and the Diabolical UFO Coverup
"He was arrested for conspiring to murder three local politicians.
By poisoning them with radium. Police charge that he schemed to
put the radioactive material in their cars, in their food and even
in their toothpaste ... According to prosecutors, Ford was a
terrorist intent on killing, to help end a UFO coverup. Today,
Ford, 49, resides in a state-run psychiatric center, having been
found unfit to stand trial ... But for the believers, the story
over. The coverup continues, as always. The coverup is eternal."
They Thought UFOs Had Landed.
A Case of Hysteria, Politics, Poison and Toothpaste
by Michael Colton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 11, 1998; Page F01
BELLPORT, N.Y. -- For the believers, the obvious place to look for
captured aliens was on government property -- specifically the huge,
guarded facility on Long Island called Brookhaven National
Laboratory. A former military base, Brookhaven was known to be the
site of experiments involving DNA and particle accelerators, using
equipment like an alternating gradient syncrotron and a high-flux
The aliens had to be there.
John Ford, chairman of the Long Island UFO Network, knew something
big was happening on Long Island, renowned among conspiracy buffs as
the site of the Montauk time warp project and, more recently, the
mysterious crash of TWA Flight 800. Ford and his 400-member group
had investigated many weird sightings on the island over the past
decade. Some residents were convinced that saucer crashes had caused
forest fires, that they'd seen airborne battles between spacecraft
and military helicopters, that people had been abducted and animals
mutilated. This place could be the next Roswell, or an East Coast
Ford, a retired bailiff, frequently called the Brookhaven lab with
questions and accusations. He was cordial and articulate, and lab
spokeswoman Mona Rowe wished she could give him more interesting
answers; as a sci-fi fan herself, she believes extraterrestrial life
exists. Just not at Brookhaven National Laboratory. She even invited
Ford to tour the place, to open any door he wanted and allow his own
experts to search for UFO evidence. She had nothing to hide.
Ford never made it to the lab, though the lab eventually made it to
him. In a plot as strange as anything on "The X-Files" or "The Outer
Limits" -- two of Ford's favorite shows -- he was arrested for
conspiring to murder three local politicians. By poisoning them with
radium. Police charge that he schemed to put the radioactive
material in their cars, in their food and even in their toothpaste.
After midnight on June 13, 1996, Mona Rowe's phone rang. She was on
call for Brookhaven's radiological assistance program, a sort of
radiation SWAT team. She accompanied the team to a Bellport home
surrounded by police, where they found hot radioactive sources
encased in lead in the back of a pickup truck.
John Ford, the "UFO guy" she and others had always considered a
harmless eccentric, was under arrest.
Never mind that the radium would have taken decades to kill anyone.
According to prosecutors, Ford was a terrorist intent on killing, to
help end a UFO coverup.
Today, Ford, 49, resides in a state-run psychiatric center, having
been found unfit to stand trial -- just as he had hoped. One of his
alleged conspirators is in jail; another friend awaits sentencing.
Ford's home is boarded up, and the Long Island UFO Network (LIUFON)
But for the believers, the story isn't over. The coverup continues,
as always. The coverup is eternal.
Ford's case is strange, even for Long Island, and that's no small
feat. This is the place where teenage tramp Amy Fisher shot the wife
of grease monkey Joey Buttafuoco. Where John Esposito kept
9-year-old Katie Beers locked in an underground dungeon for two
weeks. Where Colin Ferguson killed six people on a commuter train,
where Judge Sol Wachtler stalked his lover, where "Angel of Death"
nurse Richard Angelo injected muscle relaxants into four patients.
To be weird in Long Island, you have to be seriously weird. Some
blame the power lines and the water supply for producing, among
others, Howard Stern, Geraldo Rivera and the 1,200 pounds of Walter
Hudson. "People here are open to strange ideas," says Mona Rowe, who
comes from Hawaii, where these things don't happen.
Of course, equating John Ford with killers and torturers is unfair;
all we know for sure is that he liked to talk about doing away with
those who he thought did him wrong.
Still, Ford lived in an area that seems to be fertile ground for his
odd ideas -- and in a fertile era. At the end of the millennium, it
seems that no one trusts anyone, least of all authority.
Corporations are too powerful, governments are too secretive. Planes
explode in midair; war veterans contract mysterious ailments. A
Japanese television cartoon emits flashes of light that cause
children to convulse.
Strange days, indeed.
With so many seemingly impenetrable coverups and interesting
"coincidences," it is up to the average citizen to expose the
evil-doers. Theories are plentiful; facts are harder to come by.
"Perception is reality," the FBI's James Kallstrom said last year,
explaining why the bureau's investigation of Flight 800 spent so
much time refuting rumors of a missile attack.
Of course, this article itself could just be part of the "official
version" -- or, as one of Ford's supporters, Peter Moon, put it,
"damage control to make everyone on Long Island look crazy."
A number of Ford's friends and colleagues, who have followed his
case on the Internet and in UFO publications, believe he has been
set up, framed, railroaded. He's innocent, they say, and they
produce theories as to why he was arrested: He was getting too close
to a government coverup; he was silenced for his outspoken beliefs;
he was a patsy.
His attorney, John Rouse, wishes these folks would shut up. They're
not helping Ford's case. "I don't want to sound too flippant, but my
impression is that these people can find a conspiracy in a
cheesecake," he says. Rouse believes Ford is innocent, but says the
case has nothing to do with the CIA, UFOs or other acronyms. It has
to do with a far more mundane scourge: politics.
Ford's life -- his version of his life, anyway -- is like an
"X-Files" episode written by Thomas Pynchon (another Long Island
product, natch). John Ford believed in UFOs, as do many people. But
he was a lonely man prone to extreme gullibility, an ineffectual
citizen whose political aspirations were thwarted and who found a
sense of power by espousing incredible theories. People listened to
Ford is probably insane -- even some of his friends admit that. To
pursue UFOs is to suspend a degree of rationality for an equal
measure of blind faith. Ford's case shows how fragile the balance
There is one question that people on both sides of this case ask of
those who want information. The answer to this question, they
assert, immediately places you on one side or the other. It defines
whom you will trust, and how much you will trust them.
"Do you believe in UFOs?"
Looking to the Sky
John Ford spent most of his adult life working on the side of the
law, as an officer of the same court he would later appear in as a
defendant. With a face like John Belushi's and a voice like Elmer
Fudd's, Ford appeared odd but non-threatening to those who knew him.
After graduating from St. John's University in Queens in 1971 with a
degree in philosophy, he started work at the Brooklyn criminal
court, earned a master's degree in public administration and
transferred to Suffolk County in 1982.
Friends say Ford had a big heart, adopting dogs from the pound and
delivering supplies when Hurricane Gloria hit; he cried when he
accidentally ran over a cat. He dated, and was engaged twice, but
his most constant companion was his mother, Catherine, with whom he
lived. "She was his right-hand man," recalls a LIUFON member.
An avid gun collector, Ford made model tanks and occasionally read
Soldier of Fortune magazine. His co-worker John Marafino insists the
gun collection was simply for show, like baseball cards. The only
time Ford shot a gun was to pass his exam as a court officer,
Marafino says, "and he wasn't even a good shot."
At work, he carried a service revolver; locked up at home were at
least 35 licensed handguns and rifles, along with bulletproof vests,
knives, ammunition and assorted military junk. He ran his UFO
investigations with walkie-talkies, acting as if he were leading a
paramilitary operation. He got a kick out of it.
In the 1970s and '80s, Ford became active in local politics, forming
a Conservative Party club in Suffolk County, supporting his mother
in her bids for highway superintendent and county legislator, and
running for several party positions himself. Frustration over
Suffolk County's Republican rule caused him to quit politics, but
his hatred of county Republicans never left him.
Ford formed the Long Island UFO Network in 1988, and as he became
engrossed in abductions and coverups, he came to believe the
government was harassing him. His colleagues at work still found him
dependable, but others noted his obsessions and mercurial moods.
In 1989, Ford conducted his first big investigation, of a supposed
UFO crash in Moriches Bay -- the same bay that TWA Flight 800
plummeted into seven years later, coincidentally (or not). On Sept.
28 of that year, several people reported seeing glowing orange
lights in the sky -- even Brookhaven 's Rowe noticed them as she
drove home, though she assumed they were flares.
Ford concluded, after extensive interviews of witnesses, that
military helicopters shot down a UFO over the bay, killing 17 aliens
that were later taken to Brookhaven. Others accepted the explanation
that the helicopters dropped aerial flares over the bay that night
so the Coast Guard could better rescue a sinking fishing boat.
LIUFON attracted more attention in the paranormal world for its
investigation of the so-called South Haven Park Incident in November
1992. For four days the park was closed to the general public
because of duck hunting, officials said. Ford, though, believed that
a UFO crash caused a fire in the park, and he was backed by several
witnesses. Plus, he had a videotape that he believed showed burning
He traveled to conferences to show the tape, which Ford said came
from a firefighter on the scene. It supposedly revealed uniformed
men placing something on the ground, and what appeared to be a body.
Even some UFO investigators were skeptical about the videotape,
which Ford admitted was of shoddy quality. But Ford, and those like
him, have an amazing capacity for belief: In defiance of physical
laws, despite not witnessing the event firsthand, Ford was sure that
visitors had come to Long Island for the second time in three years.
Preston Nichols was sure, too. Portly and absent-minded, he lives
with his father in a small, shoddy house cluttered with electronic
equipment, books, videotapes and a rock collection. Sitting in his
driveway is a school bus Nichols bought to transform into a "mobile
UFO investigative unit." On a recent rainy day in East Islip, he
fires up the bus's space heater so he can comfortably catalogue his
UFO-detection equipment. There's a magnetic detector; a Geiger
counter; a gas detector, for residuals of exhaust from helicopters;
a mine detector; an ionization detector.
A LIUFON member and friend of Ford's, Nichols, 50, writes books on
time travel and government experiments. He has theories about Ford's
arrest. Ford got too close to the truth, Nichols claims. He talks of
his own intelligence connections and fears that government agents
have tampered with the lug nuts on his car.
In his living room, while his fat dog snores, Nichols cues up a
video and announces, "I didn't believe in time travel until I saw
evidence that I had time-traveled."
He shows part of that evidence: a 1995 tape of a local newscast that
briefly features a young firefighter who resembles Nichols. He
believes it is his "double," a younger self, visiting from the past.
But wait. Couldn't it just be someone who resembled him? No, Nichols
says. Too many people have argued that the resemblance is uncanny.
He sighs. It's hard to convince the non-believers.
The Plot Thickens
"This is possibly one of the greatest events in the history of man,"
John Ford told the Riverhead (N.Y.) News-Review, talking about the
alleged saucer crash at South Haven Park. He made the papers and
evening newscasts with his pronouncements. People were seeing things
in the sky, and Ford became a local "expert."
In 1993 Ford left work on a disability pension after injuring his
back; in 1995 his mother died of cancer, leaving him alone in the
house. He had more time to pursue UFOs, and more time to worry.
Steve Iavarone, his loyal vice president at LIUFON, noticed Ford's
increasing paranoia and hostility.
A month before his arrest, Ford told Iavarone that a car in Ford's
driveway had money hidden in the gas tank, "but we can't get it out
because there's a special detonating device and the car will
explode." Iavarone checked out the car, even jumped around on top of
it, and it didn't blow up.
Though Iavarone, a burly electrical contractor, laughs at Ford's
obsessions, he insists that his own suspicions are true. His phones
are tapped and his house is being watched, he believes.
Computer-altered voices leave menacing messages on his answering
machine. "People look in my window all the time," Iavarone says.
In 1995 Ford began to investigate another alleged crash, which he
believed started the August forest fires in eastern Long Island (the
ones that may have attracted Preston Nichols's younger self, sent to
recover the UFO). In a LIUFON bulletin, Ford wrote that "the
government's particle beam weaponry" may have shot down a UFO, and
plot involves newspaper sources, county, state and federal officials."
Believing his life to be in danger, Ford started carrying guns at
all times. It was around this time that he met Joseph Mazzuchelli --
referred to in the local press as "a wiry, tattooed hot-rodder" or
"a tough-talking former junkyard employee." He was also a convicted
Ford took in Mazzuchelli "like a stray dog," says Ford's co-worker
John Marafino. Other friends say Mazzuchelli, 44, began to take
advantage of Ford, who gave him money, a cell phone and a credit
card. Ford believed that Mazzuchelli had a Mafioso uncle who would
finance LIUFON. He gave the ex-felon guns -- which Mazzuchelli
allegedly tried to sell.
Enter Kevin Koch. He was interested in Mazzuchelli's guns. He also
was under investigation for minor criminal activities. He became a
snitch. He told the police about a guy named John Ford, who he heard
was hatching a strange scheme involving radium.
According to Koch, Ford claimed that he had hidden outside
Republican leader John Powell's home with a rifle two weeks earlier.
The night of June 12, 1996, authorities wired Koch and followed him
to Ford's house.
Setting the Trap
At 11 p.m. Ford was hanging out with his friends Joe, Kevin,
Freddie, Skipper and Teddy. (The last three are wire-haired fox
terriers.) The men talked about guy stuff -- who gets more sex, why
you can't trust women -- and politics. The conversation took on a
"I got that very dangerous stuff in the back of the truck," said
Ford, according to a transcript of the police recording.
"How bad is it?" asked Koch.
"It's in...a three-inch lead container, and it's leaking five
roentgens per hour."
The dogs bark. Ford puffs his pipe. Somebody goes into the kitchen
for drinks. Talk turns to burning down the offices of the Suffolk
County Conservative Party, throwing elections into disarray.
Ford mentions Tony Gazzola, an old political adversary. "This
isotope, he'll start glowing in 24 hours." They all laugh.
"Put it in a bag, take the little bag and put it underneath his car
seat," says Ford.
He also boasts: "I'll kill that [expletive] President Clinton -- up
the [expletive]. I'll do it."
"Does Gazzola eat Italian food?" asks Ford. "Take the yellow
[expletive] powder, and mix it in with chopped garlic. The radium in
with the chopped garlic."
Were the three planning a crime or just joking around? The
interpretation of the tape depends on who's listening.
Many have criticized the recording for its poor audibility, but
according to the prosecution's official transcript, this was a
conspiracy to undermine the local Republican Party, in part by
poisoning various officials. Ford specifically mentions John Powell,
the chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee; Fred Towle,
a Suffolk legislator; and Gazzola, the head of the Conservative
Party in Brookhaven (and a onetime treasurer of Ford's Conservative
Police cars filled the normally tranquil Sundial Lane. Ford and
Mazzuchelli were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit
murder, criminal solicitation, illegal possession of radioactive
materials and reckless endangerment.
Later that day the police and the radiation team were sent to the
home of Ford's friend Edward Zabo in nearby Medford, where they
found more radioactive materials, several guns, blasting caps,
detonators, fuses and bombs. Zabo was arrested on weapons,
explosives and radioactive materials charges.
Zabo, 51, had known Ford since college. A Defense Department
employee who worked as a electronics quality-control specialist at
Northrop Grumman, Zabo told the radiation team that his radioactive
and explosive materials came not from the Grumman plant but from a
friend -- and Zabo gave them to Ford for disposal.
For many years, radium was used to make watches glow in the dark.
It's still used to calibrate Geiger counters, such as those Ford
owned. It is a mild carcinogen -- but it's also used to treat
Despite Ford's pronouncement, captured on tape, that Gazzola would
"glow" in 24 hours and Powell would "fall" in 30 days, the radium
would actually take nearly 20 years to kill someone if ingested, at
which point the victim would be elderly and at a greater risk for
cancer anyway. "They picked the wrong substance," says Steve
Musolino, a health physicist at Brookhaven.
Powell, Gazzola and Towle were shocked to find out that they were
Ford's alleged targets. "This is not something you expect to have to
deal with in local elected office, especially in the Suffolk County
legislature," says Towle, who holds office in Ford's district.
According to a rambling manifesto Ford wrote from jail, the three
officials were responsible for setting forest fires to cover up the
1995 UFO crash. They also planned to "eliminate" Ford so he could
not reveal the truth.
When defense lawyer John Rouse got involved with Ford's case, he
figured that someone accused of something so outlandish had a prior
record of threatening behavior. He subpoenaed Ford's
internal-affairs file from the New York State Court Administration,
which contained at least four complaints about LIUFON-related
"There was a whole investigation done over a couple years, with
similar incidents of huffing and puffing," says Rouse. In each case,
officials found that the allegations had no merit and never
The lawyer believes his client has been subject to "selective
prosecution" -- and is a victim of local politics. Republican
District Attorney James Catterson was supported in his November
reelection bid by Powell, the Republican chairman. "The DA makes it
look like he's saved the Republican leader's life," says Rouse. "He
blew this way out of proportion." (Catterson responds that Rouse is
"a bitter individual" who "knows better.")
Rouse unsuccessfully sought a change of venue. He then pursued an
insanity plea, and four psychiatrists and psychologists determined
that Ford was delusional and not fit to stand trial.
One psychiatric evaluation noted that, in the 1970s, as a
Conservative Party activist, Ford believed Communists were poised to
invade Long Island. Indeed, Ford said, they'd already landed, in
Years later, it was the UFOs that were invading. Some experts see a
correlation between the end of the Cold War and an increasing
conspiracy mind-set among Americans. Lacking real enemies, we look
for them in our own government -- and in the sky.
Secret Agent Man
Both Zabo and Mazzuchelli have pleaded guilty to lesser charges in
exchange for testimony against Ford. Mazzuchelli was sentenced in
November to three to nine years for conspiracy; Zabo is free on bail
until his March sentencing for weapons and explosives possession. If
Ford ever goes to trial he could face up to 75 years in prison.
Meanwhile, he is periodically evaluated.
Ford declined to be interviewed, but in letters to Steve Iavarone,
the LIUFON vice president, he explained how he hoped to avoid a
"If I go up to Mid-Hudson Psychiatric [Center] for six months as
incompetent to stand trial then I'll come back and most likely the
charges will be dismissed. ...So far I left the first doctor
mumbling to himself with all the information I gave him. I guess
I'll have a repeat performance with the next doctor tomorrow."
did not have to lie or exaggerate to the doctors to be found unfit;
he simply told them what he believed to be true, which seemed so
fantastical that they could only label it delusional behavior.
Among Ford's beliefs, as stated in his recent handwritten 102- page
manifesto, "My Statement to the Media":
He has been a CIA agent since the age of 19, leading a life hidden
from family and co-workers. He was not paid, so there is no record
of him. Joseph Mazzuchelli was an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli
Ford was recruited to observe Soviet KGB agents in Queens, who tried
to assassinate him five times. He personally stopped a KGB
penetration of the Reagan for President Committee.
The AIDS and Ebola viruses were created by aliens to eliminate the
population of sub-Saharan Africa. President Nixon, Jackie Gleason,
Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and New York Gov. George Pataki, among others,
have all seen UFO evidence.
"The court says I am not competent based upon these statements,"
Ford wrote. "Are they ravings of a madman or the writings of a
perfect and master spy?"
Some of his supporters are willing to believe the latter. "He seems
to me to fit the profile of an agent," says Peter Moon, who
publishes conspiracy books on Long Island.
But others, like Preston Nichols, think that spending 17 months in
jail pushed Ford over the edge. " He's as loony as they come, but
he's a coherent loon," says Nichols, the time traveler.
Ford knows he's not really crazy, though. He's certain that, in the
end, he'll triumph. "I'll bring home the bacon for everyone," he
wrote to Iavarone. "Then we'll rebuild LIUFON and destroy the
He ends the letter his usual way, with a familiar motto from popular
"The truth is out there..."
Regarding Ford, Elaine Douglass of Operation Right to Know (ORTK),
together with several others, has established a John Ford Defense
Committee, devoted to raising money to help him out . The paranoia
here is that Ford must have been on to Something Big, or else he
would not be treated this way. Stay tuned!
-Saucer Smear, Jan. '97