The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter, also known as the Hopkinsville Goblins Case, and to a lesser extent the Kelly Green Men Case, was a series of incidents of alleged close encounters with supposed extraterrestrial beings. These were reported in 1955, the most famous and well-publicized of which centered on 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.
Members of two families at the farmhouse reported seeing unidentifiable creatures. Other witnesses attested to lights in the sky and odd sounds.
The events are regarded by UFOlogists as one of the most significant and well-documented cases in the history of UFO incidents, and are a favorite for study in ufology. UFOlogists have claimed it was investigated by the United States Air Force, although no evidence of an investigation has been found. The encounter has shaped much of the narrative of the UFO tradition, including flashing lights appearing in rural areas and sightings of so-called little green men.
Overview of the Hopkinsville Case
Witnesses to the incidents included eleven people belonging to the two families present at the farmhouse and others in the area. Several local policemen and a state trooper saw unexplained lights in the night sky and heard odd noises the same night.
The seven people present in the farmhouse claimed 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 being 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. On occasion, their movements seemed to defy gravity, with them floating above the ground and appearing in high-up places. They "walked" with a swaying motion as though wading through water. Although the creatures never entered the house, they would pop up at windows and at the doorway, waking up the children in the house in 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. In addition, the house and surrounding grounds were extensively damaged during the incident.
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". Author Brian Dunning contends that "The claim that Air Force investigators showed up the next day at Mrs. Lankford's house has been published a number of times by later authors, but I could find no corroborating evidence of this." Dunning also observes that "the four military police who accompanied the police officers on the night of the event were from an Army base, not an Air Force base." Project Blue Book listed the case as a hoax with no further comment. 
Incidents in detail
On the evening of August 21, 1955, Billy Ray Taylor of Pennsylvania was visiting 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. There were a total of eleven people in the house that night, including the children of the two families.
The Sutton farmhouse had no running water, causing Billy Ray Taylor to go outside to the water pump for a drink at 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. He described it as disc-shaped in appearance, and featured lights on its side that had "all of the colors of the rainbow". He ran back to the house, excitedly telling the others about his "flying saucer" sighting, but no one believed him; instead they thought 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.
When the creature approached to within about 20 feet, the two men began shooting at it, one using a shotgun, the other 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 Solomon went out to look for it. Hendry writes that as the men were stepping from the porch, they saw one of the creatures perched on an awning. They again shot at the creature and it was knocked from the roof. Again, they heard the rattling noise, although the creature was apparently unharmed.
Lucky and Solomon 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 Solomon 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 asserted 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 of how many of the creatures there were; except for one sighting of two at the same time, all other sightings were of only one, although the first story claimed twelve to fifteen. At one point, the witnesses shot one of the beings at nearly point blank range 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."
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. 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 two times as fast as usual.
Twenty police officers accompanied the Suttons back to the farmhouse. 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 far beyond their ken."
Police interviewed residents of neighboring farmhouses. They 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, never to be seen again.
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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. These 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 the 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[who?], were skeptical of the Sutton's story and believed that alcohol (possibly moonshine) may have played a part in the incident. The fact that some of the witnesses[who?] worked for a carnival 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 they attempted 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 witnessed 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."
Ufologist Allen Hynek had interviews with two persons with direct knowledge of the event a year after the event took place. There have been numerous books, documentaries and debates regarding the incidents.
Possible non-ET explanations
In 1957, U.S. Air Force Major John E. Albert concluded that the Kelly-Hopkinsville case was the result of the witnesses seeing a "monkey painted with silver [that] escaped from a circus," and that Mrs. Lankford's imagination had exaggerated the event. Isabel Davis (Ufologist), for one, rejected this explanation as not only entirely speculative, but absurd: "[m]onkeys are hairy creatures, monkeys have long tails, monkeys are notorious chatterboxes, and monkeys struck by bullets bleed and die ... no amount of 'optical illusion' can explain a mistake of this magnitude."
French UFOlogist, Renaud LecletIt speculated that the figures could have been "eagle owls" or Great Horned Owls, which are nocturnal, fly silently, have yellow eyes, and aggressively defend their nests. CSI member and Skeptic Joe Nickell notes that Isabel Davis and Ted Bloecher wrote that meteor sightings also occurred at the time, and asserts that this could explain the UFO claims.
- Dunning, Brian. "The Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter". October 09, 2012. Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- Poole, W. Scott. Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting. Waco, Texas: Baylor, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60258-314-6.
- Hendry, Allan (1980). Ronald Story, ed. The Encyclopedia of UFOs. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc. pp. 190–192. ISBN 0-385-13677-3.
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- "The Kelly-Hopkinsville Case, 1955". UFOs at Close Sight. 2005. Retrieved 2007-04-16.
- "Story of Space-ship, 12 Little Men Probed Today". Kentucky New Era. August 22, 1955. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
- Carlton, Michele (2002). "Children of witness defend father's 1955 claim". Ufo Evidence. Retrieved 2007-04-16.