Manhattan Transfer: The Ethics of the Linda Napolitano Case

John Rimmer
Magonia 45, March 1993.

In Magonia 44 I mentioned in the ‘Hold the Back Page’ feature the latest controversy setting U.S. ufologists at each other’s throats – the Linda Napolitano case. Presently being promoted by Budd Hopkins, Linda’s story tells of her being abducted from her twelfth floor apartment on Manhattan’s lower east side. Linda had first contacted Hopkins in April 1989 after reading Intruders.

She claimed that thirteen years before she had discovered a bump next to her nose, and that a doctor had told her that she had undergone surgery, a thing which she had never remembered. You will recall that a major feature of many of the abductions Hopkins investigates is the use of nasal ‘probes’ and ‘implants’ by the alleged aliens. After being in touch with Hopkins for some months, Linda called him on November 30th to report that she had been abducted in the early hours of that morning. Subsequently hypnosis ‘revealed’ that she had been carried out of her bedroom, through the window, and into a waiting craft which was hovering above New York City

So far, apart from the untypical location, this was a fairly typical sort of abduction case. In February 1991 the case took on a dramatic new turn, alluded to briefly last issue. Two policemen, calling themselves Richard and Dan (surnames apparently not revealed) wrote to Hopkins saying they had witnessed the abduction whilst waiting in a car under the Frankin D Roosevelt elevated freeway, near Linda’s apartment block. In later letters they changed their story, now alleging that they were working for a security agency and were guarding a ‘senior political figure’, who is now believed to be Javier Perez de Cuellar, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. (Perez de Cuellar’s office states that their man was safely home in bed at the time, but, as Hopkins would undoubtedly say, they would do, wouldn’t they.)

There then began a curious campaign of harassment by Richard and Dan against Linda Napolitano [left]. According to Linda they visited her apartment, expressing relief that she was alive and safe. It’s not clear why they waited a year after the event before checking up on someone they claimed to be concerned about, when they were apparently able to identify Linda’s building, and the window she was transported from. Curiously, although they made themselves know to Budd Hopkins in their first letter, they seemed strangely unwilling to meet him in person, and to date it would appear the only person who claims to have met them is Linda herself

Subsequent meeting were not so friendly; as reported last issue Linda was allegedly kidnapped by the two men, threatened, sexually propositioned and threatened with a gun. She also received a bizarre letter from Dan, who now claimed to be incarcerated in a mental institution. It was following these claims that the suggestion was made by ufologist George Hansen that these matters, if accurately reported, constituted a criminal act and should be put in the hands of the police. He argued that the interest of a private citizen who was being threatened by agents of the security services was more important than the pursuit of a UFO investigation, and that ufologists like Budd Hopkins, Jerome Clark and Walt Andrus, who wanted to put the whole matter ‘on hold’ to see how the ufological aspects of it developed, were being irresponsible. A circular expressing this viewpoint was sent to a number of ufologists in the US and Britain, including myself

The story now takes a detour from Linda, and gets us involved in the political undergrowth of American ufology. Hansen’s first circular was rapidly followed by one from Jerome Clark, headed ‘The Politics of Torquemada or, Earth Calling Hansen’s Planet’. This is an incredibly ill-tempered missive, comparing Hansen with Torquemada, the chief persecutor of the Spanish Inquisition (I did not notice any suggestion in Hansen’s letter that Hopkins, Clark, et al should be burnt at the stake). This has been followed by responses from Hansen and Willy Smith, and a further circular from Clark entitled ‘Wasting Away in Torquemadaville’. For those of us who in the past have had a great deal of respect for Clark’s writings, the intemperate tone of these letters is worrying. No doubt like most great American ufological feuds, this one will run and run, and end up… well, this is a magazine intended for family reading

Back in Manhattan, Hopkins had found another witness to the abduction event. A year and a half after the alleged incident Hopkins received a letter marked on the envelope ‘Confidential, Re: Brooklyn Bridge’. (This external warning seems to have been called for as Hopkins apparently never opened a previous letter from the same person.) This came from a retired telephone operator to whom Hopkins has given the nom-de-plume Janet Kimble. She claims to have been driving over Brooklyn Bridge when her car stopped and the lights went out. She saw a brightly lit object over a building, and although the light was so bright she had to shield her eyes, and was over a quarter of a mile away, she was able to see four figures emerge from a window and move into the object. ‘Kimble’ was frightened by this, and reported that other drivers whose cars had stopped were running around on the bridge and screaming in panic

Curiously, none of these other people have come forward to confirm her story, and in her letter to Hopkins ‘Janet’ says she thought the incident might have been someone making a film of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! Willy Smith in his circular on the case comments: “[she] was a former telephone operator, familiar with what to do under the circumstances. Did she call the police, then or later? No. She chose to report the incident to abduction expert Budd Hopkins – after a lengthy process to locate him – by writing to him the following summer

The latest document to be received on this case is a long report by George Hansen and two other researchers, Joseph Stefula and Richard Butler. Curiously, in his first ‘Torquemada’ letter Jerome Clark distinguishes between the what he sees as the inquisitional style of Hansen’s contribution to the debate, and the `honorable’ approach of Stefula and Butler. This joint document suggests their attitudes to the case are closer than Clark admits

Magonia readers, conditioned by 25 years of insidious scepticism will already have dismissed the Napolitano claims outright, but they are worthy of more detailed consideration. Stefula, Butler and Hansen’s report is important, as none of the authors can be considered ‘knee-jerk debunkers’. Hansen has written a considered critique of the failings of the CSICOP organisation, Butler claims an abduction experience himself, and Stefula was, until his recent resignation, the MUFON State Director for New Jersey. Nor are they armchair ufologists, as they have interviewed Linda Napolitano, and done on-the-spot investigations. It was during one of their on-the-spot visits to the Lower East Side that they noticed an important piece of information that was not offered to us by Hopkins and his apologists: that the supposed location of this event – blinding light, hovering UFO, people floating through windows, – was directly opposite the night loading bay of the New York Post, the city’s leading sensationalist tabloid daily. Surely even tabloid hacks could not get so tired and emotional that they would miss this earth-shattering event taking place on their back doorstep? The loading bay manager, who is on duty to 5.00 a.m., recalled nothing of these events

Stefula, Butler and Hansen (SBH from now on) give an account of their interviews with Linda, which revealed further information not available from Hopkins. At a meeting on February 1st, 1992, Linda stated that Hopkins had received a letter from ‘the third man’, now believed to be [former UN Secretary-General] Perez de Cuellar) which Linda was able to quote from memory. It discussed potential ecological disaster, claimed that aliens were involved in ending the Cold War, and warned Hopkins to stop searching for the `third man’ because it could harm world peace

SBH discuss at length the many problems involved in this case. None of the other 1600 residents of the apartment block complex saw anything, nor did any of the night duty security guards. At a meeting with Hopkins, David Jacobs, Jerome Clark and Walter Andrus on October 3rd 1992, a number of disturbing features of Hopkins’ investigation came to light. For instance, he had not bothered to check on weather conditions on the night of the abduction, although this could have been vital in assessing the evidence of the Brooklyn Bridge witness (in fact the night was clear). Nor had he bothered to check, as SBH had done, with the apartment block security guards to see if anyone else had witnessed the event. It emerged also that Hopkins and his associates now believed that there was a large motorcade carrying Perez de Cuellar and other world figures through NYC in the early hours of 30th November 1989

By the nature of the endeavour
those trying to be helpful
can be vulnerable to deception

Linda’s husband made a significant contribution to the meeting, but significant in the manner of the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story which did not bark in the night. He answered a few questions, but, as SBH say: “he seemed to have difficulty with some of them, and Linda spoke up to ‘correct’ his memory. He left the meeting very early, even though Linda was under considerable stress, and despite the fact that she was overheard asking him to stay.” They conclude: “His leaving raised many questions in our minds.” This ‘semi-detached’ attitude by spouses of witnesses and abductees, when one might expect them to have a clear picture of what was happening to the person they shared their lives with, seems to be a feature of many encounter and abduction cases on both sides of the Atlantic

At the same meeting reports were presented from two psychologists. They sing a popular refrain: Linda’s intelligence is ‘average’, but to plan and execute such a ‘complex hoax’ (oh dear, that again) would require the brain of chess Grand Master Bobby Fischer, and Linda was not capable of “orchestrating such a massive, complex operation”. Oddly, the names of the two psychiatrists who came up with these conclusions were not given at the meeting – maybe not surprising if such facile comments are typical of the standard of their work

SBH’s paper is too long and detailed to quote at much greater length here, however, I would like to finish with a lengthy quote from part of their conclusion, in which they debate the psychosocial aspects of the investigation, particularly the reaction of American ufology’s ‘establishment’

“Do these leaders really believe, as they said, that they accepted the report of attempted murder? If so, they seem not to have acted as responsible citizens… We believe that other motivating factors and concepts provide a better explanation for understanding these seemingly bizarre actions. We would suggest that perhaps, at some semiconscious level, these individuals do not really believe their UFO investigations to be fully engaged with the ‘realworld’. Rather, their behaviour and statements seem more consistent with something like fantasy role playing, perhaps akin to the game Dungeons and Dragons.

Both ufology and D&D allow direct, immediate involvement with powerful ‘other-world’ beings and mythological motifs. Both endeavours have been known to overtake (possess?) the participants, though only occasionally to their detriment. Most players are able to successfully detach themselves from involvement, but occasionally the game become obsessive and interferes with ‘real-world’ pursuits. This role-playing taps archetypal images that hold great psychological power. The archetypes can become immensely attractive, even addictive to those playing the game.

In the Napolitano case the ‘other-world’ figures include not only the ET aliens, but also the pantheon of agents of an unreachable, evil government conspiracy determined to prevent humankind’s knowledge of the ETs. Intermediaries between flesh and blood humans and the powerful masters of the mystical higher orders are ubiquitious in the realms of religion. Angels and devils serve the centers of ultimate good and evil. So here we see the largely invisible minions ‘Dan’ and ‘Richard’ and the mysterious witness on the bridge furthering the cause of `Truth’. Likewise, Hopkins discerns the skeptical investigators as agents of a secular satan.

Thus the interactions of Hopkins, et al, with these players are seen to conform to the rules that historically control the interactions between humans and gods. Humans question and provoke the gods only at the greatest peril. The proper approach is to appease, mollify and supplicate these `entities’. It should be no surprise that the simplest reality tests of the Napolitano story were not made in this case. Hopkins’ failure to check the weather conditions during the abduction actually makes sense in the context of this cult-like thought process The roles of high priest and acolytes are only too obvious when examining the behaviors of personages Hopkins, Clark, Jacobs and Andrus. These aging white males patronizingly refer to Linda’s `average’ intellect, perhaps to reassure themselves that they are indeed in control. Yet the high priestess has, in effect, achieved the godhead (metaphorically speaking, of course).”
They conclude this discussion: “We are not denigrating ufology by such comparisons… nor are we attacking the existence of ‘other-world’ entities. Regardless whether entities or ET aliens exist, the comparisons are useful and the consequences and insights are applicable. Such a comparative analysis should not be limited to only D&D players and ufologists; similar comparisons could be made for virtually everyone in the ‘real world’. they can help serve as warnings about becoming too complacent regarding beliefs in our own `rationality’

This is a valuable lesson in many contexts, and in Magonia we have already pointed out the comparisons that can be made between D&D fantasy roleplaying, and the ‘psychic questing’ phenomenon which dominates much fringe research in this country. We leave Magonia readers to consider who are the ‘aging white males’ and who the ‘godesses’ in our own contexts.

Surprisingly, after an efficient demolition job on the Napolitano case and Hopkins’ investigations, Stefula, Butler and Hansen conclude on a magnanimous and sympathetic note, recognising the difficulties and complexities of Hopkins’ relationship towards his ‘clients’

“The outside critic who is not directly involved in such activities almost never recognises how difficult it is to serve as both a therapist and as a scientist. Those persons trying to help abductees emotionally need to provide warmth, aceptance and trust. The scientist, however, needs to be critically open minded and somewhat detached and analytical. The two functions are not altogether compatible. We cannot realistically expect one individualto be 100% effective in both roles. By the nature of the endeavour, those trying to be helpful can be vulnerable to deception.”