Thomas Reed understands that the story he has to tell exists in a realm far beyond the pale of credulity.
"I know that this is hard to stomach," says Reed, a stocky, bespectacled 51-year-old West Knoxville resident, sitting in the kitchen of his comfortable suburban home off Northshore Drive. "Hell, it's hard for me to stomach."
But he doesn't expect anyone to accept his seemingly chimerical narratives on first blush, nor even take them, upon further deliberation, as holy writ. He simply asks that people look at the evidence—multiple eyewitness accounts, polygraph tests, readings from Geiger counters and electromagnetic equipment and spinning compasses—and scrutinize it with clear eyes and an open mind.
Reed and his family have been involved in a multigenerational series of UFO sightings. More specifically, they have been involved in a series of what members of the UFO followers' community refer to as alien abductions. Reed generally stays away from labeling them as such; rather, he prefers to relate the facts as he has experienced them, and let others draw their own conclusions.
What makes the Reed case compelling—in addition to the UFOlogy circuit, it has lately stirred the interest of major cable networks, and Thomas Reed says a film treatment has been suggested—is the presence of physical evidence backed by eyewitness testimony by multiple principals that have held consistent over time.
"It's in the wind as one of the best-documented abduction cases," says Paul Eno, co-host of the nationally broadcast radio show Behind the Paranormal, which has played host to Thomas Reed as a guest interviewee. "That made us sit up and take notice. I've spent 41 years as a paranormal researcher, and I've gotten to where I can smell the B.S.
"Speaking as what I hope is a discriminating host, I've run into maybe six of these cases in my years as a host that were legitimate experiences, and this was one of them. Whether it's an actual ‘alien abduction'? That's a hard question."
How to explain the phenomenon? Skeptics of so-called alien abduction point out that many alleged abductees describe very similar types of experiences—experiences that can be understood in the light of psychological conditioning, mental conditions like temporary schizophrenia or mania, or certain sleep states such as sleep paralysis, night terrors, and hypnogogia. Judging from the Reed evidence, and the consistency of the Reed family and friends' recollections, one could posit that the 58-year-old case is either a very well-rehearsed hoax, engaging many people over many decades, or a particularly strange and compelling hysteria, passed from family member to family member, and even to select associates.
Or perhaps it is something else entirely. Something that has driven Thomas Reed, in particular, to tell his unlikely story, to drag the weird and ungainly thing kicking and screaming into the light of day despite a lifetime of resistance.
"I feel like we've put out enough information to convict somebody in a courtroom," Reed says. "I believe it's hard for a thinking person to sit down and really look at all the evidence and not come to the conclusion that something extraordinary is going on."
In June of 1954, Thomas Reed's mother, the former Nancy Burrows, then a 15-year-old schoolgirl, drove from her home in Westport, Conn., to a rental cabin near Moosehead Lake in Maine with her mother, her older brother Robert, and his girlfriend, Kip, for a weekend of relaxation at the end of another school year. Nancy would recall later that the second night she was there, after she had gone to bed, she was awakened by what sounded like a closing door.
"She went to move, and she felt as if she were inside a mannequin," Thomas recounts. "She felt frozen, but her hands and feet were able to move. She was grabbing what she could to pull herself off the bed."
She remained in that state for hours, Reed says, and remembered seeing strange images—including a series of figures coming from the end of her bed. She remained awake until morning when, as quickly as the feeling of motionlessness had overtaken her, the room was engulfed in light. Everything suddenly seemed normal again.
At breakfast, Kip, who slept in another room, described a nearly identical experience. Neither girl would reenter the cabin that evening, preferring to sleep on the porch despite a precipitous drop in temperature as the skies darkened.
Some 12 years later, the adult Nancy Burrows found herself raising quarter horses on a farm in rural Massachusetts. She was also raising two sons as a single mother: 6-year-old Thomas and 4-year-old Matt.
Thomas remembers it was a cool night in September the first night it happened. It was early, only 9 p.m., but both boys were already in bed, though still wide awake in their bunks, listening to the lapping of the little brook in back of their home through an open window.
And yet something was off.
"You could feel it on your skin," Thomas says. "It was a weird feeling; it kind of created its own anxiety, like something is wrong and you feel it."
The rest of the night is a kaleidoscope of shifting scenes and weird imagery; some of it vividly recalled, some of it half-remembered, some of it a blank. Thomas remembers being at the top of the stairs with his brother, with bright, ghostly figures approaching them from either end of the stair. Then the ground shifted, and the brothers were standing on the cusp of an area of the family property they hadn't traversed before, walking down a new path toward what looked like "a giant turtle shell, 18 feet high, maybe, and 40 or so yards around. Almost like tarnished pewter with burned gold—charred-looking."
And then he and his brother were inside, standing in a great hall that "curved off to the right, almost like a giant question mark." Everything was soft, white, casting off its own seemingly self-generated glow.
Thomas was escorted by more of the figures—less ghostly now, with more clarity to their hooded features; he says they were distinctly humanoid, but very thin, with pronounced pointed chins—to a wall where he was shown something he can only compare now to a giant LCD screen, showing a parade of images.
"At that time, it was completely stunning to me," he recalls. One image, in particular, would stay with him—a willow tree hovering over a blue bay, a picture that he would later reproduce in sketch form, and which now hangs in the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, N.M.
He doesn't recall much about the end of the night, other than returning to some semblance of normalcy back in his room later on. More vivid is his memory of his next encounter in 1967, as is the memory of Matt Reed, who recalls the '67 encounter better than any of the three major experiences the boys claim between 1966 and 1969.
It was almost exactly one year later, in the fall of '67. The occasion was marked by the fact that an aunt, dying of cancer, was staying in Thomas and Matt's grandmother's usual room, sending their grandmother in to bunk with their mother.
Thomas remembers seeing a persisting series of brilliant flashes in the evening sky, like lightning, only the thunder never came. But something else did: that familiar sense of unease. "Every time this has happened, there's been an energy, and we felt it again," Thomas says. "My brother was in his bunk up against the wall, and he could feel it. We could see the light flashes, and all of a sudden we could see this bolt of light flash into the whole side of the house, like an ocean wave, like a whitewash."
"Then the hatchway below the bed and the closet door started rattling," says Matt Reed, now a subcontractor for the Department of Defense living in Brownsburg, Ind. "I thought my brother was goofing with me, and I yelled, ‘Make it stop!' Then I looked over, and he was gone."
Matt Reed says he jumped out of bed, and as he struggled to lift the old-fashioned latch-lock on the door to his room, he had the sense there was someone, or something, else in the room, but that it wasn't his older brother. He ran down the hall, screaming, jumped in bed with his mother and grandmother in an attempt to wake them.
"Then as I looked over out their door, I saw four glowing figures, maybe 6'5"," Matt Reed recalls. "They went toward my grandmother. I was frozen; I couldn't move. And they were so bright, I couldn't make out much detail."
Matt says another figure followed them in, its features more easily discernible; it was shorter, with "almost reptilian legs and a pointy head."
"He scared me," he says. "He was doing something with my grandmother, and I couldn't tell what it was. I started crying. They took one step toward me, then turned and left. I could see the tops of their heads as they went down the stairs."
When the figures left, the two women in the bed finally awoke from their seemingly imperturbable slumber. Amid Matt's cries of alarm, Nancy ran to the boys' room to look for her elder son.
And then Matt was coming to his senses in the familiar halls of that alien interior he had seen once before in 1966. "It was like the sensation of being put to sleep before surgery," he says. "Next thing I know I'm on the craft. I see my brother down a hall. There's a being to his left, showing him images with what looked like a huge TV."
His memories afterward are spotty, but he distinctly recalls that "whoever they were, they didn't want me touching them. They would jerk back from my outstretched hand."
And then the brothers were standing in the driveway of the farmhouse, hearing the screen door slam as their mother and grandmother searched the property frantically, floodlights aglare.
Overhead, Matt says two white streaks blazed across the heavens going north to south, and two more east to west, forming what looked like a giant tick-tac-toe board in the vault of the sky.
Both boys remember their mother pulling them inside, throwing hot towels over them, feeding them juice and baby aspirin. "At one point, I remember that she said, ‘It's okay, it's okay, they're gone now,'" Matt Reed says. "It wasn't until a few years ago that she admitted to saying that, and that she had been afraid something like that would happen."
The last of the family's Massachusetts encounters took place in October of 1969, after Thomas Reed had just finished a bad outing at an equestrian event in a nearby resort town. The family was headed for home on Route 7, according to Thomas Reed, somewhere between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
"My grandmother turns around and sees these lights out the back of the station wagon on the left side," Thomas Reed says. "She was kind of fixated on them. Then I was looking at them, and my brother is looking at them. And my mother is trying to drive, but knowing what happened to her in 1954, she knew what was happening. Though she hid it pretty well."
The car stalled, pulled to the side of the road. Then Thomas describes that familiar weird energy that attended previous experiences, and then a time lapse. "Next thing I know I'm sitting in this grey area, and my family is sitting in another area down the hallway," he says. "This figure comes in, very militant, very rough. I was taken across this bay into this room.
"I got very scared. I ran out, came out into this intersection with three giant halls, bigger than a basketball court, massive. I stopped and there were grey markings on the door. I was taken back in and the next thing I know I'm back in the car."
His mother and brother lying near-catatonic in the seats, Thomas Reed got out of the blue Bel Air station wagon and ran after his grandmother, who was wandering aimlessly in the road a few yards away. He remembers following her all the way into a roadside store, past the clerk, calling her name sharply. He says she walked over to a display of baby strollers, pulled one out of the line, and began rocking it to and fro as if it were occupied.
"She's really fixated on this stroller—it was pretty weird," he says. "I'm trying to pull on her like, come on, we gotta go. And I finally get her away, and she walks up to the clerk and stops, but never says anything. Then we get outside and she starts breaking down, tearing up. It was very traumatizing to her.
"By the time we got back to the car, Mom had it started, we got in and we left. That event really sealed it for us. It caused the family to sell the farm. My mother sold the horses, our land, our house. We moved to another town, and we didn't mention any of it outside the family."
In 1970, the family pulled stakes out of rural Massachusetts and moved to Connecticut. Nancy had already met Howard Reed, the man who would become her husband and stepfather to her sons. It was in many respects a welcome clean slate for the family, especially the two boys.
"Early on we had the perfect opportunity for a Norman Rockwell upbringing, the farm, horses, everything," Thomas says. "This shattered our perceptions. We'd talk about it at the bus stop, and it would create spats with other people, fights in school. My brother and I were very troubled by it.
"I even made a sketch of what happened in my fourth-grade classroom. I had to get up in front of class and tell why I drew it. Of course, no one believed it. It made for tough early years."
And so they stopped talking—at least in public—about the family's experiences, at first just to avoid the fights and ridicule. Then Howard Reed acquired political aspirations that would eventually see him hold a series of offices around the state of Connecticut, and he asked his wife and adopted sons to stay mum on the strange and politically unpalatable events of Moosehead Lake and Sheffield, Mass.
The boys grew up and went to school. They were both smart, talented kids; Thomas became a photographer, and later a talent scout, and also developed the technical wherewithal to design surveillance systems for airports. Matt grew into a big, muscular fellow, a U.S. Marine, a drummer in rock bands. He was likewise blessed with technical acumen, which he uses now in helping the Department of Defense create tougher, more drivable vehicles.
And Howard Reed became an important figure in Connecticut state politics. Ironically, it was that very success that would pave the way, however inadvertently, for his family's story to become a matter of public record.
At a Connecticut political function in the mid-1980s, Howard Reed met attorney Robert Bletchman. A community activist, an avid volunteer, and a man of the arts, Bletchman was also keenly interested in UFO phenomena. Howard Reed would eventually open up to him, and become convinced at Bletchman's urging that it was time for the events of the Sheffield farm to see the light of day.
"Then everything was completely on the table," Thomas says. "My stepdad told me, ‘You need to meet this guy; you're going to like him. He's a very nice man.' Then I would go to the office of his law firm every afternoon and talk to him. He had photos of UFO sightings hung in his office."
Bletchman would eventually present the Reed family's case, along with others, at the 1992 United Nations Symposium on Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which he also helped organize.
The lives of the Reed family stayed quiet for some years. Or at least, relatively quiet. Thomas is less inclined to talk about it, because he worries that his story is already far too unwieldy, on top of being thoroughly implausible; but it would seem that the family's pattern of apparent visitations has included a number of smaller, less traumatizing brushes through the years in addition to touchstone incidents that are now the stuff of UFOlogy lore. The incidents have dogged him as he has moved to different parts of the country, living in Florida, as he has traveled, and following him even to his home in Knoxville today.
"We had gone to an expo in Connecticut once," says Thomas' ex-wife, Angela Field, who bore witness to a couple of apparent instances of otherworldly phenomena during the couple's marriage. "I was looking out the window and thought I saw the moon. Then Thomas said, ‘No, there's the moon over there, on the other side.' I looked back and whatever it was, it took off really fast. It was crescent-shaped, not an airplane or anything I'd ever seen before.
"I'd heard his family's story, and I've always been open-minded, and curious. But you kind of have to see things for yourself. And after seeing the things I saw, I definitely believe him."
But the incident that's given the Reeds' case a whole new level of purchase within—and perhaps even outside of—the world of UFOlogy is the March 30, 2009, incident involving Matt Reed.
Coming home from a movie that night in Brownsburg, Matt Reed had just dropped a friend off at his home and had paused at a stop sign on the outskirts of the neighborhood when he noticed an orange ball of light hovering in the sky to his left.
"I started following it," Matt Reed says. "Then my whole vehicle completely shuts down. It starts to pick up again for a minute, and then it was like time stopped."
Matt says he remembers the rest of the experience only in snatches: flashbacks of being inside some sort of craft; of being in a room with a black cube the size of a gift box; of strange figures who, like those he remembered from his childhood, recoiled at the prospect of his touch.
"I remember being on a table, and hearing an old-style radio, with the dial going left to right," he says. "Bits of JFK speeches, Beatles songs … then the next thing I know I'm getting back in my Chevy Blazer, off the road in a muddy cornfield. There was mud all over my boots and drops of blood on the steering wheel and blood on my moustache, and a sharp pain in the center of my chest."
The incident was investigated by local law enforcement, MUFON (Mutual UFO Network), and a team of scientists and techs funded by Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS). Among other things, they discovered anomalous radiation and electromagnetic readings in and around Matt Reed's Blazer, and severe and seemingly inexplicable damage to the vehicle's electrical systems. Investigators also found that when they placed a compass in the vicinity of the vehicle, its arm wildly spun out of control.
MUFON, admittedly, is an organization sometimes viewed with no small contempt, even among those who believe in the legitimacy of UFOlogy; its membership consists entirely of volunteers, often stereotyped as Lone Gunman and tinfoil-hat types, keyboard jockeys with no relevant expertise other than an encyclopedic familiarity with X-Files reruns.
If there's any truth in that stereotype, then Steve White is most decidedly not a typical MUFON member. The Tennessee state section director and director of professional standards spent 31 years in law enforcement, mostly in investigations, in Miami before moving to the Rockwood area. For a time, he worked with Roane County officials on cold case files.
White initially met and interviewed Thomas Reed, and would later review the evidence from Matt Reed's 2009 Brownsburg incident. In his years as a MUFON investigator, he says he's seen literally hundreds of cases.
"Of all of those, 95 to 99 percent are explainable," he says. "They could be hoaxes, or they could be whatever. Most are just lights in the sky. But this is up with the best I've seen."
Having spoken with several friends and family members since meeting Thomas Reed in 2009, he rates the family's credibility as "very high." He notes that both brothers have passed independent polygraph tests, paid for at their own expense.
"For Thomas Reed, I found the polygraph examiner myself," White says. "Before the test, the examiner was laughing and joking about what he thought would happen. Afterwards, he had changed his tune. He was convinced this man was telling the truth."
Of Matt Reed's 2009 incident, he notes, "Normally, we don't get any physical evidence, even when people claim to have contact. Here, we have radiation, vehicle damage, the compass needle. None of it is conclusive evidence of anything, but it certainly is very unusual."
And still, getting over with the Reed family history is a hard dollar with nearly everyone other than the UFO faithful, although that may be changing a little. With Matt Reed's 2009 incident catching notice, and cast in the light of the family's previous history and their 1992 inclusion in the U.N. UFO symposium, the Reeds are beginning to receive wider recognition than ever before.
History Channel's Brad Metzler Decoded has expressed interest. Another major cable network is set to begin filming a show about the Reeds as part of a series on prominent UFO cases. And Thomas Reed, who has taken to the mantel of spokesman more readily than his more taciturn younger brother, makes the rounds at symposiums, talk shows, and conventions.
"If I had known that, in putting out this evidence, there would be this much negative reaction, this much turning away from what's been presented, if I had know that stuff on the front end, I don't know that I would do it all again," he says.
Now on disability due to a serious car accident while living in Florida in 2005—the precipitating event prompting his 2006 move to Tennessee—Thomas Reed says airing his story was never a concern in his own work as an agent and photographer, though it has been for his brother as a government contractor.
What has been a concern is the volume of hate mail he receives, most of it from religious quarters. He points out one long, ranting e-mail from a detractor: "The evildoers that abducted you are the same that mutilate cattle … they are taking cattle they have no right to … Well, the Lord Jesus Christ is the one coming to straighten you and everything out. He will do away with your evil."
"There seems to be a serious anger from a select group of people," he says. "Like they take it as a challenge to the church or whatever. I've gotten unbelievable hate mail, stuff that would turn your stomach."
Despite the more recent promise of television shows and media deals, the Reed story has been in no way financially profitable to the family. This raises the question of why Thomas Reed has persisted, why he didn't maintain the comforting veil of silence that rescued him and his younger sibling from years of playground fisticuffs and classroom humiliations way back in 1970.
There's an almost desperate quality to Thomas Reed's answer to that question, as if, having gone through a traumatizing and life-altering experience of the sort that almost no else could comprehend, he has a very profound need to be believed by his fellow man.
That is the impression he sometimes gives. But he says his reason for continuing goes beyond his own sense of psychic need.
"I think our case has value," he says. "There are people who have dedicated their whole lives to UFOlogy—my stepfather died trying to see this through. I think our case is here for a reason. My goal is to put it across in as respectful and professional manner as possible. I think there's a responsibility to see this through.
"I don't expect people to believe everything. But I do expect people to look and think and come to an educated conclusion. So, yeah, I do want people to see. I want people to look at the facts."