By Robert Scott Martin
Marcel unfurls a sheet of unidentified debris in 1947 (credit:
Fort Worth Star-Telegram). Click to enlarge.]
According to a previously unknown 1981 interview, Jesse Marcel,
the Roswell Air Force Base intelligence officer who transformed
UFO history when he recovered pieces of an unidentified object
in the desert, maintained to the end of his life that the object
was no weather balloon.
Linda Corley, who interviewed Marcel five years before his
death, closed the 1999 National UFO Conference with a largely
impressionistic portrait of the man's last years in Houma, LA,
where she still lives.
Corley contacted Marcel after a college professor told her class
to interview "an interesting person." The resulting four-hour
conversation between Marcel, his wife, Viaud, and Corley took
place around the Marcels' kitchen table on May 5, 1981, and was
recorded on an inexpensive student cassette player.
One of the most significant details to emerge from the
discussion, believed to be Marcel's last in-depth public
statement on the Roswell affair, was the fact that Marcel firmly
denied having seen alien corpses in the wreckage.
"Had there been bodies of aliens in the debris, I would have
picked them up and brought them in," Corley quoted him as
The absence of corpses flies in the face of orthodox Roswell
crash mythology. Stanton Friedman, author of Top Secret/MAJIC,
Crash at Corona and other UFO exposes, has previously stated
that other sources told him that both debris and bodies were
recovered from the crash site, and the possible existence of
alien passengers in the crashed object has been one of the main
factors fuelling the Roswell industry.
Theoretically, of course, Marcel could simply have been unaware
of any alien bodies, which may have been taken away before he
toured the wreckage. However, this is unlikely. Why would a
super-secret effort to recover any bodies before Marcel arrived
on the scene leave the strange wreckage behind? Why not take
Not a balloon
Even in the absence of aliens, Marcel remained convinced that
the wreckage was not, as the Air Force has since maintained,
part of a downed top-secret balloon.
"The material was unusual," Corley said he told her. " It
couldn't have been a balloon. It was porous, it couldn't hold
To the best of Marcel's knowledge, the military kept all of the
strange metallic fabric that predominated the debris, along with
the structural elements that looked like wood but didn't burn.
He had little patience for either the original explanation that
the "flying disk" recovered from Roswell was part of a weather
balloon, or the official story of a highly classified Mogul spy
balloon that emerged later.
The infamous photograph of Brigadier General Roger Ramey
displaying the wreckage was unquestionably a fake, he said,
staged later "strictly for the press."
"Publicity is not what I want"
Significantly, Marcel does not come across in the Corley
interview as a man making up an outlandish story to get
attention and possibly money as well, as skeptics have claimed.
"Publicity is not what I want," she quotes him as saying. "I
feel like I'm a nobody and I'm going to stay a nobody … talk
about these things and they get a net after you."
Nor was he a "true believer" interested in spreading his story
to win public support for the UFO cause.
"I became disinterested" with UFOs, he said. "There's something
wrong with me -- I'm still curious, but I'm not reading."
Patriotism, silence and their rewards
Marcel described himself as a young man to Corley as being
extremely ambitious, "like ten cats on a hot tin roof," a
characterization borne out by more than 8 years of active
Still, he left the army at a relatively young age in 1950,
whereupon he learned he had received a "stealth promotion" to
the rank of lieutenant colonel in December, 1948. The file
explaining the promotion had been misplaced, he told Corley.
Corley now says Marcel felt unable to tell her everything he
knew about certain subjects, quoting him as saying, "I left the
service, but remain loyal to the country and a vow I took to
keep my mouth shut."
That very vow may explain why he called her a few weeks after
the interview in a "frantic" mood to tell her that everything he
had said had been a lie. He insisted that she not release the
information to the press, and so she kept the interview out of
the public eye for more than a decade, not even turning it in as
part of her school assignment.
"My heart really went out to him because he sounded so scared,"
Even Memorex fades
Instead, she kept the tapes on the shelf, unplayed but preserved
as a testament to the possibly "unique information" they held.
By the time Stanton Friedman heard of the interview and asked
Corley to release the tapes, they had already decayed and were
of dubious use to him.
"It seemed I had waited too long," she said. Instead, the faded
recordings forced her to transcribe the interview herself, she
said, using her likewise transitory memories to fill in the
gaps. She also made use of a new cassette player that "cleaned"
the tapes during playback.
Although Friedman returned two of the three tapes to her in 1995
and the third in 1996, Corley held back on releasing the
material until Mrs. Marcel's recent death, she said.
Working with the tapes evidently stirred a profound wave of
nostalgia in Corley, as she waxed rhapsodic about the feeling of
listening to the innocent and enthusiastic voice of her girlhood
after all the years. She framed the afternoon with the Marcels
as an almost holy moment, an event somehow set outside time by
her own proximity to the golden age of flying saucers and the
catastrophic interruption of Roswell.
Corley named the trees in the Marcels' backyard, showed slides
of the suburban house and the elderly couple slouched over their
kitchen table. The event has so ingrained itself in her
emotional makeup that she has spent apparently vast amounts of
time and energy doodling the "pink and purple" marks -- often
called an example of some alien alphabet in the literature -- in
various patterns and color schemes.
Earnestness or artifice?
If Corley can exude such apparent yearning and personal
attachment to a hoax, then her hoax is one of extraordinary
complexity. Her somewhat formal public speaking style and
outsider's willingness to retrace details that are common
knowledge in the Roswell field may be the marks of an authentic
novice thrust by circumstance into the eye of UFOlogy, or they
may be only an artful mask designed to draw attention away from
an interview that never took place.
What motivation could she (or, in theory, Friedman) have in
going to such extreme lengths to sugar-coat a hoax?
Her prepared speech -- of a dozen NUFOC speakers, she is the
only one I remember reading from pre-written sheets -- wandered
down blind alleys of recollection with all the apparent
earnestness of the college psychology paper that it was once
meant to be. Would a brilliant deception of the kind required to
fake such earnestness even stoop to such a pose?
Complicating the issue is Corley's newfound desire to publish a
book -- presumably to at least a small material gain --
containing her transcripts of the tapes, which are of course
sadly no longer readily useable by independent researchers.
The book will reportedly focus on Marcel's patriotism and his
recollections of his own golden youth at the dawn of the saucer
age, but the question of why she would make the material
available for wide release now after letting the tapes fade for
so long remains to be adequately answered. Until that answer
emerges (or more independent parties evaluate the tapes), her
story must sadly remain at least a little suspect.