Bigfoot Encounters

On The Sasquatch Trail

In South Asia he's called "Yeti" or "The Abominable Snowman." In Western America, it's "Bigfoot" or "Sasquatch."

Depending on your point of view, he's either a hairy humanoid or a heavy-handed hoax. But now, researchers in Texas and Idaho are rekindling the debate.

Environment Specialist John Hollenhorst has been on the Sasquatch Trail and files this report.

There are new interpretations based on, of all things, fingerprint patterns on alleged Bigfoot footprints. Skeptics remain unconvinced. But enthusiasts claim it's compelling evidence of a mysterious creature lurking in the woods.

The Sasquatch Trail leads to a surprising place-- the campus of Idaho State University. Anatomy Professor Jeff Meldrum has staked his reputation on a subject most academics consider pure hokum. He's collected a treasure trove of Bigfoot memorabilia-- films, videos, photos, slides, ranging from the intriguing to the silly.

One illustrates the adventure of a Canadian who claimed to have been kidnapped by a family of Bigfoots.

Jeff Meldrum/Idaho State University: "That's what I've been trying to do is shift this over from the paranormal, the sensational, the supermarket tabloid stigma, into the realm of a serious biological question."

Meldrum's centerpiece is a collection of plaster casts, very big footprints, nearly a hundred of them, found in the woods over the last several decades. He admits some are fake, but believes some have to be taken seriously.

Meldrum: "Something physical left these traces in the ground."

Alleged sightings have been reported throughout the West, from the Pacific Northwest all the way to Northern Utah. Much of the purported evidence is, at best, arguable:

* A famous film from the 60's that some say looks like a man in a costume.

* A video from the 90's, a fleeting glimpse of something, shot from a crowded motor home in the California Redwoods.

* You can even buy a CD with the voice of Bigfoot, which some say sounds suspiciously human.

And then there's a video shot in Southeastern Idaho. It has sound of crunching in the woods, with a barely audible "Cry of Bigfoot."

On another videotape, there's sound of crunching in the woods, with a Bigfoot cry. John Hollenhorst says, "Okay, it's just me, the reporter! You see how easy it is to fake this stuff? When it comes to Bigfoot, a scientist's best tool is a healthy dose of skepticism."

An investigator for a prominent group of scientific skeptics spoke with us from Seattle.

Michael Dennett/Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal: "You know we have a long history of fabrications, and hoaxes and misidentifications and tall tales... There is more smoke than fire."

Meldrum claims he was skeptical until he analyzed the Redwoods video. He traveled to the exact location, calculated the scale and concluded the creature in the video is 7-and-a-half feet tall. Meldrum's academic specialty is primate locomotion: how did 4-footed Apes evolve into two-footed humans. He claims details of anatomy, posture and gait suggest the Redwoods creature is something like a two-footed ape.

Meldrum: "At least for me, opened up the possibility, hey, maybe there is something going on here."

He also says some plaster footprints are scientifically credible.

Meldrum: 'They are precisely what one might expect, given the habitat in which these animals are moving about."

But skeptics say much of the footprint evidence has been proven to be fake. And Meldrum is just seeing what he wants to see.

Dennett: "I have not seen any skepticism from him."

But now there's a dramatic new twist from an unlikely source, a cop in Texas. He's coming to the rescue, maybe.. with fingerprint evidence from humans and from apes. We'll have his story Thursday night.

The legend of Bigfoot has taken a new twist, and it's coming from the State of Texas. A fingerprint expert claims to have uncovered convincing proof that the elusive creature, sometimes called Sasquatch, actually exists.

Skeptics, of course, think it's bunk.

Environment Specialist John Hollenhorst has been on the Trail of Sasquatch.

Skeptics say the only evidence of Bigfoot that's at all compelling is the testimony of eyewitnesses. We can vouch for that. We listened, skeptically, to a man who claims he saw Bigfoot in Southeast Idaho a few months ago. He was extremely rattled, and wouldn't go on camera; we wound up at least believing that he believed.

And last night, three KSL employees told me similar stories, very convincingly. But the legend will never be widely believed without physical proof. And that's what a Texas cop claims to have.

During his long career in law enforcement, Jimmy Chilcutt has become an expert. The cop from Conroe is said to be one of the best fingerprint men in the business.

But he branched out from fingerprinting Texas bad guys a few years ago, and started going to zoos. As a sideline research project, he began collecting prints from the feet of primates: gorillas, chimps, orangutans, monkeys.

Chilcutt: "I became a primate fingerprint expert." When he heard that, Idaho professor Jeff Meldrum was claiming to have plaster casts of Bigfoot's actual footprints.

Jeff Meldrum/Idaho State University: "Something physical left these traces in the ground."

The skeptical Texas cop became curious.

Chilcutt: "I felt that I might have something to add because I know the difference between a primate footprint and a human footprint."

He went to Idaho, brought back those very big footprints, and got down to work. He examined the tiny lines, so-called dermal ridges, unique to every fingerprint, palm-print and footprint. He quickly judged one plaster cast to be worthless.

Chilcutt: "The casting had been enhanced manually with a human fingerprint."

But two other casts startled him.

Chilcutt: "I was amazed because it was something I haven't seen befor in humans or in primates."

The direction of flow of the dermal ridges appears to run along the length of the foot rather than sideways across the foot.

Chilcutt: "And the pattern flow indicates it was not human nor quite primate. A species in itself, really."

"Whether you call it Bigfoot or Sasquatch, from that evidence I can tell that there is an animal up there in the Pacific Northwest."

But are the dermal ridges authentic?

Michael Dennett/Skeptical investigator: "No. What it is showing, I think, is how inventive people can be in hoaxing a Bigfoot."

**Skeptical investigator Michael Dennett of Seattle says if the original casts were faked, it doesn't matter what a fingerprint expert thinks. He says some of the best plaster casts came from a man in Washington State who once admitted at least some were fakes.

(**It should be noted here that Michael Dennett is an expert in nothing, he isn't a forensic primate print expert, he is a journalist with an opinion, that's all... It should also be noted that currently all the known hoaxers of footprint tracks are dead, yet the expert field investigators are still finding and casting tracks that are presumtive sasquatch tracks, ...tracks with dermal ridging that fit no other primate known to science at this time.........Bobbie Short)

**Dennett: "At this point of time, we don't want valuable scientists to spend their valuable time messing around with something that in all likelihood is a hoax."

(**Again, what scientists spend their time on isn't up to Dennett to decide based on his skewed opinion alone and that is all this is, an opinion of a biased journalist....Chilcutt, on the other hand, is a veteran forensic primate print expert, currently on the payroll of the Conroe Police Dept in Conroe, Texas; there are no primate prints that Chilcutt does not have in his possession and Meldrum, of course, is a highly credentialed professor of anatomy and an expert in sasquatch biology. Meldrum is highly regarded among investigators......Bobbie Short)

Jeff Meldrum/Idaho State University: "I'm sure the debate won't be ended until we have a specimen on the dissection table or in the zoo."

But the hard-nosed Texas cop has a soft-spot for Bigfoot. This is one suspect he hopes is never taken into custody.

Chilcutt: "It's enough to know that there's an animal out there, and who, for the most part, has eluded humans for hundreds of years. Personally, I think that animal ought to be left alone."

© 2000 KSL Television, Salt Lake City, UT. (Eye Witness News)

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