BOTHELL, Wash. — In the hearts and minds of true believers, Bigfoot's existence has long been enshrined in a single minute of jerky, grainy footage of a startled sasquatch retreating into the upper California woods.
But two enthusiasts of the legendary being are alleging four magnified frames of the 16-millimeter footage show tracings of a bell-shaped fastener at Bigfoot's waist. They say the creature in the so-called Patterson-Gimlin film can finally be dismissed as a man in a monkey suit.
"It was a hoax," said Cliff Crook, a longtime Bigfoot tracker who devotes rooms to sasquatch memorabilia in this suburb north of Seattle. "How can an artificial, man-made object end up on a Bigfoot?"
The film, purportedly showing a female Bigfoot in a stream bed, was taken by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin on Oct. 20, 1967. It has largely withstood independent scrutiny and, for many steeped in the lore of the man-beast, has become bedrock evidence of Bigfoot's very existence.
"There's no way of really detracting from it," said Ray Crowe, president of the Western Bigfoot Society in Portland, Ore. The image captured in the footage "has a fluid motion. It's a wild creature of nature."
The film is important, because many Bigfoot believers compare all plaster casts of telltale footprints against those gotten by Patterson the day he purportedly filmed the creature slinking across a sandbar in the Six Rivers National Forest.
Discredit the footage, experts agree, and the gold standard for Bigfoot tracks is washed away.
Crook bases his assertion on computer enhancements performed by Chris Murphy, a Bigfoot buff from Vancouver, British Columbia, who maintains he discovered an aberration in the footage in 1995, while helping his son Daniel prepare a class project.
Murphy declined to be interviewed, instead supplying a written narrative detailing his discovery.
According to that account, the Murphys used a color photocopier to duplicate a frame of the Patterson film. Zooming in again and again, Chris Murphy became suspicious.
To him, something geometric--vaguely the shape of a bottle opener--seemed to take shape at Bigfoot's waist. Murphy maintains that four sequential computer-scanned frames of the film show the object in different positions, as if it were swinging. He theorizes something is cinching the sasquatch costume in place.
Murphy made a clay model of the object and in October gave that and the enlargements to Crook, a charter bus driver transfixed by sasquatch stories since 1957. That's the year he made a camping trip with teenage friends on Washington's Olympic Peninsula that ended with telltale signs of a sasquatch encounter: a rustling of brush, a throaty growl and an ever-worsening hallmark musk.
Decades later, at 58, spare rooms in his home are dubbed "Bigfoot Central," stuffed with photos, plaster casts and maps dotted with push pins that chart sasquatch sightings.
Now, his hoax assertion is giving rise to a howl that would make a Bigfoot proud.
Grover Krantz, a Washington State University anthropology professor and Bigfoot expert, believes firmly in the old footage.
"I fully accept the Patterson film," Krantz said. "If there was a fastener, it could not be seen in an enlargement. The film grain is such that it cannot hold an image of something that small."