They flew in with a man named Budd Hopkins.
It was January 10, 1990, Mack recalled, “one of those dates you remember that mark a time when everything in your life changes.” A woman he had met at the Grofs’ introduced him to Hopkins, a nationally known New York Abstract Expressionist and intimate of Willem DeKooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell, whose works hung with his in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney. According to Hopkins, he had spotted a U.F.O. on Cape Cod in 1964, and he went on to investigate the case of a badly shaken neighbor who had reported seeing a spaceship with nine or ten small beings land in a park near Fort Lee, New Jersey. Hopkins wrote a story about it for The Village Voice that was picked up by Cosmopolitan. He was soon being thronged by abductees, whom he examined under hypnosis, and he would win renown as the father of the alien-abduction movement, starting with his book Missing Time, in 1981, and its 1987 sequel, Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods.
Hopkins was then beginning his investigation of the so-called Brooklyn Bridge U.F.O. abduction of the woman he called Linda Cortile, which would become his third book, Witnessed, in 1996. It would involve two security guards for an international figure Hopkins never named but believed to be U.N. secretary-general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, who, Hopkins would conclude, appeared to have been abducted with her. (I had a local reporter in Lima ask the 92-year-old retired Peruvian diplomat directly about the matter in April 2012. He responded enigmatically, saying, “I’m not interested in those types of curiosities.” Asked if he recalled being questioned by Hopkins, Pérez de Cuéllar, who was in the process of updating his 1997 memoirs, said, “I don’t remember, but it is possible. I can’t assure it nor deny it. My memory at this age fails me.”)
Hopkins gave Mack a box of letters from people reacting to aliens. “I think most of these people are perfectly sane, with real experiences,” Hopkins recalled telling Mack when I visited him in his art-filled Chelsea town house shortly before his death of cancer at 80, in August 2011. But, he added, Mack could decide for himself. He was the doctor.
“Nothing in my nearly 40 years of familiarity with psychiatry prepared me,” Mack later wrote in his 1994 best-seller, Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. He had always assumed that anyone claiming to have been abducted by aliens was crazy, along with those who took them seriously. But here were people—students, homemakers, secretaries, writers, businesspeople, computer technicians, musicians, psychologists, a prison guard, an acupuncturist, a social worker, a gas-station attendant—reporting experiences that Mack could not begin to fathom, things, he reflected, that by all notions of reality “simply could not be.”
As he later said, “These individuals reported being taken against their wills sometimes through the walls of their houses, and subjected to elaborate intrusive procedures which appeared to have a reproductive purpose. In a few cases they were actually observed by independent witnesses to be physically absent during the time of the abduction. These people suffered from no obvious psychiatric disorder, except the effects of traumatic experience, and were reporting with powerful emotion what to them were utterly real experiences. Furthermore these experiences were sometimes associated with UFO sightings by friends, family members, or others in the community, including media reporters and journalists, and frequently left physical traces on the individuals’ bodies, such as cuts and small ulcers that would tend to heal rapidly and followed no apparent psychodynamically identifiable pattern as do, for example, religious stigmata. In short, I was dealing with a phenomenon that I felt could not be explained psychiatrically, yet was simply not possible within the framework of the Western scientific worldview.”
With the new millennium, Mack began showing up at Newport, Leslie Hansen remembered. She had been hired to help Mack transcribe recordings of his sessions, and she came to believe in the process that she had buried her own troubling childhood memories of aliens at her bedside. Mack’s household was in turmoil. Sally was unhappy with Mack’s treatment sessions in the house, especially the screams. Mack was also deeply in love with his research associate, Dominique Callimanopulos, the glamorous daughter of the Greek shipping tycoon who owned Hellenic Lines. “John had a lot going on, but he was kind of like a child,” Hansen recalled. “He kind of regarded every person as a fresh slate.” And, she added, “he was very attractive.” Hansen had heard about Cuvelier’s gatherings, and she invited him to attend. Mack was dubious. “What’s this going to cost me?,” he asked. Hansen laughed. “John,” she said, “you’re a guest.”
Two years after meeting Hopkins, Mack was working with dozens of experiencers, and one day he told incredulous fellow psychiatrists at Cambridge Hospital about alien abduction. In 1992 he and David E. Pritchard, a pioneering physicist in atom optics at M.I.T., got that institution to open its doors to a revolutionary alien-abduction conference. Mack presented his findings, as did Hopkins and David M. Jacobs, an associate professor of history at Temple University who was teaching the nation’s only fully accredited college course on U.F.O.’s, and who had just published a provocative book detailing alien encounters, called Secret Life. C. D. B. Bryan, the author of the best-seller Friendly Fire, was among a few select writers invited, for another book, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, which Knopf would publish in 1995.
“If what these abductees are saying is happening to them isn’t happening,” Mack demanded, “what is?”
Conferees argued over the validity of a poll done by the Roper Organization for the hotel and aerospace mogul and U.F.O. advocate Robert T. Bigelow that sought for the first time to quantify alien abduction in America. Because few were likely to admit to being an abductee, the pollsters asked the 5,947 respondents if they had ever experienced five key abduction-type symptoms: waking up paralyzed with the sense of a strange presence or person in the room, missing time, feeling a sensation of flying, seeing balls of light in the room, and finding puzzling scars. (A trick question asked if “Trondant” held any secret meaning for them. Anyone who answered yes to the nonsense word was eliminated as unreliable.) Two percent of the respondents, or 119 people, acknowledged at least four of the five experiences, which Roper said translated to 3.7 million adult Americans. At a minimum, Hopkins reported, the results suggested that 560,000 adult Americans might be abductees.