The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter, also known as the Hopkinsville Goblins Case, and to a lesser extent the Kelly Green Men Case, is the name given to a series of presumably connected incidents of alleged close encounters with supposed aliens. The incidents occurred in the fall of 1955, the most famous and well-publicized of which centered around a rural farmhouse at the time belonging to the Sutton family, which was located between the hamlet of Kelly and the small city of Hopkinsville, both in Christian County, Kentucky, United States. It is from these main incidents that the entire case takes its name.
Witnesses included not just the two families present at the farmhouse but also numerous other civilians, and even one encounter with allegedly the same creatures in another part of the United States along the Ohio River a week prior to the incidents in Kentucky, which itself had numerous witnesses. An incident in the United Kingdom occurred some two decades later also with allegedly the same creatures, amongst other alleged sightings of the creatures elsewhere.
However the events at Hopkinsville in Kentucky, 1955, are regarded the most significant of the case as witnesses there included policemen and state troopers, and were taken seriously enough as to be officially investigated by the United States Air Force. The Hopkinsville Goblins Case remains one of the most well-known and well-documented cases in the history of UFO incidents, and a favorite for study in ufology.
Overview of the Hopkinsville Case
Many of Steven Spielberg’s projects, like Night Skies, E.T. and Gremlins, were directly inspired by the Kelly-Hopkinsville events.There were dozens of eyewitnesses to the incidents, which included two families present at the farmhouse and others in the area, other civilians some of whom had no connection to the families at the farmhouse and even one in another state. Perhaps most significantly the witnesses also included several local policemen and a state trooper who saw strange phenomena such as unexplained lights in the night sky and noises the same night.
The seven people present in the farmhouse would claim that they were terrorized by an unknown number of creatures similar to gremlins, which have since often been referred to as the “Hopkinsville Goblins” in popular culture. The residents of the farmhouse described them as around three feet tall, with upright pointed ears, thin limbs (their legs were said to be almost in a state of atrophy), long arms and claw-like hands or talons. The creatures were either silvery in color, or wearing something metallic. Their movements on occasion seemed to defy gravity with them floating above the ground and appearing in high up places, and they “walked” with a swaying motion as through wading through water. Although the creatures never entered the house, they would pop up at windows and at the doorway, working up the children in the house to a hysterical frenzy. The families fled the farmhouse in the middle of the night to the local police station and sheriff Russell Greenwell noted they were visibly shaken. The families returned to the farmhouse with Sheriff Greenwell and twenty officers, yet the occurrences continued. Police saw evidence of the struggle and damage to the house, as well as seeing strange lights and hearing noises themselves. The witnesses additionally claimed to have used firearms to shoot at the creatures, with little or no effect, and the house and surrounding grounds were extensively damaged during the incident.
Even years later the eyewitness stories still corroborated remarkably under individual questioning, although speculation amongst the eyewitnesses regarding the motivations of the creatures has ranged from field study on their part, or that the creatures were acting out of mere curiosity or even outright malevolence. The two families involved were noted locally to not be the types to make up a hoax, and this would be seemingly backed up by the fact the families obtained no financial gain or significant fame from the incident, and fled the area when the incident became known locally and they gained an abundance of trespassers wanting to see the site.
UFO researcher Allan Hendry wrote “[t]his case is distinguished by its duration and also by the number of witnesses involved.” Jerome Clark writes that “[i]nvestigations by police, Air Force officers from nearby Fort Campbell, and civilian ufologists found no evidence of a hoax”. Although they never formally investigated the case, Blue Book confessed to being stumped. So was Isabel Davis, one of the most hardheaded of UFO investigators.
Incidents in detail
A week before the more famous incidents at the farmhouse in Kentucky, there was a prior encounter with what would later be described as the “Hopkinsville Goblins”, although this prior incident occurred in another state. At twilight on August 14, 1955, a group of friends went swimming in the Ohio River near Evansville, Indiana, where “shiny objects” had recently been seen in the sky in the remote Dogtown area where the party had gone for their swimming trip. Whilst swimming, Mrs. Darwin Johnson, 35, was assaulted by “furry clawed hands on the end of very strong, very thin, very long, discoloured arms” which grabbed Mrs. Johnson, causing deep cuts, and she was pulled under the water twice. Other members of the swimming outing rescued her and the unearthly hands disappeared, although they had been seen by the entire party, who also saw strange objects in the sky as they fled the scene. It was reported to the local press at the time. A week later, upon looking at a sketch by Press artist Larry Hill of the creatures reported at Hopkinsville in Kentucky, a still distraught Mrs. Johnson commented “That’s the little devil that had a hold of me.” The witnesses, all of whom were local to the area, were at a loss to explain what had happened and claimed they would never go near the area again. Whilst Mrs. Johnson’s enounter was treated more or less seriously, this incident caused a rash of “flying saucer” interest in Indiana, along with numerous sightings which were not taken as seriously. A large number of these were taken to be copycats, especially after the Hopkinsville incidents which had in the previous few days been widely publicized nationwide in the press. One such example was a report on August 26 by a group of teenagers who claimed to have seen ten glowing “little green men” cavorting the night before on the Lincoln Avenue High School athletic field of Evansville, whose description matched that of the “Hopkinsville Goblins”.
On the evening of August 21, 1955, members of the Calloway family from Philadelphia were visiting friends, the Sutton family of Kentucky. The Sutton family home was a rural farmhouse located near the towns of Kelly and Hopkinsville, in Christian County, Kentucky (the farmhouse still stands today although the Sutton family moved soon after the incident). There were a total of eleven people in the house that night, including the children of the two families.
The Suttons had no running water in the farmhouse, and due to it being a warm evening Billy Ray Taylor, the patriarch of the Taylor/Calloway family, went to an outside water pump for a drink. It was about 7.00 p.m. Taylor said he observed strange lights in the sky to the west, which he believed to be an unusual craft. The craft was disc-shaped in appearance, and featured lights on its side that had “all of the colors of the rainbow”. Taylor ran back to the house excitedly telling the others about his “flying saucer” sighting, but no one believed him; instead thinking that he had become overly excited after seeing a vivid “shooting star”.
At about 8.00 p.m., the families began hearing strange and unexplained noises outside. The Sutton family dog which was in the yard outside began barking loudly and then hid under the house, where it remained until the next day. Going outside a few minutes later with their guns, Billy Ray Taylor and Elmer “Lucky” Sutton then asserted that they saw a strange creature emerge from the nearby trees. Jerome Clark describes the creature as:
a luminous, three-and-a-half-foot-tall being with an oversized head, big, floppy, pointed ears, glowing eyes, and hands with talons at their ends. The figure, either made of or simply dressed in silvery metal, had its hands raised.
Disquieted by the creature’s bizarre appearance, the pair were further unnerved when it began rushing towards the house holding its hands up in the air, which the men took as threatening behavior. When the creature approached to within about 20 feet, the two men became scared of a home invasion and began shooting at it, one using a shotgun, the other man using a .22 rifle. There was a noise “sounding like bullets being rattled about in a metal drum”, and the creature, they said, then flipped over and fled into the darkness and shadows. Sure that they had wounded the creature, Lucky and Billy Ray went out to look for it. Hendry writes that as the men were stepping from the porch, “a taloned hand reached down from above and began grasping at their hair.” They again shot at the creature—it was perched on an awning over the porch—and it was knocked from the roof. Again they heard the rattling noise, although the creature was apparently unharmed.
In a later televised interview, one of the grown up children would claim that, as well as “floating” above the ground instead of walking, the creatures “stuck to the side of the house in the way a spider could”.
Lucky and Billy Ray returned to the house in a disturbed state. Within minutes, Lucky’s brother J.C. Sutton said that he saw the same creature (or at least a similar creature) peer into a window in the home; J.C. and Billy Ray shot at it, breaking the window, whereupon it too flipped over and fled. The creatures could be heard loudly scurrying about on the roof, and scratching as though trying to break through. For the next few hours, the witnesses would assert that the creatures repeatedly approached the home, either popping up at the doorway or at windows in an almost playful manner, only to be shot at each time they did. The witnesses were unsure as to how many of the creatures that there were; at least two, as two were seen at once, but there may have been as many as fifteen. At one point the witnesses shot one of the beings nearly point blank, and again would insist that the sound resembled bullets striking a metal bucket. The floating creatures’ legs seemed to be atrophied and nearly useless, and they appeared to propel themselves with a curious hip-swaying motion, steering with their arms. Clark writes that “[i]f the creatures were in a tree or on the roof when hit [by gunfire], they would float, not fall, to the ground.”
Not all of the eleven actually claimed to have seen the creatures; June Taylor was too frightened to look, and Lonnie Lankford, and his brother and sister were hiding out of fear during the encounter. However this still left seven witnesses to the creatures in the farmhouse, and all present in the house had seen strange lights or heard the strange noises the creatures made.
Involvement of authorities in Kentucky
There might have been partial corroboration of the Taylor-Sutton tale: at about 11 p.m., a state highway trooper near Kelly independently reported some unusual “meteor-like objects” flying overhead, “with a sound like artillery fire coming directly from them.”
Hendry writes that Sutton family matriarch “Mrs. Lankford … counseled an end to the hostilities,” noting that the creatures had never seemed to try harming anyone nor had they actually entered the house. Between appearances from the creatures, the family tried to temper the children’s growing hysteria. At about 11.00 p.m., the Taylor-Sutton crew decided to flee the farmhouse in their automobiles and after about 30 minutes they arrived at the Hopkinsville police station. Police Chief Russell Greenwell judged the witnesses to have been frightened by something “beyond reason, not ordinary.” He also opined “[t]hese were not the sort of people who normally ran to the police … something frightened them, something beyond their comprehension.” A police officer with medical training determined that Billy Ray’s pulse rate was more than twice normal.
Twenty police officers accompanied the Taylor-Suttons back to the farmhouse, and several entered it to assess the damage. According to Daniels et al., “[t]he official response was prompt and thorough.” In 1998, Karal Ayn Barnett wrote, “By all accounts, the witnesses were deemed sane, not under the influence [of drugs or alcohol], and in such a state of terror, no one involved doubted that they had seen something beyond far their ken.”
Police interviewed neighbouring farmhouses, whose residents were also distressed and reported to the police strange lights, strange sounds, and of hearing the gun battle at the Sutton farmstead. Police and photographers who visited the home saw many bullet holes and hundreds of spent shells, and further discovered what Clark describes as “an odd luminous patch along a fence where one of the beings had been shot, and, in the woods beyond, a green light whose source could not be determined.” Though the investigation was inconclusive, Daniels et al. writes, “Investigators did conclude, however, that these people were sincere and sane and that they had no interest in exploiting the case for publicity. The patch sample, although photographed, was never collected and had mysteriously disappeared by the noon the next day. ”
Police left at about 2:15 a.m., and not long afterward, the witnesses claimed that the creatures returned. Billy Ray fired at them once more, ruining yet another window. The last of the creatures was allegedly sighted just before dawn, at about 4:45 a.m. on August 22. They disappeared with the dawn.
Dyfed, Wales, United Kingdom
It is also worth noting that the descriptions of these creatures (which by no means fit the common impressions of extraterrestrials) closely fit the accounts of 15 children and 3 school staff in Dyfed, West Wales, United Kingdom, later in 1977, who observed small ‘silvery men with spiked ears’ and helmets working around a UFO. Their descriptions drew strong comparisons with the “Hopkinsville Goblins” of Kentucky two decades earlier.
The Hopkinsville Goblins Case garnered massive publicity within hours of its alleged occurrence. The August 22, 1955 Kentucky New Era claimed that “12 to 15 little men” had been seen. Clark writes that none of the witnesses ever claimed this, rather that “[t]he observers had no idea how many of the creatures there were. They could only be certain that there were at least two because they saw that number at the same time.”
Later on August 22, Andrew “Bud” Ledwith of WHOP radio interviewed the seven adult witnesses in two different groups. He judged their tale of the events as consistent, especially in their descriptions of the strange glowing beings. Ledwith had worked as a professional artist, and sketched the creatures based on the witnesses descriptions. Their descriptions were generally consistent, though the female witnesses insisted that the creatures had a somewhat huskier build than the male witnesses remembered, and Billy Ray Taylor was alone in insisting that the beings had antennae. Hendry describes Ledwith’s efforts as “fortunate … because the publicity soon grew so obnoxious to that Sutton family that they later simply avoided telling the story and refused to cooperate [with UFO investigators, excepting] Isabel Davis.”
As reports reached the newspapers, public opinion tended to view the story as a hoax and showed only brief interest in the event. Some residents of the local community, including members of the police department, were skeptical of the Sutton’s story and believed that alcohol (possibly moonshine) may have played a part in the incident, although to date no evidence has been found to support this belief. The fact that some of the witnesses worked for a carnival somehow contributed to the belief in a hoax.
The farm became a tourist attraction for a brief period, which upset the Suttons who tried to keep people away, eventually attempting to charge people an entrance fee to discourage them. That only convinced the sight-seers that the family was attempting to make money from the event, and increased the public view that the event was a hoax. Finally, the Suttons refused all visitors and refused to discuss the event further with anyone. To date, family members who survived the event rarely talk to reporters or researchers, and by given accounts have stuck to their version of the event. As late as 2002, Lucky Sutton’s daughter, Geraldine Hawkins, believed her father’s account, stating,
It was a serious thing to him. It happened to him. He said it happened to him. He said it wasn’t funny. It was an experience he said he would never forget. It was fresh in his mind until the day he died. It was fresh in his mind like it happened yesterday. He never cracked a smile when he told the story because it happened to him and there wasn’t nothing funny about it. He got pale and you could see it in his eyes. He was scared to death.”
The United States Air Force took the allegations seriously and officers from nearby Fort Campbell inspected the case, but could find no normal explanation and to this day is still labelled an open case. The official UFO investigation office, Project Blue Book, never officially investigated the case, although a file has been kept on it and is labelled “unexplained” Prominent Ufologist Allen Hynek had interviews with two persons with direct knowledge of the event a year after the event took place.
In addition to Ledwith’s sketches, Pfc. Gary F. Hodson of the 101st Airborne Division stationed at nearby Fort Campbell sketched the creatures based on eyewitness descriptions. The “men” were described as approximately 3 feet tall and either being silver in color or wearing silver colored clothing that lit up or glowed when the invaders shouted to each other. All of the witnesses agreed to a remarkable degree as to the appearance of the creatures, and never changed their stories.
There have been numerous books, documentaries and debates regarding the incidents, enduring until the present day, although no firm conclusions have ever been established.