FBI Releases 'Bigfoot' Findings
A wave of surprise passed through the media recently when the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation announced they were releasing some very unexpected documents: correspondence and records regarding their investigation into the Bigfoot phenomenon. Certainly, there is precedence for government involvement in the study of some unusual phenomenon, such as the US Air Force’s Project Blue Book, which studied UFOs during the 1950’s and 1960’s. However, a government study of Sasquatch, and especially one by the nation’s top law enforcement organization, was totally unexpected.
On Wednesday, June 5th, 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released on Twitter a series of documents from its vault. However, after examining the documents, it became clear why the FBI had become involved in the world of cryptids: at the request of The Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition. It was Byrne’s belief that the FBI had tested supposed samples of Sasquatch hair in the past, as sourced from a page in the Army Corps of Engineers’ 1975 edition of the Washington Environmental Atlas. He wanted that information and test results released. The FBI responded that they had been unable to locate any reference to such examinations in their files.
Rather than let the matter rest, Byrne sent another letter to the FBI requesting that it test a small sample of hair that they could not identify and suspected could be from a Bigfoot. In 1976, they contacted the FBI to request officials use the advanced investigation techniques to analyze the hair for a possible origin. Surprisingly, the FBI agreed and asked for the sample to be sent over for study. The 22 pages of documents that were released mostly follow the correspondence between the now defunct Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition and the FBI’s Scientific and Technical Services Division from 1976 to 1977.
Peter Byrne – A former big game hunter turned wildlife preservationist, he's led major explorations in search of Bigfoot, written several books, and earned a title as one of the "Four Horsemen of Sasquatchery." Director of the Bigfoot Information Center.
Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition – A small museum in The Dalles, Oregon, a defunct private study group and enthusiast organization dedicated to Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and the Yeti. The center was financially supported by the Academy of Applied Sciences (which was, incidentally, also funding several Loch Ness investigations at the time) in Boston, Massachusetts. By 1976, the center had logged 94 “credible” Bigfoot sightings, The New York Times reported at the time.
Jay Cochran Jr. – Assistant Director of the FBI’s Scientific and Technical Services Division.
Howard Curtis – Executive Vice President at the Academy of Applied Sciences in Boston, MA, and a colleague of Peter Byrne
Mr. McDermott – Person is Unknown. Likely an agent or scientist working at the FBI's laboratory in Washington, D.C.
Breakdown of the Documents
The pages were released out of chronological order, with several of the correspondences provided in reverse order. There also appears to be two duplicate pages which detail the same two letters but have different handwritten notes and reference numbers included.
Page One – Letter to Peter Byrne from Jay Cochran, dated December 15, 1976. Letter notes FBI Laboratory will make exceptions to their policy on a case-by-case basis to do an analysis on hairs and tissue, in the interest of research and scientific study.
Page Two – Letter from Peter Byrne to Jay Cochran, dated November 24, 1976. Byrne is requesting again a comparative analysis on hairs they cannot identify, the first sample in six years that they have not been able to identify which they believe to be of importance.
Page Three – Newspaper clipping from Washington Star-News dated July 6, 1975. “Recognition at Last!” Article states the Army Corps of Engineers has officially recognized Sasquatch. Article references FBI analyzed hair sample and found to belong to “no known animal”.
Page Four – Letter from Peter Byrne to the FBI dated August 26, 1976. Byrne comments that as the FBI had been sent samples for examination in the past without conclusion to compare to any known animal. Byrne then requesting to know, once and for all, what research had been done and what the specific results were.
Page Five – Letter from Jay Cochran to Peter Byrne dated September 10, 1976. Cochran cites the references implied in the “Washington Environmental Atlas”, and that there have been several other similar inquiries. However, they have no references to any such examinations in their files.
Page Six – Newspaper clipping from the New York Times dated June 30, 1976. “Is It Bigfoot, Or Can It Be Just a Hoax?” Author Boyce Rensberger claims a remarkable body of evidence has been gathered that points to either the reality of the species or is a long series of hallucinations and hoaxes with by experts.
Page Seven – Newspaper clipping from the New Your Times. No date. No text. Photo is difficult to make out, possibly of figure in woods with mountain range above. Looks to also be from June 30, 1976 article as it is listed on bottom as ‘The New York Times Boyce Rensberger’.
Page Eight – Newspaper clipping from The New York Times. Continuation of article “Is It Bigfoot, Or Can It Be Just a Hoax?”, with header as “Furtive Creature, or Hoax, Roams the Northwest.” Article mentions various sightings and “Indian” legends. Mentions also Peter Byrne and the Bigfoot Information Center.
Page Nine – Newspaper clipping from The New York Times. Continuation of article “Is It Bigfoot, Or Can It Be Just a Hoax?” Article mentions difference between alleged Sasquatch/Bigfoot and the size of bears and the validity of certain pieces of evidence regarding film and tracks/footprints.
Page Ten – Letter from Peter Byrne to the FBI dated August 26, 1976. Appears to be duplicate of same letter on Page Four with different information handwritten and stamped on the sides, internal demarcation by the FBI. There are processing and filing dates for January 5, 1977, May (likely May 18, 1977), and September 14, 1976.
Page Eleven – Letter from Jay Cochran to Peter Byrne dated September 10, 1976. Appears to be duplicate of same letter on Page Five with different information handwritten and stamped on the sides, internal demarcation by the FBI. There are processing and filing dates for January 5, 1977, May 18, 1977, and December 14, likely 1976.
Page Twelve – Memorandum to Mr. McDermott by the FBI, Page 2, no date listed. Memorandum grants Byrne’s request for hair and tissue analysis, with department approval initials under Dep. AD Adm as well as S. & T. Serv. Mentions under “Details:” the Washignton Star-News commentary.
Page Thirteen – Memorandum to Mr. McDermott by the FBI, Page 3, no date listed. Confirms that Dr. Steve Rice Editor of the Army Atlas could not locate their source citing the FBI’s finding regarding hair examination. Lists previous correspondence between Byrne and Cochran (indicating memorandums came from Jay Cochran).
Page Fourteen - Memorandum to Mr. McDermott by the FBI, Page 4, no date listed. Page only notes Bureau indices contained no information identifiable with Mr. Byrne or the Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition.
Page Fifteen – Memorandum to Mr. McDermott from Jay Cochran dated December 13, 1976. The purpose of the memorandum was to follow up on background information concerning published reports of FBI analysis of hair in connection to Sasquatch search, also that STS Division recommends request for examination be granted. Notes this request does not represent a change in Bureau policy.
Page Sixteen – Letter from Jay Cochran to Howard Curtis (Executive Vice President at the Academy of Applied Sciences in Boston, MA) dated February 24, 1977. Reporting hairs were examined by transmitted and incident light microscopy, including study of morphological characteristics such as root structure, medullary structure, and cuticle thickness. Hairs also compared directly with hairs of know origin, and were found to be of deer family origin.
Page Seventeen – Note to Howard Curtis. No date listed, but as page 2. Note mentions Curtis requested letter with examination results as Byrne would be out of the country for several months.
Page Eighteen – Memorandum from redacted source to Jay Cochran, dated February 22, 1977. Memorandum to report results of examination, also cites terms of purpose of investigation and resulting finding of hair of deer family origin. Notes findings and sample to be returned to Curtis as Byrne would be out of the country.
Page Nineteen – Continuation of Memorandum on Page Eighteen, no date listed. Additional recommendation the attached letter be furnished to Curtis with the results of the examination. Initials marked under S. & T. Serv,
Page Twenty – Photo of large envelope. No date. Marked as “ENCLOSURE 95-213013-6”. The numbers 95-213013 have been found on several other pages, possibly listing a referential or case file number.
Page Twenty-One – Two photos, no date listed. Photos appear to be of tissue and hair specimen, approximately 6 cm in length.
Page Twenty-Two – Letter from Howard Curtis to Jay Cochran dated March 8, 1977. Letter thanks Cochran and a redacted agent’s name for their work and confirms all correspondence will be routed through to Byrne.
Peculiarities of the Released Pages
Page Fifteen has the heaviest redaction of the entire released documents series. This is primarily censoring what appears to be three involved parties who had been CC’d into this memorandum, as well as a couple of markings, mailing dates, or stamps along the sides of the page. However, we also see in Pages Eighteen and Twenty-Two that various names have been redacted.
Redaction, also known as sanitization, is the process of removing sensitive and classified information for distribution to a wider audience. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the law allows for the FBI to redact this information as needed, but they skew to over-redact than to produce information that should have been censored. For a document over 40 years old, and involving what appear to only be members of Science and Technology departments in the FBI, why would they need to keep these names classified? In general with a situation such as this, there should not be any involved personnel whose inclusion to the record could constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. It is possible the redaction is to protect the individual’s connection to this investigation for reasons that are beyond the investigation itself, regarding their appointment or promotion within the Federal Government, or even in the interest of the national defense.
Page Fifteen notes the FBI wants to set out background information concerning published reports that the FBI has analyzed hair in connection with the search for Sasquatch. This indicates the control of information, and their desire to provide commentary that research of this kind was not previously verifiable. There may have been a practical purpose behind the bureau's agreeable reply. In the mid-1970's, an erroneous entry in an Army Corps of Engineers atlas sparked rumors that the FBI had previously analyzed "alleged sasquatch hair samples" and found that "no such hair exists on any human or presently-known animal for which such data are available."
Under the provision of conducting this testing in the interest of research and scientific study, it would have also served to halt the pressing requests from Byrne and his team. It would have also done as Byrne requested in his letter, to “set the record straight”, thereby negating the unfounded accusations of the FBI’s involvement in previous examinations. A couple of sources claim the claims by the Army Corps of Engineers was merely a prank.
Research and Technology
This series of tests and examinations were conducted in 1976, before DNA testing had entered the mainstream. There was no way for Byrne to prove that his sample of hair was, in fact, what he thought it was. There were no independent agencies with the level of technology he was looking for, which is why the sample was submitted to the FBI.
It was reported that the FBI utilized by transmitted and incident light microscopy. Transmitted light microscopy is the general term used for any type of microscopy where the light is transmitted from a source on the opposite side of the specimen to the objective lens. Usually, the light is passed through a condenser to focus it on the specimen to get maximum illumination. The objective lens magnifies the image of the sample and then to the oculars, where the enlarged image is viewed. There are other microscopy methods available, but this method appears to be well suited to hair and tissue samples due to their relative transparency. Scale casts were made and the hairs were compared directly with hairs of known origin, thus with direct comparative analysis, their findings were quite conclusive.
However, the research was conducted over 40 years ago and scientific advances have improved in this time. Within 10 years of this testing, DNA testing became available as a mechanism for the identification of an individual. The technology has continued to advance and provide a much more robust level of genetic analysis. These new advancements might have profited Byrne and his colleagues much more detailed data, including the species of deer, but it ultimately would have still concluded that the sample did not come from an unknown creature.
Did this information never make it to Peter Byrne? - According to several news sources, Byrne claims that he did not learn about the FBI’s findings until the document was released. Now 93, Byrne still claims he did not get the replies that were generated by the FBI. Howard Curtis had corresponded with the FBI and in his final letter (Page Twenty-Two) Curtis expressed his gratitude for the assistance and promised to inform Byrne of the results when he returned from his trip to Nepal. We do not know what happened in the intervening years between Curtis and Byrne, nor why Byrne claims to this day not to have known.
Did the FBI Investigate Bigfoot? – The somewhat blurry answer here is, technically no. The FBI had no intentions of conducting a full investigation into the validity or even plausibility of there being a Bigfoot/Sasquatch creature. They never “joined in the hunt” as several sensational media outlets may have posited. Their analysis was strictly of a scientific nature, although their efforts may have had the added benefits of
The greatest remaining question is: Why did the FBI release this information now? – In fact, the FBI did NOT release this information last week. It appears to have been released as early as May 14, 2018. A man who runs The Black Vault website, John Greenewald, had requested a release of information by the FBI processed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. They sent Greenewald a CD containing these 22 pages as well as a copy of the Explanation of Exemptions. So, to an extent, this information already existed in a public capacity; it just appears that it was not widespread and did not get the same exposure. So, the question rephrased is: Why did the FBI publicly re-release this information now?
On the surface, the documents seem fairly disappointing, especially if you were hoping for some sort of government proof of the mysterious forest creature. The FBI’s testing determined that the hair—with attached skin sample—belonged to a member of the deer family after-all. So no, it isn’t proof of a grand cryptid conspiracy. But the document release does carry with it some very important lessons for those people interested in the truth, the strange, and how those two worlds meet. It is a fine example of using perseverance, an honest and friendly approach, and some hard evidence to get yourself to be taken seriously by even the most serious and powerful organizations in the world. Belief is certainly a powerful and wonderful thing, but truly exploring and understanding a topic—even the esoteric—requires plenty of legwork and integrity if you want to find real answers.
Either way, the FBI’s disclosure won’t change the minds of skeptics or believers. But it does show a model path to follow to find results, and that’s still an exciting thing.
You can veiw the FBI release here:
You can view the Black Vault page here: