On March 30, 2009, Matthew Reed had what he describes as an up-close extraterrestrial encounter outside of Brownsburg, Indiana. The story made him and his brother, Thomas, celebrities in the strange world of UFOlogy and exposed a decades-old family drama. But as Thom seeks out the media spotlight, and Matt shies away from it, each has arrived at the same truth: It isn’t easy to believe.
When Matthew Reed came to, he was climbing into the driver’s seat of his Chevy Blazer. Blood painted the steering wheel in small red dots. He realized that his nose was bleeding, and his shoes were caked with mud. The Blazer sat in the grass, on the shoulder of a country road. From what he could tell, his SUV had veered off of the asphalt and then rolled to a stop at the edge of a field. It wasn’t running. In the distance, he could see the tops of trees, a black silhouette against the gray night sky, and beyond that, the twinkling porch lights of encroaching subdivisions. He turned the key, still in the ignition, and the engine groaned to a start. The dials on the instrument panel flicked wildly from left to right.
The date was March 30, 2009, and Matt had been driving through the suburbs west of Indianapolis to his home in Brownsburg. He had picked up a friend earlier in the evening, and the two had gone to see a movie in nearby Avon—The Watchmen, he thinks. They were both single, and Matt’s mother was living with him after his divorce. Neither man drank. Catching movies together got them out of the house.
The last Matt remembered, he had just dropped off the friend after leaving the movie, a little after 10:30. As he drove through the darkness, an orange ball of light appeared over the road ahead, shot off to the south, and dipped behind a house. Then he was climbing back into a parked vehicle with a bloody nose, muddy shoes, and a strange sensation of time unaccounted for. He looked down at his watch. The hands were frozen near half-past 10. But the LED numerals in a little window on the watch’s face showed that it was after midnight—an hour and 32 minutes later.
Matt pulled back onto the road, floored it through a stop sign, and sped the remaining two miles to his house. He found his mother in a chair in her room, watching television. He sat down on the edge of the bed. He seemed confused, frightened.
“Mom,” he said, “I think it’s starting again.”
What “it” means is difficult for Matt Reed to explain. But this much he believes: After seeing the ball of light through his windshield, and before waking up alongside a country road, he was abducted by extraterrestrials. And as implausible as that might sound, it wasn’t the first time: He maintains that 40 years earlier, when he was a young boy living in Massachusetts, aliens abducted him and his older brother, Thomas, on three separate occasions—episodes that rocked his family and left the boys traumatized for the rest of their lives.
Prior to 2009, Matt had spent most of the past four decades trying to put those bizarre childhood memories behind him. He moved to Central Indiana in 1996 and got a job with an auto-racing team. Made good money. Married and had two sons. Built a house. Led a “normal” middle-class existence. He rarely, if ever, spoke of what had happened in his youth. Talking to his family about the things he’d seen was difficult. If he confided in the newcomers in his life, they might think he was nuts.
Now, he feared he might be yanked from his humdrum life, without warning, at any moment. Would it happen again? When? He could never know.
Matt’s mother urged him to call his brother, who lived in Knoxville, Tennessee. Over the years, Thom Reed’s desire to discuss what he and Matt experienced as children went mostly unsatisfied, and the siblings were often estranged for long periods. But now Thom was just about the only person Matt could talk to. And Thom, in turn, wanted to hear every detail of the Brownsburg incident: He suspected that it might offer important new clues in a long, strange mystery—a family saga that wound its way around the death of his stepfather and through the halls of the United Nations.
When publicity surrounding the Brownsburg incident laid bare the Reed brothers’ fantastical memories for millions of strangers to see, each reacted in profoundly different ways.
At Thom’s insistence, Matt reported the incident on the website of the Mu-tual UFO Network (MUFON), a national organization “dedicated to the scientific study of UFOs for the benefit of humanity.” MUFON volunteers catalog and, in some cases, investigate alleged sightings and encounters. “I have tried to look at this logically and the only conclusion I can come up with is something happened, that had altered time,” Matt wrote in his account. “Beyond that I have no logical explanation. In short, it was like being put to sleep for surgery. One minute you’re looking up at the lights and doctors, and the next you are in recovery. The difference was, I [wasn’t] sleepy, or groggy … I know this sounds crazy! It does to me right now, but I just can’t explain what happened.”
As word of Matt’s 2009 experience circulated, he and Thom became causes celebre in the UFO community. Last year, Discovery’s Destination America channel ran a segment about the brothers in its Alien Mysteries series, and another piece shot on location in Brownsburg aired in the Science Channel’s new Uncovering Aliens series earlier this winter. Now, the so-called Reed Family Abductions are often mentioned in the same breath as some of the 20th century’s most famous reported extraterrestrial encounters.
But if Matt’s Brownsburg ordeal fueled widespread interest in the Reed Family case, it was Thom, some 400 miles away at the time, who soaked up much of the spotlight. He rubs elbows with some of the most prominent figures in UFOlogy and is a regular attraction on the conference circuit; his speaking appearance at last year’s Roswell UFO Festival in New Mexico drew a standing-room-only crowd. In January, he was featured on George Noory’s Coast to Coast AM, a nationally syndicated, paranormal-focused radio talk show that reaches close to three million listeners every week.
Ultimately, Thom Reed is on a quest for credibility. He wants the world to know what he and his brother have endured, and he wants you to believe them. Matt Reed has retreated back into his quiet life. He says he doesn’t care whether you believe him.
Chances are, you don’t. Then again, the odds are nearly as good that you do. According to a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll, 48 percent of U.S. adults believe “people have witnessed UFOs that have an extraterrestrial origin.”
But outside the shelter of an anonymous poll, would as many admit to believing? Probably not. And that reluctance lies at the center of lifelong difficulties for both of the Reed brothers, taught from the time they were kids that keeping their secret under wraps would protect the family from scrutiny and ridicule. But when publicity surrounding the Brownsburg incident laid bare their fantastical memories for millions of strangers to see, each reacted in profoundly different ways. Thom has found comfort and support in a community of fellow believers. Matt, despite agreeing—reluctantly—to join his brother in front of the camera, really just wants to return to anonymity and whatever semblance of “normalcy” the exceptional circumstances of his life will allow. But for all their differences, each has arrived at the same truth: It isn’t easy to believe.
Nancy Reed built a life for her two young sons, and she did it all on her own. In 1960, she, Thom, and Thom’s father moved to Colorado from upstate New York. When her marriage went south, she and Thom, then just an infant, bounced from Colorado to Arizona to California, where she remarried. Realizing that her second husband was “not a kind person,” Nancy, then pregnant with Matt, left Matt’s father and headed back east to Massachusetts.
Nancy had Matt in 1963 and found herself in the unenviable position of being a single mother with two small boys, two failed marriages, and no money to speak of. She got work in a dentist’s office and convinced a bank to give her an $8,500 mortgage on a run-down four-bedroom house. She fixed it up, sold it for a profit, and used the money to make a down payment on an 80-acre horse farm in the scenic, rolling hills outside of Sheffield, Massachusetts. She bought a mom-and-pop restaurant in town and made her living running the business.
In 1966, the same year the family moved to the farm, the young brothers purportedly had their first extraterrestrial experience. For Thom, though only 6 years old at the time, the images are still vivid. Their bedroom was on the second floor of a big old farmhouse, and one night, after they’d gone to bed, they had a strange feeling, he says. Scared, they wandered into the hall and saw two figures appear at the top of the stairs—“ghosts,” the boys called them.
The next thing Thom can recall, he and Matt were near a large exposed rock in an unfamiliar corner of the property. To their right, through a clearing, they saw a wishbone-shaped tree and, out ahead of them, an enormous spaceship. It looked like a sleek, gunmetal tortoise shell.
Thom also remembers being in a large room, at the far end of which was a wide, curved screen. There were figures in the room, he says, humanoid but smaller. He sat at a bronze-colored table and watched in awe as a series of beautiful, captivating images flashed before him. One of them left a deep impression in his mind. The picture was of a broad, placid body of water—a lake, maybe. Green hills rolled off into the distance on a glorious, sunlit day. A weeping willow tree grew next to the water, illuminated from behind by a brilliant, golden light. The leaves shimmered, as if the tree were radiating. He felt at peace.
When Thom got home from school the following day, he jumped on his horse, a little pinto named Thunder, and, as though under a spell, rode a trail toward the corner of the farm he and his brother had visited the previous night. He’d never been to that part of the property before, because his mother didn’t allow the boys to go back there, saying it was too far away from the house. But when he arrived, sure enough, there was the rock, and the clearing, and the wishbone tree, exactly as he remembered them.
The second encounter came in 1967. Thom says he and his brother saw a bright light in their bedroom window. The nighttime insects went quiet, and the air felt heavy.
Suddenly, Thom was upside-down and had the sensation that he was tumbling. “Like when you’re caught in an ocean wave,” he says, “in an undertow.” He was no longer in the bedroom, but in a question-mark–shaped hallway, and then in some cavernous interior space. He called out for his brother and turned around, and Matt was there, behind him. In another instant, Thom was being led through a door. To his right, he saw two figures take his brother into a separate passage.
When the episode was over, Thom and Matt found themselves in the yard outside of the farmhouse, and their mother was looking for them. She scooped up Matt in her arms. “It’s okay,” she said. “They’re gone.” She took them into the kitchen and gave them each some orange juice and a baby aspirin.
For more on aliens, check out our list of the 10 weirdest UFO cases in Indiana history.
The third instance occurred in September 1969. Thom was 9 years old, Matt 6. The two were in the family’s station wagon, heading toward the horse farm. Their mother was driving; their grandmother sat in the front passenger’s seat. As Thom tells it, the group had been at a horseback-riding competition he’d participated in that afternoon, and they stopped at a store on the way home to buy candy.
As twilight fell, the wagon pulled away from the store. In the back seat, Thom slipped a one-cent fireball into his brother’s chubby paw. Just then, a cluster of lights appeared in the woods off to the left of the car, which veered off the road and rolled to a stop next to some railroad tracks. The nighttime insects, in full late-summer chorus just moments before, went quiet—just as they had before Thom and Matt’s second alleged alien encounter, in 1967. Thom could hear gravel pinging against the undercarriage of the car as the tires left the pavement.
“It was like a barometric change in pressure,” Thom says, “like being in the middle of a hurricane. We all had this weird feeling. Dead calm. Didn’t hear a breeze. It was just silent, and still. And then all of a sudden there was a rush of crickets and katydids, and we all had a very weird memory of what had taken place.”
Nancy now sat in the passenger’s seat, and their grandmother was outside, wandering in the road. Thom got her back into the car, and their mother took the wheel again. They rode in silence as the wagon wound along the dips and curves of the deserted country road leading away from the village, the headlamps casting a roving spotlight on the tangled trees and fencerows.
Thom has fragmented recollections of what took place after the station wagon stopped and before he awoke. He remembers being in what seemed like a big, dark hangar, and walking toward a figure engulfed in light at the far end of it. He remembers white walls, narrow corridors, and doors. He remembers a hand grabbing his arm and leading him down a passageway.
The family rarely talked about what they saw (though Thom’s grandmother once confessed that she’d seen what looked like a “flying strip mall”). But not long after the final incident, Nancy sold the farm—“I don’t think we ever felt safe there again,” she says—and they all resettled in Connecticut. She married a younger man, a longtime family friend and attorney named Howard Reed.
Howard became a father to the boys. But their disturbing memories were problematic. He had political aspirations and feared wild alien stories wouldn’t play well in a campaign. Nancy and the boys agreed not to share their secret.
Thus began a long period of silence on the topic. Howard Reed served two terms on the Board of Selectmen in Canaan, Connecticut, and received a campaign endorsement from U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd. The Reed brothers grew up and tried to put the troubling memories of their youth behind them. Matt joined the Marines after high school and became a military policeman, eventually working as a private investigator in Connecticut, a purchase manager for the Skip Barber Racing School in Florida, and a fugitive-recovery agent in Indiana. Thom, who worked for a company that provided security and surveillance systems, stayed in Connecticut, where his stepfather introduced him to Robert Bletchman.
As Howard’s political career wound down in the late 1980s, he had found something of a kindred spirit in Bletchman, a fellow attorney and pillar-of-the-community type. Bletchman had a passion for UFO research, ignited when his wife expressed her belief in extraterrestrial life. He had an office in Manchester, Connecticut, just a few blocks from the condo where Thom lived. Howard encouraged his stepson to pay Bletchman a visit.
“There was a big picture behind his chair, and it was of this huge craft-looking thing,” Thom says, recalling their first meeting. The photo depicted a sighting from New York’s Lower Hudson Valley, a UFO hotspot made famous by thousands of such reports in the early ’80s. Bletchman told Thom that Howard had shared some of the details of the Reeds’ boyhood encounters. “Want to talk about it?” he asked.
“If you tell people that you’ve had an encounter,” says Nancy Reed, “they look at you like you have two heads.”
Over the next couple of years, Thom related his bizarre childhood memories to Bletchman. And he learned that the lawyer was no mere paranormal enthusiast. An active MUFON member, he had worked with J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer at Northwestern University and a founding father of UFOlogy; in the 1970s, Hynek had originated the standard “close encounter” classification system for reports of extraterrestrials. (The nomenclature was popularized in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)
After meeting Thom’s stepfather, Bletchman had taken an interest in the Reed Family case. He even discovered that members of a Massachusetts country club, located just a few miles from the farm where Thom and Matt grew up, had reported UFO sightings around the same time in 1969 as the third Reed Family abduction. (Years later, when Thom went on a radio show near his hometown to talk about the case, callers phoned in to report their own UFO sightings in the area in the late ’60s.)
As it happened, Thom and Matt’s family history with aliens predated even their own first encounter, in 1966. Though she’d never told the boys when they were young, Nancy, their mother, claims to have been approached in 1954, when she was a teenager. She, her mother, and a friend named Kim were overnighting in a quaint little rented cabin in Maine. Nancy awoke during the night but couldn’t move. She was paralyzed. “And I knew I was not alone in the room,” she says. Beings—she doesn’t know who, or what—“were standing around the bed. I could hear them moving, rustling. I remember being terrified.” Years later, when the strange encounters began in Massachusetts, she suspected that similar forces were at work again, but chose not to share her own childhood experience with her sons—or with anyone else, for that matter. “If you tell people that you’ve had an encounter,” she says, “they look at you like you have two heads.”
In the early 1990s, Bletchman called Thom into his office to tell him he had big plans for his family’s story. The United Nations had approved a motion to set up an international clearinghouse for UFO reports, but little had come of it. Now, though, Mohammad Ramadan, president of the U.N.’s Parapsychology Society, was planning a UFO conference, and Bletchman was one of the organizers. He wanted to present the Reed Family case at the United Nations, and Howard and Thom consented. On October 2, 1992, in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium, the U.N. held its Symposium on Extraterrestrial Intelligence and Human Future. The event was a watershed moment in UFOlogy, imprinting a kind of official legitimacy on the field. (Extraterrestrial life, in fact, remains a topic of discussion at the U.N.: In a recent press conference, Mazlan Othman, director of the Office for Outer Space Affairs, denied suggestions that she had been appointed as the “take-me-to-your-leader person” in the event that aliens make contact with Earth.)
Thom moved to South Florida in 1993 and started a talent agency called Miami Models. Then, in 2005, he was nearly killed in a car crash. As he convalesced, bedridden with a broken back, his stepfather came to visit, bearing boxes of UFO-related documents he’d compiled since meeting Bletchman.
At that point, Howard had retired from politics and overcome a bout with cancer, and he was serving as a public-school principal in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Thom thinks that after years of asking him to stay mum about what he’d seen, his stepfather saw the car accident as a sign he should make up for lost time. “It was his way of saying, You kept your word, now I’ll keep mine.”
On October 2, 2006—14 years to the day after the U.N. symposium—Howard Reed, 56, died in Yale-New Haven Hospital. He had been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, a relatively rare bacterial infection, only a week earlier—one of two people in his hometown of West Haven who caught the illness. “It was not clear how Reed, a cancer survivor, contracted the disease,” according to an Associated Press article printed after his death, and Connecticut state health officials consulted the Centers for Disease Control because “it was unusual for one town to have two cases of Legionnaires’ disease at the same time.” Matt visited Howard’s school the next day to break the news that his stepfather had passed. The Connecticut Post reported that he “expressed frustration with the apparent lack of response to his father’s case by local and state health officials and by the school system,” and that, according to Matt, when Bridgeport education officials contacted him about his stepfather’s illness, “the gist of the message was, ‘Please do not speak to the press.’”
Howard’s death was a sudden, heartbreaking loss for Thom and Matt. Not only had he stepped in and made their family whole when it was struggling, he was a sober-minded man who believed their claims—and didn’t judge. Now he was gone. The mystery surrounding the source of the Legionella bacteria that had infected him, and what Matt perceived as reluctance on the part of government officials to talk about it, would weigh more and more heavily on the brothers in the years ahead.
In April 2009, Stewart Hill drove three hours from Elkhart to Brownsburg to investigate case no. 16344. MUFON’s state director for Indiana, and a former electrical engineer, Hill has been a more-or-less full-time volunteer for the organization since his retirement in 2000. He was accompanied by Glen Means, then MUFON Indiana’s chief investigator and a member of the group’s STAR Team, a task force that checks out exceptional UFO cases. Hill conducts inquiries into more than 60 UFO reports every year. Matt Reed’s “stuck out.”
Hill and Means met Matt at his home to interview him a few days after the incident. He recounted the story much as he had reported it on the MUFON website. But they got the sense that Matt didn’t really want them there. He was uneasy, guarded, defensive.
After the interview, Hill and Means went outside to inspect the Chevy Blazer. A dosimeter in Means’s STAR Team toolkit revealed no unusual levels of radiation (although another investigator would later dispute this finding, leading to widespread reports that the Blazer was, indeed, radioactive). Oddly, though, when the men walked around the SUV with a compass, the needle remained fixed, and then bounced when they approached the rear wheel wells—as if, Hill says, “the vehicle had its own north-south magnetic field.” (They would later track down a “reference vehicle”—an SUV of the same year, make, and model—that would have no effect on the compass whatsoever.) Hill and Means collected samples of mud from the truck and from Matt’s shoes, which they sent to a lab in Ohio to detect any contaminants or abnormalities, tests that would prove inconclusive. They also visited the field where Matt said he had gone off the road but, due to cover vegetation, were unable to find footprints or other signs that he’d been there.
Hill knew nothing about Matt’s family history with extraterrestrial encounters, yet he came away from the trip to Brownsburg with the suspicion that Matt was “holding back” on them. Still, he felt strongly that Matt had, in fact, experienced something out of the ordinary. “When you work with these people, you can just sense their fear,” Hill says. “You hear them talk about it, and they’ll keep repeating exactly the same thing, like it’s well-embedded in their mind, in their thinking. It’s very deep, and it’s very real.” The investigators determined the case was an abduction and assigned a rating of CE4—close encounter of the fourth kind—based on the Hynek classification system.
Matt Reed’s wasn’t the first high-profile abduction case Hill had been associated with. His predecessor, Jerry Sievers, had investigated a report from Debbie Jordan-Kauble of Indianapolis, who claimed to have had an encounter in her parents’ backyard, in 1983, that injured her eyes, left her dog near death, and produced a circle of bare, hardened earth where no grass would grow for years. Popular paranormal author Budd Hopkins based a bestselling book, Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods, on her account, and it was adapted for television in 1992.
Hill thought that introducing Matt to Jordan-Kauble, by then active in the UFO community, might help to elicit more detailed memories of what occurred in Brownsburg. The two visited Matt’s home a few months later for a follow-up interview, but, Hill says, “He just didn’t seem that interested.”
Jordan-Kauble came away with a different take on Matt’s reticence. She estimates that, since her 1983 encounter, she has met close to a thousand people who claimed to have had contact with aliens. Some, she could tell, were trying to hoax her; others were clearly crazy. Matt was “the real thing,” she says. “Matt and I had some things in common, feelings invoked by what we had experienced. Skittish. Distrustful of talking to people about it. And kind of embarrassed, because it sounds so crazy.”
“When you meet someone who has truly experienced what you have,” she continues, “you see it in their eyes, hear it in their voice. You know it. He talked about the sheer terror, when you realize you’re in the presence of this strange … whatever. You don’t know if they’re going to kill you or what. It’s the kind of terror you can only describe if you’ve felt it.”
As Matt shied away from investigators, Thom embraced his brother’s Brownsburg incident as an opportunity to convince the world that what they’d experienced as children was real. One sunny weekend last October, he arrived in Indiana to meet with Lori Wagner, a filmmaker from California who wanted to shoot footage for a possible documentary about Matt’s 2009 encounter. Matt had since moved out of state, and although he still owns his house in Brownsburg, he declined to join them.
And so, over the next few days, it is Thom, not Matt, who becomes the lead character in a series of off-camera scenes that, if taped and edited together, could pass for the pilot episode in a UFO spinoff of The Surreal Life. The first stop, on Saturday afternoon, is Avon Urgent Care, a medical clinic that Matt visited in 2012 to check out the scars from puncture wounds he found behind his ear and on his chest after the Brownsburg incident. Thom is excited because Dr. James Mozzillo, the physician who examined Matt, has agreed to talk about the consultation on camera—something a lot of doctors, evidently, are reluctant to do in alien-related cases. In a small “med spa” at the back of the clinic, Mozzillo, wearing a suit in the uncomfortable manner of a man who wears suits only for special occasions, sits on a padded table in a patient room normally used for cosmetic laser procedures. Wagner stands behind a camera and asks questions as Thom paces around the lobby. Mozzillo says that when Matt came into the clinic, he described being in an alien spacecraft, unable to move, while creatures inserted instruments into his chest and removed tissue samples. “I was extremely skeptical at first,” says the doctor. “But there was no question; in his mind, he believed it happened.”
After the interview, Thom and Mozzillo chitchat in the lobby while Wagner packs up her gear, and it becomes clear Mozzillo has more than a passing interest in extraterrestrials. The doctor explains that, considering the vastness of the universe, he thinks it is unlikely that humans are the only intelligent life. Then he and Thom get into an argument over the feasibility of using wormholes for long-distance space travel.
In the early evening, a friend of Wagner’s named Yvonne Smith shows up to participate in the proceedings. In the field of UFOlogy, Smith is something of a celebrity in her own right. A hypnotherapist, she helps alien abductees work through the trauma of their experiences, and she established the California-based Close Encounter Resource Organization as a kind of support network for people like Matt who are struggling to cope. Smith has appeared on ABC News, Inside Edition, and MSNBC; the 1995 Disney Channel program Alien Encounters from New Tomorrowland was partially based on her work.
If claiming to have been abducted by aliens causes new acquaintances to inch away in polite company, among the like-minded it is a badge of honor that opens doors.
Smith, Thom, and Wagner pile into a minivan and drive to the stretch of road outside of Brownsburg where Matt’s 2009 incident occurred. Wagner films as Thom walks Smith out onto the dry, hard dirt of the field where Matt may have wandered that night. He wears a long black trench coat and a gold chain, she a black leather jacket, much of her face obscured by large, dark sunglasses. A chilly fall wind dramatically blows back her hair. As Thom explains what happened, Smith nods and looks to the horizon. She wishes Matt would agree to undergo hypnotherapy. “I can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube once it’s out,” she says. “But I think it would help him.”
As daylight fades, the three of them climb back into the minivan and drive to the west side of Indianapolis, where another physician, Jay Piatek, is scheduled to go on camera at his weight-loss clinic. Dr. Piatek’s wife, Wendy, a friend of Wagner and Smith’s, claims to have had multiple UFO sightings. Her husband has gamely agreed to weigh in on Thom’s theory that his family’s history of abductions might be connected to the fact that all of their blood types fall into the Rh-negative group, a relatively rare condition in which the blood cells lack an antigen known as the Rhesus factor. (During pregnancy, Rh-negative mothers sometimes develop allergies to their babies.) Thom has brought blood work for the doctor to study.
It is after hours at the office, which, thanks to Wendy Piatek, drips with high rococo decor: Greek columns, generous drapes, and gold accents. The lobby features a 25,000-gallon fish tank large enough to scuba-dive in. Dr. Piatek, an exuberant fellow with a youthful smile and an athletic build, hands out bottled beers and mixed drinks. The gathering becomes a party. Thom opens his laptop to show the doctor a rendering of the spacecraft he saw as a kid. Piatek prints out a copy of Thom’s blood work, gives it a quick read, and the two sit down before the camera.
Piatek asks Thom if he knew his blood type was O-negative. “What that usually indicates is you’re what’s called a universal donor, that you can actually give your blood to everybody,” he says. “And the fact that it’s negative makes it even more pure. It’s one of the more rare blood types in the world.” He goes on to explain that the government is trying to “manufacture” it because “they want to use it on the battlefield.”
Later, Piatek leads Thom to a curtained-off room, about the size of a walk-in closet, to show off his meteorites. He just happens to be one of the world’s foremost collectors of objects that fall from space. He recently bought the Martian “Black Beauty,” the “most sought-after meteorite on earth,” from a Moroccan trader. He says it is worth millions.
The point of being here, Thom contends, and visiting the other doctor’s office and the field where Matt was abducted, and committing it all to video, is to create a record that will survive if something happens to him. He regards it as a gravely serious exercise. But that doesn’t mean he can’t make new friends and have a little fun along the way. If claiming to have been abducted by aliens causes new acquaintances to inch away in polite company, among the like-minded it is a badge of honor that opens doors.
He holds a large glass of rum and Coke, beaming, and his eyes twinkle. “My life,” he says, “is bizarre.”
But living in the UFO spotlight has a dark side, too. For Thom, the world isn’t divided only between those who believe and those who don’t. A third group—believers with a vested interest in keeping everyone else from believing—makes speaking out a risky enterprise. Unexplained occurrences that Thom can’t chalk up to extraterrestrials fall to them.
Thom recently explained the workings of these shadowy antagonists while sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Brownsburg. A while back, he and two friends—one a fellow abductee, the other a participant in a separate abduction case—were out eating wings in Knoxville when they decided to plan a small UFO conference at a local public library. The first man was Jesse Long, a Knoxville resident who claims to have been abducted multiple times, going back to when he was 5 years old (and also that he carried an alien implant in his leg and crossbred with one of the extraterrestrials). The second man was Steve Pierce, who, as the story goes, was riding in a truck with Arizona logger Travis Walton on the night in 1975 when Walton disappeared, allegedly went aboard an alien spacecraft, and reappeared at a gas station five days later (as depicted in the 1993 film Fire in the Sky). Thom relates that both his and Long’s homes were burglarized in the days leading up to the conference. “There’s a lot of weird, coincidental events,” he says, “but after awhile, you have to ask yourself … denial’s a dangerous game.”
The paranoid style plays well in the UFO community, of course, where conspiracies seem to lurk behind every government fence. But Thom’s tales get even weirder. He recounts an episode from last year in Knoxville, when he was riding with a paralegal working to authenticate documents and statements related to the Reed Family case. (In Thom’s view, going before a judge and asserting, under oath, that his admittedly crazy-sounding accounts are factual lends them credence.) Thom and the paralegal noticed a white SUV following them. And then it pulled up beside their car and forced them into oncoming traffic.
A few months before that, Thom says, he was at home, and the doorbell rang. He peeked out the window and saw a man wearing a blue blazer, khaki “K-Mart manager pants,” and aviator sunglasses. “I open the door, and I get this right in my face,” he says, holding out the palm of his hand, “this badge. I couldn’t even read it, it was so close to my face. He said, ‘sit down.’”
Thom asked the man why he was there. I’ll be asking the questions. “Exactly what he said to me,” Thom says. “I’ll be asking the questions.”
The visitor proceeded to ask Thom about his brother. His stepfather. His mother. Whether Thom was good with computers. Whether he traveled internationally. Dropped names and asked Thom if he knew them. He would not give Thom the reason for his visit.
The man left a card, which Thom pulls out of a black bag and lays flat on the table in the hotel lobby. Adam Robinson. KeyPoint Government Solutions. Contract Investigator. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Federal Investigative Services.
At the mention of calling the phone number on the card, Thom’s face goes white. “I would not contact him,” he says, shaking his head. “Not to mention, I’m not even supposed to talk about it. Do not call him. Three people have already died around this case, and I’m not saying that would happen to you, but I would not want to stir up anything.” (According to the company’s website, KeyPoint “is a leading provider of investigative and risk mitigation services to government organizations.” A voicemail left with Robinson resulted in a call back a few minutes later from a man who identified himself as KeyPoint program director Scott Kobasick. “He’s not going to be able to discuss anything about any of the cases that he’s worked,” Kobasick said of Robinson. “Once someone is investigated, it’s all protected under the Privacy Act.” Does KeyPoint ever investigate subjects who claim to have had extraterrestrial encounters? “Never,” he said.)
Three people have already died around this case. The mystery surrounding the source of the Legionella bacteria that killed Howard Reed has made it difficult for Thom to reconcile the loss. Some of what Matt says he observed in their stepfather’s final days—and some of the whispers that Thom says he heard later—never made it into the newspaper articles about the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Connecticut. Matt discovered that the hard drive on Howard’s laptop computer in Garfield Elementary School, full of files while Howard was sick in the hospital, was wiped clean when Matt returned later, and several new, white ceiling tiles in Howard’s office had replaced the old yellowed ones that were there just days before. Thom picked up on rumors that government health officials found small shards of glass in the window air-conditioner, as though a vial had been broken there, and also a virus they couldn’t identify, which, under magnification, looked like “red luminous sticks,” some microbe not found in nature. All clues, Thom suspects, that Howard’s office had been secretly breached and sabotaged.
Then, less than two years later, Robert Bletchman, the lawyer who helped organize the U.N. symposium, suddenly died of cancer. And finally, in 2010, there was Michael Buckner, a hypnotherapist in Knoxville who once treated Thom’s son (who, according to Thom, has also attracted the interest of extraterrestrials). Thom says Buckner had written up a report about the visit that September; according to a published obituary, he “passed away unexpectedly” on November 12.
Taken alone, any one of these deaths might seem merely unfortunate. But, says Thom, you take them all together, along with the rumored clues in Howard’s office and the remarkable “coincidence” of his dying on the anniversary of the U.N. symposium, and the only possible conclusion is that sinister forces orchestrated all of it.
“My father was murdered,” he says. “That’s absolutely murder. You’ve got 365 days in a year. To be murdered on the same day of a bizarre thing that went before the United Nations? That speaks loudly to me.”
But why? Thom believes that his stepfather and Bletchman had uncovered compelling evidence of extraterrestrial visitors, and because they weren’t crackpots but rather prominent, respectable men, parties with an interest in suppressing such information—like clandestine government operatives, maybe, or military contractors—feared people might believe them. So the two men were silenced. Thom thinks Matt’s 2009 encounter, and his own efforts at publicizing it, have reopened the case. The two of them, he says, are in danger. But staying visible makes it difficult for the same sinister forces that killed his stepfather to snuff them out as well.
Thom knows how all this sounds. He is asking you not only to believe in the multiple alien abductions, but also that those encounters have entangled him and his brother in a dark government cover-up—Area 51 meets JFK. (And somehow the former claim seems more plausible than the latter.) So he enlisted Steve White, a Tennessee MUFON investigator and former police detective, to bring the weight of authority to his case. White interviewed both brothers, reviewed the evidence from Brownsburg, and arranged a polygraph examination for Thom, which showed no deception (Matt did not take the test). “It is the opinion of this investigator,” White wrote in a signed statement in 2011, “that the Reed family have [had] and continue to have extraordinary encounters with an unknown powerful force.”
Thom figures the more credibility he has, the harder it is for doubters to dismiss his claims as cuckoo. And dismiss they do. Online, skeptics and debunkers of alien abduction—and there are many—have posited a range of alternate explanations, including sleep paralysis and a psychological condition known as false memory syndrome.
“If you ran into God in the backyard, and you had a moment,” says Thom Reed, “would you say you were ‘abducted’ by God?”
Real or not, the images Thom recalls seeing on a spaceship when he was a child seem to have had a profound spiritual effect. In elementary school, he drew pictures of the willow tree and the lake, almost compulsively. “I wonder, am I supposed to be looking for that spot?” he says. A reproduction of one of those drawings hangs on the “Abductee Wall” in the Roswell UFO Museum in New Mexico, although Thom doesn’t like “abductee” to describe himself.
“I never use the word abduction,” he says. “I can’t stand it. I never said that. If you ran into God in the backyard, and you had a moment, would you say you were ‘abducted’ by God?”
Perceived dangers aside, Thom seems to relish the attention that comes with being a sought-after figure among UFO believers. Matt, on the other hand, enjoys no such ancillary benefit. Staying in Brownsburg became uncomfortable after his story began to circulate, when he became a local attraction for UFO enthusiasts and curiosity seekers. Among the many weird phone calls he received was one from a woman who wanted him to donate sperm. His employer, whom he will identify only as a subcontractor for the Department of Defense, agreed to transfer him out of state. He now lives in a small, neat apartment near a shopping mall in Peoria, Illinois. Thom warned me that the 2009 encounter left his brother emotionally altered, that he is irritable, short-fused, and unpredictable. He thinks Matt suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is raining the night I arrive at Matt’s apartment. He greets me at the door and shakes my hand. He is stocky and powerfully built, with a shaved head, a goatee, and penetrating brown eyes. He gives the impression of being the kind of man not given over easily to nonsense. He invites me to sit on a black leather sofa, and he settles into a black recliner and kicks up his feet. His Marine regalia, the saber and medals and white hat, is arrayed around a small table in the corner of a tiny dining area. Several framed photographs that he has taken hang on the wall above the table. One shows a stuffed teddy bear sitting on a lonely stretch of railroad track. Matt later confides that this is a self-portrait of sorts.
The apartment is silent except for the sound of Matt’s voice and a plug-in air-freshener that releases a pffft of potpourri every few minutes. He says the 2009 encounter turned his life upside down. A private person, he never wanted notoriety, least of all for something like this. He has agreed to go public largely for the sake of his brother, who is driven by a desire to make sense of what their family has endured. “I could never comprehend how, let’s say, a child gets sexually abused, how they claim, Oh, I don’t want to talk, and I thought, here I’m a hypocrite, when I realize it’s the same thing that I did. You know, it’s … I just want it to go away. Let it be gone.”
In his initial report to MUFON, Matt declined to share the particulars of what happened during his lost hour-and-a-half in Brownsburg in 2009. But he remembers some of it in great detail. He says he found himself standing in a spacecraft, and he reached for his handgun, which he carried in a holster. But the gun and holster were gone. A creature held out an object, a black box about the size of a Rubik’s Cube. Matt reached for it, and the creature pulled it back. The two made eye contact, and Matt looked at the creature as if to say, What do you want me to do? Matt extended his arm and held out his palm, and the creature set the box in his hand. “It didn’t want me to take it,” he says. “It wanted to give it to me.” Matt rubbed his thumb along the side of the box and felt that it was covered with inscriptions, characters he could not decipher.
In another moment he was on a table, but he doesn’t recall how he got there. Then a mask, shaped like a triangle with rounded corners, descended over his face and covered his mouth and nose with a suction grip. He remembers feeling a sharp pain in his head, like someone was driving a spike into it. He couldn’t breathe or see. But he could hear snippets of sound in the background, grainy old recordings of a John F. Kennedy speech and Beatles songs. He couldn’t bring his thoughts into focus.
“I didn’t want to be looked upon as a freak of nature, and Wow, he’s just a weirdo, because that’s the stigma, unfortunately, that surrounds this,” he says. Forming new relationships is difficult, because he knows that, sooner or later, he is going to have to tell them about his experiences with aliens; otherwise, they will find out when they see him talking about it on television, or read it in an article on the Internet. “It’s like having this great secret,” he says, “and you want to share it with people, but you have to be careful.” He started dating an Indianapolis woman before moving to Peoria, and the two fell in love. After he finally shared with her what had happened in 2009, things were never the same between them, and they eventually broke it off. And the man he went to the movie with on the night of the encounter in Brownsburg? Matt later told him what happened. “He was my best friend,” Matt says. He draws out the word was for emphasis.
Matt shares his brother’s belief that speaking out about their experiences has put them in danger; he, too, has been tailed by white SUVs, he says, and he was once visited by an agent who claimed to be working on behalf of the FBI.
But possible government surveillance is not the most acute source of Matt’s paranoia. The worst part, he says, is that after 2009, he will never shake the fear of being snatched up again.
Reliving the events of his childhood also seems painful. He recalls the episode in 1969, the one in the station wagon, much as his brother does: Thom giving him a fireball in the back seat—“He was a good brother,” he says, “always sneaking me candy”—and the lights, and being in what seemed like a giant warehouse, and his grandmother wandering in the road, and the silence on the drive home. It left the family fragmented. “My brother was very withdrawn after ’69,” he says. “My grandmother in many ways almost became a complete stranger. She became very bitter and angry.”
When the conversation turns to the 1967 encounter on the farm, Matt stares off into space and speaks in a kind of monotone. He was in the bedroom, on the top bunk. There was the light outside, and a loud noise, and he pulled the blanket over his head, because he was scared. He jumped down to the bottom bunk to be with his brother, but his brother was gone. Matt ran to his mother’s bedroom to tell her, but she wouldn’t wake up; it was like she was in a trance. He saw figures coming up the stairs; he thought they were ghosts. One of them entered his mother’s room, a short, small being, and it looked him straight in the eye. He froze.
When his mother finally snapped out of it, she saw Matt and asked, “What’s wrong?” And he yelled, “They’re in the house! Thom’s gone!”
Then zoom, he was in a field with his brother, and before them was a giant craft—right there. Matt was wearing one-piece pajamas, and he remembers feeling the cool, crisp grass on the soles of his feet. And then he was climbing onto a table, and one of the beings got right up in his face. It had slits for a nose and a mouth that never moved. Matt thought it had big, black, glassy eyes, until the light hit one of the eyes at an angle, and Matt could see a smaller, “biological-type” eye behind that, as if maybe the creature was wearing goggles, or glasses.
Matt explains that, as a child, he had a clubfoot and wore a corrective brace, but not during bedtime. One of the creatures unzipped his pajamas and examined his leg, which, at the time, was “still twisted up.” The hands felt spongy. The creatures’ skin was rough and wrinkled, like elephant hide. Matt was afraid. But one of the creatures held up a little toy tugboat, the one he played with in the bathtub. And at that moment, he says, “It felt like everything was going to be okay.”
I ask Matt where Thom was while he was being examined. He pauses. The air-freshener releases another pfft of potpourri. Before being led into the room with the table, Matt says, he was in a kind of curving corridor, and he could see his brother, watching as the beings led Matt into a separate room. He called out his brother’s name. Thom! And the thing is, Thom didn’t struggle, or call back, or demand to know where they were taking his little brother. He just watched. Afterward, when they were back in the yard behind the farmhouse, Matt says, “The look on Thom’s face …” He chokes up, and his voice breaks. “It was like he was dead.”
Then his mother was there, scooping him up. “She was never the same after that,” he says. He wipes a tear from under his left eye. “None of us were.”
It was idyllic, living on a farm, with horses, and woods and fields to play in, and a loving mother, and a big brother who looked out for him. They had it so good. “And all of a sudden we were like prisoners in this paradise,” he says. “Our Norman Rockwell childhood was just shattered.”
Matt says he doesn’t care whether anyone believes he was abducted. Yet he cringes when he hears someone say they believe that he believes he was abducted. The point is, he doesn’t want to be a guy people have to believe or not believe. He just wants to be a guy. But the terrifying, life-changing moments he remembers have made that impossible. He says his trials have brought him closer to God.
The Brownsburg ordeal had at least one other positive outcome: It also brought Matt closer to perhaps the one person in the world who could truly understand what he was going through. He now realizes that after that ’67 encounter, he harbored a deep resentment toward his older brother. You let them drag me into that room, and you didn’t do anything about it. For most of their adulthood, the two remained distant. And then, after 2009, Thom showed Matt a box full of pictures he’d drawn as a child, of the spaceship and the lake and the willow tree. Stuff he’d kept and carried around his whole life. Matt finally realized that, for all these years, Thom was hurting, too. “I just have to forgive him,” he says. “And I have.”
For more on aliens, check out IM‘s list of 10 Weirdest UFO Cases in Indiana History.
Images: Illustration by Matthew Woodson; Reed family photos courtesy Thomas Reed; additional photos by Evan West