17 - Even the Bedouins Hate Their Telephone Company
“Everybody hates the telephone company. Even the Bedouins hate their
telephone company.” Line from the 1967 movie The President’s
Every phone call from Ivan Sanderson in New Jersey was an adventure
in electronic lunacy. Weird whistles, static, beeps, and loud clicks
like an extension being slammed down, haunted his line. Often we
were cut off suddenly in the middle of a conversation. Sanderson’s
involvement in UFOs was strictly periphery. He was primarily a
biologist and zoologist and earned a good part of his living writing
A tall, thin, handsome Britisher in his
mid-fifties, Ivan was an electrifying personality. In his younger
days he was familiar to television viewers as the animal expert on
the old Garry Moore show, and even had his own program on NBC for a
number of years.
In 1967, Ivan was under a great strain. Alma, his wife of thirty
years, was terminally ill. Like all authors, he had constant
financial problems. That summer he was feeling ill. Once he took to
his bed and sweated profusely for forty-eight hours. And he confided
to me that he had suffered a two-day siege with the cosmic clap,
disappearing as suddenly and mysteriously as they began.
Male UFO witnesses sometimes develop a temporary set of symptoms
One day Jane called me with a message for “the man with skinny arms
who wears dresses.” Very few people knew that Ivan lounged around
his farm in a skirtlike garment popular in Indonesia. The message
suggested that he should take a certain kind of vitamin supplement.
I passed this on to him and a few days later he called to tell me
that he felt “100 percent better” as soon as he started the vitamin
That fall a woman connected with the air force and the Colorado
University UFO project arranged to spend a weekend on Ivan’s farm to
go through his UFO flies, which extended all the way back to the
1940s. She drove up from Washington, D.C., and when she arrived at
his out-of-the-way farm on a narrow back road she was excited and
nervous. While driving up the New Jersey turnpike she became aware
of a panel truck following her. When she turned off the turnpike
onto the country roads that would take her to Ivan’s, the truck
turned off and continued to follow her.
She stopped at a gas station and the truck pulled in behind her. The
driver got out and approached her. He appeared very normal, she
said, but his coveralls were very neatly pressed and his shoes were
“I’ve been watching your tires,” he told her. “I think there’s a bad
lump on one of your rear tires.“
She looked but could see nothing wrong. The gas station attendant
came out and the man got back into his truck and drove off. The lady
continued her drive, following Ivan’s complicated instructions—his
farm was not easy to find—until she came to a small restaurant and
decided to stop for a snack. The moment she stepped out of her car
the man in coveralls reappeared.
“I’d really better have a look at that tire,” he announced. Before
she could protest, he crawled under the rear of her car. After
fussing underneath the vehicle for two or three minutes he crawled
“I guess it will be okay,” he told her. “Where are you going?“
“Not far from here,” she answered.
Unnerved, she decided to forego
the snack, jumped back into her car, and continued on to Ivan’s.
As soon as Ivan heard the story he picked up his phone and called
me. I snapped on my tape recorder and suggested that he should go
out and look under the woman’s car while I talked to her about the
incident. She outlined the story to me, then Ivan came back on the
line very excited.
“Listen, Keel,” he began breathlessly. “There’s some stuff on the
bottom of her gas tank. Three big globs of it, placed in a very neat
triangle, all equal distances apart.“
When he described the “globs” to me a chill ran down my spine. He
seemed to be describing a material I had handled in basic training
when the army was hopelessly trying to turn me into a trained
“It sounds like plastic explosive to me, Ivan,” I declared. “Maybe
you’d better call the police.“
Ivan did just that. The police came out and carried away the
proved to be an ordinary, harmless, puttylike material. The woman,
phenomenal memory, was able to recall the sign on the side of the
named an appliance company and a nearby town. But a police check
failed to find any such company in that town.
The strangest part of this episode was my tape recording of our
conversation that afternoon. We had an excellent connection with
none of the usual interference. Ivan’s voice on the tape came
through loud and clear. But each time the woman spoke to me on the
same phone and same line there was heavy static on the tape drowning
out her voice completely! Yet we did not hear any static at all
while we were talking.
Later Ivan theorized that the putty had been used to hold wires
forming the antenna to a small electronic homing device. The man in
the panel truck had gone to elaborate lengths to remove the device,
After this incident I began to have more problems with recording
phone conversations. Whenever a contactee or mystery voice would
call, the tape would just contain static. I switched to another,
better recorder but the problem persisted. Even portions of
conversations with Mary Hyre were drowned in static when she was
discussing some of the more mysterious events in Point Pleasant.
Somebody was not only able to manipulate my phone but also my tape
Dr. Berthold Schwarz, a deputy police officer in Pennsylvania,
and several other investigators have had similar problems with their
tape recorders. Even former President Nixon had trouble with his
After many freakish phone conversations and exchanges of letters to
nonexistent addresses, I had a definite date for the big December
“EM effect.” It was scheduled for December 15. By this time Mr. Apol
had assumed a definite personality. He was as real to me as Cold was
to Derenberger, although I would never meet him.
I studied his
psychology, his quick temper, his mischievous sense of humor. I
argued with him on the phone, sometimes for two or three hours at a
stretch. And I felt sorry for him. It became apparent that he really
did not know who or what he was. He was a prisoner of our time
frame. He often confused the past with the future. I gathered that
he and all his fellow entities found themselves transported backward
and forward in time involuntarily, playing out their little games
because they were programmed to do so, living—or existing—only so
long as they could feed off the energy and minds of mediums and
I could ask him any kind of obscure-question and receive
an instant and accurate answer, perhaps because my own mind was
being tapped just like my telephone. Where was my mother’s father
born? Cameron Mills, New York, of course. Where had I misplaced my
stopwatch? Look in the shoebox in the upper right-hand corner of the
bedroom closet (it was there).
On the weekend of October 7-8, 1967, my phone stopped ringing. My
contactees and their friends did not call. The sudden silence was
unnerving. But on Monday the ninth, they all began to check in, and
they all told me identical stories.
They recalled nothing except
brief glimpses of some kind of hospital. Shirley said she went to
sleep Thursday night and did not wake up again until Monday morning.
Her baby was in his crib, happy and well cared for. Nothing in her
house was disturbed. She mentioned that her feet were sore and her
legs ached as if she had done a lot of walking. All she could
remember was visiting a large structure made of red glass. Jane,
too, remembered a red-glass building filled with strange beings in
white coats, like doctors, who were examining lines of earth people,
all of whom moved like robots apparently in a drugged state.
Beneath all the hallucinatory nonsense I could now perceive the
roots of many of
the ufological legends. A surprising number of contactees were
through them the whole “hybrid” concept was launched. They were told
parentage was a cross between terrestrial and extraterrestrial, that
and more earthly women were being impregnated by spacemen and
eventually the whole planet would be populated with a hybrid race.
Some of the games I was involved in were obviously designed to
convince me of the reality of this crossbreeding experiment.
knew it was just an updated version of the biblical begetting theme
when the “sons of God went into the daughters of men.“
I noted that as soon as my attitude toward a game changed, the
entities switched to a new game. My pregnant contactees suddenly
I was more concerned with squeezing accurate predictions for the
future out of my mysterious friends. The dollar, I was told, would
soon be devalued. (It wasn’t devalued until years later.) Red China
would be admitted to the United Nations (correct, but it seemed very
unlikely in 1967). Robert Kennedy should “stay out of hotels” (?).
Man should not attempt to go to the moon (they were apoplectic over
our space program).
I would soon be moving to a new apartment on the
ground floor of a building north of the United Nations. (This also
seemed very unlikely in 1967, but a year later I did find a
ground-floor apartment in upper Manhattan and moved.)
In addition to the continuing warnings about the December power
blackout, the entities now began to tell me about a terrible
forthcoming disaster on the Ohio River. Many people would die, they
said. They implied that one of the factories along the Ohio would
On November 3, 1967, I wrote to
Mary Hyre and told her:
have reason to suspect there may soon be a disaster in the Point
Pleasant area which will not be related to the UFO mystery. A plant
along the river may either blow up or burn down. Possibly the navy
installation in Pt. Pleasant will be the center of such a disaster.
A lot of people may be hurt .... Don’t even hint to anybody anything about this.“
(The naval installation was a fenced-in area in Point Pleasant,
facing the river and tightly guarded. The men who worked there were
sworn to secrecy, but during my first visit it only took me a few
days to find out what was going on there. I am not going to reveal
any national secrets here, but my private conclusion was that some
admiral in the Pentagon should get his ass kicked for wasting the
taxpayers’ money ... and for putting this type of installation in a
Meanwhile the Public Broadcasting Laboratories was having second
thoughts about Dan Drasin’s UFO special. After nearly a year of
work, and several trips to UFO flap areas, the program was suddenly
canceled. History repeated itself in 1973 when Fred Freed, an
award-winning producer, began work on a white paper documentary for
Ralph Blum and a team of technicians were in Mississippi
interviewing Hickson and Parker when they suddenly received word
that the program was being canceled because NBC needed the money and
personnel to cover the Arab-Israeli War.
I had other problems. I was going through one of my broke periods
and owed the staggering sum of four hundred dollars in back taxes.
The IRS sent a representative around to see me every single week.
Once, two different IRS men turned up in the same week. (They were
not MIB ... but were definitely from the IRS.) One seedy little
character was so obnoxious and insulting that I actually grabbed him
by the collar and physically threw him out of the apartment. Another
let slip a remark about a movie deal I was working on (it eventually
fell through) which no one, not even my friends, knew about. The
only way he could have known about it was through listening to my
Was the IRS tapping my phone for a lousy four hundred dollars? Was I
on somebody’s “Enemies” list?
I was complaining to the telephone company about my many crank calls
and telephone interference, so I asked them to run a check and see
if my phone Was being tapped. A few days later my friendly telephone
representative called me back.
“You were right, Mr. Keel,” she said. “Somebody is definitely tapped
I switched on my tape recorder and asked her to repeat the
statement, which she did. Then I asked her to put it in writing, but
she hedged there.
“Do you have any idea who’s tapping it?” I asked.
“We can’t tell that. All we know is there’s a drop in the voltage
that indicates that someone is hooked up to it.“
She promised to turn the matter over to a “Special Agent” for
Nothing ever came of that, either.
When I woke up on July 3, 1967, my line was dead. I went down to the
basement of my apartment building to call the phone company on a pay
phone. As I walked along the basement corridor I saw the door to the
telephone room, which was normally locked, was wide open and a man
in coveralls was there surrounded by the jumble of wires from the
hundreds of phones in the building. I told him my phone was dead and
he only shrugged.
“You’ll have to call the main office,” was his not very helpful
My service did not resume for another twenty-four hours.
Although all my contactee calls were incoming, my phone bills
started to skyrocket that summer. I was out of the city and away
from my phone for two or three weeks at a time, but when I returned
I would find a phone bill for $150 $200 waiting.
And that was just the beginning.
A reporter on the Daily American in West Frankfort, Illinois, picked
up his phone on February 16, 1967, and heard a weird echo chamber
voice which instructed him to be at a certain pond at 3:15 A.M. the
following Sunday. The reporter motioned to his co-workers and they
picked up extensions to listen in. The voice immediately said,
“’Tell them to put down their phones.” Electronic sounds beeped and
whistled behind the hollow speaker. “Bring no one with you.“
The newsmen decided it was all a joke but that it,
“was a first-rate
performance ... whoever that was had talent and electronic equipment
to work with.“
In my travels I found that newspaper offices all over the country
have received these calls, usually hollow voices that sound “like
they’re in the bottom of a well,” with background sounds like
electronic music or Teletypes. The purpose of the background is
simple enough ... it makes it impossible to tape the voices. I’ve
tried and found that the background completely smothered the voice
on the tape.
I kept a careful log of the crank calls I received and eventually
cataloged the various tactics of the mysterious pranksters. Some of
these tactics are so elaborate they could not be the work of a
solitary nut harassing UFO believers in his spare time. Rather, it
all appears to be the work of either paranormal forces or a large
and well-financed organization with motives that evade me.
From my years in show business I know that talented mimics are rare
and that some voices are almost impossible to imitate. Nevertheless,
our hypothetical Organization is able to mimic almost
anyone—including myself. And I have a flat, colorless voice somewhat
like former Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s. Professional mimics like
Rich” Little and David Frye were never able to get Agnew’s voice
At 1 A.M. on the morning of Friday, July 14, 1967, I received a call
from a man
who identified himself as Gray Barker from West Virginia. The voice
sounded exactly like Gray’s softly accented mellifluous own, but he
addressed me as if I were a total stranger and carefully called me
“Mr. Keel.” At first I wondered if maybe he hadn’t been out
The quiet, familiar drawl told me that he knew I wrote
for newspapers and he had just heard about a case which he thought I
should look into. It was, he said, similar to the Derenstein case.
Gray and I had visited Woodrow Derenberger together so I knew this
was not the kind of mistake he would make.
Around that time I had received a number of reports from people in
the New York area who had been receiving nuisance calls from a woman
who identified herself as “Mrs. Gray Barker.” I knew that Gray was
not married but when I mentioned these calls to this “Gray Barker”
he paused for a moment and then said, “No, Mrs. Barker hasn’t been
calling anybody up there.” He returned to his recital of an absurdly
insignificant UFO sighting near West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. It was
not the kind of incident that would have inspired a long-distance
call. Later I did try to check it out and found all the information
he gave me was false.
We talked for about ten minutes and throughout that period “Gray”
sounded like a man under duress ... as though someone was holding a
gun to his head. I tricked him several times with different
meaningless references and by the time I hung up I was definitely
convinced that this man was not the real Gray Barker.
An hour later my phone rang again and a young man said,
has been trying to reach you ... he asked us to give you this number
and to please call him.”
He recited a number that was identical to
my own except for the last digit.
There were more calls from strangers that night, and more pointless
messages from Gray Baker.
The next day I called Gray long distance and he denied having placed
the call, naturally.
Soon after that I discovered that another “John Keel” had been
phoning people around the country, imitating my voice and mannerisms
exactly. Mary Hyre received one such call.
I phoned her a few days
afterward and she said,
“I’m glad you’re feeling better ... you
sounded sick or drunk the other night.“
“What other night?“
“When you called a couple of nights ago. Remember we talked about
your letter and what you thought was going to happen on the river.“
I had not called her and discussed the letter. Nor had I discussed
the disaster prediction with anyone other than the contactees who
were told about it.
Jaye P. Paro called me one morning to complain.
“You must think I’m crazy. I wouldn’t go up to Mount Misery alone at
“What are you talking about?” I demanded.
“Last night. You called and told me to meet you on Mount Misery.“
“I didn’t call you last night, Jaye, and I certainly wouldn’t ask
you to do such a thing anyway.“
“You’re putting me on. It sounded exactly like you.“
I spent most of March 1968 in Washington, D.C. While I was gone an
old army buddy, a serious, quiet man who worked in advertising,
stayed in my apartment.
He was totally reliable and not a practical joker. When I returned I
stack of messages from phone calls he had received while I was gone.
from George Clark, a UFO enthusiast in New Jersey. He had called on
March 23 and
asked for me to call him back. I never got around to it.
So a few
days later he called again and I apologized for not returning his
previous call. There was a stunned silence on the other end and then
he slowly told me that I had called him back around 10 P.M. on March
A voice that sounded exactly like mine had talked to him at
length, using my pet expressions and noncommittal statements such
“Well, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.“
Two days later George said he called my number again around 8 P.M.
and a “hippie” answered.
“No, man, Mr. Keel ain’t here right now ...
but he ought to be back soon. Would you like to leave a message,
man?” George left a message with him.
That particular evening I was back in New York and sitting next to
Three months earlier, on January 18, 1968, my phone went dead again.
The main office of my exchange could find nothing wrong, so a
repairman was dispatched to my apartment. He examined my telephone
but it seemed okay. I accompanied him to the basement where he
unlocked the telephone room and began examining the maze of wires.
The multitude of connections are coded in such a vague way that only
a real expert can pick out an individual line.
“This is where your line is connected,” he explained to me. “And you
He stopped and stared at the wires. “Look at this. This
wire has been cut.”
He waved a neatly snipped wire. Someone had
managed to single out my telephone line in that maze and cut it with
a pair of pliers!
As soon as the wire was spliced and my phone was working again I
called my friendly telephone representative.
“This I must have in writing,” I snapped.
A few days later I received a letter from her stating that my phone
had become disconnected on January 18 because a piece of solder in
the main office had loosened. I knew there was only one piece of
solder on my line in the main exchange and I had examined it
personally only the month before.
Between the IRS, the phone company, Apol and his gang, and flying
saucers I was rapidly becoming a candidate for the funny farm.