Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Cash-Landrum Controversy: Witness or Investigator Culpability

A Belated Rush to Judgment 

Robert Sheaffer picked up on my story of the severe problems with John Schuessler's Cash-Landrum narrative due to the release of the files of the Texas Health department:
Between a Beer Joint and Some Kind of Highway Warning Sign: the "Classic" Cash-Landrum Case Unravels

Robert gives the matter some nice coverage, but unfortunately, he and many of the commenters posting there are losing focus. This information reflects on the integrity of the investigation, not the witnesses. The issue of whether the witnesses were genuine is important, but almost all we know about them comes from a single source, one that now seems questionable.

I keep struggling for an analogy- it's like a sketch artist at a murder trial coming back with pictures of unicorns. We weren't there, and his drawings aren't much help in sorting out the facts.


Accusations of Self-inflicted Injuries

Some folks are now ready to just dismiss the entire case as hoax and throw the witnesses under the bus. One poster was particularly nasty. Knowledgable, but full of condescending derision, kind of like a skeptical Jerome Clark. Here's one of his gems:
Each and every aspect of this fairy tale spells hoax. It's almost a grab bag of hackneyed "UFO" narrative tropes: a remote location at night; the "UFO" is blocking the road; it remotely kills the car ignition; it emits intense light and heat; the witness(es) suffer burns, suggested to be caused by radiation in this case; and promised by Vickie but not appearing is the benevolent Jesus—who would have communicated his scientific and humanitarian concerns much like the Pleiadians; the craft appears to be in trouble or pilot is making repairs; and (as with Maury Island Hoax) other associated aircraft are aiding the distressed.
And even though Betty claimed she had no interest in "UFOs," this PSH skeptic knows that very few are immune to prevailing cultural delusions. Betty and Vickie carried all the current "UFO" myth baggage as every other American bombarded by the images and themes of nuclear radiation, aerospace and black operations, and government conspiracies—if only through cultural osmosis. No one concocts a narrative so utterly saturated with "UFO" tropes without hearing more than just a few "UFO" stories. Betty's hoax is so obvious because its plot is contrary to the way that humans actually behave and in its details—idiotic lies—that expose it.
Betty was a good-ol' East Texas 50 year-old glorified night-shift waitress looking for attention and money, and stupid enough to make up a wild "UFO" story and paint herself with Clorox or pool acid and drink it as well in order to sell her hoax.
Compare with Maury Island; Hill Abduction; Falcon Lake; and dozens of others.
So full of errors and character assassination, it's beyond repair, but I'll comment on a few points.

 True, the individual elements of the sighting are familiar as I've noted here before, you can almost pull and assemble them from scenes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The witnesses however never made any ET connection to their claims. They assumed it was connected to a military project.

Vickie's comments to Colby about Jesus coming out of the light was born out her belief that they were witnessing the second coming. It had nothing to do with an ET Savior, just the frightening light, flames and strangeness of the event. If you want to find something suspect in her behavior, in some accounts she says that she merely said that to Colby to reassure him.

A kinder, gentler skeptic?
I believe Dr. Gary Posner was the first to suggest the possibility that the witnesses injuries were self-inflicted, but he was a lot more civil doing so. I think the scenario is unlikely. Phil Klass had a more plausible explanation for the creation of a hoax: Betty Cash's problems were real, she was faced with massive medical bills that she could not afford and the hoax was crafted to somehow solve the financial crisis. Klass did not account for the alleged injures to Vickie and Colby, but those were less severe and largely undocumented. They may have been exaggerated to support Betty's story. If we are going to level accusations of self-inflicted injuries it is more plausible that the other two witnesses engaged in it to help sell the story.  Still, making accusations like these without any evidence is unscientific and ungentlemanly.

Witness Credibility 

As I told Robert Sheaffer,
This document can only prove that the investigator was unreliable. The credibility of the witnesses is a separate issue.
The Cash-Landrum witnesses
I can provide a fairly lengthy list of reasonable people who felt that the witnesses were credible. Also, their behavior afterwards is not consistent with UFO hoaxers. The phonies usually place themselves at the center stage of a story, not as bystanders. Most hoaxers continue to seek the spotlight and often have multiple adventures or at least recover new memories to embellish their grand adventure. While the witnesses did participate in several television programs discussing their case, they did not engage in the UFO conference circuit like- well almost everyone else.

Robert has always doubted the case and is ready to Klassify the whole incident as a hoax. As yet, I am unwilling to level that accusation at the witnesses. The inconsistencies in their statements are no greater than this found in conventional eyewitness cases. Later, some faulty associations and emotional hyperbole did creep in (such as the mystery road repaving) but on the whole their story holds up as consistent over the years without further embellishments. I hold out for the possibility there was some kind of genuine experience at the root of the story.

The investigation of the story is another matter, to me. Whether the investigation and the reporting of the events was accurate and honest is in a way the most important issue.

I'm willing to give the witnesses the benefit of a doubt.

As always, comments are welcome.

C. 2013 Curtis L. Collins

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