Roswell, New Mexico. The Atacama Desert. The Mapimí Silent Zone. Without a doubt, there are certain so-called “alien encounters” that have garnered more name recognition than others.
One you may not have heard of, though, is the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter of 1955 – which might seem strange, because it’s generally considered by UFO enthusiasts to be one of the most significant and well-documented cases in the history of alien encounters.
Of course, to skeptics, it’s probably a story about owls.
“The Kelly-Hopkinsville case is a classic of UFO literature that has puzzled both believers and debunkers alike,” wrote Chris Rutkowski, renowned UFO skeptic and author of The Big Book of UFOs. “Dr J Allen Hynek, the leading UFO researcher of the early days of ufology, said the Kelly-Hopkinsville case seemed ‘preposterous’ and offensive to ‘common sense’. Despite this […] many investigators consider it a solid example of a close encounter of the third kind.”
It all started on the night of August 21, 1955, near the communities of Kelly and Hopkinsville in Christian County, Kentucky. Two cars, carrying five adults and several children, arrived at the local police station with a plea: “We need help,” they announced, apparently terrified. “We've been fighting them for nearly four hours.”
Who were "them"? According to the assembled refugees, it was aliens – complete with their very own interstellar spacecraft.
“Small alien creatures had come from a spaceship and were harassing the household, and the two families inside had been holding them off with gunfire since dusk,” explained Brian Dunning on the October 9, 2012 episode of Skeptoid. “Faces had appeared at the window, one grabbed a man's hair, and any number of the little beings had been floating around on or near the ground, flying from tree to rooftop, and evading capture.”
All told, there were apparently 12 to 15 of the mysterious creatures badgering the house, with witnesses claiming to have seen the visitors’ flying saucer zip across the sky and land behind some nearby trees. The aliens were described as having large eyes, being about a meter tall (3.2 feet), and having spindly legs, human-like hands, and possibly antennae.
Worse still, shooting the creatures seemed futile: “Shoot them, and they'd float to the ground, and then escape,” Dunning noted. “When a bullet would strike one it sounded like shooting a tin can.”
It sounds terrifying. But was it really, as UFO enthusiasts through the decades have claimed, an alien invasion?
Well, the first point against the story may have been when the police arrived at the scene – a scene which was suspiciously alien-free. Then there’s the fact that, according to official reports, it seems very few weapons were actually fired during the supposed four-hour shoot-out: despite later retellings of a dramatic interspecies gun battle, it turns out that only one neighbor reported hearing any shots from the house at the time, and he mistook them for a few firecrackers.
Of course, it’s possible the story was simply exaggerated, but not untrue. Maybe the invadees didn’t shoot as many aliens as the story records – but that doesn’t account for the aliens themselves, nor the appearance of a flying saucer in the sky.
Except here’s the thing: in the earliest versions of the story, it wasn’t a spaceship but a shooting star that was seen that night. Others in the vicinity also reported seeing a light streak across the sky, too – and in fact, it’s easy to check that the Kappa Cygnids meteor shower, part of the Perseids meteor shower, was taking place at that very time.
Which just leaves the question of the little alien creatures themselves – and according to French researcher Renaud Leclet, the answer is kind of a hoot.
“When we compare these descriptions [of the aliens versus owls], we notice striking similarities between them, too frequent to be just a coincidence,” he wrote in 2008. Indeed, the local great horned owls stand around 64 centimeters (25 inches) tall, have large, reflective eyes, little legs, and of course, can fly – just like the little alien guys seen on the night of August 21. As a kicker, great horned owls are particularly active around one hour after sunset – exactly when the supposed firefight went down – and are famously territorial.
Add to that the fact that, despite later reports of 12 to 15 of the creatures attacking the home, the witnesses’ original testimonies only ever mentioned seeing one or two at the same time, and it all seems to come together.
“Could it really have been just owls? Well, of course we'll never know. It's certainly one possibility, and seems consistent with the reports,” Dunning concludes. “Another possibility is that strange creatures with unprecedented superpowers, never before or since sighted in the vicinity, with no evident motive, toyed with the Sutton clan one night in 1955. No evidence was found either way.”
We guess the jury’s still out on this one, folks.