The tropes of an alien abduction — the UFO chasing the car, missing time, strange experiments, grey-skinned beings with large eyes — emerged primarily from two alleged experiences, the Betty and Barney Hill case in 1961, and Travis Walton’s in 1975. Beyond having an enormous influence on pop culture, these are the most famous so-called close encounters of the fourth kind.
They are also the most well-documented cases, according to UFO expert and former FBI special agent, Ben Hansen. And in two new discovery+ “Shock Docs,” Alien Abduction: Betty and Barney Hill and Alien Abduction: Travis Walton — debuting Feb. 18 on the streaming platform — Hansen walks audiences through the stories, and offers up new evidence that he believes corroborates the abductees’ claims. Likewise serving as consulting producer on the Shock Docs, Hansen, who is also currently filming the second season of UFO Witness for discovery+, joined Den of Geek’s paranormal pop culture show Talking Strange to discuss the connections between both specials.
(And you can watch the full video interview with Hansen below, as well check out the Talking Strange podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts).
“These set the stage for a lot of movies and TV shows that came afterwards,” says Hansen. “It put [alien abductions] in the public consciousness, along with, ‘What does a Grey look like?’ … none of that really existed before.”
According to the Hills, they were driving late at night in 1961 along a deserted New Hampshire highway when their vehicle was chased by a UFO. They reported missing two hours of time, and later underwent hypnosis and each relayed repressed memories of medical experiments aboard an alien craft conducted by what came to be known as Grey extraterrestrials. Although they spoke of the experience to some small groups, the story became national news without their consent when a reporter wrote about it. Suddenly the couple were thrust into a spotlight.
“It was the first widely shared story of an abduction,” says Hansen. “Up until that point, there were a lot of sightings and fringe topics of people saying they went to Venus, but not abductions.
The Hills were an interracial couple, and involved in the civil rights movement, and Hansen notes that Barney didn’t want to be stigmatized because of the encounter.
“It was a distraction for what they were trying to accomplish,” he says. “He was already in the press for participation in civil rights … adding ‘alleged alien abductee’ didn’t help.”
The case was investigated by both the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book, and the civilian research group National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). And eventually, eyewitnesses were interviewed that claimed they had seen something strange in the sky around the same time as the Hill experience. But it is the at-times disturbing recordings of the Hill’s hypnosis session — portions of which are played in the Shock Docs — that are the most powerful.
“What comes out is raw,” says Hansen, who finds the sessions compelling.
Some skeptics suggest Betty and Barney were influenced by the sci-fi series The Outer Limits, and ironically, skeptics of Travis Walton suggest he was influenced by The UFO Incident, the TV movie based on the Hill case.
Walton’s story, very loosely adapted into the 1993 movie Fire in the Sky, took place in November 1975 in northeast Arizona. Walton, a logger, was traveling from a job site with six crewmates when they saw a UFO hovering close to the ground. When Walton went to explore, he was knocked unconscious by a beam of light, and like the Hills claimed, awakened aboard an alien craft. While Walton was missing for five days, his crewmates were suspected of foul play.
Similar to the Hills, Walton was not someone who would seek attention, says Hansen.
“Both stories were propelled forward into the international attention against the will of those involved.”
Moreover, Walton doesn’t consider his experience to be an abduction so much as a rescue mission. He believes he was accidentally injured by the alleged craft, and the two types of aliens he encountered were trying to heal him. Compared to the Hills, Hansen says Walton was “lucky.”
“He was lucky in that he had six other witnesses. Betty and Barney Hill, it was just the two of them, and there was not a formal law enforcement investigation. The circumstances of when Travis went missing quickly turned into a murder investigation … you have a lot of official documentation backing everything up that happened around the disappearance, the return, and then you have all these witnesses.”
Ultimately Hansen says he believes “something unusual” happened to both the Hills and Walton. And though Barney died in 1969, and Betty died in 2004, Walton is still alive, and is interviewed in the Shock Doc. Further, Hansen has come to know him well, and does not believe his story is a hoax.
“The truth is people are not very good liars. People tend to be able to lie initially, but over the long run, so many years go by, [the stories] fall apart in the first couple months. And there’s infighting, and someone comes out with proof it’s a hoax.”
But that has not been the case with Walton and his crewmates. Hansen says some of the crew wished the focus was more on them, rather than Walton, yet “the true facts of the case have never been disputed.”Audiences will have a chance to watch, and decide for themselves when Alien Abduction: Betty and Barney Hill, and Alien Abduction: Travis Walton, debut on discovery+ Friday, Feb. 18.