Photographs by Felipe Buitrago
Cast of thousands: Tom Biscardi holds one of the many casts made from what he says are Bigfoot prints.
Menlo Park Sasquatch hunter Tom Biscardi has made a legend into an industry
By Stett Holbrook
THERE ARE approximately 3,500 of them living in the remote forests and swamplands of the United States. They've been here for millennia and yet scrupulously avoid contact with humankind. They migrate in search of food and habitat, and communicate with each other by knocking on trees and unleashing haunting, baleful cries. They are huge, powerful and intelligent, and as long as they're left alone, probably don't wish us any harm.
They, of course, are Bigfoot.
At least that's what Menlo Park–based Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi says. Biscardi, an intense, fast–talking, profanity–spewing Brooklyn–raised man with swooped backed hair and a trim goatee, has been chasing Bigfoot for 34 years. And he says he's closing in on the elusive primate.
"If anyone is going to catch Bigfoot it's going to be Biscardi," he says with characteristic bravado and third person self–reference.
"There's a lot of armchair quarterbacks in the industry, but there's no one out there like Tom Biscardi. No one else is out there 24/7."
If you leave aside questions about the existence of Bigfoot for a moment and spend a little time with Biscardi, it soon becomes clear he's right. There is no one quite like him. Many in the Bigfoot community (yes, there is a such a community) revile him as at best a self-aggrandizing showman and at worst a fraud. But showman or not, Biscardi logs hundreds of hours and thousands of miles each year driving to so–called Bigfoot hot spots across the United States and Canada. He's turned what for many is a curiosity or a joke into a business.
And business is good.
In spite of his carnival barker demeanor and often outlandish claims, Biscardi's passion and commitment are undeniable. If these giant apes exist—and he's convinced they do—it's not hard to believe that he's going to be the guy to capture one, if only because he's looking in more places than anyone else.
"I want to tie the motherfucker on the top of my rig and drive up and down Main Street of wherever I am and say, 'I've got him,'" he says. "We'll blow the world's mind."
Bigfoot is perhaps America's most enduring myth. The discovery of huge footprints in Northern California in the late 1950s and the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film of 1967—which purportedly shows a loping, arm-swinging Bigfoot retreating into the woods along Bluff Creek in California's Siskiyou Mountains—etched the myth into America's consciousness. The Bigfoot craze peaked in the 1970s, but has never faded away. Real or not, America loves its Bigfoot.
While the existence of Bigfoot has been neither proven nor debunked, Sasquatch, as it is also known, has a well-established place in American popular culture. Everything from monster trucks to beer and music festivals has been named after the mythical apeman. Bigfoot once did battle with the Six Million Dollar Man. Tenacious D is absolutely obsessed with it. And whether you're a Bigfoot believer or not, Jack Link's Beef Jerky's "Messin' with Sasquatch" commercials are irrefutably hilarious.
Mainstream science has largely steered clear of the Bigfoot myth and dismissed it as a hoax. A few academics, however, have stepped forward to investigate film footage, footprints, hair samples and other supposed evidence and have concluded there is a large primate hitherto unknown to science out there. The most recent such scientist is Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University. In his 2006 book Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science he analyses footprints, hair samples, photographic evidence, the Patterson–Gimlin film, DNA and American Indian lore and concludes Bigfoot is no hoax.
"From a scientific standpoint I can say that a respectable portion of the scientific evidence I have examined suggests, in an independent yet highly correlated manner, the existence of an unrecognized ape, known as Sasquatch," writes Meldrum.
However, Biscardi dismisses academics like Meldrum as ivory tower–dwelling do–nothings who spend more time in books than out in the field like him.
"I fight with the Ph.D.s constantly because what they're doing requires no fieldwork," he says dismissively. "What I said so many fucking years ago is coming to light. What we have, gentlemen, is a new fucking species."
For the record, Meldrum does conduct field research.
The Internet is crowded with Bigfoot sites such as Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO.net), Oregonbigfoot.com, BigfootEncounters.com and the Bigfoot Information Project (bigfootproject.org). Some of the sites contain databases of purported sightings which give them a semblance of dispassionate science and make for interesting reading.
This posting from the Bigfoot Field Research Organization comes from a man recounting a childhood experience he had in a backwoods cabin in Ontario:
One night at about 2 am, I was awakened by a sneeze, a very deep sneeze, and a garbage, skunk, rotten meat, wet dog smell. My bed was about 8 feet from my window, as it was a very hot night mother opened my window.
What I am about to tell you is the truth, I swear on my life. Something walked to my window, almost totally blocking the moonlight, and looked in. It had a head the size of a cow, but looked like a monkey, a man monkey. I remember wimpering [sic], and my mother getting up. It must have heard her for it disappeared. I told her what I saw, and she laughed, and said it was just a deer, or a cow. I never forgot that night.
Now, years later, when talking to my father, whose parents owned the camp, told me something I'll never forget. I asked him what scared him the most in life, you know being in the war ... What he told me, astonished me. It was about 1936, and him and his brother Roy were picking dew worms on the edge of a thick bush. Dad says he heard a grunt and some rustling, so he shone his lantern into the bush. ... and a giant hairy man walked away. Sorry but that's all I could get out of him. He was trembling telling the story.
It was a childhood experience that motivated Leigh Leon to contact Biscardi and go out on an expedition with him near Paris, Texas. Leon, a 44–year–old teacher's aide from West Covina, Calif., said as a child in the mid–1970s she heard something stomping outside her trailer on a family camping trip near Lake Shasta. When she told her father about it in the morning he claimed to have seen a giant two–legged creature walking about the campsite. The two never talked about it again. "That thing has never left me," she said. "My reality has been shifted."
Although she kept her experience to herself over the years, she came across Biscardi's website and decided to sign up for an expedition this past March. During the outing, she saw what she had come to see: a creature visible through an infrared scope.
"Going out on that expedition was confirmation [of my childhood experience]," she said. "I knew it." She says she can't wait to go out on another trip. "I want to know what it is ... I don't know what it is, but it's something."
Day For Night: T.J. Biscardi, Tom's son and fellow Bigfoot hunter, demonstrates the use of night vision goggles.
Since Biscardi first saw footage of a reported Bigfoot on The Tonight Show in 1967, he's turned his passion for Bigfoot into a number of businesses. His latest is Searching for Bigfoot Inc. The company sells belt buckles, coffee mugs, hats and T–shirts. The company also produces documentaries about Biscardi's adventures on the Bigfoot trail, which he sells on his website, searchingforbigfoot.com. For a $300 fee, he's also taken customers on expedition into Bigfoot country, be it the swamps of northeastern Texas, the backwoods of Minnesota or the rolling hills of southwestern Kentucky.
After years on the fringe, Biscardi believes he's finally earning the attention for his work he says he deserves. His Bigfoot hunting expeditions have been the subject of scores of TV news programs and newspaper reports across the country. The White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona contacted him for his help in investigating a rash of Bigfoot sightings. He's also working with the Blackfoot Indians of northern Montana in connection with Bigfoot sightings there.
Biscardi is also in negotiations to open a restaurant and Bigfoot museum in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and is hoping to sell a reality show called Capturing Bigfoot starring him and his Searching for Bigfoot crew. In addition, he hosts a weekly Internet radio show that he says has caught the interest of Sirius satellite radio.
"We're finally hitting mainstream America," he says.
Biscardi, who claims to have seen Bigfoot six times, makes no bones about his efforts to earn a profit for his company and his investors.
"This is not a hobby," he says. "This is a business. The people who are investing in my organization are in for a large and long return."
And once he has Bigfoot in hand, he'll deliver.
"They'll get a piece," he says.
Together with his Searching for Bigfoot team, which includes his son Tommy Jr. and former Silicon Valley techie Bob "Javabob" Schmalzbach, he gasses up his truck, slaps a magnetic Searching for Bigfoot placard on the door and hitches up a trailer loaded up with infrared scopes, Taser guns, low frequency detectors, heat-seeking imaging devices, trip–activated cameras, canon-launched nets and other high–tech equipment as well as plaster for casting footprints, glow sticks and sardines for bait, and hits the Bigfoot trail.
"I verify or debunk," he says. "It's that simple. We're here to do one thing: prove that Bigfoot exists." Not only does he investigate mysterious footprints and Bigfoot visitations, he and his crew of Sasquatch sleuths also investigate reported sightings of other creatures with B–movie names such as the Beast of Bray Road, the Lima Marsh monster and the Creature of the Land Between the Lakes.
Now, 34 years after he began searching for the elusive creature "with a flashlight and a sharp stick," he says he's closing in and expects to capture one by year's end.
"I really believe that. I've never been so close as I am now."
It's not the first time he's said he was hot on the trail of the elusive primate. Biscardi's critics say he's just out to make a buck and isn't conducting a serious investigation.
"'Searching for Bigfoot' is not a group, but rather one well–known scam artist named Tom Biscardi, who is not trying to 'prove the existence of the creature,'" reads a statement from the Bigfoot Field Research Organization. "Biscardi is seeking media attention, hoping it will bring him some kind of financial sponsorship."
One of Biscardi's most vocal critics is Loren Coleman, an author of several books on Bigfoot and cryptozoology, the study of hidden or mythical animals.
In 2005, Biscardi claimed on the nationally syndicated Coast to Coast radio program that members of his team (then called the Great American Bigfoot Research Organization) had a 17–year–old, 400–pound Bigfoot in captivity in Northern California, although Biscardi hadn't seen the creature himself. Previously on the program, Biscardi said capture of a creature near Happy Camp, Calif., was imminent and he had set up a website that featured a pay-for-view live feed from the expedition. The cost was $19.95 per week or $59.95 for an unlimited pass.
Alas, no Bigfoot ever materialized. Biscardi said he was "hoodwinked" by someone who said an injured Bigfoot was being held in captivity.
On his website lorencoleman.com, Coleman took Biscardi to task for misleading people and taking their money.
"The more important issue for me is what damage to the credibility of the field will this fiasco have," wrote Coleman.
Asked about the episode, Biscardi said it was old news and that he refunded everyone's money.
"We got duped," he says. "I'm the first to admit it."
He questioned Coleman's credibility, but said he said he doesn't pay attention to his critics because it impedes the real work of searching for Bigfoot.
"Nobody is getting anything done," he says.
Coleman did not respond to an interview request about Biscardi and BFRO spokesman and longtime Bigfoot researcher John Green declined to talk about him.
"I know of nothing to suggest that he has any role in this investigation beyond self–promotion," said Green in an email.
Wouldn't you give your hand to a friend?: Robert Schmalzbach shows off a 'nonhuman hand' preserved in alcohol.
'We'll Bag Something Up'
But this time is different, Biscardi says. He's identified areas in Texas, Florida, Arizona, Kentucky and Minnesota that he believes are particularly fertile Bigfoot hunting grounds and says he's planning to post 10-man teams in each location for two weeks.
"We'll bag something up," he says.
Once he has a creature in captivity, he'll keep it for 90 days, allow scientists to study it and then release it back into the wild.
By either the force of his personality or the strength of the Bigfoot myth—or both—Biscardi has been able to recruit a number of skeptics to his side.
One of those people is his son, Tommy Biscardi Jr.—T.J. A lanky Army veteran who still keeps his hair clipped short, he says he thought Bigfoot was a joke. He went along on an expedition to Texas last year with his father in hopes of pulling the mask off the man in the ape suit he expected to find. But one night after encountering what he said was a huge, two-legged creature bounding through what was for him thigh–deep water, he became a Bigfoot believer and his father's righthand man.
Another skeptic turned believer is Bill Marlette. Marlette, a retired San Diego naval officer, received a solicitation to invest in one of Biscardi's films. He was mildly curious about Bigfoot but didn't believe in the creature's existence. But he decided to invest because he thought the entertainment value of the film backed by Biscardi's outsize personality could be lucrative.
"He's a real showman," Marlette says. "He's just a natural."
But as he talked to Biscardi and conducted his own research into the Bigfoot myth, his interest grew.
"I started to get the bug," he says. "I've come to the conclusion there's more reality to it than not ... what I've seen in the past year has been nothing short of phenomenal."
In addition to putting up $45,000, Marlette has become such a believer that he now produces Biscardi's radio show Bigfoot Live and maintains a website for him at bigfootlive.com.
"In the beginning I was an investor," he says. "Now it's an obsession. I want to find out the truth."
Biscardi has also attracted the attention of American Indian tribes who have formerly been reluctant to go public with their alleged Bigfoot encounters. Many Bigfoot enthusiasts point out that Native American culture is rich with references to hairy, apelike creatures.
A.K. Riley, chief of detectives for the White Mountain Apache Reservation police in Whiteriver, Ariz. describes the presence of Bigfoot creatures as if we were talking about deer or bears brazenly wandering into resident's gardens.
"They used to be up there at the high elevations and now are coming into out back yards," he says.
According to Riley, a massive wildfire on the reservation in 2003 flushed the creatures out of the mountains and down into the populated areas of the reservation. He's never seen the creatures, but residents of the reservation have been seeing them for decades. Since the fire, sightings, including one by a fellow police officer, have become more frequent. Riley says witnesses describe the creatures as "hairy, black, long armed things." In one case, a creature was reported to have been peering into someone's window. Interviews with residents of the reservation can be seen in Biscardi's latest film, Bigfoot Lives. The reported Bigfoot activity generated a rash of media coverage in Arizona.
Riley said the Apaches did not want to invite outside scrutiny of their Bigfoot problem but when the sightings grew more frequent, they called Biscardi for help. He's the only outsider who's been allowed on to the reservation to search for the creatures but so far has not captured one or provided proof of their existence.
But Riley has the all the proof he needs.
"I believe they're out there," he says.
Up in Montana near the Canadian border, Indians on the Blackfoot reservation near Browning, Mont., have also called Biscardi to investigate alleged Bigfoot sightings. Bruce Schildt, a Blackfoot Indian who lives on the reservation, describes the presence of Bigfoot–like creatures with the same nonchalance as Riley.
Among the people on the reservation, the creatures are called emwappi, a Blackfoot word that means "big, hairy man." Schildt claims to have seen two such creatures about 10 years ago and has found a number of large footprints on the reservation, some as recently as last month.
He flatly dismisses the possibility of someone faking the tracks.
"None of the Indians would do anything like that."
According to tribal elders, the presence of the emwappi is a good omen, says Schildt.
"They believe it's good for people," he says. "They don't bother anyone."
What will happen if Biscardi bothers them? He intends to find out.
"They're out there," he says. "I can tell you that for sure."
Send a letter to the editor about this story.