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Fact or Fiction: The Story of the Alien Autopsy Footage

Darcie spends her free time going down research rabbit holes and occasionally writing down what she finds.

In 1995, FOX broadcast a special titled Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction? hosted by Jonathan Frakes and purporting to show authentic footage of an autopsy performed on an alien whose corpse had been retrieved from a crash site in Roswell, New Mexico. Sprinkled throughout interviews with experts in the fields of special effects, forensic pathology, and others were pieces of black and white footage of what appeared to be this autopsy. So where did this footage come from, and did it actually show an alien autopsy?

Short answer: no, it was not footage of an alien autopsy. For the long answer, keep reading.


Contemporary Skepticism

The 17-minute film originated with a man named Ray Santilli. He and his business partner in this endeavor, Gary Shoefield, initially claimed that the footage was real and had been given to them by a retired military cameraman who wished to remain anonymous. This is the story that was sold to audiences to go along with the FOX special, but behind the scenes, there was immediate doubt.

John Jopson, who directed some portions of the FOX special, was suspicious of Santilli's story and expressed his concerns to FOX and producer Robert Kiviat. However, he was told that FOX was worried ratings would suffer if word of the footage being a hoax got out before the special aired. Similarly, special effects expert Stan Winston and UFOlogist Kevin D. Randle, who were both interviewed for the special, later claimed that they had explicitly stated their belief that the footage was a hoax, but that their statements were ultimately not used.

After the airing of the special, skeptics began calling out the footage as a hoax. One notable example was Joe Nickell, writing for Skeptical Inquirer, who said that, among other reasons, the film could not be authentic due to details such as an obviously fake non-military codemark, the injuries on the "alien" being inconsistent with an air crash, and that "the person performing the autopsy held the scissors like a tailor rather than a pathologist." Nickell also noted that the film didn't match with eyewitness testimony from the Roswell incident, writing, "For example, multiple medical informants described the Roswell creatures as lacking ears and having only four fingers with no thumb, whereas the autopsy film depicts a creature with small ears and five fingers in addition to a thumb. Ergo, either the previous informants are hoaxers, or the film is a hoax, or both."

The same article quotes Trey Stokes, a Hollywood special effects expert, who stated that the alien "seemed lightweight and 'rubbery'" and thus moved very unnaturally. Also quoted was Ed Uthman, a Houston pathologist, who stated that the footage did not have "technical verisimilitude" due to its inconsistencies with how an autopsy would typically be performed and filmed.

A still from the footage.

A still from the footage.

An Evolving Story

Jumping ahead to 2006, a film titled Alien Autopsy was released. This movie was a comedy based on Santilli's latest version of the story behind the footage, with both Santilli and Shoefield serving as executive producers. A companion special to the movie called Eamonn Investigates: The Alien Autopsy aired on Sky, in which Santilli and Shoefield admitted to presenter Eamonn Holmes that the footage was not authentic, but rather a "reconstruction."

By this point, the story had evolved quite a bit. Santilli now claimed that footage of an autopsy on a Roswell alien did in fact exist, and that he had seen it himself in 1992. However, by the time he had saved up the money to buy the footage from its owner, the military cameraman who had filmed it, the film was overall too deteriorated to use in full. The footage he and Shoefield had sold for the FOX special was a reconstruction of the film he had seen, but a few unspecified frames from the original that remained usable had been included. Naturally, no one has ever been able to verify that this original film exists outside of taking Santilli's word for it, and an interview with the alleged cameraman that was only released on Japanese TV was later admitted by Santilli and Shoefield to be of an unnamed homeless man from Los Angeles the two filmed in a motel room.

As told in the documentary special, the set for the autopsy was made in the living room of an empty London flat. Sculptor John Humphreys was hired to make the alien bodies. He created two of them, which were made from casts filled with sheep brains, raspberry jam, chicken entrails, and knuckle joints. He also made the "alien artifacts" supposedly recovered from the crash site along with the body.

There were actually two films shot. After the first was completed, it was brought to the filmmakers' attention that incorrect autopsy procedures were used, and thus a second was made to correct the errors. After the films were completed, the alien bodies were cut into pieces and discarded in multiple rubbish bins across London.

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Poster for Alien Autopsy

Poster for Alien Autopsy

The Claims of Spyros Melaris

Filmmaker Spyros Melaris claims he worked on the footage as the director, among several other roles, and many years later added some additional details left out of Santilli and Shoefield's story, some of which have been disputed by Santilli. In a one-man show put on in 2017, Melaris claimed that he was contacted by Santilli, who told him that he had genuine alien footage and wanted Melaris to shoot a documentary about it. According to Melaris, the original plan was to make this documentary and then to release a second film revealing how it was made.

Melaris said that he sourced the outfits and medical instruments from prop providers in both the US and the UK and the two "government pathologists" featured in the footage were played by his brother and then-girlfriend. Additionally he explained that the 16mm film used for the footage was spliced "onto original Pathé newsreel of a 1947 college baseball match in Roswell to persuade experts from Kodak it could be genuine."

Melaris had previously contacted writer Philip Mantle in 2007. In Mantle's article, Melaris claims that he found the homeless man who was passed off as the cameraman and offered him $500 and a night in the hotel to do the job. The man didn't know what he was going to be reading or where the footage was going to be used. He added that he chose to come forward so long after the fact because he felt that the release of Alien Autopsy in 2006 put the story in the public domain and thus he was no longer bound to his confidentiality agreement.

Reflecting on his role in creating the footage, Melaris said in 2017, "I would like to say now that there is a big part of me that feels remorse. I underestimated the response. The reality is that everybody in the UFO community took this film as the smoking gun, proof of UFO and aliens."

Philip Mantle and Spyros Melaris

Philip Mantle and Spyros Melaris

As might be expected, Santilli contacted in 2017 in response to an article featuring Melaris's statements to refute several aspects of Melaris's account. Santilli claimed that everyone who worked on the film was "employed on a need to know basis" and "only knew what they were commissioned to work on," seemingly suggesting that Melaris could not have been involved in the filming to the extent that he claimed.

In the same article reporting on Santilli's response, Gareth Watson, who played the doctor observing the autopsy in the footage, seemed to back up Santilli's version of events. Watson claimed that Santilli and Shoefield showed him a VHS copy of "very grainy poor quality footage" and that his impression was that what he was shown was the original footage, though he didn't know if this footage was real. He was told by Santilli that the film he was working on was a recreation of the original footage.

Drawing by Spyros Melaris

Drawing by Spyros Melaris

One More Twist

Though at this point most would agree that the footage is not a recreation of genuine footage, there is one more twist in this story. In 2019, aerospace engineer Robert Bigelow allegedly obtained a leaked memo dated 2001. This memo revealed that former CIA scientist Kit Green was briefed multiple times about UFOs and "the Roswell Incident Alien Autopsy."

Green was allegedly shown photos of an alien cadaver that were consistent with the one shown in Santilli and Shoefield's footage, and he additionally claimed that he had seen an "authentic" alien autopsy years before their footage was released.

Kit Green

Kit Green

Based on criticisms raised at the time of the original special's airing and through to today, it seems fairly certain that there was no original footage, and the images shown in the footage came exclusively from the minds of the filmmakers. However, some still maintain that any admissions of fabrication are merely a cover-up, and reports such as the alleged leaked Kit Green memo contribute to this belief.

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