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SASQUATCH AIN'T DEAD YET
by Jon Olsen

On November 26th, 2002, an 84 year old man named Ray Wallace died from heart failure. By December 5th of that year, the news had spread worldwide: BIGFOOT IS DEAD! The "truth" of the matter being that Ray Wallace and Bigfoot were, it turns out, one and the same.
"Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot. The reality is, Bigfoot just died," said Ray's son, Michael. The Wallace family publicly stated that in 1958 Ray, a family man and lovable prankster, donned a pair of wooden track stompers and unwittingly created a legend.

In August of that fateful year, Jerry Crew, a bulldozer operator employed by Mr. Wallace, found prints of huge, naked feet on a road being built in Humboldt County, CA. Eureka, CA's Humboldt Times (today the Times-Standard) ran a front page story on the footprints and coined the term "Bigfoot."

Today, if you find yourself talking about Bigfoot, someone is likely to say, "Didn't the guy who started the hoax die recently?" Whether they read it, saw it, heard it, or simply heard of it, everyone knows that Bigfoot was a hoax all along. After all, it was in the news. Those footprints they found were fakes. In fact, many newspapers printed photos of the Wallace clan proudly posing with Ray's very own homemade wooden Bigfeet, the stompers that started it all. Some newspapers even printed the photos of Wallace's fake feet right alongside the famous 1958 photo of Jerry Crew posing with plaster casts taken from the tracks found on the construction site. Oddly, few people seemed to notice that Ray's strap-ons and Jerry's casts were not the same shape...in other words, the former did not create the latter.

While it is true that the term "Bigfoot" never entered the public's vocabulary prior to 1958, sightings of giant, hairy "Ape Men" go back at least as far as 1850. Native Americans had been sensibly avoiding them countless years prior to the unwitting arrival of Europeans.
Reports of sightings come from a variety of people. Some of these people, it is true, seem a little attention hungry and their stories are therefore suspect. But many reports are made by honest, earnest individuals, who appear to have things other than Bigfoot on their minds before they find themselves face to face with the animal. And most of those people certainly have better things to do than make an ass of themselves by perpetrating a hoax.
And what a hoax! Footprints and sightings are reported across the breadth of our great continent, and all over the world. Ray Wallace must have inspired a lot of copycat pranksters. And a good number of them have faked evidence that has fooled the experts. When I say experts, I'm talking people whose life work involves wildlife, and nature, and life sciences. Even Jane Goodall, the world's most famous primatologist, has publicly admitted having an open mind regarding Bigfoot. A hoax that good doesn't just happen. Organization is required if faked evidence is to maintain a consistent pedigree of believability for such a long time. Is it really possible that for the last 45 years we have been fooled by carefully orchestrated anecdotal and circumstantial evidence? Or is it more likely that an unknown species of primate exists in remotes nooks and crannies of our world? Which possibility do you find more likely?

Many have already accepted as fact that Sasquatch's existence is finally disproved. Being a skeptic however, I find that notion dubious. I made several attempts to contact and interview the Wallace family. My efforts were entirely unsuccessful. So I decided to talk with a couple of those afore mentioned experts who, like me, still find the notion of a Bigfoot Hoax more preposterous than the notion of a Bigfoot...

GOTTA LOVE THAT ANOMALOUS EVIDENCE

An email interview with Jeff Meldrum.

Dr. Jeff Meldrum is a physical anthropologist at Idaho State University. In 1996 he was shown a fresh line of sasquatch footprints in southeastern Washington. He found them compelling enough to prompt the undertaking of a more systematic review of footprint evidence. Over the past seven years, Dr. Meldrum has examined hundreds of casts and photographs of alleged bigfoot tracks. His position on the possibility of bigfoot's existence is firm:

Jon Olsen: Based on the studies you have conducted, what conclusions can you draw with certainty?

Jeff Meldrum: Science is by nature tentative - a point that many overlook. However, one conclusion I can personally and professionally make is that "something" is leaving large bipedal footprints. Convincingly faking a line of animated footprints is not such a simple undertaking as many would assume. Yes, there have been fakes - these are generally transparent. On the other hand there are tracks that have borne up under scrutiny by experts in primate anatomy and locomotion, such as me, and expert trackers who are familiar with the nuances of a "living" track.
I still maintain that the tracks indicate the presence of some animal that has not been fully accounted for.

JO: Do you ever examine tracks on location?

JM: Yes, when and where possible. Otherwise, I refer the incident to some of my collaborators in that region to investigate. I have examined fresh tracks personally on at least 5 occasions.

JO: What do you look for to distinguish faked footprints from genuine tracks?

JM: In addition to the anatomy of the footprint I look for those dynamic signatures that indicate a "living" track, i.e. pressure ridges, tension cracks, slide-ins, drag-outs, variation in toe flexion/extension, etc.

JO: How many casts have you examined? Of those, how many do you believe to be authentic?

JM: I have assemble a sample that numbers in excess of 150 casts, and half again as many photographs of casts and footprints. Frankly the majority are quite credible.

JO: Do you examine other kinds of evidence?

JM: Yes, as an anatomist and student of primate locomotion, I examine films and photos that allege to depict Sasquatch. In collaboration with other researchers I also examine dermatoglyphics, hair, scat, DNA.

JO: Do you think the Roger Patterson film is authentic photographic evidence of a sasquatch?

(The film I refer to is the famous shakey shot of a female Bigfoot walking across a dry riverbed and disappearing into a forest. Shot at Bluff Creek, CA in 1967, this piece of film, even today, remains a point of contention between believers and skeptics. The media coverage of Ray Wallace's Great Prank has vaguely implied that Wallace had a hand in the film's creation.)

JM: I am convinced of the authenticity of the Patterson film. If based on nothing other than the footprints associated with that film, it appears to be authentic. The dynamics of the footprints correlate with the kinematics of the foot evident on the film itself to the careful observer, which in turn correlate with the particulars of gait and anatomical distinctions exhibited by the film subject.

JO: Have you had the opportunity to look at casts of the prints made by the animal depicted in that film?

JM: Definitely. Patterson cast a pair. Others were photographed by a FS timber cruiser shortly thereafter. Later Bob Titmus cast a series of ten footprints. These are very informative and speak volumes to the authenticity of the film.

JO: Much is made of Roger Patterson's character issues. It is frequently mentioned that he knew hoaxer Ray Wallace, that Wallace told him where to go to see a sasquatch. It is also said that Patterson had Hollywood connections.
(As a filmmaker, I am aware of how frequently people assume that use of camera equipment along with time spent in Southern California automatically mean "Hollywood connections".)
In short, many skeptics have opined that the circumstances surrounding this famous piece of film are too convenient for it to be true.
In your opinion, does any of this weaken the possible veracity of the film?
Or are these details being blown out of proportion?

JM: Patterson's dealings with "Hollywood" have been scrutinized extensively and there is no "smoking gun." He was at Bluff Creek on the heels of a track find the previous month that was investigated extensively. His stated intent was to get film footage of fresh footprints for a documentary he hoped to produce to fund further field research. It has been said that Wallace told Roger where to go to get Bigfoot on film, but those who spoke to Wallace said it was obvious he was unfamiliar with the particulars of the area in question. The site was examined by the FS timber cruiser, Lyle Laverty, and companions shortly after the incident and Mr. Laverty has told me that he saw nothing in the tracks to indicate anything had occurred other than what Roger and Bob recounted. The Wallaces themselves have stated openly and publicly that Ray had nothing to do with the Patterson film and they have no knowledge of whom or what is on that film. Mrs. Wallace did admit to donning a costume so her husband could film her, but rather than show that admittedly hoaxed footage the media instead repeatedly aired a clip from the Patterson film, or implied that the Patterson film was Mrs. Wallace in a costume, without bothering to explain how the diminutive Mrs. Wallace filled the stature of the Patterson film subject. The Wallace claims only undermine the credibility of the Patterson film in the minds of those ignorant of the facts or grasping for a simplistic explanation for an anomalous event.

JO: Many people have asked, and will continue to ask: Why hasn't a body been found yet? Or bones?

JM: Assuming a model from great ape natural history, these animals are rare, long-lived, slow developing, infrequently-reproducing, top-of-the-food-chain, animals. A death would be a rare event by comparison to common animals in the mountains such as deer. A more appropriate analogy would be to ask how may wolverine carcasses are discovered by outdoorsman? In the moist forests of the northwest, the soils are very acidic and are not conducive to the preservation of bone.

JO: It has been argued by some that the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest cannot have enough food to sustain a creature as large as sasquatch.

JM: Simply nonsense. By all accounts it appears this animal is a generalized omnivore having been seen eating everything from "nuts and berries" to deer and elk. If a large black bear can sustain itself it is reasonable that a large omnivorous primate could as well. I have discussed the edible plant foods with a Hoopa Indian woman knowledgeable of traditional plant foods and she enumerated the many foods available to one who knows what to look for.

JO: Why haven't we found any feces or hair? Seems like every time someone claims to have found such specimens, they turn out to be fake or from another animal.

JM: These bits of physical evidence have been recovered. Many of these finds defy identification. After all, there is no known sample of hair or scat or DNA against which to compare the samples in question. My colleague Dr. Henner Fahrenbach has assembled over fifteen samples of hair collected in association with sasquatch encounters that display consistent and distinct characteristics that cannot be matched to any known animal.

JO: Why aren't there more films or photos that are at least as convincing as Roger Patterson's film?

JM: There are a few others worthy of consideration. Most encounters are fleeting and unexpected. It is hardly surprising that there are so few films or photos taken and those that are, are generally amateurish.

JO: With the amount of interest there is in sasquatch, why hasn't something conclusive been found by now?

JM: Armchair interest does not produce evidence. There are no funded sustained field projects by professional wildlife biologists or primatologists underway.

JO: When and how did Jimmy Chilcutt, the forensics investigator from Texas contact you?

JM: He saw me on a documentary and looked me up. After spending a morning in my lab with the casts he was convinced we were dealing with a real primate.

JO: Did the results of his investigation change any assumptions you had about the evidence you had already examined?

JM: No, it confirmed my impressions about the significance of the few examples of skin ridge detail I was aware of, and reinforced suspicions about some questionable evidence. It has better educated me on the distinctions of the dermatoglyphics evident on the sasquatch footprint casts.

JO: Have you received much criticism from other members of the scientific community? Has there been a lot of positive feedback?

JM: Reactions have spanned the entire spectrum. I am disappointed by the closed-minded presumptions of some of my colleagues and gratified by the increasing number of scholars from varied disciplines that have stepped forward to engage the data, as befitting a scientist.

JO: Do you ever doubt the existence of Sasquatch?

JM: I continue to question the evidence and our interpretation of it. That is how science proceeds.

JO: Do you think Sasquatch's existence will be verified sooner or later? Is there a chance we'll never know?

JM: I anticipate that it will. It is difficult if not impossible to prove that something does not exist. If sufficient funds and sustained effort are never directed at the question, it may languish unresolved indefinitely. Jane Goodall didn't catch her first glimpse of chimps for months, and they were a gregarious boisterous lot contained essentially in one valley. Yet, I am criticized by some for not collecting conclusive evidence of a relatively solitary reclusive far-ranging primate in a vast habitat on a given unfunded weekend excursion. Go figure.

JO: If all these footprints, reported sightings and so on aren't evidence of a real animal, what are they evidence of?

JM: If not evidence of a real animal then the footprints must be the result of a coordinated network of hoaxes that have systematically incorporated consistent features that distinguish these footprints from human footprints and that are highly correlated with the particulars of the way this animal is said to walk as reported by hundreds of independent eyewitnesses with no background in the biomechanics of human or primate locomotion. Taken as a whole, they are certainly not the product of some unsophisticated carved feet strapped to a hoaxer's boots.

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE DERMAL RIDGES

Telephone interview with Investigator Jimmy Chilcutt

Jimmy Chilcutt is a latent fingerprint examiner, and a crime scene investigator for the Conroe, Texas Police Department. He also happens to be the foremost expert in the field of ape and monkey dermatoglyphics. With the help of zoos and primate research centers, he has collected and established a substantial database of primate fingerprints. In 1999, Chilcutt contacted Jeff Meldrum and offered to bring his specialized knowledge into the field of sasquatch footprint research.

Jon Olsen: What brought Jeff Meldrum's work to your attention?

Jimmy Chilcutt: I was watching TV one Sunday afternoon and - I think it was the Discovery Channel - and they had a program on Bigfoot, and Jeff was talking about dermal ridges. And I got to thinking: there's very few people who know the difference between a gorilla's print and an orangutan's print and human prints. And what I felt is that if this was really a primate then I should be able to tell the difference and tell maybe what species it was from by looking at the prints. And so I called him and told him my expertise and what work I was doing, and he invited me up to Idaho. I went up there a few months later, it was in April of '99 I think, and we started examining some of the castings - he had over a hundred castings in his lab - and I started examining them. Pretty soon I found a couple of castings that had real good dermal ridges, and they weren't human, nor were they known primates. It was actually a species in itself.

JO: Did you have any expectations before you examined these prints? Did you start with an attitude of skepticism?

JC: I'm a police officer and a crime scene investigator, so I have to approach anything I do with an open mind. Not have preset notions of what I'm going to find or not going to find. So I had no idea.

JO: Just curious to see what the evidence would show?

JC: Yeah...the evidence speaks for itself, I don't try to make anything more or less out of what the evidence is saying.

JO: When you refer to "dermal ridges" are you talking about the same sort of thing that fingerprint whorls are?

JC: Yes, friction ridges. You find 'em on the bottom of your feet, the hands, the palms, those are called friction ridges. And only primates have them.

JO: Humans, apes and monkeys.

JC: Right. Non-human primates and human primates. Not many people know this, but all monkeys have the same fingerprint pattern, which is an elongated whorl. Monkeys, no matter where you find them in the world, from India, Africa, South America, all monkeys have the same pattern - they're all unique and individual to each animal, but all have the same general pattern - elongated whorl. That's all they have. Humans have arches, loops, and whorls. Great apes - gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and gibbons - they have loops and whorls.

JO: Was there anything different about these particular friction ridges?

JC: Yeah, once I decided they could not have been faked I started looking at the texture and the ridge-flow pattern. I found in all the sasquatch foot casts I examined that the ridges flow up and down the side of the foot...in humans the ridges flow across, and in primates that we know of they flow at an angle.

JO: So this is something completely different from both apes and humans?

JC: Yes. I've never seen a print where the ridges go up and down the side. And once I determined what this animal's print looked like, it was easy to examine the others and be able to tell a fake from a real one.

JO: Because you established a foundation from which to work.

JC: Right. There's three castings in all that are the basis (of comparison) for the dermal ridges - there's the one from California (found on Blue Creek Mountain Road, near Willow Creek) which was the first one I examined, then there's one from Walla Walla, Washington, also there was one other from Southern Georgia. A deputy sheriff cast it, I think in the nineties. This cast shows some real good dermal ridges and the flow pattern was the same as the ones in the Pacific Northwest.
An interesting thing about the Washington one...it had scars on it. Now, when human skin is cut below the foot and it starts to heal, the friction ridges will curl inward toward the scar... When I saw this casting it had a bunch of ridges and it had scars on it, the first thing I looked for was the curling of the ridges, and they did, which is something that is virtually impossible to fake because you'd have to know that. You have to have an intimate knowledge of biology and science and dermal ridges. Not only did the scars look authentic, the ridge-flow and the texture was the same as the one from California. And that Skookum cast, I'm sure you've heard of the Skookum cast...

(On September 22nd, 2000, an apparent body print of a sasquatch was discovered in a patch of mud in the Skookum Meadows area of Gifford Pinchot National Park in southern Washington State. The print seems to contain impressions of buttocks, a thigh, a forearm, an elbow, heels, and hair patterns. It has been examined by many prominent sasquatch researchers, including Jeff Meldrum.)

JO: You examined the Skookum cast?

JC: I examined the achilles heel, actually two parts of the heel, and even though there wasn't a lot of ridge detail, the flow pattern was the same as the others. It was the same type of animal.

JO: When you examined Dr. Meldrum's prints did you have any specialized technology that you were able to bring to bear on the situation?

JC: When I brought them back to my lab I used the laser on them just to trace the contrast of the ridges. But, other than strong lighting and a camera and my knowledge - that's all I had with me.

JO: So, basically, you brought the prints' texture into sharp relief to better examine them?

JC: Right. I brought three castings back from Idaho with me. (The ones from California, Washington, and Georgia.) I examined those in my lab for nearly a year.

JO: Approximately how many different prints did you examine altogether?

JC: Over a hundred castings...but only about six had good enough dermal ridges to say yes, they're definitely dermal ridges. And two of those, the Washington one and the California one, were cast around the same time.

JO: So only six had definite dermal ridges?

JC: That's a pretty good percentage, because out in the woods, the forest, it's real hard to get a print that shows dermal ridges because of the vegetation, the leaves and the grass. Just about every one of them that had dermal ridges was cast in a creek bed, or in real soft soil. I think one of them...was in volcanic ash dust, and it's the clearest actually, it's the best print. The best cast.

JO: Have you examined other kinds of print-related evidence, like photos, or have you gone out to examine prints in the field?

JC: No. I'm not into that. In fact, to make my position perfectly clear, I'm not a researcher, going out to hunt for the sasquatch or anything, in fact I'm not even interested in it. My position is of support. I'm able to bring a discipline to bear that is very unique and has not (previously) been used in this field.

JO: The good casts that you have examined are spread far apart, geographically speaking.

JC: What that tells me is that this animal, just like the monkeys, no matter where in the world you find it, be it a Yeti or a Yowie from Australia, and whatever the Russians have, this animal is going to be the same species of animal. The same animal. That's why the news media hit on that Wallace deal so hard and it was so funny. I examined Wallace's casts and they were so obvious it didn't take me more than a couple of minutes to look at 'em and say,"Wow, these are fake." There's no question that Wallace did a lot of hoaxing, and I'm sure other people have. The thing about the (casts) I've examined and can say with 99.9% certainty are authentic, is that there are certain things on them that are unique, that you couldn't get in a fake, and one of those things is that the clearest ridges are on the side of the foot, which you couldn't get on a wooden footprint, because when the animal steps down the pressure of its weight pushes the skin of the foot out to the sides, and as the foot lifts up that skin sucks back in, leaving an impression. There are also ridges on the bottom of the feet, but the ridges to the side indicate authenticity. Wallace never even thought about ridges. A wooden forgery, you just push straight down and pull straight up, and the side-walls are just smooth. Whereas on the authentic castings, you actually have ridge texture.

JO: When you examined Dr. Meldrum's casts, did you come across any others that were obviously fake?

JC: Oh yeah. In fact I had a pretty good fake that was much better than Wallace's - they had dermal ridges in it, but they were human dermal ridges. I was able to spot that real quick because of the way human ridges (look) - this one had been double-tapped accidentally. The guy, whoever did the casting, tried hard but just couldn't fool an expert.

JO: Have you seen the famous Patterson film?

JC: Yes. Several times.

JO: Do you have any opinion as to whether or not that film represents an actual animal?

JC: No. I have no opinion on that film at all, it's way out of my expertise. If someone had brought me a cast and said, yeah, this is from the area that Roger Patterson was in, then I could tell you.

JO: How have peers in your field reacted to your findings?

JC: Well, the thing about it is, there's just not a whole lotta people in the world that have the primate expertise along with the human expertise. Now, there's a lot of Phds who have studied primate dermal ridges, but have no idea how to compare it to human ridge-flow pattern and texture. I'm one of the few - if not the only one - that actually has expertise in both areas. And that's what you need in this field, in this sasquatch dilemma, is someone who can tell a fake.

JO: Why is the media so quick to blow a paper-thin hoax explanation out of proportion while virtually ignoring small, but substantial solid evidence?

JC: I don't know. We have gotten a lot of publicity. I've done seven or so Discovery Channel specials with regards to my findings. They've been aired all over the world. I've done one for France, for England... You know the press better than I do.
See, one thing is that my findings have never been challenged. No one has ever said, even skeptics, no one has ever said, "well, he's wrong." It's physical evidence...the only thing you can dispute is the interpretation of it. And you have to have some kind of knowledge to be able to interpret it...
Even Dr. Meldrum, I don't think, understands the - I'm sure he does, but just - he doesn't understand the significance of those dermal ridges like I do. 'Cause when I first saw them, I mean, you know, wow - this is something new. And he'd had the casts for a long time.

JO: Dr. Meldrum says your findings confirmed what he'd guessed all along.

JC: And that was my job: to keep him sured up that he wasn't chasing ghosts, and that there was a need for him to continue with what he's doing. All I did was affirm that.
It's not hard for me to accept that we don't have very many people actually seeing them or that there's no remains. When I was in Vietnam, we were out in the jungle. You didn't see the Viet Cong until they wanted you to see 'em. 'Cause that was their home area. Imagine what a primate, with primate instincts could do, and how easily they could avoid humans.

JO: And maybe there aren't enough people out looking for them.

JC: Right, and I'm kind of glad of that. It's enough for me just to know that there is an animal out there, and from the physical evidence I've examined, there's no question about it. And it just kinda sets good with me that he's out there and avoiding everybody.
Oh, I might mention too, that Northern California cast, the best one with the clearest dermal ridges-- that's not even a "big" foot, it's just 13 inches. It's from a juvenile animal. If you're gonna hoax a bigfoot, you better make it BIG. 16 or 17 inches.

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