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The Women in Black: A Timeline of Terror

I was recently asked an interesting question: when did the Women in Black phenomenon begin? Just about everyone has heard of the Men in Black. The WIB are less known, however. With that said, I’ll now get to the question. Notably, the story of the Women in Black can be traced back to none other than Albert Bender. He was the guy who – from his attic room in his stepfather’s home in Bridgeport, Connecticut in the early 1950s – began the phenomenon of the Men in Black. In light of that, it’s very intriguing to note that in his 1962 book, Flying Saucers and the the Three Men, Bender said that back in the 1930s one of his cousins was tormented by a WIB. On several occasions, she tried to steal a coin the boy wore around his neck as he slept. How strange that the man (Bender) who was so tied to the MIB had a relative who had encountered a WIB. Moving on, there’s the matter of Truman Bethurum. He was the Contactee who, in 1952, claimed close encounters (maybe, very close encounters…) with a hot-looking woman from the stars who called herself Captain Aura Rhanes. Supposedly, she came from a faraway world called Clarion. Much of Bethurum’s story reads like a centuries-old encounter with the fairies in ancient England. He was absolutely enchanted – hypnotized, we might say – by Aura. And his late-night encounters with the captain were distinctly dream-like. There was, however, another side to Aura Rhanes.

Nick Redfern’s Women in Black, 2016

On two occasions, Bethurum said, he encountered Aura Rhanes under circumstances very different to those which occurred out in the desert, with Rhanes’ huge flying saucer and her crew of little men in view. These additional encounters saw Rhanes operating in what can only be termed as disguise. In fact, in definitive Woman in Black mode. There was nothing flirty or friendly about these close encounters, however: they were downright hostile. The first occurred around 3:00 a.m. – a time when a wealth of supernatural activity typically occurs – one August 1952 morning. Rhanes was dressed in wraparound black sunglasses, black velvet blouse, and black boots. Not long after, on a Saturday afternoon, Bethurum was having his hair trimmed at a barber’s shop in Las Vegas, when he caught sight of Aura Rhanes, yet again. This time, she was walking along the sidewalk outside the barber’s – wearing her same outfit. Aura Rhanes soon vanished – and never to be seen by Bethurum again.

Other reports of the Women in Black in the 1950s are few in number, but things changed significantly in the 1960s – and particularly so when strange and terrifying activity began to surface in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia. That’s right: we’re talking about the Mothman phenomenon. If you know your Mothman history, you’ll also know that the Men in Black were seen lurking around the area on many occasions. Witnesses to Mothman received strange phone calls – a typical aspect of the MIB mystery. As for the Women in Black: read on. John Keel – who spent a lot of time investigating the Mothman mystery – had some very interesting things to say. Keel said: “a…blond woman in her thirties, well-groomed, with a soft southern accent, visited people in Ohio and West Virginia whom I had interviewed. She introduced herself as ‘John Keel’s secretary,’ thus winning instant admission. The clipboard she carried held a complicated form filled with personal questions about the witnesses’ health, income, the type of cars they owned, their general family background, and some fairly sophisticated questions about their UFO sightings. Not the type of questions a run-of-the-mill UFO buff would ask. I have no secretary. I didn’t learn about this woman until months later when one of my friends in Ohio wrote to me and happened to mention, ‘As I told your secretary when she was here …’ Then I checked and found out she had visited many people, most of whom I had never mentioned in print. How had she located them?” How, indeed? There was no answer to that question. It’s worth noting, however, that Keel uncovered additional cases where clipboard-carrying WIB turned up at people’s homes in Point Pleasant, all asking the same kinds of questions that Keel’s “secretary” asked, but this time posing as census takers. They were nothing of the sort.

Nick Redfern, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2014

Now, let’s head to the night of Saturday, September 11, 1976. That was the decidedly ill-fated evening upon which the Orchard Beach, Maine, home of a certain Dr. Herbert Hopkins was darkened by a nightmarish MIB – an event that was soon followed by the appearance of a WIB in disguise. Vampire-like scarcely begins to describe the terrible thing that descended on Hopkins’ home on that fraught night. When Hopkins opened the front-door, he was confronted by a pale-faced, skinny, ghoul; one that was dressed in black, had dark and hostility-filled eyes, and sported the usual Fedora hat. He (or it) even wore what looked like red lipstick. Hopkins was warned to cease his investigations of certain UFO cases, some related to alien abductions. After issuing his threats, the MIB left as mysteriously as he had arrived.

It’s no coincidence that thirteen days after Dr. Hopkins’ experience, his eldest son, John, and his – John’s – wife, Maureen, had a strange experience with what may well have been a WIB and a MIB. The man, estimated by John and Maureen to have been in his mid-thirties, had an extremely high-pitched voice, hair that was slicked down in an old style, and ears that were positioned very far back on the side of his head. As for Jane, she too appeared to be in her thirties, also had ears that were described as being “set well back,” and had a “whining” quality to her voice. Not only that, she was wearing lipstick very similar to that Herbert Hopkins’ MIB seemingly wore just two weeks earlier, and her clothing was described as being decades out of date – something that absolutely typifies the MIB. There was something else, too, that neither Maureen nor John could fail to note: both the man and woman walked in a very weird way – they shuffled along and leaned significantly forward as they did so. “Surreal” scarcely begins to describe the decidedly off the wall situation.

How about another kind of WIB: a Woman in Beige? In 1987, there was an encounter in a bookstore that had at its heart a mysterious woman and Whitley Strieber’s 1987 bestseller, Communion. In this case, the person in question was a psychoanalyst, Dr. Lee Zahner-Roloff. As he walked through the store, a tall, blond woman came towards him, holding in her arms – almost as one would cradle a newborn baby – a copy of Communion. Zahner-Roloff told Strieber: “In passing her I was overwhelmed with a sudden urge to pick up that book. Why would I pick up that book, about which I knew nothing, and seemed to have a loss of control regarding the purchase of?” He added that, “I lost personal volition completely.” Zahner-Roloff bought the book and quickly told work colleagues about it. In no time at all, it was as if an epidemic of alien-themed dreams took hold of him and his work friends. He said to Strieber: “Every once in a while I think about that tall woman in the beige suit carrying your book face forward through the aisles.”

Puerto Rico: A Chupacabra and a Woman in Black, Nick Redfern, 2005

As for the WIB phenomenon in more modern times, it’s still ongoing. In late 2005, while on Puerto Rico with Redstar Films – to investigate the Chupacabra phenomenon – me and the film-crew were given a fascinating story of a farmer who had been threatened by both a WIB and a MIB. They had warned him not to talk about his then-recent encounter with a Chupacabra. In 2016, my Women in Black book was published. As is often the case when I have a new book out, it results in a lot of feedback from readers. And, in this case, that included numerous reports of encounters with the WIB. I still get such reports to this day. They may not be as well-known as the MIB, but the WIB are most definitely still lurking among us and – in the process – creating fear and paranoia wherever they go.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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