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UPDATE: Charles Richards, columnist, addresses Rotary Club of Paris

Charles Richards reporter and columnist Charles Richards was the program Friday at noon at the Paris Junior College ballroom, where he spoke to the Rotary Club of Paris and guests on “My 50 years as a Reporter.”

“During his career Charles has written about every topic you can imagine, but I can’t wait to hear more about the gentleman he interviewed who claimed he was abducted by aliens and taken for a ride in their space ship!” Rotary Program Chair Chris Snodgrass said before the meeting..

Richards, whose father also spent 50 years in the newspaper business, then proceeded to talk about his widely published story in the spring of 1967 about Carroll Watts, a cotton farmer in the Texas Panhandle community of Loco (south of Wellington), who said six aliens from Mars abducted him after landing their spacecraft on his property. They were about four feet tall in white space suits with a flat nose, bald head, a thin line for a mouth that didn’t move when they talked (apparently through brain waves), and eyes that wrapped around almost to the ears. Watts had seven Polaroid pictures he took of the space ship in a later visit.

The story, which carried a “Loco, Texas” dateline, prompted an investigation by government officials and a call for Watts to validate his sensational claim by taking a lie detector test in Amarillo. He took the polygraph test the next day and flunked it, then admitted his story was a hoax.

But a couple of days later, he changed his story and said it really did happened and he flunked the lie detector on purpose because on the way to Amarillo he stopped to help a woman standing by her car along the highway. No sooner had he gotten out of his car to help than someone hit him on the back of the head with a billy club. He said when he came to, a menacing man pointed a gun at him and said he would flunk the lie detector “or else.”

Max Palmer, at 8-foot--2 was the world's tallest man in the 1960s, is shown walking down a city street with his wife, who was 4-feet-11.
Max Palmer, who at 8-foot–2 was the world’s tallest man in the 1960s, is shown walking down a city street with his wife, who was 4-feet-11.

Richards also talked about his interview in 1967 with Max Palmer, who at 8-foot–2 was the world’s tallest man. He had a newspaper photograph of Palmer walking down a street with his wife, who was 4-feet-11.

Palmer was a former professional basketball player; actor (he starred in such movies as Invaders from Mars and Killer Ape with Johnny Weissmuller); professional wrestler; and finally evangelist.

Richards said his first question in the interview with Palmer was, “I bet not many people in your congregation fall asleep while you’re preaching, do they?”

He also discussed:

  • His interview of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh on Saturday, Feb. 27, 1993, followed by his account of being dispatched the following day to Waco after two trailers bearing 76 federal agents staged a raid on the cult’s Mount Carmel compound east of town. He was one of the first reporters to arrive, and his byline for The Associated Press appeared on the front page of newspapers all over the world.
  • What it was like to be in the Cameron County Courthouse in Brownsville in September 1966 during Hurricane Beulah. “I’ll never forget the sound of windows shattering throughout the courthouse when the storm hit at 2 a.m.,” he said. He also talked of the absolute “calm before the storm” when Brownsville found itself in the eye of the hurricane. When the “other side” of the hurricane passed through at wind speeds over 100 mph, big palm trees that were leaning 45 degrees to the left now were leaning 45 degrees to the right.
  • His interview in 1989 at Arlington Stadium with George W. Bush shortly after he acquired part-ownership of the Texas Rangers baseball franchise (three years before he became Texas governor and 11 years before he became president). The story was about Bush as a baseball fan who chose to be down next to the action, with his wife and twin daughters in a front-row seat along the railing near the Rangers’ on-deck circle instead of in a luxury suite upstairs with other owners. The Bushes were at almost every game. Secret service agents were always nearby because George W.’s father was president at the time.
  • His 2005 interview with Dr. Ralph Morrero of Paris, who resorted to an age-old technique (using leeches to help in the re-attachment of a man’s severed ear). The “old” blood in the ear wouldn’t circulate out to allow new blood to flow in, so the doctor ordered a supply of leeches from New England and put several leeches on the man’s ear repeatedly over several days. The leeches sucked out the old, dried blood, allowing fresh blood to flow in, and the ear was saved. The story won a first place award in feature writing from the Texas Press Association.
  • The dictation he took from Merriman Smith and Helen Thomas, UPI’s White House correspondents, throughout 1965 and 1966, during their frequent trips to Texas when Lyndon Johnson was president, and dictation from the trial of Jack Ruby for the murder of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Richards described several trips he made from Austin to the farm road adjacent to the LBJ Ranch (the Texas White House), where he waited for Air Force One to land late at night. UPI felt it necessary to have a staff writer on hand, just in case the plane crashed on landing.
  • His interview with golfer Arnold Palmer at his home in Latrobe, Pa., in the days before Palmer’s 40th birthday, resulting in a lengthy human interest story that sports editors of newspapers across the country couldn’t resist. The story was kind of a “Is he now over the hill, and washed-up?” story, and Palmer proved 10 days later that he wasn’t, by shooting his careeer-best round of 62, 10 strokes under par.
  • Richards, a 22-year-old UPI reporter at the time, is shown in the background of this 1964 photo of two Air Force investigators standing beside a deputy sheriff in a field outside of Socorro, N.M., where he reported seeing a UFO.
    Richards, a 22-year-old reporter at the time, is shown in the background of this 1964 photo of two Air Force investigators standing beside a deputy sheriff in a field outside of Socorro, N.M., where the deputy had reported seeing a UFO.

    His reporting for UPI on a UFO incident in Socorro, N.M., in which a deputy sheriff investigated a roar and came across what he thought was an overturned car in a pasture outside town. It was about the size of a car, but as the deputy approached, the craft lifted, hovered about 20 feet off the ground, then flew slowly away, never getting any higher. It was generally thought that it was some kind of secret aircraft under development from one of New Mexico’s military bases. Richards had with him a photo that was taken by an Albuquerque Journal photographer of the deputy and two Air Force investigators standing around scorched ground that was still warm. In the background was Richards, then a 22-year-old reporter only two months out of Texas Tech. (He was slender with dark brown hair.)

  • His participation in the AP’s interviews of 10 people judged the “most prominent” individuals of the time. Richards’ 1982 interview was with H.R. “Bum” Bright, owner of banks, trucking firms and other enterprises; chairman of the Texas A&M board of regents (it was he who hired Jackie Sherrill for a million dollars to be the new Aggie football head coach); and later owner of the Dallas Cowboys (in 1989, he sold “America’s Team” to Jerry Jones).
  • Standing next to Alabama head football coach Bear Bryant in the Crimson Tide dressing room after Alabama lost to Texas A&M, coached by Paris native Gene “Bebes” Stallings. When a young radio reporter stuck a microphone in Bryant’s face and asked, “Coach, in your WILDEST dreams, did you ever …” At that point, Bryant interrupted the reporter, saying, “Son, I don’t HAVE wild dreams!” The Bryant quote ended up as a high insert in the Alabama-Texas A&M game story.
  • His occasional attendance at informal small gatherings of sports writers with longtime Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. Walt Garrison, a long-time member of the Dallas Cowboys was once asked if he had ever seen Landry smile. He said no, then added, “But I’ve only been with the team for nine years.” Landry was known for remaining distant to players and even assistant coaches, but he was warm and friendly with the media who covered the Cowboys.

Among his interview subjects over the years were President Bill Clinton, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, U.S. Sen. John Tower, and U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, plus numerous Texas congressmen. He reported on the Texas congressional delegation in 1981 and 1982 (when Ronald Reagan was president). U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall, a Republican and the longest-serving member of Congress, was then a Democrat in his first term.

Over the years, he reported for UPI on state legislatures in Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming and Little Rock, and the Texas congressional delegation in Washington for the AP.

Richards retired to Paris in February 2004 after seven years with United Press International; eight years with the Hereford Brand, the Amarillo Daily News, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the Levelland Surveyor (which he started in competiton to an existing daily newspaper); the Dallas Times Herald; and finally, The Associated Press for 26 years.

After coming to Paris, he joined The Paris News for several years — on the police beat, courts, regional coverage, and eventually the Paris City Council.

Richards joined in January of 2011 providing coverage of City Hall in the wake of Kevin Carruth‘s resignation, “bringing accurate and intriguing insight into city politics,” eParisExtra co-owner Greg Wilson said.

“While at he has broken many major local stories that has led to the credibility of as a viable and vital news source,” Wilson said. “His work for the Extra! without question has led to the sucess of the site that now is viewed over 400,000 times each month by 32,000 unique visitors.”