As a successful nonfiction writer, Ben Mezrich has covered a wide range of topics: Once Upon a Time in Russia exposed the wheeling and sometimes murderous dealings of the post-Soviet oligarchs. Bringing Down the House was the bestselling tale of six MIT students who beat Vegas at its own game--and managed to walk away. The Accidental Billionaires, his account of Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook, was the basis for the award-winning film, The Social Network. All those books shared common traits: they were fascinating, well researched stories told from unusual perspectives at breathtaking pace. Also, they were Earth-bound. His new book is something different. The 37th Parallel takes Mezrich on a spin along "America's UFO Highway," a long, strange road trip with true believers, strange phenomena, and enough unexplained weirdness to call his own beliefs into question. Here he discusses some of the people and places from the book.
Up until a year ago, I didn’t believe in UFOs.
That’s when I was introduced to Chuck Zukowski- a former reserve Sheriff’s Deputy in Colorado who had been fired from the Colorado Springs Sheriff’s department after investigating a cattle mutilation- a bizarre incident that’s part of a phenomenon dating back more than 75 years, involving over 10,000 mysteriously slaughtered cows and horses. After turning in his gun and badge, Zukowski proceeded to launch himself head-first into the world of Ufology- and to write my newest book, The 37th Parallel, I followed Chuck down that rabbit hole. Along the way, I discovered an enormous amount of evidence pointing to the possibility that we have been visited, at least once, in the past century. At the very least, there have been multiple cover ups involving UFO events at places such as Roswell, New Mexico, and Rendelsham Forest in the UK. Furthermore, as Chuck discovered, there’s a strange confluence of events along the 37th Parallel of the United States- from UFO sightings, to bizarre animal mutilations (ten thousand cattle since the 1940’s, a phenomenon so huge that at one point, three state governors petitioned the Attorney General demanding an investigation. The FBI conducted a ten-year study, and came to no conclusions), to underground military bases. And the mystery grows deeper from there: the billionaire founder of a major aerospace company has been privately funding UFO studies for decades, with cooperation from the FAA.
Below are a few the major players and phenomena covered in The 37th Parallel.
The grandmother of UFO sightings. On july 3rd, 1947, on July 3rd radar operators at Walker Air Base in Roswell, New Mexico, tracked an unidentified blip flying through an electrical storm. A short time later, the object crashed into a ranch owned by Mac Brazel, scattering debris. The debris was metallic and covered in hieroglyphics. The Air Force carted the debris back to Walker base- and then sent out a press release: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region.”
The release was carried in papers around the world. A few hours later, the air force rescinded their release, and announced that it was actually an experimental weather balloon. A photograph of radar operator Jesse Marcel holding some of the debris was offered as proof; however, years later, Marcel and everyone else involved in the photograph admitted it was staged. The real debris from Brazel’s ranch was sent to Area 51, where it sits today.
Since the 1940s, over 10,000 cows and horses have been found mutilated- missing eyes, tongues, hearts, lungs- lying on their left side, and worst of all, completely drained of blood. Despite a 10-year investigation by the FBI, nobody has ever been implicated in the mutations, and no real conclusions drawn. Often the cows are found having been dropped from a height, with no signs of struggle, no witnesses, and no footprints or signs of predators.
“Britain’s Roswell” occurred in the Rendlesham forest near RAF Woodbridge, a British Air Force Base. On the 26th of December, 1980, a military patrol witnessed lights descending into the forest. As the officers came closer, one of them saw something enormous, covered in bright lights, hovering above him. As he moved nearer, the object raced off; at the scene, he and the other officers found indentations and triangular scorch marks. A few nights later, a second patrol saw more lights and objects hovering above the trees.
The Mutual Ufo Network is an enormous grass roots UFO investigative group, spanning many states, made up of enthusiasts who train to become experts in UFO studies. Armed with a comprehensive manual, extensive tool kits, and an ability to respond quickly to sightings, MUFON has taken over for the government’s own UFO investigative projects of the 50’s and 60’s. Chuck has been a member of MUFON, and has rewritten much of their manuals on animal mutilations. At the same time, he regards the institution with suspicion- believing they don’t have the facilities to analyze any of their findings, and are forced to make deals with organizations such as Bigelow’s- or the US government.
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A microchip engineer and former reserve Sheriff’s Deputy in Colorado Springs, Chuck became obsessed with UFOs and cattle mutilation. He packs his family into an RV and spends his weekends hunting aliens. The first time I met Chuck, he picked me up at the Denver airport, strapped a bulletproof vest on me, handed me a Glock, and told me we were going out into the mountains looking for UFOs. But even though he’s a true believer, he approaches the subject from a scientific angle- looking for proof, through scientific means. He also believes in making his research as public as possible; in his mind, the publicity protects him from those who might want to keep what he’s discovered secret.
Glenda is the owner of the fifty-acre cattle and horse ranch in Rush, Colorado where Chuck investigated the mutilation and exsanguination of two of her horses, and the terrorization of her dog, in August 2010.
US Army Air Force Lieutenant Ed Schleuter
While flying his Northrop P-61 Black Widow over the Rhine Valley, German-occupied territory in November 1944 during a night mission, he witnessed at least ten bright, fiery orange balls of light, spaced in what seemed to be a controlled formation moving directly toward the P-61 before suddenly vanishing. The radar operator on the ground found nothing on the radar.
Tom Carey and Don Schmitt
Carey and Schmitt are two of the more famous Roswell investigators, who between them have written a number of books on the subject and appeared in various TV shows over the years. In 2002, they asked Chuck to be a part of a project working on the Corona Debris Site that would be televised. It turned out to be a farce, because Chuck and his sister Debbie weren’t actually helping to conduct a bona fide search for artifacts from the 1947 crash. They were just extras for background footage.
Dr. William Doleman
Dr. Doleman is the archeologist who headed the dig at the Corona Debris Site for Carey and Schmitt’s television program. He allowed Chuck and Debbie to do a proper dig after the crew wrapped up. Debbie unearthed an object that was thin, silvery, and triangular, about the width of a quarter. Even as she lifted it up off the ground, the corners started to curl inward, perhaps reacting to the heat from the sun or the pressure of her fingers, but the material seemed resilient, as strong as metal, as thin as it was.
Robert Bigalow is a billionaire and founder of the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDs) in Las Vegas, NV and Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies. He had grown up watching the testing of mushroom clouds in the desert near his childhood home, and became fascinated with UFOs, extraterrestrial encounters, and cattle mutilations.
He launched NIDs in 1996, an interdisciplinary organization made up of the top researchers in the fields of biology, geology, astrophysics, and chemistry, as well as trained former police detectives and FBI agents, tasked with studying verifiable UFO sightings. After Project Bluebook, the multi-year, official Air Force investigation into UFOs, NIDs was the first organized, well-funded attempt to approach the subject scientifically. NIDS established a twenty-four hour hotline for citizens to report UFO sightings, and they received more than 5000 calls and emails over a two-year period. Teams of investigators were sent out into the field, using equipment that cost tens of thousands of dollars, from spectrophotometers to analyze strange lights in the sky to the best available night-vision recording devices. Bigelow’s goal, with NIDs, was simply to try to give the immense amount of anomalies that were being reported the scientific attention they deserved. He wasn’t trying to find UFOs, he was trying to use science to identify whatever it was people were seeing. He aimed to turn the UFOs into IFOs—Identified Flying Objects.