The Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter: A Close Extraterrestrial Call?

On 21st August 1955, two families arrived at a police station in rural Kentucky claiming they had been in a shootout with aliens from outer space. The Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter became one of the most famous UFO encounters ever, but what did they see? Who - or what - were they fighting? Was it little green men, mass hysteria, or… owls?

14 December 2023

The Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter is ranked among the most intriguing and controversial incidents in the history of reported extraterrestrial encounters. Also known as the Hopkinsville Goblins Case and the Case of the Kelly Green Men, it happened on the night of 21 August 1955 in Kelly, a tiny hamlet near Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

According to accounts, those present experienced a night of abject terror that would forever etch their names in the annals of UFO lore.

The Sutton family, on whose farm the incident occurred, and the Taylor family who were visiting, claimed to have been besieged by a group of mysterious, small humanoid creatures, described as having large heads and eyes, thin limbs, and floating movements. This encounter sent shockwaves through the local community and caught the attention of the national media and UFO researchers worldwide. Indeed the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter would soon become a seminal event in the study of UFOs and extraterrestrial life.

The encounter with the Hopkinsville ‘aliens’ fueled not only a surge in interest in UFOs and extraterrestrial life, but also became a case study in how folklore and reality can intertwine in public imagination.

Exactly what did the Suttons and the Taylors see that night? Did they come face-to-face with beings from another world? Were the Suttons and the Taylors experiencing a case of mass hallucination? Or were the Kelly aliens nothing more than a parliament of great horned owls?

The case of the Kelly Green Men has left the world befuddled since it first became news. Let’s take a trip to Christian County, Kentucky in an attempt to shed light on this spooky extra-terrestrial mystery.

The Curious Case of the Kelly Green Men

Did the Kelly-Hopkinsville aliens appear from the trees? (Credit: David Wall via Getty Images)

At about 7pm on 21 August 1955, Billy Ray Taylor went out to the backyard of the farmhouse to get some water from the well. The most popular version of the story – of which there are many with slight variations – goes that he saw a silvery object in the sky “real bright, with an exhaust all the colours of the rainbow”.

He alleged it passed over the house, abruptly stopped and then landed behind some trees. He went back inside, told everyone what he’d seen but was laughed off. They assumed he’d probably seen a shooting star or a meteor.

Within minutes, the families heard the dog barking following a series of strange, unidentifiable noises. Billy Ray and Elmer ‘Lucky’ Sutton went outside to investigate. Despite the fact there are discrepancies in the story of how contact was first made, it was alleged a small humanoid – somewhere between two feet (60cm) and four feet (120cm) tall – emerged from the trees.

Descriptions of what became known as the Hopkinsville Goblins vary, but it was reported they had spindly legs, big round heads, huge eyes glowing with a yellowish light, human-like hands with bird-like talons, and silver-grey torsos that gave off an eerie shimmer.

The two men are said to have grabbed their guns and started shooting. One of the men reported the ‘alien’ put his hands up, did a backflip and retreated into the darkness. The creatures then started popping up at the windows of the house, and someone inside the house alleged one reached out and touched their hair.

It was later claimed – possibly in amplified newspaper reports – that around twelve to fifteen creatures besieged the farm and they were held off with gunfire for close to four hours. Taylor and Sutton claimed the creatures were impervious to gunfire and when shots did hit, the sound was akin to a bullet hitting a metal can.

When quiet finally descended on the farm, the two families (some reports state eleven people, others, twelve) packed into their cars and drove to the Hopkinsville police station.

‘We Need Help’

A crash-landed UFO, with an alien walking in the forest. (Credit: gremlin via Getty Images)

The Suttons and the Taylors were adamant that what they had encountered was not of this world. Their story, as outlandish as it sounded, led to the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter, one of the most well-documented cases in the history of UFO sightings.

Bursting into the usually quiet Hopkinsville police station, one man yelled ‘we need help, we’ve been fighting them for nearly four hours!’

Visibly frightened, the duty officer immediately called for reinforcements, concerned a gun battle between two families had occurred. Within an hour or so, local police, state troopers, deputy sheriffs, military police officers and even a photographer from the local Kentucky New Era newspaper descended on the farmhouse.

Despite finding evidence of gunfire including shell casings and bullet holes, nothing that suggested the presence of the Kelly aliens was evident. It was also confirmed by the two families, and the law enforcement officers who attended the scene, that none of the family were drunk. Indeed, the widowed matriarch of the family, Glennie Lankford, didn’t allow alcohol in her home.

Subsequent interviews with each of the Suttons and the Taylors separately returned almost exactly the same version of events.

The Kelly Green Men

A “No Trespassing” sign attached to a barbed wire fence. (Credit: Patricia Marroquin via Getty Images)

News of the incident spread quickly. In the days after the alleged encounter with the Hopkinsville aliens, journalists, radio stations and curious locals and out-of-towners descended on the farm, hoping to catch a glimpse of…something.

The Suttons put up a ‘No Trespassing’ sign but it was largely ignored, so they tried to charge for admission starting at 50c for coming onto the farm, $1 to speak to one of the family members and $10 for photographs. Some dismissed them as nothing more than profiteers and fraudsters, but was there more to what they had encountered than attempts at making a quick buck?

The Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter Theories

Some theorise the family witnessed meteors or shooting stars (Credit: Carlos Fernandez via Getty Images)

The Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter has sparked a variety of theories ranging from the plausible to the outlandish, as people have tried to explain what the Sutton and Taylor families might have experienced that night. Here are some of the prevailing theories –


The most sensational theory maintains that these ‘Kelly Green Men’ were indeed extraterrestrial visitors. This aligns with the descriptions given by the family and is supported by those who believe in the possibility of alien life visiting Earth. However, this theory lacks tangible evidence and is therefore speculative.

Psychological Factors

Some suggest that the family may have been under the influence of mass hysteria or some sort of group psychological effect, leading them to misinterpret natural phenomena or wildlife as a more sinister extraterrestrial presence. However, there’s little concrete evidence to back up this theory.

An Elaborate Hoax

The possibility of the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter being a hoax or a fabricated story for attention or financial gain has also been suggested, although family members have consistently denied such motivations. What is attested to have been their genuine distress lent some weight to the idea that the witnesses believed they had encountered something extraordinary.

Meteors or Shooting Stars

Another theory posits that the family might have seen meteors or shooting stars, which could be misinterpreted as spacecraft or otherworldly entities under the right conditions. It’s believed that others in the vicinity noticed lights streaking across the sky.

Great Horned Owls

One of the theories for these so-called ‘Hopkinsville Goblins’ which is seen as more plausible by many, is that the family encountered a group of great horned owls. Like all owls, they are nocturnal, but great horned owls have glowing eyes, will aggressively defend their territory and can appear human-like in their movements. They’re also most active in the hour after dusk, almost exactly when the encounter is supposed to have taken place. Their size and the conditions of the night – the shimmering torsos described by the families could easily have been the birds’ bodies reflecting the moonlight – could have led to misinterpretation, especially under high stress.

The Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter: Is Anybody Out There?

The night sky above Kentucky (Credit: Joel Blazewicz via Getty Images)

The Case of the Kelly Green Men remains an enigmatic chapter in the annals of UFO history, a tantalising blend of mystery, fear, and the unexplained that defies an easy answer.

Despite extensive investigations by psychologists, ufologists and the scrutiny of sceptics, the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter retains a cloak of mystery which continues to fascinate and perplex. The family’s vivid descriptions, the absence of conclusive physical evidence, and the varied interpretations of what transpired all contribute to the enduring intrigue of the case.

Whether viewed as a genuine extraterrestrial visitation, a misinterpretation of natural phenomena, or a tale amplified by the fears and imagination of the witnesses, the Hopkinsville Goblins Case transcends its rural Kentucky origins, to capture a fascination with the unknown whose legacy endures to this day.


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