In the beginning, the skull spoke to him. "I looked into those eye sockets," says cryptohistorian Lloyd Pye, recollecting the cool evening in 1999 when he first encountered the small armature of bone now celebrated in UFO circles as the Starchild. "And I was enthralled. They were shaped like the Hollywood Bowl, but they weren't twisted up or deformed. They were symmetrical, and I thought, 'Now, this could be a freakin' alien!'"
It is only through daring hypotheses, of course, that science makes progress. Pye, 53, a novelist who writes thrillers by trade, has been studying what stuffy academics call "mythic phenomena" for more than three decades. Debunkers may quibble, but Pye has the American public on his side (54 percent of us now believe that there's intelligent extraterrestrial life, according to a recent Life magazine poll). Over the years, he has searched through the forests of the Pacific Northwest for the bloated footprints of Sasquatch, traveled to the Great Pyramid of Giza to behold what he believes is the work of aliens, and stalked the Sinai Desert with Zecharia Sitchin, an 80-year-old Russian-born journalist, historian, and UFO scholar who contends that ancient Sumerian legends hold the secret truth of human origins—in short, that we humans are the spawn of blond E.T.s called the Anunnaki.
As yet, Pye's fieldwork hasn't made it into his sparsely selling fiction—his first novel told the tale of a college football player with superhuman powers, his second was a Tom Clancyish techno-thriller about computer hackers. But in 1997, the rogue thinker issued his first nonfiction treatise, Everything You Know Is Wrong—Book One: Human Origins, a self-published tome positing that Earth's "so-called prehumans" (Neanderthals and the like) were, in fact, ancestors of those shy hominoids that today wander our forests and mountains—you know, Bigfoot and the abominable snowman.
Last year, a young married couple who wish to remain anonymous (perhaps for obvious reasons) invited the intrepid author to visit them somewhere in the Southwest. They sought his expert opinion on a very special skull and wanted to tell him what little they knew about its origins. According to Pye, a young woman found two skulls—indeed, a child's whole skeleton and what appeared to be the skeleton of the child's mother—in a mine shaft near Chihuahua, Mexico, sometime around 1930. Transfixed, she trundled the bones to the surface and laid them under a tree, only to have a torrential rainstorm wash away all but the skulls. Both skulls were missing their jawbones, but the child's was endowed with a brain cavity that seemed hauntingly vast. The woman took both skulls home and squirreled them away in her garage, where they sat, a riddle in a box, for the next 60-odd years. Just before she died a few years ago, she passed them on to a male friend, who then turned them over to the young couple.
Pye first viewed the skulls in the lobby of a Holiday Inn. The younger specimen, he surmises, represents the spawn of a predatory "gray," a bulbous-headed visitor who swept down to Earth 900 years ago to mingle his sperm (or whatever) with the egg of a female human. He reckons that the "Star Husband" legends espoused by myriad North American Indians were not myths, but accurate reports of ancient events.
The couple agreed to share their mysterious treasure—or as Pye calls it, "the most anomalous human specimen since the Elephant Man"—with the world. So he packed the Starchild (and its companion skull) in a Wal-Mart toolbox and commenced barnstorming. During the last year, Pye has piloted his battered 1992 Buick Roadmaster to more than four dozen UFO convocations. He's appeared six times on a late-night radio show hosted by Art Bell, the Larry King of the paranormal. And he's garnered some intriguing endorsements: Paula Gunn Allen, a retired UCLA professor of Native American studies, believes the Starchild is "proof of what Indians have known for a long time: that we live among nonhumans who can disappear at will."
Inevitably, however, some pathologists and forensic anthropologists who have come across Pye and his Starchild have been flatly dismissive. Last fall, David Sweet, a forensics expert at the University of British Columbia, analyzed the Starchild skull and found that it has normal X and Y chromosomes—meaning it's the skull of a human male.
Still, Pye soldiers on. When reached recently at his home in New Orleans, the staunch iconoclast proudly compared himself with "Galileo and all those other marginal visionaries who weren't afraid to put their dicks on the chopping block." He was happy to chat.