Greg Long – The Making of Bigfoot

September 26, 2008

Greg Long is a professional writer, investigative journalist, and editor who lives in Washington state. He has been researching and writing about “mysteries” and unexplained phenomena of the Pacific Northwest for twenty-five years. His work has been featured on radio and television, including the Discovery Channel. His most recent book is The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Greg Long discusses the famous Roger Patterson Bigfoot film from 1967, and why he says it is a hoax. He details his argument about Patterson’s motivations, evidence from the costumer’s perspective on why the creature in the film is almost certainly a man dressed in an ape suit, and the confession obtained from the person who wore it. He offers theories about why belief in the creature is so widely held, and what role the media plays in the public’s belief in Bigfoot. He examines the recent reports of Bigfoot in the Atlanta area. And he explores the psychological reasons people may believe in Bigfoot, including how it may symbolize certain truths about humanity’s evolutionary origins. He also argues why such skeptical inquiry into possibly trivial matters like Bigfoot is so important in our society.

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Greg Long is our guest this week. He’s a professional writer and investigative journalist who lives in Washington State. He’s been researching and writing about mysteries and unexplained phenomena and investigating them in the Pacific Northwest for 25 years. His work’s been featured widely on radio and television, including on channels like the Discovery Channel. He joins me on Point of inquiry to talk about his book, The Making of Bigfoot The Inside Story. Greg Long welcomed a point of inquiry. 

Well, thank you, T.J., for having me on today. Appreciate it. 

To start off, well, you’ve written the definitive book on the origin of the big foot myth in popular culture. How you get into the subject? I mean, why Bigfoot? What’s the draw there? Aren’t there bigger issues for skeptics to be addressing rather than this pop culture belief in in eight men type creature in the woods? 

You know, Bigfoot is a popular, legendary subject. And I think most people consider it as being essentially, you know, a joke, to put it bluntly. You’ll see a lot of a National Enquirer type stories ridiculing the subject. But the reason why I got interested is I am interested and have been for years, since my childhood in unexplained subjects such as you opposed and the strange phenomena such as a ghost or spirit sightings or that sort of thing. 

I guess you might call the paranormal Jim Underdown, but you’re interested in that from a scientific perspective. 

I actually work professionally in an environmental consulting firm among scientists and engineers and I have a strong background in science. But as a resident of the Northwest, I’ve been here for 25 years. I became interested in this, the legend of Big Foot, and discovered that it was a subject area, although strange enough and sort of ridiculous for a lot of people. I found I could easily look into this famous film that represents the best evidence for Bigfoot. And so I applied my my own scientific perspective at looking at it. I know it sort of selects a lot of people like that. But I wanted to really pin down whether this film really showed an unexplained creature. 

Mm hmm. So you’re the guy going around telling people there is no such thing as Bigfoot. You’re telling people who believe in something that to a lot of us seems relatively harmless. You’re telling them that they’re full of it? 

Well, I’m telling people is subjects like Bigfoot or UFOs or other extraordinary claims. You need to really look at the evidence. As a scientist looked at empirical observational data, you know, scientists like to deal with material things. They like to measure and weigh and testing laboratories, you know, physical phenomena. If the Bigfoot creature is a physical creature or an organism, then one should be able to look at the evidence that purports to support its existence and have that evidence. I try to repeat, if you can, you know, look at it as closely as you can with logic and the tools, science. And so that’s what I set out to do with the famous Roger Patterson Bigfoot. 

So the main thesis of the making of Bigfoot revolves around Roger Patterson. It’s the amazing story of how you say this Bigfoot that was recorded in the Patterson film was actually a hoax. Give me some background on Patterson, this tragic figure from Washington state, and why you think there’s evidence that the whole thing was faked. 

Well, Roger Patterson was an unemployed rodeo rider. 

I had sort of aroused about, you know, he really didn’t want to work for a living. As it turns out, there’s a story where he went and worked for an auto parts warehouse for a couple of hours and came out and told his brother and said, I will never work for anyone. 

The rest of my life. So he had an independent entrepreneurial spirit, but he found it hard going because he was essentially a dishonest man. He didn’t want to actually run a business. He wanted to find a quick riches scheme to become until he had overnight. And he was a man who, as you mentioned, he was a tragic figure and that he had cancer from a young age in his 20s, and he fought that over the rest of his life. And as my book shows, there’s evidence that he was interested in hoaxing a big foot sighting on film in order to make money to provide it to his family after he was passed away. And so he was motivated by money. He had plenty of time on his hands to think up this game. He was highly motivated because he just was a passionate man who had an artistic inclination. He was an illustrator and a painter. And so he had all the combination of things that you need to pull off a hoax. Plenty of time to think about it. The imagination to pull it off. And finally, he has some friends that he could trust to keep the. Mm hmm. 

Well, you do spend a lot of time in the book talking about how Patterson was poor, he didn’t pay his bills, you just touched on that. But it’s not just because he was poor that you you think it follows that he’s necessarily a charlatan motivated by his poverty to do this big hoax on the American public? You say there’s more than that kind of guesswork. There’s actual documentary evidence. 

Well, there’s a lot of evidence that you can you can read in the court documents over in Yakima, Washington, where this hoax was planned. He did not pay his bills. His checks were constantly bouncing. He had creditors constantly trying to find him. But he managed to constantly slither away and not and not be reached out on a little in a little farmhouse that he lived with his wife in West Yakima, Washington. 

He also was arrested because he rented a camera that he used in making this hoax and didn’t return it. No one seems to know what happened to it. But the act the sheriff’s department had to come out and actually arrest them and take him into jail. So he wasn’t an honest man when it came to paying bills. And this isn’t just because he was poor, impoverished fellow who had a streak of bad luck. It’s because he just really didn’t want to work for anyone. And he was trying to make a living, as I said, by by conning people. 

So you talked a little about his motivations and some of this evidence you have that he was a con man. But Bigfoot believers say that scientists have actually proven that the film shows there was a real Bigfoot in it. 

You give this repeated time and again on documentaries, even on channels like the Science Channel, the Discovery Channel, this sort of drumbeat that science has looked closely at the film and has concluded that it cannot be a man in a gorilla suit, which is what I prove it to be and has been going on since the inception of the film. My book contains a lot of detail about how the film was promoted within a week to scientists in Victoria, British Columbia, of which there were a few people there, anthropologists that looked at it and were on the fence, although others slightly just came out and said, it’s obviously a man wearing a costume. From there, it was promoted consistently by Roger Patterson and his brother in law, Elda Adderly, who still living here in Yakima to Life magazine, also to the Smithsonian Institute, to other media in the East Coast. And articles were printed in popular magazines at the time. And they footers who believe in the existence of Bigfoot have always kept this information from these all studies that we’ve done, you know, almost 40 years ago as being the evidence for a real big foot in the film. But, you know, if you if you really look at the film from the costumers point of view, which Philip Morris is another fellow we might want to talk about. It’s pretty clear that it is a costume for a lot of different reasons that are that are explained in my book. So Bigfoot is hanging on to whatever evidence they have to support the existence of Bigfoot in the film. And they just don’t like skeptics to question the character of the individual who claims that he thought photographing Bigfoot in this case, Roger Patterson, and also Philip Morris, who’s the man who actually sold Roger Patterson a gorilla suit. 

Yeah, you have actually gotten a confession about who wore that Bigfoot suit, even though no one ever found the costume on top of all of that. 

You know, if one wants to say, well, Roger Patterson wasn’t an honest man all the time, it doesn’t make it so that the film is of a man in a gorilla suit. We do have a confession of Bob Hieronymous and Bob Hieronymous as Living Act, but most of his life, he was a working man who not only was a foreman for ranches in the area of Yakima, we also were absolute company for many, many years. He began leaking a story out a few months, actually, before I started digging into this story. And he’s consistently stated in many, many interviews that he wasn’t mad at Bigfoot food. And he told people that he knew friends quietly and short of it, he didn’t want a lot of publicity, but he thought, well, the guilty about it. And he let him know that he had done it. He’s passed to lie detector exams where he confessed. 

Oh, guess what? 

When the initial lie detectors exams was performed by a Yakima County sheriff, a retired sheriff, and the other one was actually performed on a show that ran for, I think one season called I believe it’s called lie detector. And there he was also on camera, given a lie detector exam and he passed those. 

Now, we don’t even want to get into other questions about the possible pseudo science involving lie detectors. But the point is here, here’s a guy confessing. And a lot of people are believing his confessions that it was a fraud. 

People are believing him and especially the people who know him. As I said, he’s lived in Yakima just about his entire life. 

And I interviewed his close friends and acquaintances and all of them have attested to his honesty. I’ve asked him many times over all my interviews. Can you think of one instance where Bob Agronomists has lied about anything and and they could come up with no harmful soup is lying. 

He’s just a an average guy, a working class guy who has done well in terms of his own skills and support his families. Happily married, he has two grown children and he’s retired now. 

And he just wanted his story told and that and just no one I can find, no one over the camera who can provide any evidence that he’s that he’s a liar. 

Greg, you’ve touched on kind of three lines of evidence for why you say all of this was a fraud. This original film in the late 60s, you talk about Patterson’s background and his possible motivations. You talk you well, you just touched on what a costumers perspective would say about the film. And you talk about this confession, despite those three lines of evidence that all of this was a hoax. People still look at the film and hold it up as evidence of a real Bigfoot sighting. How do you account for that? Why do people believe, despite the evidence that you lay out in this book? 

Well, there are people who are persistent believing that the film is of a Bigfoot because they want to believe. 

You know, what’s interesting is that if you look at all of their photographs and all of their films that they purport to show Bigfoot, they actually cast doubt on their veracity. And many of those films have been taken by hoaxes themselves. There are poor quality or questionable veracity. This particular film, they’ve glommed on to this because if we go back to some original things we were talking about here, there were scientists from the beginning, just a few of them looked at the creature and made a few comments about the fact that, you know, it it hit. Wade walks in a strange way, his arms are sort of extra long. It’s odd. We’ve never seen anything like it. And they they’ve grasped upon whatever little evidence to support this religious belief they have. 

And I would call it a religious belief, because, of course, religion is, you know, belief in the invisible, faith in the unknown. And. 

They’ve they’ve created a religion for themselves, I guess, to provide entertainment. 

And it’s really this film that started the whole cottage industry of this pop culture belief in Bigfoot. This film in 1967. And that’s what we’ve spent our time talking about. But there have been so many other sightings, so many other reports. Are you suggesting that every single one of these other reports are also hoaxes, that these folks are liars, just like you say Patterson was? 

I’m not saying that they could sitings persay or always of misidentified animals or hoaxes themselves. There is a considerable body of sightings by people who have been police officers and Fish and wildlife folks and, you know, average people who really don’t know much about the subject. And I have an open mind regarding that. I think the big polluters make a very strong case for the fact that there are many large forest areas in the United States and they’re not well traveled. They can hide such a creature. And there is periodically, if you follow the news, discoveries of of some new animals in the world. 

Right. Just because science doesn’t know about a certain creature doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Science is always expanding its knowledge, revising the body of knowledge. You know, cryptozoology sometimes becomes normal zoology. 

There are certainly animals that are discovered. I couldn’t list more, but I find articles occasionally out there on the Internet. What one that strikes me is the fact that there is a type of gorilla, I believe, in the Central African Republic that was covered some years ago on CNN and some other places have been articles about it. 

It does have extra large feet, which is interesting because but purported to have big feed Europeans, a species of beer, I believe, in Southeast Asia that have been found. 

So, yes, I believe that there are no animals of that that have not yet been discovered. I think it’s quite possible. 

But again, these sorts of discoveries are documented with strong enough evidence, the veracity of the observers and the witnesses or, you know, a sample of specimen alive or dead provide you the physical evidence that you need. 

But the product, Bigfoot, is, you know, there’s a handful of hoax photographs. There is a couple strands of hair that supposedly are unusual. There are SCAP, which is the droppings of a big foot. And of course, there’s always these pervasive findings of Bigfoot tracks. But we just don’t have a life or death specimen. And you would think since nineteen fifty eight, where there were originally a lot of sightings of Bigfoot in Northern California, which preceded Patterson’s film, you would think after all these many years someone could conceivably come across just the carcass of an animal. Animals die and backwards people and hunters should be able stumbled across one of these, but they just don’t have any evidence to dig footers. But I have an open mind. I certainly do. I’m surprised daily about what I discover healthy about human nature alone, you know, finding things in the world. 

So you’re not closed minded. You’re not rejecting out of hand. You’re just waiting for evidence to warrant your firm belief that there is a big foot. So you can’t be dismissed as one of those debunkers, one of those close minded skeptics just in this instance, this Patterson film, you are out and out saying it’s a hoax. You’re not saying everyone’s a hoax. 

That’s right. This this film was a hoax. I’m satisfied that it is. 

Greg, just recently there was this case of a supposed Bigfoot carcass. You said they hadn’t been found. Surely if this Bigfoot creature really existed, we’d find a carcass. Well, one was supposedly found there in Atlanta. It got worldwide press attention, even though it was eventually discovered to be yet another hoax, just a latex ape suit that eventually melted in the heat. Upon examination. Right. What do you think accounts for such media and public attention? It’s it’s kind of that the media creates the belief in all of this stuff. Wouldn’t you say that from skeptics perspective? Is it is it pretty much a case closed type issue on on Bigfoot sightings? 

I would think that any science is worth his salt that knows the scientific method and actually practices practices that would not want to invest a great deal of time in the Bigfoot being given simply this history of hoaxes. 

The most recent hoax. My immediate reaction when I heard that there was going to be a news conference was they’re never going to show the actual carcass of Bigfoot at the news conference. I mean, I knew that before the news conference. Sure enough. And the other news conference was nothing from the fact that there were scientists that were supposedly going to examine the carcass. They didn’t name the scientists were meeting only during the. Mm hmm. There’s always a lack of proper scientific conservatism that’s required in the Bigfoot field to to to develop evidence that mainline scientists are interested in looking at. The evidence is flimsy. It just doesn’t work that they footers. Going to have to organize themselves and sort of clean up their organization, if you will, and try to engage at least a few. 

Get reputable scientists quiet way to look at their evidence. I think that these huge media splashes entertain people and people want to believe. As I said earlier, they. They want something that’s a mystery to be finally revealed. And the media loves, of course, sensational stories that are there, their bread and butter, as it always has been. And so it’s a media driven subject to truly. Patterson film is no exception. It was put on television early on in many, many different documentaries, and it’s been used in documentaries. 

So as long as there are people who want to be entertained and have a desire to believe in something that’s strange or mysterious, we’re going to have Bigfoot. 

Mm hmm. Greg, big picture. Where do you think this Bigfoot myth is really stemming from? I mean, we could say, oh, it’s media driven or we could say it’s, you know, fraudulent hucksters or something. But some of that actually argued that it’s a story about ourselves. They kind of mythologize it. They say something like, if you are folks are telling us the story about our future cosmic evolution as a species, maybe Bigfoot, the Bigfoot myth is a way our society is coming up with stories about our past, our evolutionary history. Do you buy that kind of explanation? 

Well, you’re right. You touched on many different things there. And I think that makes makes a lot of sense and a lot of ways of, you know, Bigfoot, just from the point of view, is that symbol is a symbol of the sort of unrestrained spirit in the wild. You know, if we go back to Sharkawi, so presetting French Revolution and the idea that man is is that is best when he is on his untraveled by civilization, cities and lives in the natural world. 

Right. Natural man. Yeah. That natural man. 

And the other big because like natural man. He is, of course, extremely large and oversize and extremely powerful and fleet of foot and nearly invisible. And you know, that’s the sort of thing that I think people sort of like to grasp on to as representing the potentiality and man that if only we could become completely free and live in a world of nature. So I don’t know, maybe historians years from now will look back on this subject and see it as a sort of counterpoint to a highly technologized world, highly scientific world, people mostly living in cities. And this is the sort of thing that links people back to their to their beginnings, of their origins, especially essentially in nature. 

Let’s get back to what we were getting into at the start of our conversation. Why is it so important to you to tell the world the truth, especially about this Patterson film telling people, you know, it’s all a hoax, aren’t there? I guess the question is, aren’t there bigger issues that skeptics should be setting their sights on? What do you say to those in our movement, the skeptics movement, who say that issues like big food in lake monsters and even UFOs, they’re really trivial and ultimately unimportant? 

I think the skeptics are not wasting their time when they investigate myths and legends such as Bigfoot and Lake monsters. And you oppose for one simple reason. Critical thinking is very lacking in our society today. And when you have a society of people that turn away from scientific odd logic, reason, calculation and observations and the tools of science, people think get become attracted to ideas, ideas that don’t have any substance, and those ideas that start to take the human mind into areas of unexplained phenomena that represent a sort of emotional ties to a state of nature or state of mind that doesn’t exist before. You know that society simply is ignorant and uneducated and can’t think as such a society is prey to all kinds of false ideas and believe that we can see those things in modern history. At a 20th century, an entire nation of Germany was caught up with Nazi ism and Nazi ism was very much linked to the occult. Many people probably don’t know that, but symbols were a cult symbol. The whole movement was driven by the idea of a Superman race. 

Yeah, there were pseudoscientific claims that everyone just swallowed hook, line and sinker. So you’re saying this kind of skepticism even of these somewhat trivial matters relatively? You’re saying that it’s actually kind of being a good citizen to speak up about these kinds of things. It’s it serves society and serves the aims of our democracy to expose as skeptics these kinds of beliefs. 

I would agree that exposing any kind why is important simply because you can’t have a society built upon lies and misperceptions. People who buy into lies, false claims, essentially buy in to bigger beliefs. You know, in which one nation decides that another nation should be destroyed because the people living in the other nation are subhuman. 

So next time one of our listeners hears a story about Bigfoot, Greg, what should they do? I mean, is it a matter of marching in the streets if you discover one of these stories is an out and out lie? 

What’s an action plan for skeptics about these kinds of claims which ought to take some time when they see a rather extraordinary claim to make the phone calls, inquire, write letters, try to probe into the merits of the case? I think even a letter to the editor of a newspaper or a small press release does of wonders in informing the public where there is a lie. There’s no need to go out the streets and carry signs and banners. I don’t think our society currently is going to collapse under the belief among the few people that Bigfoot. But to have a society that functions on the basis of reason and logic serves a grander purpose as the health of the society. 

Thank you very much, Greg Long, for talking to me about the making of Bigfoot. 

Thank you, T.J., for having me on. I appreciate all your tough questions. 

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Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded from St. Louis, Missouri. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailed. Contributors to today’s show included Sarah Jordan and Debbie Goddard. I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.