PARKERSBURG - A Wood County man's claims of encounters with an extraterrestrial brought him much notoriety. It put Woodrow Derenberger's family in the public spotlight, bringing unwanted attention that ruined his marriage and strained relations with his family.
"I don't think he ever imagined the magnitude of his claims," said his daughter Taunia Bowman.
"He regrets it broke up his marriage," she said. "He lost contact with me."
Taunia Bowman holds a photo of the late Woodrow Derenberger.
In November 1966, Derenberger, a 50-year-old sewing machine salesman from Parkersburg, claimed to have encountered an extraterrestrial on Interstate 77 near Mineral Wells. Derenberger's tale was astonishing. And it was corroborated in part by multiple reports from residents throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley who reported strange lights and phenomena the same evening.
However, Derenberger was the only the one who claimed to encounter Indrid Cold, an alien visitor from the planet Lanulos.
Derenberger's story appeared in The Parkersburg News on Nov. 4, 1966. The evening before he appeared on the local television station to describe his account.
For almost three weeks, the newspaper chronicled Derenberger's story, the inquiry of state and federal agencies and a number of forthcoming witnesses, many of whom asked to remain anonymous or have their names withheld. The story was big news in the area, becoming national news and eventually chronicled into a 1971 book, "Visitors from Lanulos."
Derenberger paid a heavy price for his claims, according to Bowman. His story and the resulting attention led to the ruin of his marriage and separation from his kids, she said.
"He was hounded for so many years. Our whole family was hounded for years," said Bowman.
After the sighting and ensuing media coverage, Bowman said the family repeatedly changed its phone number and moved five or six times until Derenberger's wife took the kids and moved to Cleveland in 1968.
"We had to keep moving because people kept finding us," she said.
Bowman, who was 3 when Derenberger reported the incidents, recalls people sat in trees with guns hoping to catch a glimpse of the UFOs.
"Out at our farmhouse I was scared to go to sleep at night because there were guys with guns in the trees wanting to see what was going on and wanting to see the spaceships," she said.
Derenberger's story generated far more publicity than the now more-famous Mothman sightings.
On Nov. 17, the first story of a "thing" reported in Mason County appeared in the newspaper. Two days later, the "thing" would be identified as a rare Sandhill Crane by Mason County officials.
Despite that, the legend and the story grew into the present-day Mothman legend. It did so in part because of the "Mothman Prophecies," a 1975 book by John Keel, which heavily borrowed from Derenberger's story.
In the 2002 movie "The Mothman Prophecies," based on Keel's book, Derenberger's encounter with Cold is portrayed with the character Gordon Smallwood. Bowman said the character of Alexander Leek, Keel spelled backward, the Mothman expert who lost his family as result of his pursuit, was also based on Derenberger.
After his wife took the kids to Cleveland, Derenberger lost contact with Bowman and her older brother Greg. Bowman said Margie Derenberger went to Cleveland partly because of the attention and also because she learned Derenberger was two-timing her.
Bowman said her mother married one of the ufologists from Cleveland to investigate her husband's claims.
Woodrow Derenberger, who would also remarry, followed, moved back to Parkersburg for a while and returned to Cleveland before permanently resettling here again in the late 1970s. In the process, he lost contact with Bowman and her brothers, Larry and Greg.
After a few years, Bowman reconnected with her dad, making occasional trips from Cleveland to visit. She and her family eventually moved back to the area.
Derenberger also reconnected with Bowman's older brother, Larry Derenberger.
"He and Larry went to Parkersburg South football games and wrestling matches," she said.
Derenberger died in 1990 at the age of 74. He became religious late in life, becoming a deacon at the Latrobe Street Church of Christ, according to his obituary. Bowman said Derenberger never refuted his claims, he simply declined to discuss them.
"He was sought out well into the 1970s to speak," she said.
Bowman said her father remained estranged from Greg Derenberger. According to Bowman, Greg even went so far as to change his name.
"Greg didn't want to have anything to do with him," Bowman said. "He totally denies everything."
In the 1966 newspaper accounts Woodrow and Greg Derenberger are photographed with UFO experts from Pittsburgh.
"Greg always hid. He was not the real outgoing type, where as I wanted to know everything that was gong on," Bowman said.
Bowman said neither of her brothers want to discuss Derenberger's claims. Attempts to contact Larry Derenberger were unsuccessful. Bowman said Larry Derenberger did not want to speak with the media regarding his father.
Bowman has revised her father's book adding additional details and photos and changing the name of her mother and one of her siblings, to honor their wishes. Margie Derenberger passed away in 2009. Bowman said Greg Derenberger exploded when he learned about her upcoming book.
"It just makes him mad. He was furious with me when he found out I was doing the book. He was livid," she said.
Unlike her siblings, Bowman accepts her dad's claims.
"I am the only one who was accepted it," she said. "I had an open mind. He would talk to me about it because he knew he could."