Legend of Bigfoot: Discovery or Hoax?

At news conference, three men say little to convince skeptics.

February 10, 2009, 9:56 PM

Aug. 15, 2008 — -- And the theatrics continues.

During a news conference this afternoon in Palo Alto, Calif., the Bigfoot mystery deepened as three men revealed the details surrounding what they claim is their discovery of Bigfoot, or sasquatch, in northern Georgia two months ago.

In media statements and interviews throughout the week, Matthew Whitton, Rick Dyer and veteran Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi promised that today they would unveil DNA proof and photographs confirming the existence of a new half-human, half-ape species.

Whitton, a police officer, and Dyer, a former correctional officer, maintained they stumbled upon the corpse of a half-human, half-ape creature by a stream, while hiking in the woods.

As skeptics suspected, however, the three men took the stage with little more than what sounded like a tall tale about the reported tall creature.

For most of the conference, Biscardi baited the dozens of reporters with promises of DNA evidence and never-before-seen photographs of the corpse and three other live creatures Whitton and Dyer saw as they carted the corpse away.

"You will actually see a bipedal creature and [a photograph] with the teeth up close to prove to you people that this is not a mask," Biscardi said.

He added that he would provide the media with a DNA report from Curt Nelson, a lab researcher hired to analyze tissue reportedly taken from the animal.

But when Biscardi finally revealed the DNA evidence, it became quite clear that the promises of evidence were intended to string along reporters and the public.

Suggesting that the results had gone awry, he said the first tests revealed human DNA and the second indicated the presence of possum DNA. Photographs of the corpse show animal entrails on top of the body, and Biscardi said it's likely tissue from the entrails had been collected instead of tissue from the body.

With much fanfare, the three men also unveiled two new photographs of the corpse and reported live Bigfoots. One photograph zeroed in on the face of the corpse, showing the creature's teeth. The other photograph reportedly captured the live creatures Whitton and Dyer spotted as they towed the corpse out of the woods.

Despite the underwhelming evidence, Biscardi and his cohorts ardently assured the reporters that they had the body of a Bigfoot in their possession.

"I got to tell you, it was a euphoric experience for me," Biscardi said about seeing the body. What I seen, what I touched. ... Was not a mask sewn onto a body."

Although lacking Biscardi's flair for showmanship, Whitton and Dyer were also zealous in their remarks.

Addressing the crowd in a blue shirt, visibly torn T-shirt and baseball cap broadcasting the message "Best trackers in the world," Whitton emphasized the shock he experienced after finding the creature.

"I didn't believe in Bigfoot at the time. I've seen the films and the things on television and you have to come to terms with it and realize that you've got something special," he said. "It's like finding the biggest diamond in the world and [having] it in your possession."

The three men said they had become business partners and intended to assemble scientists to continue studying the creature.

But longtime Bigfoot experts and trackers are almost certain the trio is taking the public for a ride.

"Discovery? It's a hoax. It's a Halloween costume in a box," said Matt Moneymaker, president and founder of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.

Created in 1995, the group maintains a database of Bigfoot sighting reports and organizes tracking expeditions for interested members of the public.

Jeff Meldrum, a leading Sasquatch researcher and Idaho State University professor of anatomy and anthropology, is equally skeptical.

"There's a whole number of things that raise red flags, in my opinion," he said.

The most glaring red flag: Whitton and Dyer's appeal to Biscardi.

"He does not carry a reputation of credibility," Meldrum said of Biscardi.

Dyer said he and Whitton encountered the reported Bigfoot body approximately two months ago and froze it to stave off rigor mortis. But, until they involved Biscardi two weeks ago, no one gave them much attention.

"We started to tell people the week after we found the body, but no one believed us," he said. "So we started to make fun of the Bigfoot trackers, and that got attention."

Whitton and Dyer landed themselves on the "Squatch Detective" radio show and announced their discovery on the air. When the host pressed the pair to let someone verify the body, they asked for Biscardi, the so-called "real Bigfoot hunter."

"You type in 'Bigfoot' and that's the name that comes up," Dyer said.

Biscardi, a 35-year veteran of the Bigfoot business, who declined to give his age, is CEO of Searching for Bigfoot, Inc., producer of the documentary "Bigfoot Lives" and host of an Internet radio show about, yes, Bigfoot.

He said he has been fascinated with the apelike creature since watching a short film made by Roger Patterson in 1967 that famously purported to contain footage of a real Bigfoot.

After being contacted by Whitton and Dyer, Biscardi flew to Georgia to see the body for himself.

"Be still my heart, I felt bad for the poor thing," Biscardi said of viewing the reported corpse. "After being in the industry for the past 30 years, I wondered: Was it diseased? Did it die of old age?"

Biscardi said he gave tissue from the body to Curt Nelson, a research scientist at the University of Minnesota with a personal interest in Bigfoot. Biscardi said he and his colleagues would present Nelson's findings during this afternoon's news conference.

But Thursday, Nelson told ABCNews.com that he's not certain he'd have anything to present at the conference.

For the world to really believe the existence of Bigfoot, Nelson said, teams of unbiased scientists would have to collect and analyze DNA and thoroughly inspect the body.

"It would take a lot more than I'm doing," he said, noting that people will want to see an actual body rather than just tissue samples. "If the guy claims to have a body, he really should produce one."

Instead, Biscardi said he plans to keep the body at an undisclosed location while scientists, including two Russian hominid specialists, study the creature. Biscardi said the entire process will be filmed and then released as a documentary.

Instead of proving the existence of Bigfoot, Meldrum said profiteering antics like Biscardi's lend support to the cynics.

"Unfortunately, this kind of incident simply just casts further aspersion on the topic," he said.

Still, despite rampant skepticism within the community of Bigfoot believers and outside of it, there's also overwhelming interest.

"There's always an interest in these creatures, dating back hundreds of years -- mermaids, unicorns, dragons," said Benjamin Radford, managing editor of the science magazine The Skeptical Inquirer and a widely published writer on urban legends, Bigfoot and media criticism. "There isn't a populated place on Earth that doesn't have these kinds of creatures."

Regardless of the doubts, most longtime Bigfoot devotees will be tuned in to today's news.

Loren Coleman, a prolific writer on sasquatch, Yeti and other mysterious creatures, said he thinks this is going to be one of the biggest Bigfoot stories of the decade, even it turns out to be hoax.

When it comes to the reported creature, he says he doesn't use the word "believe."

"I accept or deny evidence. Based upon the evidence we have [about Bigfoot], 80 percent is proof and 20 percent is myth," he said.

With this one body found in Georgia, however, it's "99 percent a hoax and 1 percent a probability of reality," he said.

But he's still excited about the reported discovery.

"I'll never turn down a chance to look at a body because it could be real, and we can't choose the accident of history. … The most undesirable people might be the ones to discover it, but who am I to judge them."

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