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The Hoaxers: A Sordid History of “Anomalous Mail” and Bogus UFO Documents

Throughout the 1960s, Fortean researcher John Keel, author of The Mothman Prophecies and a number of other decidedly weird, but thoughtful books on the unexplained, was almost equally renowned for his active correspondence with his contemporaries in the field. And, as expected, if the contents of the excellent John Keel blog maintained by Doug Skinner (which can be seen here) is any indication, some of Keel’s exchanges were pretty strange, too.

Like, for instance, the letter where Keel wrote a private correspondence to himself, which he refrained from sending out to anyone specific, but instead used as a sort of test to see whether a group of entities he called the “Androids” were able to read his mind. Keel was very much an open-minded adventurist, both in practice, and in thought, and his troves of letters and personal documents featured at Skinner’s site over the last few years have offered a fascinating inside-look at Keel, his beliefs, and his attitudes on various things.

Keel was often on the receiving end of messages too, a number of which were weird enough that Keel, referring to them as “crank” letters, created an entire subcategory for them in his extensive notes and documentation, dubbing them “anomalous mail.” An all-time favorite example of such unusual mail had been a letter Keel received in the fall of 1967, purporting to have been from a shadowy group of individuals identified only by the name appearing at the letter-head: “The International Bankers.”

The ominously-toned message read as follows:

It continued to say that, “Others have tried, without success, to find out things that do not concern them, such as Dr. Jessup, Al Bender and others who you do not even know about.

“Do not overstep your bounds Mr. Keel, even your own government cannot protect you from our powers.

“Remember Mr. Keel 1968 A.D. will have Black as its symbol.”

Keel noted one especially peculiar aspect of these sorts of “anomalous letters”; the fact that, in Keel’s opinion, they contained various misspellings, which at times appeared to be intentional:

“You will note that the word “comping” is misspelled. Misspellings of simple words are a common factor in mail of this sort. These often seem quite deliberate. (i.e., a witness in West Virginia received a note containing the word “want” instead of the intended “won’t”.) The vague prediction that 1968 would be a “black year” proved disturbingly accurate. 1968 proved to be a year of widespread civil disturbances and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.”

Rather obviously, someone had been pranking Keel with these dark, and at times rather elaborate letters. Commenting on the possible source of the letters, Doug Skinner notes that, “Somebody, though, went to the trouble of printing stationery and sending out crank letters.  I suspect that it was Gray Barker, cooking up confusion again; although I suppose it’s unfair to blame all ufological pranks on him.” Whether or not this is indeed the case remains undetermined.

In some ways, one might argue that the tradition of “crank letters” has continued to some extent. With the recent “addenda” to the famous Majestic 12 documents that surfaced last week, we saw a similar, “traditional” pairing of absurdities (an alien purportedly sitting and having a tree-huggerish, “save your planet” moment with USAF officials, for instance) with numerous common misspellings… something my fellow Mysterious Universe blogger Nick Redfern also took issue with.

In fact, in another recent post here at Mysterious Universe, Redfern made a similar connection between the hoax-letters of yesteryear, as well as their perpetrators… some of them had been Keel’s contemporaries. Redfern notes a document that had been carefully altered by ufologists Gray Barker and Jim Moseley, which led to a convincing looking hoax letter that was sent to the alleged contactee George Adamski.

“Moseley and Barker were just having a bit of fun during a late-night drinking session,” Redfern points out. “The idea that the new MJ12 documents are the work of someone in Ufology who is desperate to see Roswell vindicated – as a UFO event, at least – is not out of the question.”

In fact, I spoke with Nick about this on a recent edition of my Gralien Report Podcast, in which the subject was raised by Race Hobbs as to whether there might be legalities concerning the alteration of real government documents, or borrowing letterhead from them in order to make bogus documents look more convincing.

“That’s an interesting sort of concept,” Nick said. “The idea that if you’ve got… let’s say legitimate, DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) headed papers on, I don’t know, North Korea, and you white out certain bits and insert new material in the spaces on Roswell, then you photocopy it, and photocopy it again to make it look a bit older… is it actually a crime to do that?”

Whatever the case, with the new alleged “Majestic 12” documents that have been released, what we’re seeing is by no means anything new… in fact, it seems to be a sort of continuation of a time-honored tradition of ufological hoaxes that have surfaced over the last half century.


Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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