The truth behind reports of mysterious disappearances and alien visitors in Nome, Alaska

By Karen J. Quan
Updated November 09, 2009 03:45 PM
Credit: Simon Vesrano/Universal Pictures

It has everything a scary movie should have: a small-town citizenry possessed by outside forces, aliens on the prowl and realistic-looking old film footage to vouch for its authenticity. But is The Fourth Kind everything it claims to be?

In the new movie, which opened last weekend, Milla Jovovich plays a psychologist named Dr. Abigail Taylor who investigates a series of disappearances in Nome, Alaska. Marketed as a fact-based thriller, The Fourth Kind uses a documentary-reenactment approach to explore a series of unsolved disappearances in the Alaska town. One possible explanation? Alien abduction.

But just what is fact and what is fiction?

The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers have attempted to find background on Dr. Abigail Tyler, but results were vague. Reporters could locate no legitimate biography, and both the state licensing board and Alaska’s psychological association had never heard of Dr. Taylor.

Missing Persons?

Then there is the question of whether several citizens of Nome (pop. 9,200) actually disappeared under mysterious circumstances. That was certainly the town’s reputation. In 2005, amid worries that tourists were starting to consider the destination dangerous, local officials released a list of 20 unexplained disappearances dating back to the 1960s, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Still, when the FBI stepped in and investigated two dozen of the cases, the agency determined that alcohol consumption and the town’s harsh climate were the actual causes of people falling off the map.

In some instances, missing persons are thought to have stumbled off a jetty and drowned in the freezing waters of the Snake River.

Given the lack of hard physical evidence of any actual paranormal activity in Nome – and the unlikely existence of a Dr. Abigail Tyler – some critics have suggested the based-on-fact hype was part of a viral marketing ploy to generate buzz for the new release.

Did it work? The Fourth Kind took in $12.5 million at the box office this weekend, according to box-office reports, making it the current fourth most popular movie in the nation.