The next day, he saddled up his horse and rode out to inspect his land. Scattered around was an array of tinfoil parts and bits of balsa wood. He showed a piece of the debris to his neighbour, Loretta Proctor. "We tried to cut it and scrape it, but a knife wouldn't touch it. We tried to burn it, but it wouldn't burn," she said at the time.
Brazel instantly contacted the Roswell sheriff, who in turn contacted Jesse Marcel, commanding officer at the Roswell airbase. They collected the wreckage and issued a press statement about their mysterious findings. Within minutes, pandemonium broke out. The Pentagon started to receive calls from all over the world. It immediately told Marcel to stop talking. The wreckage was moved to a different military base for examination; there, it was declared to be wreckage from a weather balloon and a press conference was held to show the debris to the world's cameras.
The matter was closed - until, startlingly, 31 years later. In 1978, Jesse Marcel said publicly on his retirement that the debris which had appeared in the newspaper photographs was not the same as the load that he and Mack Brazel had collected.
Since then, the Roswell case has become the most famous UFO mystery in the world and at least four books have been written about it. Discovering the truth of what happened has absorbed, frustrated and tantalised UFO watchers around the world, but, until March of this year, it had not divided them. Now a war is raging, mainly on computer screens via the Internet, the ferocity of which space-groupies have never seen.
The cause of the fracas is a film allegedly made by a former US military cameraman, who says he was summoned by the US government to Roswell in 1947 and who has kept hold of part of the film ever since. It shows, supposedly, an autopsy being conducted by humans in white radiation-type suits on aliens from the Roswell wreckage. The aliens are essentially human in shape, but they have no hair, a small nose and mouth; they have six fingers and six toes, and swollen stomachs. They appear to be female but have no breasts.
Alone among the world's UFO research groups, the British UFO Research Association, Bufora, headed by Philip Mantle, is making claims for the film. Mantle has shown stills on the Internet and will be screening the whole film at a large ufologists' conference in Sheffield, scheduled for 19-20 August. Channel 4 is also making a documentary based on the film.
"Certainly, I don't have concrete evidence claiming that the film is authentic," Mantle says, "but neither do I have evidence to say it isn't. What is wrong with showing it and letting others decide for themselves?"
Mantle first got wind of the film just over two years ago from a British video producer, Ray Santilli, who encountered its octogenarian American owner while working in the US. "I paid him cash for a music film I needed," says Santilli, "and he asked if I would be interested in this other video, because he said that he wanted money to help to pay for his grand-daughter's wedding. I didn't have the money at the time and also I wanted to check the film out thoroughly, so it wasn't until January of this year that I actually purchased it." The price is rumoured at pounds 100,000 - it must have been an expensive wedding.
According to Santilli, Kodak has confirmed from markings on the film that it dates from either 1947 or 1967. They cannot be clear which, because the codes are not specific. "Independent US medical experts have seen the autopsy, though, and have agreed the medical part is genuine," Santilli says. "We have checked the owner's credentials and they all fit perfectly. Until someone can prove the film isn't genuine, there is no reason to believe otherwise."
But the reaction among the international community of ufologists is that this film is not only a fake, but is sabotaging their work. They are complaining, in hundreds of passionate e-mail messages to each other, that they themselves haven't been allowed see any proof. For the first time, possible UFO material has been taken out of their circle and into the realms of international bankability.
"They have signed a pact with the devil," says Jenny Randles, who describes herself as Britain's only professional ufologist and is the BBC's adviser on UFOs. "They are endorsing this film for purely commercial reasons. It is undoing all the work serious ufologists have done for 20 years. I resigned from Bufora's council 18 months ago because of this.''
Randles' gripe stems from the fact that she and many of her American colleagues believe that in the past 20 years, they have changed ufology from a "crank's pastime" to a credible research programme of great value to the scientific world. "Our research has mostly led not to the discovery of UFOs, but to hitherto undiscovered scientific phenomena, which scientists take extremely seriously," she says. "In Roswell, above all, decent research has been done, which shows several reasons why the US government may have wanted to cover up the original wreck. We now know they were testing nuclear missiles with monkeys at Roswell which, had it been discovered, would have caused outrage even then. If this film is authentic, why can't we be shown proof of its authenticity?"
Santilli happily admits that he withheld the film from ufologists at large primarily for commercial reasons. "The UFO community would have instantly copied the film, thereby making it worthless," he says. "They are a strange bunch and I did not want to get mixed up with them. But I needed Mantle's help, because when I was first shown the film, I had never even heard of Roswell. I needed someone to explain it all to me. I agreed that in exchange for his help, he could show it at his August conference."
Strangely, in view of this dog-fighting, Mantle's August conference, with a capacity of 1,000, is not sold out. "Please publish the address," he says. "I'm sure there are more witnesses who need to come forward." For Anthony Pace, a veteran UFO watcher who works in a Yorkshire post office, it is not the gremlins or hatred which will persuade him to attend. "I shall go, because I shall see friends from all over the world who I haven't seen for years."
For details of Bufora's conference, send a sae to Conference 95, 1 Wood Hall Drive, Batley, West Yorkshire WF17 7SW.Reuse content