In Memoriam, Albert K. Bender (1921-2016)

MIB Lurking

This year we mark the 60th anniversary of the publication of Gray Barker’s best-seller, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers—the book that gave us the Three Men, or as they came to be known, the Men in Black.

Do we know them, really?

From humble origins as FBI men intimidating the odd saucer researcher who got too close to the Truth, afterward portrayed as extraterrestrial or interdimensional agents of harm, the Men in Black are serviceable villains even today. Barker himself played out the thread for a quarter of a century. But what of the original victim?

Saucer devotees will recall the case of Albert K. Bender, whose silencing at the hands of three men in dark suits gave Barker the narrative core of his book and of the life’s work that followed.

If Barker were David Bowie, Al Bender would be Major Tom.


Those who aren’t devotees will need to be told that in 1952 and ’53 Al Bender published a saucer ‘zine called Space Review and presided over the imposingly named International Flying Saucer Bureau. Within this organization there existed a Department of Investigation—evaluators of saucer photos more often than not—and its chief was Gray Barker of Clarksburg. Gray wrote the final reports, but because photographs played a large role in the enterprise, perhaps the more influential investigator was August C. Roberts of Jersey City, an artful photographer in his own right, who once snapped a pic of an evident saucer (and franchised the rights).

So. The investigators went on with their work. Until, to their considerable surprise, Albert K. Bender pulled out of the enterprise, insisting that the mystery of the saucers was no longer a mystery, that investigators would do well to turn their attention elsewhere, as would he.   A Space Review with no saucers in it appeared for a time, to honor the rights of subscribers. Afterward, nothing.

Into this silence rushed Augie Roberts, Dom Lucchesi, Gray Barker; to Connecticut, to confront their friend and get an answer to one or two questions. Principally, what on Earth has happened? And why is the mystery not a mystery?

Bender was not very welcoming. There were things he wasn’t prepared to say. In short, he had written an article proposing a solution to the saucer riddle, and mailed off a copy. To whom is not clear, but soon enough Al was visited in his home by the original Men in Black, one of whom held the document in his hand.

Evidently the Bender hypothesis was shockingly close to the truth—as the Three Men confirmed it to be, but in the second place they swore Al to secrecy.

It was only the practical thing to shut down the investigative unit.

Gray was given the job of making the announcement.

Still, in the comparative privacy of their subsequent correspondence the investigators made it clear that none of them wholly believed the story Al had told. For his part, Gray so admired a successful hoax, as he assured Dom Lucchesi, that if Al had pulled one of this magnitude he would never expose it.

And he never did.


To be continued…


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