Then & Now: Investigative Author Talks About 1966 Dexter UFO Incidents


A composite drawing by Sheriff’s Cpl David Severance from witnesses’ descriptions. Image: Project Blue Book.

By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

Dexter made national news 56 years ago with reports of strange lights in the sky and flying saucers. The government discredited scores of eyewitnesses with its famous dismissal of the incident at “marsh gas.”

Front page of the Dexter Leader, March 31, 1966. Image: Dexter District Library Archives.

Author Ray Szymanski, a retired Air Force Senior Engineer and Detroit native who writes about UFOs, believes records he has analyzed prove aliens flew a UFO across southern Michigan that night. He writes about it in his book, Swamp Gas My Ass. I spoke at length with Mr. Szymanski specifically about the Dexter incident.

March 20, 1966, Dexter Township

Colored lights hovering over a wooded swamp catch the attention of Frank Mannor and his son, Ronald, on the farm where they live. The two men run towards the strange object, after which Mr. Mannor reports the incident to the police.

It was at the end of this country lane, McGinnis Rd., in Dexter Twp where the strange lights were spotted by multiple witnesses over the Mannor swamp in 1966. Photo by Doug Marrin.

The police report states: “Frank Mannor and his son, Ronald [plus 40-60 others including 12 policemen?] saw hovering over a swamp about 1,500 ft away a brown luminous car­ sized object, with a ‘scaly’ or ‘waffled’ surface, cone-shaped on top, flat on bottom, or football­ shaped, and 2 bluish-green lights on right and left edges that turned bright red and helped illuminate the object in between. Lights blinked out and the object reappeared instantly across the swamp 1,500 ft away. The whole object lit up with a yellowish glow at one point and also rose up 500 ft then descended again. After 2-3 minutes of viewing, when 2 flashlights appeared in the distance the object seemed to respond by flying away at high speed directly over the witnesses with a whistling sound like a rifle bullet ricocheting. Object remained in the swamp area for 1/2 hr.”

Scores of credible eyewitnesses also saw the flying objects that night. The Dexter sighting was just one of many in southeast Michigan for two weeks in March 1966. However, the Dexter incident drew national attention and was a turning point that thrust UFOs into the public spotlight.

Officer Robert Hunawill and his wife saw these strange lights in the sky on Baker Rd., near Nuttle Tool & Die, between 12 and 1 a.m. Monday morning, March 28. The instantaneous photo was taken by Hunawill, who said the lights were moving all the time. The lights were observed for “five or 10 minutes at the most,” according to Hunawill. Photo: Dexter District Library archives.

Project Blue Book Errors

The U.S. Air Force was in charge of investigating anomalous aerial phenomena under its initiative Project Blue Book. On March 23, the Air Force sent in astrophysicist Dr. J. Allen Hynek to Dexter to investigate the matter for Project Blue Book. Dr. Hynek arrived in Dexter and found what he later described as “near hysteria.”

After two days of investigation, on March 25, Hynek announced at a press conference in Detroit that the Unidentified Flying Objects had been identified. He declared the phenomena as “swamp gas,” an answer that caused an outcry from eyewitnesses and others across the country. In Swamp Gas My Ass, Szymanski compares eyewitness accounts to the official explanation showing the two don’t match up.

Investigative author Ray Szymanski. Photo: Ray Szymanski.

“I believe the reports are incorrect, claiming the Mannors only got within 500 yards of the object, and it was as big as a car,” says Szymanski. “I believe that falsehood was generated because Frank Mannor reported being near that UFO, and he went on to describe it in excruciating detail. He described the skin of this craft as ‘waffle-like.’ Now, if it’s as big as a car, only Superman is going to be able to describe it to such a fine level of detail if he’s a quarter of a mile away.”

Reports say the UFOs were spotted around 8:30 pm. The sunset that day was 6:47 pm, meaning it would have been dark when the Mannors saw the object.

“I believe what Frank said when he told them it blinked out and showed up 500 yards away,” he adds. “I found an article saying they were within a couple of hundred feet. I believe it did a 500-yard quantum jump when they got too close, and that distance is what reports and the news focused on.”

Szymanski believes the Air Force’s flippant denial of what happened caused problems for the Mannors by discrediting their report.

“I do believe that the Air Force's explanation of swamp gas was a major contributing factor to the way the public treated the Mannors,” says Szymanski. “And what subsequently happened to them with the broken windows and people climbing on their roofs was a direct result of the fact that the United States has no shortage of misinformed and misguided citizens looking to cause trouble.”


Szymanski says that another mistaken belief is that the Dexter incident is often characterized as people chasing lights through the woods and swamp. He points out that on-duty Officer Robert Hunnawill from the Dexter Police Department heard the sightings come in over the radio. Hunnawill picked up his wife to serve as a witness and drove out to the north end of Quigly and Brand roads, where all the activity was happening. When Hunnawill arrived, however, the objects had left. The skies were quiet while the Mannors, a dozen deputies, and 35 citizens searched the area.

“The objects then reappeared and hovered over Hunnawill’s squad car,” says Szymanski. “Four in all. They did a little spin over the top of Frank Mannor’s woods, and then they took off. Another key then is that Hunnawill, who was not searching the woods and swamp, saw the objects and reported they were no more than 1,000 feet over the top of his car.”

Officer Robert Hunawill’s map showing where he and his wife were located when witnessing the lights. Image: Project Blue Book.

Fallout and Conclusions

The real impact of the Dexter incident was in the national attention it received. The ludicrous response by the Air Force dismissing such a fantastic event from scores of credible witnesses as “swamp gas” drew national outrage. Respected newsman Walter Cronkite and then-Congressman Gerald Ford called for an investigation, summarized in the Condon Report.

“The southeast Michigan incidents made them hunker down,” explains Szymanski. “The government put on a show of openness, but it was still a cover-up.”

The congressional committee in charge of the investigation questioned the Secretary of the Air Force, Major Quintanilla, in charge of Project Blue Book, Dr. Hynek, and a few other people about the incident. But Szymanski emphasizes that the committee did not know they were being lied to as the Air Force stuck to their ‘marsh gas’ explanation.

“There was no follow-up except to get Edward Condon to undertake the study, which the Air Force used to get out of the business of dealing with the public about UFOs,” says Szymanski.

“The conclusion of the Condon report said these crafts don’t demonstrate any technology beyond our knowledge,” he continues. “That was all B.S. because if you look at the cases, you can see where they didn’t understand what was happening or what it was. But it was Condon’s job to close down Project Blue Book, and that’s what he did.”

Page 1 of Dr. Hynek’s infamous “Swamp Gas” report. Image: Project Blue Book.

After Project Blue Book was closed down, public reports of UFOs fell to local law enforcement for investigation. But Szymanski is quick to note that the Air Force only closed its public engagement of UFO reporting when it shut down Project Blue Book. “The military continued investigating its own UFO reports,” he says. “The military never stopped its UFO reporting or investigation, continuing these activities under guidance provided in JANAP 146.”

So, why the cover-up? What was the Air Force’s concern here? Szymanski says there are several reasons.

“The Air Force had questions they couldn’t answer,” explains Szymanski. “These objects can cloak, in most cases are not picked up by infrared search and track. You can’t keep them locked on your radar, either. They can go 25,000 miles an hour and make a 90-degree turn, usually without slowing down. They have also proven that they can shut down our weapons systems.”

“Now, imagine your job is the Air Force charged with keeping our skies clear and free of enemies, foreign and domestic, but with these UFOs, you can’t,” he continues. “If you were the Air Force, would you want to constantly have to answer why you can’t defend us after having been given all this money?”

That is one of the reasons Szymanski believes the Air Force dismissed and discredited reports. The other reasons can be found in his books and many more fascinating stories and insights.

For More Information

Szymanski shared how to access online information about the 1966 Dexter UFO incident at “All of Project Blue Book’s materials are available through Fold 3,” he explains. “If you go to the Dexter case file, you will find out a lot of interesting information that did not make it to the public eye.”

You can find the Dexter information by going to Scroll to the bottom. Click the blue “SEARCH RECORDS” button. In the search bar, type “project blue book” and search. Click on “Project Blue Book – UFO Investigations.” In the middle of the page, in the red menu bar, click “BROWSE.” Click “1966.” Click “March.” Scroll down and click “SOUTHERN MICHIGAN.”

Szymanski is the author of the Alien Shades of Greys trilogy, which summarizes his examination of records, eyewitness reports, and interviews with people who have had UFO experiences. His latest book, Swamp Gas My Ass, specifically covers the events of southeast Michigan in March 1966. Within the book is a lengthy interview with Colonel Gary K. Carroll, one of the two Air Force pilots sent up to intercept the Unidentified Flying Objects.

Ray Szymanski’s books can be found on Amazon. Autographed copies are available at Fenton’s Open Book in Fenton, MI.

Since writing his books, Ray has been contacted by other eyewitnesses of the March 1966 Dexter UFO incident. Szymanski encourages anyone with a story to email him at

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified