What do Richard Heene and his family, the balloon boy hoax, and the Roswell crash of 1947 have to do with each other? At first glance, one would believe there was no connection. But Robert Thomas, a researcher who worked for Richard Heene, told Gawker in an exclusive interview that Richard Heene was obsessed with fame, was driven by an enormous ego, and wanted to create a stunt that would “be the most significant UFO-related news event to take place since the Roswell Crash of 1947.” But Robert Thomas never dreamed that Richard Heene would involve his 6-year-old son in his hoax.
Robert Thomas told Gawker — which freely admitted they paid him for the interview — that Richard Heene, Thomas, and two others devised a plan to focus attention on the Heene family so as to get a reality show Heene was working on onto the air. The plan involved a weather balloon modified to look like a flying saucer.
Robert Thomas said that he first came into contact with the Heene family in March. He and Richard Heene exchanged a few e-mails and ideas and, before long, he was spending time at the Heene house. He said that Heene’s ideas and theories were intriguing at first, but when Heene began volunteering his conspiracy theories, Thomas soon felt he was dealing with a man whose thoughts were both “extreme and paranoid.” Heene told Thomas he believed shape-shifting aliens walked among people and feared the world would end due to an immense solar flare. Thomas said he talked often of 2012 and the doomsday prophecies surrounding that year.
Added to that, Heene’s time on the ABC reality show “Wife Swap” had given Richard Heene a thirst for becoming famous. Robert Thomas soon found out that he was obsessed with becoming famous and getting back on television.
Robert Thomas, a student at Colorado State University, had plans as well. He wanted Richard Heene to succeed so they could take the money and put it toward research and technology, actually advancing science through the show and their experiments. Thomas said he basically became Heene’s stenographer, editing their brainstorming sessions and forwarding the ideas to ABC. He was to be paid $15 per hour, but more importantly, he was to be Richard Heene’s chief researcher when the show got on the air.
And then one day Richard Heene suggested they create a controversy. Thomas was studying the Roswell crash of 1947 — a suspected UFO crash incident that supposed occurred in 1947 near Roswell, New Mexico, and subsequently covered up by the U. S. government — and Heene said he bet they could create a media event that would rival the Roswell crash. “I clearly remember Richard telling me that, if we accomplish this, it would be the most controversial and widespread UFO news story since Roswell in 1947.”
Thomas said he was working when his friends called him about the balloon boy incident. He watched as the media tracked the balloon, then started searching for the missing boy that apparently either never got in the balloon, fell from the balloon, or was in hiding. Thomas suspected the story from the start, but really thought it was a publicity stunt when they “found” Falcon in the garage attic. He said the only way a 6-year-old could have gotten into the Heene garage attic would have been if someone helped him get up there. But, like most others glued to the balloon boy incident and subsequent news stories, Robert Thomas knew it was all a hoax when Falcon Heene told his father on CNN, “You guys said it was for a show.”
Thomas believed that Richard Heene resorted to “desperate measures” to gain fame. He said he knew Richard Heene’s construction business wasn’t doing well. He (Thomas) was getting paid less and less and the work he did pitching the reality show to ABC was never compensated (although Heene promised it would “pay off in the end”).
In the end, he said, “Heene’s ego blinded him to his own brilliance.” He was so entranced by becoming famous that he never thought of the impact he would have on others, like the people mobilized to find his supposed missing son.
“I especially feel bad for Falcon,” Thomas said. “He’s going to be known as Balloon Boy the rest of his life. That’s not something you want to tell a girl on the first date.”
The balloon boy hoax does not look as if it will end well for Richard Heene and, depending on her level of involvement, his wife, either. Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden announced Saturday that misdemeanor charges were being sought and if they could find proof, felony charges would be leveled against Richard Heene as well. Alderden said that federal officials were looking into the balloon boy hoax and federal charges could be added as well.
But could Robert Thomas’ assertions be true? Or is it just another way for a college student who knew Richard Heene to become part of the story and turn a buck? Did Richard Heene and Thomas and others concoct the entire scheme as a media event to rival the Roswell Crash of 1947 or is this just Robert Thomas’ way of getting back at an ex-employer that stiffed him out of some wages?
The problem with hoaxes and those involved in them is that, once found out, everything those involved say becomes suspect. They are known fabricators. So do you believe what they say, especially something that cannot be empirically proven or corroborated, or do you disbelieve what they say? Or do you take all information offered and attempt to corroborate before moving forward?
Still, if Robert Thomas’ story is true, it paints a picture of a man that would do anything to become famous, even to the point of reckless disregard for what such a stunt would do to his family. For a man with such high-flying ideas, Richard Heene’s story turned out to be far more mundane than the sensational account of the Roswell crash of 1947.