Truth seeker Dennis Balthaser looks like the villain in a modern day western soap opera when we meet up in a near-deserted parking lot in the dusty desert town of Roswell, New Mexico. He’s standing next to a white SUV wearing a black cowboy hat, aviator shades, a stylish black leather jacket, and the slim-fitting Wrangler jeans that real cowboys wear bunched up over their boots.
Balthaser, who grew up on the east coast, served three years in a U.S. Army Engineering Battalion before settling in West Texas, where he worked for the Texas Highway Department for 33 years. Now 74, he retired to Roswell in 1996 to pursue his life passion, Ufology.
In his years in Roswell, the white-whiskered retiree has made it his business, literally, to get to the bottom of the 1947 Roswell Incident in which an alien space ship was reported to have crashed on remote ranch land killing its occupants, whose bodies were said to be spirited from the nearby air force base, then home to the U.S. atomic bomb squadron, in hermetically sealed child coffins.
To that end he served on the board of the International UFO Museum, becoming its main investigator. He has recorded interviews with everyone he could find connected to what he views as a massive government cover-up, including the funeral home employee asked by the military about the availability of youth-sized coffins in the immediate aftermath of the crash, and the son of the air force officer who as a 12-year-old child played on the kitchen table with the strange material his officer father brought home from the crash site before the higher-ups got involved.
“One thing they all have in common,” notes the intrepid researcher, “is that nobody wants to talk about it.”
We have commissioned Balthaser for a private tour of Roswell after noting his five-star rating on TripAdvisor. He begins by handing us a three ring binder crammed with newspaper reports of the crash and subsequent backpedaling by government officials after the information moved up the chain of command. The folder contains photos of all the major players, including the base commander who sped through the ranks to become a four-star general, suspiciously quickly in Balthaser’s mind.
Pulling out of the parking lot, Balthaser gives us the basics–how the spread-out wreckage was found by a salt-of-the-earth rancher who was subsequently held incommunicado by authorities for five days after reporting the find; how a military nurse who reportedly saw the bodies was transferred the next day, disappearing into the military bureaucracy never to be located and interviewed by the press; how the local radio station was threatened with a shutdown if it broadcast reports of the crash; how the military publicist, a bombardier navigator at Roswell Army Air Filed who provided the original alien story to the media, was ordered to write a report saying the crash was a weather balloon.
“I don’t try to convince anyone of anything,” he says during our drive from the once-threatened radio station to the various Roswell houses where major players lived with their families. “I provide information and let people draw their own conclusions.”
At each stop he advises us to open the three -ring binder to view pictures of the participants, including the original photo of the air force publicist, Lt. Walter G. Haut, posing for the camera with what Balthaser claims is bogus weather balloon debris provided by the military. He builds his conspiracy case with interesting tidbits, pointing out a tear in the knee of the officer’s uniform and his stressed countenance as evidence of the hastily organized press conference to change his original story.
“I was in the military,” he says with conviction. “You don’t have your picture taken with a tear in your pants unless you’re under duress. All that for a weather balloon,” he scoffs.
But his five-star TripAdvisor tour rating was not earned on conspiracy theories alone. The man under the black hat is a font of information on everything Roswell. He veers away from the ‘Incident’ part of the tour to show us a little known local landmark, an Iron Cross built into the rocky bank of a flood control levy by German prisoners captured in North Africa and shipped to Roswell for internment during WWII.
He takes us to the magnificently detailed bronze statue of old west cattle baron John Chisum, looming large and amazingly lifelike astride his horse, and points out spots where the sculptor included hidden references to bible verses. He shows us another piece by the same sculptor, this time a likeness of legendary lawman Pat Garrett loading a bullet into his six shooter before setting out to kill Billy the Kid.
He brings his attentive tourists back to the ‘Incident’ by pointing out the name of the rancher who eventually shot and killed Garrett, a man named Brazel, who was a relative of the rancher of the same name who discovered the UFO wreckage. He points out the place across the street behind the imposing stone courthouse where the sheriff who was muzzled at the time of the ‘Incident’ lived with his family below the jail.
“They tore it down,” he laments of the sheriff’s office and old jail. “It’s as if they want to get rid of anything connected.”
Our tour takes us past the New Mexico Military Institute’s rambling campus. Established in 1892, its motto—Duty, Honor, Achievement–remains relevant with 21st century parents who send their children to Roswell from around the world to prepare for college through its highly regimented academic curriculum. Noted alumni include NFL quarterback Roger Staubach, television newsman Sam Donaldson, actor Owen Wilson and hotel magnate Conrad Hilton.
Balthaser reels off an impressive list of celebrities associated with this small town in the middle of a big desert. Demi Moore was born here, as was singer John Denver. Dan Blocker (Hoss on Bonanza) taught school in nearby Carlsbad and Roy Rogers met his second wife while performing on a local Roswell radio station. Pretty Boy Floyd hid out in the desert on the town’s outskirts and Nancy Lopez learned to play golf here.
The truth seeker who has done more than 350 radio and TV interviews, including national shows like Dateline, Nightline and newscasts on CNN, NBC and ABC, is warming up for the piece de resistance, a tour of the atomic bomb squadron’s air force base outside town that housed 15,000 military personnel and their families in the post-WWII nuclear bomb testing era. The Enola Gay flew out of the base before departing east to drop its nuclear payload on Hiroshima. He explains that prior to the ’Incident’ the air force dropped an atomic bomb in the desert at White Sands less than 100 miles from the base. It is left to the listeners to wonder if all that nuclear action could have attracted the interest of aliens.
When asked if his investigations have ever drawn negative attention from the government he pulls the vehicle over to a dusty shoulder to relate a mysterious call he received from someone claiming to have a piece of the space ship. He travelled to another state to investigate the claim only to be approached in his hotel room by two men purporting to be government officials. They discussed his research at length before strongly advising him to forget about pursuing the material, which is regarded as the holy grail of the Roswell incident. While not discounting that the entire incident might have been an elaborate hoax, he was shaken by the encounter and now travels to all such meetings armed.
On the way to the base he points out the Saputo cheese plant looming white in the distant scrub-land, the largest cheese processing facility in North America. The air force base, long decommissioned as a military facility, is now a residential suburb of Roswell and home to a huge airplane decommissioning facility. The former base’s main runway, still in use to land airliners converging on the base from around the world on their final flights, is long enough to launch the space shuttle, though Balthaser points out that humans have never used the base for space exploration. The other runways are eerily cluttered with the skeletons of airliners on their way to the scrap metal heap after being stripped of everything that is salvageable. The sprawling complex even includes a supersize airplane paint shop, where jetliners go for name and colour changes after airline mergers.
But the highlight to Balthaser’s way of thinking is the hanger where the youth-sized alien bodies were briefly housed before being shipped out to parts unknown. Gazing at the hangar, which looks much the same as it did in 1947 except for a section cut out above the door to accommodate the tails of today’s huge jetliners, one can’t help but muse about what went on inside its cavernous interior on that much-speculated about night.
On the way out of the base we pass a complex with an imposing sign in front mysteriously proclaiming it to be an International Training Centre for Law Enforcement. Despite Balthaser’s encyclopedic knowledge of Roswell and environs he cannot provide a shred of information on the centre and we are left to speculate about what kind of training might take place behind its closed doors and blank facade.
Balthaser’s website http://www.truthseekeratroswell.com has had more than five million visits. Whether you believe in aliens or not, the man under the black hat’s three-hour plus trip back in time lived up to its five-star rating.