Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cash-Landrum As Seen on TV: Close Encounters

Late in December 2013, I was excited to see that the Cash-Landrum case was being featured on a new television series.

Close Encounters S01E03 “Second Coming” (Discovery Canada)
SECOND COMING: DECEMBER 29, 1980: Betty Cash, Vickie Landrum and her grandson Colby are driving home after visiting a bingo hall in Dayton, Texas. On a country road, they encounter a large, diamond-shaped craft shooting fire out of its base. The heat is so intense it melts the vinyl of their vehicle's dashboard. They report seeing at least a dozen military helicopters in pursuit of the object. All three suffer physical symptoms similar to radiation poisoning and spend a decade pressing the U.S. government for answers. Part 2: SPACE ROCK: MAY 20, 1967... Stefan Michalak's extraordinary encounter.

Before Close Encounters aired in the US on the Science Channel, "John Carter" at the French site, UFO SCEPTICISME  posted, "Curt is going to have a field day pointing out the many errors in the narrative and the depiction of the UFO."

My reply:
The Close Encounters show is not broadcast in the USA, but I have seen photos from the show and the very brief glimpse of the depiction of the case in their online preview. Wow! I was unaware of the lightning bolts or the UFO stopping the car, but knew that their choice of a angular flaming diamond with rectangular windows neither looked or acted like what the witnesses described. While they are getting many things, wrong, this series is less sensational than many others. Still, they strongly suggest the ET origin of the UFOs by their overly dramatic portrayal of them as bizarre structured vehicles. (Instead of the indistinct lighted shapes they usually are.)

There's a far worse show airing now in the States, "Unsealed Alien Files" It is so comically extreme in its fringe UFO claims as to make the new Canadian show seem factual. ("Hangar 1" has since joined the pack, chiefly different in that it carries a pedigree, claiming the stories are based on MUFON case files. )

John Carter provided a link to the show on YouTube, where I was able to watch it. There were many inaccuracies. Here are the ones I observed on the first viewing:


  • 4 door car instead of 2
  • Event was not in Liberty County, Huffman is in Harris County, the sighting area also may have partly occurred in Montgomery County
  • They were not lost
  • States object observed for more than an hour- false. Their series of encounters was about 17 minutes, with the object seen from a distance before and afterwards- maybe 35 minutes total if we stretch it.
  • The re-enactment has the UFO hovering over the car, covering it in flames- false. It was supposedly 130 feet away, and they only felt it radiate heat.
  • UFO depiction- inaccurate. The UFO appearance is controversial, but just relying on case literature, it is larger and IF there were lights or windows, they were small and indistinct.
  • Lightning- inaccurate. There have been theories suggested that the encounter was some kind of electrical event but it is not what the witnesses themselves described.
  • Interference with car's electrical system- Betty Cash did claim that in April 1981, but not the initial reports, a point of controversy in the case seldom discussed.
  • Panicked attempts to restart he auto- false.
  • Vickie burns hand on door handle- false, only Betty, and they depicted that incorrectly 
  • The description and depiction of the flames produced is inaccurate
  • Dashboard impression- overly dramatic depiction. The photographs of the impressions show mild indentations, not evidence of melting.
  • Witnesses reported seeing helicopter-like objects. No, they were specific that they saw helicopters.

Another shortcoming was to abbreviate the encounter, which continued as they observed the UFO from several other locations on their way home. Also, the entire aftermath of the case, the hospitalization, investigation and legal struggle were shortchanged. Part of that is due to the structure of the show, usually fitting two cases into a half hour, leaving room for commercial breaks. They are left focusing just on their namesake, the "Encounters" part of the story. 

The strangest thing was to change one of the most distinctive features from the case, the fiery exhaust seen from the UFO. It was depicted in the preview clip of the series, seen at 1:17 in the clip below:

Somehow, for the episode as broadcast, the special effects for the flames were replaced with unearthly lightning-like electrical bolts.  

How does this happen?

The show rounded up a good collection of UFO authorities to discuss the cases. I checked with Chris Rutkowski, asking about how the lightning got in there. He told me the producers asked him to speak about the case despite him not being an expert in it. He was repeating the story from memory, partially  based on an account where the UFO was producing sparks. Mark Rodeghier (an expert in UFO vehicle interference cases) also talked about the case, and he apparently misspoke, mixing the witnesses' names about who burned her hand opening the car door. The Discovery Canada show apparently used their erroneous descriptions without fact checking the case records. Chris had similar objections on the coverage of a case in the second part of the program, Michalak's Falcon Lake incident, which he has personally investigated. 

The show has been renewed for a second season. Australian ufologist Bill Chalker appeared on episodes on season one. Posting about his season one involvement on Facebook:
"Once again the 'recreations' are dramatic and entertaining and hopefully will encourage enquiring minds to dig into the actual data about the case. As I have extensively researched and investigated both cases I have issues with the fidelity of the "dramatic recreations" with the facts of both events. In both cases I know I supplied extensive material which gave detailed illustrated and photographic evidence and data, so some of the "recreation" deviations from the actual facts of each case are puzzling to me. But given the entertainment format I am consoled by the likelihood that the shows may encourage interest in these striking cases."

Chris Rutkowski also commented: 
" I found the recreations entertaining, but not particularly accurate. I also gave  them voluminous case records and was puzzled by their "creative licence" when the stories aired. I have no idea where some of their presented info came from. I know I am responsible for one error when I misspoke on a case detail, but the facts I supplied from files were sometimes distorted. That's showbiz!"


Television is not in the history business

Close Encounters is dramatic, to be sure, but far less sensationalistic than other shows of this type. Programs like this are chiefly concerned with putting a truth-flavored spooky story on the screen. Ratings and advertising revenue are what matter. Accuracy is a tertiary consideration at best. 

I hope that some viewers will be interested and read about the cases featured. Most viewers however, will not, just be briefly entertained by the television UFO mind candy.


There's even more coming. At least two other UFO TV shows are planning to cover the Cash-Landrum case for the 2014-15 season. One is a new series from Pioneer Productions for National Geographic Channels International,  shot under the working title Planet UFO, but seems to have been renamed Invasion Earth.


  1. That just does not cut the mustard.....this case is slightly obscure, but all the facts are out there and you would think they would DOUBLE CHECK the facts before shooting the "re-enactment."

    That brings me to a point: the sloppiness of modern "UFO television." Compare "Unseen Alien Files" to the UFO episodes of the original "In Search of....". In the first show they aired on the subject they had a Wisconsin farm family reconstruct the sighing they experienced, and the UFO was depicted through an artist's reconstruction because the witnesses didn't have a camera handy. Two seasons later, they did an episode titled "UFO Captives", and they reconstructed the 1974 Carl Higdon case. The first being Higdon encountered was only shown in silhouette; they didn't get the "hair standing on end" part right, but it did have a pointed cone for a hand. What I'm driving at is that treating the material in a less exploitative way helps credibility and gives some dignity to the witnesses.

    The first "In Search of..." UFO episode:

    The "UFO Captives" episode:

  2. Good points about "In Search of....". They covered a number of dubious topics, but they introduced the material without being overly sensational or speculative about it.

    One thing they had in their favor was a broad spectrum of weird topics. Shows focusing solely on UFO cases seem to burn through the good material and have to resort to parlor tricks to keep it lively.

  3. The phenomenon of TV producers misleading interviewees(sic) to get material they can for want of a better term 'twist' seems to be rather widespread, this blog post on io9 covers how the makers of several 'Shark Week' programs got scientists to participate in their programs under what sounds like false pretenses:

    I've also heard of UFO skeptics being invited onto programs and giving interviews that are 'chopped up' to fit whatever narrative the producer wants.

  4. I must say, an impressive post.

    I would agree that the need to sex up the story for TV probably played a role in the inaccuracies that you saw in just a first viewing. Graham's comments (see above)shed light on why other ufologists participated in a sensationalistic piece (one would guess they might have also been paid---if not, at least legitimated and publicized). Still, couldn't they do at least some homework? If nothing else, they could have asked you about the incident.

    Of course, the result of these shows might be that people actually start looking into these cases, hoping to find evidence of the fantastic. Instead, they'll discover a series of frauds, and most likely will never give the subject area a second look.

  5. Thanks for your comments, X.Dell. The Shark week example is a good one for us to be aware of. Sometimes, when it comes down to editing, all precautions, qualifiers and good intentions can be thwarted. I'm not going to throw the guys that appear on these shows under the bus for that.

    The frauds you mention are big problem, and the UFO field certainly has its share, but phonies are everywhere! Like honest priests, bankers or politicians, the good guy ufologists are not getting near the publicity that the crooks receive.