One Strange Night In Illinois – The St. Clair County Incident

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
October 6, 2023
Last Updated
October 8, 2023
Estimated Reading Time
15 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Sightings

One night in early January 2000, with the twenty-first century only days old, residents across multiple towns in Illinois were witness to a prolonged UFO encounter. What’s more, several of the witnesses were on-duty police officers, who made reports in real-time as the incident was unfolding. That the sighting was of a distinctly triangular-shaped object only made the encounter all the more intriguing given the many similar sightings around the world in the years that proceeded and followed it.

What’s more, around half a decade later, in the very same region, another sighting occurred with an almost identical object, forcing the question if this part of the United States is somehow unique in terms of these triangular UFOs. And were these strange objects vehicles from another world, or top-secret military aircraft? And perhaps above all else, just what was the reason for this brazen aerial display?

Just what these objects over Illinois might have been remains unknown. The incidents, however, like many black triangle sightings, remain of immense interest to UFO investigators and enthusiasts today.

Strange Events Unfold In The Early Hours

According to a report by the MUFON Illinois State Director, David Marler, during the early hours of January 5th, 2000, several residents of the St. Clair County region of Illinois, including on-duty police officers, witnessed a strange aerial vehicle moving over the area. [1] Not only that, but the police officers involved managed to remain in radio contact with each other as the incident played out, viewing the mysterious object at the same time from different locations.

Although there was a sighting of a triangular object at around 10 pm on the evening of January 4th, most sources put the first sighting of the St. Clair County UFO incident at around 4 am on the morning of January 5th, when 66-year-old Melvern Noll was returning home after making a delivery to Bloomington when he decided to stop at the miniature golf course he owned in Highland. [2] As it was a particularly cold night, he was concerned that the pipes at the facility might freeze.

Artist's depiction of Melvern Noll

Artist’s depiction of Melvern Noll

It was as he was stepping out of his truck when something strange captured his attention. He would later recall that he had just happened to look skyward when he saw a “bright star” that he believed was “awful low for a star”. Even so, he made his way to the office, intent on checking the pipes. After doing so, he set back out to the truck and immediately noticed the bright light was still overhead. In fact, he realized it was heading in his direction, appearing “like a big house floating in the air, with windows in it and a bright light on the inside”, adding that it appeared “there might’ve been a big room in there”.

He remained where he was, watching the object, taking in as much detail as he could.

A Bizarre Object That Seemed Aware Of The Witness’s Presence

He estimated the object was approximately “the size of a football field” and was around 1000 feet above the ground. He noted, especially for its size, that it was moving particularly slowly, around 50 miles per hour as it made its way over the nearby trees. He further noted that there were no wings or any signs of propulsion, and perhaps strangest of all, it was completely silent. He noticed that the object appeared to slow slightly as it got closer to him, adding that he “had the feeling it spotted” him looking up at it.

Map of the Lake Forest Region

Map of the St. Clair County Region

It eventually passed over him and began to head southwest direction. As it moved, he noticed that he could also see “windows” at the back of the craft. In total, the craft remained in sight for around five minutes before it disappeared into the distance. After taking a moment to gather himself he got into his truck and set out the short distance to Highland police station to report what he had seen.

He made his report to the dispatcher on duty that evening, Nancy Edwards. She could see that Noll was concerned that people wouldn’t believe his accounts, something he himself stated to Edwards. She offered that she could see in his face that he had definitely seen something strange. So much so, that Edwards notified the dispatcher at St. Clair County police station, who then began circulating the information to other officers, one of whom was Officer Ed Barton in St. Clair, who took the call a little after 4:10 am (we should note, some sources state that Edwards herself communicated the events to Barton).

This Sighting Of Officer Barton

The dispatcher instructed Barton to be on the lookout for a strange object that had the appearance of a “two-story house” with white and red lights. To begin with, Barton believed the dispatcher was pulling his leg, but had to be informed that it wasn’t a strange joke, Barton began to take the situation more seriously, asking what he was supposed to do if he encountered such an aerial object. Shortly after, he found himself looking at the curious craft.

From his patrol car, he noticed a “very bright light” to the east approximately five or six miles from his location. The more he looked at it, the more he could see that it looked like “two very large bright, white lights” that were “so close together it looked like they were almost touching”. He also recalled that there were “rays of light emitting from the” light. He immediately turned on the lights of his patrol car as he made his way along Route 4 in the direction of the bizarre lights.

At first, he contemplated whether the object was a plane that was about to crash to the ground. However, the more he managed to view the aerial anomaly, the more he could see that he was looking at something a little more out of the ordinary.

Sketch of the object witnessed by Barton

Sketch of the object witnessed by Barton

He eventually turned onto Route 50, now heading toward the small town of Summerfield. And shortly after doing so, he could see that the object was an “elongated, narrow triangle” that was so big it “blotted out the stars that would’ve been above it”. He later recalled that on each corner were “round, bright, white lights” that were so bright he was forced to squint to look at them. He would further declare that the lights were steady in intensity and appeared to be directed straight down toward the ground. In the middle of the object’s underside – in between the three white lights – was a smaller red light.

It was as he was taking in these details that he realized the object was no longer stationary but had begun to move. And of more concern, it was heading in his direction. After a moment, he pulled the car to the side of the road and turned off all of the lights and radio, before killing the engine. As the object continued toward him at a steady pace, he listened for any sounds of engines or propulsion. All that came back at him was complete silence.

A Craft That Disappeared “Like The Millenium Falcon!”

The closer the object got to Barton, like Noll earlier, the more details he could make out. He would later recall that appeared to be around 75 feet long and around 40 feet wide. Further observations suggested that it was around 200 feet away from him and was moving at an altitude of around 1000 feet.

Then, suddenly, he noticed the object rotating in the air as it moved, not tilting in the air one way or another, as a conventional aircraft would. After taking a moment to take in just what he was seeing, Barton took to the radio and began communicating his report to the dispatcher. As he was doing so, he noticed that the object was beginning to increase its speed, slowly at first, but then dramatically so. By the time it passed over him, it was moving so fast that Barton could not keep track of it.

It eventually sped off into the distance, leaving Barton to compare it with the scenes in the Star Wars movies when the Millenium Falcon went to light speed and vanished into the stars.

As it moved away Barton recalled that it appeared rectangular in shape with white light going along the middle of it, which itself appeared like a “band of multi-colored illumination”, elaborating that it didn’t appear as if there were individual colors but rather a “band of various colors which blended into each other”.

Barton would also offer in his report that due to his own interests and his father’s extensive career in the Air Force, he was more than familiar with most kinds of conventional aircraft. So much so, he claimed, that he could usually tell the aircraft from the sound of its engine alone. And it was the fact that he could hear “zero noise” from this strange craft that made him realize he was seeing something far from a conventional aircraft. He offered to the dispatcher that the object should now be approximately eight miles from his location near the town of Shiloh.

It was soon clear that he wouldn’t be the last person who would witness this potentially otherworldly craft that night.

Listeners To Police Radio Alerted To “UFO”

As Barton’s encounter was unfolding, around half a mile away in Summerfield, 43-year-old Johnny Doss could also see the bizarre aerial vehicle from his home. Doss was recovering from heart surgery several months earlier and was still struggling with sleep. Hence, on the night in question, he was wide awake listening to the police radio that he and his wife, Cindy, tuned into to pass the time. This time, however, rather than the usual chatter, Doss found himself listening to Officer Barton’s description of the “UFO” he was seeing.

Doss particularly remembers the officer stating that the object was “just east of Summerfield” and that it “keeps changing colors”. At this point, curious, to say the least, Doss made the decision to step outside. When he did so, he immediately saw the object Barton had described, recalling that it was “way larger than an airliner, with several bright lights”.

From its position in the sky, he could see that the object had only very recently passed over his house. He remained in his yard watching the low-flying craft as it disappeared into the distance. In total, he kept the object in view for several minutes before it vanished behind some trees.

By the time he returned to the house and his bedroom, Cindy asked where he had been and what he had been doing. He simply replied that he had been “outside looking at a UFO”.

The sightings, though, would continue elsewhere.

A Completely Silent Arrowhead Object

Also during this time, another police officer, Officer David Martin of the Shiloh Police Department, reported seeing the object following Barton’s instructions that the object appeared to be heading toward Shiloh.

He reported that he could see the object and that it appeared to be heading towards the west. He stated over his radio that the object “looks like an arrowhead” with “three bright lights shining downward and small flashing red lights between the bright lights”. He continued that there were “no markings” on the exterior of the craft and that he was at a complete loss as to what the mystery vehicle could be.

Martin, like the other witnesses, also expressed his belief that the object was at an approximate altitude of 1000 feet and that it appeared to be around 100 feet wide.

Sketch of the object witnessed by Officer Martin

Sketch of the object witnessed by Officer Martin

Although he was driving his patrol car at the time of the sighting, he was moving at an extremely slow speed. During the sighting, he wound down his window in an attempt to hear any sounds of engine noise coming from the object. However, like the other witnesses, he affirmed that there were no such sounds and the craft remained completely silent throughout the incident.

It was when he decided to pull his car to the side of the road that a further twist occurred. Almost immediately after stepping out of the vehicle, the object, which had previously been traveling around 15 miles per hour according to Martin, suddenly sped up to around 100 miles per hour, almost as if it was aware of his interest and presence.

Martin watched for several minutes as the object eventually disappeared into the distance.

Officer Stevens Witnesses Arrowhead Object From An Open Field

Listening to these events on his own patrol car radio was Officer Craig Stevens, who was driving his patrol car near the town of Millstadt. As he grew steadily more curious, he decided to begin in the direction the officers had stated the unknown object was heading, taking him to the east of the town. He eventually brought his car to a stop in a carwash, scanning the currently empty sky for any signs of the anomalous object.

After a short time, he decided to head to the north, toward the town of Liederkranz Park. He arrived at a “big open field” where he brought his vehicle to a stop once more. To begin with, all he could see was the blinking navigation lights of commercial aircraft overhead. Then, at just before 4:30 am, when he turned his attention to another part of the sky, he could see the “huge” object, moving slowly approximately 500 to 1000 feet above the ground.

Sketch of the object Officer Stevens saw

Sketch of the object Officer Stevens saw

In his report back to the dispatcher Stevens stated that the object was the shape of a “fat arrowhead” with “three white lights in back and a red light at the bottom”. The object passed directly over his position, extremely slowly. Stevens offered that while the object itself was completely silent, he was aware of a “low decibel buzzing sound” that he could more sense than hear.

It was at this point that he suddenly remembered he had a Polaroid camera in the trunk of his vehicle. He rushed to retrieve it, aimed it at the object, and pressed down on the shutter. However, when he viewed the picture, it was nothing but a blurry image.

The object continued on its path, disappearing into the distance, now in a northwesterly direction.

Something That “Wasn’t Like A Normal Aircraft!”

Around five minutes after Stevens had radioed in his report, in the nearby town of Dupo, Officer Matt Jany was on patrol when he too witnessed the curious craft. Although he wasn’t as close to it as the previous witnesses, he did view the craft through his binoculars. And his descriptions and details more than corroborate the previous witnesses.

When he took to his police radio to state what he was seeing, he offered that the object “wasn’t like a normal aircraft”, stating that it was “real wide and real long and taller in the middle”. He continued that the object “had lots of lights on it, white lights at the extremes, red lights in the middle”, adding that there “may have been some blue in there too”.

To begin with, the object moved relatively slowly across the sky toward the north. Suddenly, however, it changed direction and then increased its speed as it headed toward the east.

The Final Reported Sighting

While Officer Jany was the last police officer to witness the object in the early hours of that January morning, around two hours after his sighting, another Illinois resident would report seeing what would appear to be the same object.

At around 6:45 am, a 50-year-old English teacher, Steven Wonnacott, was making his way to work at East St. Louis High School. As he was driving along the highway, he quickly looked out over Frank Holton State Park”. As he did so, however, he noticed something strange in the early morning sky. Like other witnesses, to begin with, he thought the object was simply an airplane, in this case, from nearby Parks Airport. However, the more he looked at it, the more realized it was “far too big for an airplane”. And what’s more, it was clear there were no navigation lights.

Wonnacott began to slow his vehicle, eager to keep the object in sight. At this point, the sun was just beginning to rise, and as it did so behind the object, he began to see that it was an “arrowhead shape”. Furthermore, it had “a couple of really bright lights” as well as “many other smaller lights around it”. He would later recall that as he was moving throughout the sighting, he wasn’t certain if the object was stationary or moving.

An Eventual Surge In Media Interest

In the weeks and months that followed the sighting, this region of Illinois received increased media attention, as well as seeing a surge of representatives from UFO organizations traveling to the area looking to investigate the sightings for themselves. Although the initial news reports on the encounter were quick, reserved pieces. However, both news and newspaper coverage began to build steadily, and a week after the encounter, the story was front-page news.

One of the witnesses, Officer Stevens, offered several days after the encounter that the whole thing was “driving me nuts” and that he hadn’t “been able to sleep for the last day and a half”. Stevens, along with Officer Barton would eventually appear on Art Bell’s radio show to talk about the mysterious events.

The media interest eventually grew to such a level that one of the police chiefs, Ed Wilkerson of the Millstadt police department ordered that none of his officers were to give interviews to any media outlet.

This intense interest lasted for a considerable amount of time, with many of the witnesses, perhaps particularly the police officers, almost becoming celebrities within their community. It is interesting to note that all of the witnesses were not at all comfortable with the sudden limelight they found themselves in, something which distances claims of a hoax or orchestration even more.

Ultimately, there was no sign that the events were the result of a bizarre hoax or some kind of strange mass hallucination. Whatever was seen by the multiple witnesses, it was something very real, of that there is no doubt.

An Intriguing, Thought-Provoking Case

There are plenty of intriguing details that emerge from the St. Clair County UFO encounters. Although the case is classed by most as a black triangle sighting, there were some variations in the witnesses’ descriptions of the aerial vehicle. For example, the first witness, Melvern Noll, described the object as being rectangular as opposed to triangular, although we might suggest that the angle from which the object was viewed could explain such slight discrepancies. Or could it be possible that as opposed to one single object traversing the Illinois skies that evening, there were multiple different ones? Unlikely, perhaps, but certainly not impossible.

There were also slight differences regarding the lights of the craft, both in their configuration, how they appeared, and even the colors, with one witness offering he had seen a blue light as well as the red and white reported by the other witnesses.

Clockwise from top left Officer Craig Stevens, and Officer Ed Barton, Steven Wonnacott (bottom right), and Melvern Noll

Perhaps another thing to contemplate is why there was such a long stretch of time between the sighting of Officer Jany and Wonnacott. Did the object simply take a route with no witnesses? Or, perhaps more likely, some kind of cloaking technology was used to render it invisible to human eyes? While it might sound like a trivial detail, we might consider that a craft flying so low over an area where many people would have been venturing outside to start their day would have resulted in many more sightings.

However, it appears that the object simply vanished, only appearing when it was viewed around two hours later by Steven Wonnacott. Just what happened during that time, and where was this mysterious object.

Maybe one last thing to consider – particularly in later reports from around the globe as the 2000s progressed – is that the object – a single object – simply changed shape throughout the encounter, perhaps, as bizarre as it might sound, it disappeared altogether in the hours before the last sighting.

There is certainly a lot to think about and consider here. And a sighting several years later perhaps adds to the nuance and intrigue of the case.

A Similar Sighting Over Illinois Six Years Later

A little over six years later, in the same region, this time in Highland, Illinois, at around 4:50 am on October 20th, 2006, a very similar sighting unfolded. According to the research files of Daryl Barker, on the morning in question, the witness – referred to as “L” in the report – was in the kitchen of the home he shared with his wife (referred to in the report as “M”), preparing to embark on an early morning jog. However, as he looked out of the kitchen window, he could see a bright light in the sky. And what’s more, it was seemingly heading in the direction of his property.

He watched in awe as the object approached, noting that a “beam of white light” was “projected” ahead of it that reached a considerable distance. By the time it was almost directly over the top of the house, he rushed to wake his wife. She followed him, still dazed from being dragged from sleep to the front door of the property. However, when he flung the door open, L was shocked to find nothing at all overhead.

After several seconds of confusion, though, the object appeared from over the roof of the house and was soon directly over the top of them. L later estimated the object to have been at an unbelievably low altitude of a little over 100 feet, now appearing distinctly triangular in shape (we should note that the couple later offered that the altitude was likely around 500 feet).

The object remained in sight for several seconds before it eventually disappeared out of sight. L’s wife returned inside first, followed shortly after by L. However, a short time later, a second sighting occurred.

Deciding to set out on his run as he had planned, L left the house a short time after the object had disappeared. Around 40 minutes later, however, as he reached a curve along the quiet road he was shocked to see yet another strange object, this time at a distance of around seven miles from where he was running. Although he couldn’t explain it, he immediately sensed that this was the very same object that had made its way over this house a short time earlier, recalling that he could see the same bright light.

He watched the object for several moments, noting that it was simply hovering in the same place. Then, without warning or preparation, it suddenly shot off to the north and vanished within seconds. L recalled that a strange “multi-colored streak of light” was visible as the object moved.

He would later state in his report that if it had been a military vehicle, why were the lights so bright, and why was it flying at such a low altitude – something that we might not expect from a top-secret military vehicle exercise.

Of course, whether the sighting in October 2006 has any kind of connection to the sightings reported in January 2000 is open to debate. The similarities, however, even down to the similar time of the day that it unfolded are intriguing, nonetheless.

An Alien Encounter Or A Military Operation?

Despite the great amount of detail, the multi-witness sightings over Illinois in early January 2000 remains one of mystery and intriguing almost a quarter of a century later.

Was this object a top-secret military aircraft? And if so, what was the purpose of such a public display at such a low altitude? Was this simply some kind of bizarre oversight on the military’s part? And if so, might this explain why there was a sudden two-hour gap in between the penultimate and final encounter? Or might we even contemplate that this brazen appearance was purposeful, perhaps designed to see how many residents noticed and what their reactions might have been?

Or might we suspect that this strange aircraft was more alien in nature, perhaps here from another world or even dimension? Once more, we might ask why an alien craft would have allowed itself to be seen so easily? Were the occupants merely indifferent to whether they were noticed or not? Or might, much like our speculative scenario with the military, they have wished to gauge reactions to their presence?

It is perhaps also interesting to note that at least two of the witnesses offered their belief that the object – or at least the occupants of it – were aware of their presence. If we assume that this vehicle was of extraterrestrial origin, might this sense have been some kind of discreet telepathic communication, if only on a subconscious level?

The video below looks at that remarkable night in January 2000 a little further.


1 Illinois police officers track UFO near Scott AFB, David Marler, MUFON Journal, Mo. 383, March, 2000
2 Space Case: Witnesses testify in the mystery of the Metro East UFO, River Front Times, April, 2000 (UFO Evidence)

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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  • William J Granger says:

    Marcus, enjoyed reading your more detailed version of the St. Clair Triangle, but why call it the Lake Forest UFO. Not sure if they are one and the same and only one witness to the Lake Forest UFO which actually took place January 4th, not 5th. Also you call it Lake Forest UFO but no description of that sighting.
    Also there was a witness who came forward later who saw both the house-shaped UFO and the triangular UFO at the same time near the junction of I-64 and IL route 4. Why not add that and change the name back to St. Clair sighting as that is what you called it before?

    • Marcus Lowth says:

      Thanks for the heads up on the title – it should be the St. Clair County Sighting – this is an error on my part. I will look at this shortly.

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