When it comes to early historical UFO accounts, we often recall the Roswell crash or the Kenneth Arnold sighting, both of which occurred in 1947. Seldom is the 1947 Maury Island incident remembered nor mentioned in publications, and for good reason – many UFO investigators believe the Maury Island incident was a hoax. Others, however, believe the case bore the classic earmarks of an intelligence cover-up operation.
Regardless of whether or not Harold Dahl and Fred Crisman spotted six UFOs flying above Maury Island in June of 1947, the Maury Island case incorporates several unusually bizarre, but historically proven facts, including the first reported case of government-sponsored “men in black”, two suspicious crashes of airplanes transporting case evidence back to their home base, several shadowy deaths of witnesses and participants, and a historically proven tie-in to the John F. Kennedy assassination. When these facts are assembled and taken into context, it becomes clear that there may have been more to the Maury Island incident that researchers give credit for. The Maury Island incident is truly a case study of the bizarre.
The Maury Island Incident – six UFOs spotted above Maury Island, Washington
On June 21, 1947, Harold A. Dahl, his 15-year-old son Charles, the family dog, and two crewmen were patrolling the harbor in Puget Sound just north of Seattle, Washington. At the time, it was common in Puget Sound for logs to break loose from “jams” and float freely in the open waters. Informal “harbor patrols” worked to snag the logs from the water to sell to the lumber mills for a salvage fee. Around 2:00 PM in the afternoon, as Dahl was travelling in his workboat searching for lumber, he says he spotted six large, round, metallic objects hovering about 1,000 feet in the air above Maury Island.
Dahl described the objects as being saucer or round-shaped (newspaper reports described them as doughnut-shaped), about 100 feet in diameter, with a 25-foot area in the center that was either lit with bright light or consisted of a hollow cavity. Dahl noted that there appeared to be round portholes or windows on the edges of the aircraft (some reports indicate the windows were located inside the inner lit area) and it was obvious to him that the unidentified objects were intelligently controlled.
Dahl and the other witnesses were on the eastern side of the island (at that time, Maury Island was not attached to Vashon Island via a causeway and the only way to reach the island was by boat) as they witnessed five of the objects circling a sixth object that appeared to be having mechanical problems. The object in distress dipped slowly to about 500 foot above the water and hovered there silently. After about five minutes, one of the objects broke free from the circle and lowered to join the ailing craft. The two objects “touched” each other and remained in contact for several minutes. As Dahl recalls, suddenly, one of the objects made a loud “thud” sound and the ailing UFO began spitting out pieces of metallic debris. At first Dahl thought the object was dropping newspapers. He told investigators:
“Immediately following this sound, the center aircraft began spewing forth what seemed like thousands of newspapers from somewhere on the inside of its center. These newspapers, which turned out to be a white type of exceptionally light metal, fluttered to earth, most of them landing in the bay.”
Dahl noted that the material falling from the object appeared to be constructed of a lightweight metallic substance. Some debris landed on the shores of the Maury Island beach while other pieces landed in the water where they emitted steam as they penetrated the surface. Dahl beached the boat on the shores of Maury Island as debris rained down on his vessel. One piece burnt his son’s arm while another killed his dog. Dahl, dragging his son by the arm, ran onto the shore and took cover under a stack of nearby logs. He remembered seeing another fragment of debris landing on a seagull, killing it.
He later described two types of metallic debris. Some of the material was described as being a lightweight, white metallic substance while other pieces were said to be darker, heavier chunks that looked like “lava rock”. Dahl was taking pictures of the objects when suddenly all six of the strange craft “headed off west, towards the ocean” (the ailing craft appearing no worse for the wear).
As the objects flew off into the distance, Dahl attempted to call for help on his radio, but the radio would not function. He quickly gathered up some of the debris from the beach, tossed the dead dog into the water (giving it a “burial at sea” of sorts), and jumped back onto the boat to head back into Tacoma. Upon arrival at port, he rushed his son to the hospital emergency room and then reported what he had witnessed to his supervisor, Fred Lee Crisman.
“We picked up some of the metal which looked like falling newspapers. … I related our experience to Fred L. Crisman…we gave him the camera with its film and the fragments of metal we had loaded aboard as proof of our story.”
Fred Crisman, who served as a pilot in the Korean War, was dubious. He did not believe Dahl’s fanciful story and was angry about the damage to the boat. At this point our story begins to branch in several directions – and becomes even stranger.
The Maury Island incident turns weirder
The next day, June 22, 1947, Crisman decided to take the boat back to Maury Island to check out Dahl’s story. There he found “tons of debris” scattered about the island’s shores. While examining the debris, Crisman says one of the objects again appeared overhead – as if it were watching him.
Meanwhile, Dahl, who was taking a well-deserved rest at home, received a visit from a mysterious man dressed in black. The man invited Dahl to breakfast so they could discuss Dahl’s UFO sighting. Dahl followed the man, who was driving a black Buick automobile, to a local restaurant.
While eating, the man in black remained silent and asked no questions about Dahl’s experience. Then the man laid down his silverware and told Dahl that he had seen something he was not supposed to see and recounted in detail what he knew Dahl had witnessed. He told Dahl:
“I know a great deal more about this experience of yours than you will want to believe.”
The man in black warned Dahl that “bad things would happen to his family if he told anyone of the incident”. The meeting, of course, shook Dahl up – but not enough to make him keep such an amazing experience to himself.
Kenneth Arnold investigates the Maury Island sighting
A few weeks after the incident, Dahl and Crisman sent a letter and pieces of the debris to Ray Palmer, the editor of eight Ziff-Davis publications including the popular magazine Amazing Stories which specialized in bizarre and unusual tales (Palmer would later be fired from Ziff-Davis and would go on to found an even more popular paranormal magazine – Fate magazine). Palmer was immediately interested in Dahl’s story and called Kenneth Arnold (yes, *the* Kenneth Arnold) from his Chicago office. He passed the details of the incident to Arnold, who was already in the Pacific Northwest investigating other reports of UFOs in the area.
It was late July 1947 when Kenneth Arnold called a good friend and United Airlines pilot, Captain E.J. Smith, to ask for assistance with the investigation. Smith eagerly agreed and flew to Tacoma to join Arnold. Meetings were arranged to take place in a local Tacoma hotel (Winthrop Hotel, room 502) to interview Dahl and Crisman and examine the physical evidence that they had collected. Oddly, when they arrived, they found that Dahl’s son, Charles, had since “disappeared” and was not available to be interviewed (it was later reported that he was found in Montana with no recollection of how he got there).
Air Force investigation launched
Upon hearing their story, Arnold was so excited by the incident and the physical evidence that he was shown, that he called First Lieutenant Frank M. Brown (U.S. Army Air Force) and asked him to fly to Tacoma to see the evidence for himself.
On July 31, 1947, Lt. Frank Brown flew from Hamilton Field in San Francisco, California to Tacoma to join Arnold’s investigation of the Maury Island incident. Accompanying Brown was Captain William (Lee) Davidson. Both men were pilots. Both were intelligence officers. Together they interviewed Dahl and Crisman in the presence of Kenneth Arnold.
Brown and Davidson only had a single day to conduct the interviews as they had to fly back to Hamilton Field for a historic air show in celebration of the split of the Air Force branch from the U.S. Army. Witnesses recalled seeing Arnold take pieces of the debris from the trunk of a car to hand over to Brown and Davidson which they supposedly transported and loaded onto a B-25 airplane to fly back to Hamilton Field.
Brown and Davidson flew out of McChord Field where a local intelligence officer had been permanently stationed. The officer later said that both men had told him they thought the Maury Island incident was a hoax. He said that they believed the material they received from the wreckage was nothing more than aluminum. Embarrassed for Arnold, they told the officer that they had told him nothing of their findings before leaving.
Air Force investigators die in plane crash prompting new questions
Captain Davidson flew the plane, which took off at 2:00 AM on morning of August 1, and Brown rode in the cockpit as the acting copilot. Two other crewmen flew with them – a Crew Chief and a “hitchhiker”. Fifty minutes into the flight, at 2:50 AM, the B-25 that they were flying caught on fire and crashed near Kelso, Washington. The two crewmen parachuted to safety and survived. Dense fog in the area made an immediate search for Brown and Davidson impossible but later it was discovered that both had perished in the crash. In historical terms, they had just become the first casualties of the newly formed U.S. Air Force military branch.
The unexpected plane crash and death of two Air Force officers, along with testimony from witnesses on the ground who reported hearing a loud shot before the crash (implying that the airplane had been shot down), prompted a flurry of activity within the U.S. government. In addition to the investigation of the plane crash, the Air Force took a deeper look into the Maury Island incident. Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover launched a separate FBI investigation of the case.
Tacoma Times runs a shocking story
Meanwhile, less than an hour after the B-25 crashed into the ground and before any official word of the casualties had been released, Tacoma Times reporter Paul Lance began receiving several mysterious phone calls from the same anonymous caller. In one call, the caller gave Lance the names of the pilots who had been killed in the plane crash, before those names had been released by the Air Force. In another call, the caller claimed that the plane had been shot down with a 20mm cannon. Three more calls followed, each revealing more about the crash and its relationship to the Maury Island incident.
Running with the insider information, the following day the Tacoma Times ran a front-page headline: “Sabotage Hinted in Crash of Army Bomber at Kelso with a sub-headline that read “Plane May Hold Flying Disk Secret” Written by Paul Lance, the article stated that the plane had been sabotaged or shot down to prevent shipment of flying disk fragments to Hamilton Field, California for analysis. Needless to say, the Air Force was not amused.
Amid a surprising admission, the Air Force investigation of Maury Island is reopened
Air Force investigators completed their investigation of the B-25 plane crash and concluded that the left engine had burnt an exhaust stack which caught the left wing of the plane on fire. According to their report, the left wing broke off and struck the tail section, splitting it from the plane. The plane went into a spin and while the two crewmen were able to parachute to safety, Brown and Davidson were trapped inside and unable to escape. They admitted that classified information was being carried on the plane but claimed that it had nothing to do with the Maury Island incident.
During the plane crash investigation, the Air Force reopened the investigation of the Maury Island incident. The official finding was that the entire incident was a hoax. They claimed that the stated damage to the boat did not match what Crisman and Dahl described, and that the debris found at the site was ordinary slag from a nearby metal smelter. They also told Crisman and Dahl that if they dropped the entire matter, the government would not prosecute them for fraud and implicate them in the unfortunate deaths of the two Air Force officers.
Crisman and Dahl retract their stories and another investigator’s plane crashes
The next day, on August 3, 1947, Crisman and Dahl publicly retracted their stories and refused to give any further interviews. Years later, friends remembered Dahl being terribly angry over the affair and according to an FBI report, told friends that “he was sick of the entire business and that if the was ever contacted by the Army or the authorities he was going to deny ever having seen anything and claim to be ‘the biggest liar that ever lived.’”
Meanwhile, Frank Arnold’s investigation of the matter also came to an abrupt halt. Angry at the entire affair, Arnold packed up his backs, boarded his single engine airplane, and flew home. In a surprising twist, Arnold’s plane also crashed – at Pendleton. Although he was not injured in the crash, an investigation of the downed plane revealed that a fuel valve had been purposely turned off.
More mysterious deaths and the FBI does not believe it was a hoax
Eleven days later after Crisman and Dahl retracted their stories, on August 14, 1947, Tacoma Times reporter Paul Lance (who received the anonymous phone calls regarding the Maury Island incident) suddenly died. Pathologists studied his body for 36 hours but could not find any cause of death.
Shortly after the death of Tacoma Times reporter Paul Lance, the United Press “stringer” for the Seattle area, Ted Morello, also died. The Tacoma Times operated for a few more months and then quietly closed its doors forever.
The same day as Lance’s death, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent a teletype to FBI Seattle field agent George Wilcox. In it, Hoover said:
“It would also appear that Dahl and Crisman did not admit the hoax to the army officers.”
Agent George Wilcox responded with the following:
“Please be advised that Dahl did not admit to Brown that his story was a hoax but only stated that if questioned by authorities he was going to say it was a hoax because he did not want any further trouble over the matter.”
It would seem that Crisman and Dahl’s retraction of their story had been submitted under duress.
In January 1950, Crisman told Fate magazine that the incident did indeed happen and that the claims that he retracted his story were a “bald-face lie”.
Crisman’s life continued to be filled with adventure. In 1968, as he was driving home from work, his car was riddled with bullets by an unknown shooter. Two weeks later, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison subpoenaed Crisman to testify in the John F. Kennedy assassination investigation. Crisman claimed he had no knowledge of the assassination.
Although no further legal action against Crisman was taken by Garrison, early JFK researchers identified Crisman as one of the three mysterious “hobos” that had been arrested and photographed shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy.
Unanswered questions remain
Who believed it was a hoax?
Rumors of the incident being a hoax propagated rather quickly after the Air Force’s findings were made public. Among those who officially claimed the incident was a hoax were Edward J. Ruppelt, one-time head of the U.S. Air Force project investigating flying saucers (Project Bluebook, which Ruppelt took over in 1951) and Dr. Edward Condon who gave the incident 115 words in his Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects paper. Both Ruppelt and Condon are highly disreputed within the paranormal community.
Was Crisman a conman?
Many reports point out that Crisman was a conman, but official FBI reports counter this claim. An FBI investigation into Crisman noted witnesses saying he was “a clean-cut young man of good character and clean morals”, “a fine person whose character, morals, and loyalty were beyond questions”, and that “no defamatory information whatsoever was heard regarding him”. Crisman went on to become a City Councilman.
What happened to the photographs that Dahl took of the UFOs?
The photographs of the incident have never surfaced. Dahl never showed anyone the pictures. Evidence hints that the Air Force investigators took the pictures with them on their fateful trip back to Hamilton Field. Dahl claims that the pictures were useless anyway saying that shortly after the “men in black” visited him, the pictures became fogged and spotted – as if exposed to some sort of radiation.
Was the Maury Island UFO sighting bigger than the Roswell crash?
Thirteen days after Crisman and Dahl reported seeing a distressed UFO break into pieces, another UFO reportedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. Some believe that the more important news story took place on Maury Island and that the Roswell crash was nothing more than an attempt to direct attention away from the Maury Island incident.
1947 Tacoma Times article resurfaces
Update 12/2/2013: Researchers from the Northwest Museum of Legends and Lore have uncovered a 1947 Tacoma Times newspaper headline related to the historic Maury Island crash. In the article, it is stated that an Air Force Chief of Staff confirmed that the crashed planes had been on a “disc mission”. The text of the article reads:
Wrecked Bomber Carried Disc Secret Mon. – Aug. 4, 1947, Tacoma Times
Army Says Data Was on Plane
By Paul Lantz
The army air forces Monday confirmed reports the B-25 bomber which crashed at Kelso Friday carrying classified secret material pertaining to discs.
According to a United Press report Monday, Brig. Gen. Ned Schramm, chief of staff of the Fourth air force at San Francisco, confirmed a story carried exclusively in the Tacoma Times Saturday that the planes had been on a disc mission.
The Times, which was the first newspaper to break the story, had been informed by an anonymous tipster that the fallen plane carried disc data at the time of the crash. Still unconfirmed is the tipster’s statement that the crash was caused by sabotage.
It was revealed Monday that specimens obtain on Maury Island by two Tacoma businessmen are of a substance unknown to the University of Chicago metallurgists.
FBI Seattle memo – August 14, 1947
Washington state Senate Resolution recognizing the Maury Island Incident
On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, the Washington State Senate passed Resolution #8648, recognizing the historic significance of ‘The Maury Island Incident,’ an historic UFO sighting which took place on June 21, 1947. The Resolution was sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, who represents the 33rd District, where several scenes in the locally produced independent film were shot. In addition to commemorating one of the first UFO sightings (and “Man in Black” encounters) of the modern era, the Resolution also acknowledged the first two fatalities of the then newly independent U.S. Air Force Intelligence Officers Capt. William L. Davidson and 1st Lt. Frank M. Brown, who were tragically killed when their B-25 mysteriously crashed near Kelso, WA. The text of the resolution reads:
WHEREAS, On June 21, 1947, Tacoma resident Harold Dahl and his son allegedly sighted six flying discs over Puget Sound near Vashon-Maury Island, an event now commonly known as “The Maury Island Incident”; and
WHEREAS, On June 22, 1947, Mr. Dahl alleges he was warned not to talk about what he saw by a man dressed in a black suit; and
WHEREAS, On June 24, 1947, pilot Kenneth Arnold alleges he saw nine unidentified flying objects (“UFO’s”) near Mt. Rainier; and
WHEREAS, These controversial sightings helped launch a pop culture phenomenon of UFO sightings across the United States during the summer of 1947, which became known as “The Summer of the Saucers”; and
WHEREAS, On August 8, 1947, two weeks after the Washington sightings, a UFO is alleged to have crashed outside Roswell, New Mexico, and this alleged crash has since become the most well-known alleged UFO incident in history; and
WHEREAS, On August 1, 1947, Army Air Corp Intelligence Officers Capt. William L. Davidson and 1st Lt. Frank M. Brown, who interviewed Harold Dahl about his sighting, lost their lives when the B-25 Bomber they were piloting crashed outside of Kelso, Washington; and
WHEREAS, Following the tragic deaths of Davidson and Brown, Harold Dahl publicly claimed his sighting at Maury Island was a hoax; and
WHEREAS, Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted an investigation of the deaths of Davidson and Brown and ultimately concluded that Dahl did not recant his story but that his claim of hoax was itself a fabrication to avoid further public attention and ridicule; and
WHEREAS, The FBI’s conclusions and Dahl’s secret were sealed for fifty years; and
WHEREAS, The Maury Island Incident and its surrounding circumstances have made immeasurable contributions to Washington State’s cultural heritage and to popular culture worldwide, including most recently the 2014 award-winning motion picture “The Maury Island Incident,” and the 2015 web series “The Maury Island Incident,” produced in conjunction with the Washington FilmWorks Innovation Lab and Motion Picture Competitiveness Program; and
WHEREAS, On April 1, 2017, the 3rd Annual Burien UFO Festival will be held in the newest hipster hangout of downtown Olde Burien with wide community participation and good humor; and
WHEREAS, On the seventieth anniversary of the seminal UFO sightings events, the Washington State sightings should be recognized for both their prominence and primacy in the modern era of UFO popular culture;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Washington State Senate pause to acknowledge the seventieth anniversary of the June 21, 1947, Maury Island Incident; the 1947 “Summer of the Saucers” popular culture phenomenon launched worldwide by these controversial events; and the first reference to the characters now popularly known as “men in black”; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Washington State Senate recognize and honor the heroism and service of Army Air Corp Intelligence Officers Capt. William L. Davidson and 1st Lt. Frank M. Brown, who lost their lives following their investigation of the Maury Island Incident when their airplane crashed outside of Kelso, Washington, on August 1, 1947; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That copies of this resolution be immediately transmitted by the Secretary of the Senate to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, to the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, to the Des Moines Historical Society, to the Highline Historical Society, to the Burien Historical Society, to the Longview-Kelso Historical Society, and to the Washington State Historical Museum.
In-Article Image CreditsThree hobos being escorted by Dallas police after JFK assassination via UNT by William Allen with usage type - Public Domain. November 22, 1963 - The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
Newspaper headline: More flying saucers seen as men of science ponder serious angles July 6, 1947 via Wikimedia Commons by Chronicling America with usage type - Public Domain. July 6, 1947
Featured Image CreditNewspaper headline: More flying saucers seen as men of science ponder serious angles July 6, 1947 via Wikimedia Commons by Chronicling America with usage type - Public Domain. July 6, 1947