Manassas, Virginia man's quest: Finding Bigfoot
By Donnie Johnston
21 September 2003
William Dranginis of Manassas holds a copy of a urethane mold taken of a footprint found where a creature some believe to be Bigfoot was captured on film in 1967 in Bluff Creek, California - Photo by Davis Turner / The Free Lance-Star
Encounter in Culpeper prompts Virginia man's high-tech search for mysterious creature.
There are moments
in a man's life that can change him forever, transform his perspective
on the world, send him
Bizarre and unexpected incidents can, in rare instances, cause men to reorganize their priorities and send them on lifetime quests where the odds of success are almost nonexistent.
William Dranginis experienced just such a moment in the early spring of 1995. While walking through a remote section of Culpeper County with two friends, the Manassas security technologist had a chance encounter that turned his life in a new direction.
There, on a leaf-littered trail in the chill of a March afternoon, he says he came face to face with the creature that has both fascinated and eluded man for untold centuries--Bigfoot.
Driven by the events of that March afternoon eight years ago, the 44-year-old Connecticut native has now become Virginia's foremost Bigfoot researcher. He founded Virginia Bigfoot Research (wdranginis@VirginiaBig footResearch.org) and spends an average of one weekend a month using a high-tech mobile laboratory to track his elusive quarry.
Between expeditions, he works to design and perfect surveillance cameras and listening devices that will aid him in his search. Most weeks, Dranginis says he devotes about 20 hours to his new quest in life: to conclusively document a Bigfoot sighting and prove to the world that the mythical creature really exists. 'Something different'
Dranginis' first brush with Bigfoot came as he and two friends were visiting old gold mines in Culpeper County. They were returning to their vehicle when one of the men said he spotted something about 75 feet behind a tree.
At first, Dranginis didn't see anything, but then a large black head emerged from behind the tree and the creature took off in a "full-blown run."
"At that point I knew this was something different from a man," Dranginis says. "It was about 7 feet tall, covered with hair and had broad, muscular shoulders, arms and legs.
"It ran about 75 feet left to right in full view, then took a hard left and ran down a hill. I could see its muscular shoulders moving back and forth, and its hair, maybe 4 to 6 inches long, flowing as it moved. It disappeared over a hill."
One of his companions, the owner of the land, insisted what they had just seen was a bear and urged them to flee.
"My other friend and I just looked at each other. We knew what it was," Dranginis says.
Shaken by what had just transpired, the three men hurried back to the safety of civilization. But the next day, Dranginis and his friend went back to the scene to look for footprints and do what he now calls "basic research."
They found a small pine tree with its bark stripped on one side to a height of about 18 inches. Farther down a hill, they found disturbed moss in the creek bed. "Then we saw a footprint--about 131/2 inches long," Dranginis says.
He was preparing to make a plaster cast of the print when his friend, a law-enforcement official, tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the brush. "There are two of them out there," Dranginis remembers him saying. "Then I heard it," Dranginis recalls. "Low whistles, two of them signaling to each other. Then I heard something moving." While Dranginis says he wanted to finish the cast, his friend was too frightened to remain. "I survived Vietnam by listening to my gut instinct and my gut instinct tells me to get out of here--right now!" the man told Dranginis. The two left. Dranginis says his friend never came back.
But intrigued by a creature he had virtually no knowledge of before that fateful encounter in the woods near the small hamlet of Richardsville, Dranginis did return--again and again.
For weeks, he searched for tracks and prayed for another sighting, but all he found were broken saplings set up in frame-like arrangements. He would later learn, he says, that similar structures were found near other Bigfoot sightings.
Using his job knowledge, he set up a sophisticated surveillance system with cameras camouflaged on trees and motion sensors buried in the ground. He recorded video of deer, raccoons and other animals, but no Bigfoot.
Finally, he says, the owner of the land--the man who had insisted what they had seen was a bear--asked him to stop searching. "Whatever you spooked keeps coming up to my house at one in the morning and keeps my dog howling," Dranginis says the landowner told him.
When Dranginis returned to remove his camera, he found that something had placed a dead leaf over the lens. Even more fascinating was what he discovered later, when he inspected the video.
"Things had been thrown from behind and above the camera," he says. "Two sticks and a rock could be seen flying through the air." There was more.
"At night, you could hear footsteps, like those made by a biped. Something with a heavy foot would come up, tap on the camera and then walk back out."
Dranginis couldn't understand how anything could know the camera was there until he watched a deer, for no apparent reason, look up at the carefully hidden equipment.
"I figured that while the camera was silent to my ears, it was emitting ultrasonic sounds that animals could hear," he says.
He bought testing
equipment, and, sure enough, the camera was producing sounds that were
inaudible to humans. Dranginis believes this is what tipped off the mysterious
Each January, Dranginis places an ad in a magazine with state circulation encouraging those who have had encounters with Bigfoot to contact him and report their experiences.
He says he gets about
20 responses annually, mostly from hunters. He takes
In addition to similar descriptions of the creature, Dranginis says there is one constant in virtually every story: Almost without fail, only hunters who encounter the beast are stationary in a stand. Bigfoot always seems to hear and evade those who are moving about.
So why hasn't some hunter bagged a Bigfoot? One almost did, Dranginis says, after he spotted a 6- to 7-foot-tall creature standing at the edge of a clearing.
"The hunter said he brought his rifle up and looked at the creature through his scope. He said it was not human and not a bear," Dranginis recalls. "The hunter said that when he drew a bead on it the creature turned and looked directly into his scope. He said he couldn't shoot it because it looked too much like a human. It finally turned and ran up a hill."
Dranginis says there is another common thread to the outdoorsmen's reports: "Most of those hunters don't hunt anymore." From his research, he believes there may be as many as 900 Bigfoot creatures statewide.
Among Dranginis' reports is one from a Highland County dentist who claimed to have encountered Bigfoot while hunting in 1975.
He had shot a deer and went back to his vehicle to get a knife and other equipment. He said when he returned, he found a 7-foot hairy creature with a "cesspoollike smell" with the deer under his arm.
The dentist also said he saw two of the creatures while on a turkey hunt in 1979 and that his son once watched a young Bigfoot--about 31/2 feet tall--skipping rocks off the water of a stream.
A Culpeper woman told Dranginis she has seen a Bigfoot twice, about a year apart. One encounter was on State Route 615 in the Mitchells area, the other time she almost hit one of the creatures with her car near the Phelps Wildlife Management Area at Kelly's Ford.
Another hunter told the Bigfoot researcher that he found one of the creature's tracks on the Orange County side of the Rapidan River near Germanna.
Other sightings, Dranginis says, have come from Greene and Albemarle counties adjacent to the Shenandoah National Park. A number have come from remote Highland County in western Virginia.
One sighting was reported on the outskirts of the highly populated town of Centreville.
Dranginis says he occasionally gets crank calls, but always follows up to make sure those who file reports believe they have really seen a Bigfoot.
He would not identify those who have contacted him, saying almost all who do ask that he keep their names confidential. Geared up for an encounter
There are more than 100 Bigfoot researchers nationwide. They even have their own newsletter.
These days, Dranginis and some of his fellow researchers from Maryland and Pennsylvania are devoting most of their time and energies to an area around Petersburg, near Pocahontas State Park, where several sightings have been reported.
He spends many sleepless
hours watching the woods and fields from his research vehicle, a 1989
Ford camper originally used as a mobile veterinary hospital but now resembling
one of the trucks used to telecast a professional sports event. It is
filled with thousands of dollars worth of
Atop is a periscopelike camera that Dranginis can hand-crank from inside to a height of 25 feet. Each of four video cameras atop the periscope has a 92-degree field of vision so nothing can sneak into a research area without being detected. All are equipped with third-generation night-vision capability.
There is a monitor on the console so Dranginis can detect any Bigfoot that might come within view as he drives through the countryside. And he has even developed a flashlightlike gadget that emits an eerie Bigfoot call and can record any answer.
Despite his advanced
equipment and his constant expeditions, Dranginis still has not been able
to capture Bigfoot on film. The closest he has come was at Petersburg,
when a large shadowy figure darted into his video field and was gone again
two frames later. The pictures are inconclusive at best. Just what does
Dranginis think Bigfoot really is? Is this creature some sort
The researcher says the creature has enough manual dexterity to open a jar of peanut butter, which he thinks is Bigfoot's favorite food. Dranginis says he's left a number of jars in the woods and returned to find them opened with chunks clawed out.
And he believes Bigfoot has the ability to think. He uses his Culpeper County sighting as an example.
"By running directly in front of us, the creature, I think, knowingly diverted our attention from where we first saw it," he says. "It may have done this on purpose to divert our attention from a family unit or mate."
But he is determined to prove--sooner or later, no matter what the expense--that the creature he believes he saw in the Richardsville woods really does exist.
"If I could look into his eyes for four or five seconds I would sell all the equipment I have and move on," Dranginis says. "The eyes, they say, are the windows to the soul."He makes one point very clear."I want no harm to come to him," he says.
So, until he comes face to face with the creature again, Dranginis' Bigfoot quest will continue.
"That 10-second sighting captured my imagination," he says.
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