Don’t make the mistake of dismissing abductions without weighing the evidence with objective criteria

14-minute reading time

Tom Curren & Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, 2020

Very few “abductees” are seeking publicity or fame. This phenomenon is the subject of enormous ridicule. There is often shame, embarrassment and confusion around the “medical exams” the abductees often “know” they have experienced.  But beyond a debate around motivation, what objective criteria can we apply to judge the relative veracity of claims of UFO abductions?

In this section we review 15 well-documented abduction cases and evaluate them against our eight criteria for credibility (Table 1). We also tabulate six common abduction elements (Table 2). These 15 cases demonstrate that this phenomenon has been occurring on a consistent basis each decade since the 60s. 

  • We begin with the 1961 Betty and Barney Hill incident, which garnered national headlines and brought the idea of “alien abduction” into public awareness. This was the first well-documented case of abduction.
  • The last case we include is the Chris Bledsoe incident which began in 2007 and continues to this day. This last incident, it is worth noting, was formally investigated by the US government’s secret UFO AATIP program.

Together these 15 cases underscore the importance of taking this phenomenon seriously.

What is in a name?

Over the years different words have been used to refer to individuals who make contact or interact with NHIs. The most common terms include:

Contactee: The term used in the late 40s and 50s to describe people who had positive encounters with human looking beings often allegedly from Mars and Venus and who communicated messages of universal peace and love.

Abductee: The term used beginning in the 1960s to describe people who were taken against their will often by short Grays and subjected to medical tests. Typically, these experiences are described in predominately negative terms.

Experiencer: This term was popularized by John Mack in the 90s in order to avoid the negative connotation of “abductee” and to also highlight that many abductees began over time to view their experiences in a more positive light and to feel that on some level they were choosing to participate in the encounters.

For this document we are choosing to use the term abductee. This is due to the fact that all but the last case we include occurred before “experiencer” was in use and thus “abductee” is the term used in the material associated with these cases. Also, while many of the abductees we showcase have overtime begun to view their experiences in a more positive light, with the exception of John Salter and his son, everyone viewed their initial experience (as indicated by the dates listed in Tables 1 and 2) in negative or mixed terms. Nevertheless, we feel the shift from using the term “abductee” to “experiencer” is an important shift and is a neutral term that more accurately captures the complexity of the phenomena, which often has both negative and positive dimensions to it.

Table 1

Common Abduction Elements

Table 2

(Click to view as a PDF)

6 Major Patterns Described in the 15 Abduction Cases

These cases differ widely in their specifics, spanning nearly a 60-year period from 1961 to present day.  Each case is complex and we consulted multiple sources (books, articles, videos, etc.) on each one in order to get as clear of a picture as we could. In spite of their notable differences these cases share many features common to the abduction experience. We have identified six common abduction elements that occur with a very high frequency within these cases (see Table 2). Here is a summary of those findings:

  • NHI interactions: All 15 reported interactions with non-human intelligences (NIH), the hallmark of an encounter experience.
  • Saw UFO: 15 reported seeing a UFO craft in conjunction with the experience. In the Coronado Island incident, the lights of the craft shown through the hotel windows and were seen by people in different rooms.
  • UFO medical exam: 14 have memories of some type of intrusive medical examination, presumably aboard the UFO craft. While it is not clear if Chris Bledsoe experienced a medical exam, he did report a physical healing as a result of his encounter and felt this occurred in response to his prayers.
  • Missing time: All 15 reported external evidence of “missing time” during the abduction. This typically was 1-2 hours but could as much as 5 days as in the case of Travis Walton.
  • PTSD syndrome: All 15 experiencers report years of struggle with PTSD symptoms following the encounter.
  • Multiple encounters: 12 have also reported additional encounters with NHIs beyond the single incident documented in the Tables. In many cases these occurred both prior to and after the date listed in Table 1. Often the incident detailed in Table 1 served as a trigger event for the abductee with them eventually recalling additional encounters prior to that incident often when they were children as well as becoming aware of new encounters that were continuing to occur. This suggests that while some abductions might be a single incident most appear to be part of a lifelong pattern of encounters. At least three of the cases involve encounters up to the present day (i.e., Strieber, Huggins, and Bledsoe)

Taken together these six common elements demonstrate that there is a core experience that has defined the abduction experience over the last 60-years it has been researched and documented.  The high frequency that all six of these elements occur with the 15 cases lends itself to strengthening the validity of these cases especially when combined with the credibility criteria presented below.

Other common elements associated with abductions include: the experience of telepathic communication with the NHIs, various psychic phenomena (e.g., telekinesis, precognition, clairvoyance), multi-generational encounters within a single family, high strangeness (e.g., time slips, encounters with cryptids, OBEs, poltergeist activity) and even encounters with the abductee’s own hybrid babies. In fact, many of the 15 cases we showcase here had some or all of these additional features.

Beyond these commonalities, there are some interesting variations:


  • 5 incidents occurred in a forested area and often occurred during a camping or fishing trip
  • 5 incidents occurred at home typically in the abductee’s bedrooms at night
  • 1 incident occurred at two hotels located next to each other and involved people being taken from 4 separate bedrooms
  • 4 incidents occurred while driving a car – often along remote country roads at night


  • 12 incidents occurred at night
  • 3 incidents occurred during the day


  • 12 total women were abducted across 7 cases
  • 18 men were abducted across 10 cases


  • Short & tall grays
  • Hybrid children and adults
  • Humanoids
  • Insectoids
  • A short hairy creature


  • Abductee John Salter writes, “I have only positive feelings about the non-so-different from us people whom we met and with whom we spent over an hour.”  In the years following his experience, he reports dramatically improved health and vitality, attributable to “implants and injections” he believes he received.
  • At the other extreme, Terry Lovelace reports, “The beings we met were monsters. They kidnap people and subject them to terror and brutality in pursuit of their agenda. They are 100% purpose-driven and void of empathy for human or animal suffering. We are their lab rats. Once you’re tagged as their specimen you’re tagged for a lifetime. Like a wild animal on the Serengeti Plane.”
The Close Encounters Scale
In 1972 astronomer and UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek created a three-level classification system for close encounters with UFOs:

Close encounters of the first kind (CE-1): A visual sighting of a UFO within 500 feet.

Close encounters of the second kind (CE-2): A UFO event that includes physical effects (e.g., a car engine dying, swollen eyes from radiation exposure, or scorched earth).

Close encounters of the third kind (CE-3): A UFO event where an entity (e.g., a humanoid, a human, or a robot) is present who appears to be connected to the UFO.


Since Hynek’s scale was originally proposed at least two additional types of close encounters have been widely recognized:

Close encounters of the fourth kind (CE-4): A UFO event where a human is abducted by a UFO or entity connected to a UFO.

Close encounters of the fifth kind (CE-5): A UFO event that is human initiated and seeks peaceful bilateral contact with non-human intelligences.

Evaluation of the 15 Cases Against 8 Criteria for Credibility

Given the bizarre nature of abduction experiences and the outlandish claims made by abductees it is important to bring as many criteria as possible to bear on each case to evaluate its credibility. To this end we have identified eight criteria by which to examine each case (see Table 1). These eight criteria work together to set a high bar of validity. In general, we have restricted our evaluations to the primary incident identified by date in Table 1 & 2. However, these dates represent in 12 of the 15 cases the catalyzing event that served to alert the abductee to a much longer history of similar encounters. In several of the cases, when information from additional abduction experiences of the abductee in question are included then even more of the criteria are satisfied. For example, in Whitley Strieber’s 1985 incident, which meets 6 of the 8 criteria, once you include subsequent abduction experiences, he had the remaining criteria of multiple abductees and additional physical evidence can both be satisfied. Similarly, Linda Cortile’s 1989 case, when expanded to include additional encounters appears to involve multiple abductees thereby increasing her number of credibility elements from 6 to 7 (out of 8).

Of the 15 cases 10 satisfy 6 of the 8 criteria and 3 satisfy 7 of them.

Thus 13 of the 15 cases are quite strong when evaluated by the 8 criteria. Of the two remaining cases both remain strong cases for different reasons.

For example, the John Salter and Son incident meets 5 of the 8 criteria and while there were no additional witnesses to the abduction, they both serve as witnesses to each other’s abduction and thus could satisfy the “multiple witness” criteria. Similarly, while had they taken a lie detector test or psychological evaluation the evaluation of their case could have been more thorough there was really very little reason given the circumstances of their case for either of them to take these tests. Thus, it can be argued that out of the 6 criteria that apply to their case they do in fact satisfy all 6.

The case of David Huggins only satisfies 2 of the 8, which at first glance would lead one to conclude it is not a strong case. However, the strength of Huggins’ case lies in the fact that he has been able to recall all of his abductions without the assistance of hypnosis and as an artist he has produced over 100 paintings detailing his encounters. This amount of artwork adds a degree of visual representation that makes his case standout among others. So while Huggins only satisfies 2 of the 8 criteria, his case remains notable in several ways, especially, given like the Salter case, there was little reason for him to take a lie detector test or undergo a psychological evaluation.

In short, we have selected 15 strong and interesting cases that stand up quite well to scrutiny. Here is a summary of our findings:

  • Multiple abductees: 10 of the 15 events involved multiple abductees.  In total, at least 26 individuals were abducted, all of which were interviewed and examined.
  • Additional witnesses: In 10 of the 15 accounts, some aspect of the encounter was witnessed one or more individuals besides the abductee(s).  Overall, and additional 34 people had direct knowledge of some aspect of these events. For example:
    • Another car might have reported seeing a UFO at the same location
    • A wife might report her husband missing from the bedroom
    • Bystander’s watched as an abductee floated up into a UFO
    • Friends or family witnessed a UFO or some strange event nearby.

Also, it is worth pointing out that of the 15 cases 14 either had multiple abductees or multiple witnesses. And five possibly six had both.

  • Passed lie detector tests: We have documentation of lie detector tests being taken in 11 of these cases. Of these 10 passed and one was inconclusive – Chris Bledsoe. In the Bledsoe case investigators have expressed concern about how the test was administered and interpreted. Even given this the Bledsoe case still satisfies at least 6 of the 8 criteria and remains a strong case all things considered. It is quite amazing that 10 of the 11 abductees associated with these cases took and passed a lie detector test.
  • Passed psychological evaluation: Only 7 of the 15 cases included a professional evaluation of the abductee’s mental status and psychological functioning. However, of those 7 all passed the evaluation and, in many cases, multiple types of evaluation were conducted. These included:
    • Psychiatric and psychological evaluation by a trained professional
    • EEG assessments of temporal lobe epilepsy
    • MRI scans
    • Personality assessments
    • Evaluation for fantasy proneness

It is quite noteworthy that everyone who took psychological assessments passed those assessments. This underscores the fact that these people are normal adults experiencing something quite extraordinary.

  • Body marks: 11 of the 15 displayed body marks of some type resulting from their encounters (which have been photographed and examined by doctors). Body marks found in these 15 cases include:
    • Scars
    • Bruises and red marks
    • Needle marks
    • Scope marks
    • Triangle shaped marks
  • Additional Physical Evidence: Beyond the body marks just discussed, 13 of the 15 cases involve other physical evidence. Approximately half of the cases had more than one and up to four types of physical evidence associated with their incident. Collaborating evidence in this category include:
    • Faster than normal plant and tree growth occurring after the encounter
    • Damage to clothes and watches worn during the encounter
    • Electrical equipment malfunctioning
    • Animals and pets reacting intensely or strangely
    • Implants discovered
    • House hold objects disappearing
    • Alterations to the soil where the UFO landed
    • Burn circles in the grass where the UFO landed
    • Physical illnesses due to apparent radiation exposure

While many of the examples of additional physical evidence are not in and of themselves inconvertible evidence the fact that nearly every case (13 of 15) had at least one type of physical evidence helps underscore the physical dimension of these encounters.

  • Conscious Recall: All 15 of the abductees have conscious recall of important elements of their abduction experience. This often includes parts from the beginning, middle, and end of the encounter. For many abductees the conscious recall is accompanied by fuzzy or unclear areas of recall, missing time, and a settling feeling that something happened that is just outside of one’s awareness. Examples of the types of things abductees recall consciously include:
    • Sighting the UFO
    • Seeing, interacting and/or communicating with NHIs
    • Being inside the UFO
    • Watching the UFO take off

The fact that all the abductees in all 15 cases included conscious recall helps counter the argument that these experiences were a dream or the result of an altered state of consciousness such as sleep paralysis.

  • Additional hypnotic recall: In 14 of the 15 cases, additional aspects of the experience were elicited through hypnotic regression. While most abductees recall enough elements of their encounter to indicate that an abduction likely occurred it is often not until they use hypnotic regression that they can confirm this for themselves by filling in the “blank spots” between the consciously recalled elements.

While there has been much debate in the literature and field of abduction studies around the reliability of hypnotic regression. While there are good critiques and limitations of this method that must be acknowledged it is also largely a reliable method when administered by a trained professional. Today there are established protocols and training criteria that help ensure the professional level use of this method. And as a psychological methodology it has an established track record of supporting people to address a wide range of issues.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that within the 15 cases we have examined hypnotic recall is just one of seven other credibility criteria. As a result, none of the cases rely exclusively or even heavily on hypnosis. Hypnosis is just element among many that helps verify that an abduction as occurred. Obviously, if hypnosis was the primary evidence being pointed to in order to verify an abduction had occurred, we would agree that this is not satisfactory in making a strong case of its occurrence. In short, hypnosis on its own leaves a lot to be desired when trying to verify an abduction has occurred but when coupled with numerous other strong criteria can be part of a composite view that adds credibility to the case.

Exploring The 15 Cases in More Detail

We encourage you to learn more about each of the 15 famous abduction cases presented in Tables 1 and 2. To facilitate this we have curated a more detailed case study for each incident that provides additional context and information. All are written documents (not videos). They vary in estimated reading time from 2 minutes to 15 minutes.  We have designed them for easy skimming, with highlighted quotes and images. We encourage you to look at each of them and evaluate them for credibility and significance.

Note – not all of the written case studies we have curated cover all the six common abduction elements (Table 1) or all the eight credibility criteria (Table 2).  As noted above we have relied on multiple sources to provide additional information about each case in order to fill out Tables 1 and 2. Nevertheless, the written case studies we have curated will provide a good initial overview of each case. Also at least 11 of the 15 cases have one or more books written about them, which can also be consulted for a more in-depth exploration of those incidents.

One of the advantages of studying these 15 “famous” cases is that they are very well-documented and as discussed above do a great job of satisfying most of the eight credibility criteria and contain nearly all of the six common abduction elements. As such they are very strong cases that demand we take the abduction phenomena serious and study it more closely and continue to develop ways to verify and evaluate these cases.

Revisiting Other Lesser-Known Cases

Also, these strong cases can help us revaluate and reconsider many of the lesser-known cases, which while lacking some of the credibility elements used here still might be authentic cases of abduction and deserve to be taken seriously. We intentionally set the bar high with our 14 total criteria in order to see how some of the most famous cases would stack up against these criteria. We found that at least 14 of the 15 did do quite well. However, we don’t feel that all cases need to meet these criteria. In fact, many of them would be hard pressed to do so.

It stands to reason that many if not most authentic cases lack the right conditions of being able to meet many of the eight credibility criteria we have used. For example, it is not common to have multiple witnesses and/or abductees involved in a case as many abductees are often alone in their bedrooms when the incidents occur. Likewise, in many cases it doesn’t really make sense for an abductee to take a lie detector test or subject themselves to multiple psychological evaluations. This is more important in high profile cases that have garnered much public attention and scrutiny and the abductees reputation and story is on the line in a particularly visible way.

In conclusion, while many lesser-known authentic abduction cases will be hard pressed to satisfy some (maybe even many) of our credibility criteria, our hope is that by demonstrating the strength of 15 of the more famous incidents we have made the case that on the whole the abduction phenomena deserve serious consideration. Thus, we are not suggesting that for an abduction case to be authentic that it has to perform well on our eight criteria. Rather, we hope our above analysis serves to inspire you to revisit these lesser known cases with an open and discriminating mind as they can be authentic cases of another worldly encounter as well.


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