Hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans believe they have been abducted by aliens. In a typical case, an abductee recounts lying in bed one night when an eerie feeling overcomes him, and alien beings appear out of nowhere. The extraterrestrials transport him to a spacecraft and subject him to a battery of physical and psychological tests. After what seems like hours, he is returned to his bedroom unharmed, and finds that the whole ordeal transpired in minutes.
Abductees think their traumatic experiences were real. However, most psychologists think abductions are lucid dreams or hallucinations, triggered by an awareness of other people’s similar experiences. One recent experiment, in which participants trained in lucid dreaming techniques were able to dream up vivid alien encounters, supports this hypothesis. But if each perceived abduction is just the latest in a series of hallucinations, what was it that triggered that first dream or delusion? How was the alien abduction story born?
Paranormal investigators say it all started in the 1940s and ’50s. The Space Age was upon us, and sci-fi literature was soaring in popularity with human-alien encounters a recurring theme. In July 1946, “Planet Comics” ran a strip in which aliens used a luminous tractor beam to kidnap a voluptuous female earthling, whom they called Specimen 9. They tell her the abduction is part of “Project Survival,” and as they steer their spaceship toward what looks like Saturn, the leader remarks, “Now home. And if you find our methods ruthless, Specimen 9, it is because our needs are desperate.”
Likewise, in 1954, a comic strip appearing in the British tabloid The Daily Express detailed the alien abduction of a Royal Air Force pilot. Dozens of other abduction stories graced the pages of sci-fi novels and comic books.
Science fiction gets real?
Eventually, sporadic reports of real-life violent interactions with aliens began to surface. Most important to this narrative, in 1954, two Venezuelan teenagers claimed to have stumbled upon a spaceship in the woods near their village. Small, hairy aliens attacked them, and injured one of the boys before they were able to beat the creatures back using an unloaded rifle as a club and escape to safety. According to Luis Gonzalez, a UFO expert and skeptic based in Argentina, a magazine article describing this alleged incident seems to have triggered the first alien abduction claim three years later.
In 1957, a Brazilian writer named João Martins penned the first installment of a series titled “Flying Saucers’ Terrible Mission” for the magazine O Cruzeiro. “There he describes cases of people in isolated places attacked by small alien beings (the famous 1954 cases in Venezuela, among others),” Gonzalez told Life’s Little Mysteries. “Martins also asked his readers to write him with their own experiences. Among hundreds of [responses], he selected one of a young farmer from Minas Gerais with whom he exchanged several letters.”
The next year, Martins paid for the 23-year-old farmer to come to Rio de Janeiro, where he was examined by Dr. Olavo Fontes. The farmer’s name was Antonio Villas Boas, and he claimed to have been abducted by aliens one day after reading Martins’ article.
Dr. Fontes sent a detailed report about the Villas Boas case to the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, but, Gonzalez explained, they decided it was too fantastical to publish. “Nevertheless, the story circulated between the experts,” he wrote.
Eventually, the story got out. Walter Buhler of the Brazilian ufology group SBEDV, and a follower of the self-described alien contactee George Adamski learned about Vilas Boas’ story, and in 1962, Buhler visited the young farmer in his hometown. The SBEDV subsequently published a report on the Villas-Boas case in English, and the account aligned with Adamski’s earlier descriptions of aliens and their spaceships. In January 1965, an international journal called the Flying Saucer Review reproduced Buhler’s report worldwide.