LIKE THE LATE-NIGHT RADIO UFO talk show host they admire, Seattle Art Bell Chat Club members believe aliens are out there. They just question whether the evidence ever existed in Jonathan Reed's freezer.
Club members thought they were doing Bell a favor by unearthing information that one of Reed's supporters, who claims to be a microbiologist who conducted DNA test on Reed's alien nemesis, may be employed at a gas station in West Seattle. What the club members got for their pains was the boot: a request from Bell to remove his name from their fan club about three weeks ago.
The group complied, adopting the more generic title "Seattle Chat Club," but "We're hurt," says Philip Lipson, who runs the Seattle Metaphysical Library, which is perched above a dry cleaners shop off Broadway and is the site of the club's regular meetings. "We have always supported Art Bell. We didn't think we had to believe the stories he broadcast to remain a part of the club network."
Details of Reed's alleged alien encounter are hardly new and are widely questioned even within UFO circles. For the uninitiated: Reed claims he discovered an alien and its obelisk-shaped spacecraft while hiking in the Cascades in 1996, and that he killed the alien after it turned his beloved golden retriever, Suzy, into dust. (See Reed's Web site, www.aliendestiny.com, for the full story and "photo evidence.") Reed says he then dragged the body home and threw it in his freezer, where it came alive again and screamed before it was mysteriously whisked away as part of a government conspiracy.
Bell, who created Coast to Coast A.M., the phenomenal late-night radio program about UFOs and the paranormal, has had Reed appear four times on his show as a featured guest. Since the show dominates its time slot, 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., in 430 markets around the country, Reed's appearances have raised his profile significantly in UFO circles. In the Seattle area, where Bell's show has its highest ratings in the county, Reed's story raised great interest and serious questions among local UFOlogists.
In an earnest tone, Charlette LeFevre, the Seattle Chat Club coordinator, explains her concerns: "Let me explain that I believe in the existence of UFOs," says LeFevre. "But there were things about Jonathan's story that just seemed wrong. Hoax stories like Jonathan's discredit true UFO sightings."
Reed claims he has a Ph.D., but says his records have been expunged and that he's been shot at and targeted by the same government officials who lifted his alien. Questions have recently surfaced about his compatriots, including Robert Raith, the coauthor of Reed's published account of the encounter, Link: An Extraterrestrial Odyssey, and Harold Chacon. Chacon appeared on a recent edition of Bell's show with Reed, claiming he was a certified microbiologist and that he had examined the alien's DNA and could confirm it was neither animal nor human. Bell says he never bothered to check Chacon's credentials.
"He presented himself as a microbiologist," says Bell. "Look, I'm a radio talk-show host, not an investigative journalist. In these types of stories, people always claim their records have been erased or destroyed."
WHEN A MAN claiming to be Raith's roommate strolled into the Metaphysical Library about a month ago and said Raith's "real last name" was Aria and that he and Chacon worked at a Chevron gas station in West Seattle, LeFevre and Lipson decided to check it out for themselves.
LeFevre contends she called the station and confirmed both Chacon's and Aria's employment with the manager. They then visited the gas station, where LeFevre claims she saw Raith (whom she had met previously) behind the counter.
"When [Raith] saw me, he took off like a chickenshit," she says, chuckling. "I know it was him."
LeFevre acknowledges that she never saw Chacon in person at the station. But she received surprising support for her skepticism when she next brought the matter to the attention of Kathleen Andersen, a Washington state director of the national Mutual UFO Network.
"I was floored. . . . [Chacon and Raith] lived down the street from me four years ago," says Andersen, a former West Seattle resident. "You could have knocked me over with a feather," she continues. "I knew both Harold Chacon and Robert—we had dinner together, and I know they both worked at the Chevron station. Robert was always talking about writing a science fiction book about UFOs and people from other dimensions."
When asked by the Weekly if Harold Chacon and Robert Raith were employed there, the manager of the Chevron station refused to comment, saying he "didn't want to get involved."
While Reed, Raith, and Chacon were unavailable for comment, their friend and spokesman, Dan Iaria, did agree to an e-mail interview. He didn't, however, directly answer the question about Raith's and Chacon's employment. "Many authors, freelance writers, and actors take on part-time jobs that are flexible in order to supplement their income as they struggle to survive. Again, how is this relevant to Dr. Reed's evidence?" writes Iaria.
He continues, "Harold Chacon, at the time he began helping Dr. Reed with the specimen analysis, was a student at Seattle University. Again, it is not unusual for students to take on flexible, part-time work to supplement their income while they complete their education."
One week after the gas station visit, LeFevre got an e-mail and subsequent phone call from Bell requesting his name be removed from her group. This is because, LeFevre believes, she's revealing evidence that one of Bell's best stories might be false.
Bell denies he has a problem with the club proving or disproving the credibility of any guests on his show. "I welcome the Seattle Chat Club to investigate Jonathan Reed," says Bell. "That's not the issue at all." What did worry him, he said, were reports that the Seattle chapter, specifically LeFevre and Lipson, were supposedly "interrogating" people in a "Nazi-like" fashion.
"I'm not a fan of fan clubs in the first place," says Bell. "I've never encouraged them, but nevertheless, they've formed anyway. None of them have a direct legal connection to me. But I thought the purpose was to allow people to come and speak to them about these topics, not to use my name to conduct an investigation."
Bell is understandably sensitive to legal disputes. He returned this February to Coast to Coast A.M., following a nearly yearlong hiatus, after pursuing and winning a libel case against a former FBI agent who accused him of child molestation. The lawsuit occurred after a schoolteacher actually sexually assaulted Bell's own son.
The veracity of Reed's claim, says Bell, is unimportant, though he admits he wouldn't feature a guest who was a proven fraud. "It's a fascinating story—you don't get many like Jonathan Reed's, with pictures," says Bell. "But anything on my show could be true or a hoax. I feel my audiences are adults and can decide for themselves what to believe."
But LeFevre and Lipson say that, despite the disclaimers, people look to Art Bell as an authority and that he lends legitimacy to a story when he features a guest repeatedly on the show.
Doubtful stories like Reed's subsequently tarnish the more authoritative, scientifically based UFO research, claims LeFevre. "We will continue to look into the Reed case," she promises.
The Seattle Chat Club is hosting the Northwest UFO/Paranormal Conference, from May 25-28, at the Doubletree Hotel in SeaTac. For more info, call 329-1794 or go to www.seattleartbellchatclub.com.