In August 1963, amid a “sudden rash of (UFO) sightings” in and around the state of Illinois, an incident would unfold that would see a young teenager being pursued by a UFO for several miles. What’s more, upon finally arriving home, several members of his family would also witness the bizarre glowing object in an encounter that would last for close to an hour.
While the case of Ronnie Austin and the UFO chase through Wayne City in Illinois is perhaps the best known of such sightings at the time, the fact is, there were an absolute plethora of such incidents in Illinois during the summer and autumn of 1963.
What’s more, as we have looked at in previous case studies, the incident would not be the only time such strange, shiny, and obviously intelligently controlled and unidentified objects would give chase to road users of the United States in the early-to-mid 1960s, with several including police officers.
This would surely suggest, then, that of these apparent pursuits from cosmic craft throughout America during this time are likely connected and carried out by the same intelligence. What that intelligence might be, however, whether it hails from another world or whether it is very much terrestrial and part of a top-secret military program, remain open to debate.
The incident was another that was investigated by J Allen Hynek under the Project Blue Book program. And while we know today of the real motivations, unbeknown to Hynek, of the US Air Force and the Blue Book investigations, their findings would later prove how much of an active interest, albeit behind closed doors, they genuinely had in the case.
Just what did the US authorities know of such cases? And why was that information ruthlessly kept out of the public arena?
Followed Home By A Strange Light After A Night Out At The Movies!
Shortly before midnight on the 4th August 1963, and continuing into the early hours of the 5th, 18-year-old, Ronnie Austin would experience one of the most bizarre incidents of his young life. And one that is still open to investigation today over 50 years later.
That evening, Ronnie was driving back from a drive-in movie site at Mount Vernon with his girlfriend, Phyllis Bruce to see The Great Escape. It was as they were heading along Illinois Route 15 past Mount Vernon Airport when Austin first saw something strange out of the window.
He would later describe it as a “round ball of bright white light” which was approximately the size of a washtub. He pointed it out to Phyllis, asking her if she thought it was an airplane. She would reply:
No, it’s not an airplane. It doesn’t have flashing red and green lights!
Ronnie would speed the car up slightly and was a little unnerved to see that the object sped up also. When he slowed, it slowed. It was obvious that whatever it was, the strange glowing light was keeping pace with their vehicle.
A little concerned, but not overly alarmed, the pair continued with their journey. They would head north towards Phyllis’ parent’s home. As they did, the object continued to follow them. As it remained at a safe distance, however, each of the teenagers remained calm. Perhaps, they thought, it was just coincidence.
A High-Speed Pursuit Along The Quiet Gravel Roads Of Illinois!
Upon arriving at Phyllis’ house, her sister would come out to greet her. When she did, she also witnessed the glowing object overhead. All three of them would watch it for around fifteen minutes before Phyllis went inside. Ronnie then turned the engine back on and set off for home.
At first, it appeared the light was content to observe his journey. However, when he turned his car off the main road on to a quieter, gravel-type road, it suddenly sped towards him. It would cut him off from a diagonal direction. It would then come to rest over the top of a barn slightly ahead of him at a crossroads.
As he looked a little closer at the glowing ball, it was now turning from a brilliant, bright, white light to a darker orange glow. He could see he was approaching the crossroads. As he did, he pressed down harder on the gas. He would burst straight over them and past the orange ball traveling much faster than the conditions dictated he should. Ronnie would estimate later that he was likely moving at around 120 miles per hour.
Even more worrying, however, was the fact the orange ball began to glow brighter once more. It would immediately burst into life and pursue his vehicle again. It took only seconds to be no more than 100 feet away from his car.
Half looking at the road rushing forward to meet his headlights, and half looking at this now large, car-sized craft close behind him, Ronnie continued onwards into the night. Then, his car radio which had quietly scored the bizarre events descended into a cacophony of hisses and static. At the same time, a “cooling effect” went through him. The light passed right over the top of the moving vehicle.
Changing Colors And Brightness! A Small But Intriguingly Important Detail!
Ronnie was now operating on the edge of panic. However, he remained in control enough to stay in control of the car. He had, though, the distinct feeling, as he would tell his father later, that whatever intelligence was behind this mysterious glow, it had waited for him to be alone before beginning such an aggressive pursuit as it was now.
It would make several more passes over his vehicle before returning to the barn area. When it did so, the light also returned to the duller orange.
This is an interesting detail in that many other reports over the decades speak of different shading or urgency of lights in relation to their movement or lack thereof. Given that Austin’s encounter in 1963, this was certainly not a well-known “fact” of UFO sightings at the time. Remember, at the time, there were very few UFO organizations, and the ones that did exist were far from the slick, professional, and far-reaching groups that are active today.
By this time, Ronnie was a mere three miles away from his home and family farm. He pressed down hard again on the gas pedal. As if in response, the strange light surged forward and across his path. It passed over him, settling again behind and gave chase. The car’s engine began to struggle. Even threatening to cut out and stop working entirely.
However, he would ultimately reach the family home, swinging the car around in the large driveway and stepping from the vehicle the instant it came to a stop. He glanced to the sky as he did so. There, the glowing object hovered over one of the farm’s outbuildings around 200 yards away from the main house.
An Abundance Of Witnesses To A Most Unusual Event!
Ronnie rushed inside, calling to his parents and siblings as he did so. Checking the wall clock, he could see it was just short of half an hour past midnight. Regardless of the late hour, both of his parents, as well as his brother and sister, ventured outside to see what the fuss what all about.
Much to their surprise, the object remained exactly where Ronnie said it was. Hovering amid the dull glow of its own light over the farmhouse opposite. Not at all sure what to do, Ronnie’s father was very much aware of the surreal and unique nature of the situation. He would telephone Jefferson County authorities requested that they notify the nearby Scott Air Force Base.
However, perhaps not treating the incident as seriously as they might, they instead contacted Deputy Lee (pictured above) to investigate. He duly did. Unbeknown to him, though, two state troopers, Richard Gidcumb and George Sexton, had heard the exchange over their police radio. As they were close-by, they would decide to investigate for themselves.
They arrived at the Austin’s family home at 12:45 am. 25 minutes before Lee. Each of them clearly witnessed the hovering, glowing light upon arrival.
As if making sure they were not experiencing some kind of bizarre group hallucination, Ronnie’s father telephoned their friends and neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Withrow. They would go outside and from their yard, they too could see the glowing orange craft. It would begin to ascend higher and higher before it became no bigger than “an extremely bright star”.
In fact, in total, eleven people would witness the glowing light that evening (including Phyllis and her sister), with the only person at the scene who missed them being Deputy Lee who did not arrive until 1:10 am.
Initial (And Twisted) Reactions
The “star” was still there right until the moment dawn took over watch over the Earth below. By that time, mainly from the sedative, Dr. Conarski recommended several hours previously over the phone that his parents administer to him, such was his state of shock at the time.
In fact, by the time professional UFO investigators arrived in the area to speak to the witnesses, Ronnie’s father, Orville Austin, was critical of the local press and how they had “put words in the boy’s mouth” and even taken advantage of his shocked and dazed state of mind only hours after the encounter had unfolded.
What’s more, following the initial wave of local press interest the wider national and international press agencies picked up the stories. This would go on for almost a week. Then, on the 10th August, while sightings were unfolding all around the state, members of the US Air Force would arrive at the Austin home. Two of the three men present, Robert Friend and Hector Quintanilla had involvement in the Project Blue Book program.
According to Orville, the conduct of the three air force personnel who visited the family home was strange, to say the least. They would instruct Ronnie to “wash the car” as soon as possible. When Orville went outside later on in the morning, he would discover the military officers in the process of “decontaminating” the interior of the vehicle.
The men would conduct an investigation of the exterior of the vehicle, seemingly checking for any signs of raised radioactivity. Although not fully understanding what they were listening to, both Orville and Ronnie’s brother would recall the readings were “six something” for the front and “four point two” for the rest of the car.
Intense “Interest” From The US Air Force
In the years since many people have looked at these apparent readings. Indeed, much like many other methods, what they mean depends on many variables. Not least the location they were taken in.
It would appear, though, that it is generally agreed that there were signs of radiation on the vehicle. The apparent discrepancy between the readings at the front of the car and the rest of the bodywork would perhaps suggest that this part of the vehicle took some kind of a wave of energy.
Perhaps, when the light passed overhead – remember causing the radio to change to static and almost cutting the engine out completely – this would result in the higher readings of radioactivity at this point in the car only.
What’s more, the simple fact that a three-man team from the United States Air Force would feel it necessary to “decontaminate” the interior of the vehicle and test for radiation in the first place shows there was a reason within their ranks to believe it would be present. Or perhaps they were checking for something else altogether?
The same question that often comes up when looking at the US military and their approach to UFO sightings comes to mind. Just what did they know about these incidents they were “investigating” and most often, dismissing?
Before we examine the apparent findings and other theories of the Wayne City chase, let’s turn our attention to some of the other incidents taking place at the same time. Whether any of the following share a connection to the Ronnie Austin incident is perhaps open to debate. The details they share, however, are, at times, identical. How likely is it that several such cases should occur in the same state. And within several days of each other?
The Illinois UFO Wave Of The Summer Of 1963
As we mentioned above, the second half of 1963 was seemingly awash with strange UFO sightings. And while we will concentrate on those in and around the Illinois area for our purposes here, the fact is, both the US authorities and UFO organizations were more than aware of such sightings taking place not just throughout the United States, but all around the globe.
In fact, in the wake of the state publicity of the Ronnie Austin incident, another Illinois resident, Howard Horwich of Chicago, would tell of an extremely similar encounter he had the previous year in September 1962 while driving in Canada.
He would state he was driving with a colleague between Sudbury and Toronto when a strange light appeared in the sky. He would describe the craft behind the light as “circular” and approximately the size and shape of a car. It would spin wildly as it hovered overhead. However, despite this it would “give off little radiance”.
When he and his passenger exited the car for a moment both would witness a “strong beam of light” shooting out from the glowing object, heading towards a train passing by. While they were not sure if any damage was caused, both of the witnesses quickly got back in the car, with Horwich flooring the accelerator in an attempt to vacate the area.
The strange light, however, would follow their vehicle for a considerable distance. It would, though, much to their relief suddenly disappear after several minutes.
In the summer of 1963, it would appear the strange, chase-giving lights had come south over the border and into the Prairie State.
Discreet Sightings Of Glowing Oval Objects Around Illinois
For example, on the evening of 7th August in Centralia, Illinois, five friends would witness a glowing object, at a relatively low altitude, moving slowly over the railroad tracks. They would watch it for several moments, even noting how it changed direction, heading north after first traveling to the west. The witnesses believed the object came to a landing in the nearby woods as that is where they lost sight of it.
The following evening in Mount Vernon, Illinois, at 10:10 pm, a glowing, oval object zoomed out of the sky before following a car for several moments. It would then seemingly purposely travel around the vehicle and head towards the west. The witnesses would state that the object disappeared “like a bulb turned off”. As we will see a little later, exactly 24 hours later, another, almost identical sighting would be witnessed in exactly the same location.
However, before we look at that sighting, we will return to the evening of the 7th August in the south of the state in Fairfield.
The Fairfield Incident, 7th August
Perhaps one of the better-known of the sightings that followed the Wayne City chase occurred at around 8:45 pm on the evening of the 7th August in the Fairfield region of Southern Illinois. On that evening, Mike Hill was sitting in the yard of farmer, Chauncey Uphoff, talking when the Uphoff’s family dogs began to bark urgently.
Uphoff would go to investigate, and after not seeing anything untoward, told them “quiet down”. They did, initially. However, no sooner had he left them and returned to his seat did they begin barking once again. Perplexed by this completely out of character behavior, Uphoff started towards the canines once again.
It was then Hill looked upwards in the direction the dogs were seemingly barking. Overhead was a strange, slightly orange glowing object moving calmly through the sky like a state-of-the-art cruise liner cutting through the waves. He quickly drew his friend’s attention to it, who quickly rushed inside to call the local police department.
When returned, another object had appeared, this one, like a “jet or a satellite”. What’s more, it appeared to be on a collision course with the first unidentified craft. Then, as the two men watched, the orange lights went out, while the other continued on into the distance.
A “Bright, Oblong, Tilted Light” Similar To “Fluid Dripping!”
The two men scanned the upper Midwest skies for several moments. Suddenly, Uphoff heard his friend exclaiming, “There it is! There it is!” Within moments, he too had it once more in his sight. However, instead of glowing orange, it was now a “dim gray color”.
They would later estimate it to be around 1,000 feet above them. However, despite this (relatively) low altitude and the fact that it was very obviously moving, there was absolutely no sound whatsoever from the mysterious craft.
Then, without any warning, the craft suddenly zoomed towards their location. As it hovered close to them, it changed color once again back to glowing orange. However, after several seconds it changed once again, this time to a “brilliant blue-white”. It then performed a “U-turn” in the air directly above them and headed toward the Grayville area.
As they watched it move, both men were in awe at what they later described as an object that was “more like a fluid dripping” than a nuts-and-bolts craft. In fact, when pressed for more details, both men would admit that everything happened so quickly, they couldn’t give an exact description of the craft other than it was “a bright, oblong, and tilted light”. Uphoff would elaborate, however, by stating it was:
…three-dimensional (and) it had depth to it. That had to be controlled. (It) had to be maneuverable. It wasn’t floating!
While neither witness would state, at least publicly, what they thought the mysterious object was, they would insist that it was “so close” and “so fast” that it was not any type of aircraft either of them had ever seen or was even aware of.
Former Mayer Of Mt Vernon Sees Glowing Craft Over Home, 9th August
Two nights later, almost in the same spot as the Ronnie Austin sighting, the former mayor of Mount Vernon, Harry Bishop, would describe an orange-red, oval “fireball” as large as a washtub hovering over his home at an altitude of around 300 feet.
In fact, the former mayor had watched the object approach and had it in sight for several moments before it hovered over his home. At a little after 10 pm, he noticed the “brightest red light I have ever seen”. He would continue that:
I first saw the lighted object following the route of Centralia Road. When it got over my house, it stopped, and I could see it very clearly. Although it was bright red, it did not light up the neighborhood!
This last point is an interesting detail. While there are indeed many cases of brightly lit craft bathing all around it in light, there are others, albeit a little more selective, that speaks of such a bright surface that appears to contain that glow to itself and not project it on to its immediate surroundings. Again, this might suggest the same “alien” technology in use in these such otherwise random sightings.
Bishop would then make another interesting, often repeated point, but not always connected point. He would watch the lights move away into the distance. However, as opposed to the fading away they appeared as though “somebody had turned the light off”. They simply went out. It then reappeared in a different part of the sky. Had it merely traveled at great speed without light? Or might it have “jumped” somehow, skipping the actual journey and going in an instant from one point to another?
Several other residents in the neighborhood also witnessed the crafts, which were in view for around 15 minutes.
An Intensely Bright Object Over Washington, Illinois, 15th August
Just short of a week later on the 15th August in the Washington area of Illinois, Howard McGinnis heard his dogs barking at around 10:20 pm. He would venture outside to see what the matter was and almost as soon as he stepped outside, he could see the “large object close to the ground” in the near distance. He would describe the glow of the craft as being so bright he could “hardly keep his eyes fixed on it”.
As he continued to watch, he believed he could see the object land in a clearing a little way ahead of his property. He called to his wife and the pair watched the scene for two hours before Howard made the decision to call the police.
The department would perform a physical search of the area. However, according to their reports, nothing would come to light. Despite this, though, multiple other reports would arrive with state and local authorities from the same area at the same time. What’s more, these reports would continue well into the early hours.
For his part, Howard McGinnis would claim he couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. Such was the intrigue and surreal nature of what he had witnessed.
Sightings Continue All Over Illinois
The following evening, shortly after midnight on the 16th August in Bluford, Illinois, Jean Gutzler would contact the local sheriff’s office. She would report a “bright white light” hovering around 50 feet over the top of her barn. She would claim to watch it for several moments before it seemingly disappeared into the sky.
What’s more, according to the report, residents of Bluford had seen these exact same lights for three consecutive nights. In fact, one motorist would state that he was so shocked that he would lose control of his car. And drive it into a ditch.
Most of the reports would state that while the lights were extremely bright, there was a definite solid object. One of a distinct oval shape.
Two days after Gutzler’s sighting, two young brothers would witness a “silver disc” travel overhead while playing outside their home in Ft. Kent. What’s more despite the age of David and Michael Saunders, aged 9 and 8 respectively, their parents would state they were “not inclined to make up stories”. Their father, especially of his older son, would state:
I’ve learned from experience that when he says he saw something, he saw it!
The boys would state that the object “didn’t have propellers or wings”. And furthermore, it was traveling “too slow to be a plane”.
The location (relatively speaking) is close to the Canadian-US border. Many people were suspicious that the sighting could be an experimental craft. Perhaps of either the US or Canadian authorities. However, most would soon dismiss this. The crossing of international borders, by either country, could result in a hostile response from the other.
What it was, then, was likely not a military experiment.
A Strange Light “Sitting Motionless” And Waiting!
The night before the sightings of the Saunders brothers, on the 17th August in the Bloomington region of the state, two 10-year-old girls, Nancy Hilden and Glenda Tillinghast, would witness a strange glowing light in the skies at around 9 pm.
Nancy had spent the evening at Glenda’s house. She was now going to walk Nancy part of the way home. As they left the house and stepped onto the porch, they would later recall how the light “floated” toward them.
This frightened the two girls who would run straight back inside the house. Instead, Nancy would telephone her house. She would ask her father to come and pick her up instead of her walking home. The babysitter at Glenda’s home was busy taking care of Glenda’s younger baby brother. Because of this, she dismissed the girls’ claims of strange lights.
As the girls waited for Nancy’s father to arrive, they would peek out of the front door. According to Nancy – who dared look further and longer than her friend – the light was “sitting motionless”. As if waiting for them in the front yard. By the time her father arrived, however, the light had vanished.
Of course, the above represent but some of the sightings reported at the time. As always during such waves, it is extremely likely that many more incidents went unreported. Mainly through fear of mocking, ridiculing, or even of losing one’s job or marriage. Indeed, at the time, much like now, reporting a UFO comes with its own set of consequences. Many of which are unpleasant, to say the least.
As we can see from the above cases, there was a serious abundance of activity in the state of Illinois. Much of it during the late summer of 1963. As for the most public and wide-reaching incident, that of Ronnie Austin and Wayne City Chase? There were several apparent theories. Just what happened that evening in August 1963?
One of which, perhaps preposterous to some when we consider that apparent “zooming” in on the car and the changing of angles to cut across his path, was that the planet Jupiter. At its brightest during the time of year the incident happened. Did this cause Ronnie to panic and mistake the huge glowing orb for a pursuing UFO?
Even if we were prepared to believe that, or even the possibility of it, and taking out the already mentioned crossing front of the car, the object disappeared in the direction of the south-east. However, if it was indeed Jupiter that Ronnie had witnessed, then it should have disappeared in the west, which is where the gas giant would set.
Most, then, are comfortable dismissing this particular theory.
Optical Illusions And Exploratory Phenomenon Not Yet Understood!
Another suggestion is that temperature inversion is responsible for creating an optical illusion. This is certainly a very real phenomenon. It is often a go-for skeptics to “explain” UFO and strange light sightings, however. Especially when any other explanation won’t fit. And it is easy to see why. Most often the source of the light can be anything from the moon or headlights from the traffic of a busy road – is not visible to the person who sees their bent and magnified image reflecting back from the atmosphere, sometimes miles away.
This theory is one that perhaps, in theory, explains many “one-off” sightings. It often falls down when used to explain either regular, prolonged waves or repeat sightings. Or sightings that have long histories such as many of the strange “dancing light” phenomena around the world. If such an explanation as temperature inversion were responsible, similar waves should have happened throughout the decades. However, it appears, unless they have simply gone unreported, that this hasn’t happened.
Furthermore, such sightings using temperature inversion as an explanation often rely on the increased road. And air traffic of the modern world. However, these sightings stretch back. And reside in the creation stories and legends of many of the indigenous tribes of America. Such “modern traffic” was not around to create such optical illusions.
All of those speculative rebuttals aside, the solid fact is, on the night in question, such conditions required to create this optical illusion (clouds, fog, or widely variable surface temperatures) were simply not available.
Even “ball lightning” became, to some, a legitimate explanation. Much like the previous explanation, however, as much as ball lightning is a very real if little-understood phenomena.
It Was “Something Unusual! Not Natural!”
Therefore, it is perhaps hard to accept such explanations for something that itself is just as unknown. And once more, the conditions were simply not conducive to create ball lightning in the first place.
What is interesting, especially in retrospect and given what we know today in the contemporary era, the three men from the Air Force who investigated the case under the Project Blue Book name, would issue very similar explanations for several UFO cases over the coming years, regardless of what the evidence actually said. And how well the explanation would hold up under scrutiny.
Perhaps what is most often overlooked is the fact that while Ronnie Austin was at the center of the incident in question, there were ten other witnesses to that specific sighting. And dozens more with reports of a similar encounter in the days and weeks that would follow.
Ronnie’s father would state that the object was definitely “something unusual, not natural”. Furthermore, and adding credibility to the claim that there was radio interference with the car radio as the object passed overhead, was the claim from Orville Austin that as he used the phone to report the sighting, and speak to neighbors (while the object hovered overhead) there was distinct interference on the phone line. Interference that vanished in the hours after when the object disappeared.
In Orville’s opinion, there was no doubt that what they saw that evening. And what had chased his son, whatever the intention may or may not have been, was a UFO. A craft under the intelligence of entities from somewhere other than Earth.
The US Military Act In A “Secretive Way” With “No Justification For It!”
Of course, we know today that the infamous Project Blue Book was not at all interested in getting to the truth. More like discrediting and making them “uninteresting” to the wider public as possible.
And while Allen Hynek was not at all complicit in this action, he was still a year or so away from the absolute realization of his employer’s true motivations and desired result. Something that he himself would distance himself from in the years that followed.
With that in mind, then, what should we make of the actions of Air Force personnel? Those who visited the Austin’s in the days following the incident?
What is perhaps interesting here are the remarks made to the Chicago Sun-Times by Republican Congressman, Glenn Cunningham. It would appear in their 7th August 1963 edition. Only days after the Austin encounter. He would state:
I think it is quite possible that the Air Force is withholding information about at least a certain number of these sightings, because I have found that the military services in the past have sometimes acted in a secretive way other matters when there really was no justification for it!
We know now that Cunningham was very close to the nerve in his summing up of, at least a certain element of, the US Air Force. And their attitude to the UFO and alien question. Were they withholding information in such a way with regard to the Wayne City UFO chase? And the other sightings of the Summer of 1963 Illinois UFO wave?
Check out the video below. It looks at the alleged UFO and alien cover-up a little further.