John Keel's first published story was in a magician's magazine at the age of 12. He later moved to Greenwich Village and wrote for various magazines.1 His first published book was Jadoo in 1957 that was serialised in a men's adventure magazine. The book is his account of his travels to India to investigate the alleged activities of fakirs and holy men who perform the Indian rope trick and who survive being buried alive.
John Keel is arguably one of the most widely read and influential ufologists since the early 1970s.2 Although his own thoughts about UFOs and associated anomalous phenomena have gradually evolved since the mid 1960s, Keel remains one of ufology's most original and controversial researchers. It was Keel's second book, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970), that alerted the general public that many aspects of contemporary UFO reports, including humanoid encounters, often paralleled certain ancient folklore and religious encounters. Keel also argues that there is a direct relationship between UFOs and psychic phenomena. He says he does not call himself a ufologist and prefers the term Fortean which encompasses a wide range of paranormal subjects.
Initial UFO Investigations
Influenced by writers such as Charles Fort, Ivan T Sanderson, and Aimé Michel, in early 1966, John Keel commenced a full-time investigation of UFOs and paranormal phenomena. Over a four-year period, Keel interviewed thousands of people in over twenty US states. More than 2,000 books were reviewed in the course of this investigation, in addition to thousands of magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. Keel also subscribed to several newspaper-clipping services, which often generated up to 150 clippings for a single day during the 1966 and 1967 UFO "wave". Keel wrote for several magazines including Saga with one 1967 article "UFO Agents of Terror" referring to the Men in Black.3
Like contemporary 1960s researchers such as J Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallée, Keel was initially hopeful that he could somehow validate the prevailing extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis. However, after one year of investigations, Keel realised that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was untenable. Indeed, both Hynek and Vallée eventually arrived at a similar conclusion.
As Keel himself wrote, "I abandoned the extraterrestrial hypothesis in 1967 when my own field investigations disclosed an astonishing overlap between psychic phenomena and UFOs… The objects and apparitions do not necessarily originate on another planet and may not even exist as permanent constructions of matter. It is more likely that we see what we want to see and interpret such visions according to our contemporary beliefs."4
In UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse Keel argues that a non-human or spiritual intelligence source has staged whole events over a long period of time in order to propagate and reinforce certain erroneous belief systems. For example, the fairy faith in Middle Europe, vampire legends, mystery airships in 1897, mystery aeroplanes of the 1930s, mystery helicopters, anomalous creature sightings, poltergeist phenomena, balls of light, and UFOs. Keel conjectures that ultimately all of these anomalies are a cover for the real phenomenon.
In Our Haunted Planet, Keel coins the term "Ultraterrestrials" to describe the UFO occupants. He discusses the seldom-considered possibility that the alien "visitors" to Earth are not visitors at all, but an advanced Earth civilization, which may or may not be human.
Keel takes no position on the ultimate purpose of the phenomenon other than that the UFO intelligence seems to have a long-standing interest in interacting with the human race.
The Mothman Prophecies
The book was loosely adapted into a 2002 movie, starring Richard Gere and Alan Bates, who played two parts of Keel's personality. Bates's character was "Leek," which was "Keel" spelled backwards, and Gere's character was a newspaperman, "John Klein," also a play on Keel's name.
In the May/June 2002 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, journalist John C Sherwood, a former business associate of UFO researcher Gray Barker, published an analysis of private letters between Keel and Barker during the period of Keel's investigation. In the article, "Gray Barker's Book of Bunk," Sherwood reported finding significant differences between what Keel wrote at the time of his investigation and what he wrote in his first book about the Mothman reports, raising questions about the book's accuracy. Sherwood also reported that Keel would not assist him in clarifying the differences.
Keel suffered a heart attack sometime before October 13, 2006. He admitted himself to New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital on Friday the 13th of October, and underwent successful heart surgery on October 16, 2006. Keel then was moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation center on October 26, 2006, according to his friend Doug Skinner who remains in contact with him and who requested that well wishers contact Keel by mail in order to give him time to recover. Although annoyed by postings of his premature death, Keel continues to improve and is well on the road to recovery.
Keel is reclusive and, in his later years, has kept details of his personal life to himself.
- Jadoo (1957).
- UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970).
- Strange Creatures From Time and Space (1970).
- Our Haunted Planet (1971).
- The Flying Saucer Subculture (1973).
- The Mothman Prophecies (1975).
- The Eighth Tower (1975).
- Disneyland of the Gods (1988).
- The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings (1994) (revised version of Strange Creatures from Time and Space).
- The Best of John Keel (Paperback 2006) (Collection of Keel's Fate Magazine articles).