Imprints in the Field, Part 3
A biologist + a croppie + a businessman = crop circle research group
Before approaching W.C. Levengood (aka ‘Lefty’) to join her enterprise, Nancy Talbott enlisted a man named John Burke. Burke was often described as the ‘businessman’ of the three, but he also shared a fascination for mysterious Earth energies—forces he believed might be involved in the formation of crop circles.
Prior to his association with Talbott, he spent time investigating the grand pyramidal complexes and sacred mounds around the globe. Burke was convinced that ancient humans strategically built megalithic sites in places that enhanced the electromagnetic pulses emanating from the Earth. By harnessing this naturally occurring energy, humanity’s ancestors were able to boost crop yields and increase seed vitality—something he would later document in his book, Seed of Knowledge, Stone of Plenty (2005). Burke also held a background in agricultural research and development, making his motivation for studying crop imprints an obvious one.
Talbott’s proposal for her crop circle venture was straightforward: She would act as field-coordinator and public relations for the trio consisting of herself, Burke and Levengood. Nancy would organize the on-site collection teams—essentially a network of volunteers with a strict protocol to follow when gathering samples from a newly laid crop design. She would also deal with the press and handle marketing for the group—allowing the experts to focus solely on their research. Their goal was to apply a scientific approach to the crop circle question in hopes of solving some portion of the mystery.
Levengood, who must’ve sensed an opportunity for a steady stream of new plants to scrutinize, agreed to the arrangement. Nancy gave the group an easy-to-remember, acronym-ready title based on their last names: BLT Research Team (Burke, Levengood, Talbott).
By the mid-1990s, hardly a newspaper article was published about crop circles without a requisite reference to the work done by BLT—specifically Levengood’s plant abnormality findings. More often than not, the reports were peppered with quotes from Talbott.
Lefty refined his plasma ion hypothesis throughout the decade, proposing that the energy responsible for crop circle formations was a rotating plasma vortex formed in the ionosphere. This hypothetical whirling mass acted like an electrically charged ion-tornado. As the spinning vortex fell towards Earth, it became unstable, eventually breaking apart as it made contact with the ground. This action resulted in the various imprints seen in crops across the world.
His explanation was tenuous, but possible, since it provided the type of energy necessary to produce elongated stem nodes, expanded cavities and altered seed development—the hallmarks of ‘genuine’ crop circle formations.
In the 1990s, the designs appearing in fields were rarely simple circles—intricately crafted pictographs and recognizable symbols were the rule, not the exception. Nancy Talbott had an explanation for the emergence of these increasingly detailed crop markings, urging skeptics to “think of a snowflake or flower petal. Those are very complex patterns formed in nature. Fluid dynamics and plasma physics dictate the kind of patterns you can find in crop formations.” Heady conclusions for someone with no background in the subject matter, but Nancy was skilled at boiling down dry scientific material into key takeaways and regurgitating them to the media.
In 1994, W.C. Levengood published his first peer-reviewed research paper on the topic of crop circles, debuting in an issue of the international plant science journal, Physiologia Plantarum. In the aptly titled, “Anatomical anomalies in crop formation plants,” Lefty brazenly argued that “plants from crop formations display anatomical alterations which cannot be accounted for by assuming the formations are hoaxes.”
The biophysicist laid out his theory that the unexplained circles were formed by a naturally occurring electromagnetic plasma vortex—one that was “guided by variations in the Earth’s magnetic field.” Levengood stuck to his greatest hits—summarizing his findings regarding changes in seed germination and development, plant cell wall expansion and stem node enlargement. He concluded that these were all signs that “transient high temperatures” had acted upon the plants within the circle. The paper had its detractors, but until a formal refutation or counter-study could be undertaken, its conclusions would be hard to debate. For many in the public, the crop circle question was no longer settled. The publication was also a feather in BLT’s cap, establishing one of their own at the forefront of peer-reviewed research regarding the ‘science’ of crop circles.
At the end of his report, Lefty made sure to acknowledge those who had helped him with his paper’s analysis. He thanked BLTers Nancy Talbott and John Burke for their support, along with notables like paranormal-journalist Linda Moulton Howe and crop circle pioneer, Pat Delgado. Prominently missing from this roll call was Delgado’s one time sidekick and co-author, Colin Andrews.
A year earlier, in 1993, “Dr.” Levengood wrote an apology letter to Colin Andrews, who by that time had escaped the pressures of the post-Dave & Doug crop circle scene in England by taking up residence in Connecticut. There are few clues as to what soured the relationship between Colin and Lefty—but their differences of opinion about the nature of the phenomenon were no secret. Lefty held that normal atmospheric processes were responsible, while Andrews floated ideas related to extraterrestrial involvement. They also had divergent views on the number of ‘authentic’ formations. Lefty thought that the amount might be as high as 80%. Andrews—whose opinion about the pervasiveness of ‘real’ circles was drastically altered after the D&D revelations—felt that it was at least 80% the other way, with a large majority being hoaxes. The wide gap between the researchers meant conflicting interpretations were bound to lead to disagreements, but Levengood’s choice of words alludes to a deeper animosity. He called himself out for being “petulant” and “trivial,” expressing his desire to work together for the “clarification of the crop pattern enigma.” He closed the communication cordially, giving Andrews his “rapid germinating respect.”
It wasn’t all water under the bridge for Andrews when years later he attempted to discredit the BLT Research Team by orchestrating a blind test of plant samples without their knowledge. Colin filmed BLT’s field volunteers taking samples from downed, wind damaged crops, along with additional samples from a small circle they quickly made by foot. Both sample groups were sent to Levengood under the assumption that they were both from potentially legitimate formations. In his official Pinelandia Lab report, Levengood noted that the wheat from the “wind-damaged” formation displayed elongated nodes and evidence of a higher degree of transient energy than samples from the other (man-made) circle. Andrews tried to twist these findings into a dig at BLT and Levengood’s credibility—revealing that he had misled them about the formations’ origins and neither were authentic.
In reality, Levengood’s conclusions demonstrated that the weather damaged samples had different characteristics than the plants that were stomped down by foot—a result that might be expected since they were formed under different circumstances.
Further undermining Colin’s sense of vindication was the farmer’s supposition about what had caused the ‘wind-downed’ wheat plants to fall in such a localized area of his field. His explanation, captured by Andrews’ camcorder, quickly digressed from pure confidence to unconvincing ambiguity. He admitted that even though he didn’t see the disturbance happen, he had “no doubt” that strong wind had caused it. Moments later, he opened the door to the possibility that it could have been water washing out from the road, or perhaps rainfall, or wind pressure, or some other weather occurrence that flattened the plants. The farmer’s uncertainty about what actually caused the depression—the same one in which Lefty had detected anomalies—takes away from Andrews’ condemnation of BLT’s conclusions.
In August of 1993, a crop formation appeared in Wiltshire, England in conjunction with the annual Perseid meteor shower. Samples from the site were sent to journalist Linda Moulton Howe, who promptly forwarded them on to Levengood for analysis. He found magnetic anomalies and an iron “glaze” present in the material—signs of meteoric dust. Lefty interpreted this as further evidence of his plasma vortex theory, reasoning that the trace metal must have been picked up from the atmosphere during the vortex’s descent. He prepared these observations for publication in his second peer-reviewed research paper addressing crop circles—this time with the help of his BLT associate, John Burke.
Their work saw print under the title, “Semi-Molten Meteoric Iron Associated with a Crop Formation,” in the Journal of Scientific Exploration. The achievement increased BLT Research’s scientific standing within the cerealogical community, and advanced the notion that circles didn’t always come from human ‘pranks with planks’: “Meteoric material adhering to both soil and plant tissues, casts considerable doubt on this being an artificially prepared or ‘hoaxed’ formation.”
Oddly and conveniently enough for Lefty, the phenomenon came to his neck of the woods in July of 1994. A crop circle arrived in Grass Lake, complete with expanded nodes and abnormal seed development. It was the third in a series of formations that had developed within miles of Pinelandia Lab. The fact that the markings were manifesting in his own backyard didn’t seem to phase Levengood; he felt that their presence “clearly implied that crop formations are very pervasive.” His official lab report cited the sloppiness of the designs but concluded that they all displayed the residual effects from a high-heat, ion plasma interaction. In other words—they were authentic.
An important comparison study also took place in the fall of 1994. Levengood and Burke partnered with an agricultural company that had mechanically created a few ‘artificial’ crop circles throughout the season, rolling them out during various levels of plant development. Upon analysis, the counterfeit circles didn’t have the same hallmark characteristics that were seen in real, “external energy produced formations.” The absence of plant irregularities in these man-made formations provided researchers with a pseudo-litmus test to deploy when attempting to judge a circle’s authenticity.
Still, some cerealogists and skeptics alike had major issues with Levengood and BLT’s methodology—namely the absence of ‘blinding controls’ in his experiments. In Lefty’s case, this would have meant implementing measures like not knowing where from within the formation his plants were sourced, or letting independent, third-party analysts extrapolate conclusions from the data he compiled. At the very least, Nancy Talbott might have sneakily included a larger variety of man-made samples for her scientists to analyze without their knowledge. This would have helped calm the accusations from BLT’s detractors about confirmation bias and unreliable techniques.
1994 was also when Levengood began branching out from his crop circle niche—offering his specialized resources to other paranormal projects looking for the sheen of science. His association with Linda Moulton Howe proved to be the perfect conduit. Through her connections, he was tapped to investigate various pieces of physical evidence recovered from the scenes of unexplained cattle mutilations, UFO crashes and alleged alien abductions. Though Levengood believed in a natural explanation for crop circles, his attitude seemingly began to change as evidence of the same “very unusual energies” present in circle-plant samples were detected across other anomalous phenomena.
Since the 1970s, mysterious livestock deaths had been piling up in America’s Midwest and Mountain states—confounding authorities and animal experts alike. After releasing a documentary on the topic in 1980 (Strange Harvest), Moulton Howe had become the de facto authority on ‘mutes’ (inexplicably mutilated animals).
In the early 1990s, she arranged to have plants from the scene of a mangled heifer sent to Levengood’s lab for examination. Upon inspection, Lefty found evidence of rapid microwave energy on a cellular level—the same energy present in ‘authentic’ crop circles. Years later, his efforts in this area would earn him one of his few television appearances, featured briefly alongside Moulton Howe on the show UFO Files. Linda was in Nebraska investigating a maimed cow found under mysterious circumstances while Lefty stood by in his Michigan lab, awaiting material to analyze.
In one of the more amusing segments of the episode, Moulton Howe is filmed dragging a cartoonishly large horseshoe magnet in circles around the animal’s decomposing corpse, hoping to attract any extraneous metallic material that might be present.
When Lefty later evaluated the soil samples collected near the carcass, he revealed that they contained elevated levels of magnetite—the same meteoric-mineral ‘glaze’ he and John Burke had identified within the 1993 Wiltshire, UK crop circle.
Despite the cosmic residue, Lefty didn’t believe aliens were behind the Nebraskan bovine excision. Ever the scientist, he took the opportunity to cite his ionized plasma vortex theory as the likely explanation. The swirling mass could easily attract excess magnetite particles as it descended through the atmosphere—only to deposit them on nearby plants and soil when it eventually hit the ground.
Adding to the list of curiosities Levengood found in conjunction with a handful of ‘mute’ cases was the discovery of globs of “pure hemoglobin.” This blood abnormality could only have been produced by the application of a familiar culprit: transient high-heat. Levengood summarized his findings on the topic in a paper titled, “A Study of Bovine Excision Sites from 1993 to 1997.”
Even though he publicly resisted the hypothesis that crop circles were caused by extraterrestrials, Levengood wasn’t above analyzing physical evidence from supposed alien abductions. He partnered with Marilyn Ruben, a Michigan-based abduction researcher, to obtain dust samples from the home of an individual who claimed to have regular ET visitations.
Lefty’s examination revealed microscopic traces of odd glassy particles, which he labeled “pseudo-crystals.” The material seemed to be a byproduct of exposure to intense, rapid heating—a detail which gave Levengood a reason to pause.
Suspecting a link between the energy that created pseudo-crystals, and the one present at cattle mutilations and crop circles, he devised an experiment to test the effect of the ‘abduction energy’ on plant seeds. He placed mustard seeds inside small capsules and instructed the experiencer to hide them in her hair curlers when she went to bed. Each morning, she was to exchange the old seeds for a capsule of new ones, repeating this ritual daily until she experienced an ‘event.’ After many nights of this routine, Lefty collected the seeds and attempted to germinate them in his lab. To his astonishment, the seeds that corresponded to the evening she felt she’d been abducted outgrew all other samples. What’s more, the effects he observed were consistent with those detected in association with crop circles and bovine mutilations. If his findings were accurate, Levengood had seemingly identified the presence of a common form of energy across multiple supernatural phenomena.
Linda Moulton Howe remained a consistent source of peculiar research material. She secured Levengood access to the infamous ‘metamaterial’ fragment alleged to be part of a 1947 UFO crash near Roswell, New Mexico. Colloquially known as one of ‘Art’s Parts’ due to its origination with the paranormal talk-show host Art Bell, the well-traveled piece of ‘wreckage’ was primarily comprised of bismuth and magnesium. The unique metal alloy was created by an unknown layering process that experts still can’t fully explain or duplicate. While experimenting with the substance in his lab, Lefty noted unexpected chemical reactions seemed to occur when it was subjected to water or a weak acid. Beyond this, he was unable to provide any additional insights or explanations for the bizarre compound.