February 21, 2000
Houston Chronicle --
Jimmy Chilcutt is not someone most people would associate with the kind
of wild, unsubstantiated stories that show up in supermarket tabloids.
Chilcutt, 54, is skeptical by nature. His job as a fingerprint technician at the Conroe Police Department requires hard-nosed judgments and painstaking
attention to detail.
He is highly regarded by agents of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and state and local law enforcement agencies because of his innovative techniques (without the use of security cameras) and ability to find fingerprints where others fail.
But in doing what comes naturally -- being careful and thorough -- he
ended up rocking his own skepticism about one of the most sensational
tales that routinely show up in the tabloids.
Chilcutt's quest to squeeze more information out of fingerprints led him
to develop a rare expertise in nonhuman primate prints. He tried to use
his special knowledge to debunk alleged evidence of Bigfoot, also known
But his examination of alleged Bigfoot footprint castings didn't lead
to the conclusion he had expected. He now believes that -- while some
of them are fakes -- some are the genuine prints of a reclusive animal
that has yet to be documented and studied.
The path to Chilcutt's unusual investigation began with an idea he had
in 1995. "If I could look at fingerprints and could tell the sex,
gender and race, I'd be way ahead," he recalled. He began examining
fingerprints to determine whether there were differences based on race
It finally occurred to him that the key to understanding human fingerprints
could lie in nonhuman primates. Primates are members of the order of mammals
that includes humans, great apes, monkeys and lemurs. Chilcutt said he
hoped to find primordial characteristics that would unlock hidden information
in human fingerprints.
First, he had to convince a zoo or a research center
to allow him to take fingerprints. "It was hard to find somebody
who would let you fingerprint their monkey," he said. After being
rebuffed about 25 times over three months, he called Ken Glander, director
of the Duke University Primate Center in Durham, N.C.
Impressed by Chilcutt's
expertise, Glander offered prints from his collection of lemurs. But Chilcutt
was primarily interested in apes, so Glander steered him to the Yerkes
Regional Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta.
Kaylee Summerville, occupational health program coordinator at Yerkes,
said Chilcutt's request was received with caution.
After checking Chilcutt's credentials, the center arranged for him to
take prints of apes at the Atlanta zoo during an annual medical checkup,
while the apes were anesthetized.
Since then, Chilcutt has amassed a collection
of about 1,000 "nonhuman primate prints." He has 350 prints.
He said there are only about four or five researchers working with nonhuman
fingerprints. "All are biologists," Glander said. "We don't
have fingerprint expertise."
Chilcutt studied the primate prints and discovered characteristics that
distinguish different species and traits within species. He said he has
become an expert on primate prints through long study of his samples,
although he is not yet able to decipher human fingerprints.
But an opportunity arose in December 1998 to put his rare knowledge to
use. He was at his home in Montgomery reading a book one evening, barely
paying attention to a TV program about Bigfoot.
His interest was piqued, however, when he heard the term "dermal
ridges," a reference to fingerprints.
He listened closely as Dr. Jeff Meldrum, associate professor of anatomy
at Idaho State University, held a casting of a supposed Bigfoot footprint
and pointed to what appeared to be the loops and whorls of prints.
Believing he could determine the authenticity of the prints, Chilcutt
phoned Meldrum, a specialist in primate anatomy and locomotion. "If
there is a Sasquatch, only a handful of people in the world know the difference
between a primate and a human print," Chilcutt said.
he was delighted to find someone who could help authenticate his collection
of about 100 castings of supposed Bigfoot footprints.
Searching for Bigfoot
A skeptical Chilcutt arrived in Pocatello, Idaho, in April, 2000 and began
studying Meldrum's collection.
He first examined the casting Meldrum had shown on TV and quickly determined
it to be a fake.
The toeprints were actually human fingerprints.
turned him loose on the entire collection.
The print ridges on the bottoms of five castings -- which were taken at
different times and locations -- flowed lengthwise along the foot, unlike
human prints, which flow from side to side, he said.
"No way do human footprints do that -- never, ever.
The skeptic in
me had to believe that all of the prints were from the same species
of animal," Chilcutt said. "I believe that this is an animal
in the Pacific Northwest that we have never documented."
Meldrum, for whom the study of Bigfoot prints is a sideline, believes
it's a legitimate, scientific inquiry. "A misconception is often
perpetrated that this should be relegated to the tabloids," he said.
"The question is, what made the tracks?
They are there; that is indisputable.
It's either a hoax or the track of a living animal. "
has brought his expertise to that question. Chilcutt is considered an expert in primate finger printing and has prints on every known primate. He explained dermal lines in the sasquatch tracks run vertical, while those of man are horizontal, and apes are slanted.
In addition, Chilcutt found the dermal ridges of sasquatch to be about twice the thickness of humans.
He also noticed many prints showed variations in the splay of toes within the same set of prints, which could not be replicated if someone strapped on plaster molds to the bottom of their feet.
Chilcutt found scarring, which would cause the dermal ridges to curve inward. He finally concluded the sets of foot prints examined were authentic and that North America had a new primate unkown to science.
Chilcutt isn't the only print expert to study prints. Doug Monsoon of the Lakewood, Colorado Police department crime lab has had over 28 years in law enforcement; he too studied the tracks and concluded the prints he examined were indeed authentic. He explained how credibility was paramount to his career and the last thing he wanted was to hang out on a limb.
We will never know for sure
until a specimen is collected. Until then, it's unscientific, in my opinion,
to dismiss this evidence without giving it an airing."
was casually acquainted with Meldrum when Meldrum taught briefly at Duke,
said: "Do I believe in Bigfoot? I don't know, but I think it's one
of those things that is interesting and intriguing."
Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle
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