On the surface of it all, it wouldn’t seem that the job of UFO researcher should be too dangerous. They read up on the lore and cases, perhaps go check things out, and they are investigating a phenomenon that many people don’t believe in to begin with. However, judging by some of the cases, it seems that there is a very big risk to be had indeed, as many researchers seem to have the habit of turning up dead. From conspiracies and strange “suicides,” to mysterious illnesses and more, UFO researchers seem to have more occupational hazards that one might initially suspect.
People who investigate UFOs have been turning up dead for decades. In 1959, we have the case of a very well-known astronomer, archeologist, and UFO researcher by the name of Morris K. Jessup. He was known in the UFO community mostly for his unorthodox theories, early postulation on the ancient astronaut theory and alternative history, and for his books The Case for the UFO (1955), UFOs and the Bible, The UFO Annual (both 1956), and The Expanding Case for the UFO. (1957). Jessup is known for having influenced the growing field of ancient astronauts, with his work forming the basis of other books that would follow in this vein, including the classic Chariots of the Gods, by Erich von Däniken, and others. He is also well-known for his involvement with the notorious Philadelphia Experiment, which purportedly sought to render a US Navy vessel invisible, and also for his mysterious death.
1958 was a rough year for Jessup. His books hadn’t been selling well, his wife left him, and he was involved in a car accident in Florida that left him seriously injured. On April 19, 1959, Jessup made arrangements to meet with a researcher named Manson Valentine, allegedly because he wanted to give some classified information on the Philadelphia Experiment. He never got the chance, because on April 20 he was found dead in his car in Dade County, Florida, a hose running from the exhaust pipe to the window. Although it was ruled a suicide, there has long been talk of conspiracies and things that don’t add up.
One is that a police detective who investigated the case would claim that it seemed a bit too professional. There is also the fact that it would turn out that Jessup had been plagued with strange calls in the days leading up to his death, and that he had just met with the mysterious Carlos Allende, who had written the letter that was instrumental to bringing the Philadelphia Experiment to public knowledge. More ominous still was that no autopsy was ever performed on the body, which is not only strange, but also apparently against Florida law. The idea here is that this was no mere suicide at all, but rather an orchestrated hit designed to keep him quiet about the secrets he knew about the Philadelphia Experiment. It must be added that no one is sure that the Philadelphia Experiment was ever even real or not, as well as the fact that friends and family have said that his troubles in the year leading up to his death had caused him to sometimes mention suicide. What happened here? Was this just a simple suicide or a nefarious assassination? Who knows?
Similarly, we have the case of the American writer, broadcaster, and radio pioneer Frank Allyn Edwards, who also happens to have become very well-known for his various books, articles, and research on UFOs and other unexplained phenomena, which he also frequently discussed on his popular syndicated radio program, Stranger Than Science. On June 24, 1967, Frank Edwards succumbed to a sudden heart attack, which has been orbited by strange mysteries ever since. One unusual coincidence, or not depending on your angle, was that his death fell exactly on the 20th anniversary of once of the most famous UFO sightings ever, the Kenneth Arnold sighting, in which pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed to have seen a string of nine, shiny unidentified flying objects flying past Washington’s Mount Rainier at high speeds, in one of the first of the modern era of UFO sightings. Making things even more ominous is that the death coincided with the “World UFO Conference,” which was being held in New York City and chaired by UFO researcher and author Gray Barker. Eerily, Barker would claim that he had received threats by phone and mail that had promised that Edwards would not see the end of the conference alive. They were right. Again, what are we dealing with here? Insidious plots or just a plain heart attack?
Moving into the 70s we have a few high-profile deaths of UFO researchers. In 1971, a physicist at the University of Arizona and advocate of more serious studies into UFOs by the name of Dr. James McDonald was in the process of trying to convince U.S. Congress that UFOs were a phenomenon that deserved a closer look and more investigation. He was never successful, because he came down with a bad case of a gunshot to the head in an apparent suicide. Two years later, in 1973, beloved cryptozoologist and UFO afficionado Ivan T. Sanderson was taken out by an unusually fast-spreading cancer. This is curious, because strangely aggressive cancers and tumors are a common theme in the deaths of these doomed researchers, which we can see from a string of mysterious deaths in the 80s.
The astronomer Dr. Allen J. Hynek is a famous fixture of UFO history, having once been a major consultant and investigator for Project Blue Book, the U.S. Air Force’s official investigation into the UFO phenomenon. In 1986, Hynek was admitted to the hospital for prostrate surgery, but would never leave, as he was soon found to have an incredibly vicious brain tumor that ended him. According to those who knew him, in the days leading up to his death he had allegedly spoken of and seemed unsettled by some newly acquired information he had received on UFOs. Could this have had something to do with his death? Two years later, in 1988 notable investigative radio host Mae Brussell died of a fast-acting cancer in California. She was known as a major conspiracy theorist and for her no holds barred radio program on these topics called Dialogue: Conspiracy, later renamed World Watchers International.
The 1990s continued these shady deaths, with 1993 seeing astronaut Deke Slayton die of cancer conveniently right before he was expected to come forward with his inside knowledge and experiences of UFOs. In 1994, an investigator for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), Ann Livingston, died of an extremely aggressive form of ovarian cancer. Rather spookily, this happened just 2 years after she claimed to have been harassed by ghoulish faceless, pale, and sinister Men in Black. Also in 1994 was the death of another MUFON investigator, Ron Johnson, who was actually the deputy director of investigations for the organization. He would die under very strange circumstances when after a slide presentation at a conference in Austin Texas, the lights came on and he was found unresponsive in his seat, with blood coming out of his nose and a weird purple coloration to his face. 1996 saw the death of UFO author Karla Turner, who died of breast cancer. Turner was known for constantly attributing her cancer to actions taken by aliens due to some of the things she had written in her books Masquerade of Angels, Taken, and Into the Fringe. In 1999, author of numerous UFO and conspiracy books, Jim Keith, also died when a blood clot stopped his heart as he was receiving routine surgery for a broken leg.
Moving into the 2000s we have several more strange cases. In April of 2001, prolific author of unexplained phenomena, Ron Bonds, mysteriously died of a common food poisoning bacterium that rarely leads to death, but for some reason turned deadly for him. More sinister still was the death of prominent UFO researcher Paul Vigay in 2009. In February of that year, the 44-year-old was found bobbing about in the churning sea off the coast of Portsmouth, Hants, leaving a series of strange cryptic passwords behind on his phone that no one could figure out. Although authorities were quick to label it as a suicide, Vigay’s friends and family are adamant that he was not suicidal, and the coroner was also not able to verify whether it was suicide or not, saying “I cannot say beyond reasonable doubt that yes Paul has taken his own life. The only person who could tell us what was going on in his mind and what happened that night is sadly not here to tell us.”
Perhaps one of the weirdest cases of all is also the most recent. Conspiracy theorist and UFO expert Max Spiers was well-known for delving into government cover-ups, and in July of 2016 he was in Warsaw, Poland, visiting a friend and also planning on attending a conference on conspiracy theories and UFOs. On July 16, Spiers’ friend found him on the sofa, unresponsive and apparently having vomited up a viscous “black liquid.” It would turn out that there were some pretty suspicious details surrounding the death, one being a text message he had written to his mother just before his death, which reads, “Your boy’s in trouble. If anything happens to me, investigate.” Also odd is that there was never any actual official autopsy done on the body, and adding to this was that Spiers was a healthy young man with no history of physical issues, making it odd that he should just drop dead on that sofa. There would be very little word on the state of the investigation until 2019, when authorities would rule the death as being caused by drug use and pneumonia. Max’s mother would say of it all:
Max was a very fit man who was in good health and yet he apparently just died suddenly on a sofa. All I have is a death certificate from the Polish authorities that it was from natural causes, but no post-mortem was done so how can they tell that? They are also refusing to release any paperwork about it to me because, absurdly, I don’t have his written permission. Apparently, he had not suffered any obvious physical injuries but he could have been slowly poisoned, which is why the results of toxicology tests from his post-mortem are so important.
Again, we are left to wonder, if this really was an accident, or did some nefarious agency deem him to be a threat and have him erased? The main conspiracy idea behind all of these deaths is that these people were removed from the equation by nefarious parties, with government agencies and even the Men in Black coming into play. Skeptics would point out that people die, it is a fact of life, and that of course UFO researchers are going to fall victim to this as well. Yet, with the strange circumstances and details surrounding some of these cases it really makes one wonder what is really going on. Is this all just coincidence and reading things into it all, or is there something more sinister going on? The question remains, and if you are one of those who delves into UFOs it might be best to keep a set of eyes on the back of your head. You just never know.