Sarasota Herald-Tribune's De Void reports on UFOs

Billy Cox’s interest in UFOs began during March 1979. At 12:30 a.m. on a moonless night with a scatter of light clouds, Cox walked the Cocoa Beach shoreline with his girlfriend Terry and friend Steve. They headed north with heat lightning and Kennedy Space Center’s lit up launch pads in the distance.

“Suddenly, something caught my eye, about 50 or 60 degrees up and I grabbed my girlfriend’s arm and I whirled her around and said, ‘Look,’” he explained. It was three red triangular array lights, non-oscillating, and it was darker than the rest of the sky. You couldn’t see the stars through it.” The size and distance of the object was difficult for Cox to gauge. “It was either very big or very close,” he stated.

“It was moving parallel to the shore and I’m standing there rapt. My girlfriend and my buddy Steve were looking at it and it makes a sound like a tuning fork. It heads north and for about ten seconds it’s visible,” Cox said. Steve bolted after the triangular array of lights and Cox followed, but he had to wrest himself free of his girlfriend who grabbed his arm in fear.

“I’m following Steve and Terry is running after me and suddenly it just dissipates — it dissolves,” he continued. “I almost got the sense that it was organic. It was like liquid to me in a sense. It had a geometric feel to it because it had edges and corners and sides, but it felt almost sentient. After it vanished we looked at each other just kinda dazed.

“… And so that set me on my journey,” he said

Cox couldn’t stem the tide of the growing curiosity about what he had seen that night. “It’s like falling through the looking glass,” Cox explained. “You know how sometimes you look at an object in the distance and it gets bigger the farther away you move from it? It occupies an inordinate amount of space in my head. This ten second event — it’s amazing to think how it can in some subtle and profound ways shape the course of your interest in life. I didn’t know what to do with it.” Cox decided to do some research after the event.

“I wanted to know a little bit more, but I knew this was crazy stuff,” he told the Catalyst. “I knew that people who were into this were crazy. But I was curious and there were books in the chain stores under the occult shelves about UFOs with werewolves and vampires and all that.

“It was like being in a porno shop — look around, make sure there’s nobody who knows you and you don’t want to make eye contact with people as you head towards the occult shelves to get your hands on some information that might be valuable and might shed some light on whatever it was. You don’t know what’s valid and what’s bullshit, really. You don’t have a sense of that. And so I floundered through that, flopped and wriggled, and I’ve been doing that for about 30 years.”

Cox began to write the occasional story on local UFO happenings for Florida Today which, being on the so-called Space Coast, covered a wide variety of space topics. After 30 years at Florida Today, Cox joined the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as a features writer. Cox popped the UFO-loaded question during a job interview at the Herald-Tribune. “‘Look,’” Cox recalls telling his future managers, “‘this is going to sound a little crazy, but I wonder — if the occasion presents itself — you would have any objections to me doing a UFO story?’ Kinda grinning they go, ‘Well, no. As long as you can find a local angle.’ That’s all I needed and I said, ‘Great.’”

Although it was difficult to find local angles, one appeared in April 2007. The UFO and Paranormal Group of West Florida based in Bradenton held a presentation on Roswell with guest speaker Ben Games. Games claimed to be the personal pilot of General Lawrence Craigie in 1947 during the time the events at Roswell had occurred. He claimed to have flown General Craigie to Roswell and that upon their return, Craigie was ordered to meet with President Truman. Games simply placed General Craigie at Roswell during the time of the UFO event when no one else had. He made no claims about having seen alien bodies or space craft wreckage.

“Well, I kind of like that story because there were no outrageous allegations — you know, ‘I saw dead cadavers,’” Cox told the Catalyst. “The crowd there was very skeptical of him because his contention was that the air force isn’t hiding anything because if they were he said, ‘they would have told me to shut up. Nobody’s ever told me to shut up about anything.’”

With that story, Cox began De Void on the Herald-Tribune’s website. The site bills itself as “the mainstream media’s lonely UFO web log.” Every few days, Cox reports on UFO sightings, new books, research, scientific discoveries and analysis of UFO coverage in mainstream media with a level headed, fact and evidence based approach. The witty comments and laid-back style are a bonus.

“I can’t say that I believe in UFOs because I don’t know what they are,” Cox explained. “All I know is that the data is there. There is radar evidence of it. Anecdotal or eyewitness reports are often belittled, but we send people to death row based on anecdotal and eyewitness evidence. So it’s very selective when we talk about the fallibility of eyewitness reports. We also have trace effects — burn marks on vegetation, soil that’s been completely desiccated where these things allegedly land. So there’s lot of evidence out there. So for me it’s not a belief system, it’s just trying to follow where the evidence leads.”

Research, amassing circumstantial evidence, testimony from credible sources and digging into government records are key for Cox. He has filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in the past to acquire government documents, digging deeper than many are willing to. “I’m much more interested in that than sighting reports,” he said. “Honestly, you look on YouTube and you see lights in the sky. They’re a dime a dozen. They may be legitimate and unknown, they could be CGI. They’re practically worthless. Videos and images are practically worthless these days.”

In addition to Cox’s interest in UFOs sparked by his experience years ago, mainstream media coverage of UFOs was added incentive for him to start writing De Void. In January 2008, a UFO was spotted over Stephenville, Texas entering restricted airspace over President Bush’s ranch. Hundreds saw the object and air force fighter jets in the sky shortly after. Stephenville received a flurry of media attention in the days that followed. Approximately six months later, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) released a report that analyzed radar records from the night the object was sighted, but the media attention paled in comparison. MUFONs researchers concluded that “the unknown object was real and not imaginary.”

“The media did not cover this report,” Cox said. “They were there when the witnesses were all in a frenzy in January of ‘08, but the science comes out, there’s not a peep. This is what frustrates me.”

With De Void, Cox hopes to cover the topic of UFOs more seriously than the mainstream media. “What I was hoping to accomplish with this was to make it okay for mainstream media to cover this thing … I was hoping that I could be a bridge and allow other news groups to look at this and go, ‘Well you know, this could be kind of fun and there is something to it. Don’t know what it is, but let’s dig around.’

“Four years into this thing now, I’ve been a miserable failure,” Cox confessed. “I can’t see that the bar has nudged a bit in terms of how media covers it.” However, De Void continues to cover UFOs more seriously than many mainstream news outlets can claim.

De Void can be found at http://devoid.blogs.heraldtribune.com/.

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