The Strange And Intriguing Val Johnson Case

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
August 2, 2019
Last Updated
October 6, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
8 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Close Encounters

An incident from Marshall Country, Minnesota in August 1979 is still spoken of and marveled over forty years after the events took place. And what’s more, while it is a case that has found a home very much in the UFO community, it is another one of those cases that sits equally well in areas of the paranormal.

Did Deputy Sheriff, Val Johnson, have an encounter with an extraterrestrial force that summer’s night four decades ago? Or might there be an altogether different although certainly no less intriguing explanation?

Val Johnson blended into a reproduction of the incident

Val Johnson

As we will examine later, the incident has distinct supernatural aspects to it, very similar to several other encounters we have looked at before. At the same time, several very definite UFO incidents also contain similarities. Perhaps the Val Johnson case might one day prove to be an important connecting encounter. One that not only will reveal its own mysteries but in doing, those of other equally intriguing and perplexing incidents.

Many UFO investigators, either working on their own or as part of organizations have examined and documented the case. Perhaps one of the most extensive, though, comes from UFO researcher, Guy Westcott, who was in the Minnesota area at the time of the incident. It would appear it is from his initial groundwork that much of the following work over the subsequent decades is based.

A “Brilliant Light” Out Of Nowhere On A Routine Highway Patrol

In the early hours of 27th August 1979, at around 1:40 am, Val Johnson was on patrol duty in Marshall County [1] in the state of Minnesota. He was approximately ten miles outside of the town of Stephen on Marshall County Road 5.

As he approached the intersection with Minnesota State 220, he looked to check for traffic before continuing. As he did, he witnessed a “very bright, brilliant light” seemingly heading in his direction. The light, though, didn’t appear to be on the road. Nor did it appear to be the headlights of an oncoming car.

It was around four feet from the ground with “very defined edges”. Johnson at first wondered if it was a small aircraft possibly making an emergency landing. He proceeded cautiously down the Minnesota State 220 road.

Sketch and notes of what Johnson saw

Sketch and notes of what Johnson saw

Almost instantly, as if it had accelerated, in a matter of seconds the light was right in front of him. It clashed with his patrol car. A sound of breaking glass and damaged metal filled his ears while his sight was overtaken by the light’s brilliant glow.

Then, with the patrol car still in motion, he blacked out.

When he came to, the car was approximately 800 feet from his last known location and now stood sideways on the road. He checked the clock on the dashboard. 2:19 am. He had seemingly lost almost 40 minutes.

Furthermore, when he looked back at the road behind him, there were black brake marks which had obviously been made by his car. Something “unknown” to Johnson had applied the vehicle’s brakes in an effort to halt the car.

Confused, he reached for the radio on the car’s dashboard.

Physical Injuries, Stopped Timepieces, And Flawed Explanations!

After requesting assistance, a fellow Marshall County police officer, Everett Doolittle arrived on the scene who, in turn, would request medical assistance. Johnson, understandably, was found to very much be in a state of shock and complaining of “very sore eyes”.

He was transferred to Warren Hospital where he would undergo several examinations and x-rays. It was found that he had damage to his eyes, very similar to that a welder may incur while plying his trade. Further examinations also found slight damage to the inner eye, consistent with being exposed to a particularly bright light at close range.

How Johnson's car was left sideways on the road

How Johnson’s car was left

Perhaps one of the most interesting details of the whole affair, at least at the scene itself, was Johnson’s wristwatch and a clock in the patrol car were both exactly 14 minutes slow.

Given that it was one of their colleagues, a police investigation would proceed immediately. Initial reactions and suspicions were that the incident was “ball lightning”, while others pointed to the overhead powerlines at the scene itself as a likely source of the “bright light” that had knocked Johnson unconscious.

However, as we might imagine, other investigators who would look at the incident from a UFO perspective, were a little less convinced with these initial theories. And as the finer details of the case were examined, including the physical damage to the vehicle itself, while it is perhaps obvious that “something” definitely did happen to Johnson on that lonely Minnesota road, what exactly that something might be is a little less apparent.

Damage Due To “Mechanical Forces Of Unknown Origin!”

The patrol car and the damage it sustained [2] is most definitely worth examining here. For example, Johnson recalled hearing the sound of breaking glass as he blacked out. There was considerable damage to the windscreen. As if something had collided square on with it, causing the glass to crack.

Furthermore, the antennas near the back on the top of the vehicle were completely bent out of shape. This would turn out to be a rather important clue in determining what may or may not have come into contact with Johnson’s car. Some investigators would claim this damage was the result of something striking the antennas.

An example of the damage to the top of the car

An example of the damage to the top of the car

Other investigators, however, would suggest that the antennas were bent out of shape by “whipping forward when the brakes were applied”. They would then strike the red dome of the police lights causing them to bend from the heat. However, when tests were conducted in Minneapolis’ Honeywell Labs, it was clear that the bending of the antennas was “by force” and not due to the intense heat and whipping motion.

In short, something physical had struck Johnson’s patrol car.

Furthermore, it would appear that the car’s left-hand side took the brunt of the collision. Even the damage to the windscreen (on the left) would prove to be more intriguing than initially suspected.

Meridan French, an expert in his field from the Ford Motor Company, would examine the damage for several days. Rather bizarrely, he would conclude that:

…the crack patterns and apparent sequence of fractures… seem to be (due to) inward and outward forces acting almost simultaneously!

French would elaborate that the cause of the damage to the windscreen was “from mechanical forces of unknown origin”.

Johnson’s physical injuries would heal quickly. Any memories of that evening, however, remained distinctly absent from recall.

Like Being Hit By A “400-Pound Pillow!”

Despite the initial suggestions of ball lightning as an explanation, following further investigations, including by the Center For UFO Studies (CUFOS), the cause of the encounter remains unexplained. Furthermore, there was no evidence whatsoever that Johnson had manufactured any part of the encounter. And what’s more, his character and credibility were generally impeccable.

There were also several further intriguing details that would come to light as the various investigations and discussions of the case continued.

An example of the crashed windscreen

An example of the crashed windscreen

For example, by pure chance, Johnson had received dental work just prior to the incident, with further follow-up work due after the encounter. During the first dental procedure, x-rays were taken as part of preparations for follow-up work. These x-rays would show that Johnson’s bridgework on his front teeth was completely as it should be.

However, during the follow-up procedure, the bridgework was no longer intact. And what’s more, they were “broken at the gums”. This should have resulted in massive swelling and severe pain for Johnson. However, he suffered from neither.

Was this damage to Johnson’s bridgework the result of a physical impact? It is perhaps interesting that he would state in the days after that he felt as though he had been “hit in the face with a 400-pound pillow”.

Might this “pillow” have resulted in the severe damage to the teeth without causing further damage to outer face? Just what did strike Val Johnson and his vehicle? Before we move on check out the short video below. It’s a news segment from Minnesota in 2015 looking back at the Val Johnson case.

Other Strange Lights Around The World – UFOs, Or Supernatural Phenomena?

We have examined very similar cases previously. At least in terms of the descriptions of strange glowing orbs on lonely country roads.

Although it is on the other side of the world, the Min Min Lights of the Australian outback have been seen for decades. And most likely go back further than that. What’s more, many of the legends of the Min Min Lights state they chase or follow road users for “long distances”. On occasion, motorists, with no memory of having done so, would abandon their routes. And then, begin following the strange lights, as if under some strange control.

Closer to home in terms of the Val Johnson case are the strange lights that residents of Texas have been witnessing for perhaps the same amount of time, nicknamed the Marfa Lights. Many people speak of the lights in Texas as though they have a supernatural aspect to them.

Are these lights, whatever they might be, UFO-related? Or, might their origins reside in fields of interest more akin to investigators of the supernatural? Or perhaps they, like the other similar phenomenon mentioned above, are something that we as a collective have no reason or explanation for.

An Unknown Connection Waiting In Plain Sight?

Two more UFO encounters are also worth quickly mentioning here. If only as they feature orbs or flashes of bright light as opposed to a solid nuts-and-bolts craft.

In La Rochelle near Zimbabwe in 1981 the Clifford Muchena encounter featured a strange blue-white “ball of fire” making its way across the fields and even climbing the walls of the outbuildings of the property where a group of local farmworkers were returning for the evening.

Just over a decade later, in November 1994 in the Pennine Hills in England, a young couple saw bizarre “brilliant flashes of light” as they sat parked enjoying the Bonfire Night fireworks. What’s more, this luminous glow would seem to harbor intelligence and even some kind of control of their vehicle.

Are UFOs and paranormal activity connected?

Are UFOs and paranormal activity connected?

What would make the Pennine Hills incident even more chilling was that by the time they had returned home and made their way out of apparent danger, the young couple had lost almost two hours of time.

Might these encounters, much like that of Val Johnson, have a connection of some kind, aside from the bright and brilliant glow of the mysterious and respective objects? Might it be possible that these glows are merely a visible light of an otherwise invisible craft? Or might it be that the glowing orbs and manifestations are some kind of energy? An energy with intelligence to erase memories of those it encounters? And which contains enough force to damage an object such as a car?

A Conspiracy? Or Just A Genuine Mystery

The case of Val Johnson, then, while seemingly bringing us no nearer to a satisfactory explanation to the bizarre incident that summer’s night in 1979 almost half a century later, continues to fascinate those of us with a passion for paranormal encounters and unsolved mysteries.

And what’s more, there appears to be very little conspiracy about the case. No attempts to suppress information or discredit the witness. The incident appears to be a genuine mystery to all those who have examined it previously. As well as to Val Johnson himself.

With all that being said, he was asked several months later what he thought happened on the night in question. Interestingly, he replied that he had “seen something he wasn’t supposed to see”. He would elaborate that he had likely “stumbled” on to some activity or another that was seemingly top-secret. Because of this, those responsible would wipe his recall clear for the half an hour or so in question. Of course, who “those responsible” is, is very much open to debate.

Perhaps one last thing to note is the rather disturbing comment he would make concerning the months following the incidents. He would claim that he didn’t appear to suffer from nightmares connected to the encounter. However, he would find himself thinking, again and again, and for no obvious reason he can recall, “I am committed”. Committed to what, however, remains a mystery. As much for Johnson as it does for us.

Check out the video below. It looks at the Val Johnson case in a little more detail. Truly one of the most fascinating and credible of strange encounters on record. And one that looks set to intrigue the minds of researchers into all things weird and wonderful for decades yet.


1 Val Johnson UFO Report, NICAP
2 Alien Abductions and UFO Sightings 5-Book Bundle, Chris Rutkowski, ISBN 9781459 739215

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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