One Of The Most Divisive Cases In History: The Gulf Breeze UFO Encounters

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
September 10, 2023
Last Updated
September 7, 2023
Estimated Reading Time
13 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Waves

An apparent wave of close contact UFO encounters and even possible alien abductions that unfolded in Gulf Breeze, Florida in the late 1980s remains one of the most intriguing and divisive cases in UFO history.

What was initially regarded by many as one of the best UFO sightings, complete with photographic evidence of recent times captured by the main witness, Edward Walters, quickly descended into claims of a hoax, and counterclaims of attempts to discredit the main witness. Indeed, the case remains a topic of discussion in UFO circles today almost four decades later.

A picture claiming to show a real UFO

Does this picture show a UFO?

What is further interesting about the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings, and something that lends a touch of potential credibility to Walters’ version of events, is that many other residents of the region also began making reports of very similar aerial anomalies, almost all of whom, had no connection to the witness. And, adding a further twist are the hints that Walters’ sightings, at least some of them, might have also been cases of alien abduction.

The Gulf Breeze UFO sightings take us down many twists and turns, and just could be a case with secrets left to reveal.

A Bizarre Craft Hovering Outside

The curious events began over Gulf Breeze on the evening of 11th November 1987 when a local building contractor, Edward Walters, was working late at his home when he noticed a strange light outside his property. [1] Intrigued, he made his way to the window to see what the source of the glow might be. Amazed, he could see a glowing object hovering in the sky, although his view was partially obscured by a tree outside his house. Wanting to get a better view, Walters immediately ventured outside.

As soon as he stepped outside, he realized he was viewing something out of the ordinary. He would later describe the object as a “top-shaped craft” with a circle of bright lights on the underside. Around the edges were what appeared to be dark, square windows that were separated by “portals”.

After taking in the surreal events, he quickly rushed inside his property in order to retrieve his Polaroid camera. He then rushed back outside and quickly snapped several pictures of the aerial anomaly from his front yard. Wanting to get a better view, he left his yard, stepped out onto the street, and headed closer to the hovering otherworldly vehicle, taking several more pictures as he did so.

A moment later, the object headed in his direction and then hovered directly over where he was standing. Then, things would turn even stranger.

“We Will Not Harm You!”

As he looked up at the craft, a sudden bright blue beam of light came from the underside and struck him. He would state that the force of the light was so strong that he was even lifted several feet from the ground. [2] He later described the moment to a local newspaper, stating that as soon as the light hit him, he was unable to move his arms and that his entire body appeared blue. He further recalled that he was “trying to breathe but my chest wouldn’t expand”.

At the same time, a voice appeared in his head stating that he should not worry and that “we will not harm you”. Despite these assurances, Walters screamed to be put down. He also recalled a “piercing smell, a little scent of ammonia mixed with heavy cinnamon” that he said “scorched, then stuck to” the back of his throat.

Things then turned even more bizarre as began seeing pictures and images of dogs in his head, further describing this as if he was turning pages in a book in his mind, while a humming sound began resonating in his head. The next memory he had was waking up on the ground. He looked up and around him. The strange craft was now nowhere to be seen.

Dazed, perplexed, and a little in awe at what had just transpired, Walters returned to his house with his photographs.

After remaining quiet about the incident for almost a week, on the afternoon of 17th November, he made the decision to contact the local newspaper, the Gulf Breeze Sentinel. He met with the editor and told him of the bizarre events six night previously, as well as presenting him with his photographic evidence. However, he would do so under the guise of having been given the pictures and relaying an anonymous person’s account.

However, as the days and weeks went on, Walters would claim further sightings, eventually admitting that it was he, and not his anonymous friend who was the witness to these bizarre happenings.

Further Surreal Encounters

On the evening of 20th November, Walters claimed to suddenly be able to hear voices coming from somewhere, as well as the hum that had filled his head during his initial encounter. He left what he was doing and made his way outside. Once there, he could see a glowing orb-like object that was descending. Then, it stopped and hovered in place for several moments allowing him to take a picture of it.

Several weeks later, at around 3:30 am in the early hours of 2nd December, the family’s pet dog dragged Walters from sleep with its sudden barking. Walters got out of bed and headed to the French doors where the dog had its focus. Cautiously, he opened the blinds and was beyond shocked to see a strange figure standing directly outside looking in at him. He described this creature as being around four feet tall, with a particularly large head and large, black eyes.

He would further claim that he was so surprised at the sight that he momentarily fell to the ground in shock. After the two locked stares for several moments, the strange figure turned around and began to walk away.

At this point, Walters opened the doors and began to pursue the creature. After taking only a few steps, however, the same bright blue beam of light rapidly descended from above and instantly paralyzed him. He looked on as the small figure headed off into a field and disappeared from sight.

A moment later, the blue beam retracted and he could move once more. Already with his camera in his hand, he took a picture of the object, now hovering over the field where the creature had headed, shooting a blue beam down to the ground. Walters stated that it was his belief that this second beam was “picking up the creature” that had been outside his house.

Only two nights later, in the early hours of 5th December, yet another incident occurred. Once more he was dragged mysteriously from sleep and witnessed the object again, this time hovering over the high school that was near Walters’ home. After several moments, the object descended, although Walters could tell if it hovered just above the ground or had actually landed.

Initial Investigations And Corroborating Witnesses

By this time, not only had many in the local community heard of Walters’ claims, but so did UFO investigators and organizations. One of these was MUFON, who contacted Walters in order to conduct an investigation into the enigmatic affair.

After examining the photographs and listening in detail to Walters’ accounts, they were largely impressed, even describing it as “one of the most incredible cases in modern UFO history”. They had even provided Walters with specialized cameras and equipment so that he could capture clearer images should he have any further encounters.

Picture captured by Arthur Hufford

Picture captured by Arthur Hufford

Investigators also began to collect other sightings from Gulf Breeze and nearby residents. One of these even occurred on the same day as Walters’ initial sighting of 11th November, several hours earlier at around 4:30 am. Arthur Hufford claimed that on the afternoon in question, he and his wife witnessed an object that looked exactly like the one photographed by Walters hovering over trees in Pensacola.

In an article of Hufford’s report, Jackie Brooks wrote in the News Journal that he was a “quiet, sober, involved, intelligent” man, and someone “you would trust to tell the truth”. In the same article, she also highlighted a similar sighting by Dr. Fenner McConnell, describing him as a “well-respected man in the community” and someone “known for extreme views or exotic notions”. And, like Hufford, his account was corroborated by his wife.

Apparent Holes In The Claims

There were, however, many others, even in the UFO community who were far from convinced of Walters’ credibility, just one of whom was the Center For UFO Studies.

One of the main charges by skeptics against Walters is that he intentionally produced the photographs using double exposure techniques and a toy model. And the veracity of these claims appeared even more certain when ufologist, Zan Overall, seemingly discovered that Walters did indeed have the knowledge of double exposure techniques and the capability to utilize them.

Even those who did not accuse Walters of perpetrating a hoax were not as convinced of the photographs’ authenticity. For example, an employee and photo expert with NASA, Dr. Robert Nathan, was asked to analyze the pictures by the National Enquirer, who were seemingly interested in running a story on Walters’ accounts. Ultimately, however, he stated his findings were inconclusive and so couldn’t say with certainty that they weren’t fake.

There were also other details that came to light, perhaps not least that Walters had reportedly paid a fee to Dr. Bruce Maccabee in order to write a chapter in a potential book he had been given a six-figure advance for that he was to call UFOs: Proof Positive. However, when the publisher had the photographs analyzed, they received a similar report that that given by Dr. Robert Nathan, and ultimately had the title of the book changed to The Gulf Breeze Sightings. Perhaps we should make of that what we will.

We should also note that during this time, Walters’ wife and family stood by his accounts. Furthermore, in February 1988, Walters passed two polygraph tests regarding his claims.

Further Twists And Turns

Despite the skeptics, however, further sightings of bizarre objects hovering and moving over the regions continued to unfold, with Walters himself recording several more apparent close encounters. Indeed, although he began by giving his information under the guise of a go-between, he would quickly become a celebrity in the state of Florida, even appearing on several television shows that wished to examine his apparent evidence of visitation.

It would appear that he also built up a considerable amount of money (as well as the book deal, he also received various payments from television companies and media platforms), as he moved out of his house (due to UFO enthusiasts constantly knocking on the door) and live elsewhere in the region at an undisclosed location.

The property stood empty for close to a year. When it was clear to the UFO adventure seekers that Walters had indeed gone for good, the house was finally bought by a gentleman by the name of Robert Menzer. And not long after he purchased the property, he seemingly made a remarkable discovery that would throw the details of Gulf Breeze UFO sightings up into the air once more.

Nothing But A Foam Model?

Menzer, it appeared, had discovered nothing less than a model UFO that Walters had seemingly left at the property when he vacated it the previous year. According to the new resident, who told his story in the June 10th, 1990 edition of the Pensacola News Journal, he had ventured into the loft in order to turn off the water so he could install an icemaker. As he was moving the loft insulation in order to locate the water pipe, he discovered the model UFO.

He claimed that the object was made of two foam plates and two slightly smaller foam plates with paper rings in between them, onto which windows had seemingly been drawn. Perhaps even more damaging, when the paper was removed records of a house sale were discovered in handwriting that appeared to match that of Walters.

In response to the find, Walters completely dismissed the discovery, stating that “only a fool would leave behind such a piece of evidence”, further stating that the model had clearly been “planted” in order to discredit both him and the many sightings he had experienced. He elaborated that the house sale records were his papers and that they related to a house sale which fell through two years after his initial sighting in November 1987. He stated that he often found people searching in his trash and that someone must have retrieved the house paperwork from there. In another twist, investigators eventually discovered that the plans did indeed match those of a housing project for 1989 that had fallen through.

Walters further went on the defensive by pointing out that the model Menzer had discovered was not at all like the ones he had photographed. Although he stopped short of accusing Menzer of being behind the model, he heavily hinted at it (we should note that Menzer only revealed the model’s existence when a reporter arrived at the property in relation to the former owner).

With these points in mind, it appeared that Walters had weathered the storm and that his claims of the model being a plant could possibly be correct. Then, came another twist to the affair.

Another Claim Of Fraud Against Walters

The following week, in the June 17th 1990 edition of the Pensacola News Journal, another article appeared concerning Walters’ UFO sightings. In the article, teenager, Tom Smith, claimed that he had assisted Walters in making the UFO model just before the sightings began.

He went on that Walters had first taken pictures of the model, which had been made to give the appearance of glowing, and then taken pictures of the night sky using the same frame of the film. He even revealed that to make it appear that a UFO had landed in a nearby field, Walters had turned a trampoline upside down and then jumped on it over and over again in order to flatten the grass and vegetation in the shape of the round object.

Smith continued that, to begin with, he thought Walters was merely going to play a joke on family or friends. However, when he asked him to take the photographs to the newspaper as if he had taken them in order to make the story more believable, Smith realized that Walters was looking to dupe the media and the public for financial gain. Not wanting to get caught in a “fraud”, not least as he didn’t want to disappoint his family, Smith declined to be further involved.

When Smith’s parents were interviewed about their son’s claims, they stated that what he was saying was true and that he had told them about the trickery before. And while they had urged him to come forward with the truth, he wished to stay out of the affair, until now.

An Attempt To Discredit The Witness?

Providing a further interesting backstory to the claims of the Smith family was the fact that Smith was running against Walters for city council, coincidentally or not, around the same time their son came forward with his claims. This, as we might imagine, led those who backed Walters’ accounts as proven fact, to accuse Tom Smith of not only lying but of the Smith family being behind the planting of the model in the first place so that they could then publicly humiliate (and discredit) Walters. Of course, this was an accusation the Smith family denied.

There were, however, two clear sides to the Gulf Breeze incidents. And those who sided with Walters turned their attention to the claims made by Smith. For example, the landing spot had been examined and investigated and did not grow new vegetation for almost 18 months. And what’s more, no chemical or other agent was discovered that could have caused this lack of growth – in a perfect circle, no less.  This was something that certainly could not be produced by jumping on an upside-down trampoline.

There were also the details Smith had given regarding how Walters achieved the blue beam of light shown in one of the pictures. He had claimed that Walters had peeled away – ever so slightly – the back of the film. This was something that those with knowledge of photography stated would not achieve such a result.

Perhaps even more damaging for Smith’s claims – as well as those who believed double exposure was the cause of the “UFO” in the photograph – is that no photographic expert could produce a double-exposed photograph using the camera Walters used (a Sun 600 Polaroid). Perhaps most damaging of all to Smith’s claims, was the fact that there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Smith had ever met Walters, before or after the sightings began.

Final Proof Of A Hoax?

Now finding himself on the ropes, Smith offered that Walters had used his camera to take the photographs and not the Polaroid. He even produced “faked” UFO pictures and made them available to the media to prove how easily it could be done. When these pictures were analyzed, however, no evidence whatsoever could be found to show they were fakes, meaning, perhaps ironically, by their own standard, they had to declare the picture authentic images of a UFO (even though Smith insisted they were fakes).

Further turns in the already strange affair occurred following Walters self-publishing a book that contained many of his photographs. As we might imagine, many people were eager to see the pictures close-up for themselves – both believers and skeptics alike. And one picture in particular drew the attention of skeptics.

In this image, an apparent hovering UFO casts a reflection on the road below. However, when this picture was examined by one particular photographic expert, it was determined that the reflections were approximately nine times larger than normal, suggesting that these reflections were not coming from the road but were suspended in the air. Further analysis suggested that the reflections didn’t match the bottom of the underside of the craft and that the road appeared too bright to be a reflection from the object.

Although it appeared that Walters had finally been exposed, some investigators pointed out that if the object had been at an angle while the photographs had been taken, this would explain the long shadows, the discrepancy in them matching the craft’s underside, and the brightness of the road.

A Truly Divisive Case

Despite the counterclaims to the apparent exposure of Walters’ photographs being fakes, it appeared, at least as far as MUFON were concerned – who had continued to back Walters – that it was time for them to withdraw such support.

In a statement regarding the matter, they offered their belief in UFOs, and that they had “entered this investigation with a natural and favorable bias toward the Walters case, but our investigation and analysis lend to the conclusion that several, if not all of the photos are probable hoaxes”.

Regardless of MUFON’s position, however, the fact is that there were many more than just Ed Walters who claimed to have seen UFOs in the Gulf Breeze region of Florida during the late eighties and early 1990s. According to some sources, around 200 other people in the region made reports of similar objects to those allegedly photographed by Walters, with some even offering their own photographs. One resident, Bland Pugh, for example, managed to capture a picture of an apparent alien craft in 1993, which you can see below.

Furthermore, in 1990, a group of witnesses and believers organized themselves into a loose organization that was dedicated to studying the sightings, as well as documenting any further encounters. And they would not be disappointed, observing and documenting several encounters, including one that of a similar object to the one Walters claimed to have seen that had red lights on its underside.

Although the concentration of sightings in the Gulf Breeze sightings began to slow as the nineties unfolded, reports of bizarre aerial craft continue to come from the region, and it remains a location with more than its fair share of UFO activity. The surge of activity, however, at the end of the 1980s and into the early years of the nineties arguably remains the region’s most active years.

More Secrets To Be Revealed?

Perhaps what makes the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings case so interesting is that a relatively strong case can be made on either side of the argument. It is quite easy to believe that someone might see making claims of seeing UFOs as a way of making quick, and substantial money. On the other side of the coin, however, it is easy to believe Walters, despite the claims against him.

Did Ed Walters orchestrate and set up his photographs, and if so, did he do so purely for monetary gain? While he certainly did receive monetary compensation from his first book, as well as various television appearances, he certainly wouldn’t be the only person to have claimed to have witnessed a UFO, or even have been abducted, to have done so.

Might it be that Walters’ claims are very genuine, and someone attempted to have him discredited by planting an apparent model UFO in his old place of residence? While this might sound a little far-fetched to some, as Walters said, why would he leave the one thing that could undo his “work” if had set everything up? While mistakes are possible, we might suspect that had someone gone to all of the trouble to set up fake UFO pictures as Walters had, they would have been more alert and careful.

Or might the explanation reside somewhere between the two? Might Walters have genuinely seen these potentially alien vehicles, and then orchestrated photographic proof in order to appear more credible?

We also need to keep in mind that Walters’ sightings and photographs, while perhaps the focal point of the Gulf Breeze UFO encounters, are just a part of the wider picture, with hundreds of sightings of strange objects in this specific region of Florida alone. If we looked outside of the Gulf Breeze region, we would undoubtedly see that UFO activity in and around Florida during this time is perhaps equally as busy, meaning this region of the United States undoubtedly serves as a hub of UFO activity.

Regardless of the truth of the matter, the Gulf Breeze sightings and, specifically, the claims of Ed Walters are still very much discussed today, and will likely have a few more surprises up its sleeve as more investigators and enthusiasts examine it.

The video below examines this remarkable case a little further.


1  Gulf Breeze, Florida Sightings, UFO Evidence
2 The Gulf Breeze, Florida UFOs, UFO Casebook

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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