EDITORS NOTE: This article is a point-of-view story written by Ripley’s contributor and Believe It or Notcast host, Ryan Clark. From vampires in New Orleans to Skunk Apes in South Florida, Ryan has seen it all on his many Notcast adventures.
KELLY, Ky. — The children were frenzied. The adults wide-eyed. One man had a heart rate of 140 beats per minute. And when they all finally made it to the police station, they had quite a story to tell.
It’s become the stuff of legend around these parts.
Shaken, the group of five adults and seven children claimed they’d gotten into a four-hour shootout that evening with some kind of strange creatures—small beings with large eyes—that had suddenly appeared on their 28-acre farm, located on the outskirts of this small, extremely rural Kentucky town.
“They were scared,” says Glenda Sutton Morris, daughter of eyewitness Lucky Sutton, one of the men who told the story. “And these weren’t men who got scared.”
No, these were honest people—relatives and neighbors say. People who only feared God, went to church, and tried to make better lives for their children. They were good, country folks who did not seek publicity or fame.
And they certainly did not want to become known as the Kentucky family who fought a group of aliens. Yet, that is indeed what they became—and the stigma has lasted 65 years, passed down from generation to generation.
The event occurred on the night of August 21, 1955.
It was a warm evening, and according to police reports, the group of 12 alleged that they’d engaged in a gunfight with about 12-15 small beings—dark figures who came up to their doors and peered in their windows. No less than 16 local authorities responded to the farm, including four military police from the nearby Army base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The farmhouse was simple: three rooms, unpainted. It lacked running water.
It did not, however, lack evidence. When the officials arrived they didn’t find aliens, but they did find bullet holes in walls and windows. And it was obvious there were many participants in a gunfight.
Those in the house included: Glennie Lankford and her children Lonnie, Charlton, and Mary; two other sons from a previous marriage—Elmer “Lucky” Sutton and J.C. Sutton and their wives, Vera and Alene; Alene’s brother O.P. Baker; and Billy Ray Taylor and his wife, June.
The Taylors, Lucky, and Vera Sutton were just visiting that night; they were carnival workers who needed a place to stay. The accounts given to police say that around 7 p.m., Billy Ray was fetching water from a backyard well when he saw a silver object in the sky, “real bright, with an exhaust all colors of the rainbow.”
He said he watched it land in the distance, which scared him, so he ran back to tell the others.
No one believed him. That is, until an hour later when the family dog wouldn’t stop barking. Lucky and Billy went out the back door and immediately saw something glowing in the distance. Then they saw a small figure, which they later described as having an oversized head, long arms to the ground, and talons.
The eyes glowed, and the body looked like it was wearing something made of silver metal.
Horrified, their first inclination was to shoot. They grabbed a .22 and a 20-gauge shotgun and fired—apparently to no avail, as they said, the little being just “flipped” and scampered away. They then saw others appear at the windows, and they tried to shoot those too, but all that was achieved were shattered windows. Taylor then stepped outside to investigate, and witnesses said they saw a clawed hand reach down from the roof to touch his hair. They pulled him back into the house while Lucky shot at the creature.
This went on for hours, they said. By 11 p.m. they’d had enough, and the entire group ran for their vehicles and drove to the police station in nearby Hopkinsville.
The authorities came to investigate. They found no creatures at the house—however, there was evidence of a shootout, and they noted it in their report.
But this was not the end of the sightings. The family said they saw the creatures again later that morning. And it is a story that would stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Growing up in Kentucky, I’ve heard stories about the Kelly alien incident since I was a kid. And being naturally interested in weird and paranormal stories, I’ve always wanted to visit the area and investigate for myself.
In 2020, I was able to just that. Of course, the problem with investigating a story that’s 65 years old is that there’s not much left to see—no physical evidence, anyway. A lot of the people have passed on. Soon, there will only be memories.
The town of Kelly is really not much more than a wide spot in the road. Positioned in the far western part of the state, it sits about an hour northwest of Nashville, Tennessee. It’s also just a few minutes from the larger city of Hopkinsville, which recently became famous for its reputation as the best viewing spot for the country’s last total solar eclipse.
In Kelly, there are residential homes and farms. There’s a church. And there’s a huge park, complete with a playground and a giant UFO in the middle of it. This is the site of the annual “Little Green Men Days” festival.
After decades of being doubted, ridiculed, and scoffed at, the residents here have decided to embrace their alien past. Ten years ago they started the festival. Proceeds raised from the sales of food, souvenirs, and entertainment go toward the upkeep of the park, which is one of the nicest you’ll ever see.
“We have fun with it,” Glenda says. “I dress up and we have people come from all over. It helps us keep this park going, and it’s nice for everyone. We thought If people were going to laugh at us, we might as well be in on the joke.”
But the 38-foot-wide UFO is the only real indicator than anything ever happened here—or allegedly happened.
Then, Glenda helped me find 78-year-old Bill Thomas, who was there the night it all happened. The three of us met on a warm summer afternoon in the Kelly park, and he had a very interesting story to tell.
Bill Thomas was 14 in 1955, and he worked at a truck stop diner about a mile and a half south of Kelly, Kentucky. On the evening of August 21, he rode his bicycle to his cousin’s home in town to help him fix a wagon wheel. That farm was just down the road from Glennie Lankford’s farmhouse, known as the Sutton Place.
As the sky grew dark—and it would grow very dark, Bill said, coincidentally, due to an eclipse—Bill saw something strange in the moonless night.
“Something went over us when we was working on that wagon,” Bill tells me as we sit on a bench in the Kelly park. “I just looked up and there it was. And after it went by, a light lit up, like the whole sky.”
Bill thought it was a meteorite or a shooting star. But it had an odd purplish-blue color and seemed to leave a smoke trail behind it, like a craft of some sort.
“This went by, and it made a funny noise,” Bill says. “Like a hiss, Zzzzzzzz. I don’t know how fast it was going. But, now that I’ve flown airplanes, I know a bit more about how fast. As a little more of an educated guess, I would say it was doing a little better than 700 mph.”
The pair expected to hear the explosion of something hitting the Earth. But that didn’t happen.
“We didn’t think that much more about it,” he says. “It was getting late.”
Bill set out from his cousin’s house to visit his girlfriend’s place, about 200 yards away. He flipped on the small light on his bicycle to better see in the dark, and when he arrived, the two sat on the porch and talked. That’s when they started to hear gunshots and yelling at the Sutton Place.
“We didn’t know what was going on up there,” he says. “We didn’t know if they were fightin’ or what. I could hear they were using two or three different-sized guns. Then you’d hear someone yell, ‘I got him!’ and someone else say, ‘He got up and floated away!’ Of course, we didn’t know what they meant at the time.”
One of the bullets got so close that it whizzed by their heads and hit Bill’s girlfriend’s house. Bill decided then to head home as fast as he could.
“I had a friend up at the Sutton Place—Lucky Sutton—and after I got home, I was wondering if he was okay,” he says. “I got to looking down the road, and then I saw the sheriff’s car go by, with police, two helicopters, and the military from Fort Campbell all came by, heading that way.”
Word passed quickly in the area. Something had happened at the Sutton Place.
And Bill was wondering what the glowing object was he’d seen earlier in the evening.
Was it all connected?
The next morning, Lucky came to the diner to see Bill.
“We’d talk about everything in the world,” Bill says. “So when I saw him I asked him what happened last night.”
“I wished I’d never said nothing,” Lucky told him. “People think we’re drunks.”
And Lucky told him the story. The creatures. The shootout. He told him everything. And when he did, he got scared all over again—goosebumps sprung out on his arms and tears filled his eyes.
“Sure enough, these little creatures were there,” Lucky told him. “They were 3 to 4 feet tall, the color of silverish-blue. They had big, almond-shaped eyes, long ears, and arms. And when you shot one it would knock them down, but then they’d get back up and float off. I don’t know what it was, but we told the police and they think we’re a bunch of damn idiots—or liars. I wish I hadn’t said nothing. But it happened. And I don’t think I’ve ever been scared that bad in my whole life.”
He said the police told them they’d probably gotten ahold of some bad whiskey.
The funny thing was, Lucky didn’t drink. Not then.
A few days later, Bill went out to the Sutton Place. He says he saw the evidence. There were burn marks in the field where Billy Ray said something landed. There were holes in the roof and door. The windows were shot out. And there were peculiar scratches near the windows and on the front of the house.
There was no doubt in Bill’s mind: his friend was telling the truth.
“These folks were God-fearing, honest, hard-working people,” Bill says. “They would not have shot up their own house.”
A few days after the incident, Grandma Lankford moved out. She feared whatever showed up that night may come back. “Well,” she told her family, “It could have been some kind of Martians. But, what if they were in trouble and had to land? I wish we’d have helped them.”
About eight months later, Bill said his family sold the diner, and they moved to another town. He lost touch with Lucky but kept up with him through mutual friends.
What he heard wasn’t good. Lucky, a man who’d been a responsible worker his entire life, spiraled out of control. He started drinking, and it became more and more difficult for him to keep a job.
“I was really heartbroken to find out he started drinking,” Bill says. “But I think back to what he said. He wished he’d never said anything. People thought he was a liar, and that means something here. That he would lie to me wasn’t even part of the equation. We loved each other.”
After the incident, the lives of all of those involved were changed forever. People started showing up at the farmhouse, stealing things out of the yard. Media kept knocking on the door, asking questions. It was in one of these media stories that the family was misquoted, and some reporters published that they’d seen “little green men,” when actually, the family had reported seeing “little grey men.” But the ‘little’ and ‘green’ descriptors stuck, and they became synonymous with aliens forevermore.
It was also because of the media that the children, including Glenda, found out about the story—20 years later.
“Our parents never told us about it,” she says. “We heard about it when people came to the house asking about it. People from New York came down and interviewed Dad, and after they left, they started telling all us kids the story. Then we all started getting made fun of in school because of it.”
Skeptics said the family made it all up, or they’d just been mistaken in what they saw. Most said the creatures were probably great horned owls, and they assumed that the family—who must have all been drunk—just got spooked and started shooting up the place. But just like Lucky, everyone involved seemed to be cursed after they explained what they saw.
They did not benefit. In fact, they seemed to suffer from the trauma of the incident.
“They all made fun of them,” Glenda says. “They said they were drunk on moonshine. They said it was owls. But the family knew what they saw, and it terrified them. Something happened that night.
“I got made fun of in school about it,” she continues. “I never wanted to be a part of it. People say it’s a joke but I know it’s the truth. That night destroyed each and every one of them’s lives. They all started drinking. They couldn’t hold a job. Their lives were just shot.”
Bill Thomas has been struggling with this story for nearly his entire life. He wished he’d gone up to the farmhouse that night, right when he’d heard the gunshots. He wishes he could’ve helped his friend.
“I don’t like people that cheat and steal,” he says. “I’ve been a Mason for 47 years now. You treat people right, always, and you hope they treat you the same. I feel like I may have been able to help if I’d gone up there that night. But it was a dangerous situation. Maybe I could have at least seen what he’d seen.”
Lucky Sutton passed away at age 62. “They said it was alcohol that ate his liver up,” Glenda says.
But through it all, through all the struggles of their lives, the group never swayed on the details of the incident—not on what happened, or what the creatures looked like.
Over the years, the children have made peace with their strange history, and some have even embraced it. Glenda’s sister, Geraldine, has written two books about it, and they can both be found on Amazon. And now, of course, the small town has their festival, where thousands of people come by to eat, drink, dance, and take pictures with the “Kelly aliens”—which is really Glenda dressed up in her alien costume.
“Since this festival started, we’ve had more and more people come up to us to tell us the strange things that have happened to them,” Glenda says. “Before, nobody wanted to speak about anything. But now they’re starting to speak out.”
Bill and Glenda don’t fully trust too many people with their stories, they tell me. They’ve been burned before, and they’re especially mistrustful of those folks from New York. I feel lucky they agreed to meet with me here in the park.
“Those reporters have done what all the others have,” Bill says. “They make us look like idiots. But here, we’re honest folks. We tell the truth.”
“I don’t care anymore if you don’t believe us,” Glenda says. “We know what happened. We know the effect it had on their lives. It was something they couldn’t understand and couldn’t deal with. There was something that happened that night. It was out of this world. It was unexplainable.
“We know it was real.”
With that, Glenda walks back to the house, just a few yards away. She says she’ll be back in a minute.
She wants to show us her alien costume, so she goes to change.
By Ryan Clark, contributor for Ripleys.com and host of Ripley’s Believe It or Notcast