The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter, also known as the Hopkinsville Goblins Case, and to a lesser extent the Kelly Green Men Case, is the name given to a series of connected incidents of alleged close encounters with supposed extraterrestrial beings. These were reported in the fall of 1955, the most famous and well-publicized of which centered around 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. It is from these main incidents that the entire case takes its name.
The Hopkins Goblin story shares some very small similarities with the Mothman legend such as the large reflective colorful eyes and the possibility of Owls being the explanation for both. The story is an important part of Ufology which is a field John Keel studied and that the Mothman has become a part of. These events of UFO flaps build upon each other and have an effect. This encounter eventually lead to things like the Michigan Flap, The Ohio UFO chase and the West Virginia Flap which birthed the Mothman. Kentucky is also a bordering state to West Virginia and the story is often considered Appalachian folklore.
Members of two families at the farmhouse reported seeing unidentifiable creatures and other witnesses attested to lights in the sky and odd sounds.
The events are regarded by Ufologists as one of the most significant, well-known and well-documented cases in the history of UFO incidents, and 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.
A claim is also made for another encounter with allegedly the same creatures in another part of the United States along the Ohio Rivera week prior to the incidents in Kentucky, which itself had numerous witnesses.
There were dozens of eyewitnesses to the incidents, which included two families present at the farmhouse and others in the area; other civilians, some of whom had no connection to the families at the farmhouse; and even one in another state. Perhaps most significantly the witnesses also included several local policemen and a state trooper who saw and heard strange phenomena such as unexplained lights in the night sky and 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 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. Their movements on occasion seemed to defy gravity with them floating above the ground and appearing in high up places, and 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 to 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, and the house and surrounding grounds were extensively damaged during the incident.
Even years later the eyewitness stories still corroborated remarkably under individual questioning, although speculation amongst the eyewitnesses regarding the motivations of the creatures has ranged from field study on their part, or that the creatures were acting out of mere curiosity or even outright malevolence. The two families involved were noted locally to not be the types to make up a hoax, the families obtained no financial gain or significant fame from the incident, and fled the area when the incident became known locally and they gained an abundance of trespassers wanting to see the site.
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.
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 (the farmhouse still stands today although the Sutton family moved soon after the incident). 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 thinking 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 man using 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 as to 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 nearly point blank, 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."
At about 11 p.m., a state highway trooper near Kelly independently reported some unusual "meteor-like objects" flying overhead, "with a sound like artillery fire coming directly from them."
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 and 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, and 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 neighboring farmhouses, whose residents 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.
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, were skeptical of the Sutton's story and believed that alcohol (possibly moonshine) may have played a part in the incident, although to date no evidence has been found to support this belief. The fact that some of the witnesses worked for a carnival somehow 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 attempting 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.
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."
It could have been a misidentification of Great Horned Owls, which are nocturnal, fly silently, have yellow eyes, and aggressively defend their nests. There were meteor sightings at the time which could explain the UFO claims.
Skeptics say that the reports were due to "the effects of excitement" and misidentification of natural phenomena such as meteors and owls.
CSI member and skeptic Joe Nickell notes that the family could have misidentified "eagle owls" or great horned owls, which are nocturnal, fly silently, have yellow eyes, and aggressively defend their nests. According to Nickell, meteor sightings also occurred at the time that could explain Billy Ray Taylor's claim that he saw "a bright light streak across the sky and disappear beyond a tree line some distance from the house".
Psychologists Rodney Schmaltz and Scott Lilienfeld cite the alleged incident as an example of pseudoscience and an "extraordinary claim" to help students develop critical thinking skills and distinguish truth from fiction.
According to author Brian Dunning, "there are simply too many similarities between the creatures reported by the families and an aggressive pair of the local Great Horned Owls, which do stand about 2/3 of a meter tall".
In Popular Culture
The Kelly Community now celebrates the anniversary of the event on the third weekend of every August with an event called the Kelly "Little Green Men" Days.
The Pokémon Sableye, introduced in Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire, is based on the goblins described in the Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter. In the games, they are animated with a swaying or "wading" motion, based on the creatures' reported gait.
In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the "hobkins", a type of gremlin from the Bestiary 5 book, is based upon the goblins described in the encounter.
The Kelly–Hopkinsville encounter was the basis for the Annoyance Theater's musical "It Came From Kentucky" in Chicago. The sightings also supposedly inspired the movie E.T.