Myth Monday: Metal Man, or The Aluminum Alien of Alabama (Aliens & UFOs)

By Kara Newcastle

The Metal Man as photographed by Chief Jeff Greenhaw, 1973
The Metal Man as photographed by Chief Jeff Greenhaw, 1973

Generally speaking, when people think of “UFOs” and “tinfoil,” they usually think of those sketchy guys who make tinfoil hats to block out the telepathic rays of the hovering extra terrestrials overhead … because, you know, tinfoil was designed for that sort of thing. However, there was an incident where an alleged alien seemed to have found an alternate use for our beloved crinkly leftover wrap.

Dateline: October 17, 1973, Falkville, Alabama, around 10 pm. While the rest of America was glued to their TV sets watching the Watergate scandal unfold, 26-year-old (another article said he was 23) chief of police Jeff Greenhaw received a call from a frantic, unnamed woman who reported that a spaceship had landed in a field by her house. And if that wasn’t odd enough, she also stated that a large entity had departed the ship and was now roaming around in the woods.

Alien or not, the woman was frightened enough that Chief Greenhaw decided that it was probably worth a look. Taking his gun, flashlight and handcuffs, Greenhaw hesitated, then took his Polaroid camera as an afterthought. Whether he believed in aliens prior to this I never found out, but there had been many UFO reports prior to this event—the Pascagoula, Mississippi abductions happened not quite a week prior, remember this—so maybe the chief thought on the off-chance that aliens were real, maybe he’d get a picture.

Arriving at the house in question, Greenshaw (from what I read, he was alone the entire time) didn’t see any flying saucers parked in the field, but he did notice the figure the woman reported in the woods, now standing in a gravel road. Driving slowly forward, Greenhaw approached what he probably assumed was a prowler or peeping Tom, then got out of his truck …

And once he saw what it was, Greenhaw really wished it had been an ordinary human pervert.

Standing in the beam of Greenhaw’s flashlight was a human-like thing, appearing to be clad entirely in a suit made from extra-shiny aluminum foil. It had no discernible neck and wore what appeared to be a faceless helmet with an antenna sticking straight out of the top. It walked and moved its arms, but Greenhaw said the motions were all wrong; the movement was clunky, almost robotic, and yet it had the physical mannerisms of a young child, or maybe something more akin to a monkey.

Startled, Greenhaw yelled, “Howdy, stranger!” at it. The thing didn’t respond, but just toddled along in its robotic way. Greenhaw tried to speak to again, asking if it was a foreigner (you don’t get more foreign than outer space, may I point out), but again, it would not answer.

Greenhaw had the presence of mind to jump back into his truck and grab his Polaroid camera. He managed to snap at some good pictures of Robbie the Robot before turning the truck back on to use the headlights to better illuminate the being. The chief also turned on his red and blue flashing lights (I don’t know why—looked cool reflecting off the foil spacesuit maybe?)

That’s when the metal monstrosity ran for it.

Shocked, Greenhaw put pedal to the metal, but even his truck, going at 35 miles an hour (as fast as he could safely go in that uneven area), had a hard time keeping up with this alien Usain Bolt. Greenhaw said that the alien-robot-whatever-it-was ran faster than any human being possibly could, and would make impossibly long bounding leaps, causing Greenhaw to wonder if it had springs in its feet or some kind of propulsion system. He never mentioned if it went “clank-clank-clank” or “crinkle-crinkle-crinkle” as it fled. This is something I would like to know.

Unfortunately, as Greenhaw pursued the entity, his truck hit a bump in the field, causing him to careen into a ditch. By the time he extricated himself, the tinfoil terror was long gone, and never seen by anyone again.

Chief Jeff Greenhaw at the site, no copyright infringement intended
Chief Jeff Greenhaw at the site for reporters.

With little else he could do, Chief Greenhaw returned to the police station and dutifully filed his report. It should come as little surprise that the report was made public, and soon journalists from all over the country descended on Falkville to interview Chief Greenhaw. People were particularly interested in the case because, as I mentioned earlier, about six days before this event two men in Pascagoula, Mississippi reported that they had been abducted by three humanoid creatures that appeared to be wearing—get this—shiny, crinkly, aluminum foil-like suits and moved in a robot-like manner. Could there be a connection? Pascagoula is about 350 miles away from Falkville—maybe the aliens traveled in that direction.

It may come as something of a surprise to learn that the small town of Falkville was not happy about the whole affair. In fact, the people of Falkville made Greenhaw’s life a living hell almost immediately after he reported his sighting; he was openly mocked in public, his wife divorced him, his trailer home burned down under suspicious circumstances, and within a month of the sighting, the town council fired him as police chief.

Falkville first uploaded by Seth_Ilys, wikimedia commons
That red dot is Falkville … a little town with metal man problems.

The whole story is too weird … maybe not the weirdest I’ve documented here so far, but weird. On the surface, the encounter is remarkable in the fact that Chief Greenhaw met something that didn’t look alien; nearly all sightings of extra terrestrials up to this point feature something that is described as biological—in other words, clearly a living creature. In Chief Greenhaw’s case, he saw something that could either be a robot (based on its mechanical-like movements), or possibly an alien in a spacesuit (which would make sense if there was something on this planet that could harm an E.T. and it needed protection … or its mother was just overly protective, that’s a possibility too.)

But I mean … seriously, look at the pictures again. That thing looks like a rejected early design for the Michelin Man, and I’m not saying that to be mean. True, I don’t know what an alien’s spacesuit would look like, but this setup here looks homemade, and kind of cliched with the antenna sticking out of the top.

Metal man jeff greenhaw 1973
Klaatu barada nikto

Sooo … what? Was this hoaxed then? If it was, I doubt that Chief Greenhaw was behind it; as you read above, his life was destroyed by this encounter. If he hoaxed this and thought he would get something out of it like money and fame, then he miscalculated badly.

Furthermore, based on what I’ve read, Chief Greenhaw is still alive as of this writing and maintaining that he saw an alien or robot that night. The encounter happened nearly fifty years ago. That’s a long time to be clinging to a hoax that most people don’t even remember.

The other possibility was that somebody pulled an impressive prank. Like I said, to me that suit looks homemade, and it has been suggested that it was actually a fireproof asbestos suit. Stick a fast runner inside the suit (someone suggested that a high school track athlete could have pulled off the high-speed run, while others claim that it was a child in the suit based on its size compared to its surroundings), act all mechanical and creepy, lurch around in a wooded, unpopulated area late at night, mix in a likely stressed and tired police chief, just a few days after a terrifying UFO abduction featuring creatures with metallic skin, and you might just convince even the most skeptical of people that there’s a metal-coated alien sprinting around out there.

Do I think it’s a hoax? I have to lean towards “yes” right now; I think Chief Greenhaw was the victim of an elaborate prank. I think somebody cobbled together a cumbersome suit and started tramping around the woods to scare the neighbors for kicks. When the chief of police showed up, the fraudster likely panicked (which is why it lingered on the road and wouldn’t speak), then hauled it out of there. I doubt they were able to outrun any kind of vehicle, but Greenhaw might have been so confused that he thought it was moving that fast. They didn’t come forward later because, well, they had been trespassing at night scaring the locals and caused a police officer to drive into a ditch—not to mention all the media attention the town was getting—they were afraid of getting in major trouble.

Or they might have been thrilled by all the chaos and just decided to sit back and watch it unfold.

Oh, and what about the lady reporting the UFO in the field? It’s possible she was in on the hoax. It’s also possible that she was bat-crap crazy with fear over alien invasions that she thought she saw something in the field. For all we know it was a hippie bus dropping off our Threepio-wannabe. Greenhaw never saw a UFO, never reported any kind of strange markings in the field, and the woman was listed as anonymous, so if someone did call in a UFO sighting to the police, we currently have no way of tracking her down and asking her.

Unless SHE was actually the alien! Dun, dun, duuuuuun!

To my knowledge, there haven’t been any more sightings of the Tinfoilien or anything resembling it since then. If any of them show up in plastic wrap, zippered baggies or Tupperware containers, let me know.

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