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A man with a dream as big as his quarry

Daniel Perez wants to find Bigfoot: 'It might be the biggest scientific discovery the world has ever seen.'

December 26, 2007|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

The Center for Bigfoot Studies, like the creature itself, is not easy to find.

It hides amid the forest of homes and thickets of Christmas lights on a quiet Riverside street.

No signs or monster-size tracks point the way, but those in the know can pin it down to an upper floor of one unassuming house. There, jammed inside a few small rooms, sits one of the nation's largest repositories of Bigfoot lore.

Rows of books, stuffed filing cabinets, sculptures and plaster casts of overgrown feet compete for space in a cluttered world dedicated to the legendary hulking primate.

Daniel Perez, 44, is curator and director of the center, which doubles as his home. It's not typical Bigfoot habitat, but he couldn't beat the price. And for Perez it's the work, not the location, that matters.

"This isn't about finding some new species of butterfly in South America which would have little impact on your life or mine," he said. "If we ever find this, it might be the biggest scientific discovery the world has ever seen."

Perez is no flake. He's a serious-minded, soft-spoken electrician who let his hobby become his passion and now much of his life. He publishes the monthly Bigfoot Times, circulation 760, and has traveled the country investigating sightings and interviewing witnesses.

A recent newsletter reported a sighting from 1936 in Davistown, Pa. The 81-year-old witness told Perez she had seen an upright animal lurking around her rural home on numerous occasions when she was a girl.

"He must have been 6 feet tall, dark brown, long arms and very hairy," she said. "Gosh, did we run across the fields into the house."

Another article is about two men's claims to have audio recordings of Bigfoot's "breathing, teeth popping and growls."

"But our conclusion was that it was nothing more than wind," a local Bigfoot researcher wrote.

Perez is a believer but also a skeptic.

Hoaxers have tried to con him, and promising leads have unraveled. Critical evidence, such as a hefty ape-like skull allegedly found near Bishop, has had a habit of disappearing. Yet there are the stories that keep him going, the strikingly similar accounts of hairy, stinking, bipedal animals stomping through forests from Canada to California to Ohio.

Tales of ape men leading clandestine lives in the North American backwoods go back centuries. Native Americans called them Sasquatches. But the modern Bigfoot phenomenon really got its start in 1958, Perez said, when workers began finding large footprints while building a road in Oregon.

"Some guy took the story to the local newspaper, and the word 'Bigfoot' was born," he said.

In 1986, Perez interviewed members of a six-man crew building a bridge 26 miles south of California's Mt. Whitney who reported seeing a large upright creature that left 13-inch footprints in its wake.

"It scared the heebie-jeebies out of them," said Perez, who interviewed the workers at the scene. "One guy told me it sounded like an elephant trumpeting. Another said it was a bloodcurdling scream which resembled a woman being tortured. These were serious, grown men with no reason to lie. It was my first experience with multiple sightings. I was hooked after that."

Actually, he was hooked before that.

Perez's pursuit of Bigfoot began at age 10 after he watched "The Legend of Boggy Creek" at a Norwalk theater. The documentary-style film dealt with a Bigfoot-like beast frightening rural Fouke, Ark.

"I thought it was just another monster movie, but it turned out to be the paving stone to who I am today," he said. "I was curious but skeptical."

He immediately went to the library and withdrew books about Bigfoot and other creatures, including the Loch Ness monster. He wrote letters to Bigfoot experts, who impressed him with their earnestness.

"It was almost like a science project for him," recalled his father, Edward Perez. "It was something to keep him busy and enabled him to figure out what's what."

The elder Perez questions the whole thing.

"Whenever the subject is broached, I ask him, 'Where are the bodies? Why are there no bodies?' "

In 1979, Perez rushed with a friend to Hemet's Diamond Valley, chasing reports that huge footprints had been found there. He and his friend saw and measured the proof, he said. The prints were 17 inches long.

He started interviewing people who claimed to have seen Bigfoot. He dug up newspaper clippings from as far back as 1889 reporting encounters with the creature and other "wild men" of the woods. He researched Native American stories of Sasquatch, Himalayan tales of the Yeti and sightings of the Yowie in Australia.

"I understand that many people are ignorant of the data on the subject, but this is more than just tabloid stuff," he said, picking up a cast of a large footprint. "As you can see, it's very manlike. It walks like us and has feet like us, but it's covered in hair and has gorilla-like features. It could be a missing link."

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