DECATUR, GA — . -- Other museums might have more or flashier items to display. But only the mini-museum of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation can boast of such an other-world oddity as the monkey from Mars.
The lobby of the bureau's state crime lab has its requisite displays on forensic science, including an illegal moonshine still and the microscopic fibers that helped solve the 1981-82 Atlanta child murders.
And tucked away in a glass cylinder are the preserved remains of a monkey that three pranksters tried to pass off as an alien 55 years ago in a UFO hoax that drew headlines worldwide.
In 1953, at the height of UFO hysteria then sweeping the nation, two young barbers and a butcher took a dead monkey, lopped off its tail and applied a liberal dose of hair remover and green coloring to the carcass.
They placed the primate on a dark, isolated road north of Atlanta early on July 8, 1953, burning a circle into the pavement with a blowtorch before a police officer came around the curve in his patrol car.
"If we had been five minutes earlier, we would have caught 'em in the act," said Sherley Brown, the officer who happened upon the scene.
The barbers, Edward Watters and Tom Wilson, and the butcher, Arnold "Buddy" Payne, told the policeman they had come upon a red saucer-shaped object in the road that night. They said several 2-foot-tall creatures were scurrying about and the trio hit one with their pickup before the other creatures jumped back into the saucer and blasted skyward, leaving the highway scorched.
Brown filed a report at police headquarters before going home.
Soon after his shift ended, he said, "the phone started ringing off the hook."
"They had the Air Force and everybody else trying to find out about it," said Brown, who retired in 1985.
Word of the discovery spread like wildfire.
Just the night before, some Atlanta area residents had reported seeing a large, multicolored object flying in the sky. A veterinarian who examined the monkey corpse said it looked "like something out of this world." A newspaper put out an artist's drawing of the saucer the men described.
But within hours, the monkey business unraveled.
Herman D. Jones, the founder and director of the bureau's lab, and Dr. Marion Hines, an anatomy professor at Emory University, examined the creature that evening and proclaimed it to be a hoax.
"If it came from Mars, they have monkeys on Mars," Hines was quoted as saying in an article at the time by the Associated Press that is set beside the monkey in the appointment-only museum.
Where the men got the monkey is not clear. Watters, Wilson and Payne eventually admitted that it was a hoax and Watters paid a $40 fine for obstructing a highway.
As for Jones, his name is now on the bureau's crime lab as the man who introduced modern forensic science to the state.