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Minnesota Niche: The Twin Cities UFO Research Group

By Ryan Klabunde

Perhaps you've strolled through a cornfield and felt a wave of otherworldly energy emanate from the stalks. Perhaps you've glimpsed a moving trajectory of glittering lights in the night sky and the pattern they create is nothing like anything you've seen from a shooting star.

The Twin Cities UFO and Research Group is a chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), which investigates UFOs scientifically around the world. Members discuss sightings and UFO-related phenomena such as alien abductions and UFO-related crop circles in an open manner.

MUFON investigates UFO reports, which the organization receives through its online “Case Management System” (CMS). MUFON Field Investigators are certified after they receive online training and pass a stringent exam - and the process they follow mirrors what you might expect from any detective. Investigators interview witnesses and look for consistency between the accounts recorded online and the verbal accounts. On-site visits are conducted when advantageous, and investigators diligently search for a conventional explanation for what is reported. When they can't quite settle on a reasonable explanation, the object or phenomenon is classified as “Unknown-UAV” (Unidentified Aerial Vehicle) or “Unknown-Other,"  for phenomena that do not appear to be a vehicle.

Still, any discussion of UFOs naturally makes our inquiring minds want to know: What are the top sightings or encounters in Minnesota?

Bill McNeff, Minnesota MUFON Chief Investigator and author of Extraterrestrial Odyssey, shares his top reported UFO encounters that have unfolded right here, in our collective backyard.

August 27, 1979: Warren, Minn.

Due to the wealth of physical evidence and the reliability of the prime witness, the case that unfolded in Warren, Minn., is ranked among the most solid in its credibility. Not only were there multiple witnesses on the night of the sighting, but a similar experiences transpired in the same area about a month later, according to another witness.

Deputy Sheriff Val Johnson was on what seemed to be a routine night patrol on country highways north of Warren - but what he ultimately encountered was anything but routine.

Around 1:40 am, he saw a light through his side window. It was obviously not on the road and appeared too glaring to be from a car's headlight.

He first thought it might be a small plane on or very near the ground. He turned left on another road to try to get closer to the light in an effort to identify it. Suddenly, the light moved toward him, traveling so fast that it covered the mile-and-a-half distance almost instantaneously.

Johnson was blinded by the brilliance of the light and heard the crackle of glass breaking before he lost consciousness.

A photo of where Johnson's vehicle skidded, courtesy of Marshall County Historical Society.
A photo of where Johnson's vehicle skidded, courtesy of Marshall County Historical Society.

When he came to, his car was stalled where it had skidded across the highway. He felt sluggish and shaky, and radioed headquarters at 2:19 am to request assistance. Before long, another deputy arrive don the scene and called an ambulance.

The doctor who examined Johnson found him to be in a mild state of shock.

His eyes were irritated, as if Johnson had suffered "mild welder's burns," and he couldn't tolerate any exposure to bright lights.

The patrol car sustained a peculiar array of damage. The inside headlight on the driver's side was smashed, but the one to its immediate left remained intact. There was a flat-bottomed, circular dent on the left side of the front hood, about a half inch in diameter, close to the windshield.

The partially shattered windshield. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Historical Society.
The partially shattered windshield. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Historical Society.

There was a crack in the driver's side of the windshield that ran from top to bottom, with four apparent points of of impact. The electric clock was running 14 minutes slow, as was Johnson's wristwatch.

The shaft of the roof antenna was bent over at a 60-degree angle, starting about six inches above its base.

One of the bent antennas on Johnson's patrol vehicle. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Historical Society.
One of the bent antennas on Johnson's patrol vehicle. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Historical Society.

The trunk antenna was bent over at 90 degrees, but only near the top. No damage occurred to the car's regular antenna on the front hood. Essentially, all the damage to the car occurred on the left, or driver's, side.

Investigations occurred immediately, both by the sheriff's department and by investigators from the Center for UFO Studies. The police determined that Johnson's car traveled about 950 feet after the first round of damage occurred.

As investigators set to work, they ruled out the possibility of a collision with another vehicle or a low-flying plane - and it was evident that Johnson wasn't merely playing a prank or advancing a hoax. What transpired was very real, and yet no clear cause emerged. In addition, experts from Ford Motors (the vehicle was a 1977 Ford LTD) and a team of engineers from Honeywell examined various portions of the damage. After examining the windshield fractures, an expert from Ford, Meridian French, noted that, "Even after several days of reflection on the crack patterns and apparent sequence of fractures, I still have no explanation for what seem to be inward and outward forces acting almost simultaneously. I can only [conclude]... that all cracks were from mechanical forces of unknown origin."

Jonson's 1977 Ford LTD. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Historical Society.
Jonson's 1977 Ford LTD. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Historical Society.

In addition, no cause could be found for the clock running slow, the peculiar antenna damage or other physical traces. A metal expert said that it would have been impossible to bend the two antennas by hand in the manner that they were found, and he theorized that some “unknown force field” was responsible.

Fortunately, Johnson's eyes healed quickly, and he suffered no lasting effect from the close encounter.

October 29, 1979: CASE 4038, MP Sergeant Encounter

Two month's after Val Johnson's experience, an MP Sergeant  offered up a similar account:

“This is a statement on the events that took place at approximately 2200 hours, on October 29, 1979. At the time of this incident, I was 25 years old, and was a Sergeant (E-5) Military Police Officer, on active duty in the US Army. I had departed Fort Wainwright, Alaska a few days earlier, and was driving to my next duty station, which was Fort Snelling, Minnesota (AWOL Apprehension).

We had turned off Hwy 29 in North Dakota, and were headed East on Hwy 1 in Marshall County, Minnesota.

I was driving a 1977 Chevrolet.  My wife Susan was in the car with me, and we were just past the town of Alvarado when we observed an extremely bright light on the road, approximately 1 mile ahead. After about a minute or so, we determined that whatever it was, it was moving because we were not closing on it.

Now being the cocky, young Military Policeman that I was, I decided that I was going to find out what this light was. I accelerated to a high speed (I’m guessing close to 100 mph).

As I started closing on the light, I observed that the light was an extremely bright yellowish light, which appeared to be approximately 4 to 6 feet in diameter. It was above the centerlines in the road, and was about 3 to 4 feet above the road surface. As I got to within approximately 100 yards of the light (traveling at about 100 MPH) it suddenly came off the center lines into the middle of my lane and was coming right at me. I immediately locked up the brakes and swerved onto the shoulder of the roadway (everything in the car was flying into the front seat). Instantly the light was back to approximately a mile ahead of us again.

Now I was [ticked off] - I took off after it again, determined to see what the light was. Again, as I got to within approximately 100 yards of the light (traveling at about 100 MPH), it suddenly came off the center lines into the middle of my lane and was coming right at me. I again immediately locked up the brakes and swerved onto the shoulder of the roadway, and instantly the light was back to approximately 1 mile ahead of us once again. This time I was able to observe that the bottom portion of the light merged into a brighter, whiter light than the rest of it. It was so bright that we had to squint our eyes when we were closing in on it.

Now I was really ticked off. So off I went after it for the third time, with about the same results, however this time I estimated that we came within 30 to 50 feet of the object (we almost hit it).  At that point we decided not to try that anymore.  We followed it (at a safe distance) for a couple more minutes, I turned my lights off & on, and flashed my Brights at it a few times, but it just kept heading down the road.

Then it just disappeared. I thought that maybe it had gone out of sight down a hill, but there was no hill. About 1 mile later, we entered the town of Warren, MN. As we continued past the town, we observed a bright light in our rearview mirror. We watched it for about a minute, then it disappeared (I don’t know if it was what we chased, or if it was just a car that was behind us). We talked about what had just happened, trying to figure out what the heck that object was. I don’t think a UFO was high on our list because one would think of UFOs as flying away, not playing a dangerous game of Cat & Mouse in Northwest Minnesota. (What really ticks me off is that I had a good 35-MM camera in the car, but didn’t think about it at all during this incident)

My sister immediately said, “It wasn’t in Warren, was it?" At that point, I got a knot in my stomach, and the hair on the back of my neck rose with that goose bump chill thing. I said “What do you mean, it wasn’t in Warren!?” Since we had just driven about 3,000 miles, and she nails this sighting to within a few miles!

She said, “Tell me what you saw." So I told her what we had seen, and she stated that a Marshall County deputy sheriff was hit by the UFO about 2 months ago.

Now I was heading for my new Military Police Unit at Fort Sheridan, IL (with duty at Fort Snelling), and I didn’t want to get labeled as a loony, so I only told my friends and relatives about the UFO that I chased.

A few months later, I heard the Deputy Sheriff (Val Johnson) being interviewed on a radio talk show, and I made up my mind that I would call him and talk with him. I called up to Marshall County and they said he worked at the Oslo Police Dept. I called the Oslo Police Dept. and stated why I was calling. They called Val Johnson at home and he okayed them to give me his home phone number. I then called Val and stated that I believe that I had chased the object that had hit him. I described to him what had happened. He stated that of all the people that had reported UFO sightings up there, he was sure that I had chased the object that had hit him. He stated that as I was describing the incident he was remembering the small details about the light (such as: it being above the centerline, and it having a brighter whiter lower portion) that he had never reported in his statements.

I have often thought about what it was, and why it would be playing cat & mouse with a car in northern Minnesota.

The only theory I can come up with is as follows: If it was [that] some kind of extraterrestrial or extra-dimensional beings were observing our civilization, they would surely be interested in what could hurt them. The Grand Forks AFB (and ICBM missile silos) are not too far from there. Could it be possible that the object was monitoring the military base from that area? It being about 3 to 4 feet above the road surface would give it vertical obstacle clearance and keep it below the radar screens. It being above the centerline in the road would give it left and right side obstacle clearance. Vehicles like the sheriff’s squad car and my car were probably minor inconveniences to its mission, requiring throwing a scare into the occupants if they got too close.”

April 22, 1966: Bagley, Minn.

By way of background information, the witness in this case was born in 1950 and claimed that, at the age of three, he, along with his parents and sister, was taken aboard what he believes to have been an extraterrestrial craft one night. Each member of the family was given a physical exam, and the beings aboard the craft told them that their abduction would benefit mankind. They were also informed that they would safely return home without any recollection of the night's events. A neighbor witnessed a bright light above their home on the night this occurred. This was the first of a number of contacts the witness has reported experiencing during his life.

The witness provided Minnesota MUFON with a written account, as well as a verbal description of another event that happened in 1966, when he was 15 years old. On a day in which he was supposed to be in school, he claimed that he was taken aboard an extraterrestrial craft that morning, though he didn't remember precisely where or when he entered the craft. He thought that he probably played hooky that day and remembered bringing a forged excuse slip to school the next day.

On board the craft, he was placed in a coffin-like enclosure. The craft was, he believes, controlled by an on-board intelligence which he never saw; it may have been an intelligent computer. There was a circular sensor near his head, which connected his mind with the intelligence in control of the craft - so he could see what the craft could see, 360 degrees in every direction, and he could concentrate his attention in a particular direction. The craft communicated with him partly with words and partly with images.

First the craft flew him to Russia, where night had fallen. The craft either hovered over or landed in an unoccupied section of a large city - looking at the atlas after the fact, the witness believed the city was Moscow. There, an older man conferred with him and counseled him on how to deal with the nightmares that he had been having since his abduction at age three. At this time, the witness wrote: “They [the aliens] said they would let me live my life.” Then he was given complete control of the craft to fly back to Bagley. He recognized the Great Lakes as they flew over them.

The witness stated that he overshot Bagley. “I flew to the far south and west. When I was flying over the Red River Valley (at a very low altitude), I wondered why it was so flat. I was surprised by the ship answering me with several views of the Red River Valley during past geological periods. The ship had recorded prior events, playing them back to me, making it like actually being there.”

At that point he asked the ship, “Who are you?” and received a mind-numbing download of information, too much to detail for this article.

The witness eventually flew the craft on to Bagley, and he observed the main street of the town from just a few feet of altitude. Encountering a school bus, he jumped the craft over the vehicle because he wanted someone to see it; otherwise, he knew he would forget the experience. He then landed the craft on the outskirts of town in Lake Lamand Park. He slipped down the ramp and out into the grass, while the grays pretended to do repairs, and he managed to get away without being seen. He made his way the few blocks back to the school, arriving in time to catch his usual bus home. There are historical records which support the reality of the incident outlined in this account.

The witness reported several other experiences with ETs during the course of his life - but there are too many anecdotes to summarize in a single article.

Minnesota Niche Lightning Round: Plausible or Improbable


On the hunt for your own Minnesota Niche group? Check out these stories about other social adventures in niche-dom.

Special Thanks: New Brighton Community Center 
Production Team: Joe Demko, Ezra Gold, Ryan Klabunde, Mike Phillips

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This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

Feeling doubtful? Feeling convinced? Check out the first episode of Minnesota Niche, which profiles a group of skeptics that gathers for critical discourse. Wonder how they might grapple with these detailed accounts of UFO sightings...

Want to know what's truly alien? Real-live, crying, cooing babies on display at a Minnesota amusement park. And people actually paid money to see them. Check out this 30-Second Minnesota story.

Ryan Klabunde Read More
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