Mar 10, 2023 I Jazz Shaw

US Government Records May Document the First Man in Black

The phenomenon known as the Men in Black has been making the rounds in the news again lately, along with the weird cars that they drive. But the persistent problem with the many encounters reported with these shadowy figures is that the entire body of evidence associated with them is entirely anecdotal. Nobody manages to catch them clearly on video and the United States government flatly denies that anything of the sort happens. But is that entirely true? There's a good case to be made that there is at least one exception to that rule.

The case in question involves a man named William Rhodes who lived in Phoenix, Arizona, back in the 1940s. He was a musician, as well as an amateur photographer, radio operator, and a self-made inventor of sorts. Late in the afternoon of July 7, 1947, while heading to his workshop in the backyard of his home, Rhodes observed a strange flying object approaching his home from the northeast. Grabbing his Kodak box camera from his shop, he ran back out and snapped two pictures of a strange, flat object that spiraled down toward the ground before accelerating upward and disappearing into the clouds. 

Rhodes excitedly took his story to the press and the Arizona Republic published the pictures along with his story the next day. (You can see an archived edition of the article along with the photos at that link.) William Rhodes would go on to speak with a number of other media outlets. But what he didn't realize was that the federal government had caught wind of his tale almost immediately and launched an investigation as part of Project Grudge. The entire investigation wound up being recorded in Project Blue Book as Incident 40

You may be wondering what this dusty old tale has to do with the Men in Black. The connection is found in those government archives. (You can also see the Air Force's copy of the better of the two photos Rhodes took on this page of the archive.) The military investigators weren't satisfied with reading newspaper clippings. Their investigation got personal very quickly. In barely a month, Mr. Rhodes had visitors knocking on his door.

William Rhodes was visited and interviewed by Special Agent George Fugate of the Counter Intelligence Corps, Air Defence Command, and Special Agent Brower (first name not recorded) of the FBI office in Phoenix, Arizona. They wanted to hear about his encounter and they also informed him that they wanted to take custody of his photos and negatives. Rhodes eventually agreed. The two agents also claimed to have told Rhodes that if he turned the negatives over to them they "would not be returned to him." But one of the two visitors acted in a rather mysterious fashion.

When the two agents were interviewed later regarding their visit, it was revealed that George Fugate had shown his credentials and identified himself to Rhodes. But at Fugate's request, Special Agent Brower only introduced himself as "a representative of the United States government." He went on to tell the interviewers that he found the request to withhold his identity to be "a peculiar procedure." But he also believed it was "not his business" so he conducted the interview and did not revisit the matter. These details were recorded in the Project Grudge files here and here.

So we're talking about an FBI agent who shows up at a UFO witness' home saying only that he's "a representative" of the government. He tells the witness that he needs to give up his photographs and negatives and he probably shouldn't cause any trouble by asking to get them back. Does that remind you of anything? We know from the FBI's own historical records how those men typically dressed. (You can see a couple of images here.) Serious-looking men in dark suits. Just add a fedora and dark glass if they're outdoors and that's pretty much your stereotypical man in black. And it had to have been intimidating.

There are other Blue Book records that mention instances where the FBI partnered with the Air Force in these investigations, but this is the only case I've come across where the anonymity factor was mentioned. We don't know how often this happened, but it clearly took place. So was Special Agent Fugate's instruction to have his partner withhold his identity a spur-of-the-moment thought? Or was this a regular practice in these investigations? If the latter, there could have been legitimate Men in Black traipsing around the country all through the 40s and 50s. And if the tactic worked back then, why would they stop?

It's worth mentioning yet again that the agents claimed that they told William Rhodes that he wouldn't be getting his negatives back. But that's clearly not how Rhodes remembered the meeting. And behind the scenes, the government was obviously fascinated with the negatives and photos, filing dozens of documents related to them, while keeping a close eye on Mr. Rhodes, who was threatening to bring a lawsuit to have his property returned to him. 

The claims made by Rhodes and his demand to have his negatives returned were hotly debated inside the government. On June 11, 1952, Edward J. Ruppelt (who would go on to be credited with the "final report" on Project Blue Book) sent a memo to Air Force Major Dewey J. Fournet claiming that Ruppelt's office had never had the negatives and wasn't even sure if Rhodes had ever even turned them over. (Despite there being multiple documents in that archive penned by Ruppelt specifically talking about the examination of the negatives.)

Fournet wrote a memo to Wright-Patterson a week later on June 18, 1952, saying that the negatives were "not on file at this directorate nor at the Air Intelligence Center" and urged that they be found and returned to the original owner as soon as possible. This was now a full five years after the original sighting and there were plenty of people inside of the investigation chiming in, suggesting that they had no idea what negatives Rhodes could be talking about.

 But there is a record showing that the Directorate of Intelligence sent the negatives to a Captain Hardin at the Air Technical Intelligence Center on 19 January 1954, more than a year and a half later. Clearly, not everyone was on the same page, but the government was not dealing off of the top of the deck while engaging with William Rhodes.

The encounter Rhodes experienced and photographed didn't remain in the headlines for very long. His sighting took place only a couple of weeks after Kenneth Arnold's first "flying saucer" sighting. (Project Grudge made note of the amazing similarities between his photos and the drawings that Arnold made.) And his report happened at virtually the same time that the blockbuster headline from Roswell, New Mexico hit the newswires. But thanks to the records that the government managed to keep and archive in the Blue Book files, we may at least have had a peek at the possibility that the Men in Black were very real, at least in one case. And perhaps they still are today.

Jazz Shaw

Jazz Shaw is a U.S. military veteran and journalist who has written for and appeared on multiple outlets including Salem Media, National Review, and MSNBC, along with many American radio outlets. His quest for the truth revolves around both the paranormal and the perfect martini.

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