Hulu’s latest true crime documentary series, Sasquatch, was quite fittingly released April 20. The crime was a triple homicide in mid-1990s Laytonville. The victims? Three employees on a cannabis farm. The lead suspect? Bigfoot.
The mysterious ape committing a gruesome crime that left three dead is certainly not a claim anyone can ignore. Certainly not investigative journalist and viewpoint of the series David Holthouse, who was working at a Mendocino cannabis farm when a man came in the door in a state of disarray, claiming that “a Bigfoot” had brutally murdered and dismembered three field workers. Any person with an ounce of skepticism would have to look into such a claim, and Holthouse was no exception. Surely the man was lying about what he’d seen, or Sasquatch had been framed in some kind of R-rated Scooby Doo scheme involving Old Man Henderson in a rubber mask. While I won’t spoil the series, the results of the investigation, or even whether or not they find the Bigfoot that did it, it does lead into an interesting line of questioning. How common is sincere belief in folk legend, and what darker sides does such belief have?
Willow Creek’s own self-proclaimed Bigfoot agnostic, bookstore owner Steven Streufert, is an expert on Bigfoot, as well as the cults of fascination that develop around the creature. Streufert personally takes a more scientific view of cryptozoology than many, one focused on evidence before drawing conclusions.
“It’s kind of like there’s a competition, on one side, to be the most scientific and rational person you can be, and try and present yourself like you are a scientist,” Streufert said. “And most of them aren’t. Most of them are amateurs like me, I mean, I’m not a scientist. We, those of us in my group, try and conduct what we call citizen science, essentially treating it like studying wildlife in Bluff Creek. We have had trail cameras set up since 2012, recording 24/7 all year round, monitoring for Bigfoot, ostensibly. You know, we don’t get Bigfoot on those cameras. However many years it’s been, nine years this year, we have not gotten a single concrete Bigfoot image.”
However, not all put proof before belief. True believers take an almost religious fervor to Sasquatch hunting.
“We’ve got a lot of blurry, weird things that if we were hoaxers or believers in magic we could put forth and say, ‘these are Bigfoot, well that’s a Bigfoot,’ like all you got to do is post the blurry weird ones on Facebook or whatever and suddenly you have a million people telling you you’re great, you’re special,” Streufert said. “And that’s almost more rewarding than the truth. Of course, on the other side of things, some people are just fucked up and crazy to begin with, or they’re drugged on the attention and fame it gets them and they start to believe the weird and magical. If you wrote a book on the weird and magical, it would outsell the book on the critical and rational a thousand to one. People want to believe in monsters and mysteries.”
Some Bigfoot believers are willing to bend the fabric of reality to accommodate their belief. To them, Bigfoot is not just meat and bone like any animal, but something of a legendary creature akin to a unicorn or dragon, or even an extraterrestrial or divine being. And why shouldn’t a mythical creature have mythical powers?
Streufert himself has something of a feud going with Bigfoot hunter and true believer Matthew Johnson. Johnson claims to be to Bigfoot what Dr. Jane Goodall is for chimpanzees, and reports numerous Bigfoot encounters around the Pacific Northwest. He and his followers believe that Bigfoot’s species is made up of highly advanced extradimensional beings that create portals to come through to Earth for short visits. Through his purported visits with what he calls “the Forest People,” Johnson has learned that their planet is dying and the Bigfoot spirits need help coming through to our world. Streufert has been a critic of these theories and has received death threats from adherents. He has even had shots fired at his bookstore.
No connection between the gunfire at Bigfoot Books and the Streufert/Johnson feud has been proven, and no charges have been filed. Still, Streufert does not rule the possibility out.
People are willing to threaten and perhaps even act based on Bigfoot beliefs. The intra-community drama calls to mind the often violent disagreements between religious sects. Bigfoot belief is much closer to a faith than a genuine science. It is less about what you can prove than what you want to believe.
Assuming a strictly anthropological perspective, Bigfoot is unlikely to exist. Great apes diverged from monkeys around 30 million years ago, and hominins diverged from the great apes between 5 and 7 million— too late for a hominin or ancestral ape to appear in a Pangaea-era North America. If we imagine Bigfoot as closer to humans than chimpanzees, humanoid cousins such as Neanderthals only migrated as far as Europe and Asia before dying out approximately 40,000 years ago. Humans themselves only reached the Americas about 33,000 years ago. By all accounts, there is no way that another hominid could exist unknown in the Pacific Northwest without having been introduced as an invasive species within the past five centuries.
Despite knowing this, I do want Bigfoot to be real. Despite knowing logically that there is no way a dinosaur survived to modern times in a Scottish lake or that an enormous moth can predict bridge collapses in West Virginia, there is a part of my brain that wants magic to be real. I want to believe that people come back as ghosts when they die rather than accept that people are gone. I want to believe that disappearances are the result of an alien conspiracy to take us to the stars rather than face the brutal fact that those people are buried in a shallow ditch somewhere. I want to believe that not only is there a wild ape man living in the woods behind my home, but that he is kind, and intelligent, and he would never tear three people limb from limb. The truth is, though I very much wish I did, I don’t believe in magic. There are things we cannot explain, but the truth will never be as fantastic as we hope.