Paul Freeman 1943 - 2003
"Bigfoot Proponent Comes to the End of the Trail"
by Michael Dennett
Leon Paul Freeman, a central figure in the hubbub that passes for Bigfoot research, died on April 2, 2003, at age fifty-nine. His position within the inner circle of Bigfoot enthusiasts was the result not only of his prolonged activity but his alleged sightings and subsequent footprint discovery in June 1982 of a huge, ape-like bipedal monster in the Blue Mountains spanning the Oregon/Washington border. This incident produced a series of remarkable footprints, sometimes referred to as the Mill Creek prints (after the location where they were found). For a time, these casts with the possible exception of the famous 1967 Patterson film--constituted the best evidence for the existence of the Bigfoot (Sasquatch) creature.
The Mill Creek watershed is part of a public water supply administered by the U.S. Forest Service; immediately following the footprint disclosure the Forest Service conducted a detailed investigation. The examination by a wildlife biologist and a border patrol tracker concluded the tracks were a hoax, but in true bureaucratic form the Service withheld the findings from the public. Although a-select few within the Bigfoot community knew of the details of the investigation, Washington State University (WSU) Professor Grover Krantz among them, word was suppressed and those who believed the tracks genuine were never told of the evidence against their authenticity. Krantz, the most vociferous proponent, gained significant support for the reality of the monster within the academic community by presenting plaster casts showing the remarkable detail of the Mill Creek prints. At one point anthropologist Robert Meier, supporting the WSU professor, said that Krantz "had offered cautious interpretations of the evidence." By September 1987, Newsweek was reporting that the Mill Creek footprints "are giving credence to the existence of Sasquatch," proof that Freeman's tale (backed by Krantz's vigorous promotion of the tracks) was winning the battle for recognition.
As it turned out, the Newsweek article was the high point of the case; on October 29, ABC's Good Morning America ran an investigative segment on Bigfoot. The broadcast was remarkably skeptical for television-and Freeman himself revealed that prior to the discovery of the Mill Creek tracks he had faked Bigfoot tracks! The Skeptical Inquirer followed up with an in-depth analysis of Freeman's Mill Creek tracks, uncovering not only the Forest Service report, but additional damaging evidence. The investigation was published as the feature story for the Spring 1989 issue.
As damaging as the ABC feature and the SI article were, many still had confidence in Freeman's story. In 1989 1 interviewed Vance Orchard, a local newspaper reporter, for an article about people who were on the hunt for Sasquatch. He told me that if "you had to pick someone to go into the wilderness with, you couldn't find a better tracker than Freeman." Unfortunately Freeman underestimated long-time Bigfoot researcher René Dahinden. When both were in the Blue Mountains, Freeman told Dahinden he'd found yet another set of Sasquatch tracks. Suspicious of "evidence" so readily at hand, Dahinden made plaster casts and photographs of the footprints, and upon examination discovered they consisted of an uninterrupted sequence of left, right, left and left, a most unlikely gait for a bipedal creature.
During the 1970s a number of people had collected samples of what they thought might be hair from the Sasquatch creature. Various hair "experts" came out with opinions about the samples but ultimately these specimens proved to be inconclusive. Sometime after his Mill Creek encounter," Freeman began to come across Bigfoot hair samples; one of the first was presented to the ABC crew for the October 1987 broadcast. An analysis by the New York Police Department crime lab concluded that the sample could not be distinguished form human hair. Freeman then produced at least two more sets of "hair," which he gave to Professor Grover Krantz. From information within the Sasquatch research community, I learned that a Japanese laboratory had told the professor the samples were not organic material they were fakes. When I asked Krantz about the results he said that another lab, this one in the United States, had certified the same hair as coming from an unknown creature, but when asked for the names of either lab he declined to identify them. Then came the International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC) conference at Washington State University in the summer of 1989. Evidence against Freeman's "Sasquatch hair" came from a most unexpected quarter: one of Krantz's own graduate students, Lonnie Sumer. Sumer presented a paper on the last day of the conference examining alleged Bigfoot hair samples (he admitted to me privately they were from Freeman) and concluded the samples were synthetic fibers. A subsequent article in tile ISC journal of an analysis from a Swiss laboratory on hair from Krantz's collection confirmed Sumer's findings. The ISC meeting, coming shortly after the Skeptical Inquirer article and in front of those most committed to a belief in Bigfoot, caused permanent damage to Freeman's credibility.
Even an old Omni magazine article about the Mill Creek tracks resurfaced among Bigfoot buffs. The Omni piece discussed a test conducted by Bigfoot researcher Erik Beckjord within days of the discovery of the tracks and demonstrated the creature, in order to make impressions in the ground to the depth found, would have had to weigh more than 3,100 pounds. (Beckjord concluded that this test, far from doing injury to the evidence for the monster, supported his view that Bigfoot is an inter-dimensional entity, apparently of considerable weight.)
Not since the days
of Ivan Marx (a notorious Bigfoot hoaxer) had someone so consistently
been associated with bogus evidence as Paul Freeman. And, like Titmus & Marx, Freeman
is one of a select group to find and cast a set of Bigfoot hand prints
(they are gigantic and show the creature without a thumb).
Eventually Freeman would go on to find additional Bigfoot footprints,
encounter the creature on a second, third, and fourth occasion, photographing
and filming it twice.
I first met Leon
Paul Freeman--everyone called him Paul--in October 1987 when we were both
filming the segment about Bigfoot for the ABC Network's Good Morning America program . On this occasion,
and when we met later at the ISC meeting, we got along well. In subsequent
phone conversations he was always cordial, despite the fact that my articles
questioned his reliability as a witness and evidence procurer. On one
occasion he lamented the fact that Krantz would not examine his cave paintings
of Bigfoot, an indication that even the credulous professor had a gullibility
limit. Paul even gave me a bust he'd crafted of Bigfoot, a photograph
of which graced the front cover of the Skeptical Inquirer for the issue
on the Mill Creek tracks. I liked Paul and when we chatted during a break
at the ISC meeting he let me take his photograph. At one time he talked
about a museum as a place to sell his busts of the creature, along with
other Sasquatch art and artifacts.
The legend of Bigfoot
is not about to die with the passing with Paul Freeman. With the death of Krantz in February 2002 and Dahinden in April 2001, a rumor made the rounds that Paul had
not actually confessed to the ABC crew and that my reporting of his statement
was out of context. I'm sure that at least some among the older Bigfoot
buffs still have a copy of the Good Morning America program.
Should they decide to play the tape again they will see and hear ABC'S
Steve Fox ask, "You tried to make fake footprints?" with Freeman
answering, "Yes, I did." Fox then asks, "To create prints?"
and Freeman again says, "Yes, I did." Fox is bent on being absolutely
clear and so he asks, "You admit those were fake foot prints," and Freeman is seen nodding in agreement.
© Michael Dennett
wrote about Bigfoot in the Spring 1989 Vol. 13, No. 3 issue of Skeptical
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