What Really Happened to the Hills

If you know the names Barney and Betty Hill today, it is mostly likely because of their famous abduction experience. Who Mister and Missus Hill were prior to the night of 19 September 1961 has been obscured by their harrowing reports of an encounter with an unidentified flying object and its inhuman crew. While driving through the White Mountains of New Hampshire on State Route 3, the couple witnessed strange aerial phenomena inducing a sense of panic and confusion followed by a prolonged period of missing time. Arriving home around dawn the following morning, each of them was distressed by their inability to explain what they had seen and their incomplete recollections of what had happened after their attempt to outrun the strange aircraft.

Barney Hill was born in Newport News, VA, but raised in Pennsylvania, graduating from South Philadelphia High School and attending Temple University before enlisting in the U.S. Army. Following his service in the Second World War, Hill joined the U.S. Postal Service where he was employed until his death in 1969 at the age of just 46. Betty, a state social worker, was his second wife and a few years his elder. The couple had no children together, but, Barney was survived by two sons from his first marriage. As a veteran and career civil servant, a husband, father, and member of numerous civic associations he was, in the parlance of his own times, a model citizen. He was active in the NAACP, and filling a leadership role on the Association’s New England Regional Board, while taking on similar responsibilities on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, his local County Community Action Program, and State Board of the Economic Opportunity Program. In 1961, they would have called him a “Model Negro” but in contemporary terms he was “Woke AF” and living the his best life.

That is the story that a casual researcher will extract from most narratives of the Hill Abduction: a highly capable man and his wife were taken by unknown entities and left severely traumatized. This is a heroic narrative as old as recorded mythology itself. But, it is important to remember that it is also a reconstructed narrative. In the aftermath of their encounter, the Hill’s were aware something was amiss. They recognized that they had no memory of at least two hours of their journey, their watches were broken, their clothing was askew. But, they could not put the anomalous phenomenon of driving hundreds of miles in their sleep behind them because Betty was having recurring dreams about the incident. These night terrors and other symptoms of what would now be considered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder drove the Hill’s to consult psychotherapists, leading to the hypnotic regression treatments which produced the now famous case of the first UFO abductees.

One thing that is certain about the Hill’s is that there is a tremendous amount of disinformation floating on the surface of their case. When we start writing up our case files, we conduct due diligence fact checks on our own research. This time consuming process proved exceptionally valuable in this instance. Most sources state that the couple were coming from Niagara Falls, NY, where they had been vacationing; but, their encounter occurred along New Hampshire Route 3 in the middle of the White Mountains. This means that they were in fact driving from Montreal, Quebec. Before the completion of the U.S. interstate highway system, that was the smart way to go. As an inter-racial couple, the Hill’s were accepted in more cosmopolitan areas and knew the dangers they faced traversing the back-roads. So, there is nothing remarkable about the fact they were coming from Montreal aside from the fact it is so consistently omitted from most accounts of their story.

Similarly, prominent debunkings of their account are predicated on incomplete sets of incorrect information. The assertion that the stress of being an inter-racial couple is refuted by all who knew them to be happy and well assimilated into their communities. They were respected in a region of the United States where anti-racist activism was an established norm even before the movement gained national prominence. Another false assertion is that the couple experienced sleep-deviation induced psychosis, which disregards that Barney Hill was an exceptionally safe and competent driver. He had served in the U.S. Army Transport Corps during World War Two, and drove professionally for the U.S.P.S. thereafter. These attacks on Barney Hill’s credibility are a reflection of his racialised status within the conventional narrative of Betty Hill’s abduction. It is demeaning to the man he actually was, and the real mystery of what happened to him.

It was Betty Hill who first observed the lights, and it was Betty who wanted to pull over to get a better look at them. It was Betty who remembered all the horrific details that define the experience she and Barney shared that night. And, it was Betty who became the central figure in the narrative of what happened to them. Perhaps it would have been a different story had Barney lived, his untimely death left only Betty to answer increasingly skeptical and incredulous interviewers. Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, Betty Hill became a fixture on the UFO speaking circuit. At the same time, she subjected herself polemical critics intent on discrediting her story.

While it is valid to recognize that Betty Hill was a severely traumatized person who was ultimately exploited in her widowhood by craven opportunists, it does not change the fact her story has been centered for over 50 years. Her story has been told, and retold, and the popular perception of what happened that night has been shaped by her deteriorating credibility. And, that is why our study of this foundational case will not center her side of the story. Instead, we seek to recognize who Barney Hill was in his life before the encounter, and the lasting effect of the encounter on his legacy.

The narratives that reduce Barney Hill, Junior, to the role of “Model Negro” in the story of a White Woman abducted and abused by an alien enemy are conforming to a prototypical trope of American propaganda. That is a story that American journalists had been sensationalizing to sell papers since the Frontier Days of the 1700’s. But, Barney Hill, Jr, was not just a stand-in for a predetermined role in the story of a traumatized White Woman. Barney Hill, Jr, was the son of a skilled laborer and the descendant of Freemen of Color born in Newport News, Virginia. His family owned property and were moderately prosperous, he was well poised to carry on that upwardly mobile trajectory in September of 1961.

We were blessed in our attempts to uncover more about who Barney Hill, Jr, was because he has living descendants. His granddaughter is a successful professional athlete with her own podcast, and in 2021 Angela Hill conducted an on air interview with her father, Barney Hill the Third, about the man who was Barney Hill, Jr. For those who truly care to understand the whole story of the Hill Abduction this is essential listening. Angela Hill has such an authentic rapport with her father discussing his memories of their family history, she deserves full credit for documenting this valuable piece of evidence that completes her grandfather’s story.

From the interview Barney Hill the Third gave his daughter, we can derive a much more complete picture of the human being who was behind the wheel on the night of 19 September 1961. First and foremost he was a loving and playful father who was meaningfully engaged with his two sons throughout their formative years. His connections to Virginia were deep enough that he carried some superstitious attitudes about ghosts and spirits, but he was an antagonistic non-believer regarding UFO’s.

Barney Hill, the Third, also spoke at length about how his father introduced him to the Episcopal Church. This is another notable discrepancy from the numerous sources that list him as Unitarian. According to Barney Hill III his father considered the Episcopal religion more “cosmopolitan” than the faith practices he knew from his youth. He was very happily married, his sons got on well with his new wife, Betty. They were perceived to be living the Good Life prior to their encounter on Route 3.

Angela Hill asked about changes in her grandfather after the incident, and her father recounted that within one year of the encounter his father became “incapable of functioning like a normal person” suffering such intense paranoia he could not drive to work or enjoy social gatherings. It was this acute state that prompted his family to urge the couple to seek psychological support. According to Barney Hill III, his father began to heal from the encounter after the story was told. He started to recover from his paranoia and resume a normal life. Although he did give interviews, he shunned the spotlight and seemed happier carrying on as if it had never occurred.

According to his U.S. Army records Barney Hill, Jr, scored an IQ of 140. Even accepting that IQ scores are a biased and imperfect tool for assessing intelligence, Hill still scored in an exceptionally high range of aptitude. He was an exceptional dude who experienced an inexplicable trauma that may have shortened his life. Interestingly, in his conversation with his daughter, Barney Hill III revealed that the kind of stroke that killed his father was hereditary as many other family members came to the same end at a similar age. It remains a possibility that whatever he experienced on Route 3 during those lost hours added stress that shortened his life expectancy even more.

What actually occurred on that isolated road can only be hypothesized about now, but whatever happened it transformed the consciousnesses of the larger part of humanity. The template for UFO abductions was set by the reconstructed memories of the Hills, and the popularity of their story disseminated that template around the world. As a result of our research we have developed some interesting theories regarding that question. Out of respect for the Hill Family, we will not be publishing those theories at this time. To access the original interview cited in this article and directly support the survivors of the first documented UFO abductee, check out MMA champion Angela “Overkill” Hill and her podcast Ceremonial Weigh-In available on listennotes.com.

2 thoughts on “What Really Happened to the Hills”

  1. While I am still a skeptic, it is fascinating to think what could be out there. Perhaps, I am an open-minded skeptic who hasn’t seen anything to believe it herself, but does hope there is something beyond our understanding out there. This is definitely an interesting case.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I am much the same way. The U.S. Air Force has finally admitted in recent years that their pilots have repeatedly witnessed and encountered “Unexplained Arial Phenomena” which is their new preferred term for U.F.O’s. At the same time, I find it very difficult to believe anyone who claims to know the definitive truth about who or what is behind the phenomena. There are many fascinating theories, but very few solid facts to support any of them.

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