Grey Matters: Erroneous at Exeter


“I, Norman J. Muscarello, was hitchhiking on Rt. 150, three miles south of Exeter, New Hampshire, at 0200 hours on the 3rd of September. A group of five bright red lights appeared over a house about a hundred feet from where I was standing. The lights were in a line at about a sixty-degree angle.

They were so bright, they lighted up the area. The lights then moved out over a large field and acted at times like a floating leaf. They would go down behind the trees, behind a house and then reappear. They always moved in the same sixty-degree angle.

Only one light would be on at a time. They were pulsating: one, two, three, four, five, four, three, two, one. They were so bright I could not distinguish a form to the object. I watched these lights for about fifteen minutes and they finally disappeared behind some trees and seemed to go into a field.

At one time while I was watching them, they seemed to come so close I jumped into a ditch to keep from being hit. After the lights went into a field, I caught a ride to the Exeter Police Station and reported what I had seen.


Norman J. Muscarello

This statement comes from one of the most infamous cases in UFOlogy, the subject of John G Fuller’s classic “Incident at Exeter”. Hailed as one of the great unsolved cases, until recently. In the The November/December 2011 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Senior Research Fellow for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) Joe Nickell claims to have solved the cold case with the help of former military pilot James McGaha.

Their shared epiphany came from the witness’ description of the five red lights,”…  pulsating: one, two, three, four, five, four, three, two, one.” In Nickell’s article, ‘Exeter Incident’ Solved! A Classic UFO Case, Forty-Five Years ‘Cold’, they relate the description with that of the light array on the KC-97 Stratotanker refueling plane, postulating that the light panel on the underside of the fuselage reflected off of the refueling boom, which happens to hang at approximately 60 degrees, the same orientation as Muscarello’s  UFO.



Left: As the photo appeared in the print publication. Right: The photo as it appeared in the online article.

Fortunately, I read the article online, and was tipped off by the picture. Something looked fishy about that light panel.

So I looked around online and found a more suitable photo of the panel. Not only do we see that the middle light is blue, but the two foremost lights have “DWN” and “FWD” labeling, leading me to believe that each light signifies a command to the refueling aircraft, aiming it into position to dock with the fuel boom of the KC97, contradicting the idea that they would flash in the “ one, two, three, four, five, four, three, two, one” sequence described in the report.
There are several other flaws in Nickell’s solution, though I believe it can be thrown out in regard to only the aforementioned. Before I get ahead of myself, I want to discourage the readers from drawing any wild conclusions. With the dismissal of this explanation, I am not suggesting that the object witnessed was, in fact, an alien craft, but only that it has once again avoided identification. The point I wish to make is that we should all be wary to brazenly declare something identified without adequate evidence, whether that be alien craft or, in this case, a solved case. As a skeptic, I require sufficient evidence to believe a claim and therefore try to refrain from making bold assertions. Declaring this case solved places the burden of proof upon Mr. Nickell and unfortunately, the proof fell short. I say unfortunately because I can see a number of repercussions resulting from this error. Namely, this being used as “evidence” of the object’s unearthly origins. Sadly, to some, unidentified or mysterious often translates to supernatural.

Grey Matters: Erroneous at Exeter