By BUD KENNEDYStar-Telegram staff writer
Stephenville's newfound fame has not come without a price.
First, one of the most-quoted UFO "experts" in town last week turned out to be a Cleburne man who staged a 1998 armed standoff in Waco.
Now, one of the Stephenville city leaders who wanted UFO hobbyists to come investigate weird lights is having second thoughts about his city's intergalactic notoriety.
"I don't want us to get a reputation like Roswell," said Mark Murphy. Murphy, a City Council member, invited hobbyists to come interview witnesses who saw what is now described as a military training exercise.
Sixty years ago, spokesmen at the air base in Fort Worth said the silvery wreckage found near Roswell, N.M., was a weather balloon.
This week, their successors said the weird lights in the sky were jets from the 457th Fighter Squadron.
"I didn't expect this to become such a media circus," said Murphy, a college science lab manager interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America.
"I wanted to get some serious answers and find out what people saw. I didn't dream it would become anything like this," he said.
If Stephenville is embarrassed in any way over its new reputation as the Flying Saucer Capital of the World, neighboring Dublin isn't. The rival town wants to beam down more TV attention. In a chamber-of-commerce version of an alien abduction, executives at the historic Dr Pepper bottler and soda shop in Dublin spirited a UFO hobbyists' meeting away from Stephenville. Sandy Reed, the director of the Dublin economic development agency, said some members of the local Rotary Club were wondering how to get their town on camera. "We talked about how this could be a good thing for us," she said. "We decided to have fun with it."
Until now, Dublin's primary claim to fame has been the soda shop and bottler, the last place on earth that follows the original Dr Pepper formula using natural pure cane sugar. I asked Reed whether Dublin wants to get into the UFO-chasing business. "We're in the Dr Pepper business!" she said. "Anything that gets more recognition for Dublin and brings people to town is good for Dublin."
Even if they're people like Jason Leigh, 59, of Cleburne, a UFO hobbyist, Navy veteran and veterans services activist? Ten years ago, Leigh rammed his Jeep Cherokee into the Veterans Affairs Regional Center in Waco, complaining that he couldn't get the benefits he needed. He eventually came out and apologized but not before demanding $1 million for a veterans fund and telling police that he had enough explosives to "turn downtown Waco into a flower garden."
According to Waco Tribune-Herald news archives, he served a short sentence over a .45-caliber pistol found in the Jeep. When Murphy went to his computer looking for UFO information, he found Leigh's Web site selling UFO books and CDs and unknowingly asked for his expertise.
Leigh wound up quoted in an Associated Press video story sent worldwide and also on NBC Weekend. The Stephenville newspaper, the Empire-Tribune, called him an "expert on UFOs."
Murphy said he regrets calling Leigh.
"I think he's done us more harm than good," Murphy said.
He seemed surprised to hear that Dublin is trying to lure the UFO hunters away from Stephenville.
"Maybe they want to have this circus over there," he said.
And why not?
After all, Dublin already fills with leprechauns every St. Patrick's Day. What's a few more little green men?
source and references:
Archived UFO Articles and News Items, 2008
UFO Casebook Home Page