The Stars In Our Lies

The strange tale of Travis Walton and November 5th, 1975.

Hello. My name is Gareth Davies. And I am a liar.

Today I have told three lies. But at the time of writing this it’s still early, and by the close of play today I’ll have probably tripled that total at the very least.

Now in my defence, I don’t tell the type of lies that would cause international outrage. I have never, for example, claimed that I would build a wall on the border of my country and make my neighbours pay for it. Nor have I rented a large bus and painted some fictitious numbers on the side of it to convince some pensioners that immigrants are evil. Because, although I have an IQ that nestles somewhere in between a dead marmoset and someone who licks batteries because they like the fuzzy feeling they get on their tongue, even I know that type of shit couldn’t possibly fly.

Instead, my field of lies is populated by the little white seeds I scatter indiscriminately throughout the day as an act of self preservation. And by “act of self preservation” I mean “I like a quiet life and I’m terribly lazy, so if saying the thing you want to hear facilitates me being left alone sooner, then gosh darnit that’s what I’m gonna do”. The main recipient of these alternative truth bombs is, of course, my long-suffering partner. It’s practically to the point now where any question she asks me is likely to met with either a Minnow-esque fib or an Atlantic Blue Marlin-sized whopper, depending entirely on the tone of her voice alone. For example.

THE FUTURE EX MRS. DAVIES: Gareth, did you feed the cat?

ME (throwing a value packet of Cheetos vaguely in the cat’s direction, who stares at them briefly before resuming the all important task of licking itself) : Yes dear!

THE FUTURE EX MRS. DAVIES: Gareth, you know the bin needs to go out if it’s full, right?

ME (trying to carefully construct some sort of garbage-based Meccano model of the Eiffel Tower to avoid getting rubbish on the floor): It’s fine dear!

THE FUTURE EX MRS. DAVIES: Gareth, why does it show a payment of £59.99 to “InflatablePenguins.Com” on our bank statement?

ME (looking proudly at a roomful of inflated aquatic birds that I bought for a YouTube parody of March of The Penguins that I will never actually get around to making): I have no idea my sweet!

How do penguins like their drinks served? On the rocks!

The problem is, none of this ever works. It’s not like my attempts at diversion ever result in me being showered with glazed hams and chocolate sorbets. If anything it just delays the inevitable. At some point, just like trying to go through a revolving door in a poorly knitted sweater, something always unravels. And the inevitable conclusion is at best a severe scolding, at worst sleeping on the sofa for a week.

But still, I keep doing it. And not just at home. I laugh at my boss’s jokes, even though they’re about as enjoyable as getting kicked in the nuts by a horse wearing ten inch heels. I pull out of social engagements claiming I’ve picked up a cold, and spend the rest of the night chugging soda straight from a two litre bottle and playing vidoegames. When my friends ask how I am I always tell them I’m fine, even though I spent the morning staring into the abyss of existential angst only for the abyss to stare straight back at me. In short I lie. To everyone. About everything. Even when it serves no purpose.

Which is why I feel for Travis Walton.

The year was 1975. That summer, a giant shark had terrorised cinema goers and was so successful it heralded the birth of the modern day movie blockbuster. Billy Swan’s I Can Help became a huge crossover hit and the biggest selling single of the year. And inexplicably people wore bell bottoms and never once considered they looked ridiculous. At the time 22 year old Travis was part of a logging crew led by his best friend Mike Rogers. The rest of the crew was made up of Ken Peterson, John Goulette, Steve Pierce, Allen Dallis and Dwayne Smith, all of whom resided in the small town of Snowflake, Arizona. They had been hired by the United States Forest Service to tidy up some 1,200 acres of land that had become overrun with shrubs.The deal was a pretty sweet one, as should the work be completed by the agreed deadline then Rogers and friends were set to make more money from this single job than on any other one previously.

Unfortunately towards the end of the year the lads had fallen behind schedule. And rather than run the risk of defaulting on the contract, instead they started working from dawn till dusk. And so on November 5 at a little after 6 pm, and as the last dying embers of sunlight petered out, the group hung up their bush cutting implements for the day and were heading back to Snowflake in Mike’s truck. Where upon all hell broke loose.

Shortly after setting off on their journey the group spied a bright light coming up from behind a hill in front of them. Intrigued, they approached slowly until they were close enough to ascertain that it wasn’t a light at all. Rather, hanging lazily in the sky, was a huge flying saucer hovering above a clearing in the forest. Later, members of the party would estimate it to be somewhere in the region of 8ft high and 20ft in diameter.

Now Mike Rogers was a sensible chap and he immediately stopped his truck so as not to get disintegrated into tiny pieces by an alien death ray. Alas Travis Walton was not quite on the same level when it came to keeping calm and carrying on, because as soon as the vehicle stopped Walton leapt out and started running towards the UFO like he was Donald Trump chasing the Kremlin’s approval. Everybody else in the truck started shouting things like “Holy shit Travis!!! What are you doing?? Get back in the truck you goddam moron!!!”, and undoubtedly scared witless by the huge spaceship in the heavens above, none of the other loggers followed Walton. Which was probably for the best, because as Travis got closer to the spaceship it fired a beam at him that “rose him a foot into the air, his arms and legs outstretched, and shot him back stiffly some 10 feet (3.0 m), all the while caught in the glow of the light. His right shoulder hit the earth, and his body sprawled limply over the ground.” according to statements made to UFO researcher Jerome Clarke.

UFOs. Bothering sleeping trees since 1905.

Seeing Walton getting his ass handed to him by a bunch of aliens was enough for Mike, who swung the truck around and put his foot down. When he finally lost control and skidded off the road they were a quarter of a mile away. It was half an hour later and after “much discussion” (Author’s Note: “So, Mike. I hear Julian Barnes has been shortlisted yet again for the Booker prize. Do you think he’ll win this year, and if so is The Sense of an Ending any better than the bracing postmodernism of Flaubert’s Parrot?”) that they returned to the scene. Where they found…

Nothing.

No sign of Travis. No sign of a struggle, or a body being violently flung about like a hot cup of coffee at one of Barbra Streisand’s assistants. And certainly no sign of any aircraft, alien or otherwise. Rogers and the rest of the crew carefully searched both on foot and on the road hoping to find any clue as to what might have happened to Travis. But to no avail. They found neither hide nor hair of him.

At 7.30 pm Deputy Sheriff Chuck Ellison received a phone call from Ken Peterson. Peterson, obviously sounding distressed, reported that Walton had gone missing. Ellison arranged to meet Peterson and the rest of the crew at a shopping centre, and upon his arrival they divulged the full story. During this conversation Ellison noted that all of the men were distraught, with two of them actually reduced to tears. While he did not believe for a second that Jack McSpaceman was snatching folks from Arizona willy nilly, he became convinced that whatever had happened to these men had affected them deeply. So Ellison called his superior Sheriff Marlin Gillespie, who advised Ellison to keep the men at the shopping centre until he got there. Within the hour Gillespie arrived with Officer Ken Coplan and the tale was related to them. Rogers demanded that they head back out to the scene with sniffer dogs. No dogs were available at that precise moment, but Gillespie rounded up a posse regardless and they set off in search of what many expected to be the lifeless body of Travis Walton.

But there wasn’t a body to be found. In fact there wasn’t anything to be found.

Despite the dark, the police and volunteers conducted what was later described as “a thorough search” of the area. And yet no physical evidence was unearthed to suggest that anything untoward had happened at all. Although police kept up the search for a couple of hours the truth was many of them had already come to one of two conclusions. Either Walton had been killed by accident or on purpose by one of his work colleagues and buried somewhere in the forest, with the rest of the crew going along with this fantastical ruse in order to protect one of their own. Or Walton had pulled a prank on his mates and was now currently hanging out in a bar, laughing at how silly everyone else was.

And to think, the Statue of Liberty was only three days away from retirement…

Rogers and Coplan went to visit Walton’s mother Mary Walton Kellett to break the bad news to her. Rather than collapse in tears and tear open her blouse, she simply asked the men to repeat themselves. They did and she then calmly asked if anyone other than the police and eye witnesses had heard the story. Coplan left her house thinking that she was acting very strangely, and entirely unlike a mother who had just been told that her son was missing. He got the impression that the only way she would be this calm was if she knew Travis was actually not missing at all. This added fuel to the growing suspicion that Walton’s “abduction” was not on the level.

Fast forward three days and still little progress had been made on the case. In fact the police had pretty much given up the search, which led to Rogers and Travis’ older brother Duane causing a fracas in the police station as they protested the department’s apparent inactivity. Worse, the media had rocked up in Snowflake, and were salivating all over this story. For reporters this was a win/win. Either Walton was dead, in which case the loggers would go down as the most knuckleheaded criminals in the history of North America. Or Walton had faked his own disappearance, and lord knows the nightly news loves a pantomime villain. Or Travis had actually been abducted by aliens, which would be the biggest news story since that Jewish guy water skied across a lake without any skis or a boat to pull him. Whatever the result, the newspapers and television shows were quids in.

Almost immediately large sections of the media started to raise doubts about the validity of the UFO story as well as questioning the character of all the main players involved. Therefore Rogers and the rest of the crew agreed to a polygraph test. With the exception of Allen Dallis, the men passed the polygraph, leading to the tester to comment that “These polygraph examinations prove that these five men did see some object they believed to be a UFO, and that Travis Walton was not injured or murdered by any of these men on that Wednesday”.

(Author’s note: By the way, the reason Dallis did not pass the test was because he abandoned it halfway through, and legged it out of the building faster than Yosemite Sam with his britches on fire. It turns out that Dallis had lied about a previous criminal conviction in order to get his job with Rogers and was worried that he would get exposed. Which is why all employers should have a polygraph machine on hand when interviewing prospective employees in the first instance. “What’s my worst quality? Well some people have suggested that I’m a workaholic and I care about my job too much” Beep. “What? Oh fuck it. Fine. My worst quality is stealing underwear from Marks & Spencers. There. Happy now?”)

It didn’t matter though, as both police and the news people were convinced this was all a stunt. Snowflake town marshal Sanford Flake was particularly keen to expose the fraudsters, publicly announcing that Travis and Duane had fooled the loggers by lighting a balloon. Without, alas, a shred of evidence to back it up. He even turned up on Mary Walton Kellett’s doorstep with a camera crew hoping to find Travis hiding inside her house.

Jigglypuff! I choose you!

And then on 10 November, five days after he had gone missing, Travis Walton called his friend Grant Neff from a public phone box at Heber Gas station. Neff at first didn’t believe it was him until Travis screamed down the phone “It’s me, Grant … I’m hurt, and I need help badly. You come and get me”. So Neff did what he was told. He found Walton at the Herber Gas station slumped in a booth, wearing the same clothes he had on when he went missing. Neff bundled Travis in to the back of his car and headed back to Snowflake, while Walton mumbled about “things with terrifying eyes” and was surprised to discover he had been away for five days, thinking he was gone a couple of hours at most.

Rather than a huge sigh of relief that a missing local resident had resurfaced relatively unharmed, Travis’s surprise return only fanned the flames of speculation even more. Where had he been? What had happened to him? Why return now? Enquiring minds, and their media ringmasters, demanded to know.

Well, according to Walton the last thing he remembered was being hit by a beam, waking up inside the ship, and getting into a heated exchange with some rather strange creatures, despite not understanding a thing they were saying. He described these beings as “shorter than five feet, with bald heads, and no hair. Their heads were domed, very large. They looked like foetuses”. Which I’m guessing is what caused the argument in the first place. I mean, you can’t just go around telling people they look like foetuses. Even Martians have feelings. Anyway these tiny beasts beat a hasty retreat when Walton threatened them with glass rod. They were replaced with human figures in blue jumpsuits and with glowing golden eyes. These people grinned at him inanely while not saying a single word, before eventually leading him to a small room where they gassed him and then presumably dumped him at a gas station for no reason at all.

But now the spacemen were done with Travis Walton, it was the turn of the press. The Phoenix Gazette ran a story about a man named William H. Spaulding who claimed to have examined and questioned Walton for 2 hours the day following his return. He claimed that there had been inconsistencies with Walton’s story and that he was prepared to expose Travis for creating a carefully constructed lie. Feeling under pressure to defend himself Travis spoke to Gillespie and offered to partake in a polygraph or be injected with truth serum. Gillespie said a polygraph would be fine (Author’s note: Largely because he was neither Jason Bourne nor a Russian spy and as such truth serum was pretty hard to come by). But then news that he was to undergo a lie detector test was leaked to the press and Duane Walton, by this point acting as his brother’s minder, cancelled the test thinking Gillespie had tipped off the reporters.

In the end Travis did take a polygraph test, paid for by the National Enquirer, who were probably trying to tie up the Waltons to an exclusive interview. The test was conducted John J McCarthy and…

Travis failed.

Travis Walton. Likes: Candlelit dinners. Dislikes: Smokers. Random encounters in the woods.

In fact not only did he fail but Duane Walton requested the results be suppressed, as per the agreement he made with the National Enquirer. And by the time that they were made public eight months later Travis was already considered to be a fraud, the polygraph being the final nail in the coffin. The cynics sighted the lack of emotional response from Mary, interview statements made by Rogers and Duane casting doubt on their motives, and a medical examination of Travis showing low levels of ketones in his urine (Author’s note: Ketones are present when you go without food or drink for an extended period of time and your body starts to break down fats to survive. If Travis had been gone for five days then he surely would have had a much higher than normal level of ketones in his urine. But he didn’t. So either he was eating pretty regularly, or E.T. and pals were funnelling liquefied beefburgers directly in to Walton’s stomach. Which, when you think about it, is one way McDonalds could revive their flagging business. “In a hurry? Why not try the new McPumpulator? Now with extra cheese!”)

And it really doesn’t matter that McCarthy’s conduct during the test was brought in to question as being “unprofessional”, or that Travis would later pass two further polygraph tests. It doesn’t matter that Rogers was accused of being an accomplice in a scam to allow him to default on his contract with the Forest service, despite the fact that he had defaulted on several other contracts with them before without claiming alien involvement. It doesn’t matter that the Walton’s were labelled as drunks and ne’er-do-wells in the tabloids, or that Mary’s dignified response was deemed to be suspicious.

None of that mattered. Because Travis Walton was labelled a liar. And the label stuck.

Which isn’t to say that Travis Walton is telling the truth. But it is a story he’s maintained for over 40 years. Throughout numerous challenging interviews for TV shows, radio broadcasts and the printed word, he’s never once budged. And as a man whose thinly painted facades fade under the slightest scrutiny, I must take my hat off to him. As liars rank, he’s a first year ballot hall of fame candidate if ever there was one.

But if he is telling the truth, if he genuinely believes that he was abducted by aliens on that fateful night, and if he’s determined to stick to his guns despite the vast amount of damage it has done to his, his friends’, and his family’s reputations then I can safely say one thing…

Sometimes, it is just better to lie about it.