The term Grinning Man (literally, “the smiling man”, but the use of grin rather than smile suggests that it is a grinning smile) is used to refer to one or more smiling characters described in at least four testimonies associated with UFO appearances. The first three testimonies come from the United States in 1966 and were reported by the American ufologist John Keel, while the fourth comes from Italy in 1979, and because of the significant differences in the description of the Grinning Men in these four testimonies, it seems unlikely that they are the same creature.

1966 – Elizabeth, New Jersey

The first testimony about a Grinning Man was given by two young boys, James Yanchitis and Marvin Munoz, in 1966. According to their account, the observation took place on the night of October 11, 1966, as they walked the streets of Elizabeth, New Jersey. They reportedly saw a very tall man standing behind a fence in a hard-to-reach area. The man would then have turned to them and stared at them with a smile, after which they would have fled.

Just before this event, a ball of flying white light was reportedly observed by several people and almost collided with a television tower near Pompton Lakes. In addition, attacks reportedly took place in the neighbourhood: a middle-aged resident said he was chased by a “tall green man” on the same street that night.

John Keel visited the two boys three days after the incident to hear their testimony. They described it to him in these terms: “The man was over six feet tall (1.83 meters), wore a green suit that glittered and seemed to reflect the light of the streetlights. There was a wide belt at her waist. (…) He had a very dark complexion and mean little eyes, very wide apart. They also said they did not remember distinguishing hair, ears or nose on the character’s face. The creature they observed is therefore generally represented without its characteristics.

1966 – The Indrid Cold case, West Virginia

In The Mothman Prophecies, John Keel reports another appearance by the Grinning Man, this time in West Virginia. The main witness is an appliance salesman named Woodrow Derenberger, who claims to have been overtaken by a strange grey vehicle “in the shape of an oil lamp chimney” while driving on the highway near Parkersburg, West Virginia, on November 2, 1966. The vehicle suddenly passed him and blocked his way, forcing him to stop. A smiling man about six feet tall with dark skin would have come out and approached Derenberger’s vehicle. According to his testimony, he was wearing a long dark coat that concealed a garment made of a shiny greenish material, almost metallic in appearance.

Without opening his mouth, the mysterious character would have sent a series of messages to Woody (nickname): he would have told him not to be afraid, asked him his name and explained “coming from a country much less powerful than his own”. He then introduced himself: “My name is Cold. I sleep, breathe, and bleed like you”, then would have asked him what a city was and would have said that in his country, such a place was called a “gathering”.

He also reportedly asked Derenberger to tell the police about this strange encounter, saying that he himself would later confirm his story. Before leaving, he assured Derenberger that they would meet again. While he was transmitting these messages to Derenberger, his vehicle had started to float about 15 metres above the ground. At the end of the conversation, he went back down, Cold got back on board and the vehicle flew away.

Back home, Derenberger called the Parkersburg police to report this strange encounter. The information was reported in the local media and witnesses claimed to have observed Derenberger and Cold by the roadside, as well as his flying vehicle.

Woodrow Derenberger later claims to have been followed by black Cadillacs, harassed by men in black (he claims to have been mafia) and to have received strange anonymous phone calls containing threats or electronic noises. He also claimed to have received other telepathic messages from Cold and to have seen him in person several times. He said he had travelled with him in a black Volkwasgen, was instantly cured of stomach aches by a medicine given by this curious visitor and even told of being taken to his home planet, “Lanulos”, in the galaxy of “Genemedes”, whose inhabitants walked almost naked, wearing coloured shorts.

He also says he learned his visitor’s full name, “Indrid Cold”. Other Grinning Men with names like “Demo Hassan” and “Karl Ardo” are also reported to have visited him, an event confirmed by Derenberger’s wife, who divorced him shortly afterwards. Derenberger finally announced that he was pregnant (pregnant?) with Cold and moved to Brazil. His story was the subject of a book entitled “Visitors from Lanulos”.

1966 or 1967 – Point Pleasant, West Virginia

John Keel gathered a third testimony about a Grinning Man while he was in Point Pleasant, the place of the apparitions of Mothman. The Lily family’s home was at that time the site of strange phenomena: telephone calls from a man with a metallic and incomprehensible voice, observations of bright balls in the sky coinciding with malfunctions in the television set and poltergeist phenomena, such as the sudden closing or opening of doors and unexplained noises.

John Keel asked the family members if they had ever dreamed that a stranger was in their house. The family’s 16-year-old daughter, Linda Lilly, says she had such a nightmare. In this one, a tall man wearing a plaid shirt looked at her smiling as she was in bed. Her parents confirmed that she had woken up screaming that there was a stranger in the house and that she had refused to sleep alone since that nightmare.

1978 to 1979 – Zanfretta abductions, Italy

The three above-mentioned testimonies were reported and popularized by the American author John Keel. There does not appear to have been any further observations from Grinning Man, other than perhaps an Italian case in the late 1970s.

A similar creature was described in 1978 by an Italian guard called Pier Fortunato Zanfretta. He claimed to have been attacked by monstrous alien creatures and, under hypnosis, told of being abducted by these beings and taken to their ship on the night of 6 December 1978 first, then a second time on 26 December of the same year, a third time on 30 July and a fourth time on 2 December of the following year.

On December 3 at around 9:30 pm, when he stopped at a gas station, Zanfretta reportedly heard a strange character calling him. According to his subsequent description, it was a humanoid creature with a bald skull “in the shape of an egg”, wearing a plaid suit and a kind of metal breastplate as a shirt. Although Zanfretta does not seem to have specified whether or not the creature was smiling, the mention of checkered clothing leads people to conclude that it is the same character as the one described by John Keel.

According to the testimony, the mysterious individual allegedly ordered Zanfretta to get back in his car and drive it into a cloud that was floating just above the ground, an order he could not resist, after which the car was lifted and taken aboard the alien ship…

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Pière J. Robin
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