Dec 14, 2022 I Nick Redfern

The Men in Black: The Strange Back-Story Most People Don't Know About

Albert Bender is inextricably linked to the enigma of the creepy, sinister Men in Black; it was his 1951-1952 encounters with the Men in Black that led the UFO researcher Gray Barker to write the very first book on the darkly-clad things: that was 1956’s They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. For that very reason alone, it’s unusual that practically every researcher and author that has ever commented on his encounters with the dark-suited ones, has overlooked something that is massively important. We are talking about his family’s links to…nothing less than a Woman in Black, She was a spectral crone with an obsession for nothing less than coins. In 1933, while Bender was just a child, Bender’s mother told him the spine-tingling story of a family ghost, a Woman in Black. Maybe, that issue of black clothes began. The sinister story revolved around a second-cousin of the Bender family who, while only six years of age, moved into a creepy old house with his family. It was a house that sat adjacent to an old, abandoned mine-shaft.

The mine was a downright eerie place: it was filled with angular shadows; old wooden supports creaked and groaned endlessly, and a multitude of bats and rats called it their home. It was also a mine in which, years earlier, a despondent young woman slit her throat and, as the blood cascaded forth, threw herself into the depths of one of the darkened, old shafts. Her battered and torn body was finally recovered and was taken into the house in which Bender’s cousin lived, before being buried in the local graveyard. The woman, noted Bender, was said to have been a definitive witch, one that “lived alone with a great many cats and she was said to prowl about only at night.” That's a fascinating story that was "alive" long before Bender, himself, was ever writing, researching or even having bizarre experiences with the pale-faced Men in Black.

(Nick Redfern) Albert Bender: the man who started the Men in Black phenomenon

Albert Bender added the following to the story: “My cousin wore a coin on an unbroken chain around his neck constantly, even to bed. After having lived in the house a few months, his parents noticed his health was failing. He would not eat, and claimed he saw a lady in black in his bedroom at night. Of course they thought it all nonsense and that he was only dreaming, but soon they began to have sleepless nights when the boy would scream out in his sleep and they would find it necessary to go and comfort him.” In the early hours of one particularly fraught morning, Bender’s cousin awoke the family, wailing like a veritable banshee. His parents noticed that the coin had been unhooked from the chain and was positioned on the pillow. According to Bender, the boy told his mother and father that “the lady in black was trying to choke him and take his coin away from him.”

The local doctor in town said that the whole thing was almost certainly down to recurring nightmares and nothing else, at all. Very soon thereafter, however, the doctor would be proven to be catastrophically wrong. With no end in sight to the night-terrors, both parents elected to sleep in the boy’s room until things totally calmed down. On what was the fourth night, though, they were all woken up by the menacing and horrific sight of a hooded, female form - she was dressed in black, and with anemic-looking skin – that slowly and quiety glided across the room, right in the direction of the poor boy. A bony hand moved slowly down to grasp the coin, at which point the boy’s father lit a candle and firmly thrust it in the face of the Woman in Black. Bender said, years later: “They could see a pale, chalky-white face staring at them.” In an instant the terrifying hag was completely gone – and so was that seemingly much-wanted coin. Not surprisingly, the whole family vacated the house within a week; the boy, to the relief of everyone, quickly recovered. Thus, we see that, in reality, Albert Bender’s exposure to the blackest mystery of all did not actually begin in the early 1950s, when he received a visit from those three menacing MIB that rivaled anything ever written by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, as we have seen, it all began two decades earlier, in the 1930s, with a monstrous Woman in Black, one who had a thing for grabbing coins, and then for making them disappear, too. It reminds me of Alchemy, something that Bender was deeply interested in.

This tale is very notable because it shows that Bender was heavily into the worlds of the occult. And long before the Men in Black were around. Anywhere. Bender was, for example, deep into the world of Alchemy in the 1930s, as I have said. Alchemy is the secret, fabled means by which base-metals, such as lead, can be turned into highly valuable metals, including silver and gold. In centuries past, alchemists toiled night and day to uncover the legendary secrets of the so-called Philosopher’s Stone – the enigmatic substance that could supposedly allow for the priceless transformation to take place. John Keel, commenting on the Men in Black mystery, said that Albert Bender “explored” the domain of alchemy. Bender did far more than that, however: he was absolutely obsessed with the subject and its centuries-old secrets and activities. With that said, all of the above begs this very important question: How far back was Bender in the field of the paranormal? How much did he dig into it? How much of all this had an impact on his stories of the Men in Black? To answer that question we have to take a trip to the Bender home in Connecticut. That's where things really took off.

(Nick Redfern) Beware of the M.I.B.

I'm not joking when I say that it all began in a dark, eerie attic in a three-story, old house at 784 Broad Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut (By the way, the house isn't there now).And it revolved around a young man - an undeniable eccentric with a fascination for the realms of monsters, the supernatural, black clothes, alchemy, the paranormal, and the occult. And with a significant degree of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, too (check his 1962 book, Flying Saucers and the Three Men for that). Although, without Bender, the Men in Black may never have left the terrible marks – or, perhaps, more correctly, the ugly scars – on society they most assuredly have. He was Albert Bender. They were the Men in Black. And, in a strange - almost symbiotic - fashion, they fed on each other. The early years of Bender’s life were nothing, at all, out of the ordinary. In fact, quite the opposite was the case: born in 1921, Bender lived in Duryea, Pennsylvania, where he worked in a factory. In the aftermath of the terrible attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1941, Bender then joined the United States Army Air Corps, which, at the time, was stationed at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. He served from June 1942 to October 1943 – as a dental technician – and was then given an honorable discharge. It was then that Bender, his mother Ellen, and his stepfather, Michael Ardolino, headed off to Bridgeport. And, that is when things really started to get weird. Very weird. Too weird, one might rightfully say.

Grim artwork of bloodsucking bats, evil monsters, ghouls and skulls adorned the walls. There was barely a space for wallpaper. Imagery of vampires, the Moon, a horse’s head, and large, black cats could be seen. And, possibly as a worrying precedent of what was to come later: nothing but a painting of a cloaked man wearing a black fedora hat and prowling around an old, tree-shrouded cemetery after the sun was gone and darkness was fallen. Both the cloak and the hat were, of course, black in color. You knew that, right? As history has shown, Bender wouldn’t have it any other way. Yet again, all of this occurred nearly two decades before the Men in Black came calling on Bender. As the early 1950s came, it was clear that Bender was very much a loner. Girlfriends were nowhere in sight. Certainly not a wife. Much of his spare-time was taken up watching more and more sci-fi movies and horror flicks on Saturday nights. By Bender’s own admission, his visits to the local cinema were always made alone. As were the late-night walks back home. When the very few friends that Bender did choose to call on him, he would entertain them with spooky sound-effects that boomed around the room. It was all good fun – albeit undeniably odd. And, it surely cannot have been healthy for Bender to have lived in such a claustrophobic situation. Even Bender himself had to admit that “late at night the attic became a creepy place.” For sure! Again, something else that must have had an impression on the Men in Black, when they arrived.

Interestingly, Riley Crabb – who was the director of Borderland Sciences Research Associates and who deeply followed the Albert Bender affair - went on record as saying of Bender that years earlier he, Bender, “…dabbled in magic, with no success in table-tipping, and surprising success with a yes-or-no technique using the Holy Bible. There was a history of psychic phenomena in his family.” There was a hell of a lot more than that, as we have seen. Pushing thirty, with no girlfriend or a wife to have fun with, cooped up in an attic, and a devotee of the world of sorcery, Bender surely needed something else to surface in his life. He did. It took him time, though. Marriage in 1954 to Betty, emotional stability, and a complete end to ill-health, were – thankfully - very much the orders of the day (Despite his worries about his health, Bender lived to the ripe old age of ninety-four, no less). The M.I.B. were eventually gone. UFOs were finally behind Bender – for a while, as will soon become clear. And, as time progressed, Bender set up yet another project; a very different one: he established the Max Steiner Music Society. Steiner wrote the music for, among others, the original King Kong, Casablanca, and Gone with the Wind and became a great friend to Bender. The organization ran on until 1981.

(Nick Redfern) The Women in Black: numerous reports can be found

What this tells us is the following (A) Bender was definitely involved in the occult and the supernatural way back in the 1930s. (B) There wasn't much paranormal activity during the Second World War to investigate. (C) Bender was obsessed by black-dressed men and huge black cats. (D) When Bender got married, the Men in Black went away. (E) Bender was a definitive loner, a complicated, unusual guy. And much of that came out years before the Men in Black came knocking on the Benders' front-door. It's very well worth looking at not just Albert Bender's encounters with the Men in Black, but also what happened in both the 1930s and the 1950s. Much of that surely played a massive role in nurturing the imagery and the sinister aspects of the Men in Black, and as those aspects grew. And, finally...

I knew that, in all likelihood, it would happen soon. After all, he was getting perilously close to a century in age. But, I have to say, it was still unfortunate to see the news when it finally surfaced. You are most likely wondering what, and who, I’m talking about. None other than the passing of Albert Bender in 2016. He was the guy who began the Men in Black mystery back in the early 1950s, and whose 1962 book on the subject, Flying Saucers and the Three Men, remains a must-read for MIB enthusiasts. Despite having been threatened, taunted and tormented by a trio of blazing-eyed Men in Black in his Bridgeport, Connecticut home all those years ago, Bender almost lived to lived to one hundred – proof that being confronted by the MIB does not necessarily mean death is looming just around the corner! 

Nick Redfern

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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