The Hill Abduction

The Hill Abduction

by Nigel Watson

Betty and Barney Hill’s abduction by aliens in the early hours of 20 September, 1961, is the most convincing case of its kind. Their story of being medically examined onboard a flying saucer prefigured the ever-more traumatic and frequent visitations by the grey alien abducters from the 1970s onwards.

Unlike the fantastic stories of the contactees of the 1950s, who had philosophical conversations with blond-haired Space Brothers as they went on unlikely trips to Venus and Mars, the Hills’ reported an encounter that fitted the notion that extraterrestrials were conducting a systematic and scientific reconnaissance of our planet.

In summary their original experience comprised of the following:

  1. Sighting of a UFO that followed their car as they were driving from Niagara Falls to their home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the night of 19 September, 1961.
  2. Barney stopped the car and using binoculars saw figures inside the UFO.
  3. In a panic Barney drove away from the UFO.
  4. They heard a beeping sound.
  5. When they heard the same beeping sound again they were driving 35 miles south of the sighting location.
  6. They had no recollection of what happened to them between the two sets of beeping sounds.
  7. They got home at about 5am on the morning of 20 September, 1961.
  8. Afterwards they experienced continued anxiety and ill-defined fears that made them seek answers to what really happened to them.

Betty thought that if they had seen an extraterrestrial spacecraft then they could have been exposed to some form of radioactivity or cosmic rays. For this reason when Barney unloaded the car she insisted that he put their belongings on the back porch for a couple of days. They also felt very dirty and had long showers to get rid of this feeling. Indeed, the concern about what the craft might have done to their health was the main reason why she reported their sighting. (1)

The only official investigation into their UFO sighting on that fateful night was conducted by Major Paul W. Henderson who spoke to the Hill’s by telephone a few hours after their encounter. It took Project Blue Book two years to produce a final report on their sighting. Dated 27 September, 1963, it claimed that there was insufficient evidence to determine what caused their sighting. It guesses that they probably saw Jupiter or it was caused by something similar.

Only two days after the sighting Betty visited her local library to find out more about UFOs. On obtaining Major Donald Keyhoe’s book The Flying Saucer Conspiracy, she read it in one sitting and wrote to him about their sighting on 26 September, 1961. (2)

The realisation that they had been abducted came to them relatively slowly. The first indications came when Betty Hill had a series of nightmares running from 29 Sept to 3 October, 1961. She dreamt that alien men took them to a landed craft in the nearby woods and conducted medical examinations on them, before returning them to the car. These dreams outlined what they later recalled under hypnotic regression. Betty tended to think these dreams might have been memories of real events, but Barney just thought they were vivid dreams.

A meeting that was to have a great deal of importance for the whole case occurred on 25 November, 1961, when two UFO investigators associated with NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon), Robert Hohman and C.D. Jackson interviewed the Hill’s for 12 hours. Also in attendance was Major James McDonald an Air Force Intelligence Officer based at Pease Air Force Base. Some ufologists have suggested some dark and sinister meanings to his presence, but he was an old friend of Barney’s. Indeed, they socialized with many people who worked at the air base. During the meeting the investigators tried piecing together the journey and it was now that they discovered that the journey was two hours longer than expected. Betty claims that they already knew that they could not account for the whole of their journey and that this meeting merely confirmed that there was a period of missing time. The Hills spoke about the sighting of the humanoids but not about Betty’s dreams. During the interview they are worried by the idea that they had hallucinated the whole experience, and for the first time Major McDonald says they might consider hypnosis to get to the root of the matter. Since he was unable to recommend any hypnotists this avenue of investigation was left alone for the time being.

This version of events is undermined by John and Anne Spencer in their book Fifty Years of UFOs (3). They show that Fuller edited out the line ‘We are considering the possibility of a competent psychiatrist who uses hypnotism’ in Betty’s original letter to Keyhoe. It seems that Fuller had done this to give the impression that hypnoticism was a ‘last resort’ to finally pin down the details of the case. He probably did this to add some drama to the story and it does make you wonder what other details he changed for dramatic effect. When Spencer spoke to Fuller about the case in 1989, Fuller said that he had taped several two-hour long trance sessions with the Hills. It was his claim that no one could have a full understanding of the case without listening to these tapes, but he had no intention of publicly releasing these tapes. This does not sound like an healthy approach to investigating such a controversial case. It also reminds us that Fuller was first and foremost a journalist looking for stories, and that the Hill case was never fully investigated in any serious fashion throughout the 1960s and at best in a fragmentary manner in the following decades.

In the months after the encounter Barney’s health deteriorated but it was not until the first half of 1964 that Boston psychiatrist and neurologist Dr Benjamin Simon conducted the hypnotic regression sessions that were to fully reveal their abduction experience.

What they recalled under hypnosis was virtually identical to the nightmares Betty had a few days after the encounter. The main elements of their abduction during their missing period of time were:

  1. They went down a back road that was blocked by 11 or 12 aliens who were approximately 5ft 4in. (1.6m) tall. These humanoids had no ears but had slit-like mouths, small noses, cat-like eyes that seemed to extend to the side of their heads, and broad foreheads that tapered down to a small chin.
  2. They were taken to a nearby landed UFO.
  3. Inside the UFO they were put into separate rooms where they were stripped and put on examination tables.
  4. The aliens inserted a long needle into Betty’s naval, she’s told it is a pregnancy test.
  5. A cup-like instrument was placed over Barney’s groin. Later, he had a ring of warts where this was placed. Some ufologists claim that the aliens used this device to obtain sperm samples from Barney. Betty always denied this.
  6. Betty spoke to one of the aliens. He showed her a Star Map. She tried taking away a book full of strange writing, but she was not allowed to take it away.
  7. When Betty is returned to their car she sees Barney sitting inside it, in a kind of daze.

Although they were hypnotized separately they certainly had time to discuss what had happened to them between themselves, and with other ufologists in the two year period between the experience and the regression session. From very early on Betty understandably read as much as she could about the subject that influenced and shaped what she ‘recalled’ as a real abduction experience. Betty’s sister had also seen a UFO in 1957 so they were not entirely UFO ‘virgins’.

There has been considerable speculation about the stresses the Hills were under at the time. They were an inter-racial couple at a time when such relationships were frowned upon. Barney worried about his children from a previous marriage, and his job as a postal worker involved a considerable amount of commuting. Betty was a social worker and both of them were actively involved in civil rights campaigns. They had gone on their fateful trip on a whim without taking much money with them, and they we
re heading home at night to avoid bad weather.

At this stage we could just dismiss their abduction recollections as a fantasy that was triggered by Jupiter or any other kind of light in the sky. Yet, there are several other supporting pieces of evidence that we have to consider.

Betty Hill claims that at 2.14am on the 20 September, 1961, Pease Air Force Base picked up a UFO on radar and that they sent out two aircraft to investigate it. What the pilots saw, according to Betty, has remained classified ever since. (4)

A local newspaper reporter confirmed that UFOs had been tracked on radar that night, but he lost his notes and would not reveal the source of his information. The only real information we have about what Jacques Vallee claims is detection by military radar of the Hill’s UFO is contained in the Blue Book file no. 100-1-61:

‘During a casual conversation on 22 Sept 61 between Major Gardiner B. Reynolds, 100th B S DC01and Captain Robert O. Daughaday, Commander 1917-2 AACS DIT, Pease AFB, N.H., it was revealed that a strange incident occurred at 0214 local on 20 Sept. No importance was attached to the incident at the time.’ (5)

We have to ask what they mean by a ‘slight incident’? Was it just a strange blip on the screen or something more substantial? From the casual way this is reported it does not sound like it was something that would cause them to scramble a couple of aircraft. Even if something was seen or tracked on radar it does not mean they tracked the same object that the Hills’ said they saw.

After their encounter they found six, strange, shiny spots the size of a dollar on the car’s trunk. Betty thought they might have been radioactive so she ran a compass over them. The compass needle moved erratically when Betty did this test, but when Barney tried it the needle acted normally. Whether these spots were radioactive or not it was presumed that they were caused when they heard the strange beeping sounds, which seemed to come from the trunk of their car.

A more mundane explanation is given by Karl Pflock who notes that when the Hill’s got home they found the lid of the trunk was not closed properly. This could have happened just before Barney’s first close encounter with the UFO when he took a hand gun out of the car’s trunk. In his panic stricken state he could easily have left the lid unlatched, thereby causing the strange sounds when the car roared away. (6)

Following the encounter the top of Barney’s toe caps were found to be scuffed. This would substantiate his statement that he was dragged by his arms towards the landed UFO when he was abducted.

The dress Betty wore during the abduction was found to be covered in a pink powder. When this was shaken off it left pink stains behind. She also found the hem and seams torn. The patterned, purple dress has been kept in her closet and over the years she cut sections off it to satisfy the requests of laboratories throughout the world. (7) So far no one has provided any evidence that it is of exceptional, let alone extraterrestrial origin.

Even weirder Betty claimed that six to eight weeks after their encounter they returned home to find a pile of leaves on their kitchen table. They had just been back to the mountains searching for the location of their encounter to see if it triggered any memories. When cleaning up the mess she found the blue ear rings she had been wearing the night of the encounter. She quite reasonably wondered how she lost them and how they got in their home. What this indicated to her was that the aliens had stolen her ear rings and they knew where they lived. (8)

The most powerful piece of evidence to support their claims was the notorious Star Map. Working in conjunction with Betty, amateur astronomer Marjorie Fish created a three-dimensional map of the star system that matched the Star Chart seen onboard the flying saucer. This seemed to indicate that the aliens originated from the double star system of Zeta Reticuli. Sceptics have convincingly argued that Betty’s Star Map consists of vague dots and lines that could be matched with an whole range of stellar systems. At a more basic level would the pilots of a highly sophisticated spaceship carry such a useless Star Map?

The bottom line is that the main evidence for this abduction comes from the testimony of the Hills that comes from a combination of nightmares and accounts given under hypnotic regression. They came across as sincere and truthful people to everyone who interviewed and met them. Though this was undermined by Betty’s many subsequent claims of psychic events, and sightings of hundreds of UFOs many of which could be easily explained.

There are also several inconsistencies in their abduction story. They showed extreme anxiety when recounting the incident, yet Betty said to the ‘leader’ alien as she was leaving the spaceship: ‘This is the most wonderful experience of my life. I hope you’ll come back. I got a lot of friends who would love to meet you.’ (9) Other inconsistencies occur in the description of the aliens. Betty at first described them as having Jimmy Durante noses but this was dropped in later recollections. Barney said they communicated via some form of telepathy whilst Betty’s aliens spoke to her in English. The aliens also seemed to have selected areas of knowledge and ignorance. For example, they were puzzled by Barney’s false teeth yet had an otherwise good knowledge of human anatomy.

There are several fantasy or folkloric elements to the encounter. Like visitors to the fairy otherworld Betty is not allowed to take away a souvenir as physical proof of her experience. And, the Kalendrier des bergiers, a fifteenth century French calendar shows demons torturing people by inserting long needles into their stomachs.

Barney was intensely aware of his racial background and it is significant that he thought he saw an evil Nazi alien looking at him when he originally viewed the UFO through binoculars. On these slim grounds this has led some to speculate that this proved their encounter was with a craft built under an alliance of the CIA, Nazis and the aliens.

Martin Kottmeyer and Peter Rogerson in their many contributions to Magonia magazine have looked in detail at how science fiction films and television, UFO literature and beliefs, combined with the Hills’ own psychological stresses and the ‘mood’ of the time (fears generated by the Cold War, atomic doom, civil unrest, the Space Race) all helped shape the Hill abduction experience.

To other ufologists such explanations are even more fanciful than the explanation that they met aliens from outer space or from another dimension. Whatever the theories and controversy, the Hill case has made a permanent impact on the way we perceive alien abductions today.


Evans, Hilary. Gods, Spirits,Cosmic Guardians, The Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, 1987.

Fuller, John G. The Interrupted Journey, The Dial Press, New York, 1966.

Rimmer, John. The Evidence for Alien Abductions, The Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, 1984.

Magonia on-line at:


  1. Interview with Betty Hill. Held at her Home in Portsmouth New Hampshire on Thursday, 1 October, 1998 by Peter Huston.
  2. Keyhoe, Major Donald. The Flying Saucer Conspiracy, Henry Holt, New York, 1955.
  3. Spencer, John and Anne. Fifty Years of UFOs, Boxtree, London, 1997. (pp46-49)
  4. Interview with Betty Hill. Held at her Home in Portsmouth New Hampshire on Thursday, 1 October, 1998 by Peter Huston.
  5. Vallee, Jacques. Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact, Souvenir Press, London, 1988, p.118.
  6. Pflock, Karl. Pflock Ptalk – “Beep-Beep!” Went The Saucer?’ Saucer Smear, Volume 47, No. 10. 01 December, 2000. Available online at:
  7. ‘UFO Evidence – Betty Hill -The Grandmother of Ufology’ Interview
    by Avis Ruffu conducted in 1991. Available at:
  8. Interview with Betty Hill. Held at her Home in Portsmouth New Hampshire on Thursday, 1 October, 1998 by Peter Huston.
  9. Interview with Betty Hill. Held at her Home in Portsmouth New Hampshire on Thursday, 1 October, 1998 by Peter Huston.