Gulf Breeze is a typical coastal Florida town, landlocked but certainly a product of the times. Traffic appears to be constant as the main thoroughfare of Highway 98 (also known as the Gulf Breeze Parkway) passes through numerous stretches of retail shopping outlets and restaurants ornamented by pine and palm trees. 98 passes through Gulf Breeze rather quickly, finally mounting the bridge that hovers over Pensacola Bay and dropping into the commercial haven of Pensacola Beach.
Physically, little has changed over the years since the monumental sightings initiated by building contractor Ed Walters…perhaps with the exception of Gulf Breeze’s perception of the UFO scenario in general. Some welcome the attention—and still do—of the events that transpired some twenty-six years ago. Many more just wish it would all go away.
Silverthorn Road is a narrow and twisty drive that winds through a suburban landscape of homes and mature trees. The Gulf Breeze saga began at 612 Silverthorn Road at a Walters built home that hasn’t changed a whole lot since the late 1980s. There are many houses on this short stretch of road and not an empty lot to be found; all having been present during Walters’ initial sighting. It’s a quiet neighborhood and one gets the feeling that the homeowners are, and always have been, quite perceptive of their surroundings. Yet on that November night of 1987, and subsequent nights, no one else witnessed a thing?
Pensacola News Journal reporter Craig Myers wasn’t buying the story that Ed Walters was feeding to the Gulf Breeze Sentinel newspaper, and cared even less for MUFON’s interpretation of the unfolding event. He decided to pursue the story from a hoax angle. And what better way to start than visit Walters’ former home on Silverthorn Road. It proved to be a very enlightening visit in that summer of 1990.
Robert and Sarah Menzer had purchased the house from Ed Walters and were not aware of the events that had transpired previously. Robert made a discovery while tracing a water line up through the attic—a nine inch model of an alien spacecraft made from Styrofoam bowls buried under a layer of insulation. Thinking little of it, Robert placed it in the garage and forgot about it. That was until Craig Myers came to call, asking if they had noticed anything “unusual” about the home.
Myers became slack-jawed when he was handed the model. While it was not an exact match of the craft in Walters’ photographs, it was pretty damn close. Myers realized it could have been an early prototype of what would later surface in Walters’ Sentinel photos.
However, the model did closely resemble a drawing made by Walters that was published in the MUFON Journal and later in his book.
Myers was granted the model from the Menzers, and using it, double exposing his camera’s film, produced images that were very similar to Walters’ UFO photos. Coincidently, the model took on a new aspect when a light was placed in its hollow core.
“The more we played with it, the more we discovered there was indeed beauty in its simplicity, and method in its maker’s madness,” Myers stated. “As mentioned earlier, the material glowed when lit from the inside, with the light glowing brighter from the Styrofoam bowls that formed the power ring, from the portholes and from the plastic tube.”
Ed Walters’ public reaction to this discovery—after being initially perplexed—was that the model had been planted by debunkers and skeptics who were out to discredit him. Then folks seemed to come out of the woodwork….
A few weeks later a teenager by the name of Tommy Smith publically revealed an association with Walters that included his participation of faked UFO photos and videos (yes, Ed had graduated to video) using models. Smith’s explanation on Ed Walters’ motivation—“Ed was in it for the money somewhat, and also for the fact that it was just a big ego trip. He wanted to see if he could get away with it. Ed said he would die and go to the grave with his story.”
Smith claimed that several people were involved in the UFO charade, including Ed’s wife, son, and a man by the name of Hank Boland, who was one of the sole witnesses outside of family members that had also experienced the UFO enigma in Gulf Breeze.
Walt Andrus of MUFON responded quickly with his sword drawn—“Smith is lying about being with Walters when he forged UFO photos!” Andrus also added that he felt Smith was lying to protect his parent’s religious beliefs, which did not accept UFO activity. Hmmm.
Of interest is that Tommy Smith passed two voice stress tests that were administered to him. Tommy Smith was labeled as “Chris” for the purpose of the tests. Dale Kelly administered the first test, coming to the conclusion:
“At the request of and under the authority of Chief Jerry Brown of the Gulf Breeze Police Department, I analyzed a tape of a person known only as Chris to me. The subject matter was the taking of photos of ‘UFOs’ and if the photos were faked. Based on the test results, it is the opinion of this examiner that ‘Chris” was telling the truth when he described how he was told how the photos were faked. In answer to all questions put to ‘Chris’ in my opinion he was telling the truth.”
Second examiner, Ed Halford, stated:
“In my professional opinion, the answers to all questions asked of this person were truthful….I have a degree in criminology, twenty years police experience, and thirteen years with the Mark II Voice Stress Analyzer.”
Former convert and champion, WEAR-TV Channel 3 reporter Mark Curtis, too had a shift of reasoning and became skeptical of Walters’ claims. He himself created similar photos of the infamous “road shot” by following Tommy Smith’s explanation on how it was done. He candidly admitted—“It was quite easy to reproduce those pictures.”
The heat was on and Walt Andrus of MUFON was dancing in the flames. There was way too much public scrutiny for comfort. He ordered the investigation reopened and pulled from within investigators to review the case and current revelations that were casting a cloud over his parade. He wanted a fresh set of eyes, yet with a predictable outcome. Walt’s life was not going to get any easier.
Ed Walters was very aware of the criticism he was receiving from scoffers and skeptics. His Polaroid camera, using self-developing film that had captured the initial Gulf Breeze photos, also had the capability to manually eject the film plate when desired—meaning it was very easy to double expose a shot (two different exposures on the same photo). Two would seem to be the limit…anymore than that only produced a garbled mess of emulsion. Ed was no dummy. To disprove the claim of fraud he graduated to a newer model camera--one that automatically ejected the finished photo after a single shot. He effectively hoped it would eliminate any questions of double exposure.
Additionally, with MUFON’s full endorsement and assistance, he experimented with a Nimslo stereo camera which produced 3D photographs. The experiments with this camera were proclaimed (by MUFON investigators) to be under “scientifically, controlled conditions.” Yet, no one was privy to Walters using the 3D camera and astonishingly producing UFO photos other than wife Frances. The quality and depth of the photos from a Nimslo camera pale significantly from conventional photography, leading to its demise. Now it is just a point in photographic history.
As the late 1980s turned into the beginning stretch of the 1990s, Walters’ photos did improve in quality. He had become a better photographer. It might also appear that “models” improved as well. With a good model in hand it did not matter what medium was being used to record it…self ejecting Polaroid or Nimslo. It was all in the presentation…and best done in private. Later computations of some of Walters’ Nimslo photos put the size of the UFO at roughly two and a half feet—model size!
Walters would periodically play with a video camera, and of course always be in the right place at the right time. However old habits die hard. His trusty Polaroid always stayed within reach.
In August of 1990 Walt Andrus of MUFON assigned husband and wife team Rex and Carol Salisberry— top notch and respected investigators with Florida MUFON—to revisit aspects of the case, including
- If Ed Walters had any prior knowledge of the model before Mr. Menzer found it.
- If Tommy Smith’s claims held any merit.
- If there were any flaws in the initial investigation that hadn’t beer revealed.
The Salisberrys went to work.
Was Walt Andrus genuinely sincere in his motivation to bring the Salisberrys on board to seek out the “truth” of the Gulf Breeze sightings or was it an invitation to come on over to the dark side? As demonstrated by his past actions, Andrus was of the hope they would work towards a favorable conclusion. What he got was something else!
In addition to the key points in question the Salisberrys scrutinized photographs taken by Walters. They soon were biting their lower lips and shaking their heads. Things were not going towards a positive upswing, and definitely not what Walt Andrus wanted to hear. They phoned Andrus on September 9th and informed him there were strong indications of a hoax perpetuated by Ed Walters. They couldn’t understand how MUFON had bought into it and continued the ride.
And then there was silence…. No response from Andrus and MUFON…not a word.
“This tends to make us believe that he is not giving serious consideration to our analysis or the supporting analysis of other experts,” the Salisberrys stated. “Also, we have now learned that elements of MUFON are attempting to discredit us as “debunkers” which we deem eminently unfair in consideration of the large amount of time and effort we have devoted to objective reassessment of this case.”
Talk about being thrown under the bus! Effectively, Andrus rejected their claims of a hoax because it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. The Salisberrys had worked hard, stayed objective, provided evidence, and this was their reward. Suddenly Andrus was silent and not interested in speaking with them.
One can easily imagine Walt Andrus at this point seated behind his desk, surveying an organized layout of desk blotter, phone, pens, folders and a framed photo of a past vacation in Cozumel, Mexico. His veins are pulsating rhythmically against the tight skin of his temples as he gives himself a series of Moe Howard, aka The Three Stooges, eye pokes…one after another. It just isn’t fair!!
Feeling their investigation would be swept under the rug by MUFON, the Salisberrys decided to provide their conclusions to someone who would listen—Pensacola News Journal reporter Craig Myers.
Walt Andrus stood steadfast—no evidence of a hoax—despite the findings of the Saliberrys. Recovering quickly from his eye pokes, Andrus assigned Florida MUFON’s Chief Investigator, and Ed Walters supporter, Gary Watson to further investigate. How convenient! Now maybe something would go Andrus’ way for a change.
Ed Walters was a player! He had submitted to not one, but two, psychological stress evaluations (voice stress tests), much like teenager and purported Walters accomplice Tommy Smith had done. The results were inconclusive at best, but it appeared to be good enough for Walt Andrus and MUFON. The audio tapes were sent to a security firm in Maryland for analysis. Michael P. Kradz did an independent report of his findings:
“ The way the interviews were done and the type of information discussed does not give the examiner the verbal material necessary for him to be able to say if these individuals are being completely truthful with the interviewer….The rest of the interview, for what it’s worth from the standpoint of being able to say he is being truthful about what he saw and what he did, does not show any reactions to cause this examiner to doubt his answers but the interview is not covering any specifics, therefore a more general discussion and it appears Ed is enjoying the discussion mainly about photography.”
Ed was enjoying the attention…and photography, which he had gotten quite adapt at.
In September of 1990 a confused Ed Walters appeared on the Oprah Winfrey television talk show, at one point proclaiming to a startled Oprah—“I’ve never said I’ve been abducted!”
Well, yes Ed…you did. You wrote a book addressing the subject. And poor, hapless author Budd Hopkins…he endorsed the experience. Was he a clueless patsy? Did he make the trip all the way to Gulf Breeze for nothing?
The beginning of a new UFO era in Gulf Breeze began around September of 1989 and worked its way essentially into 1992 until finally disappearing into the mild panhandle breeze. Of course Walters was on the scene, and with a camera in tow. These sightings were different—termed “red UFOs’ because of their bright red lights. Shoreline Park, and even Pensacola Beach, became a prime watch spot. Eventually this repeating enigma became known under the affectionate moniker of “Bubba” sightings. Let the tailgating begin!
Many skeptics immediately dismissed it as balloons harvesting flares. Many reports sited an array of sequenced colors—white, red, and the occasional flashes of blue and green. Dr. Bruce Maccabee, an avid Ed Walters’ cheerleader and pal of MUFON was just as quick to dismiss the balloon theory. In fact, Bruce seemed to be always ready for a quick retort anytime there was a criticism on the Gulf Breeze sightings. If you were attacking Ed Walters, you were essentially attacking him also.
Dr. Maccabee described the “Bubba” sightings as—“Chandeliers in the sky.” Many others were not so sure. One Florida skeptic studied the characteristics of a common road flare and found:
“…when the road flare is first ignited, it burns with a white light for about 20 seconds, then changes to red for about 10 minutes. At that point it returns to white for the remainder of the burn. A second flare tested returned briefly to red just before burning out. When the flare is burned upside down there are some blue and green emissions, possibly from burning of chemicals in the flare casing.”
Very similar to the color pattern reported in many of the “Bubba” sightings. Another “experimenter” reported:
“This experimenter has further demonstrated that a flare can be modified to achieve various effects. When chemicals were added from Fourth of July sparklers, brilliant bursts of lights were recreated.”
Just like the brilliant bursts of light from “Bubba”….
I sat on the veranda of a bar on Pensacola Beach in October of 2013, sipping a beer and looking across the bay towards Gulf Breeze. I tried to imagine the frenzy from both the media and public that had held this area in its grip back in the early 1990s. Woodstock for the UFO crowd? It seemed a world away at that particular moment. Fall had left the bay in a quiet tranquility and high cumulous clouds rolled a tapestry across the evening sky. I watched and I waited. I guess I still am….
Back in those days no one seemed concerned that there was a proliferation of military installations in the immediate area. There still is. Just across the bay from Gulf Shore is the Pensacola Naval Station. No one seemed to connect that “Bubba” sightings were usually over or near Eglin Air Force Base in nearby Fort Walton Beach, often appearing at the same time in the same place of the sky. You could set your watch by it on most nights.
And the military seemed to be quiet about the whole affair.
Next in the conclusion to Gulf Breeze Dreamin’: Ed Walters-the master of Dumb; dueling with the experts; blood on the tracks and the fat lady sings her mournful song.
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