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On a Friday night, in the early summer of 1976, Herbert Runkel and Harold Proch, men in their late twenties from Munich, were cruising the autobahn to Augsburg in an older cream Mercedes. With the windows rolled up, they listened to "The White Rose," a radio program from East Germany that aired every Friday at midnight. Each of them held a spicy German sausage in one hand and a liter of Coke in the other. Herbert, who was in charge of quality control at this father's insulation factory, smoked his Camels; Harold, a professional photographer with a neatly trimmed dark beard, cradled a pipe. They had been close friends now for six years. The Friday night drives on the autobahn to Augsburg had become a ritual, a time to talk.
As always, they talked of many things, but one thing that Harold specifically wanted to mention that night was an intriguing article he had recently seen in Quick Magazine about a man living in Switzerland who claimed to have had contact with beings from another star system. And the contacts, said the man, still occurred regularly. The article even mentioned U.S. presidential candidate Jimmy Carter as one who had seen a UFO when he was Governor of Georgia. Harold had had his own unexplained sighting when he was only five years old. He later told the story:
"That was on the island where I was born. We were at the beach one afternoon, and suddenly from the seaside, there came a flying saucer, two or three, I don't remember exactly. They stood still, a little bit in motion for about one minute, maybe fifty meters high. They were big; it's difficult to say how big. They were there for one or two minutes and like a shot, they were gone without acceleration. Gone. I never forgot that. I asked my mother, I asked other people, 'What is that? This is not an airplane, what is that?' Nobody could tell me. Nobody could explain to me what they were, why they were here, what it meant. That was in the '50s: 1953, 1954. I was so fascinated. I will never forget that picture."
On their Friday night journeys to Augsburg, Herbert and Harold often had "philosophized" about the universe, the existence of extraterrestrial societies, the possibilities of travel into space over cosmic distances. "As many do, we were trying to find a truth," explained Harold, "but without religion."
Herbert, a compulsive reader, had read UFO stories before. One of these was about the most famous "contactee" ever, the American George Adamski. Adamski had lived on the southern slope of Mount Palomar. In November 1952, he claimed he had had a conversation with a man of slight stature and shoulder-length blond hair who landed in the California desert in a "Scout Ship" from Venus. The alien had come to Earth because his people were concerned about "radiations going out from Earth," caused by the exploding of atomic bombs. Adamski had traveled the world, famous as the first person to claim contact with extraterrestrial beings. He, of course, was a controversial figure, and his few murky photographs of the "Scout Ship," Herbert had read, actually were superimposures using "part of an icebox machine" as a model.
"In the other cases," said Herbert, "the people always talk about religion, how the space people are sent by God to help the people on Earth, and that's all crazy. For someone who thinks logically, it is nothing. No," he told Harold, "I'm finished with UFOs. I read about Adamski, I believe there are extraterrestrial people, but all these stories in magazines are hoaxes."
"Before you say that, you should look at the pictures from Switzerland," said Harold. "You have never seen pictures with quality like this." A photographer with many years experience, Harold had been impressed with the pictures in the magazine, and he described each one in detail for Herbert.
When they returned from their late-night journey to Augsburg, it was early morning though still dark. A night person requiring little sleep, Herbert regularly went to bed at three, four, five o'clock in the morning, slept for a few hours, then was ready to start the day. That night, he was not interested in sleep; he went, instead, to Harold's apartment to see the article that had so impressed his friend. When Harold unfolded the magazine in front of him, Herbert saw immediately why the photographs had caught his eye. The two-page spread featured a black-and-white photograph of a large silvery ship hovering high above a valley near Hinwil. A series of three smaller pictures showed a similar ship in various positions around a tall pine. In another picture, in a field of grass, stood Meier himself, a handsome man with hair thinning in the front, and a well-developed right shoulder and forearm. The left sleeve of his white shirt drooped and rose, neatly pinned to his shoulder.
When Herbert saw the layout, he grinned. "This is a better hoax than the rest."
In the past, nearly every report of unusual sightings of claims of contact that Herbert had read about had occurred in South America or the United States, nowhere he could conveniently investigate himself. But this time it was in Europe. Harold spread a map across his desk, and they found the village of Hinwil to be a little southeast of Zurich, no more than a four- or five-hour drive from Munich. The two of them decided they would drive to Hinwil the following weekend and try to find Meier and talk to him. "It was just curiosity to see if it was true," Harold said later.
On Saturday morning the following weekend, Herbert and Harold left Munich at daylight and headed south, crossing the Swiss border just after sunup. Driving to Winterthur, then down through the villages near the Pfaffikersee, they arrived in Hinwil at about ten o'clock. Not knowing Meier's address, they drove to a kiosk in town where an old woman selling newspapers and candy told them that Meier lived in a large farmhouse at No. 10 Wilhaldenstrasse. "Why do you want to see him?" she asked. "He's crazy."
When Herbert and Harold arrived at the farmhouse, Meier was not at home and would not return for at least two hours. Popi invited them inside for coffee, but they declined. At two in the afternoon, with Meier still gone, Hans Schutzbach arrived. A few minutes later, Popi came out to the car and told Herbert and Harold that Schutzbach could answer some of their questions since he knew Billy (her husband's nickname) well and had been on several contacts with him. She again invited them inside for coffee, and this time they accepted.
Inside the old farmhouse, Popi handed them two thick albums filled with photographs. Harold studied several of them closely with his professional eye. "As much as I know about photography," he said later, "I could not say these photos were faked somehow. They looked real to me."
"For ten minutes we could say nothing," remembered Herbert, "because our mouths were open. In the magazine, there were only black-and-white photos in two or three different positions. But these pictures from up and down, from here and there, clear and in color, were perfect."
Schutzbach explained to them how Meier had taken the photographs during his many contacts with the Pleiadians. "If you would like to see landing tacks from a ship," he added, "actually two ships, there was a contact fourteen days ago. They are quite fresh; I can show them to you."
The article in Quick had mentioned nothing about landing tracks; Herbert and Harold had no idea such evidence existed. A few hours earlier they had speculated on whether they would find Meier, and if they did, whether his story would hold up or dissolve into nothing but unsupported claims as had all of the others. Now they sat in Meier's house, looking at photographs even more incredible than those they had seen previously. And here was a man who had been with Meier on several contacts offering to show them physical evidence supporting the man's story. The more they saw in the photo album and heard from Schutzbach, the more intrigued they became. Shortly after Schutzbach made his offer, Herbert and Harold were back in the car again, following him through the streets of Hinwil, then out into the country onto a narrow side road to a place where the road ended. There, they got out of the cars and began to walk.
"We walked almost one hundred meters through the woods," remembered Herbert, "and then we came to a place where the wood was closed all around and there was a meadow in it. There was very high grass, maybe a little less than a meter. And there were the six landing tracks from the two ships. I took a picture of them, and I thought, that's not possible, I have never seen anything like that. The grass was turned counterclockwise, right? The interesting thing was the grass was not broken. If you break grass it will lie down, but this grass was not broken. I pulled up some pieces of it and looked at it and it was not broken. I could not understand.
"If you stand at a place like that, the first thing you think is, how did these landing tracks get here? He must come in with a car or with a helicopter or something to make them. But that was impossible. The woods were so close you could not go through with a car."
Except for the landing tracks from the two beamships, only a single set of footprints led from one of the tracks to the edge of the woods and back again. Untouched, the rest of the grass still stood stiff and tall around the six-foot counterclockwise swirls so precisely pressed into tracks. And the meadow in which they lay seemed the perfect place to hold a secret rendezvous: nearby, but secluded and quiet, a thick growth of trees formed a wall over a hundred feet tall to hide the landing and departure of a strange lighted craft.
"The pictures were special," said Herbert, "but when we stood in the woods at this surrounded place and saw the tracks, it was special, special, special. I had never seen that before. It's difficult for me to explain."
Standing at the edge of the forest, Schutzbach explained to Herbert and Harold how the Pleiadians guided Meier telepathically to the chosen site, then landed their ship and disembarked to speak with him unless they desired either to teleport Meier into the ship's hold or break him down and reassemble him instantaneously on board. After Herbert had taken several pictures of the landing tracks, some at a distance, some up close enough to see into the swirls of grass, the three men returned through the forest to the cars and drove back to Hinwil. By that time Meier had returned, his wife told them, but he could not meet with them now; he would meet them in the city of Wetzikon at the Post Restaurant near the railway station at 5 p.m.
After seeing the many photographs in the albums and viewing the landing tracks, Herbert and Harold now thought Eduard Meier was far more intriguing than portrayed in the simple article that only several hours earlier had persuaded them to drive over three hundred miles to Hinwil. Each was far from accepting the reality of the contacts, yet the man's story, from what they had seen, had some substance to it. More than before, they wanted to meet Meier and question him to see if this knowledge from the Pleiadians seemed genuine or was filled with the contradictions of one obviously in touch with no source but his own earthly imagination. They drove alone to Wetzikon and arrived at the Post Restaurant just before five o'clock. About thirty minutes later, as they sat talking at an outside table, Meier walked up in the company of the Schutzbach brothers and extended his hand to Herbert.
"I never saw him before," Herbert said later, "only the picture in the magazine. And he came straight to me, extended his hand, and said, 'Hello.' It was a strange feeling when I looked into his eyes, like, 'I know this man.' I don't know his voice and laughter, but I look at the eyes. 'I know this man.'"
For the next three hours on that warm summer evening, the five men sipped hot coffee and iced Coke at a table under a shade tree. Harold questioned Meier about the photos they had seen in the albums, but Meier seemed to know little about photography. His knowledge was summed up in the phrase, "I push the button... and it works."
Herbert had read many books on astronomy and space travel. He was familiar with some of the mythology behind constellations; he knew about the origins of the universe and that over 200 billion stars now spin in the slowly revolving galaxy known as the Milky Way, and that for every star in the Milky Way there was thought to be an entire galaxy in the universe; he knew, too, about the formation of star systems and the conditions necessary for the evolution of life. He even understood the basic thought behind Einstein's theory of relativity and the problems it presented for faster-than-light travel.
"For three hours I asked questions about these things," he later said, "and all the answers came correctly, quickly, and logically. He would give an answer, and maybe one hour later he would give another answer to another part and it was all correct. All such brilliant logic. I read many books... but there is no sequence inside, no logical connection, and that was the first thing I found fascinating about the conversation with Billy. He took his time and always tried to answer a question so I was completely satisfied.
"We talked about his personal life, too, and he said he had only an elementary school education. I know many people who have been only to elementary school, and I've never heard any of them speak like someone with a Ph.D. He speaks like this, and it makes me wonder. When he speaks of certain things I think, there must be some way he knows that."
A month later, after exchanging letters with Meier, Herbert, this time alone, drove again to Hinwil to continue quizzing the man and he hoped to see more evidence. When he arrived on the outskirts of Hinwil, however, he detoured into the forest where Schutzbach had shown him the fresh landing tracks.
Despite two weeks of unusually hot August weather with no rain, the grass that had been pressed into the large flat swirls continued to be green and springy. And though they were now six weeks old, the tracks stood out as distinctly as on the afternoon Herbert had first seen them. Like Schutzbach and others before him, he could not understand how the large counterclockwise swirls could be so precisely pressed into the tall grass without crushing it. But if the grass had been crushed, it now would be brown and dry. And since it was not brown and dry, nor crushed or broken, why did it not rise up again? For the next five weekends, Herbert would return to that same site, but the grass never stood; it merely continued to grow round and round in a peculiar flat swirl. "Then the farmer came and cut the grass," said Herbert. "The tracks still were fresh. I saw that with my own eyes."
Herbert's second experience with Meier proved as intriguing as the first, and he returned again the following weekend. For hours he studied the photographs and talked to Meier about the experiences. His initial cynicism over the man and his alleged contacts slowly turned to curiosity, and for the next year he traveled every weekend to Hinwil, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by Harold. He stayed with the Meier family, sleeping in a small bedroom at the farmhouse and watching Meier closely. He was free to roam all levels of the house, and spoke frequently with Popi, helping her with her German and explaining the contact notes, which she tried to understand. They developed a close friendship, as Popi relied on Herbert for the moral support and understanding her husband now had no time to give her. But Herbert saw and heard nothing suspicious. Popi, if she kept any secrets, divulged nothing. Herbert constantly searched but found no equipment, rigging, or models, not even scientific journals or technical books from which Meier might glean his knowledge of so many things. Meier never left the house unless it was to go on a contact, usually late at night, and no one came to the house to meet with him secretly.
"I saw Billy from morning to night," he later recalled, "and I never saw him making things like maybe speakers. I never saw him take pictures; I never saw a model. I never saw anything that looked like a model or balloon. I knew every room in his house, and I never saw anything. That's the reason I went there; I wanted to see him do something. But I never saw anything. Month after month I stayed in Hinwil, but he did nothing, no people came, nothing."
Herbert had known Meier for several months, when one night, after Meier had had a contact, Herbert saw a dark red light rise above a secluded wood behind the Hinwil house. The light stopped. It moved to the left, then to the right. It changed color from dark red to pale blue and back to red again. Then, it suddenly shot quickly into the sky and disappeared.
Another time, on a cool summer evening about seven or eight o'clock, Herbert and some others were working near the Hinwil house. When Herbert looked up, he saw Meier suddenly smiling.
"What's happened?" he asked.
Meier replied, "I must go to a contact."
Then, he ran quickly toward the woods, some distance from the house.
"Billy disappeared in seconds, running to the wood," Herbert said later, "and then all of us, the Schutzbachs and I, maybe one other person, heard the sound. It was coming from the wood."
The ethereal chords whined above the trees like no sound Herbert had ever heard. And he knew that Meier had nothing with him, nothing but a shirt and a pair of trousers. Nor, he was certain, could the sound have come from speakers wired in the trees; it seemed to emanate from no single source. "I am not crazy," said Herbert. "I listened to the sound."
And the contacts continued. Nearly every weekend, when Herbert returned to Hinwil, Meier had added to the contact notes and shot more film of the beamships. He now had taken photographs of six variations of Pleiadian spacecraft, singly and in pairs, three, even as many as four, hovering over a valley or just above the tree line in bright sunlight. People, who heard of Meier and, like Herbert and Harold, came to investigate for themselves, arrived filled with doubt and curiosity, but the photographs softened their skepticism, and the contact notes seemed convincing because they were, in the words of Herbert, "absolutely logical." Then, Meier began taking others to the actual contacts, and though none ever participated, each had stories to tell.
Two years had now passed, and contacts that once occurred during the day, affording Meier the opportunity to take his remarkable photographs, now came later and later at night. The weather often was inclement and Meier rarely rode his moped alone into the hills. Instead, Jakobus or one of the others present when the telepathic signal came through would drive him to the appointed place, wait in the dark, and then drive him home again. In that first year since coming to Hinwil, Herbert drove Meier to five contacts and saw him return from at least ten others.
Late one cold and foggy night, Herbert went with Meier and Jakobus to a contact. Meier wore his boots and a medium gray leather coat, and Jakobus drove the three of them in his blue Volkswagen, Herbert sitting in the backseat. As always, Meier sat in the front seat, giving directions as he received telepathic instructions from the Pleiadians.
"It was always back and forth, back and forth," Herbert remembered. "I never knew this area well, but I did not feel we actually traveled a very long way. We always went around and around because he wanted to be sure that no people were following. After a short time, he said, 'We must stop here,' and then we stopped. And then he said, 'Oh, let's go back a little bit.' Then we went back about fifty or a hundred meters and he said, 'Okay, now you stop.'
"I remember the place that night," he continued. "It was a narrow dirt path, difficult for two cars to pass. At the left side was a little space, maybe for turning, and we stopped there. There were small trees on the left, and the main wood was on the right side. And he went to the right side over the path, and then a little bit down and into the woods. We sat in the car, then got out, walked, and looked up to the sky, but it was full of clouds and it was nighttime so you could not see anything. It was not raining, but it was wet and foggy. I stood outside with Jakobus a short time smoking a cigarette, and all my clothes became wet. We discussed nothing about the contact and nothing about Billy; we discussed cars, funny things about life, nothing special, nothing about the case.
"We were completely in the deepest night in the deepest woods. And we stayed with the car two hours waiting for him. I said, 'What is he doing?' Then he finally came back.
"'You're crazy,' I said. 'You stayed a long time, it's too cold.'
"He said, 'I stay in the ship, I'm not cold.'
"I took his hand; it was quite warm. We were freezing. I said, 'Was it nice?'
"He said, 'Yes.'
"Then, I saw he was dry. When it's so wet outside the leather coat should have been wet first. But he was quite dry.
"And he was very happy," continued Herbert, "When he came back he was always happy. Sometimes he was mad, sometimes he was sad, like everybody else. But when he came back from a contact, he was always happy, very quiet and peaceful. I think that's the word."
When Herbert and Harold returned from a contact with Meier, they would all talk till five, maybe six, in the morning, Herbert and Harold drinking Pepsi, Meier drinking coffee with cream, and all of them smoking. They talked about space and the extraterrestrial societies that flourish there, the power they used to propel their ships, the weapons they employed, their social system and domestic concerns. They also discussed the problems of planet Earth, its true history, future wars, and prophecies.
"These were the most interesting nights I ever had in my life." Herbert recalled. "When I spoke with him I always had the feeling he knew many, many things that other people did not know. And he had an especially good way of explaining things. But I never saw him reading science books. He never did that. And he never said to me, 'You must believe this' or, 'if you do not do that you cannot have this.' He was able to do too many things we never understood."
Herbert found Meier's story to be "completely different" from what he had read in books about other so-called contactees. With the others, the writing was always from an earth perspective.
"Adamski, Howard Menger, and many women say they have contacts with other intelligences from Mars or Venus," explained Herbert. "I read those books, too, but I know that what's written inside is totally crazy. They say we have life on Venus, and if you go to the other side of the moon there are cows and sunshine. Or the whole Earth is watched by UFOs that control everything. Or the UFO people are in the government in different countries. That's crazy. In Billy's writings, especially the first seven hundred pages or so of the contact notes, you always have the feeling this is not the mind of an earth person. It's completely different. I have known Billy too long a time, and Billy is not crazy."
Harold traveled to Hinwil less frequently than Herbert, though still often. One afternoon in the winter of 1977, he stood in the attic of the old farmhouse helping Meier print the contact notes. Suddenly, Meier's forehead began to glisten and his eyes closed. After a few seconds, the color returned to his face and his eyes opened once again. When Harold asked him if he was all right, Meier said only that there would be a contact later that night.
In the kitchen after dark, Harold and Jakobus waited for Meier to receive another telepathic contact. About one o'clock, Meier came into the kitchen, saying it was time to leave. They drove in Jakobus's old blue Volkswagen for almost an hour until they reached a narrow dirt road in the forest, where Meier told Jakobus to stop.
"It was pitch dark," Harold later remembered. "Billy said he would leave, and we had to wait there. Jakobus was so scared, he trembled. I still remember that."
The night was bitter, ten to fifteen degrees below zero on the Celsius scale. While waiting for Meier to return, Jakobus stayed close to the car; but Harold, trying to keep warm, paced back and forth about a hundred feet away. The two men said little to each other. Meier had not been gone long when suddenly, they heard the sound of the beamship. Months earlier, Harold had heard the original cassette of the sounds, the ones recorded the afternoon Hans Schutzbach had stood in a field with Meier and listened to the eerie resonance until the police came. Harold had noted immediately that there were other sounds as well on the tape- a car horn, a dog barking in the background. Now, as he stood in the dark and the cold listening to the strange warbling noise, he strained to hear the telltale bark of a dog or the honk of a horn, either of which would have proved to him that Meier was simply rebroadcasting the same recording. Harold had served in the army for two years, where he had been trained to detect the origin of sounds in the forest at night. But that night, as he listened, he had no idea from where the sound came.
"I tried to find out whether it came from above, below, or the side," he recalled. "When you hear a sound, it reflects from the sides. But you could not know where this came from." Nor did he hear any other sound. Only the eerie pulsating of the beamship somewhere in the sky above their heads.
When the sound subsided, the walkie-talkie crackled with Meier's voice, directing them to a place about a mile away, where they found him at the side of a road waiting.
As a professional photographer, Harold was even more intrigued by Meier's photographs, convinced that if Meier had faked any of the photos, he would be able to detect the forgery. He studied them constantly. In a darkroom, he himself had produced many photo montages, juxtaposing people and figures to make them appear real.
"I know how to do it," he said. "For a montage to look real you need a dark background." Almost all of Meier's hundreds of photos showed the beamships in a bright blue sky, sometimes occupied by white clouds.
Harold picked up one of Meier's photos as an example. "I would not know how to do this. I could make a model and pull it up, but there is somebody coming by for sure, a farmer, a hunter, tourists, and they would ask, 'what is this man doing?'"
Another photo, referred to as the sunlight scene, showed a beamship hovering next to a large leafless tree at the edge of a cliff. Light from the setting sun burnished the bare branches of the tree and highlighted the curved rise of the ship. "I have enlarged that picture," explained Harold. "I also put the slides in the projector, and I made them small, not big, and then I looked at them with a magnifying glass. You can see more that way. You can see that the branches are in front of the ship, not behind. You must be blind not to see that." With the tree over thirty feet tall and obviously some distance from the camera, this would mean that the ship behind the branches of the tree was also a large object, as large as the twenty-one feet Meier had claimed.
Harold once sneaked into Meier's locked study and carefully went through every drawer, box, and shelf, searching for models, sketches, experimental film, anything to indicate that Meier had somehow fabricated the photos or any of the other evidence. He found nothing.
One of the most convincing things Herbert ever witnessed Meier do occurred not in the cold and damp forest, but in the Hinwil house kitchen with no one else around. Typically, Herbert had stayed up late, alone, sitting on a kitchen stool and leafing through a magazine with one hand. In his other hand, he held a knife, carving thin slices of salami and feeding them to the Meier's St. Bernard, Anita.
About three o'clock in the morning, he heard someone coming down the stairs. Meier appeared in the doorway of the kitchen in his nightdress.
"What are you doing?" said Herbert. "You should be sleeping." He could tell by the lines on the man's face that Meier had been stirred from a deep sleep.
"I must go for a contact," said Meier.
"You're crazy," said Herbert.
But Meier said that he had been contacted, and he had to go. After awakening Popi and asking her to fix him some coffee, he gathered up his clothes, boots, and leather coat, and walked out into the night. An hour later he returned, drank another cup of coffee to warm up while he took off his clothes, then went back to bed.
Why did he do that? Herbert asked himself. Nobody is here. Only me. He doesn't need to do it for me. It's crazy. When there are many people here maybe he would feel he must give a demonstration, maybe he would go for a pretend contact. But there is nobody. Nobody.