The Night of the Shape Shifting Humanoids (Part 2)

Greetings, fellow Coppertops! We continue with the chronicling of the Conil close encounter, when a group of 5 local kids witnessed all sorts of otherworldly phenomena at a beach in the coast of Cádiz, which included red-glowing UFOs, orbs of light, a 10-foot-tall levitating giant, and (last but not least) two cloaked entities who transformed themselves into a human-looking couple right in front of them. So strap in, because the high strangeness surrounding this remarkable case is far from over!

The Debunking

As we briefly mentioned by the end of part 1, it only took a few days until the incidents occurring on the night of September 29th, 1989 became a matter of public knowledge. After El Diario de Cádiz ran a story about the case on October 5th, members of the Spanish Group of UFO Investigations (GEIFO in the Spanish acronym), a skeptically-oriented organization, visited Conil de la Frontera to conduct a field research and interview the witnesses; they asked the same local newspaper to publish their findings, which it did on October 16th.

Cover of El Diario de Cádiz from October 16th, 1989, running the debunking explanation by the GEIFO group

The conclusion by GEIFO’s researchers? The whole episode had been nothing but a big misidentification caused by over-excited imagination. The red UFO observed by the group of local boys and girls for the past couple of weeks —“as big as the moon” according to their testimony– had actually been a British ship in charge of laying down underwater cable for the Telefónica phone company in that area, which was near the coast of Conil during the night in question according to their findings, and used ‘light signals’ to coordinate the work with ground personnel. The ‘aliens’, according to the skeptics, were two crew members of said vessel wearing scuba-diving equipment and covering themselves with blankets or towels, and the ‘white cloud’ they had observed coming down from the sea, was nothing but the wake left by a Zodiac boat they divers had used to reach the beach. Case closed, Scooby Doo!

“But wait!” you may be asking, “what about the trench the ‘divers’ dug out in the sand? What about the blue light they passed around each other while they were lying down on it? What about the TEN-FOOT-TALL GIANT which appeared after the couple walked to the town (leaving their ‘towels’ AND all their equipment behind?)?”

GEIFO’s answers to all these questions –and the way they left other questions unanswered– seem to be more incredible than the testimony of the witnesses itself: The trench was built by the divers because they wanted to ‘remove their gear in privacy’ –you know, instead of doing it much more easily onboard the British ship or the Zodiac?– or maybe because after a hard night’s work laying out cable, they wanted to spend a few hours under the Cádiz’s fair weather doing *ahem* ‘other things’ *wink wink*. The ‘orb’ they had on their hands was a mere torchlight, and the black-suited giant was another diver, possibly in charge to pilot the Zodiac boat (!)

So, in the eyes of the ‘scientifically-oriented’ investigators –the ones who think any sort of explanation, no matter how tenuous or downright improbable, is always better than entertaining the possibility of a truly anomalous event– the 5 Conil witnesses rather than being UFO hoaxers seeking publicity, were just a bunch of gullible idiots. I’ll leave you Coppertops to decide which is more insulting…

The Counter-Debunking

Juan José Benítez: Reporter, UFO investigator, author and globetrotter

5 months after GEIFO’s report had ‘satisfactorily’ solved the case –and quite possibly subjected the 5 witnesses to all sorts of ridicule in the process– investigator Juan José Benítez visited Conil to make a research of his own. Benítez is one of the most famous UFO hunters in Spain and has been instrumental in coaxing his government to declassify a good number of cases which were investigated by the Spanish Air Force. He has also traveled thousands of miles all across the globe to conduct field investigations and interview hundreds of witnesses, most of them humble townsfolk living in remote villages, who had never shared their testimony outside their circle of friends and family. He is a bestselling author not only in his home country but in all of Latin America, and it was in 1990 when he described his involvement on the Conil case in his book La Quinta Columna.

Benítez’s approach to put GEIFO’s theory to the test was simple and straightforward: The skeptics’ main argument was that the UFO observed by the witnesses had been one of two British vessels laying down underwater cable –this despite the boys’ insistence that during the night in question there was NO ship or boat on sight.

Benítez did corroborate the existence of two oceanographic ships, the British Enterprise Two and the C.S. Monarch, which had been hired by a Spanish subcontractor to conduct work for the Telefónica phone company. According to GEIFO, the Monarch had been the one near the coast on the night of September 29th; yet their first mistake was in stating the ship was laying down the cable, whereas in fact they were conducting preliminary prospecting of the littoral.

It took some hard work, but in the end Benítez managed to uncover 3 important pieces of the puzzle:

  • When the Monarch started working in the area (September 18) its position was 60 miles away from the coast, which was too far to have been able to be spotted from the beach (not to mention the witnesses started to observe the red UFO on the night of September 14th).
  • On the night of September 29th the meteorological report indicated the weather conditions were inadequate for any medium-to-large ship to even approach the coast, due to the strong winds winds mixed with the low tide and the littoral currents.
  • But the coup’ de grace came when Benítez was able to contact captain, J. A. B. Simkins –Chairman and Chief Executive of BT Marine, the oceanographic fleet which owned the Monarch– who on July of 1990 wrote him a letter stating the approximate position of their vessel during the night in question (36º 23′ N, 06º 44′ W), placing it 30 miles away from the Bateles beach. Consider how during the best viewing conditions, the horizon line on the sea only extends 8 miles.

And if that is not enough, here’s a link to Benítez’s own web page describing the Conil case, where if you scroll down you can find a scanned copy of Simkins’ letter. In it one can read the final nail in GEIFO’s coffin:

“[During our operation] (W)e would not have employed frogmen.”

Check. And mate.

As an aside note, Benítez also managed to discover (according to an article written by Bruno Cardeñosa published by the magazine Año Cero in 1996) that around the time of the incidents two individuals bearing the characteristics of the ‘changeling’ couple were lodging on a small guest house in Conil around the days of the encounter; these ‘tourists’ registered themselves using the passports of German citizens who, supposedly, hadn’t abandoned their country in those days –unfortunately, La Quinta Columna doesn’t mention this detail, nor can further information be found in Benítez’s website.

But wait, there’s more! Benítez also uncovered another interesting part to this mystery: On the nights from Sept 27th to Sept 30th, the military radar station located in Algeciras (Cádiz) suffered an inexplicable malfunction, which rendered the whole Conil area ‘dark’ during the period in which the alleged UFO activity and close encounter took place. Coincidence, or did someone (or something) was trying to avoid detection?

Benítez’s detective job showed GEIFO’s main argument failed to convincingly explain the events that took place at Conil. But although it proved the UFO was not a British oceanographic ship, and the humanoids were not British scuba divers, it can’t unfortunately substantiate the testimony of the witnesses and what they claimed they saw.

Corroboration to their fantastic story did take place, though; albeit indirectly and in the typical inconclusive manner in which the phenomenon tends to conduct itself…

The Return

How many UFO hunters, I wonder, feel as if they are doomed to always remain 2 steps behind their ‘prey’? Always trying to document cases, interview witnesses and collect whatever evidence remains AFTER the objects and their occupants take off or leave the area; but never having the chance, just for once, of actually be able to witness the high strangeness with their own eyes.

Well, for local UFO hunter Jesús Borrego López that was about to change when he decided to travel to Conil in search for more answers on October 15th. A police officer of 44 years old assigned to the Security and Control office of the Cádiz town hall, Borrego López easily managed to locate four of the witnesses (Loli, Isabel and the two Pedros) who politely accepted to answer his questions.

Once they finished talking at one of the witnesses’ home, the researcher asked them to accompany him to the Bateles beach, which they accepted even though it was already late at night. Once Borrego López was satisfied with his field survey, he invited the group of boys and girls to a local bar for a refreshment, where they remained lively discussing the incident.

It was around 10:35 pm when the group instantly fell silent, because they had all taken notice of a strange couple crossing in front of them toward the sea. Borrego López was the first to say “have you noticed the forehead of that man?”

The youngsters said nothing and kept looking at the odd individual and each other in total amazement. Borrego López insisted: “look at his height! He measures 2 meters tall, easily!”

The boys finally dared to open their mouth, confirming that was indeed the same ‘man’ and ‘woman’ they had observed leaving the Bateles beach after their ‘transformation’ inside the ‘sand trench’.

The male with the prominent cranium was walking 2 steps ahead of his female partner. Like the witnesses had described in their original testimony, he had long blond hair reaching up to his shoulders, and was wearing a denim attire which looked somewhat worn out and tightly fit. The woman was way above regular height (1.90 meters) and wore similar clothes as her less-conspicuous companion.

Borrego López and Pedro Sánchez quickly got up the table and left two of the witnesses behind, with the clear intention of intersecting the couple who were ahead of them by at least 150 meters.

“Visibility was perfect,” Borrego López reported later to Benítez, “despite the fact the streetlights at the marine promenade were turned off  (according to town hall’s regulations). But the night was very clear. There was a full moon and also low clouds reflecting the town’s illumination and lunar light over the sea.”

La Quinta Columna (The Fifth Column). The book where Benítez narrates (among many other encounter reports) the events surrounding the Conil case

Yet despite these optimal viewing conditions, and the fact the two UFO hunter and his young sidekick were keeping pace with the odd couple, the individuals suddenly vanished in front of Borrego López and Pedro’s very eyes. Bewildered, the two chasers looked in all directions, but their pursuants were nowhere to be found.

The unexpected disappearance raised goosebumps on both Pedro and the seasoned researcher, who had now become another witness of this incredible case. But the surprises were not over: When they both looked toward the east they noticed what looked like a ‘black dot’ the size of a soccer ball approaching rapidly from the sea shore.

Meanwhile the two other kids they had left at the bar joined them in time to observe the dark ‘ball’ which kept moving toward them at a preternatural speed. As it got nearer, the witnesses saw how its shape started to change; its trajectory became more erratic, at times looking as if it was floating above the ground, and at others as if it was being ‘yanked’ or ‘dragged’ by an invisible force.

The group continued to observe the mesmerizing vision, until they finally realized the incoming dark mass was actually a human figure; though its legs were moving so fast they were a mere blur.

When the ‘sprinter’ was just 60 meters away from the witnesses, it stopped. It was a woman! She was standing in front of the group very close to the water age, and without any warning she removed the upper portion of her clothes to reveal her female curves, and started walking toward the Roche cape, faraway in the west. And when she had put some distance between herself and the astonished group, these observed yet another figure who joined her and watched the two individuals lose themselves in the night.

According to their later calculations given the apparent size of the figure from their position, the strange female had managed to traverse a distance of 4 kilometers in around 45 seconds; something impossible to achieve even with a land vehicle. Not to mention the woman didn’t raise a tremendous wake of sand while racing through the beach, nor even make any discernible noise.

Had that been the same man and woman Borrego López and Pedro had tried to pursue? Or were they an additional element to this absurd stage play, intended to distract the witnesses the same way the ten-foot-tall giant had done on the night of September 29th, when it showed itself floating inches above the ground while the couple of changelings were making their move toward the anonymity of the Conil streets?

Whatever the case, the only thing Borrego López could do was analyze the footprints left by the (original) couple before they vanished. While the tracks made by the woman were very light and faintly discernible, the man’s were very profound; so much so that Borrego López estimated the individual had to weigh more than 100 kilograms. The size and shape were consistent with the ones found by the youngsters on the night of the 29th, not only in their unusual shape and monstrous size, but also due to the fact the researcher found tracks hinting how whomever made them, had been apparently making strange swirls as if going in circles –movements unobserved by neither Borrego López nor Pedro, the same way the original witnesses had watched the couple walk straight toward the town, yet they later found a great number of large footprints going in different directions.

After the ‘circles´, only one set of footprints was detectable… and it went straight into the water.

It was close to midnight when Borrego López confirmed there were no more tracks to be found in a 100-meter radius, and with that he was ready to call it a night. While he was advising his young acquaintances not to reveal to anyone what had transpired that night, Pedro suddenly yelled “here they come!”. Sure enough, the enigmatic couple was making yet another uncalled-for appearance right in front of the witnesses. One of the boys was (finally!) carrying a super-8 film camera and began recording the seemingly hurried movements of the couple as they passed by.

The man looked straight into Borrego López’s with cold, unfriendly eyes. His face was very pale. The woman on the other hand was stunningly beautiful, and she seemed to have somewhat oriental features, with her eyes slanted slightly at the edges and glimpsing at the gathering of witnesses with an expression of animosity or nervousness. The seasoned UFO hunter noticed both their clothes were completely dry, which ran counter to the evidence of the tracks heading into the sea.

The witnesses never dared to address the couple. They just kept staring at them until, for the second time, they reached the streets of Conil and were lost out of sight. They didn’t return that night, nor any other subsequent night.

When they revealed the Super-8 film, nothing appeared on screen. ‘Convenient’ would say the hardcore skeptic; ‘customary’ would reply the experienced Fortean, who knows fully well these sort of things happen all the time.

The Epilogue

Our tale has basically come to an end, which doesn’t mean the UFO activity in the area fully ceased; Benítez reveals other interesting incidents near Conil during that time of 1989 in his book La Quinta Columna –including the observation of another giant being by a local artisan on the morning on September 22nd. Further confirming the supposition made by few people in the UFO field –including yours truly– that high strangeness events almost never happen in isolation; rather, it seems the ‘energy’ conducing to these  manifestations slowly increases, until a final dramatic ‘crisis’ unfolds.

And if someone needs further confirmation that the year 1989 was exceptionally ‘charged’ with high strangeness, we but need to remind our dear Coppertops of another remarkable close encounter report, which happened just two days before the Conil case: I’m talking of course about the landing in the Russian city of Voronezh, where children and other witnesses interacted with giant humanoids and robotic entities.

Which begs the question: Why does the phenomenon chooses to manifest so prominently in places like Voronezh, or in Conil de la Frontera?

The Conclusion

In the comic book world, the Marvels mini-series created by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross holds a prominent place because it managed to show all the familiar stories of the Marvel super-heroes from a fresh new perspective: That of the human bystanders, who are forced to observe their actions and epic battles of these god-like beings from a safe distance, not fully understanding their motives or even what’s really going on.

When I think of the Conil case, I feel it is a similar situation. Because this amazing story is far more suggestive by what it doesn’t reveal, than by what it actually does. The testimony of the main witnesses feels like broken pieces of a larger puzzle, hinting to a bigger tapestry of events that took place covertly in that placid beach town of Cádiz, which we will probably never fully understand.

Comparing Conil with a comic book story may look like a cheap literary trick on my behalf, yet it you think about it there are MANY aspects of this close encounter that seem almost plucked out of a pulp novel or a Sci-Fi B-movie. Forget about the grotesque appearance of the male ‘changeling’, which we already equated to that of the extraterrestrial invaders in This Island Earth (1955) or how the ten-foot-tall giant is slightly reminiscent of Gort in the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) –at least in the sense of how it seems to serve as a ‘protector’ of the couple, by distracting the attention of the witnesses away from them. Consider also how there’s this strong link between the humanoids’ ability to transform themselves into a human form, and the ability of the extraterrestrial visitor portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the 1984 movie Starman to do the same thing –and do you remember the main form of ‘technology’ shown by this alien? That’s right: small metallic spheres which glowed with a blue light. Sound familiar?

Make no mistake, my dear Coppertops: Those who read the previous paragraph as an attempt to shoot down the case on my part, should do well to grab a copy of Jeffrey Kripal’s book Mutants & Mystics. Kripal is a scholar of comparative religious studies at Rice University, and rather than being skeptic on the subject of UFOs and paranormal phenomena –his last book was co-authored with Whitley Strieber– he points out there’s an undeniable ‘cross-pollination’ between these type of events and the pop culture we consume in our literature, television and films; to the point that trying to play ‘chicken-and-the-egg’ between fantasy tales and paranormal cases becomes a rather tricky proposition…

Because the truth of the matter is that stories of paranormal agencies infiltrating our world in human guise have existed way before the existence of Sci-Fi movies, or even cinematography. In fact, such folklore goes back centuries –if not millennia– into the dawn of Time. Oxford scholar W.Y. Evans-Wentz managed to gather the remnants of the belief in the Fey folk in his seminal book The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries (1911), and talked to a lot of honest, hard-working country folk who still believed –or had actually interacted– with these elusive beings who from time to time chose to meddle in the affairs of men:

“They are able to appear in different forms. One once appeared to me, and seemed only four feet high, and stoutly built. He said “I am bigger than I appear to you know. We can make the old young, the big small, the small big.”

The Celtic peasants also believed lakes and bodies of water acted as ‘bridges’ or conduits in which the transmutation from the human to the fairy state took place. But if that is the case… couldn’t the OPPOSITE be also possible? Could water be a medium by which liminal beings could get entrance into our world? Both Evans-Wentz and Guillermo Del Toro would probably concur…

When you boil them down to their bare essence, and you stop the bickering caused by either trying to validate or debunk a given case, the true main difference between fictional stories and factual close encounters is that Fiction HAS TO MAKE SENSE. A novel or movie plot needs to have a core of consistency in order to make all the elements fall into place.

Finding sense in the events that took place in Conil on the night of September 29th is practically impossible: If what Juan José Benítez reveals in La Quinta Columna concerning the military radar station which remained inoperable during those days is true, then it would hint the beings making their appearance at the Bateles Beach wanted to perform their infiltration activities covertly, away from the eyes of the Spanish government; yet if that is the case, then WHY choose a tourist town, instead of a more remote location? WHY suffer the presence of pesky human interlopers near them? WHY was Pedro González the only one in the group who could see the giant at first? WHY perform their shape-shifting spectacle lying down on a beach, instead of the safety of their own ‘craft’ (if that is what the ‘red moon’ observed by the witnesses was)? WHY the imperfect transformation, which still rendered the male with such abnormal-looking facial features? WHY the incapacity to cover the unusual shape and size of their tracks?

…And WHY O WHY the need to reappear in front of the witnesses not once, but twice??

These are just a few of the open questions left by the Conil case. How one chooses to approach them tells more about one’s personal opinion about the UFO phenomenon, than about what really happened on that fateful night. In a polarizing world demanding to view things as either ‘black’ or ‘white’, I personally feel this case was always meant to remain ‘gray’. I consider the actions allegedly performed by the entities manifesting at Conil de la Frontera as *deliberately* absurd; like a well-crafted act enacted for the benefit of the young witnesses, who also had a part to perform in this play, even if they didn’t know it or were capable or comprehend it. The high strangeness of this encounter is both equally suggestive of non-human intervention, while at the same time being sufficiently devoid of enough concrete evidence so that almost 30 years after the story broke, it sadly remains scarcely known outside the Spanish-speaking UFO community.

“We want you to believe in us,” said one of the UFOnauts who abducted patrolman Herbert Schirmer in 1967, “… but not too much.” If the tall blond who left those inhuman footprints on the Bateles beach had ever opened his mouth and talked to the witnesses, he might have said similar words. Just as it was in 1989, his cold eyes remain an open question hinting at answers that could be not just incomprehensible… but also deeply unsettling.