An Answer to the Critics

It's been a couple of years since I wrote Is the Patterson Film Too Good a Hoax? for FATE magazine (March, 2002), and since then a couple of new developments have arisen that I felt needed to be addressed (I'm sorry it's taken me a couple of years to get around to it, but I've been busy lately.) Most significant among them has been the appearance of a book entitled The Making of Bigfoot by Greg Long (Prometheus Books, 2004) and an article in Skeptical Inquirer by Kal Korff (1967 Bigfoot Film Hoax Exposed; July/August, 2004. [Read the full article here.]), both of which make the case that Roger Patterson's controversial footage of an alleged Sasquatch (I hate the term Bigfoot; it sounds like a cartoon character) shot near Bluff Creek, California in 1967, was a hoax.

Of course, this is nothing new. I remember when the story first broke in the fall of 1967 (I was nine at the time. You do the math.) It was assumed that Patterson's grainy photo of "something" splashed across the newspapers was a "guy in an ape suit" even then, thus demonstrating just how far the debate has come since (I'm thinking about a quarter of an inch.) What has changed, however, is that now—at least according to Long and Korff—we have the guy who was in the suit (or, at least, the latest guy to make the claim)! His name is Bob Heironimus (how's that for a name?) and he has come forth after all these years to confess that, yes, it was he who donned the clever disguise and paraded around for Patterson and Bob Gimlin (the other witness to the event) that beautiful autumn day back in 1967. I confess that I haven't read Long's book, but I did have a chance to peruse Korff's SI article (actually, they're one in the same as Korff clandestinely helped Long with his book; a point which he admits in the beginning of the article) and what I read shocked me! I have goosebumps still! Really, you can see them for yourself! They're huge!

To synopsis the article, it basically maintains that Patterson (who died of cancer in 1972) was something of a scoundrel who cooked the entire scheme up—along with his friend Bob Gimlin (who's still alive as of this writing and has never admitted being in on any hoax)—in an effort to gain notoriety and maybe make a few bucks in the process. Apparently they were associates of Heironimus (hereby known as BH for the sake of brevity), who was to be paid to model the suit while Patterson took his grainy footage. Korff even gives us a timeline on how and when the skullduggery was done as well as names the person (a guy named Philip Morris; yep, just like the big advertising firm) who fashioned the suit for Patterson, and the rest is, as they say, monster lore history.

If true, of course, it's a damning indictment of the whole sordid affair (not to mention that it makes my article on why the film couldn't be faked look like so much nonsense) and calls the entire premise of whether there might be an undiscovered species of great ape in North America into question, so what am I to do? It seems another treasured belief from childhood stands on the edge of oblivion, forcing me to confront this thing head on or forever hold my piece! Yikes!

Now I don't claim to be a Bigfoot expert (nor any kind of expert for that matter) so I'm not qualified to intelligently discuss the minutia of Korff/Long's "evidences". I leave that job to others far more knowledgeable than I, especially when it comes to things like primate anatomy and the nuances of outdoor photography (however, there is an excellent-and rather lengthy—critique on Long's book on you may want to check out. It's by some guy named Roger Knights who does a good job dismantling Long's book point-by-point [to the tune of some 5,500 words no less. I checked the word count by copying and pasting the thing into Word. Amazon reviews are supposed to be limited to 1,000 words or less; apparently, Roger never got the message.] There's also a number of letters to the editor sent from various experts in the field to the SI staff you may want to peruse. They also do a nice job of refute his main points.) As such, I'm not going to do here what others have already done a far better job of doing. My interest lies not in refuting the details of the story, but in the type of evidences the story draws upon to make its case.

You see, I always assumed the way to debunk something like the paranormal (or, in this case, the cryptozoological) is to present solid, empirical evidence either that something didn't happen or, at very least, demonstrate how it could have been hoaxed. However, that's not what we have here. Korff's article (and, by extension, Long's book) is almost entirely anecdotal, without a shred of physical evidence to support a single contention (i.e. the suit in question or, at least one very similar to it.) Instead, he points out things like BH's story being backed up by none other than his very own mother (who says she saw a big hairy ape suit in the trunk of her son's car), an assortment of drinking buddies at a nearby tavern, and his eight year old nephew. My favorite statement Kal writes is "Moreover, several other people in the small town of Yakima have all vouched for Heironimus's story and can prove that they first heard it shortly after the hoax was created." (Really? Just how can they prove something like that? Do they have time stamped photographs of the moment they first learned of the nefarious plot?) Anecdotal stories and almost forty year old memories, apparently, are what constitutes "proof" in Korff's world.

To further buttress his assault, he goes on to describe in some detail how the suit was made (elements of which are unfortunately at odds with Mr. Morris' account of how it was constructed) that are almost laughable in their lack of sophistication. The head, for example, is supposedly horsehide glued onto an old football helmet with eye holes cut into it. (I know, it looks far more detailed than that in the film but maybe it just photographs really well.) And then there is the description of how Patterson created the feet for the footprints he was to later make (prints which, incidentally, appeared to be sufficiently anatomically correct to fool the experts and heavy enough to imply a six-hundred pound animal had made them.) Finally, he reports a whole litany of amazing coincidences regarding BH and the critter in the picture. For example, the image is of a creature about six feet tall and BH just happens to be six feet tall! (Actually, most literature I've seen on the footage suggests a creature closer to six and a half to seven feet in height, but I'm not one to quibble.) And if that isn't evidence enough, the Sasquatch appears to be very stout and muscular, and BH was very stout and muscular back then! And the creature had breasts, just like…well, never mind-you get the idea. Remarkable series of coincidences, wouldn't you agree? (But my favorite of all is Korff's contention that the flash of light in frame 352—the most famous one where the creature turns to face the camera—is actually sunlight reflecting off BH's prosthetic glass eye! Actually, considering the quality of the film and the great distance involved, I'd be surprised if you could pick out a prosthetic glass head in that mess; it's that grassy knoll thing, I think, where you can see just about anything in a picture if you want to—especially if it supports your bias.)

But doesn't Kal have anything to be said in his defense? After all, eyewitness evidence still counts for something nowadays, and doesn't circumstantial evidence still hold up in court? Hell, people have been sent to the electric chair on less!

True, anecdotal evidence can be important, but it's not empirical science (a point that Skeptical Inquirer and its hordes of debunkers continually emphasize). Everything Korff says is purely hearsay and clearly lies outside the realm of either scientific refutation or within the high standards normally demanded by a publication like Skeptical Inquirer (as if aware of this fact, SI did do a little back peddling a few months later with a follow-up article by Michael Dennett entitled Some Reasons for Caution about the Bigfoot Film Expose, Jan/Feb 2005. Even SI occasionally smells a rat—especially when it's one who helped write a book that happened to be hitting the bookshelves just then.)

The point I'm trying to make is that if the skeptical community wants to be fair, they need to hold themselves to the same standards that they expect of their opponents. A skeptic would never accept an anecdotal story about a UFO-even if attested to by a number of reliable witness-as valid evidence (much less "proof") of extraterrestrial visitation, so why are they so quick to accept accounts like Korff's as evidence that the Patterson film is a fake? In the end, it may indeed be demonstrated to have been a hoax (though one should wonder why no one to date has been able to replicate the Patterson costume, especially with the technology and makeup sophistication available to us today; to date, every effort to do so has proven to be laughably feeble. The fact that Patterson's footage remains controversial almost four decades after it was produced demonstrates the fact that it is either one of the most superb-and unrepeatable-hoaxes ever perpetrated or the real McCoy.) If it is to accomplish that lofty goal, however, it will take more than Kal Korff's and others of his kind's tacky and easily dismissed efforts to do it.

As such, I think I'll continue to blindly believe the Patterson film (despite the media's assumption that it has been successfully debunked—again, at least according to Kal—to be the best photographic evidence to date that the hills of the Pacific Northwest are alive with the sound of Sasquatch. Of course, that's just an opinion (or a bias, if you prefer) but then so is the assumption that the footage is a hoax. Both positions are purely subjective preferences, based in small part on perceived logic and a great deal on faith. For some, it is a faith that human beings remain hopelessly gullible, that anything can be easily faked, and that there are no more mysteries in the world; to others, it the kind of faith which believes in basic human honesty and intelligence, the logistical difficulties involved in hoaxing anything well, and that the world remains a mysterious and not entirely known place yet, with just enough space left to squeeze in one more as yet unclassified and uncatalogued 600-pound primate. I leave it for the reader to decide in which world they'd rather live in.