Some reasons for caution about the Bigfoot film expose: for skeptics, the revelation of a hoax can provide valuable insights but may also contain pitfalls
Over the past three years, the Bigfoot community has been buffeted by the deaths of its two biggest proponents, Rene Dahinden and Grover Krantz. More recently, the death of Ray Wallace permitted his son and nephew to reveal that their relative had faked the “original” (1) Bigfoot tracks near BluffCreek, California. And now, a book by Greg Long, The Making of Bigfoot, has seriously, perhaps fatally, damaged the credibility of the famous Patterson film. (For those readers not intimately versed in Sasquatch lore, the Patterson film has been the best photographic evidence for the possible existence of an unknown giant bipedal creature living in North America.)
Since the publication of Long’s book, every issue of the Bigfoot Times newsletter has carried critical commentary on some aspect of the book. Editor Daniel Perez, writing in the March 2004 issue, said, “I think this book [The Making of Bigfoot] is junk. Don’t buy it.” In the following issue, Bigfoot researcher Peter Byrne called Long’s work “amateurish, impetuous and careless.” Yet a third reviewer writes: “In short Mr. Long’s entire thesis is based on hearsay and personal opinions of those he talked with and the dubious claims by one man, Bob Heironimus; that it was him who wore the ‘suit’ on that October day in 1967.”
But not all reviews have been negative. The often skeptical UFO newsletter, Saucer Smear, gave the book a good but qualified review, (2) and not surprisingly, the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER ran an article by Kal Korff and Michaela Kocis based on Long’s book (July/August 2004). In their article, Korff and Kocis write: “After nearly forty years of secrecy, the truth behind the world-famous Roger Patterson Bigfoot film has been revealed. The man who actually wore the costume and played the role of Bigfoot in the film has been located and has made a full confession. Moreover, the husband and wife team who made and sold the Bigfoot costume that Patterson used to fake his movie have also confessed, and several other important eyewitnesses have come forth with corroborating evidence.”
As a CSICOP Scientific and Technical Consultant, I feel that the Korff article may have overstated some of the issues. Having followed Sasquatch activities in the Pacific Northwest for over twenty years, I am well aware of the key issues related to the Patterson film, and many of the people in the Long book are individuals I have met or talked with over the years. (3) I believe it would be more accurate to state that Long has found a man, Bob Heironimus, who has provided a most credible case he was the man in an ape suit in the Patterson film. But The Making of Bigfoot does not, as Korff suggests, prove Heironimus’s case. While I find Heironimus believable, there are glaring problems with the tale, and SI editor Ken Frazier has granted me this space to present a second perspective.
Significantly, Heironimus has no objective evidence that he was Roger Patterson’s accomplice, despite a claim made to Long that he could prove he played the creature in the film. He does not have the “ape suit” or any other objective evidence. One of the two witnesses to Heironimus’s brief possession of the “ape suit” was an eight-year-old boy at the time, and the other is Heironimus’s mother. Some of the corroborating witness accounts are completely contradictory as well. Several people interviewed by Long claim that Heironimus showed them the “ape suit,” a claim Heironimus strongly denies.
These conflicting testimonies show the weaknesses of such accounts and why as skeptics we must be cautious. If we are to believe the Heironimus account (and it is most plausible), how do we incorporate the other statements, made by honest-sounding individuals, who say they saw an ape suit in Heironimus’s car when he clearly says they didn’t?
Greg Long explains in his book that he made no payment to Heironimus, nor was any other financial gain a condition of the story being revealed. I am sure this is true. However, Long does not explain why almost a year elapsed from the time Heironimus’s attorney broke the story (but did not reveal Heironimus’s name) and the time he contacted Long. A possible reason, not known to either Long or Korff, is that another writer was shopping the story to mainstream book publishers. I know this (although I did not know Heironimus’s name at the time), because the writer, a former Yakima-area newspaperman, met with me and a colleague of mine over lunch. During our meeting, we were told there would be no book if there was no profit. It was my impression the (as-then-unnamed) hoaxer was a financial partner. I was skeptical the writer would find a major publishing firm interested in the story but offered to help verify, if possible, certain aspects of the account. If I am correct (and admittedly this is conjecture), Heironimus did have a profit motive. All this does not mean that the Heironimus account is untrue, simply that Long did not ask all the hard questions he might have during his multiple interviews. (4)
Korff tells us that Philip Morris, “who made and sold the Bigfoot costume that Patterson used to fake his movie,” has confessed. The impression Korff leaves is that the Heironimus and Morris accounts agree, but they don’t, at least not to me. Heironimus says that Patterson made the costume from a red horsehide, while Morris says his suit was made of an artificial fiber. Heironimus, who owned his own horse and went to rodeos, would presumably know the difference between horsehide and nylon fibers. Heironimus said the suit consisted of three parts: a bottom, a midsection, and a head, while Morris says the suit consisted of six parts, one for each limb, a middle section, and a head. Morris says the feet bottoms in his costume were black, yet they are white in the film. Morris says the arms could be extended by using sticks for the gloves, whereas Heironimus says nothing about any arm extensions. In fact, if the Morris costume had “gloves” it would have consisted of eight parts, not the three described by Heironimus.
Korff then goes on to explain: “Morris distinctly told Patterson how to hide this zipper from view, advising him to comb down the fur on the suit with a brush. Sure enough, this Bigfoot, a wild creature presumably living in the wilderness, is remarkably clean and carefully groomed.” I don’t know how many wild animals Korff has seen, but of the hundreds I have had the chance to observe, including a big black bear last year, I cannot remember a single unkempt animal.
Perhaps a bigger problem with the Morris story is Patterson paying for a suit even though Long’s book spends at least a hundred pages explaining how talented Patterson was at making things and how he seldom paid for anything, especially something he could construct for himself. As a skeptic, I am unable to accept Morris’s story, for I find the account of Patterson’s resourcefulness, artistic capabilities, and lack of capital much more believable. Long does establish, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Patterson was a man with the ability, aptitude, and motive to fake a Bigfoot film. He does this through multiple interviews with people who were both friends and victims of Patterson and then supplements testimony with objective court records, contracts, and photographs.
As skeptics, what would we do if someone with a more credible account of perpetrating a hoax stepped forward tomorrow? Certainly, one would think that Korff would have considered this possibility, for in the television documentary World’s Greatest Hoaxes (a program he was featured in), a man named Jerry Romney, not Heironimus, is identified as the “man in the ape suit.” Romney is even shown doing an impressive simulation of the “walk” in the Patterson film, sans the suit.
What the two accounts by Morris and Heironimus illustrate is how convincing both accounts can be, when only one can be correct. I find it interesting to read Bigfoot Times and note how skeptical of witness narratives all the Bigfoot proponents have become. When the point of Heironimus having no profit motive came up, at least one Bigfoot proponent pointed out how people will say things for the strangest of reasons, many of them incomprehensible to others (something skeptics have known for a long time). When the accounts favor a more prosaic view, can Bigfoot doubters be any less skeptical?
(1.) The legend of Bigfoot predates the famous August 1958 discovery by Jerry Crew, near Bluff Creek, California, of a series of Bigfoot prints. But an AP story and, later, a True magazine article pumped new life into the tale, and a “modern” era of tracks and sightings began. Significantly, this is the same area where Patterson filmed the famous footage. For an excellent account, see Mark Chorvinsky’s “Our Strange World,” Fate magazine, July 1993 and November 1993.
(2.) The Saucer Smear article (appearing in two parts in the May and June 2004 issues) was written by co-editor Karl Pflock, and although it praises the book, it also voices reasonable reservations.
(3.) For additional reading on Bigfoot, see my articles in SI, Spring 1989, “Evidence for Bigfoot?” and Fall 1994, “Bigfoot Evidence: Are These Tracks Real?”
(4.) Long is a first-class interviewer, yet there are basic limitations to the interview format, especially if the subject wishes to withhold information.
Michael Dennett’s first SI article on Bigfoot appeared in the Fall 1982 issue. Appropriately, the article was an account of a Bigfoot hoaxer coming forward to admit his involvement in the legend of Sasquatch.
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