In December 1980, on a rural road near Houston, Texas, three individuals encountered a massive, low-flying, diamond-shaped unidentified flying object (UFO) that was pursued by a large group of military helicopters. Today, the so-called Cash-Landrum incident stands out as one of the most intriguing and perplexing UFO cases on record. This incident resulted in severe health problems for one of the witnesses and ultimately led to a $20 million lawsuit against the U.S. government.
Curt Collins, one of the world’s leading experts on the Cash-Landrum case and the founder of the Blue Blurry Lines website, has dedicated his efforts to researching the mysteries, legends, and hoaxes surrounding unidentified flying objects. In 2015, Collins exposed a failed case involving “alien” witness photos with the Roswell Slides Research Group. I detailed this exposure event in my 2017 book, “UFOs: Reframing the Debate.”
Recently, Collins, along with Claude Falkstrom, released “The Saucers That Time Forgot,” focusing on uncovering “stories that UFO history has overlooked or even forgotten.” Collins spent years revisiting the investigation of the Cash-Landrum incident. In the following interview, he distinguishes between fact and fiction, providing insights into this captivating yet highly questionable case.
The dialogue between the reporter and Curt Collins describes the Cash-Landrum incident in December 1980.
Reporter: Please summarize the Cash-Landrum incident for us. As this story unfolded, Betty Cash (52 years old) and her friend Vickie Landrum (57 years old) were out driving on the evening of December 29, 1980. With them was Vickie’s grandson, Colby Landrum, who was not yet seven years old. The incident occurred on a sparsely populated, two-lane rural road near Houston, Texas, in the outskirts of the town of Huffman.
Curt Collins: As they rounded a bend, they discovered a massive, bright, unidentified flying object hovering over the road. It intermittently emitted flames downward, causing the witnesses to feel frightened and come to a stop. Betty got out of the car to get a clearer view, but the other two quickly returned to the vehicle. After a while, the object ascended and flew away slowly. The witnesses saw helicopters following it, with the impression that they were military helicopters either pursuing or escorting the object. Once the aircraft passed, they continued driving home.
Betty dropped off Vickie and Colby, and upon returning home, she went to bed due to a headache, marking the beginning of the long-term illness that led to her hospitalization. Vickie and Colby also experienced flu-like symptoms and reported similar issues, though less severe than Betty’s. Initially, none of them connected their illnesses to the UFO, but as Betty continued to suffer from health problems, they began to suspect the UFO as a possible cause.
Reporter: You spent many years researching the Cash-Landrum incident. What do you find particularly intriguing about this case? Why is it so significant?
Curt Collins: I’ve been interested in the entire history of UFOs, but the Cash-Landrum case intrigued me because it’s one of the best-documented and most credible cases. The military’s reported involvement in the incident led me to believe that there must be more evidence to be disclosed, whether from declassified documents or potentially new eyewitnesses, such as retired helicopter pilots.
However, as I delved deeper, I realized that the true events had been overshadowed by misinformation and rumors to the point where the actual story was starting to fade away. Fortunately, Christian Lambright interviewed Vickie Landrum twice independently in 1985, revealing crucial distinctions in how the witnesses’ accounts were packaged with the UFO story. This sparked my desire to dive into the mystery and find the precise records of this case.
Reporter: Has the U.S. government ever provided an official explanation for this incident?
Curt Collins: No. Officials have never stated that there is any conclusive evidence proving that the event indeed occurred.
Reporter: Has the cause of the witnesses falling ill after encountering the UFO been satisfactorily determined? What is the nature of their poisoning?
Curt Collins: Due to the unfolding of events, we cannot determine what happened. The story of this unidentified flying object only surfaced about a month after Betty was first hospitalized, and the investigation began roughly a month later. Betty Cash’s illness is documented, but as Landrum did not receive medical care, there is no evidence indicating that they were affected by the UFO encounter. Betty had heart problems about two years before the incident and underwent heart surgery and medication, but she was reportedly in good health at the time. The cause of her health issues is still unclear, with her doctor describing her illness as alopecia and cellulitis. Betty’s hair loss and flu-like symptoms prompted doctors to examine her for radiation exposure, but the results were negative.
Reporter: Regarding this eyewitness event, what were the official responses from local authorities and the military?
Curt Collins: The UFO incident was reported over a month later and seemed to be disseminated through informal channels. Vickie Landrum told her neighbor, Dayton Police Chief Tommy Waring, but the incident was beyond his jurisdiction. He found a card with the National UFO Reporting Center’s phone number, and Vickie called them, ultimately leading to news coverage and a nationwide investigation. It wasn’t until August 1981, after Betty Cash wrote to Texas Senator, that the military became involved, suggesting she file a complaint with Bergstrom Air Force Base near Austin, Texas.
Witnesses were interviewed, provided with damage claim forms, and a brief investigation followed. However, they found that such an event was unlikely so close to Houston Intercontinental Airport, given the tower equipment, personnel, and the many pilots in the area. In 1982, U.S. Representative Ron Wyden requested an investigation into whether U.S. aircraft were involved in the incident. The Department of the Army Inspector General (DAIG) assigned Colonel George Sarran to investigate. Despite finding the witnesses credible, Sarran found no evidence supporting their claims of any helicopters being involved.
Reporter: If there were helicopters associated with any agency, what agency do you think they belonged to? Do these helicopters really exist?
Curt Collins: At one point, I was convinced that these helicopters were part of the Army’s 158th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, tasked with a rescue mission for American hostages in Iran. The timing, equipment, and secrecy of this project closely matched, but in the end, it didn’t align. After learning more about the equipment and personnel requirements, the helicopter fleet became the most implausible aspect of this story, rather than its best lead.
Reporter: Why were the witnesses’ allegations against the government dismissed?
Curt Collins: The lawsuit was a very unfortunate aspect of this case and a real example of witnesses being victims. In my view, they were used as pawns by UFO researchers. Their absent lawyer, Peter Gersten, had been involved in several public lawsuits regarding UFO documents, and part of the deposition he sought was investigating other UFO rumors. According to Gersten, the lawsuit was at best a ploy, hoping for an out-of-court settlement with the government. He said the chances of winning were “slim to none.” On August 21, 1986, Judge Ross Sterling dismissed the case, but it never went to trial due to insufficient evidence. The plaintiffs failed to prove U.S. aircraft were involved in the incident and did not establish its responsibility for the claimed injuries.
Reporter: How was the event described in the media at the time, and if so, did this contribute to any popular misconceptions about the situation?
Curt Collins: The first reports of this story were in tabloids, followed by local news and then a national broadcast on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Some reports were sensationalized but generally stuck close to the witnesses’ descriptions of the events. The problem is that it garnered attention simply because it was a UFO story, potentially reducing the chances of a thorough investigation. Another tricky issue is that the witnesses initially told their story from their perspective, but the media provided a simplified narrative. This created a feedback loop, and soon, the witnesses were telling a homogenized version based on what they read in the news. Another related issue with news coverage is that it spawned several people claiming to be UFO or helicopter witnesses who had never reported anything before the news coverage. While such witnesses are acceptable in UFO studies, they don’t hold up in court.
Reporter: What role did UFO research groups play in investigating the Cash-Landrum incident, and who were the key investigators? To what extent did the efforts of UFO researchers help clarify the complexity of this strange and unsettling case?
Curt Collins: UFO researchers felt uneasy about the Cash-Landrum case from the beginning, and it might be a story more complicated than the UFO incident itself. The Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) was the first to break the story but had its report intercepted by a rogue who sold the intelligence to tabloids instead of conducting an investigation. A few weeks later, Betty Cash contacted John F. Schuessler, the Deputy Director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). He became the primary investigator for this case, serving as the witnesses’ “rabbi,” advisor, confidant, essentially their public relations agent, and a part of the story. Schuessler seemed to have genuine intentions, but in attempting to present the witnesses in the best light possible, he did a considerable amount of work, turning this story into a legend.
Simultaneously, elements of conspiracy were on the rise, and wild conspiracy theories later made their way into “The X-Files.” Many players, such as William Moore and Richard Doty, tried to reshape the Cash-Landrum story to promote their own agendas.
Reporter: Does the Cash-Landrum incident have similarities with other cases in the history of UFO studies, and if so, what can we learn from these similar events?
Curt Collins: The involvement of helicopters in this case is mostly unique, but there are indeed several similarities with other cases. I have delved deep into the history of UFOs, searching for similar events. Some notable examples include the 1957 Levelland case in Texas, where there was a massive bright unidentified flying object. The following year, at Loch Raven Reservoir in Maryland, there were reports of a glowing egg-shaped object leaving “sunburn” on witnesses.
While other cases match in certain aspects, two other UFO injury cases are worth mentioning. In 1967, Stefan Michalak encountered a landed saucer at Falcon Lake in Manitoba, Canada, leaving him with mysterious burns. In 1979, Deputy Sheriff Val Johnson, while driving on a lonely road in Minnesota, saw a dazzling unidentified flying object on the road ahead. Unlike the C-L situation, he didn’t stop, and his car collided with the (much smaller) UFO. The car was damaged, and his eyes were injured, including “welder’s burns.” Like all UFO cases, there may be some errors and hoaxes in the mix of information, but witnesses in these types of cases typically don’t follow the patterns of false behaviors seeking attention.
Reporter: Vickie interpreted the incident at the time as a divine occurrence, saying, “That’s Jesus. He won’t hurt us.” Some scholars believe that UFO studies or the UFO subculture have distinct religious aspects. Do you see any similarities between the pursuit of UFOs and the pursuit of God?
Curt Collins: This statement comes from Vickie as she tried to comfort her grandson Colby during the encounter. In the C-L case, I believe religious beliefs played a minimal role, aside from the witnesses’ brief first impressions of what they described. While UFO culture indeed has elements of religious belief, it predates flying saucers, going back to mysticism and the occult. When UFOs became a major news item in 1947, believers in extraterrestrial origins were the first advocates of the idea. Contactees in the 1950s were a branch of this movement, and much of the information about God-like extraterrestrials has directly or indirectly become foundational beliefs in UFOs. We shouldn’t waste time hoping that cosmic parents will come down from space to solve our problems.
Reporter: Is there anything more to learn about the Cash-Landrum case, particularly from 2019 onwards? Or is the mystery still unresolved?
Curt Collins: I am surprised that, over the years, more information has surfaced from government documents to researchers’ “archived files and letters,” and there may be more to come. New information often requires a reassessment of what you thought you knew, and sometimes, it challenges beliefs based on misinformation and lies. We may never know what happened on the night of December 29, 1980, on a Texas road. But it’s a fascinating UFO mystery that demonstrates the value of finding facts within fictional narratives.
The Cash-Landrum incident on December 29, 1980, remains an enigma in the annals of UFO history, shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Despite years of dedicated research by experts and investigators, the truth surrounding that fateful night on the Texas roads remains elusive, casting a veil over the events of December 29, 1980.
Witnessed by Betty Cash and Vickie Landrum, the incident involved a colossal unidentified flying object, low in the night sky, described as a diamond-shaped craft emitting flames. Pursued by what appeared to be a fleet of military helicopters, the encounter left a lasting impact, not only on the witnesses but also on the broader UFO community. The aftermath included severe health issues for Betty Cash, sparking a $20 million lawsuit against the U.S. government.
Renowned UFO researcher Curt Collins, a leading expert on the Cash-Landrum case, delved into the intricacies of the incident. His tireless efforts to separate fact from fiction have been instrumental in shedding light on this captivating yet highly questionable case.
In an interview with Collins, he emphasized the uniqueness of the Cash-Landrum case within UFO lore. The involvement of military helicopters and the subsequent health problems suffered by the witnesses added layers of complexity, making it stand out in the realm of unidentified flying objects.
As the years have passed, the mystery persists. Despite Collins and other investigators unearthing additional information, a definitive explanation or closure remains elusive. The health issues faced by the witnesses, the absence of a clear government response, and the lack of resolution in the legal pursuit all contribute to the enduring enigma that is the Cash-Landrum incident.
The quest for truth and the exploration of the unknown continue to define UFO research. The Cash-Landrum incident serves as a compelling chapter in this ongoing journey, challenging our understanding of the cosmos and inspiring further exploration into the depths of the unknown. In the pursuit of answers, the story of that December night lingers as a testament to the enduring allure of UFO mysteries.
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