,* he wrote, "it is imperative that such opportunists be exposed."
A 1980 book review in Fate magazine concluded: "I think this book is nonsense - handsomely packaged, to be sure, but nonsense all the same." The reviewer, George Earley, later wrote in a spring 1981 edition of a UFO newsletter called Saucer Smear that what Stevens offered as proof was "cheap twaddle."
"Stevens well knows what constitutes legal and/or scientific proof here on planet Earth," he continued, "but he and his compatriots have consistently and persistently failed to provide any such proof. Until they do, they deserve every bit of criticism sent their way by the rest of us."
In the fall of 1979, Jim Lorenzen, who had had more exposure to the evidence than anyone outside the Intercep group, told the audience gathered at UFO '79, the APRO convention in San Diego, "My present disposition is that the Meier case is a hoax." Then he paused and added, "It's not that simple though." Some aspects of the case and some of the evidence presented, he felt, were "very difficult to explain." But too often Meier's inflated claims required Lorenzen to suspend common sense. He accused Stevens and the Intercep group of going to Meier "as skeptics and as investigators" but becoming "disciples spreading the word. .. . Part of it, I would say, is mysterious and I can't account for it," he concluded, "but that doesn't mean I have to buy the whole package."
In the APRO Bulletin of October 1979, Lorenzen's words were more pointed. Addressing Stevens he wrote: "I submit, seriously, that you and your associates have rushed to judgment on this matter because of a strong will to believe - a predisposition toward exotic explanations.... So far, each instance of evidence that Meier has offered, when pursued to its logical limit, ends up being a zero as far as compelling proof is concerned. Add any number of zeros and you still have zero."
One ufologist, Lucius Farish, a columnist for the MUFON UFO Journal, publicly defended Stevens and the Intercep group. "You are free to think anything you wish concerning the Meier case or Stevens's investigation of it," he wrote to the journal's editor. "However, the fact remains that you have no proof that the case is a hoax. I've heard all kinds of accusations, but I have yet to see one iota of real evidence.... When anyone takes thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to investigate UFOs, I think he deserves to be heard without a bunch of clowns harassing him because he showed them up at their own game."
Later, in a letter to another ufologist, Kal Korff, who more than anyone else had repeatedly attacked the Meier case, Farish wrote: "The opinions of persons who have never bothered to investigate the case and who are willing to accept negative statements concerning it without investigation are totally worthless. ... I would say that 98% of the criticisms of the Meier case which I have read/heard are merely 'sour grapes'. . . ."
In the MUFON UFO Journal of December 1980, Korff published an article entitled "The Meier Incident: The Most Infamous Hoax in UFOlogy," which he later expanded into a booklet and distributed among other ufologists. Korff concluded: "After a careful review of all of the major purported events as stated by Genesis III and those individuals involved with the Meier case, it can be conclusively shown that none of the events as claimed contain the slightest shred of evidence to support their authenticity. Therefore it must be stated that the Meier case gives every appearance of being nothing more than a grandiose and elaborate hoax. It is certainly the most extravagant of all of the known contactee cases contained within the records of UFOlogy."
"At UFO '79 in San Diego," remembered Lee Elders, "the character assassination started against us. They started attacks that were unbelievable. They sent out flyers and brochures talking about this Meier hoax that we had perpetrated. We went through a bloody mess for a year and a half after that, so we quietly rallied our forces together. We're being attacked day and night for perpetrating 'the wildest hoax since time began,' and we can't lay this card on the table with IBM or any of the other labs. We don't want people bothering the scientists. So at that point we refused to release any more information on the case. We took it underground. And this haunted me for two years. I felt we had tangible evidence as an investigator. I didn't know if we could prove the case to be real, but I knew we had tangible evidence. Not one of these UFO people had ever been to Switzerland. They hadn't spent five minutes with Meier. None of them has been there. So how can they say it's a hoax? That's what frustrated me the most."
"Then," added Brit, "letters started coming in here saying, 'We want to see what you have. Send it to us.' We wrote back saying, 'No. If you want to see what we have, you come to Phoenix and look at it. It does not leave our possession.' So then everybody starts saying, 'They don't have anything. They're not going to let anyone see what they have because they don't have anything at all.' That's how this little merry-go-round works. I said, 'It's here, but if you want to see it you come here to see it.' None of them ever did."
While Dilettoso conducted his campaign with the scientists, Lee Elders returned from Switzerland with a new sound tape from Meier. Eva Bieri, one of the witnesses present when the sounds were recorded, had described to Elders the experience of listening to the sounds as a beam-ship, unseen, hovered overhead. An attractive Swiss woman in her mid-twenties, Eva had stood in a meadow only two miles from the farm, balancing her two-month-old son on her hip. Popi, a tape recorder in her hand, stood nearby. Near the edge of a pine forest 200 to 300 yards away, Meier had sat on his tractor, as another tape recorder turned in the small trailer behind it. Soon, Engelbert and Maria Wachter and others had joined them, and then everyone had watched the sky and waited.
Eva, who had sensitive ears, disliked loud music and loud people. But when the deafening sounds suddenly filled the sky over her, she became angry not for her own discomfort, but because she felt it would harm the ears of her baby.
"On tape it sounds different than it really was," she said. "It was like the sky was full of sound, not from one place. The sound was everywhere, and we were thinking it must be very loud because people came from far away to see what had happened, and they were running, not walking."
Shrill and unnatural, seeming to echo from within as it rose and fell, the sound, though loud, seemed almost pleasant to Eva's ears. Her child did not cry, but only craned his neck and blinked his eyes and listened.
For years Dilettoso had worked at creating sound using digital sound synthesizers; whereas analyzing photos involved techniques new to him, he understood the analysis of sound. Through a former employer, Micor Corporation, he arranged one evening to examine the recording with a digital audio analyzer. But after taking the sounds apart he could not figure out how to duplicate them.
"That was the point at which I was blown away," he said. "To the ear they don't sound that unusual. It sounds like what you'd expect a sci-fi flying saucer to sound like. But upon analysis, they're continually shifting and changing, and combinations of them are getting louder and softer and doing things at such a rapid rate that even with a synthesizer being able to generate that many sounds it would be really, really complex."
But needing independent verification, Dilettoso sent the tape to Rob Shellman, a sound engineer with the United States Navy sonar sound laboratory in Groton, Connecticut. Also intrigued with their complexity, Shellman immediately eliminated one major possibility: Meier could not have used any electrical AC source to create the sounds.
The equipment was set up to analyze for 50 or 60 hz ute frequencies, which are common electrical outlets." Shellman wrote to Dilettoso. "If the device that generates the sound was an electric motor or machine the line frequencies would be evident. No such frequencies were detected."
Seeking further verification of what seemed to be an unusual recording, Stevens located in Los Angeles an electronics consultant and computer engineer, Nils Rognerud. A designer with a large electronics firm, Rognerud took the tape to a sound lab and converted the sounds to wavy lines on a spectrum analyzer. As he watched, the various frequencies vibrated up and down across the screen, converged into a thick zigzag, then split apart and converged again.
"I was being very skeptical from a scientific viewpoint," Rognerud said later, "but the sounds were unusual."
At a loss to explain them, Rognerud called in a second consultant, Steve Ambrose, who built custom microphones for rock stars and was the sound engineer for Stevie Wonder. Recently, Ambrose had built a tiny wireless radio receiver and speaker that fit inside Stevie Wonder's ear. The radio, called a Micro Monitor, was one of two inventions Ambrose had patented. He also toured regularly with Simon and Garfunkel, Engelbert Humperdinck, Diana Ross, and other popular singers as a sound specialist. He understood sound synthesizers and their capabilities. Rognerud had asked him to listen to the Meier recording to see if he thought Meier somehow had fabricated the sounds with a synthesizer.
Later Ambrose said, "Nils knew that if I thought it was a hoax I would just flatly say, 'I'm sorry, I could do this.' He's like that, too."
Over the phone Rognerud explained to Ambrose that the alleged source of the sounds was an interstellar beam-ship coming to earth from the Pleiades. He added that from everything he could discern the sounds seemed to be authentic. Such a strong endorsement from Rognerud piqued Ambrose's interest, but the recording still held surprises for him. After listening to it awhile and watching it on the spectrum analyzer, he told Rognerud the sounds could not possibly have been made with a synthesizer. They were analog, or natural, sounds, and he agreed with Rognerud that they seemed authentic. "If someone is perpetrating a hoax," he said, "they went to some length."
"Synthesizers use oscillators that are capable of making things that sound real," Ambrose explained later. "But the frequencies that this sound generated were so random and varied it was beyond the capabilities of an oscillator or even a group of oscillators. You'd have to use a microphone of some analog, natural sound like a lathe, metal cutting metal, which has low frequencies and high frequencies, and if you speeded it up or slowed it down you could get the various frequencies that would resemble what this had on it. But even then you'd have to take that and layer it several times, mixing one sound in with another, and this just didn't sound like something that had been layered, track upon track upon track. When you've dealt with recording and electronic sound you get to be able to hear what happens when you layer one sound on top of another. This was a single sound source recording that had an amazing frequency response."
Ambrose knew many people in Hollywood involved in creating special effects, and the sounds, he said, were something none of them could have conceived.
"How would you duplicate that sound?" he asked. "I'm not just talking about how it sounded to your ears, but how do you show those various things on a spectrum analyzer and on the 'scope that it was doing? It's one thing to make something that sounds like it, it's another thing to make something that sounds like it and has those consistent and random oscillations in it.
"If it is a hoax," he continued, "I'd like to meet the guy who did it, because he could probably make a lot of money in special effects."
Since the spring of 1977, the farm had been slowly transformed into a functional place complete with electricity and hot and cold running water. Finally the mud was gone; the water that had once spilled down the hillsides was now dammed, directed, and fashioned into small pools. Running in long, well-tended rows, a huge garden spread from the old carriage house along the path to Schmidruti. Pear and apple trees produced large fruit in the fall and provided fresh juices kept on the back porch in large glass jugs. At the entrance to the farmhouse, screen mesh covered the large aviary filled with canaries and finches, one snow-white, fluttering back and forth between nests made of little baskets. From the front porch came a constant chirping and twittering.
But one thing at the farm had not changed. It continued to attract large numbers of strangers - the religious, the scientific, the philosophical, the cynical, the merely curious - all wanting to speak with Meier. Families came, as well as priests, ufologists, film crews, couples on motorcycles, single women, reporters, and an occasional disciple searching for the Messiah. At dinner the Meier kitchen often filled with people they had never seen before, and because of Semjase's request that he educate earth humans on the existence of other races in the universe, Meier felt obligated to speak to them all.
In November 1978, after a dozen or more articles about Meier had appeared in the European press, Der Spiegel, the huge international magazine, had run an eleven-page cover story on UFOs: "Apparition or Reality? The UFOs Come." The magazine cover was a dramatic Meier photograph - a beamship accompanied by a remote-controlled craft, the latter just below the horizon.
The people who now sought out Meier came from all over the world. An old guest book signed by only a very few of the visitors bore addresses from Tahiti, Japan, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Belgium. Actress Shirley MacLaine flew to Switzerland to spend five days with Meier, helping to weed the garden and trim tree branches by day, and at night probing Meier for answers about the universe. When MacLaine left she signed the guest book: "To Billy and his loving fight for all. Thank you for your dedication, your patience, and your LOVE. Always shine. Shirley."
Popi remained disgusted with the visitors. "I was fed up many times," she said later, "but we didn't have a choice. They would come into my house and say, 'Okay Billy, let's go.' Not a word to me. I got aggressive, I could not see why people could not understand when I told them that Billy was busy right now. They came here with their problems and Billy had to be here no matter what. He didn't care about his health, and the people didn't see that he needed time to relax, to take care of himself, and to be my husband. Nobody ever asked Billy, 'So you have a problem? Can we help you with anything?'
"I learned to accept the way it is. Von Daniken came. He wanted information. Billy talked to him. I was glad that I didn't have to speak with these famous people."
"We were there," recalled Lee Elders, "when cars came in from France, Holland, Denmark, from all over Europe. It created a nightmare for him."
"At the very beginning," added Brit, "Billy sincerely questioned his sanity. 'Why me? Why here? Why now?' Then he got to where it became fun. All of these people he'd never met before, coming to talk to him. Then the photographs hit the magazines, and all of a sudden he was swamped with people. They started lining up outside. Literally lining up. And that he didn't enjoy. People would say, 'Give me this photograph.' or 'Let me have that photograph; Then they would disappear and he would never see them again. Here I think all of the fun left it, because half of everything got stolen. The kids were being harassed in school. His wife was unhappy, and he wasn't real happy. Because there was a constant flow of human bodies. Always."
Popi still would have nothing to do with any aspect of the contacts. She refused even to discuss them with her husband. "Popi was very jealous of the contacts anyway," said Brit, "not just the fact it was with a female space traveler, but also that Billy was doing something she couldn't be a part of, and that she, deep down inside, didn't want to be a part of. She didn't want anything to do with the contacts, she didn't want to know what was being said, she didn't want to see the photographs. And she didn't want to talk to the people who were invading her privacy. I've seen her take on everybody in the kitchen, tell them to get out, leave, leave the house, go away, she never wants to see them again. Because they were making demands on her husband, and in her mind that was separating her husband from her. She finally got to the point where she didn't care. She didn't care if anybody showed up, she didn't care if her house was a mess. She didn't care what happened to her kids, herself, or her husband. Everything around her was overrun with strangers."
Meier predictably had become a cult figure, visited by individuals searching for something to give life meaning. Some of those who had gravitated to him looking for an answer even took up residence at the farm, as rooms were completed and outbuildings renovated. They always wanted more contacts, notes, and photographs. The new people helped keep the farm going and assisted Meier in printing his contact notes, but now he spent much of his time and energy settling disputes among his "followers." Women frequently clashed with Popi, and men vied to become Meier's confidant. Even the contact notes had acquired a decidedly terrestrial tone, often concerned merely with the problems and personalities inhabiting the farm, and attributing conflict among the members to the acts of dark forces called the "Gizah people." The warm and stimulating, even magical atmosphere that many had experienced in Meier's presence began to erode with the arrival of more and more people.
Finally, rules had to be drawn, work schedules enforced, and dues collected from those who lived at the farm, as well as from regular visitors. Everyone remaining at the farm longer than thirty minutes was expected to work. And if anyone wanted to speak with Meier they either had to do so in the field as they worked next to him or in the kitchen after they had earned a piece of his time.
In the fall of 1979, with a Japanese production crew from the Nippon Television Network Corporation waiting in London, the Elders had traveled ahead to Schmidruti to see if Meier would agree to being interviewed for a documentary on his experiences. But when they arrived at the farm they found Meier locked in his office not speaking to anyone.
"He wouldn't come out of his office," Lee Elders remembered. "He wasn't eating. They would take a tray of food to the door and it would sit there. All he wanted was his cup of coffee and his cigarettes and 'leave me alone.' "
For three days Meier remained alone in the small room he used for an office. When he finally broke silence it was to send an urgent summons to Elders.
"What an experience that was. I'll never forget it as long as I live. I walked in, the room was dark, there was one little lamp on, and he was sitting there in the chair. We were about this far apart. And the light was on my side. I couldn't see him fully but he could see me. His hair was wild and he had this wild look in his eyes and he would just sit there. I mean he was just a beaten man, totally withdrawn, staring at me.
"Somewhere along in my life I was told that the first man that speaks under conditions like that loses. So I thought, I'll wait him out. I went through three cigarettes. Nothing. Him staring at me, and me looking at him and smoking a cigarette and waiting and waiting.
"Finally I knew he wasn't going to say anything, and I could have been there all day, so I said, 'How are you, Billy?' And he goes, 'Oh, Lee.' And then he poured his heart out to me for two hours. Talked and talked and talked about problems on the farm and how the pressure was getting to him, and he couldn't go on anymore and he was going to break the contacts. He says, 'I will break them. Break them.' He kept talking.
"So I sit for two hours in this darkened room listening to him and finally I said, 'How about some tea?' So I got up, went to the kitchen, got some tea, then went back over.
"I was there six hours total with the man. I did everything in my power to convince him to continue what he was doing. I'll never forget... it sounded hokey at the time, but in a way, when I started thinking about it, it wasn't that hokey because it worked. I drew the analogy of Michelangelo. I said, 'Look Billy, you're familiar with Michelangelo, aren't you?' He nods. 'Well, look at this man, look what he created, look what he did while he was on this planet, look at his artwork, look at the things that he accomplished, look at what he gave to humanity. You're doing the same thing. Your photographs are like Michelangelo, they're the best anybody's ever seen.' I said, You're contributing to raising the consciousness on this planet, and that's very important.'
"I went on and on. And he started listening, and then he started thinking about it. His problems were minute because he was accomplishing something great. See, by that time we had gone through a period where people were hounding us day and night over Volume I, letters from kids and letters from doctors and letters from people with terminal illnesses trying to get to the Pleiadians for help. We had undergone this onslaught of individuals. There was meaning behind it to them, and they weren't UFO nuts. It was sort of like hope during troubled times. So I knew what he was going through, but I also knew what it meant to these other people. Finally I said, 'Billy, I've got some Japanese waiting in London, what'll I tell them?' And he says, 'Bring them in.'"
While they waited for the film crew to arrive, Brit continued to record everyday life at the farm in her diary. "Popi fixed three-minute eggs, bread, sausage, cheese, enough for an army. Last night we had potatoes and cheese.
They laughed at us because we ate the potato skins - they peel theirs. I'm going to teach Popi how to fry eggs, make omelets and sausage the U.S. way."
One night eight people piled into a Land-Rover, and Meier drove on back trails across meadows to a small guesthouse restaurant.
"Billy drives like a madman," wrote Brit, "lights off, shifts with his foot, laughs all the time, says he's protected, 'Don't worry,' At the restaurant Lee had his first coffee kirsch, we all joined in, had coffee kirsch, coffee schnapps. Came home same way - no lights, Billy shifting with his foot, 'Don't worry, we're protected.'
"Back home after a jigger of the strongest rum anyone could ever make, we all felt extremely 'relaxed.' Billy asked if we had ever seen this done before, and at that point he threw a spoon across the table and when I picked it up it was bent, twisted. Then he did one for Lee."
After Meier had bent the spoons, Brit said, "Are you the next so-called Prophet?"
"No," said Meier. "All people are prophets, and everyone has the power to bend spoons."
Meier explained that he used the force from the people around him and the force of his own mind in channeling it.
"I call them 'foolish turnarounds,'" he said. Then he held up one of the spoons he had bent. "This I do only for Brit."
"And between his thumb and index finger," Brit wrote in her diary, "he melted the spoon and broke it in half."
Lee still watched Meier closely, searching for a weak point or a clue. But Meier was so quick and so natural, Elders had yet to see anything suspicious or revealing. "I was fascinated with what he could do with a nail," said Elders, "with what he could do with a compass making it spin around without touching it. He'd say, 'It's just power of the mind,' so he didn't equate it to his Pleiadian contacts. It was something he had learned perhaps years ago, perhaps in India. But this fascinated me, because at this point I was pretty well convinced in my own mind that he was not hoaxing this thing through normal means."
Jun-Ichi Yaoi and the Japanese production crew arrived in Schmidruti the latter part of September to begin three weeks of filming. Their first night at the farm, they sat in the living room watching and filming Meier's 8mm footage of the beamships off a white screen. In the first sequence the ship darted back and forth over a farmhouse and a tall pine tree, and then appeared to cut quickly in front of the tree as the top branches suddenly bent as if caught in a backwash. Talking excitedly in Japanese, the crew had Meier run the sequence over and over as they focused on the top branches of the tree. Then while watching another series filmed at Hasenbol, one of the crew members noticed something unusual about a seeming reflection off the ship's flange. Meier ran it back, and the Japanese cameraman zoomed to the edge of the ship. There on the silver rim, like the slow brightening of a lighthouse beacon, a distinct red light flashed on and then off again.
During the day Elders and Welch accompanied the film crew to the sites where Meier's alleged contacts had taken place. They both had surmised for some time that if Meier's story were true, each of the landing sites would have some degree of radiation left behind by the beamship. The proper instrument at the right sensitivity might be able to detect that radiation. After several phone calls they located a gamma radiation detector at Wild-Heerbrugg, a precision instruments company in Switzerland. Similar to a Geiger counter, the instrument measures electromagnetic radiation, and Welch spoke to a physicist there who had used it many times.
"I told him what we were trying to determine," said Welch, "and he indicated that this would be the equipment to use."
The physicist told Welch that the instrument would detect any artificially caused change in the molecular structure of grass and soil.
While the crew filmed Meier in a meadow not far from Hinwil, where Meier claimed the first Pleiadian beamship had landed and remained for an hour and a quarter nearly five years earlier, Elders and Welch set up the radiation detector. To establish a comparison, they first took readings in the grass of the surrounding area, which measured a low .00 to .05. Each time a stronger reading appeared on the dial, they marked the spot on the ground. But before they had finished taking readings in all of the areas, they noticed that the spots marked on the ground were beginning to form roughly the shape of a circle. Inside the circle the radiation level consistently measured .2, roughly 400 percent higher than the background measurements. And the readings inside the circle pulsated.
"It didn't go up and hang," remembered Welch. "It went up like this and then down a little bit, and then went back up, back down a little bit. We didn't expect this."
In diameter, the circle in which the readings pulsated and the radiation rose so much higher measured roughly twenty-one feet.
According to Welch's notes taken at the time of the measuring. "Immediately after that we went back to the hotel and I contacted the physicist who provided the equipment to determine if there was any significance at all to the findings, or if it was a calibration of the equipment that needed to be done. The physicist, who was somewhat reserved in his personality and approach, was surprised."
"Tell me again the background readings," said the physicist.
Welch read them over the phone.
"And the other readings?" asked the physicist.
"One point five, up to two point zero," said Welch.
"Where did you find these readings? Specifically."
As nearly as he could describe the area. Welch told the physicist its location. The physicist then told Welch that he and others had been using the equipment in his laboratory and in the field for about ten years, and it had always read accurately. No brand name appeared on the equipment, and the physicist could not remember its manufacturer.
When Welch suggested that either the readings were insignificant or the equipment needed calibration, the physicist dismissed both possibilities: The equipment was sound and the readings were indeed significant, since they represented gamma radiation levels of between 100 and 400 percent above the highest background levels.
The physicist recommended they immediately contact the Swiss Nuclear Safety Commission for further information and guidance, and allow their team to investigate. He did not know what the readings indicated, but he felt that a specialist should take them again and analyze them.
"He did not go into further detail," read Welch's notes, "except to explain what would be required to cause any such gamma radiation detection - an unnatural source strong enough to change the electromagnetic nature of every molecule where the readings were obtained." Like a paper clip that has been magnetized, articles near a strong electromagnetic field would acquire a "memory" of that force.
After this experience, they took the instrument to the Meier farm and got .00 readings in the vicinity, until they got within four hundred yards of the house, a giant circle. Within the circle, the needle suddenly jumped from .00 to .15.
"But it wasn't consistent," said Welch. "You'd be walking and there'd be no reading, and all of a sudden you'd get this jump. And it would hang at .15 for a second, and then it would start to go down."
At one alleged landing site at the edge of the forest below the farm, Welch again got sporadic readings up to .15. At another landing site in the gravel road leading to the front of the house, he got lightly pulsating readings from .05 all the way up to .2.
At this point they decided to check all of the articles Meier carried to the contacts. They went into Meier's office and got his gun. First they took out the bullets and got no reading on those. When they asked Meier how long he had had the bullets, he said they had been purchased only recently. On the gun the meter went to .01. Meier's watch registered .05. A metal charm Meier kept in his pocket registered .1.
While checking the objects, they discovered that Meier himself gave off readings. His left shoulder fluctuated from .1 to .15, and his right arm from .05 to .1. Welch again called the physicist at Wild-Heerbrügg.
"Did you slam a door on it?" asked the physicist. "Did you crush it, or anything like that?"
"Absolutely not," said Welch. "Is it something you have to handle like a feather? Because if that's the case, maybe a slight bump when you're picking it up out of its case could knock it off."
"No," said the physicist, "it's not like that. That's a steel plate you're hitting."
"So at this point," Welch remembered later, "I was very intrigued. He didn't have any answers. And we sure as hell did not want to go to the Swiss Nuclear Safety Commission."
After obtaining the unusual readings, Welch experimented with the instrument for a few days before they had to return it. He turned it on in his hotel room, while they were in restaurants, in open fields and forests; but each time, he recorded nothing near the readings he had gotten at the sites, at the farm, on the small articles, and on Meier himself.
Herbert Runkel rarely came to the farm now. Whereas the Hinwil house had been a place of intellectual freedom, and the farm in the early days a joy to help rebuild, the new religious "feel" of the group with their enforced meditation and their regulations had stifled what remained of that earlier atmosphere. Meier had disenchanted Herbert two years earlier when he produced a series of photographs he said resulted from time travel with Semjase. The pictures showed the rubble of San Francisco following a massive earthquake that would occur sometime in the future. Later a friend of Herbert's discovered an article in GEO magazine that showed an artist's conception of what the long-predicted catastrophe might do to the city, and Meier's photographs obviously had been taken of this lifelike painting. With all of the beautiful photographs that no one seemed able to duplicate or explain, Herbert had been unable to understand why Meier would resort to such an obvious fabrication. Meier had said that the Pleiadians simply placed in the artist's mind an accurate picture of the real future, the same one Meier had photographed. And then the photographs had disappeared.
The pictures of San Francisco had confused Herbert because he had seen so many things for himself, some trivial, some remarkable, that contributed to a fascinating story he still could not explain. One October afternoon after he had been interviewed by the Japanese and they had departed, Herbert wanted to show Lee Elders a site that long ago had particularly intrigued him. He drove to the site, one that he and Harold had once visited with Meier shortly after Meier had had a contact there. Herbert stopped the car in a field crossed by railroad tracks, where he and Elders got out and walked down a dirt trail into the forest. After about a quarter of a mile they came to a secluded clearing the size of four or five football fields and surrounded by fir trees a hundred feet tall. A short way in from the meadow two trees in the forest bore large wounds frozen in sap and black from singeing.
Herbert told Elders that on the day he and Harold had come to the site with Meier three years earlier, they had wanted specifically to see these two trees: Meier allegedly had shot them with a laser gun the Pleiadians had demonstrated to him. And when Herbert and Harold had looked at the two trees that Herbert now pointed out to Elders, they could not figure out how Meier had created these marks that ate through the thick tree bark unless maybe he had used some kind of laser gun.
That day, while Herbert and Harold were studying the two trees, sometimes up close, sometimes stepping away to check distances, Meier had gone off nearby to look for mushrooms. At the edge of the clearing rambled a thicket of waist-high bushes. As he stepped all the way back to the meadow to eye one of the trees, Harold spotted from the corner of his eye a twig on a small bush. Something had snapped it in two. Something also had charred both of the broken tips. When Harold bent to examine the twig, he saw another one broken a few inches from the first. It, too, was charred. He called Herbert over and they discovered a perfectly straight line of broken twigs, each of them charred, that went through the tangle of thin branches, bush after bush after bush. It looked as though a narrow beam of intense heat had shot through the thicket.
Harold had called to Meier, who came over with his mushrooms to look at the small broken branches. After examining them for a moment, he said he remembered aiming the laser gun at the two tall pine trees, but not in the direction of the bushes. Maybe he had, he couldn't remember.
Three years later the charred branches no longer could be found, but Herbert had pictures of them he showed to Elders. The straight line that ran through the bushes, Herbert estimated, continued for at least a hundred feet.
Later in Munich, Elders also questioned Harold about the incident and Harold told him, "You could recognize the line of fire by the cracked branches and the blackened tips. It was so thin you could not do it with a welder."
At the site Elders had seen immediately that a bullet fired through the bushes would not leave the branch tips so finely charred, and the painstaking use of matches could not be carried out in a straight line. What mystified Elders even more was why Meier would go to so much trouble to fabricate such intricate evidence, when it seemed highly doubtful anyone would ever see it.
The trip that afternoon with Herbert typified how Elders and Welch spent most of their time in Switzerland - stumbling further and further into the unexplainable. The discovery of the charred twigs offered little concrete evidence that Meier's alleged contacts had taken place, but they were one more item on Welch's list of "gross consistencies."
While the Elders and Welch were in Switzerland, Stevens and Dilettoso traveled to Pasadena to meet with Dr. Nathan at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Since Nathan could not work from the prints Stevens had showed to him, he had instructed Bob Post at the photo lab to have 4x5 color film positives made from Stevens's internegatives. These copies then would be "digitized" and the information stored in & computer where Nathan could analyze it later.
Post asked an Englishwoman, Audrey Adkins, who had worked in the photo lab almost as long as he had, to remain after work to process the transparencies, and Stevens instructed her not to discard any of her test strips or rejected copies. But when Adkins retired to the darkroom, placed the first internegative in the enlarger, and brought the actual grain in the film into perfect focus with a 20X microscope, the picture itself remained blurred. As Adkins brought each of the internegatives into the finest focus possible, she thought to herself, If Dr. Nathan can make anything of these, he's lucky.
Both Post and Adkins skipped dinner that night to work on transferring the Meier photos from the internegatives to positive transparency film. After Adkins had finished her work around seven, she handed Stevens a large padded envelope and said to him, "This is all trash." She left the copies she had just made for Dr. Nathan.
The new transparencies revealed that Stevens's internegatives were several generations away from the originals. In fact, they appeared to be so inferior to the beautiful prints Stevens had shown him at the outset that Nathan immediately suspected Stevens of using him, of deliberately offering evidence that could not be tested.
"All I know is the negatives he gave us to work with were already out of focus and that's all he would let us have," said Nathan. "They had to be a different, later generation, or a generation specifically made that was intentionally out of focus. They couldn't have been used to make the very high resolution prints he flashed by me. He was not giving me his best data, he wasn't showing me anything that I could work with."
"The key problem here," recalled Lee Elders, "was a problem that originated with Meier himself. Because there had been so much theft of the original material, we didn't know if we had originals. If we had had the originals going in, it would have made life much easier for us. But we didn't. We knew we had a negative, but we didn't know how far down it was. Is it first generation, fifth generation?"
Nathan placed the new negatives in a drawer and never looked at them again.
"I was never impressed with the pictures," he said. "I was very unhappy with them. At no time was I ever of the feeling they were anything but a hoax. But don't forget, all of my examination on this was extremely cursory. These things have not really been given a good examination because it isn't worth the time, from the quality of the images given us, to do anything. I have no proof that this is a fraud. But I have no proof that it is real. That's the second statement that should always accompany the first."
For some time Lee Elders had been trying to track down a key witness, Martin Sorge. Of the many Europeans who had once traveled to Hinwil to investigate Meier's early claims, Sorge repeatedly had been mentioned as the chief detractor, the man who, some alleged, had exposed Meier as a fraud. After finally locating Sorge by phone and arranging for an interview through an interpreter, the Elders drove to Locarno, a summer retreat on Lago Mag-giore, one of many narrow lakes forming the border between Switzerland and Italy three hours south of Zurich. They found Sorge in a fine white house surrounded by summer hedges a few blocks up from the lakeshore.
Sorge was an articulate man in his late forties, and though his interests over the years had turned to psychology and the paranormal, he held a university degree in chemistry; he had published two books, one on hypnosis. Like many others in the summer of 1976, Sorge had read of Meier's claims of contact with extraterrestrials in a magazine, and, pulled by his own curiosity and the urging of a friend who had met Meier, he had traveled to Hinwil.
"I used to go there with my girlfriend at the time," he told the Elders, "and we would stay there for three or four days. As a personality I felt a certain fascination with the man." But Sorge had soon found himself in a quandary: On the one hand he thought Meier's pictures were convincing: on the other, he was skeptical. "So I wanted to be around to see what happened."
Sorge discovered that at the Meier house on Wihaldenstrasse the family was never alone. Always there was one, two, or three of the curious, often many more, squeezed into the modest living space.
"They stayed the whole night," he remembered, "or they left in the middle of the night, or they came in the middle of the night. And the whole atmosphere there was overshadowed by Billy's mission. He was like a dictator, he said what had to be done and that would have to be done. Even the needs of his family were overruled by his ever readiness to be at Semjase's call."
As he had watched and reflected on Meier, one thing had impressed Sorge above all others: the certainty with which Meier spoke. As Sorge put it, "The man appeared to be one with his story." He said he sometimes saw Meier so lost in his thoughts he could not communicate for days; he seemed filled with a power that originated from without, and this power so possessed him he was able to put people under a spell. Sorge recalled watching Meier point to the sky one night. "See that," Meier had said. Sorge himself had seen nothing. "But," he said, "I can imagine how he could persuade others to believe that they had."
Sorge remembered well the electric atmosphere that pervaded the Hinwil house when Meier was about to have a contact in those early days. There was always great excitement, he told the Elders. People hurried about, bringing Meier his gun, his hat, his boots, his walkie-talkie, his leather coat, preparing him to venture into the forest. Others brewed strong coffee, or warmed the engine of their cars. The ones to accompany Meier wondered if this might be the night they would see the beamship descend or glimpse the ethereal figure of Semjase.
The only nights that compared with these were the nights before publication of the pamphlet Meier called Wassermannzeit, The Age of the Waterman, who was Meier himself. On those nights Meier would be up all night, sweating in the lighted room on the third floor, feeding and pumping the printing machine furiously with one arm, not resting or even slackening his pace until the job was finished.
"It was unbelievable to see him running around this machine working it with one hand," said Sorge. "Real fast, real hard, like an obsessed person."
As Meier in a frenzy cranked out the pages of the pamphlet, music boomed from two speakers, the same pounding beat, over and over, causing the walls to quiver, a tempo that matched his own slamming of the press.
After describing his early experiences with Meier, Sorge began telling the story of how he had turned up the most damaging evidence anyone had ever discovered against Meier: several partially burned slides obviously taken of a model that looked similar to the beamships. It was the story the Elders had come to hear.
According to those in the UFO community who claimed Meier was a fraud, Sorge had reached into a fire to rescue the slides before Meier could dispose of them. But when told of his alleged role in the story, Sorge said no, the incident had happened differently; he had never pulled anything from a fire. While in Hinwil, Sorge had shrewdly cultivated a friendship with Popi, surmising that the man's wife, if anyone, would know the truth behind the story, and that in the right situation she might reveal that truth.
"Billy and his wife always had many 'disturbances,'" he explained.
One day when Sorge was visiting, Popi had suddenly run from the house crying and screaming at her husband; when she returned hours later, she went to Sorge and secretly gave to him many color slides that had been charred by fire. "She had the feeling she had to confess to someone," thought Sorge.
When Sorge examined the partially burned slides he saw immediately they were of a model, either suspended in the setting or somehow superimposed. A prominent shadow appeared against the background. With proof that Meier had apparently experimented with models, and being himself skilled with his hands, Sorge had resolved to fabricate pictures of the same quality as Meier's better photographs.
"To prove it could be done," he said.
Sorge had studied the burned photos at length, then built a ten-inch model and photographed it with a plain background from different angles. Next he had gone into the forest and shot many scenes of trees, sky, and green rolling hills. Using two slide projectors, he had then cast one forest scene onto a silvered screen and simultaneously introduced another slide of the model he had constructed, centering the model in the background of forest. Then he had brought both slides into sharp focus and photographed the screen. As he spoke now of his photography experiment, he began laying before the Elders a sampling of his fabricated pictures.
Sorge's photographs showed a crude and somewhat stark beamship frozen in an otherwise familiar setting; but they lacked the feel of Meier's, the natural relationship that appeared to exist between his background and his ships. They had no depth. Lou Zinsstag had referred to Sorge's photography experiments three years earlier in her final letter to Timothy Good: "A lot of them [former friends of Meier]," she had written, "even faked some UFO photos, doing pictures on a window pane, showing them around and telling everybody how easy this was. I've got two of those fakes. I fell for them only for a few seconds."
Sorge admitted that his pictures were of lesser quality than the ones Meier had produced, but his experiment convinced him that by superimposing projected images or using some similar technique Meier somehow could, and in fact did, fabricate this part of the evidence.
"I saw pictures of a UFO and it really was a model," he said. "In the first place I saw that it was a model, and in the second place I learned it from his wife. She said, 'Yes, he is working with models.'"
What Sorge didn't know is that long before he had seen the slides, Meier himself had shown them to Hans Schutz-bach, the one who had driven Meier to so many contacts and who had been with him the day the first sounds were recorded. According to Schutzbach, he had been in Meier's study one day in the early fall of 1976, when Meier presented the slides and explained to him that he had carved a model of one of the beamships and then tried to photograph it. In the pictures the model sat on three blocks of wood and lacked the luster and refined appearance of the glistening beamships in Meier's other photos. Meier said he thought the photographs should be destroyed to avoid confusion, but Schutzbach had persuaded him to keep them.
"I told him. 'These are an important document; " Schutzbach had explained later. " 'You can't throw them away.'"
Meier agreed and gave the slides to Schutzbach, who kept them safely in his apartment. Then one day Popi went to Schutzbach and asked that she be allowed to have the slides. A few weeks later, after fighting with her husband, she snatched up various documents, photographs, and slides, including those of the model, and threw them into the fireplace. Schutzbach said he had arrived at the house in time to see Meier himself stamp down the flames and then reach into the fire to save the slides. The next time Popi fought with her husband, Sorge had been visiting Hinwil with his girlfriend, and in a rage, instead of setting fire to the surviving slides, Popi had given them all to Sorge. This had caused problems, said Schutzbach, because Sorge had later written to Meier and promised to expose him as a fraud. When Popi denied knowing anything about how the slides had gotten into Sorge's hands Meier had threatened her, she pulled out his gun, and he took it away from her. Then Popi had tried to kill herself with pills.
Interested only in "scientific proof supporting Meier's claims, once Sorge had seen the obviously contrived photographs and heard the accusations from Popi, he considered Meier a "swindler" and lost interest in the case. Since then, he had neither seen nor communicated with Meier; Meier, he said, was now far in his past. But his opinion of the man and the contacts curiously had changed.
"At that time," he explained to the Elders, "I was not as far along as I am now. There is more behind it."
Sorge then paused for a long while as though he were organizing his thoughts. When he spoke again he said, "The result of my investigation is that these things can be made, but... now comes the big but... this is no proof that the other 'thing' does not exist. I doubt that these pictures are real, but that doesn't mean that all of the pictures are faked or that the story is a hoax."
Lee Elders wanted this statement clarified. Sorge answered immediately.
"Billy's intellect and his spiritual level are much below the message he preaches, therefore it is not possible that he could have invented this. So this indicates he must have gotten it from some other source. I am certain that these are messages from a spiritual being unseen by us but seen by him, coming from another world, and he's capable of hearing these messages."
The interpreter and Sorge talked back and forth in German, as the interpreter made sure he understood Sorge's position.
"I am certain he has these contacts," Sorge continued, "but not in the way he's telling us. He may receive them in the form of visions, the way mediums receive things. He may not even know himself if these visions are real. But for him it is reality, and to prove it he has to go out and build these things."
For technical reasons Sorge felt that Meier must have had at least one accomplice to help him, but he believed Meier actually had two or three, though he had no idea who they might have been.
"He is not flying away," he concluded, "and he is not meeting with Semjase, but he is able to put himself into a parallel world, and he has experiences in this parallel world. He fakes the evidence to make people understand his experiences."