September 24, 2010
LIBERTY — A Kentucky UFO-alien abduction case caught the eye of local playwright Liz Orndorff several years ago, but she tucked her idea for a production based on the claims of three Casey County women into the back of her mind to let it simmer.
Although the incident happened more than 30 years ago, Mona Stafford — the only living witness — still hasn’t figured out how to tuck it into the back of hers.
“High Strangeness” premiers tonight at West T. Hill Community Theatre in Danville, and a few folks who attended Thursday night’s dress rehearsal said the play is not only funny but quite moving.
The alien encounter occurred Jan. 6, 1976, on Stafford’s 35th birthday. Stafford was headed to her sister’s house for dinner. She stopped at a local gas station on the way, and it was there she ran into Louise Smith, an acquaintance.
While recalling the events, Stafford, who is 69 now, almost disappears, sinking back into a leather chair in her Liberty home. Her soft-spoken southern drawl is broken by several long pauses the deeper she goes into detail.
“If this had happened to anyone, even in my family, I wouldn’t have believed them,” she says.
On that night, Smith asked Stafford to stop off at her home to help with a sewing project. An owner of a local arts and crafts store, Stafford was known for her sewing abilities.
“I told her what my intentions were for the evening, but I went on and did it since I knew it would only take a few minutes.”
Another woman, Elaine Thomas, also happened to join them.
“I didn’t know them very well at all. I only knew Elaine because she was a neighbor, never around her very much. But they’d both come into the store every now and then,” says Stafford.
The women connected and had a good time talking. The next thing Stafford knew, it was late.
“I said I’ve got to call my sister, and I felt bad. But it’s getting late, see, and I’d rather not be out on those country roads so late, you know? So I just stayed, sat and talked to them for a while.”
After learning it was Stafford’s birthday, the women took her to the Redwood restaurant between Stanford and Lancaster for dinner, and the three had a nice time.
The scary part, though, started on the return home as they drove on Ky. 78, around the drive-in theater in Stanford, out in front of Joe Bishop’s farm. Stafford recalls the area vividly, describing how there used to be stone fences lining his driveway before they were torn down by vehicles.
Stafford grabs a book from the coffee table: “Situation Red, The UFO Siege!” by Leonard H. Stringfield. The women’s abduction account is featured in the book by Stringfield, who also interviewed the women shortly before the news hit local publications and The National Enquirer.
The book tells of several other claims by residents in the area whom Stringfield interviewed. Some are not identified, such as “Mr. and Mrs. OT,” who lived several hundred yards away from the site of the incident and described an unusual light in the sky about 11:30 the same night. The object was traveling south and shaped like a light bulb with a steady, glowing neon light.
Stringfield, now deceased, wrote that as he continued to probe into the three-county area (Lincoln, Casey and Garrard), the steady flow of reports led to a continual list of residents claiming abnormal sightings at the same time that evening.
Randall Floyd lived in Morgan Manor near Stanford and was quoted as saying, “The whole neighborhood saw it.”
Other locals seeing the UFO were Mike Fitzpatrick, David Irvin and his parents. They all described seeing an object hovering over a manufacturing plant.
“We seen this light, and we thought it was a plane crashing in the distance,” Stafford says.
She told Smith, who was driving, to go closer. “I thought if we got up there, maybe we could help. That was my first thought.”
The object appeared to be at treetop level. “It was so huge, it was bizarre. You could look around you and that’s all you’d see — this craft. It’s like it took up most of the sky right above us. Two of this house would fit into it. It just stopped and hovered there.”
Stafford doesn’t recall her exact feelings.
“I guess I just — well, it took my breath. That’s all I could think of, was what I was looking at. It had red lights rotating around it, and it looked like the ship wasn’t moving, but the lights were rotating.”
She says the craft-like object went on like it was docking into something and just stopped.
“We were watching. That’s all we could do. It was pretty close, and I don’t recall exactly what happened with our car.”
Reports vary, from Smith losing control of the vehicle, the brakes not working, to the car being pulled backward.
“I don’t know if the motor failed or what. But the craft was going real slow at first — just gliding,” she says, using her hand to show how it floated in front of them. “It went around the drive-in theater, then went back behind us. All I remember is saying ‘what was that,’ and ‘I’ve got to talk to somebody about this.’”
Stafford says a light came up behind the vehicle.
“I thought it was a state trooper, and I’d never been so happy, but it wasn’t. All the sudden, I felt like we were going 85 miles an hour when the light came in. I was crying — I told Louise to quit driving like that, but she wasn’t doing it. She held up her foot and showed me.”
Stafford says, “The last thing I remember ... next thing, we were sitting down in front of the Hustonville city limits hours later. I didn’t remember anything. We drove straight home, straight to Louise’s house. We was all red, like we had sunburns. We weren’t talking. I went to the bathroom, splashed some cold water on my face.”
Stafford says her skin and eyes were burning badly, and so were Thomas and Smith’s.
“Then, Lou took out the front door and got a neighbor. He came over with her, and he said, ‘I want you women to separate yourselves, and I want you to draw what you seen.’ And sure enough, we all drew the same thing. It was identical.”
Stafford went to her doctor the next day. “He told me he felt like the way I looked that I’d been exposed to radiation.”
She describes the hood of Smith’s car. “It was bubbled up something terrible. It was blistered, and none of the lights would work.”
Stafford drifts off again, describing how she lived in torment.
“For the next six months, I didn’t think I was going to live. I thought they were going to come back and get me,” she says. “Here I was, 35 years old, felt like I was a 2- or 3-year-old. I went to Mom and Dad’s, they were next door to me, and I stayed with them. I wouldn’t go out anymore.”
Everything in her life changed.
“I wouldn’t go out nowhere anymore. Some of the church people laughed at me, and it hurt me,” Stafford says. “The church people I prayed with, they knew what kind of people I was. And they laughed at me. It hurt my feelings. Wouldn’t it hurt yours?”
She also talks about those who supported her, like her mother and several who claimed to have seen something similar — either locals who saw the same thing that evening, or people around the world who shared their experiences with her.
Stafford recalls the many interviews she went through, and “all these people, these reporters always waiting for us. We had to sneak around and hide to go do anything.”
Looking at Smith’s photo in The National Enquirer article, Stafford says the UFO encounter strengthened their friendship.
“We got so close after this. I miss her. We all got so close. Because, we understood, you know? We just knew we understood and seen what we went through.”
The women were put under hypnosis, and each told similar stories about being removed from the car and held prisoner in some type of chamber. Each said they underwent strange, painful examinations before they came to, back in the car.
Dr. Leo Sprinkle, a retired professor from the University of Wyoming, was flown in to interview the women.
“I can tell you they were sincere and had lost time in terms of their conscious awareness,” Sprinkle says during a phone interview.
Sprinkle even accompanied Smith onto the “Tom Snyder Show” to tell her story afterwards.
“Each one of them had a slightly different memory during hypnosis,” says Sprinkle. “The skeptical person could say that’s because it didn’t happen. But each felt like they had been taken out of the car and to another place. An investigator can worry about whether there is a physical or emotional explanation, an out-of-body experience or if it was a programmed experience — in other words, put into the mind of the person like a dream.”
Sprinkle said he came to realize in his research of UFO cases that, “I couldn’t really tell that it was the body out of the car, the consciousness out of the car, the programmed memory or all three. But it certainly seemed to me that not only were they concerned and very sincere, but they represent the type of people year over year who are changed because of this type of visit. They have their lives changed.”
After the encounter, Stafford and Smith could not communicate over the phone.
“We never could figure it out, it was like we were not supposed to talk or something, like they didn’t want us to,” she says.
She also describes the electricity in her home “going haywire,” whenever they tried to talk over the phone — blinking lights and static on the television or radio.
Stafford is the only survivor among the three women. Thomas died in 1977, the year after the UFO encounter, and Smith died four years ago.
Stafford says the encounter never leaves her mind. “I think it happened for a reason. I just don’t know what that is yet,” she says.
Before Thomas died, she described a light in her hospital room that bounced off the walls like orbs.
“When she came out of the hospital, she told me she’d be gone in a week,” Stafford says. “She said she’d be gone, that everyone would think she was dead, but she’d be here. That one’s a mystery to me.”
Sure enough, Thomas died a week later.
After the UFO encounter, when the three friends were together, they felt drawn to high places and would watch the sky. “I still feel like that. Like something’s calling me, and I go out. I’m not a prophet, I’m not predicting nothing, but there’s something in me that says something’s going to happen this time,” says Stafford.
Searching for answers
January will be the 35th anniversary of the incident. And Stafford still searches for an answer.
After the enounter, “I went out and bought every book I could find. Talked to everyone who said they had an experience. Thought it could help me recall something. I couldn’t get enough information,” she says. “And the way this whole thing makes me feel, I can’t put it into words. They’re not even in my mind. It’s like my mind is closed, you know? You know your subconscious. I don’t know anything much about all that, but I’ve read about it. I’ve tried to understand as much as I can.”
She felt she had to search to find out what it all meant. She rubs her hands together, stares at them for a moment. “There’s something that will bring everything back to me, I know it. If I can find it.”
Dealing with individuals who claim to have gone through similar experiences is what Dr. Sprinkle does full-time now.
“I’m prepared to hear it, prepared to help people deal with it. It’s scary to them, but because of all my research, it’s understandable to me,” Sprinkle said. “It’s just like counselors who help people who are depressed from battle, dealing with anxiety. I am trying to help those who feel they’ve been visited or seen something come to terms with it and understand their issues.”
Stafford finally came to terms with the experience years ago, she says. “I started going out more. Started to do things I’ve never done before. And I know how all this sounds to people.”
Orndorff, the playwright, isn’t sure how she originally heard about the case. When she wrote the play, she was under the impression that all three women had died.
“When I found out from Brenda Edwards (retired Advocate-Messenger reporter) that Mona still lived, that just made it all the more interesting,” says Orndorff.
Orndorff didn’t change the play that had been written, although it did cross her mind that Stafford might get offended by some of the lighter scenes.
Stafford says that’s not likely, though. “I’ve even grown to have a sense of humor about it all.”