Friday, December 14, 2018

The Cash-Landrum-McDonald UFO Incident of 1980



The Cash-Landrum case of December 29, 1980 is one of the best-known UFO stories, 
made famous in the media for the alleged radiation injuries to witnesses Betty Cash, Vickie Landrum and her grandson Colby. Shortly after the story became public, another UFO witness from that night came forward, but his testimony has been largely ignored. Jerry McDonald of Dayton, Texas, witnessed a low-flying triangle-shaped object, but earlier the same evening and miles away. All these years later, Jerry feels his story has not been told, so he contacted BBL to share his experience and his thoughts on the UFO’s origin. 

Before hearing his modern perspective, let’s first examine how his story surfaced in 1981.

The Original Interview

John Schuessler, then the deputy director of the Mutual UFO Network, also ran a Houston-area group, Project VISIT (for Vehicle Internal Systems Investigative Team), which began investigating the Cash-Landrum case Feb. 21, 1981 after getting a call from Betty Cash, then by visiting the sighting location a week later with Vickie and Colby Landrum.

Other than getting the witnesses’ story, the VISIT investigation produced nothing, so they turned to the power of the media. John Schuessler’s memo of March 20, 1981 states:
“Metro News Service carried a plea for witnesses to come forth. Jerry heard the plea on KIKK radio.” That was Jerry McDonald, and on March 23, David Kissinger of VISIT went to Dayton to interview him.

Jerry was an oil field worker, 23 years old at the time, and lived in Dayton in a house trailer with his wife Glenda and their baby girl. It was early Monday night, and Jerry was outside repairing the water line when he heard a rumbling noise. He looked up, maybe expecting to see the Goodyear blimp, but instead saw a strange triangular object flying above the 40-foot tall trees nearby. Jerry described and sketched the object as triangular, flying point first, the opposite side with white and blue lights near the corners, and two flaring lights that looked like the flame of an acetylene torch near the middle. In the center of the triangle, it had a brilliant red light. Jerry watched it for two or three minutes, estimating its size as 40 feet wide, its altitude at 130 feet, and it’s speed as 3 miles per hour.    
Drawing by Kissinger based on McDonalds's report.
Two days later, Jerry came down with the flu. Glenda hadn’t gone outside to see it, but she got sick too, but not their daughter. Two weeks later, on Feb. 14, Jerry was hospitalized for an air pocket in his lung which was treated by medication. An interesting detail surfaced during the interview. Glenda McDonald had also seen a UFO - two of them, but much later on the night of Feb. 14, and hers were a bit smaller, kite-shaped with lights at each corner. Kissinger closed his report by suggesting that they advertise on radio and TV to find other witnesses, and to notify the authorities about the public health hazard from the UFO. 

The problems making Jerry McDonald’s UFO with the Cash-Landrum case are numerous. He wasn’t able to pinpoint the time of his sighting, initially saying between 8 and 9 p.m., then between 7 and 8 p.m. to VISIT investigators. The Cash-Landrum sighting time is estimated at shortly after 9 p.m., so if the earlier time is correct, that’s a long while for a UFO to be prowling the Texas skies between Dayton and New Caney. Jerry reported the noise of  the UFO as a rumble that got made him look up, whereas Vickie Landrum described her object producing a roar like a hurricane. The most notable feature to Jerry was the lights on the UFO, particularly the single bright red on at its center, but Betty and Vickie described the object they saw as blindingly brilliant with no discernible features. Another big difference was the shape. Jerry’s UFO was a triangular flat wing about 40 ft wide, the Cash-Landrum object said to be a huge diamond-shaped object, more like a football shooting flame from the bottom pointed end. It’s difficult to believe they were describing the same object, but they were both UFOs, and that’s close enough for flying saucer science. 

In an undated follow-up, VISIT attempted to reconcile the different characteristics in the three UFO sightings described by Vickie and Colby Landrum, Jerry, and in his wife’s Feb. sighting. The letter included several pictures, suggesting the Jerry’s triangular pyramid UFO had really been a diamond-shaped craft viewed from below. 
The descriptions of the various witnesses have been reviewed. One of the possible configurations that fits all descriptions is given below. Please provide discussion of why and why it does not fit the object you saw.
VISIT sketch: "possible configurations"
 In other words, the investigators were trying to shape the testimony to fit the hypothesis that the UFO from all three sightings were the same object. The documents related to the McDonald interview are collected in a pdf: Project VISIT file on Jerry McDonald

Jerry’s sighting, along with Glenda’s and any other allegedly related UFO reports, were not given individual case files by VISIT or MUFON, just included within the Cash-Landrum material. Comparing that to a police investigation, it’s like dropping every crime in a city into a single folder and hoping for one solution for everything. Glenda’s sighting was completely dropped, but Jerry’s sometimes appeared in UFO literature, but just in an attempt to corroborate the original Cash-Landrum case. That's caused the McDonald sighting to be ignored, and missed by researchers investigating "black triangle" UFOs.

The Original Media Coverage

The most accurate reporting of Jerry’s sighting was the earliest one published, in The Houston Chronicle, p.1A., Sept 25, 1981, “State, private agencies probing claims of UFO encounter” by Cindy Horswell.

Jerry McDonald, 24, an oilfield roughneck, also witnessed something strange that night from his home in Dayton. “I heard a sound like a rumble, and I thought it was the Goodyear  blimp,” he said. “It was kind of triangular or diamond-shaped and had two twin torches that were shooting brilliant blue flames out of the back.” He said it also had two bright lights on it and a red light in the center as it  passed about 150 feet above him.”
In The Unexplained: Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time,  vol 9, Issue 107, 1982,
Orbis Publishing Limited (UK), “Blind Terror in Texas,” John Schuessler edited Jerry’s quote to remove the “triangular” description:
Oilfield laborer Jerry McDonald was in his back garden in Dayton when he witnessed a huge UFO flying overhead. At first he thought it was the Goodyear airship, but he quickly realized it was some unidentified object. "It was kind of diamond-shaped and had two twin torches that were shooting brilliant blue flames out the back", he said. 
It took The X-Files in the 1990s to get the media interested in UFOs again. “UFO Sightings” by Marty Racine was the cover story for the Houston Chronicle’s Texas Magazine, Nov. 11, 1996. It featured coverage of the Cash-Landrum case, including an interview with Jerry McDonald about his sighting, and printed his sketch of the triangle-shaped UFO.  
Fort the entire excerpt covering the Cash-Landrum story, see:
Houston Chronicle’s Texas Magazine, Nov. 11, 1996
The same evening about 15 miles away in Dayton, Jerry McDonald, an oilfield roughneck, was fixing a water main outside his trailer when a huge black triangular craft sporting a brilliant red light and belching twin flames passed 130 feet overhead."It was there, buddy, it was there. Blew my mind, it was going so low and slow. This was no blimp. This was something out of this world. I saw something that scared the death out of me."
Later in the article, it presented Jerry’s thoughts on the origin of the object:
McDonald now thinks his UFO was a Stealth Bomber, which was developed in the late '70s. ‘I think (the military) just got caught with their pants down."

In John Schuessler’s 1998 book, The Cash-Landrum Incident, the appendix includes copies of Kissinger’s interviews of the McDonalds, and on page 78 he gives a summary of Jerry’s sighting, portraying it as a closer match the C-L UFO. 
Jerry McDonald was working in his yard between 7 and 9 p.m. when he saw an object as large as the Goodyear blimp overhead... It continued on over the vacant football field and out of sight to the west, in the direction of Huffman.

The Cash-Landrum case was examined in UFO Hunters “Alien Fallout” episode from Jan. 14, 2009. It featured a short interview with Jerry McDonald and showed him making a sketch of the object he'd seen, a clip just intended to show that someone else had seen a UFO.

Jerry McDonald Speaks Out

Those brief appearances are about the extent of the coverage of Jerry’s sighting in the media, but 
Dec. 8, 2016, BBL published the piece, Cash-Landrum UFO Case Updates: Witness Reports,” which closed with a call for new witnesses to come forward. That evening I received an email:
My name is Jerry McDonald I am the silent witness that has was not named in the lawsuit... I believe I know what I saw that night now, and I need to tell somebody.
When I called Jerry, he said that he was the “silent witness” of the lawsuit, that he had been asked to be part of it but declined, otherwise it would have been known as the Cash-Landrum-McDonald case. He said at the time he was young and a bit scared - unwilling to miss work to testify - and afraid of reprisals by the government. Jerry said Dayton Dayton police detective Lamar Walker, whom he described as a good friend, was someone who the attorney had intended to call as a witness. He mentioned that Walker had seen the helicopters, but not the UFO, which was just the opposite of Jerry’s sighting. Jerry said the lawsuit was thrown out due to lack of evidence, which is accurate. 

In reviewing his sighting, McDonald described the location, saying that there's now a Walgreen’s where his trailer was located in 1980. When he was filmed for the UFO Hunters segment, they went to an adjacent property to represent the location. He pointed out that UFO literature is in error when they say he was out in his “garden.” Instead, he was outside at the time to repair a broken PVC water pipe to his trailer, and was covered in mud. McDonald described his UFO sighting, saying that the object was triangular, about 100 - 150 feet in the air and it sounded like a blimp and he imitated the sound that it made, a humming or rumbling noise. He mentioned how the Goodyear Blimp was frequently seen at Christmastime, and that they had Santa Claus’ sled and the reindeers displayed on the side (animated by its lights). His description of the experience was consistent with his original testimony, but I tried to get a sense of the kind of impression it made on him. When I asked him about its size, he said that it was not all that big, and that it was flying low and slow (so low, he said he could have shot it down.) 

Two of examples McDonald sent of UAVs resembling his UFO. 
The main reason McDonald wanted to reach me was to  express his present day thoughts on the origin of the UFO. He has come to believe that what he witnessed was an early flight test of an unmanned aerial vehicle being test flown in Texas. He told me he had found a picture online, a Lockheed Martin UAV on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, a triangular-shaped drone that resembled the object that he had seen in 1980.  “This is a prototype of unmanned drones that you will never find - the government has covered this paperwork up because of the lawsuit. These ladies are dead of their injuries and never got compensated for it, and I know exactly what I saw I know exactly what it looked like.” He is convinced the same object he saw was the Cash-Landrum UFO, and went on to say it was “jammed full of radar” and that's what had caused the “radiation burns”in the witnesses. 

The NBC show, That's Incredible!, filming in Dayton, Texas, July 1981.
In the left photo, Jerry McDonald, center, on the right, Colby Landrum at the camera.
In returning to some of the points he had made earlier in the conversation, I asked him about knowing the witnesses. He said that he and Colby Landrum still talk, and that he had seen him recently at funerals. Colby is mad and blames the Government, his phrase was, “mad they killed his grandmother.” He mentioned that when in 1981 when ABC's That's Incredible! came to Dayton film, he’d taken pictures of the crew with Colby. McDonald was also supposed to be interviewed for the show, but he got too nervous and his part was canceled. Jerry has tried to talk to Colby about his idea that the UFO was a drone prototype, but Colby is mad about the situation the entire experience, and that he wants no part of it. 

McDonald feels that he's not had the opportunity to be heard, even locally, that they “will not let the story get out." Jerry thought that UFO Hunters might have been taken off the air, because "they were getting too close." He mentioned that the show had taken core samples on Farm-to-Market Road, but wasn't sure what the results of the analysis revealed (nothing but repaving over the decades). Regarding secrecy in the Cash-Landrum case, he said that the helicopters had been out there, and that it had been covered it up in the middle of the night. 

Today and Beyond

We’ve had intermittent contact since, and Jerry recently sent me several articles and photos on UAVs that resemble the aircraft he saw that night. I asked Jerry about the color of the craft, but he was unsure of it, the lighted portions of it were most prominent in the night sky. The drawing from his initial interview lists the body as black, but can’t be sure.  Jerry thinks it could have been a joint program between that Lockheed Martin and NASA conducted from the Johnson Space Center. The published history of the development of UAV’s does not agree with Jerry’s prototype scenario, but it’s worth considering. What I feel is most import about Jerry’s story is his description of what he witnessed, a very unusual aircraft. He makes no fantastic claims about what he saw, but his testimony is just as important as that of any UFO witness. His description of the event remains unchanged, and when he sent me the copy of his 1996 triangle illustration, he said,  This is my original drawing and I stand by it.”

Jerry remains convinced that the UFO was really a US military UAV prototype, and that by investigating it, the truth about the Cash-Landrum incident might be revealed. “My resolve is strong, now I have clarity and that’s what they were experimenting with that night and got caught with their pants down... I’m telling you brother they think these people are dead and gone and not coming back from the grave, but I’m still alive to tell about it. This was truly a government cover-up.”


Friday, December 7, 2018

Skeptoid Challenges the Cash-Landrum UFO Incident



On December 4, 2018 Brian Dunning presented an episode of the Skeptoid Podcast,  The Cash-Landrum UFO Incident, a skeptical evaluation of the case. Dunning does a fair job of examining the case, and he’s clearly done a lot of reading on the case. The printed version of his program includes a list of Dunning’s sources, which includes documents hosted at Blue Blurry Lines.

Brian Dunning reaches the conclusion that the medical problems reported by the witnesses were not due to radiation poisoning from a UFO, and he suggests the witnesses were made some false or exaggerated claims. He also charges the primary UFO investigator of the case, John Schuessler, with cherrypicking data presented as evidence, saying he included “the bits of reports that supported his thesis... and ignored the bits of reports that did not...” Dunning’s argument is worthy of an examination, and a response.

Dunning’s summary of the sighting by Betty Cash, Vickie and Colby Landrum itself is good, as it reflects how the case initially presented. He stumbles a bit when describing how the witnesses reported the case, but that’s understandable. It’s an interesting detail, and the delay in the start of the investigation may be the reason behind why evidence and answers are so elusive in the C-L case. A short summary of how it began:

 Betty Cash and Vickie Landrum said they didn’t immediately connect their illness with the UFO, and were afraid of being called crazy, so they didn’t report their sighting.  At the end of January 1981, once the UFO story had been revealed to Betty’s doctors, Vickie Landrum reported the story to her neighbor, Dayton Police Chief Tommy Waring. It took Waring two or three days to locate the number for the the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) in Seattle, Washington. Vickie reported the sighting on Feb. 2 to Robert Gribble, who passed the information on to UFO organizations, but problems arose, and it was several weeks before an investigation began. John Schuessler, then the deputy director of the Mutual UFO Network, also ran a Houston-area group, Project VISIT (for Vehicle Internal Systems Investigative Team). Schuessler began investigating the Cash-Landrum case on Feb. 21, 1981 after getting a call from Betty Cash, then by visiting the sighting location a week later with Vickie and Colby Landrum. 

Photos of witnesses displayed on Hangar 1

Photograph of Betty Cash's back, showing cellulitis.
Dunning next discusses the alleged radiation injuries, and talks about how Dr. Gary Posner had seen the C-L case presented on the 1981 episode of NBC’s That's Incredible! 
where “Betty's arms [showed] discrete, round, sunburn-type rashes...” Dunning says Schuessler never mentioned these particular injuries in his book, but that’s not unique. Betty Cash’s alleged radiation burn to her finger beneath her wedding ring was not mentioned by Schuessler in the book, and not in the hospital reports reproduced there or anywhere else. Dunning’s right though, about the hospital diagnosis. While Betty’s combination of symptoms did seem to puzzle her cardiologist and the Parkway Hospital doctors, the diagnosis was of earthly ailments.
See the BBL report, Betty Cash’s Medical Records for further details.

Weekly World News, March 24, 1981
Dunning also mentions Vickie Landrum’s complaints, and notes that her hair and fingernail loss were not documented with photographs. That’s true. There are drawings of Vickie’s fingernails, but no photos, and the pictures of her closest to the incident do not reflect significant hair loss. 

Dunning also cites the letter from Dr. Peter Rank to John Schuessler, stating:
I think it is important to assure Betty that on the basis of the medical information you have provided me, that there are no signs of serious injury to date. You may also reassure Vicki that her cataract was probably a pre-existing condition and not necessarily related to her incident.  
Dunning’s use of the quote by Dr. Rank is damning, but it cuts both ways. Yes, Dr. Rank was a radiologist, and Schuessler’s primary source supporting radiation burns in the case. However, Dr. Rank only examined Betty Cash’s medical records and looked at photos of the witnesses, he never conducted a physical examination of Betty Cash, or of Vickie and Colby Landrum.

Rank, P. "Personal correspondence to John Schuessler." The Cash-Landrum UFO Case Document Collection. Blue Blurry Lines, 29 Apr. 1981. Web. 29 Nov. 2018. https://app.box.com/s/zvelar3gubgiee5zwgi3
Drawing signed by Betty Cash & Vickie Landrum
Dunning discusses Betty Cash telling the Air Force that the helicopters she had seen carried military markings, while in earlier interviews she said she had seen none. When interviewed as Bergstrom AFB on August 17, 1981, Betty was asked to draw a picture of the UFO, and write out the markings she claimed to see on the helicopters. She printed the words, "United States Air Force." Interestingly, the Bergstrom interview is downplayed by Schuessler, and only mentioned in a negative way, that the witnesses were treated unkindly and mocked. The transcript of the interview does not reflect that, and instead has value as direct testimony from all three of the witnesses away from UFO investigators. 

Dunning does not try to tackle the issue of the UFO itself (or the associated helicopters), and I can’t fault him too much for that. In fact, he was a bit too soft. Despite the claims that the sighting occurred in a remote area, it was by no means unpopulated. There was at least one trailer home nearby, and there were other homes down the road in both directions. After the initial sighting, the witnesses drove by a fishing camp, a church, then thorough Huffman, and claimed to be able to see the UFO and helicopters from several points along the way. With the sights and sounds they claimed, it’s difficult to understand how many more people were not alarmed.

Map of the Cash-Landrum sighting route
In his conclusion, Dunning seems sympathetic to the witnesses, and allows that they may have indeed seen something that night, but does to believe it to have been extraordinary, just another of many sincere, but mistaken reports of UFOs. It’s his opinion that they wrongly connected their health problems with the experience, and sincerely believing they were wronged, exaggerated their story. And he includes the possibility they went further, such as faking sunburn from the UFO.

It could be. Having a UFO terrifying experience could have been so stressful that it worsened existing health problems in the witnesses. If we want to examine a hoax scenario, a more plausible scenario might be that Betty Cash was genuinely ill and that Vickie Landrum faked her injuries in order to support her friend and try to get her help, including financial support. Betty Cash was a cardiac patient, she’d had surgery a few years before and was taking several medical prescriptions to manage her health. She’d recently been divorced, and as she told the officers in the Bergstrom interview, her business had failed and was closed. Before the UFO, Betty Cash was going through a very rough patch. 

Brian Dunning noted that “Most of what's known about this story stems from the efforts of John Schuessler,” and that’s been the cases’ biggest asset and liability. Schuessler campaigned to get the story covered by the media and supported the legal case suing the US government for damages related to its alleged involvement in the UFO incident. Due to Schuessler’s role as the gatekeeper of the case, he shaped the information released and took a central role in how newspapers and television shows portrayed the story. It caused a simplified, one-sided version of the story to be told one with heroes and villains, the witnesses as poor victims, the government as the evil keeper of secrets, and the valiant UFO researcher bravely fighting for justice. As Dunning says, “a legend.”

The documents presented here at Blue Blurry Lines are intended to strip away the mythology of the Cash-Landrum case and allow for an unbiased examination of the events. We may never know exactly what happened, but we can at least get closer to the truth.