Published July 31, 2008
DECATUR, Ga. – Other museums might have more or flashier items to display.
Yet only the mini-museum of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation can boast of possessing such an other-world oddity as the monkey from Mars.
The bureau's state crime lab lobby has its requisite displays on forensic science, including an illegal moonshine still and the microscopic fibers that solved the 1981-82 Atlanta child murders.
But tucked away in a glass cylinder are the preserved remains of a monkey that three pranksters passed off as an alien 55 years ago in a UFO hoax that drew headlines worldwide.
At the height of UFO hysteria then sweeping the nation, two young barbers and a butcher took a dead monkey in 1953, lopped off its tail and applied a liberal dose of hair remover and some green coloring to the carcass.
Then they left the primate on an isolated road north of Atlanta in the pre-dawn hours of July 8, 1953, burning a circle into the pavement with a blowtorch before a police officer came around the curve in his patrol car.
"If we had been five minutes earlier, we would have caught 'em in the act," said Sherley Brown, the officer who happened on the scene.
The barbers, Edward Watters and Tom Wilson, and the butcher, Arnold "Buddy" Payne, told the policeman they came upon a red, saucer-shaped object in the road that night.
They said several 2-foot-tall creatures were scurrying about and the trio hit one with their pickup before the other creatures jumped back in the saucer and blasted skyward — leaving the highway scorched.
Brown took down the strange account and filed a report at police headquarters before going home.
Soon after his shift ended, he said, "the phone started ringing off the hook."
"They had the Air Force and everybody else trying to find out about it," said Brown, since retired in 1985.
Word of the discovery spread like wildfire.
Just the night before, some Atlanta area residents had reported seeing a large, multicolored object flying in the sky.
A veterinarian who examined the corpse said it looked "like something out of this world." A newspaper put out an artist's drawing of the saucer that the men described.
But within hours the monkey business unraveled.
Dr. Herman D. Jones, the founder and director of the GBI lab, and Dr. Marion Hines, an anatomy professor at Emory University, examined the creature that evening and proclaimed it to be a hoax.
"If it came from Mars, they have monkeys on Mars," Hines was quoted as saying in an article at the time by The Associated Press that is set beside the monkey in the appointment-only museum.
Where the men got the monkey is not clear. Watters, Wilson and Payne eventually admitted to the hoax and Watters paid a $40 fine for obstructing a highway.
As for Jones, his name is now on the GBI crime lab as the man who introduced modern forensic science to the state.