Betty and Barney Hill were the first couple in U.S. history to have their honeymoon disrupted by little green men in a flying saucer. In an effort to maintain their anonymity, the Hills chose to keep the details of their experience within their close knit circle of friends and family; no reporters investigated their claims until several years later when a journalist from the Boston Traveler caught wind of what happened. He went on to publish a speculative story entitled UFO Chiller: Did they seize couple?, letting the public in on what has since become known as the very first documented alien abduction case.

Betty and Barney Hill

The Incident

The New Hampshire pair delayed their honeymoon for several months after getting hitched, and eventually headed up to Montreal and Niagara Falls in the autumn of 1961. On the night of September 19 at approximately 10:30 p.m., Barney spotted a bright spot moving in the sky just south of Lancaster, New Hampshire on Route 3. He alerted his wife and they charted the object’s path for several miles as it began to show signs of erratic movement. Due to the thicket of trees lining the road, they pulled over to get a unobstructed look. Betty later recalled seeing a series of flashing lights across its bow, and Barney reasoned that it was probably a commercial aircraft or satellite.

They continued on their journey, all the while tracking the overhead object that now appeared to be following them. Just north of Flume, North Woodstock, the craft displayed unusual behavior, darting away into the woods before returning back to the same spot. Each time it grew closer until they neared Indian Head when the huge disc lowered itself down into the middle of the road, hovering above the Hills’ car completely blocking their windows.

Barney exited the car — remember, this was a time before movies convinced us this was a bad idea — with his pistol, and entered a nearby field. Looking up through the binoculars he observed a long window running along the ship’s side through which he spotted a dozen or so figures that he later described as not human. A series of red lights appeared on two retractable fins, and tilted toward Barney, who at this point was frozen in fear after apparently hearing a terrifying message from the alien leader. He ran back to the car screaming at Betty that they were about to be captured and they hit the road as fast as they could.

An artist's interpretation of Barney Hill's testimony.

The remainder of the drive home was equally as odd. “Rhythmic ‘buzzing’ tones seemed to bounce off the trunk,” Betty’s niece Kathleen Marden describes in her book Captured! “and they sensed a penetrating vibration. They drove on without speaking until somewhere down the road they heard a second series of buzzing sounds. Vague memories of encountering a roadblock, of seeing a huge fiery red-orange orb resting upon the ground, a feeling a desire for human contact preoccupied their thoughts.”

The Aftermath

Whether or not those sounds or visions meant anything, or were just the result of PTSD, for the Hills their encounter wasn’t over. Upon returning home Betty, for some unknown reason insisted, that their suitcases be kept outside on the back deck. Both of their watches had stopped working. At the behest of Betty’s sister — who consulted a police chief friend on the matter — Betty examined the half dollar-sized scratches on the car trunk with a compass. The needle spun wildly. “As I was watching this I was filled with an unexplained feeling of absolute terror,” she wrote in her diary. “I was standing there in the rain, under the street light, and telling myself, ‘Don’t scream, keep calm, and don’t be afraid, everything is all right.’”

Another suggestion from the police chief was to report the sighting immediately. Betty called the local Pease Air Force base and logged the incident with Major Paul Henderson, and penned a letter to the Director of Civilian UFO group NICAP Major Donald Keyhoe several days later. Details of which included their hopes of using hypnosis to relieve Barney’s anxiety and stubborn mental block surrounding the incident.

Barney’s sketch of the craft

They later realized that the time it had taken them to reach home simply didn’t add up. Two hours were unaccounted for. It was only when prodded later by NICAP investigators that the idea of an abduction stopped being a nightmarish fantasy for the Hills. Bizarre things continued to happen.

Shortly after the NICAP visit the couple returned home one afternoon to discover a pile of leaves stacked on their kitchen table. In the middle of the dead foliage lay a pair of Betty’s blue earrings. According to her diaries, these were the same ones that she was wearing on the night of the incident. It was around this time that Betty’s dreams began. Documenting whatever she could remember upon waking, her diaries chronicle what she believed to be memories of her time aboard an extraterrestrial craft.

Eventually they sought counsel from neuro-psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon to aid them in uncovering what really happened. Much of the same overlapping information was revealed during his hypnosis sessions — details of their processing in which samples were taken from the couple — yet he concluded that Barney’s version of events was directly influenced by his wife’s dreams.

Betty Hill's sketch of the star map 

One major revelation from Betty’s sessions differed from her husband’s. The supposed leader of the aliens relayed information to her, detailing a series of interplanetary trade routes and space expeditions that was shown to her as a graphic. She sketched the image and agreed to its inclusion in the first book of their account The Interrupted Journey.

The Response

UFO fanatics cling to every shred of the Hills’ testimonies. Desperate for a confirmation of extraterrestrial life, there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that their close encounter actually happened. According to Marden’s research, the first reporter who launched the story held case files and information on several eye witnesses who claim to have seen the same thing. All of which was irretrievably lost after he was fired. There is a dearth of hard, scientific proof that the Hills were snatched up by aliens, besides Betty’s star map which is hard to ignore, and prompted much discussion in the scientific community. One high school teacher examined the map and deduced that it represented the Zeta Reticuli star system, a theory quickly debunked by Carl Sagan who posited that it was merely coincidence. Other suggestions imply that the couples’ interracial marriage was the source of much struggle and led to their shared abduction delusion as a coping mechanism.

The “race relations” angle is said to be the focal point of the upcoming movie adaptation. It’s surprising that the first documented example of supposed alien abduction has taken this long to rouse Hollywood’s attention, yet last week the trades lit up with talk of an adaptation based on Marden’s book. Maze Runner producers snapped up the rights to create a glitzy blockbuster with Dark Skies creator Bryce Zabel tapped to script. Cold War paranoia is said to play a part in laying the groundwork for the Hills’ encounter, but it’s still unknown whether or not filmmakers intend to placate detractors who think none of it happened or approach it from the Mulder angle.

Like him, I want to believe.

Images via Kathleen-Marden.com and UFOEvidence.org