In 1981, Klaus Webner (still a local resident in Wiesdadener, and a UFO researcher) managed to track down the source of the photo as being an April Fools Day issue of the German newspaper "Wiebadener Tagblatt" in 1950. It was an April Fool's joke by then editor William Sprunkel and photographer Hans Scheffler.
Respected UFO researcher Chris Aubeck has commented "The fact that the author confessed two days later, yet the hoax became immortal, is just so typical" (Aubeck, 2008).
Sheffler's five year-old-son Peter Scheffler acted as the model for the alien, with the "alien" head being painted over him. The American military authorities gave permission for "Wiebadener Tagblatt" to use real military officers in the photograph.
The photo (along with a few relevant documents) also appears in the FBI's documents.
It also appears in the online files of the USA's FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), at page 54 of 84 of the FBI's UFO PDF file number 7, available online at: http://foia.fbi.gov/ufo/ufo7.pdf
The FBI files show that their copy of the photograph was received on 24 May 1950, from an Intelligence and Security officer at the New Orleans Port of Embarkation.
The FBI apparently took the photo seriously enough to discuss it with Colonel Borden in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Borden said his office didn't think it worthy of further study. The FBI files indicate that a translation of the captions accompanying the photograph referred to Wiesbaden, but the FBI did not manage/bother to trace the photo back to the relevant German newspaper, "Wiesbadener Tagblatt"!
Several websites correctly summarise information about this hoax, e.g. on the Biggest Secret website in a section entitled "ETs, fake : For the following pictures it's 100% certain they show FAKE ETs and/or related phenomena" it is stated that "This picture appeared in the German newspaper"Wiesbadener Tagesblatt" in 1950" and that "The hoax picture shown with one of the series of pictures it was made from by painting an alien head on the boy, a son of Hans Scheffler".
However, several popular websites are rather less forthcoming about the true story.
For example, see:
(1) The popular UFO Casebook website at the link below, which shows the photo with a caption "Alien from Germany, c. 1950s"
(2) The further website below, which shows the photo with a caption "Captured alien."
(1) Saturday 1st April 1950 : Wiesbadener Tagblatt article with three photograph under the headline 'Flying Saucers Over Wiesbasden. A Giant Flying Disc Crashed at the Bleivenstadter Kopf. Crew Member Is In
Protective Detention. No Cause For Panic.'". The text reports the hunting down of a flying saucer which crashed during the night in the vicinity of Wiesbaden. Even a crew member had allegedly been seized and put into protective custody. The article describes a 'stange creature with only one leg moving about a rotating plate'. His arms came to an end in four stubby fingers. It was written that he had large glaring eyes and his head was an oval shape.
(2) Monday April 3rd 1950 : Wiesbadener Tagblatt admission of the hoax under the headline 'TUCHTIG REINGEFALLEN!' (trans. 'Good Letdown!')".
(3) Wednesday April 22nd 1981 : Wiesbadener Tagblatt article 'A Tagblatt April Joke in the Files of the FBI …. And now as a true saucer report in a book publication'
By the way, when the 1981 article was published by Wiesbadener Tagblatt, I understand that it was based on the research done by Wiesbadener resident Klaus Webner but did not refer to him at all. He has since written a book entitled "Wesen aus dem Weltraum" (1993).
I emailed the Wiesbadener Tagblattand stated that I would be be interested (as may its readers) in what Klaus Webner thinks about the photograph continuing to circulate on the Internet in 2008 given the admission of the hoax on 3rd April 1950 and his own research in 1981. I did not receive any response from the Wiesbadener Tagblatt.
This photo pops up fairly frequently on online discussion forums.
For example, it is discussed on the popular AboveTopSecret.com forum in discussions at the following links:
This photo pops up fairly frequently on online discussion forums.
For example, it is discussed on the popular AboveTopSecret.com forum in discussions at the following links:
The first appearance of this photo in a UFO book appears to have been in 1980, with the true story being revealed relatively shortly thereafter. However, this has not prevented the photo being republished in various books and on numerous websites - usually without the true story accompanying it.
Charles Berlitz and Bill Moore in their "The Roswell Incident" (1980) at the unnumbered 2 penultimate pages of the photographic section of the Granada hardback edition (with the same page numbering
in the Granada paperback edition).
Brief discussion of the photo (see quotes below), apparently based on the FBI documents at the link above.
Margaret Sachs in her "The UFO Encyclopedia" (1980) at page 104 (in an entry entitled "Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)") of the Corgi softback edition.
Sketch of the photo (not the photo itself) appears with the caption:
"Artist's rendering of a photograph of an alleged Martian in the custody of U S Military Policemen. The photograph was found in FBI files, accompanied by a notation that it was received on May 24,1950, from an Intelligence and Security officer at the New Orleans Port of Embarkation. The FBI does not endorse the photograph's authenticity. (Drawn by Larry Blazey – Courtesy of UFO Information Network).
Klaus Webner "The Strange Case of Mister X : The Berlitz/Moore Alien Unmasked" The Probe Report, Volume 2, Number 2, September 1981, pages 8-12. (A copy of which was kindly supplied to Isaac Koi by Dr David Clarke).
"… article with three photograph under the headline `Flying Saucers Over Wiesbasden. A Giant Flying Disc Crashed at the Bleivenstadte rKopf. Crew Member Is In Protective Detention. No Cause For Panic.'"
"The text reports of the hunting down of a flying saucer which crashed during the night in the vicinity of Wiesbaden. Even a crew member had allegedly been seized and put into protective custody. The article describes a `stange creature with only one leg moving about a rotating plate. His arms came to an end in four stubby fingers. It was written that he had large glaring eyes and his head was an oval shape."
"… This fantastic story had been published on Saturday 1st April 1950 in the Wiesbadener Tagblatt."
"…the flying sauce crash was only an April Fool Joke, created by the Wiesbadener Tagblatt reporter Wilhelm Sprunkel! He got the idea after he had read a number of newspaper articles about flying saucer…"
"The photographed creature seen in the Berlitz/Moore book and in the Wiesbadener Tagblatt from 1950 was really the five year old Peter Scheffler, the photographer's son. The only thing that one of the soldiers held was a can. The rest of the effects, like the hose, breathing gear, horror head, griffin hands, one leg and foot-plate was later painted in by Hans Scheffler…"
"…On Monday April 3rd 1950, the Wiesbadener Tagblatt had published a denial under the headline `TUCHTIG REINGEFALLEN!' (trans. `Good Letdown!')".
"… Mr Barry Greenwood, allied with the UFOIN organisation (UFO Information Network) in Rome, Ohio, acquired a bundle of FBI photocopies and discovered the picture of Mister X. This photocopy of Mister X was so bad in quality that UFOIN's draughtsman Mr Lawrence Blazey, had made a sketch of the creature. William Moore ordered this material for his book…"
"… Because of my research work on this case, the Wiesbadener Tagblatt published on Wednesday April 22nd 1981 the article `A Tagblatt AprilJoke in the Files of the FBI …. And now as a true saucer report in a book publication'. Unfortuntately the newspaper found it not necessary to mention my name and published the unmasking as their own report".
Fred Whiting's article "Simians in Spacesuits" at pages 22-23 of "Frontiers of Science" Jan/Feb 1982 edited by Elizabeth Philip, at page 22.
Photo with caption "An alien with army escort, or a four-year old boy in fancy dress".
"The German Alien Caper"
"This photo purports to show an alien survivor of a UFO crash in the custody of two US military policemen. It first surfaced in Wiesbaden in the late 1940s and received limited publicity there. It has been published in The Roswell Incident' (Grosset & Dunlap, 1980).""'On May 22, 1950' write Berlitz and Moore, `an unnamed informant turned the original photograph over to agent John Quinn of the New Orleans FBI office claiming he had purchased the photograph from another individual for the sum of $1.00 and was `placing it in the hands of the government' because it pictures a `man from Mars in the United States'."
"When Moore followed up the case, he learned that the FBI apparently took the photo seriously enough to call it to the attention of a Colonel Borden in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Borden said his office didn't think it worthy of further study."
"Finally, a breakthrough. Moore recently received direct evidence that the `alien' in the picture is the German photographer's five-year old son. The `breathing apparatus' is a gasoline can".
James Oberg in his "UFOs and Outer Space Mysteries" (1982) at page 105 (in Chapter 5) of the Donning paperback edition.
Photo with caption:
"This hoax alien photo was published in an April Fools Day issue of a German newspaper in 1950. (Klaus Webner tracked it down in 1981)."
Jenny Randles in her "UFO Reality" (1983) at page 154 (in Chapter 11) of the Hale hardback edition.
"One of aspect of the book [the "The Roswell Incident" by Charles Berlitz and Bill Moore] tends to inspire little confidence in it: a photograph is included, said to show USAF officers with a `small alien' between them. Despite the authors' referring to the source of this picture, they clearly did not do much to check it out. German ufologist Klaus Webner did. The story and photograph first appeared in the Wiesbadener Tagblatt on 1 April 1950. From this fact you might not be too surprised to learn that it was all an April Fool's joke, such as newspapers love to play at that time of year. [K. Webner, The strange case of `Mister X' (PROBE Report, Vol. 2, 1981)]."
Jenny Randles and Peter Hough in their "Looking for the Aliens" (1991) at pages 171-172 (in Chapter 19) of the Blandford softcover edition:
"[This] picture became famous because it was associated with the Roswell incident … This was thanks to a sketch based on a poor photocopy that featured in the photographic section of Charles Berlitz and William Moore's book about the case, `The Roswell Incident'. To be fair, they do say that this picture may, or may not, relate to the Roswell case and that it was generally treated cautiously by American officials."
"However, the book reports that the photograph was handed over to the FBI by an unnamed informant in May 1950 who claimed that he had bought it for $1! It reportedly originally surfaced in Wiesbaden, West Germany, shortly before this. The fuzzy image supposedly shows a living alien who survived a crash and was being escorted by two military police."
"In `The Roswell Incident', copyright of the photograph was credited to the UFO Information Network, an American civilian group. Later Dennis Pilchis, who was director of that network in Ohio, published a release' (see `Search Magazine', spring 1983) in which he noted that they found the photograph during a Freedom of Information scan of the FBI files when these became available under the new law. Only a `bad xerox' of the photograph was available in these records (hence their sketch) and the poor reproduction in the Roswell book. He insists that he made it clear, when sending out copies, that the photograph had noting to do with the Roswell case. The resultant book does not contend that it was related, but it has inevitably helped foster a view among less critical readers that this picture offers photographic proof of a captured alien."
"In fact, the truth is quite different. An investigation by German researcher Klaus Webner (published in PROBE, September 1981) made the facts known. He traced the photograph to a story in the newspaper `Wiesbadener Tagblatt' which reported in graphic headlines how `A GIANT FLYING DISC CRASHED AT THE BLIEDENSTADTER KOPF, CREW MEMBER IS IN PROTECTIVE DETENTION. NO CAUSE FOR PANIC'."
"The alien was described as having four fingers, a large oval head and huge glaring eyes (typical of the stories since offered through many other rumours and anonymous witnesses). `Mr X', as the paper
called the alien, was taken to a local hotel `to get used to our air'. The American authorities were said to be tight-lipped. The article concluded with a good-quality reproduction of the actual photograph depicting the two soldiers leading off the alien, complete with breathing apparatus."
"However, the most important clue about this story does not come in this text at all, but at the head of the newspaper, where the date is customarily carried. This date reads: Saturday, 1 April 1950. To confirm his suspicions that it was indeed an April Fool's spoof, Webner succeeded in interviewing the reporter (Wilhelm Sprunkel) some 31 years after it was conducted. It seems that flying-saucers and life in space were in the news at the time and the journalist thought them silly, so he decided to concoct a trick photo and story. The American authorities were in on the joke and permission came via several sources to use real military officers. The alien was the 5-year-old son of the photographer, whose appearance was altered by artwork."
"The hoax was so successful in 1950 that it provoked a lot of response and it was reproduced in an American newspaper for the local troops. It was explained away to readers two days later (under the heading `GOOD LET-DOWM'), but even so some people refused to believe this expose. Sprunkel explained how he argued on the phone with one woman who simply refused to accept his admission and who wanted to
purchase the copyright."
"The case has long been celebrated locally, but prior to the enquiries by Klaus Webner no ufologist had checked the sources, even though the FBI files made clear where (and approximately when) the
photograph had emerged."
"On 22 April 1981 the `Wiesbadener Tagblatt' carried a new story, headed `A TAGBLATT APRIL JOKE IN FILES OF THE FBI'."
[Jenny Randles notes (at page 173) that "April Fool jokes about aliens are not uncommon".]
1993 - Klaus Webner: Wesen aus dem Weltraum (Klaus Webner, 1993).
Lengthy discussion (in German, which I have not yet had translated) on pages 78-85
The discussion Includes:
A photgraph of Wilhelm Sprunkel holding relevant newspaper
A photograph of Hans Scheffler, holding photograph of his son.
Various other relevant photographs.
???? sometime after 1993
Fortean Times article by Bob Rickard entitled "Shooting Aliens", Fortean Times 80, pages 22-26
Discussion of this photo on page 24, with photo of Peter Sheffler:
"1950 – The alien portrated here was originally described as `a strange creature with only one leg moving about a rotating plate. His
arms end in four stubby fingers'. The researches of German ufologist Klaus Webner finally laid this crock to rest. He has shown conclusively that it was set up as a joke for the 1 April 1950 edition of the newspaper Wiesbadener Tagblatt by its then editor William Sprunkel and photographer Hans Scheffler. Sheffler's give year-old-son Peter acted as the model for the alien, which was painted over him. [11, 12]"
"Within a month, a reversed version of the image, murky through much recopying, found its way into the files of the FBI where it was eventually discovered in the late 1970s by American ufologists using the Freedom of Information Act. Berlitz and Moore [1, 10] reprinted the blotchy image `without comment'. A note in the file gave the impression the alien might be one of the `Roswell' beings apparently in the custody of US Military policemen, but could not account for how the photo supposedly surfaced in Wiesbaden, German `in the late 1940s'."
" Charles Berlitz and William Moore: The Roswell Incident (1980)"
" Margaret Sachs: The UFO Encyclopedia (Corgi, 1981)."
" Gordon Stein: The Encyclopedia of Hoaxes (Gale Research, 1993)"
" Klaus Webner: `The strange case of Mister X', Probe Report
(Sept 1981, v2:2)"
" Klaus Webner: Wesen aus dem Weltraum (Klaus Webner, 1993)."
Kevin D Randle and Russ Estes in their "Faces of the Visitors" (1997) at pages 243-245 (in Part 4) of the Fireside softcover edition.
"Witnesses: John Quinn"
"Sources: The Roswell Incident, by Charles Berlitz and William Moore"
"Narrative: No report of this sighting, merely the picture, which is supposed to be of an alien creature in the custody of two American MPs. The creature is reportedly the survivor of a UFO, but no details about the crash are available, nor do we know the date of the event or the identities of the two MPs."
"Like so many other photographs, this one first surfaced in Europe, where an American GI supposedly bought it for a dollar. The unidentified GI turned the picture over to John Quinn on May 22, 1950, but provided no additional information. Without that, and with no way to corroborate its authenticity, this becomes just another picture that has no provenance and therefore must be disregarded".
Alan Baker in his "The Encyclopaedia of Alien Encounters" (1999) at page 188 (in an entry entitled "Photographs of Aliens") of the Virgin hardback edition.
"One of the most famous photographs allegedly depicting an alien being was taken in West Germany in the late 1940s, bought by an unnamed GI and then passed on to John Quinn on 22 May 1950. … Once again, this was later revealed to be a hoax." [Followed by a reference to, and summary of, information from Klaus Webner]".
Martin S Kottmeyer in "The Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters" (2001) (edited by Ronald Story) at page 31 (in the postscript to the entry entitled "alien iconography") of the New American Library softcover edition, at pages 30-31 of the pdf edition (with the same page numbering in the Microsoft Word edition):
"In 1950, the Wiebadener Tagblatt (Germany) published a photo of a short alien with a large oval head and described as having large glaring eyes. Berlitz and Moore published it in The Roswell Incident (1980) with a cagey caption refusing to say `whether it may or may not pertain to certain significant aspects of the Roswell Incident'. Klaus Webner subsequently researched it and proved conclusively it was an April Fool's joke perpetrated by reporter Wilhelm Sprunkel. He had confessed it in print two days afterwards and with Webner upon contact. [Webner, Klaus `The Strange Case of Mister X', The Probe Report (September 1981)]."
Martin S Kottmeyer in "The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters" (2001) (edited by Ronald Story) at page 34 (in the postscript to the entry entitled "alien iconography") of the Robinson softcover edition.
Lengthy article in Spanish at:
Babelfish (poor) translation into English at:
"Alien Photography" article by Jenny Randles, published in Fortean Times magazine in May 2006. Text available online at the link below:
"WIESBADEN, GERMANY, MAY 1950"
"Discovered among FBI files when they were released to the UFO Information Network in 1977 was a fuzzy photocopy of a picture. This showed a child-sized alien wearing breathing equipment being led by the hand by two military personnel. The suggestion was that it had been captured alive following a crash. In 1981, German researcher Klaus Webner found that it was a spoof using the 5-year-old son of the photographer and retouched artwork – which might have been evident had the newspaper in the FBI archives noted that its original publication was in a local German paper on 1 April 1950."
An Article entitled "Das April Fool Alien" by the Brazlian researcher Kenato Mori, published on his blog. This article traces a considerable part of the history of this photograph, including summarising the comments made by Klaus Webner. Mori concludes:
"Interestingly, this photo and the story by Dimmick referring to pigmy-sized visitors would influence the common Gray alien archetype we came to recognize in recent years. Martin Kottmeyer discusses the subject on a series of articles published on Magonia"
Four additionnal references have been provided by Bruno Mancusi of the EuroUFO email List:
(a) Jean Bastide, "Le poisson d'avril de M.M. Berlitz et Moore : Ein Aprilscherz !", 'U.F.O.-Informations' (AAMT, France) #33, 3rd quarter 1981, pp. 32, 25.
(b) Klaus Webner, "Mister 'X', l'extra-terrestre est un poisson d'avril !", 'Ovni-Présence' #19-20, December 1981, pp. 30-36 + cover.
(c) William L. Moore and Yves Bosson, "A propos de Mister X : what more, Mr Moore ?", 'Ovni-Présence' #22, June 1982, pp. 17-18 (Moore's reply to Webner's article and comment by Bosson).
(d) Pier Luigi Sani, "Foto di "marziani" e... pesci d'aprile", 'Il Giornale dei Misteri' #240, October 1991, pp. 60-62.
Aubeck, Chris (2008). Email to Isaac Koi on the EuroUFO email List, 30 August 2008.