On May 24, 1989, in a live interview with investigative reporter George Knapp on KLAS-Las Vegas, Robert “Bob” Lazar took the first steps toward becoming one of the most influential (and controversial) figures in all of UFO lore.
Concealing his identity and using the pseudonym “Dennis,” Lazar said that deep within an unconfirmed section of Area 51 called “S4,” he’d once worked on recovered extraterrestrial spacecraft for the US government.
Months later, no longer concealing his identity, Lazar claimed the US government was now waging an all out covert war against him. He said it shot out one of his tires and erased all of his educational records from CalTech and MIT. Lazar eventually claimed that, while at Area 51, his job was to reverse-engineer an alien material called “element 115” that he claimed was used to power an alien spacecraft. Lazar has repeatedly hinted that he took a piece of element 115 from Area 51, and that this element is of great interest to the federal government.
In the years after his initial appearance, Lazar largely returned to private life. He eventually opened a business called United Nuclear Scientific, a scientific supplies and equipment store based in New Mexico, and then Michigan (earlier this month, the company announced it’s moving to Oregon). From radioactive ore to ammonium nitrate, a quick check of Lazar’s scientific supply company’s website reveals the business caters towards the exotic and potentially dangerous side of science. A whimsically Strangelovian GIF on the site’s home page says, “Looking for some URANIUM? CLICK HERE.”
But now, 30 years after initially talking about Area 51, Lazar and United Nuclear Scientific have become part of a new and unusual situation that conspiracy theorists claim is tied to element 115. (It’s worth noting that Lazar’s element 115 is not muscovium, an element that was first synthesized in 2003 and added to the Periodic Table in 2015.)
Right in the middle of the production of a documentary about Lazar’s life, United Nuclear Scientific was raided by the FBI and local police. Lazar and his followers have found this to be very suspicious, and have theorized that the FBI was attempting to recover samples of element 115 that Lazar took from Area 51. Conspiracy theorists suggest that Lazar was under government surveillance, and that this is the latest in a decades-long harassment campaign against Lazar by the feds.
What actually happened on that raid, uncovered in documents obtained by Motherboard using public information requests, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with element 115, but the real story is almost as bizarre.
While Lazar was seemingly content spending decades as a small business owner, the police raid wasn’t the only thing that brought Lazar back into the limelight. In late 2018, he was the subject of a documentary made by filmmaker Jeremy Kenyon Locklear Corbell called Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers.
A self-proclaimed protege of George Knapp, Corbell said it took considerable convincing on his part to get Lazar to return to the public eye. Corbell, who also stars in the film, has made a name for himself in the paranormal genre, previously releasing the documentaries Hunt for the Skinwalker and Patient Seventeen. Under the title “Sensei,” he has also sold instructional videos for an “MMA style that involves sport, street, and art” that Corbel calls “Quantum Jujitsu.”
Though Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers is largely a contemporary retelling of Lazar’s original story, the police raid on United Nuclear Scientific is central to the film.
In the beginning moments of the documentary, viewers find Corbell huddled in a neon-lit bathroom, fretfully pouring over a series of text messages saying Lazar is currently being raided by the “feds.” In an ensuing scene, Knapp, a co-producer of the film says, “I had a feeling something like this might happen.” The climax of the film lays out what they think the raid is really about: An attempt to recover the supposed alien energy source, element 115.
No evidence of the existence of Lazar’s element 115 has ever surfaced. However, according to Lazar, this alien artifact is a highly radioactive element that allows alien spacecraft to traverse the cosmos, impervious to gravity’s effects. Lazar has said for years that he worked on the material at Area 51, and that it can be used to power spacecraft.
"It's a superheavy element," Lazar once told Larry King. "It's a unique element. When it's exposed to radiation, it produces its own gravitational field—its own antigravitational field, and it's what's used to lift and propel the craft."
Conspiracy theorists and Lazar himself have suggested that Lazar stole a piece of Element-115 from Area 51, and that he has it to this day. The only presently known form of Moscovium has a half-life of 0.65 seconds and would thus have decayed very quickly. Nevertheless, the thinking is that the government wants it back, which is why law enforcement raided Lazar’s business.
Since Corbell’s documentary was released late last year, Lazar’s supporters have become more militant about the accusation that the FBI improperly raided United Nuclear to recover element 115. Even the Daily Beast asked, “Why did the FBI raid the home of the biggest alien truther?”
According to months worth of incident reports obtained by Motherboard, the 2016 raid on United Nuclear was part of an ongoing and extensive murder investigation that includes state, local, and federal authorities. The documents make no mention of element 115.
According to reports written by Michigan State Police Sergeant Detective Thomas Rajala, the events leading up to the search of United Nuclear began in late 2015 with the mysterious death of 31-year-old Janel Struzl. Rajala says doctors concluded Struzl was poisoned and died of "thallium toxicity." Colorless, odorless, and tasteless, thallium sulfate has been described as "the poisoner's poison" due to the substance's high toxicity and difficulty to detect.
Thallium is most often used in the manufacture of electronics, as well as in glass manufacturing and the pharmaceutical industry. When isolated, it looks like tin. Thallium is a regular topic of conversation among elements collectors, who try to obtain samples of as many elements in the periodic table as possible.
According to the Michigan State Police reports and United Nuclear Scientific's website, Lazar's company sells thallium, and the police search was intended to learn more about who he'd sold the material to. Lazar is not specifically listed as a suspect in the murder in the police documents.
According to the report, Lazar said sometime in March 2017 a woman provided him with her deceased brother’s “element collection,” which Lazar agreed to sell through his website. According to the report and Lazar, thallium was indeed one of the elements in this collection. “Thallium is something we never carried before and was just recently donated to us by the family of an element collector that died—so we now had a collection of some unusual materials we’ve never had before,” Lazar said in an interview.
Because the case is still an active investigation, some names and details are redacted from reports. MSP reports suggest that police believe one of their suspects may have purchased materials used in Sturzl’s murder from Lazar. The documents note that investigators obtained search warrants for a suspect's Google, Yahoo, and Bing search results, and seized computers and other data from a suspect. Shortly after obtaining information about those internet searches, investigators decided they wanted to question Lazar.
The MSP report indicates that local and state police traveled to several areas in Michigan to conduct interviews. During this same time frame it’s noted, “efforts will be made to contact/interview Bob Lazar (United Nuclear) in person regarding any Thallium sales; specifically, to [an unnamed individual]." Rajala goes on to say in his report that a police officer “had recently discovered United Nuclear advertises Thallium (for sale) on its website.”
A check of the business's website shows, indeed, United Nuclear sells custom made "safety sealed" epoxy disk of thallium. According to the site's description, the thallium discs United Nuclear offers "do not require any sort of special handling or storage, and they can be discarded with normal trash if no longer needed."
A local police report released to me in April by the Laingsburg, Michigan Police Department first hinted there might be more to the story than an unsubstantiated theft of an unproven alien element. This first report was sparse on details, but noted “this investigation started in Houghton, MI in regard to a homicide investigation.” In May, Corbell told British outlet Express, “we believe that the ‘official’ intent of the raid was a cover story—and that they were looking for a piece of the fuel source for the extraterrestrial craft Lazar once worked on for the United States government at Area 51.”
Lazar and Corbell have publicly said Lazar's company was raided as part of a sustained surveillance campaign against a man who's been called a "reluctant UFO messiah." In the documentary, Lazar and Corbell discreetly discuss the possibility of Lazar having taken a piece of the mysterious element. The police search of United Nuclear came the very next morning after this cloak and dagger discussion, according to Lazar and Corbell. In an interview with Larry King, Corbell and Lazar claimed during the search that "FBI agents were able to repeat back verbatim" a portion of their previous day's private conversation. At the annual UFO festival in McMinnville, Oregon, Lazar told a crowd that the FBI had played an audio recording of he and Corbell's element 115 discussion." According to the MSP reports, police had already obtained search warrants a day prior to Corbell and Lazar’s conversation.
When I spoke with Lazar, he told me he didn’t believe everyone involved in the raid was aware of his work on alien spacecraft or element 115. However, Lazar was explicit in saying at least two mysterious individuals at the raid were absolutely concerned with his past, and knew of he and Corbell’s conversation.
“They asked to go upstairs with me and commented on the location of the 115 and Jeremy,” said Lazar in an interview.
Lazar and his supporters have been steadfast in saying it was the FBI who spearheaded the search of United Nuclear. Indeed, the MSP reports confirm the FBI was present and involved with the search. But according to Sgt. Rajala’s notes, the FBI had been involved with the case since January of 2016, when it was determined Michigan State Police forensic lab was “not equipped to handle examinations related to thallium.” It was the chief of the local police department who asked the FBI’s Marquette Field Office for assistance with the search of Lazar’s business.
In addition to having a search warrant for United Nuclear for “records related to thallium sales,” police had also secured warrants to search Lazar’s residence. When I told Lazar this, he said he was previously unaware they had a warrant to search his home. No search was ever done at his home, however.
“They absolutely knew 100% of the business was at the commercial address in Laingsburg, why would there be a raid planned for my home also?” Lazar asked.
When I spoke with Lazar, he said “people in the raid indicated they were looking for some information related to a thallium purchase years ago.” The MSP report said Lazar cooperated: Lazar, “immediately stated he understood and would cooperate/provide any information requested.”
The MSP report says Lazar provided officers with 15 pages of documents, including receipts for all thallium sales, copies of emails between him and an unnamed person, and all records of past orders placed by a separate unnamed individual. In his closing remarks, Rajala says, “as a result of the information obtained from Lazar, and his cooperation, the search warrants were not served.” (This means that Lazar cooperated with the search, not that his business wasn’t searched at all.)
Both Lazar and Corbell maintain that the search had nothing to do with a thallium poisoning, and insist that this is merely a cover story. The FBI was interested in element 115, they say.
“None of the agents [or] offices were the least bit interested in the thallium,” Lazar said.
Lazar says that two law enforcement officials questioned him on element 115 and a conversation he had with Corbell. “Did these two initiate the raid, or were they just ride-alongs with an existing raid? That I don’t know. But it was clear they knew much more than the rest of the crew downstairs,” Lazar said.
Lazar said officials seemed to be primarily concerned with gaining access to United Nuclear’s computers. “They indicated they had ‘computer experts’ there who wanted access to all the computers, which I freely gave them.”
Corbell told Motherboard that the raid was actually related to the element: "If what Lazar has been telling us for 30 years is true, then a cover-story to distract from the actual intent of the raid is plausible," said Corbell.
Lazar and Corbell’s statements are contradicted, however, by someone claiming to be an employee of United Nuclear who posted on Reddit the day after the raid. That person, under the pseudonym “PseudoSmarts,” said that “before the rumor mill gets out of control we wanted to set the record straight” in a thread titled “Bob Lazar’s business, United Nuclear, was just raided by the FBI.”
“We had a customer a few years ago that murdered his wife. FBI, local law enforcement came with a warrant to get our records on him. We provided them the documents and all the info we had on him,” they wrote.
To verify the authenticity of their claim, “Pseduosmarts” included a link to an Imgur photo showing Bob Lazar standing in United Nuclear while holding a sign that read, “Hello Reddit, 7/20/17.” When asked about the Reddit post, Lazar declined to comment.
Because it’s part of an ongoing investigation, a spokesperson for Michigan State Police declined to comment on the search. Houghton Police Chief John Donnelly confirmed his department is the primary agency responsible for the investigation of Janel Sturzl’s death, however, he declined to comment further Donnelly did however acknowledge he was previously unaware of who Bob Lazar was. In follow-up email, Donnelly said that, under the advice of Houghton’s city attorney, he was unable to provide any comments to what Lazar told me occurred during the search.
Chief Dan DeKorte of the Laingsburg Police Department—who assisted and was present during the search of United Nuclear—said based on the information he was provided, “the search was related to a homicide investigation,” and he had “no information on Bob, his film, or Area 51.”
"Maybe if I run into some one day and find myself in a larger and more well-equipped facility that will come to fruition"
Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time Bob Lazar and the sale of deadly toxins have come up. In 2006, several news outlets accused Lazar of “peddling poison” after he was found to be selling the same radioactive poison used to kill former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko. Located in Albuquerque, N.M. at the time, United Nuclear Scientific’s website assured customers they would “run no risk of being tipped off to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” Newsweek reported.
And 2017 wasn’t the first time Lazar and United Nuclear have been raided by law enforcement. In 2003, after he unwittingly sold federal agents banned chemicals used in the manufacture of illegal fireworks, Lazar’s home was raided by the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. Lazar told me that, during that raid, he’d “heard some members of the SWAT team say ‘this is total bullshit—it’s nothing like they told us in the briefing.'” According to federal court records, in 2006 Lazar pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and was sentenced to a $7,500 fine and three years federal probation.
To date, there’s never been any tangible evidence proving Lazar ever set foot inside Area 51, much less worked on alien spaceships or obtained any mysterious elements.
For some ufologists, Lazar is a black eye on a field they desperately hope to see achieve mainstream legitimacy. Others see him as a truth teller. Either way, he is one of ufology’s biggest names and celebrities.
On United Nuclear Scientific’s website, along with five-gallon buckets of Aerogel, customers can buy prints of Lazar’s sketches of flying saucers or custom element 115 “Lazarium” coffee mugs.
When asked, Lazar, told me he wouldn’t directly comment on whether or not he has a piece of element 115.
“After 30 years, I'm a bit tired of constantly defending myself and have no intention to continue it.” Finally, when pushed on whether he might one-day reveal a sample of element 115, thereby proving his claims beyond reproach, Lazar told me, “if I had some, would I reveal it to confirm my accounts? Absolutely not.”
He then suggested that maybe one day he would try to make it from scratch: “I can think of something much better to do with it that would go much further in supporting my story. Maybe if I run into some one day and find myself in a larger and more well-equipped facility that will come to fruition.”