A cover story provides an introductory position or initial identify for a researcher new to the research site….Without such an identity, members of the community would define them as irrelevant, nonpeople, ghosts, or worse – as spies, saboteurs, witches, or people who might do harm to others….Cover stories should not be confused with going undercover. Ethnographer’s Toolkit (2000) by Jean J. Schensul and Margaret Diane LeCompte, 2000.
“I was optimistic and hopeful,” Dr. Jeff Meldrum told National Geographic about the possibility of a dead Bigfoot having been found.
Today is September 1st, the day when all would be revealed by Matt Whitton and Ric Dyer about the alleged Bigfoot they “tripped” across in the woods of north Georgia. Can you imagine if there would have been two additional weeks of hype leading up to today’s date, waiting on a final resolution of this story?
When Tom Biscardi phoned me early in August 2008, unannounced and unsolicited, I was in a bit of shock. I had never spoken to the guy before. Why now? Why would he call me, I ask myself?
My relationship with the man had been hostile and skeptical, to say the least, as I was the on-air counterpoint to his hoax-filled rants on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory in 2005. Biscardi’s hoaxing episode, where he collected money for live-stream video of a “captured Bigfoot” and then ended it with his “I was hoodwinked” statements, is well-documented. (He is banned for life from the popular overnight radio program for deceiving the listeners.)
Biscardi’s first call was greeted with me merely listening quietly and courteously. He was excited. He told of how he’d “seen” the body, touched it, was convinced it was an actual Bigfoot, and his quest had been finally confirmed. I didn’t talk or have a conversation with him. I just listened. He rambled on about wanting to “bury the hatchet,” and wanted me to back off from writing anymore about the “Georgia boys.”
I did not promise him a thing, and indeed, said that I had decided to not give the story any more attention since they had posted their homophobic jokes about Matt Moneymaker and their book-burning video on YouTube. I told him this wasn’t about backing off, and it was only about not giving further attention to a couple guys I did not wish to cover.
Biscardi lied to me about what he saw and how much of the “body” he saw, from the beginning. I demanded to see more if he wanted to convince me there was anything to this. Period. We ended our call abruptly.
I soon learned that despite Biscardi’s “don’t tell anyone we talked” statements to me, he started calling people around the country to say that he had “talked to Loren Coleman,” implying I was interested in the story or even believed it. Then someone told me that Biscardi had been calling many people the weekend of August 9-10, telling them his “Georgia body” tales. He also mentioned on his radio show that he had talked to me.
I began to reflect on what was happening and what could be happening. One of the worst things to try to do is to attempt to out-con a conman. Frankly, I tend to be too honest and open about my passions, concerns, and emotions to pull something like that off. But, just as with the alleged reports of the Johor Hominid being photographed, I did make some decisions about his Georgia story. In that Johor fiasco, Cryptomundo played a critical role in exposing that “hoax” by publishing the first photo of the “face” of that alleged creature.
In America, people grow up believing they can trust police officers with the truth.
I thought I could use my interest and really, my openness to the fact I might have been wrong about the Georgia guys. I questioned myself, whether I had been too harsh on them, even biased. What if two jokers in Georgia, who seemed perhaps to have a bit of credibility due to their supposed police, corrections, and military background, were honest. But what of Biscardi, the ultimate hoaxer? He couldn’t be trusted, and I knew that.
Okay, I said to myself, proceed carefully. Be open to looking at what they had, and forget about their timeline. Start doing things to speed this up, I told myself.
Just as in the Malaysian situation, I decided to push the time frame, to come up with anything folks could look at, analyze, and figure out the truth behind the Georgia story. I knew it was a dangerous game, but, what the hell, I had to try.
It just did not seem correct to let Tom Biscardi and the Georgia men promote the story on the timetable they were projecting, because I thought that would merely allow for more mischief, marketing, and myth-making.
September 1st had been tossed around by the Georgia gentlemen as their date of bringing this all out in the open. I wanted to move the game along, hopefully cause some cracks in the developing Biscardi and Georgia stories, journalistically and investigatively, so we could all look behind the wizard’s curtain.
What was happening in Georgia was just too exciting for the guys down there to contain themselves, and Biscardi too seem to be out-of-control more than he was saying. Yes, he had made Matt Whitton and Ric Dyer withdraw the old videos, but he was soon to discover they still have a video camera.
On Monday, August 11, the Georgia guys posted a YouTube video, allegedly showing footage of Biscardi’s visit, giving word that they had given Biscardi the DNA sample, and showing a quick black and white image of the “Bigfoot body.”
I began to post again on Cryptomundo about the body, to speed the story up, that the Georgia faction had “leaked” a photo of the body. A reader at Cryptomundo, actually several, had frozen the video before it was withdrawn, and done a screen capture of the “body in the box.”
I posted it.
A lot of things seemed to happen overnight from August 11th to the morning of August 12th.
Something was happening at Biscardi’s end, the Georgia boys wanted their money, and apparently a news conference was planned between Robert Barrows, Biscardi’s PR guy, JavaBob, his website author, and Biscardi. Or so it seemed from what quickly developed.
Very early on Tuesday, August 12th, I began receiving calls from Biscardi in which he told me he had seen the feet (they were hominid, not apelike), that he had taken measurements, that he had observed a change in hair color, from red to gray, on the creature, and other elements of the story now known to be his falsehoods. Biscardi lied to me and several people throughout this process, needless to say.
Biscardi also used a misrepresentation of the DNA sample tests he read over the phone to me, saying the results were “mixed” and “inconclusive,” and downplaying any opossum results.
The email of the DNA results from the University of Minnesota was not leaked until late in August. How the early results were “read” to people by Biscardi tended to not be related to the truth.
As I had mentioned on Cryptomundo, I knew I was being watched by Biscardi, and yet I wanted to show folks something so we could get to the bottom of this. I was 99% sure this was a hoax. However, I honestly admitted that I had a tiny bit of hope that perhaps some of the most unreliable people around had come up with a body.
I kept using the phrase “skeptically optimistic” to keep an open line with Biscardi so I could see what he thought he had. I was being duped, but at that point, it didn’t matter, if I could see what he was looking at so I could deconstruct it. I used a lot of words like “might,” “maybe,” and “possible,” but I also was open-minded, hopeful like others I was talking to, and even said that, yes, perhaps this could be the “real deal.” I haven’t deleted what I said in the blogs themselves. Those words are still there on Cryptomundo.
I knew why I was doing what I was doing, as I wanted to see what Biscardi had. Only in seeing more was I convinced that the hoax could be exposed. What I had not banked on was the media’s use of my early quotations and the crashing of Cryptomundo that blacked out how very early I and many others discovered the hoaxing.
Anyway, on the morning of Tuesday, August 12, Biscardi called me and told me of the press release that Barrows was developing and the press conference on Friday in Palo Alto. He was going to allow me to release a photograph of the body he was going to “show the world on Friday.”
Some of the seduction that Biscardi was trying on me was so typical Biscardi. At one point he ask me on Tuesday morning, out of the blue, if my Maine museum had 5000 square feet of exhibits in it. I innocently said, “Yes, probably, why?”
Biscardi then launched into a long-winded plan he had to move my museum to Fisherman’s Wharf in California, where he had one of two spaces he owned, make the Georgia Bigfoot body the centerpiece, and surround it with exhibits from my museum. I stopped him short, immediately and firmly. I quickly let him know that I wasn’t interested in that in the least and wasn’t going to move my museum anywhere to join any plans he might have. I didn’t want to talk to him anymore about that, and cut him off before he told me where his “second site” was. It was a nontopic, and so obvious to me he was trying to buy me off, in some fashion. I didn’t want to be entangled with this guy at all.
The guy was rather unbelievable. He said he saw that the feet of the “body” were like a human’s not an ape’s, and the DNA results convinced him this was a real body.
Around noon Eastern time, Biscardi called me and told me that he was going to email me the photographs, so I could have them to post on Friday. No more FedEx, now email. He had an embargo on them, he said, and asked me to promise that I will not release them until Friday at noon Pacific. I agreed. It is a common practice in journalism to have an embargo on such things, and so agreeing, I told Biscardi, was understandable.
At August 12, 2008, at 1:15:26 PM EDT, Tom Biscardi sent me the photographs. But they weren’t photographs of the body; it was only one photo of the thing in the ice chest and two pictures of Biscardi and the Georgia guys. Indeed, the photo was a color version of the image that Ric Dyer and Matt Whitton had flashed in their YouTube video the previous day.
There was no proof of anything here, and the multiple photos, DNA analysis, or even the body to be shown on Friday, seemed further away.
As Tuesday, August 12th, unfolded, the “cone of silence” that Biscardi thought he had, began to fall apart. The two guys in Georgia, the PR guy in California, and Tom Biscardi were all working at cross purposes. It was merely a matter of watching for the cracks developing, and then I took advantage of them.
Biscardi said he was going to send the press release to me as well as the photographs. He had not or at least, he said he did and it never arrived. I emailed a Spartan note asking about where was the press release he promised?
At August 12, 2008, at 2:11:30 PM EDT, Biscardi forwarded the press release from Robert Barrows, with this note, “Here it is again.”
Biscardi said this “press release” was the information that was going to be released on Friday, but that differed from what was said on the release. Barrows had dated the release “April 12, 2008,” and had “For Immediate Release” printed on it.
I also was alerted by many people emailing me that the two Georgia men had broken ranks and had posted a YouTube video announcing to everyone there would be a press conference in “San Francisco.”
Barrows and Biscardi had changed the press conference to Palo Alto, and it was obvious the Georgia guys were falling behind in their information.
I emailed Biscardi that I was no longer going to remain quiet if the information was leaking from Georgia.
I also decided to directly call Biscardi’s public relations man in Burlingame. I asked him specifically, if this press release said “For Immediate Release,” why did I have to wait? He didn’t have any answer, and said, yes, it was for public dissemination now.
Furthermore, I asked Barrows how many of the press releases had he emailed out. He said, “Oh, about 60 to all the major news outlets.”
That was it. It was time for me to post the release at Cryptomundo, and force the story to jump ahead of the “news conference” planned for Friday, August 15th. Why, I asked myself, can’t more be released and analyzed by all before we are presented with merely this picture of a body in a box on Friday.
What next happened was remarkable. Biscardi first emailed me this: “Do me a favor I don’t have time to deal with this idle chatter….”
I was hardly carrying on “idle chatter” with Biscardi, I wanted more facts and not stories.
Instead, what Biscardi sent me, incredibly, was this forceful demand: “If you want something to talk about I will have a guy named Steve xxxxx who will tell you the story about Moneymaker offering him money to Hoax….”
Biscardi then attached an email from Steve xxxxx to Biscardi, entitled “Time to get the lawyers working.” The emailer wrote Biscardi: “Let’s see (sounds like Moneymaker) calls you charletan, hoaxer, hustler and trying to pass of [sic] major media hoax sometime in the future….hmmm. Poor souls..don’t know what’s about to hit them. Steve”.
I emailed Biscardi back, telling him in no uncertain terms I was not writing about Moneymaker, and my focus was on this “Georgia” story.
It was obvious Biscardi thought I could be used to promote his anti-Moneymaker line, but I had been in agreement with several things being said by Moneymaker on his forum. Biscardi was clueless.
Indeed, some of the words I purposefully picked for my “shocking” and “amazing” developments comments when I posted the press release was to draw out the Georgia guys and Biscardi, as much as working off my own high interest in the story. Also, as I have readily admitted, I was hopeful, by some stretch of reality I could not imagine, that Biscardi wasn’t lying to me and that a Bigfoot body had been found.
I was lied to, and I felt with the direction this was going, the more information, photographs, or whatever I could share, the better. I wanted to be careful to not lose my objectivity or subjectivity with Biscardi, and so I keep it going to “see the body.” I keep telling him that I was interested “if there was a body.”
If all Cryptomundo had to publish was the press information early, as soon as I could, I wanted to do that. The way the release was written opened the door for that to happen.
What happened next, after the release went out on the 12th, was interesting. Biscardi started calling me, literally, upset with me that I had done an “end-run” and published the press release. But he also started mentioning that someone on some minor website was posting the photo of the body. He yelled that his lawyer was on it and going to sue the guy. He thought I had leaked it, and I told him, of course, the truth, I had not.
Soon, I discovered what had happened. I went to Biscardi’s Searching for Bigfoot site, and found a clickable item at the bottom of his homepage. It said “Releases,” and upon clicking it, I was taken to the Robert Barrows-authored press release with the three photos. Biscardi’s site was leaking the info itself.
I called Biscardi, and told him I was upset, since Barrows and he were the source of the leaks. I said he wasn’t even in control of who was posting what. I let him know that I was no longer being held by any promises I had given him for a media embargo until Friday, and I was going with the publishing of the photograph of the alleged “body in a box.”
The “Bigfoot” was out of the box and I was rushing to my computer to upload all the photographs. I wanted to get people’s attention, get some internet detectives on this, and I wished to publish them on the blog right away. I did that, and they flashed around the world at 9:29 pm EDT.
Biscardi told me that there were other photographs, of the mouth, of the teeth, maybe of the feet, to be released on Friday, and he would be sending me those. I first worded my blog entry in the hopes I might see those early, but I soon figured out that wasn’t going to happen.
What happened next was something I could not have predicted. Cryptomundo got a rush of hits, from websites from around the world. I was set to go on Coast to Coast AM that night, and hits from The Anomalist, C2C, and Boing Boing, for starters, began the tidal wave.
At 9:29 pm Eastern on August 12, 2008, I posted at Cryptomundo, the photograph of the supposed “body.” I was hoping to have more photographs for people to analyze. But what I had done during the day with the “body in the box” photo was to get the one I had enhanced and had blowups made. I also had begun some initial searching of costumes.
When I posted on the 12th, I very much wanted all the eyes and brains of the people at Cryptomundo to assist in tracking down what might be the source of this “thing” in the freezer.
By 9:40 pm Eastern, I had uploaded the costume that matched the head of this “body” but something strange began happening between 9:29 pm and 9:40 pm. The gateway was beginning to be shut down by the admin folks in California and the server getting overloaded.
Nevertheless, people had caught what I was saying early on about the “body.” Cryptomundo experienced so many hits, so may screen captures, so many borrowing of my words and the photo, that the early images and the early words I wrote, not my revisions, not my sense of the costume-hoax, got recorded, copied, and spread around.
I was totally involved with fighting with the, by now, constantly crashing Cryptomundo blog. I wasn’t watching email lists or forums. What I was paying attention to were emails that I received alerting me almost immediately that the costume had been identified.
That’s why I wanted to post the photograph and the outcome. Chuck Jarman’s costume was easily found through Horror Dome and it appeared to be almost an exact match. I credited “Ryan Thrash” with that at Cryptomundo. Some people didn’t see that I had uploaded that at 9:40 pm, and some folks were not able to get into Cryptomundo for hours. Some for days.
I was to find out later that “William Parcher” (a fictional name, I assume, based on the DOD agent in A Beautiful Mind?) at the JREF forum felt he was first with the costume discovery, posted without noting the costume maker after 11 pm on August 12th. Others, such as Navigator (Matt Moneymoney) at the BFRO, and various people (send me your name if you were one) on the BFF and other Bigfoot forums might also be credited with matching the costume with the “body in the box” photo I first published at Cryptomundo. Great, I say. Give everyone credit. That’s exactly what I wanted to happen.
The more eyes the better.
The dam broke and yet the media didn’t get the message. The mainstream press lagged two or three days behind the hoax discovery wave.
On Wednesday, August 13th, some of the Barrows-authored press releases began finding their way into the mainstream media, and Biscardi went on Fox News in the morning. Worst yet, on Wednesday, blogs and forums quoted some of my early press release and photo entry comments, before I knew about the costume. Left out were my careful statements and the hoax costume findings. Cryptomundo was off-line, and I was struggling to post my “red flags” comments and more. But by then, the drumbeat was building for the media circus of August 15th, “Bigfoot Friday.”
“But when I heard [Tom Biscardi] was involved, that optimism quickly evaporated,” said Dr. Jeff Meldrum to National Geographic.
To be continued.
An investigative journalist is a man or woman whose profession it is to discover the truth and to identify lapses from it in whatever media may be available.” Investigative Journalism: Context and Practice, Hugo de Burgh (ed), Routledge, London and New York, 2000.
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.