In Kansas City, celebrity UFO-filmer Stan Romanek finds an audience of believers and one reporter
Stan Romanek is telling everyone to look at the sky.
Most of the people standing around on this mid-July evening outside the Intrigue Park Place Hotel, near Interstate 435 and Front Street, don’t need to be told. The annual Mysteries of the Universe Conference — a national gathering for devotees of the paranormal and the interstellar — is again in Kansas City, and Romanek is one of the main attractions.
Before this break, during the first two hours of a presentation about his alien abductions, Romanek described the way UFOs seem to follow him. At a recent speech he gave in Denver, Romanek says, during a break like this one, 200 people saw three red lights overhead. Tonight, about 60 people are standing out here, chatting and smoking, just like any conventioneers. But they’ve also set up telescopes. They gaze upward hungrily.
“Over there!” a woman shouts.
Sixty heads turn up, to the east.
“That’s Venus,” someone calls.
Attention returns to Romanek, who fields questions. He says he doesn’t travel by airplane because he wouldn’t put it past “them” to take out a whole plane to get him. Whether “them” refers to the aliens or the government isn’t clear. “Still,” he adds, “I bet I have more frequent-flyer miles than anyone.”
If Romanek is telling the truth, he has already shown this crowd the single most important piece of film footage in human history.
Shot in 2003 in the middle of the night in his daughter’s bedroom in Kearney, Nebraska, Romanek’s so-called “Boo Video” purports to show the head and face of one of those black-eyed gray aliens peeking into his window. It’s nothing less than evidence, at last, that we are not alone.
He has been on Larry King Live. Soon he’ll be on 20/20. His book, Messages, is in every Borders and Barnes & Noble in America. But he shows the Boo Video only at UFO events and conventions like this one. His associate, Jeff Peckman, discussed the video on Letterman, Fox News and a host of other major media outlets last summer. But the most Romanek would let them broadcast was a single still frame.
Romanek is a disarming guy in his 40s, goateed, still a little thick from his bodybuilding days. He comes across as straightforward, maybe a little brusque, an unpolished guy trying to remember not to swear in front of a crowd. He seems to hate BS, and there’s something refreshing about the way he takes on natural objections.
“People say, ‘Aliens come 50 billion light-years — why would they peep in your window?’ Then, exasperated: “I don’t know! But it happens all the time!”
Many in the crowd have journeyed far to see the video. Two teenage brothers from Denver have seen Romanek speak three times. The younger brother describes how the older one used to freak him out by slowly pushing a copy of Whitley Strieber’s Communion: A True Story up over the edge of the bunk bed, so that the black-eyed, waiflike gray alien on the cover seemed to stare at him.
In some ways, Romanek’s video looks like the same stunt.
Just as philosophy has failed to offer definitive proof of God, science has had no luck determining the existence of alien life. Scientists have guessed at the likelihood. In 1960, astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake whipped up what has come to be known as the Drake equation, an attempt to quantify the key factors that must be considered in order to begin determining the probability of human contact with an alien civilization.
The equation multiplies seven variables: the average rate of star formation in our galaxy times the fraction of planets that develop life, times the fraction of those whose life is intelligent, times four other factors. Finally, multiply this ever-shrinking number by the length of time that intelligent civilizations might bother to beam signals to each other through programs like SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and you have a vaguely scientific number of communication-ready civilizations.
Although most of its variables are unknowable, the Drake equation is the hands-down favorite mathematical formula of ufologists.
Romanek says he once wrote it while hypnotized.
With the variables plugged in.
And a cheeky “x 100” at the end.
Nocturnal and trance-state equation writing is a habit he has developed since he underwent hypnotic regression in 2002. (Such regression is the ufologists’ controversial method of uncovering repressed memories of abductions.) As Romanek tells it, aliens look him in the eyes and fire strange images into his brain, and he then scribbles these down. Of course, he claims the math knowledge of a fourth-grader and is quick to point out that he doesn’t know what any of these equations mean.
However, he does mention an astonished physicist who helped him piece together some of their meanings. Another equation involved the electron makeup of the then-theoretical Element 115, a synthesized element now called ununpentium. Since 1989, a UFO circuit regular named Bob Lazar has claimed to have done military work on flying saucers in the Nevada desert. Those saucers, Lazar has long insisted, were fueled by Element 115.
In short, the messages that the aliens give to Romanek are well-chewed bits of UFO lore.
And that physicist who endorses them? Dr. Jack Kasher, professor emeritus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (who was scheduled to speak Sunday afternoon about an abduction case he’s investigating).
Romanek’s presentation is the longest, flashiest and best attended of the conference. His photos and videos stir reverent nods from a crowd that has been polite and inquisitive for all the presenters but never this absorbed. The room is dark, and they lean forward.
While Romanek speaks passionately about his desire to bring his evidence to the world, few people have actually seen the Boo Video. Turns out that even the most important piece of footage in all of human history is subject to legal wrangling. Since last year, when he first announced the video’s existence at a Denver press conference, Romanek has maintained that contractual obligations with “a documentary filmmaker” have prevented him from showing it anywhere but places like this hotel ballroom. (The conference costs attendees $70 a head.) He has also said the History Channel has control. Now, his publicist tells The Pitch, the Boo Video is tangled up with 20/20, which has “first rights to air some of his footage.”
Not long after Romanek first started showing the video, YouTube parodies started popping up. These look no less realistic than Romanek’s footage, but they’re labeled as hoaxes. In an age of digital effects, actually seeing Romanek’s video hardly matters when it comes to evaluating its legitimacy — you think it looks fake or you don’t.
You can practically re-create the experience just by imagining it. Picture a bedroom window on a dark night — July 17, 2003 — in night-vision green. Picture Romanek, in his underpants, adjusting the camera and then wandering out of the frame. Let 20 seconds pass, 30. Then picture an alien.
You know what alien to picture. The gray. The cover of Communion. The black-eyed face that’s as familiar as the Nike swoosh.
In the video, a wafer of an alien head rises up in the lower half of the window. It peers in, blinks and ducks back down, spooked.
This alien is a far cry from the bizarre crew that Romanek claims knocked on his door back in 2001: They had hair, wore robes and jumpsuits, and one even rocked a pair of B-cups. This alien is the alien we all agree upon, which means it’s actually not alien at all. Unless you’re willing to leap.
When conference presenter Ted Phillips, director of the Center for UFO Research, shares photographs and videos of odd lights zipping above “the Marley woods” somewhere in southern Missouri, it’s easy to believe that odd lights were really there.
The same goes for Debbie Ziegelmeyer, director of Missouri’s MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) chapter. When she describes the odd carvings and magnetic properties of a rock that she says was discovered at one of the Roswell crash sites, it seems entirely possible that the rock might screw up compasses.
But then these presenters leap. Once they’ve established that a rock might be strange or an orb might have flitted, they tend to vault right into the speculative.
Ziegelmeyer tells the audience that her rock’s markings resemble a famous crop circle and a map of our solar system, and if you study the planets’ alignment, you’ll see that the alignment corresponds to a date in 2012, the year that — depending on whom you talk to here — the world will end, or we’ll make official contact with aliens or we’ll shift from this dimension to a higher one.
Romanek rarely makes such a leap.
Instead, by carefully laying out his evidence — his is “the most documented extraterrestrial contact story,” according to his book — he leads the eager into leaping for him. He builds a case with eyewitness accounts, photos of lesions and flattened grasses, and his famous footage. He claims that 50 witnesses saw the UFO he filmed on September 30, 2001, in Lakewood, Colorado. He claims that aliens grabbed his daughter’s camera and accidentally snapped photos of their own expressionless faces … and he shows the resulting snapshots.
Romanek gives crowds the goods, but he never claims that he’s unique or chosen. Instead, he says the aliens say he’s special. He would never say an advanced intelligence selected him from childhood to carry a message that might save this troubled world. Instead, he just mentions offhandedly that in 1966, he met a slip of a blond woman with great slanted eyes and a glowing blue marble resting in the palm of her extended hand.
She called him special.
And her lips didn’t move.
An excited giggle passes through the ballroom.
Earlier, he played one of the computerized messages that he says someone — the aliens? the government? — left on his answering machine. “I KNOW HOW STUBBORN YOU ARE, STARSEED,” the computer says.
Or: “STARSEED, DO NOT BE AFRAID OF WHAT YOU ARE.”
The crowd is hushed and intense. But Romanek is muttering, almost embarrassed. “Starseed,” he says. “What the heck? I think it’s screwy.” (Apparently not too screwy for proprietary purposes, though: Watermarked at the bottom of the Boo Video and all of Romanek’s photos: “Starseed, LLC.”)
He avoids mentioning “Starseed” again until, in response to a question during that break to watch the skies, he says again that he thinks it’s screwy.
But the Starseed is planted.
For all his talk of documentation, little of Romanek’s evidence has been investigated with any rigor.
There’s the nightdress, for example. He says one night in 2003, he woke up in mysterious flannel ladies’ wear. But now for the first time, at this conference, he announces that he suspects the nightgown originally belonged to Betty Hill, who famously claimed to have been abducted in New Hampshire with her husband, Barney, in 1961. But when asked if he has had the gown tested for Hill’s DNA, Romanek insists that such a procedure is too expensive.
And there’s the UFO-charred vinyl siding from the house in Nebraska. Even though spooky, untraceable contractors showed up and removed it, Romanek says he snagged a piece. Why hasn’t he tested it? Why hasn’t MUFON?
Like the videos, that evidence is Romanek’s, and he’s not sharing.
Other documentation is more public.
Between sessions, at the candy machine, a middle-aged man of military bearing talks up Romanek’s work. “You go on the Web, you can find the original reports Stan made on sightings going back to 2001. There’s other witnesses, too. Now, why would they make up a story in ’01 for us here in ’09?”
Those original sighting reports are archived online by the National UFO Reporting Center. Romanek’s are there and attributed to him, along with those of other anonymous witnesses.
Anyone can report a sighting to NUFORC. You just type up a description into an online form, indicate whether you would consent to an interview and check boxes off a list of “UFO characteristics” (for example, “The object emitted other objects” or “The object emitted beams”). This system is troubling because a standardized form encourages the standardization of perceived experience. When it comes to Romanek’s sightings, the standardization becomes downright comic.
Romanek’s almost decade-old account of the September 22, 2001, incident in Colorado’s Daniels Park, is headlined, “5 to 10 Min Big Red thing Fallowing my Van!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
This confirms at least one of his claims: He struggles with spelling.
Anonymous witnesses have similar difficulties.
Anonymous report: “Something Fallowed my brother, then flew right over us!”
Anonymous report: “I talked to witnesses that watched a big red UFO fallow Stan Romanek’s Van.”
(NUFORC recognizes the problem and appends this caveat: “Note: Our gratitude to Mr. Stan Romanek, witness to this event, for submitting not only this report, but several other reports from other witnesses to this same event.”)
There’s also this report of the September 30, 2001, incident in Lakewood, Colorado: “Big red thing fallowing a van.”
This report is not attributed to Romanek. Instead, the author takes great pains to make clear that he or she has no idea who Romanek is: “I noticed a green van going South if Im not mistaken on Estest St. Just behind the van and above it about 60 or so feet was a big red Ball. … As I watched the van go through the light it looked to me as if this thing was fallowing the van.”
The witness continues, “What happened next was astounding in fact scared me to the point of panicking”: the UFO beamed light into the van “as if it was cutting right into the metal.”
The witness then mentions, for no clear reason, his or her job with a “large distribution company” and adds, touchingly, “I hope the person in that van was ok.”
It’s not just conference attendees who swear by such slipshod documentation.
Romanek reproduces this report (and one other) on his Web site under the heading “There were many eyewitnesses.”
Romanek’s account of the September 30, 2001, sighting is his first — or his earliest available — public statement regarding UFOs. It describes the red blob of a ship he filmed that night and still shows today. It’s written in a tone of surprised excitement.
When “a spotlight” beamed the ground beside his van, Romanek assumed it was caused by something earthly. “Were [sic] I live, they have a lot of police helicopters patrolling the area at night, so I didn’t pay any attention.” He only grows suspicious when he notices the silence. In the lengthy, detailed account of a blinking “thing” as big as the van, Romanek grows excited. “There was a fool [sic] moon out that night with a few clouds and you could see this thing as bright as the moon it self!”
Then: “About a sec. after I first saw this thing, it shot out in front of me. I hit the gas and followed it. I was doing about 60 chasing it.”
He chases it to a park, almost flips his van and exclaims, “Thank God I had my camera in the car.”
With phrases like “to my surprise” and “as weird as it sounds,” it’s just the kind of half-embarrassed tone a skeptic might take in a first UFO report.
But according to Messages, published in 2009, this sighting was his fifth in six months, his third in nine days, and his second since the aliens he calls “possum people” greeted him right there on his doorstep.
The facts remain generally consistent between this first report and his book, but the feeling and significance have shifted considerably. In Messages, he again mistakes the UFO’s spotlight for a helicopter’s, but this time he thinks “I remember you” as he first spies the craft. He adds, “I wasn’t so much afraid as I was angry. I resented the fact that it seemed to be following me around like a crazy ex-girlfriend.”
Romanek still chases the UFO in this account, but an ambiguity weighs down his excitement: “For some reason, I felt compelled to follow it. I’m not sure if it was just because I was angry or because I wanted to see more, but I quickly hit the gas and began chasing it for a change, giddy that I had switched from being the perused to the peruser.”
He’s no longer the regular guy larking after a spaceship; he’s a wronged survivor, at last courageous enough to take the fight to his lifelong tormentors.
It’s human nature for details of our repeated stories to shift with time. The changes here, though, don’t suggest a wiser, more frank perspective. They suggest the shifts common to all long-running narratives of the fantastic — like the whiz-bang pleasures of the first Star Wars or Harry Potter giving way to dark and complex emotions in later installments.
By the time he filed his second NUFORC report, Romanek — with that blobby light he videotaped on September 30 — was already a minor celebrity in the UFO community. On January 2, 2002, he discussed his sightings on the nationally syndicated Coast to Coast AM; on January 23, MUFON Deputy International Director George Zeiler said on the same program, “On a scale from 1 to 10, Stan’s UFO sightings rank about a 13.”
His second NUFORC report details the September 22 Daniels Park encounter — one that purportedly occurred eight days before the UFO-chasing incident that won him all this attention. Titled “Big Red thing Fallowing my Van,” this report — like those of all witnesses to this particular sighting — went unfiled until February 2002, almost six months after the encounter. Why would he only report this so much later?
Between September 2001 and the following February, Romanek had gone from UFO chaser to the movement’s most celebrated abductee. His video evidence had been a hit. So is it any surprise that, as he joined the lecture circuit, he would accumulate more and more of it?
Romanek’s grays are playful, like the sprites that romp at the edge of human awareness in fairy tales. “These guys are like super-intelligent children,” he tells the ballroom. “They’ll find the most mundane thing and flip out over it, like a pair of glasses. My remote controls will disappear for weeks at a time, and then we’ll wake up some morning, and they’re all neatly lined up on our kitchen countertop.”
At most of his talks, he even insists that there’s one of them in the audience.
“I got to meet one, somewhat, at a talk we had in San Luis Valley, Colorado. This girl was not normal, no matter what. Everybody knew she wasn’t normal, and she didn’t care. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to approach her. I had that feeling.”
Everyone looks around at one another.
An alien attending a UFO convention seems like great goofy fun, something out of character for the humorless message senders that Romanek claims them to be. He talks about how they beamed a map of planetary alignments corresponding to a specific date in — can you guess it? — 2012.
But he doesn’t know what will happen on that date. “Maybe a shift,” he suggests, “or a first contact.”
When he first sketched that map of the solar system, during a regression session in 2002, an astronomer told him that it corresponded to December 12, 2003. After that date passed without incident, Romanek underwent more hypnosis, and this time claims to have gotten it right. Still, he notes on his Web site that the original date did mark the capture of Saddam Hussein.
In his presentation, he mentions the “black SUVs” that occasionally tail him. Under questioning, he goes much further, insisting that some shadowy force — “a military group, I don’t know who it is” — is going to “take all of us out at once.” (By this, he means UFO contactees who share their stories publicly.) He says, “I want to enlighten the human race to understand that we aren’t the only ones out there.” He reminds us that his book has much more information than he has time to divulge.
Only one question rattles him.
Late into a Q&A, someone asks, “Have you ever undergone a polygraph?”
Romanek shakes while answering.
Yes, he took a test arranged by the Coast to Coast radio show.
He failed it.
“I later found out somebody came forward and said it was all rigged,” Romanek says. “The way he [the examiner] asked the question about the Boo Video was, ‘Was it a real thing?’ I was like, ‘Hell, I don’t know. I can’t answer because I don’t know that. I don’t know if it was some guy in a mask — at least I think it wasn’t. Can you ask it, ‘Did I make the Boo Video?'”
Romanek says the interrogator asked the same ambiguous question again. “It must have been 10 times. Until the last time, there was a little blip, and I failed.”
He accuses George Noory, a producer of Coast to Coast, of having set him up to fail.
The crowd gasps. This is tantamount to attacking Rush Limbaugh at the Republican National Convention.
“We’ve got some issues with George Noory. It wasn’t fair at all. It’s not right. Especially when I found out that they set me up.”
Someone asks why Noory would do such a thing.
“There’s all kinds of rumors about that whole situation with what happened with [beloved former Coast to Coast host] Art Bell and George Noory.”
“Ridiculous,” Noory later tells The Pitch in an e-mail. “He failed a test given by a certified examiner from Denver. End of story.”
Noory has provided The Pitch with a Coast to Coast recording that demonstrates how Romanek struggled with two questions: “Do you know if the Boo tape has been edited, changed or manipulated in any manner?” and “Is the Boo tape a hoax?”
Romanek replied no to both. The examiner said Romanek’s answer to the first was “inconclusive” and his answer to the second showed “significant reactions indicating deception.”
At the convention, Romanek offers several other explanations for the test. “Lie-detector tests aren’t admissible by law because they don’t work,” he says. Moreover, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the stress of his alien encounters. Also, he’s hypoglycemic, and his blood sugar had dropped to a dangerous level. Finally, the examiner was a conservative Christian, out to put an end to Romanek’s “blasphemy.”
He moves on.
Someone asks about the “possum people,” those strange aliens who knocked on his door eight years ago. “My next book will tell that they’re more than we think they are,” he says.
Much like those upcoming Harry Potter movies, Romanek’s next chapter is already scheduled.
Someone else asks, “By the way, what kind of work do you do?”
“This,” Romanek says. “This is what I do.”
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