March 6, 2011

Are You Crazy To Be Interested In Bigfoot?

Let’s get serious.

Outside of the field of cryptozoology, hominology, and Bigfoot studies, most people don’t understand us. Ridicule and bad jokes abound among the media and general public when you bring up the subject of Sasquatch. We know of people who have lost jobs, income, and lovers/partners due to their interest in unknown animals. The topic of cryptozoology gets harshly lumped with subjects that are only related to cryptozoology because people marginalize them, not because there are any natural overlaps or logical to such linkages. Sometimes people say folks are “crazy” if they are intrigued by cryptids and looking for them.

But how often to we take time for a self-reflective look at this business? Through a tragic story and its associations, we can view what one blogger thinks about all of this.


I ran across a blog today that I want to share with you. The web essay I read is by Barry Kaufman (above), an Ohio native, who works for the daily Bluffton Today. He is their online content manager, news designer, reporter, copy editor, and humor columnist. Indeed, his column, Juvenile Nonsense, runs every Monday and has appeared in papers from Alaska to Georgia.

His online selections, which are written under the heading BTBarry’s Blog, are often humorous. However, one he wrote on February 10th this year is hardly so. Kaufman even somewhat apologizes, saying, “I wasn’t sure what to do with this story. If I wrote this as a column, some of the details would make people think I was trying to be funny. But it’s not funny. It is, but only in the way life is. Comedy is all around us, even in sadness. And either way, it’s way too long to be a column. It’s probably way too long to be a blog post. All I know is; I have to tell it.”

The title of the piece is “My roommate Jon, Bigfoot and S1K.”

It is about the guys he roomed with in college, at Ohio State University, in the “suites” that were called S1K at Morrill Tower. I’ll let you read that part indepth, via the link at the end, if you wish. Kaufman writes well and he spins a good feel for how college life does have its smells, noises, and roommates’ habits that drive one to distraction.

But I am going to concentrate on the core story here. The one about Jon. And Bigfoot, of course.

Kaufman says this about his college dorm mate, as a way to introduce him:

Jon was always a mystery. Still is, for the most part. Jon never left the room; never left the chair, come to think of it. Despite that, he was in remarkably good shape. Quiet, reserved, mysterious, Jon would spend his days scouring the Internet for rare Prince mp3s. He was a giant Prince fan.

He was really close to his dad.

He wouldn’t say a word, and then he’d suddenly have us all come into his room so he could sing Madonna’s “Borderline” at the top of his lungs.

He wouldn’t indicate he even noticed me in the room half the time, and then he’d ask if I wanted to go grab some lunch. Then we’d sit and eat in silence. Painful, awkward, mouth-full-of-dorm-cafeteria food silence.

He was always kind of a puzzle…

Barry Kaufman nicely lays out the post-college years of partings, trial and effort, and various journeys that some of his college mates took, giving rundowns on what they ended up doing. Then he returns to Jon:

Then, one day about three years ago, Chris laid a story on me I nearly couldn’t believe.

Jon had always been weird. But apparently in the years after graduation it had gotten worse. He’d gotten into strange stuff: conspiracy theories about Bigfoot and Jesus and aliens. He’d really been buying into it, spending all his free time researching it on some of the crazier corners of the Internet. He’d become convinced that Bigfoot still roams the Pacific Northwest, and that finding Bigfoot might somehow hold some key to the existence of a living Jesus Christ.

He’d gotten so into it that he’d run away to live in the Pacific Northwest, alone out in the woods trying to find Bigfoot. He’d just gotten on a Greyhound with the money in his pocket and a strange, sad set of convictions running around in his head.

This is the part I was worried about writing. I’m not trying to be funny, I’m not making this up. There are plenty of people who believe in this stuff. Sometimes people just get something stuck in their head and it won’t go away, no matter how crazy it sounds.

It was in Jon’s head so deep that he had left in the middle of the night one evening and had never come back.

I finally got the straight story from Strickland, since he was the one who’d stayed in closest contact with Jon and had actually been the one that drove him to the bus station.

“That is a very true and sad story. Thought about telling someone to see if he could get some help or something, but he wasn’t a threat to himself or others (in fact he wasn’t even remotely suicidal, he was excited to live off the grid) He got kinda hyper-religious…but other than that there was really not anything awkward. He actually said he was coming back and I was supposed to be holding his stuff for him (most of his personal stuff is sitting in my mom’s basement). He gave me about 300 books about aliens, conspiracy’s, secret societies, all kinds of weird (stuff). I read a few here and there, but I’m terrified I’m going to read the exact combination he did and end up in the woods living with a tribe of sub-terrainan Sasquatches. He sold 80% of his stuff on craiglist for pennies on the dollar, and gave me whatever he couldn’t sell, he decided to do all this in like a weeks time. I thought he was kidding at first…but then realized he wasn’t when he asked for a ride downtown to the greyhound station. He sold his car and everything. He got on a Greyhound one day and hasn’t come back. Not sure when this was exactly, a few years ago by now.”

Apart from Strickland, he hadn’t told anyone he was leaving.

Not even his parents. Not even his dad, with whom he’d been so close.

He was just gone.

Kaufman goes through how hard it use to be to keep up with people, and then with Facebook and web searching how that all changed. His friend Chris was Googling, and found the following:

WILLITS, Calif. (AP) – Authorities in northern California say human remains found in a wooded area last week have been identified as those of an Ohio man.

A spokesman for the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department says forensic testing has confirmed the man’s identity as Jonathan Owens of Columbus.

The family of the 29-year-old says they hadn’t heard from Owens since last April. A cause of death has not been determined, but authorities say there’s no evidence of foul play. It’s not clear why Owens was in the Willits, California, area, but investigators say he had been traveling the country by hitchhiking and taking buses.

His body was discovered by a cross-country bicyclist.

I looked for this item, and found it was posted on February 22, 2007. Actually, I also found that it had been proceeded by the following two items:

Remains found in wooded area near Willits, California.
Human remains found in wooded area near Willits Thursday, February 15, 2007 (02-15) 14:32 PST Willits, Calif. (AP) — A bicyclist discovered human remains this week in a wooded area off Highway 101, the Mendocino County sheriff’s office said. Authorities were still working to identify the body, which appeared to have been decomposing for several months, Lt. Kurt Smallcomb said. “It’s too early to tell at this time, just based on the decomposition that was taking place,” he said Wednesday. The body was found 75 to 100 feet off Highway 101 south of town. Detectives recovered the remains and collected other items that may help determine the identity of the person and how they died. A forensic anthropology team will assist in the identification process, Smallcomb said. San Francisco Chronicle Source/expired.

Human remains found in wooded area A bicyclist pausing to survey the rugged beauty of Mendocino County near Willits instead stumbled on human remains in a wooded area off Highway 101, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said. Authorities are still working to identify the body, which was badly decayed and appeared to have been decomposing for several months, Sheriff’s Lt. Kurt Smallcomb said. “It’s too early to tell at this time, just based on the decomposition that was taking place,” he said. The body were found 75 to 100 feet off of Highway 101 south of town, northeast of the spot where the highway narrows from four to two lanes, sheriff’s officials said. The bicyclist found it around 8:20 a.m. Wednesday and immediately called authorities, who accompanied him to the spot, Smallcomb said. Detectives recovered the remains and collected additional items from the area that could provide evidence as to the identity and circumstances concerning the death. A forensic anthropology team will be involved in the identification process, Smallcomb said. Press Democrat Source/expired.

Kaufman, after Chris told him of finding the February 22, 2007, item, does his own searching.

The story, it turned out, was three years old. Jon, or someone with the same name, had been dead for three years and none of us had known.

Now, the journalist in me immediately starts figuring out next moves. Before I have a typed response to Chris, I’m on the phone with the Mendocino police department. There are other reports on the same body, bearing the name of a Lieutenant, now a captain. He seems agitated at being asked by some nobody from across the country to dig up a three-year-old cold case. All he can tell me is that this Jon was definitely from Columbus.

I hit up the Columbus Dispatch archives, scroll through the obituaries and there it is. Chris heads to the Columbus library site and finds the full obituary.

The obit reads:

OWENS Jonathan “Cory” Owens, 28, died Wednesday, February 14, 2007, in Mendocino County, Calif. Born October 17, 1978, in Lima, Oh., the son of Johnnie Owens and Geneva Carol (Godsey) Owens of Lima, Oh. Jonathan had worked for K-Mart, Lima, Oh. and Ambercrombie & Finch, Columbus, Oh. He was a 1997 graduate and honor student of Lima Senior High School and attended Ohio State University in Columbus for 4 years. He was an artist and a musician and enjoyed electronics, especially computers. Preceded in death by brother Brian Godsey, paternal grandparents Elliot and Emma Owens, maternal grandparents Claude and Phyllis Godsey. Survived by father, Johnnie Owens of Lima, Oh.; mother, Geneva Carol (Godsey) Owens of Lima, Oh.; sister, Patrice (Dan) Reinhart of Lima, Oh.; a host of aunts, uncles and cousins. Visitation 12Noon-2 p.m. Saturday, February 24, 2007, CHAMBERLAIN-HUCKERIEDE FUNERAL HOME, Lima, Oh., where Memorial Service will be held 2 p.m. Saturday with John Barcus and Rev. Ernest Stephens officiating.

Barry Kaufman ends his blog with these thoughts. I have been moved to share some of my own due to his blog. I’ll add those at the end.

It’s an odd feeling. It’s not sadness; it’s entirely too strange and ridiculous to be sad. But it’s not that funny, either. You read that obituary and you see he lost a brother before he died.

He was really close to his dad, and maybe that’s why.

And now, that’s two children his parents have lost.

Chris said he’s going to try to contact his parents and see if there’s a gravesite or anything. He’d lived with Jon for a year before I’d know them, and for a year after we all moved away. They were friends, or at least as close to friends as you can get to someone who is always such a mystery.

We’re all debating whether to give them what’s in the box. After three years, the scars won’t have healed, but they will be scars. Does it make it better or worse for them to know why he left? Is it better to think your son left for reasons unknown or to know that he left because some conspiracy theory had driven him mad?

I don’t know. It’s not my call to make. All I know is that a guy I knew a long time ago got so wrapped up in the things he read on the Internet that he left behind a family that loved him to hop on a Greyhound bus headed for a lonely death in a forest.

And I wish I had more to miss him by than one awkward lunch together and the lingering notion that maybe, just maybe, he’s still just pulling a giant prank on everyone.

(You can read Kaufman’s entire blog, here.)

First off, as a parent, as a son, as a psychiatric social worker/suicidologist who has counseled many people who have lost their children and partners mysteriously, and as a cryptozoologist, of course, Barry and Chris should give Jon’s box of possessions to Jon’s parents. It helps the healing, beyond any understanding that those who have thoughts of “protecting” the parents or loved ones can comprehend.

Next, too often people mix up mental illness with subject matter. Just because someone is interested in cryptozoology does not mean they are “crazy,” “mad,” “delusional,” or suffering from some type of mental illness. Mental illness can present itself in many forms, and there is something slightly troubling and insensitive in Mr. Kaufman’s statement that this story is “entirely too strange and ridiculous to be sad.”

It is tragic, it is sad, and to make any kind of judgement that searching for Bigfoot is a sign of insanity is to ignore the other behaviors this individual was exhibiting. To think that reading a series of books on Bigfoot would align someone’s brain in the same fashion as Jon’s, also, is unfounded.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to look for Bigfoot, just as there is a right way and a wrong way to go study among grizzlies or sharks or volcanoes. Some people, often those who are mentally ill, make incorrect decisions as part of their mental illness, about safety, about food, about things like temperatures, and about going it alone.

I entitled my blog “Are You Crazy To Be Interested In Bigfoot?” Of course, the simple answer is “No.”

I personally don’t like the word “crazy,” but people use it. So I used it to make a point. Mental illness has nothing to do with the subject matter through which it may be manifested. Some daytraders are mentally ill, some divers are, some wildlife biologists are, some housewives are. Anyone doing anything can be mentally ill, and yet there seems to be this ease by which some people make the mistake based on a cryptozoological interest being some clue to mental illness. The great majority of folks who are passionate about cryptids, Bigfoot, Yeti, Yowies, black panthers, lake monsters, and the rest of the animals of which we search for are not mentally ill. To even hint at such is insulting.

Most people don’t understand mental illness.

Add to that the ridicule factor found outside of the field of cryptozoology, and you will find sad stories like this one about Jon’s death being associated with his search for Bigfoot.

Tragic.

My condolences to his college friends, his parents, his sister, and all his aunts, uncles and cousins.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. 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. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

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