OF FLYING SAUCERS AND FRAUD: THE SILAS M. NEWTON STORY
Silas Mason Newton was first brought to the attention of the FBI on September 24, 1938, when an unnamed source suspected him of committing wire fraud. The details of the suspected criminal activity were sparse or downright redacted, and he was described by multiple sources as a “man of considerable means,“ and one who “is not engaged in espionage activities.” That said, law enforcement had some information regarding Mr. Newton that the Brown Palace Hotel, and various business contacts did not, as is shown by his criminal record:
Hardly a candidate for the FBI’s Most Wanted list to be sure, but nevertheless, it reveals that he may not have been the model citizen his public persona projected. Charges related to false stock statements indicate that he was willing to engage in dishonest business practices. While the suspected wire fraud apparently never amounted to anything, that proclivity of his would come to the forefront later in his life.
Before then, however, Mr. Newton rose to prominence for a very different reason. Initially known only as the mysterious “Mr. X,” Newton notoriously gave a lecture to a host of science students at Denver University on March 8, 1950. Mr. X was touted as an expert on UFOs, a relatively newfound craze that was very popular at the time. According to Frank Scully’s 1950 book Behind the Flying Saucers, following this presentation, many inquiries were made by shady government types (primarily Air Force officials), trying to ascertain the identity of the speaker. The Air Force has consistently and resoundingly denied these assertions.
Mr. X (or “Scientist X,” as he is sometimes referred) claimed that he had seen two flying saucers being held by the government in a secret facility. One, he said, had crashed near Aztec, New Mexico (said crash caused by a “magnetic fault line” in the region). The other had apparently landed near Durango, Colorado. The occupants of the crashed ship had been burned a dark brown color during the catastrophe, owing to a porthole blowing out. The crew of the other ship showed no signs of trauma, and had seemingly suffocated owing to the “change in atmosphere.” Imagine having the intellect and technological knowhow to have mastered interplanetary travel, yet still being dumb enough not to consider the atmospheric conditions outside your craft. (I’m reminded of a line from Galaxy Quest: “Wait! Don’t open that! It’s an alien planet! Is there air?! You don’t know!”).
Scully and Newton (whose true identity is revealed surprisingly early in the book) became fairly good friends, with Newton taking Scully on a tour of the area where the Aztec saucer ostensibly crashed, as well as having him visit his residences in both Denver and Los Angeles. In addition to revelations regarding the occupants, Newton also professed to have significant knowledge of the aliens (“probably from Venus”) and their technology. He stated that the beings were all between 38 and 42 inches tall, and wore clothing (similar in style to that donned in the American Midwest in the 1890s) made of an unknown cloth that could not be torn. He also maintained that their propulsion system was based on magnetics (a subject for which Newton's fascination, and apparent lack of comprehension, was only later surpassed by the Insane Clown Posse), allowing the vehicles to travel at twice the speed of light - a claim which I’m sure came as quite a surprise to the physicists of the world.
On occasion, Newton even showed off a piece of metal allegedly from the crashed ship. He repeatedly stated that it was virtually indestructible, and could neither be melted nor damaged by any known terrestrial technology. The level of dishonesty and deception that Newton was willing to engage in became clear when he and Leonard GeBauer (a Phoenix electronics merchant, likely “Dr. Gee,” the “magnetologist” featured prominently in Scully’s book) were charged with swindling Herman A. Flader to the tune of $50,000.
Capitalizing on Newton’s background as a geophysicist and his newfound notoriety as a “UFOlogist,” the pair claimed to have developed a device either based on, or reconstructed from, alien technology. The device was christened the “magnetic doodlebug,” and it could allegedly use magnetics and "cosmic rays" to find mineral deposits. Specifically, the pair convinced Flader, a Denver based industrialist, that the doodlebug could find hidden oil deposits deep underground. Flader invested with the pair, believing that he would inevitably recoup his investment, and more.
Each doodlebug supposedly cost around $800,000 to produce, making Flader’s $50,000 buy-in seem very modest by comparison. In exchange for this initial investment, Flader was granted partnership in GeBauer’s Colorado Geophysics & Development company, as well as the promise of long-term profits. Unsurprisingly, the device failed to perform as advertised, and the subsequent long-term payoff never materialized. Newton’s role as petroleum promoter wasn’t limited to Flader, as Dr. Alfred D. Kleyhauer, a Denver optometrist, also lost $15,000 to the scheme.
As you might expect, once experts were able to investigate his claims, many pieces of Newton’s story fell apart. The “mystery metal,” which he claimed was indestructible, was identified as nothing but ordinary aluminum, with no unusual properties. The Doodlebugs were determined to be constructed of surplus military radio parts. Far from the professed $800,000 price tag, the estimated cost for each useless device was roughly $3.50. By this point, Newton had begun to walk back many of his alien claims, and was stating that these were merely stories he had heard from others, and he had no idea whether they held any veracity.
The pair were convicted of fraud in 1953, as well as facing federal charges for transporting their ill-gotten gains across state lines. While the specific sentence Newton faced appears to be lost to time, a newspaper article reveals that he was on probation for his conviction in 1955. It also makes it clear that Newton had failed to pay any of his required fines, and had left the state without permission, in violation of the terms of his probation.
Despite this, it appears that Newton never did learn his lesson. On April 30, 1969, Newton pled guilty to further fraud charges relating to the “salting” of the Buckhorn Mine in Silver City, New Mexico. While it appears he never spent any time in jail for any of his confidence games, it’s likely that he was still on probation for the Buckhorn incident when he passed away in 1972.
If you’d like to delve deeper into the criminal mischief of Silas Newton and his associates, I recommend perusing our biographical clippings files, which also contain his FBI records through the Freedom of Information Act. And, as always, be sure to follow our Facebook and Instagram pages, to keep apprised of all things Western History and Genealogy.
Thank you for this interesting vignette about a forgotten Colorado grifter who proved that get rich quick schemes have fooled some people in every generation (including, in this instance, an industrialist and an optometrist). One modest correction: the two illustrations reproduced from the "Empire Magazine" came from the Denver Post, not the Rocky Mountain News.
Thanks for pointing that out, Joe! It's been updated, both within the blog, and within the clippings files.
Good summary. Let me note that Newton and GeBauer were each sentenced to no jail time, 5 years probation, and ordered to pay court costs and restitution (Post 6/14/1954 p.3; News 6/15/1954 p.10) If you want to understand the case, and get the real facts (that differ from those in any of the books on the subject), all the facts are in the daily coverage in the Post and News, on microfilm in the Denver main library.
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