The True Story Behind The Alien Abduction In 'American Horror Story: Asylum'
Photo: FX / FX

The True Story Behind The Alien Abduction In 'American Horror Story: Asylum'

Fans were divided at the end of American Horror Story: Asylum, which patched together the storylines of a nightmarish mental institution and an alien abduction. At first glance, the two plots have nothing in common, and showrunner Ryan Murphy had to defend the choice. "For me, [aliens] were always an obvious metaphor for God. It fit very easily into the world of a Catholic sanitarium asylum... It was also about science versus faith so it made sense to me," Murphy said in a 2013 interview.

The American Horror Story alien abduction adapts the supposed real-life abduction of Betty and Barney Hill. The Hills claimed they were taken in 1961 (Asylum starts in 1964), and their story quickly became a media sensation. They collaborated on a book about their experience, and their story was later adapted into a 1975 made-for-TV movie called The UFO Incident, starring Estelle Parsons and James Earl Jones.

The alien abduction case of Betty and Barney Hill has fascinated the public for decades and frustrated skeptics who believe the whole ordeal is nothing but a giant hoax.

  • While Driving From Canada To New Hampshire In 1961, Betty And Barney Hill Stopped To Look At A Strange Light In The Sky
    Photo: The Rendlesham UFO Incident / Altitude Film Distribution

    While Driving From Canada To New Hampshire In 1961, Betty And Barney Hill Stopped To Look At A Strange Light In The Sky

    Betty and Barney Hill were driving down Route 3 in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on September 19, 1961, returning from a vacation to Niagara Falls and Montreal. They wanted to escape their demanding work lives: Barney worked the night shift at a post office, and Betty was a welfare worker for the state.  

    The Hills were also an interracial couple active in the civil rights movement, and they had been married just 16 months at the time of their impromptu trip.

    While driving, they noticed a bright light cross the night sky. The couple initially thought they had seen a falling star or a satellite off its course, but the Hills soon had the sinking feeling that the bright light was following them. They eventually stopped their car to examine the light through binoculars, and Betty noticed that the object was spinning.

    As the object, which the Hills described as "saucer-like," landed in a nearby field, Barney retrieved his gun from the car and walked toward it. The Hills claimed neither of them remembered much after that moment.

  • The Next Moment, They Found Themselves 35 Miles Further Along Their Route, And Hours Had Passed

    The Hills woke up inside their car in a daze, only to realize that two hours had passed, and they were 35 miles further down the road than when they both blacked out. Barney's shoes were scuffed, Betty's dress was ripped, and they both noticed that their wristwatches had stopped. Although they should have arrived back to their home in Portsmouth, NH, around 2 am, the Hills didn't reach home until daybreak, feeling disoriented and "dirty."

    Barney was a WWII veteran with an IQ of 140, and he tried to rationalize what they had seen. Betty later recalled that when they saw the bright object, she told her husband, "...if you think that's a satellite or a star, you're being completely ridiculous." Although the Hills couldn't remember anything of the two hours they lost, Betty decided to call a close friend and report the incident.

  • Betty Called A Friend At An Air Force Base To Report A UFO Sighting, Which Was Corroborated By Two Other Accounts

    In the weeks following the Hills' strange encounter, Betty called the couple's good friend Paul Henderson, a major for the Air Force, to report what they had seen. Henderson checked recent logs and discovered two other reports of UFOs in the area of the White Mountains around the same time the Hills first saw the bright object.

    All three sightings were quickly recorded in Project Blue Book, a government program that investigated UFOs. Betty also contacted the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), a civilian group that also researched UFO sightings. They even met with one of the committee's lead investigators who said the couple seemed to be telling the truth.

  • Betty Began Having Nightmares About Alien Experimentation
    Photo: American Horror Story / FX

    Betty Began Having Nightmares About Alien Experimentation

    The Hills were both understandably upset after their unexplainable encounter, but they expressed this distress in very different ways. Barney began getting ulcers brought on by severe anxiety, and Betty started having nightmares in which aliens performed experiments on her.

    Betty and Barney became so distraught that they finally decided to see a psychiatrist after two years of trying to deal with the fallout from their 1961 road trip. Dr. Benjamin Simon began performing hypnosis on the couple, and after multiple sessions, both Betty and Barney claimed that they were targets of an alien abduction.

  • Both Of The Hills Claimed They Were Actually Captured By Aliens And Experimented On
    Photo: The UFO Incident / Universal Television

    Both Of The Hills Claimed They Were Actually Captured By Aliens And Experimented On

    The Hills sought out a psychiatrist to discuss their alleged encounter two years afterward, and through hypnosis, they came to the jarring realization that they had been taken by aliens. They also claimed the aliens performed experiments on them.

    Betty and Barney claimed they had been taken separately into a brightly lit exam room and placed on a small, metal table. Gray beings with large heads and eyes took hair and fingernail samples from both of them.

    The Hills also recalled they were prodded with long needles connected to wires, and Betty claimed she underwent a particularly painful procedure where a large needle was inserted into her navel. Betty also remembered that the aliens were fascinated by Barney's dentures.

  • Betty Drew A Star Map From Memory, Which Identified Zeta Reticuli As The Aliens’ Home Planet

    During her hypnosis sessions with Dr. Simon, Betty remembered asking the leader of the aliens examining her where she was. Apparently, this leader said to her, "If you don't know where you are, there wouldn't be any point in telling you where I am."

    Betty said she was eventually shown a star map while aboard the ship that she later drew from memory. According to the map she drew, the aliens had come from a far-off planet known as Zeta Reticuli. Betty noted the aliens were always friendly to her, despite their painful medical experiments.