I. To Believe or Not to Believe
Things got weird, as they so often do, in a Walmart parking lot.
Amarillo has three such behemoths, and on a bright, noticeably warm February day, seven of us had gathered at the 42nd Avenue store. The group—a small gaggle including some state and local media types—was packed into an enclosed cargo trailer parked at the far edge of the lot’s constellation of lampposts, that twilight zone where none but runaways, criminals, and budget travelers dare turn off their engines. The only light in the modified trailer came from a few afternoon rays,and wood shavings scattered around the floor like confetti gave the interior a decidedly pleasant smell of fresh lumber. Half-opened boxes of promotional T-shirts were stacked neatly along the edges. Small spirals of fuzz hung from a frayed roll of commercial carpeting tucked in the corner, a sign it had been cut without the use of a proper utility knife. In the center of this tableau was the marquee exhibit—a nine-foot-long coffin topped with Plexiglas.
As we encircled the case, we used our mausoleum voices, indiscernible chatter from the three 96.9 KISS FM colleagues, the reporter from the Amarillo Globe-News mostly keeping to herself. After a moment, the respectful murmurings were cut short by the curator of this curio, the sideshow ringmaster himself, 39-year-old Las Vegas resident and former used-car salesman Rick Dyer.
“This!” he barked with a theatrical flourish. “Is the full. Taxidermied. Bigfoot.” He’d named it Hank.
Rick Dyer, the world’s most infamous Bigfoot hunter, beckoned us to step right up. He pointed to scars—“battle marks” he called them—and blemishes on the corpse. “Ya cain’t fake a mole like that,” he said in a Southern-glazed accent. Precisely eight feet four, according to Rick, the beast was covered in hair the color of an aging red fox, save for a ski-goggles-shaped area around the eyes and nose. And one other place.
Rick’s confidante and second-in-command, Andrew Clancy, explained that the embalming process and the use of a resin had given the exposed skin a chalky, plaster-of-Paris appearance. He told us the feet and hands had been covered because the big reveal of Hank’s extremities was being saved for a later date (though no hints were given as to what abnormalities might be hiding under the black sheet). Both Rick and Andrew enumerated, with exacting detail, what we were seeing on the 3-D medical scan being passed around, a diagnostic image, we were told, that would be impossible to fake. True, it had been Photoshopped, but only to hide the serial number at the bottom, the one that would identify the hospital where it was taken (there were only three such scanners in the world, they said).
Our heads bobbed with gentle solemnity at every appropriate moment. But our eyes, they kept slinking back, away from the face, to the other hairless spot. One of the radiomen finally spoke up.
“Is that . . . ? Is it . . . ?”
He nodded in the direction of a tiny, slug-sized appendage at the specimen’s crotch, either unable or unwilling to say penis.
“Yeah, that’s what that is,” Rick said with a chuckle. “But the funny part about that is, when I kilt him, he was fully erect. And it was looooong.”
The radioman made a joke about shrinkage. Rick shrugged. “A bullet to the back of the head,” he replied nonchalantly, “will do that.”
A disturbing snuff video began replaying, over and over, in my head—a triple-X version of the infamous Zapruder film, but instead of JFK, it starred horny ol’ Hank. If the others were as rattled as I was, they didn’t show it. Maybe they’d all witnessed weirder things in a Walmart parking lot. I had not.
Or maybe it was something else: I wanted to believe. Believe in the red-haired beast before us—penis, moles, and all. I still want to believe.
II. Not to Believe: Rick the Trickster
“You want me to fake it?” Rick asked Andrew, before striking the pose of a subject in medias res. Andrew aimed the digital camera.
Rick, Andrew, and I had zipped from the Walmart parking lot to the KISS FM station and were waiting inside a hot, stuffy sound booth for Rick’s impending on-air interview. Rick had suggested that Andrew take pictures of him pretending to do the actual interview. Rick wanted to post them online to “piss off The Haters.” Andrew, a former television cameraman in his home country of Australia, directed Rick to “look like you’re talking.” An easy illusion to conjure. Rick’s a talker.
He’d talked almost the entire drive to the radio station. Primarily about the events leading up to the “Body of the Bigfoot” tour, which he launched in February 2014 to relative fanfare. His gift of gab had helped push the tour’s existence to the foreground of the collective social consciousness, as had his proclivity for verbose self-promotion (for example, he posted more than two hundred videos on his YouTube page, many of which are monologues ostensibly addressed to his fans and their counterparts, The Haters). Rick’s incessant bragging that he had killed a Bigfoot near San Antonio eventually attracted the media, which obligingly swallowed his announcement that he’d be caravanning the taxidermied creature around the Southwestern United States. Perhaps they too wanted to believe that someone had finally captured the elusive mythical creature. Or perhaps it really was that slow of a news week. In any case, the tour was mentioned by an untold number of outlets, including bastions of serious journalism like Time magazine, Huffington Post, and Good Morning America. The news went global too, fascinating foreign flyers like the Daily Mail, the International Business Times, and Taiwan’s 東森電視 ( “US meat hanging in a tree according to claims hunted hunter PO ‘Bigfoot,’” reads the headline in roughly translated Chinese). Locally, the San Antonio Express-News was all over the story, with half a dozen items leading up to and continuing throughout Rick’s adventure.
Rick began peddling his Bigfoot story about a month before the start of the tour. He’d gone to the San Antonio area in 2012 specifically to bag Bigfoot, and this body, he claimed, was the result of that hunt. Prior to the roadshow, Rick told me—and every other inquiring soul—the body had been kept at a prestigious university in the Northwest, which he refused to name, where it had been autopsied and taxidermied.
Before the tour’s first official stop, in Amarillo, there was supposed to be something of a dry run in Arizona. Rick and his cohorts—they’d dubbed themselves “Team Tracker”— had booked a stop at the annual International UFO Congress. “We thought it was a slam dunk,” Andrew explained on the way to the KISS FM interview, since “people into UFOs would be really hyper-interested to see Bigfoot.” But the UFO Congress organizers apparently reneged on their offer, and were “quite rude” in doing so. “They thought we would overshadow their event,” interjected Rick as he honked, again, at another car. “Which we would.” It’s a fair thought. Rick’s “Body” tour did have a bit of flash and pizzazz, lent, in part, by the Toyota FJ Cruiser he was driving, professionally and gaudily pimped out with decals to promote the event. White-knuckled in the passenger seat as Rick sped past another car, I felt like I was riding in a NASCAR sponsored by Bigfoot.
The rescinded invitation, while unexpected, proved to be fateful. Rick realized that UFO enthusiasts didn’t deserve the first proper look anyway. He would return Hank to Texas, which was, after all, the slain Bigfoot’s stomping grounds. The itinerary would take the group to the Panhandle, a gun show in Paris, a Bigfoot hunt in Mineola, a weekend stop in San Antonio—a homecoming for the corpse—and finally a two-day, sold-out event in Houston. It was all to be a curtain raiser for their big tour through the weirdest of these United States: Florida.
But, dear reader, before we embark on that journey together, I must drop what we in the business call a “spoiler alert.” The tour came to a halt in March, when Rick finally admitted in a Facebook statement that the body was fake, just an elaborate prop. The body had never been held at a prestigious university in the Northwest, but rather was commissioned from a special effects artist in Spokane, Washington (in every lie a grain of truth). Two years after “killing” the beast and roughly two months after he began showing the body to anyone who’d listen (er, pay), Rick was branded a hoaxer. By his team, by The Haters, by the very news organizations that not twelve weeks earlier had eagerly, if cheekily, “reported” his claims..
The news was déjà vu of fantastical proportions for anyone who had bothered with even a cursory Internet search of Ricky Traylor Chuck Dyer. His tales of bagging a Bigfoot actually dated back to 2008 when, as Rick claimed then, he and a police officer friend, Matt Whitton, just happened to stumble upon a dead Bigfoot in Fall Creek Falls, Georgia. For evidence, they passed around photos of themselves next to a meat locker, the Bigfoot crammed inside, some intestinal-looking blob spilling from the belly. The two went so far as to hold a press conference in California, which attracted attention from the likes of CNN and the New York Times. Not a week later, the man who’d paid Rick and his friend “an undisclosed sum” to be their promoter—and then reportedly hired Steve Kulls, the “Sasquatch Detective” to investigate their claim—came forward with the truth. The pair quickly fessed up, with Rick telling Atlanta’s CNN affiliate, WSB, that it was “just a big hoax, a big joke,” and Whitton adding that it had turned “into something way bigger than it was supposed to be.” Indeed, Whitton was fired from the Clayton County Police Department.
Rick laid low. Mostly. Then, in September 2012, he posted his infamous “Tent Video,” which was passionately debated within the cryptozoology community. The video features grainy footage of what Rick claimed to be a Bigfoot, taken from inside his tent in the woods outside San Antonio. Fifteen months later, Rick would announce to the world that this was the Bigfoot he’d kilt.
So why keep reading? You’ve got the gist of how this whole bizarre saga ends. Well, here’s the kicker: Rick’s preparing another adventure in 2016. And not some mobile sideshow neither, but a proper museum-hosted tour. It’s tentatively scheduled for September, the anniversary of his big kill. The planned debut? San Antonio. This time, Rick promises, it’ll be the real thing.
We exist in a strange universe. More than half of all Americans believe in angels and demons. An October study found that 11 percent believe Bigfoot to be real, while another 28 percent aren’t sure (perhaps they, too, want to believe). So while a man brazenly announcing to the world that he’s snagged a Bigfoot not once, not twice, but three times seems like the elevator pitch for a ludicrous straight-to-streaming movie, it actually happened. It’s happening. And if that’s possible, why is it impossible to believe that a man—even this particularly audacious man—could have actually killed a Bigfoot?
III. To Believe: How Rick Kilt Hesself ah Bigfoot
“The only reason I kilt [Hank] is I had to have my redemption,” Rick said on our way to the radio interview. The declaration was as self-assured as his driving.
A man behind a wheel is as revealing as a sinner in confession. Personally, there were a lot of whispered Hail Marys as I squirmed on the passenger side of the Cruiser, gritting teeth while Rick tailed vehicles, alternately pressing the gas and tapping frequently—and hard—on the brakes in an effort to encourage his asphalt peers to step up their game. If you were traversing the Kabul Valley in an M1 Abrams tank, Rick would be the man you’d want driving.
Rick drove with intent—intent on keeping his promise of promoting the tour on-air, and intent on clarifying the events of 2008 for me. After Rick and his police officer friend found and collected the body, they’d carefully documented their find. Unfortunately, their discovery reached some “government agency,” which not only took the body but “[took] all our video, all our photos, and threatened [our families].” By that point, Rick had “let my ass override my mouth.”
Already in “too deep,” Rick bought a $400 ape suit and stuffed it with all manner of roadkill and slaughterhouse scraps. They thought it would be enough to “just have it disappear after we took some photos,” he said. “Weeeell, that didn’t work out.” The man who’d come forward about the hoax? According to Rick, he decided to turncoat after being denied hush money for his part in covering up the government’s cover-up.
Rick said that if the events of 2008 taught him anything, it’s that Bigfoot is real. And since Rick knew Bigfoot is real, he knew he could kill one. This was an ambitious goal on Rick’s part, since he had never before hunted anything. “I don’t believe in killing deer and stuff,” he said. It may sound all-out insane for a man with no hunting skills to endeavor to take down the legendarily giant forest creature—estimated size: eight feet tall, 650 pounds—as his first kill. Rick acknowledged this. But, hey, it’s not like he went out hunting without any experience. “I had Indian friends who trained me to track.”
In September 2012, Rick went to the San Antonio area because he had heard reports of a Bigfoot sighting. This is verifiable. As local news stations reported, a homeless couple told a 911 dispatcher that they’d just watched a “freaky, scary, very large creature . . . devour a whole deer carcass,” then run off screeching and howling. The homeless woman, Jennifer, is calm, speaks clearly, and gives out the exact location. Jennifer and her “boo,” who can be heard in the background offering his own garbled description of the beast, refuse to say exactly what they think it is. The call lasts about nine minutes. Jennifer assures the dispatcher, more than once, that she is not crazy.
Thus, on the sixth day of the year’s ninth month, Rick set out with his thirty-aught-six model 710 rifle and, using specially seasoned ribs procured from Walmart, lured the creature into a clearing where he kilt hesself ah Bigfoot. Three shots. “Once in the back, once in the back of the neck, and once in the thigh area.”
This time around, G-men didn’t confiscate the evidence or threaten his family, because of the prevalence of YouTube. Or something to that effect. It was difficult to follow Rick’s explanation of the past six years, in part because my immediate concern was the speed limit and the Texas Department of Safety’s recommended distance between cars. Silliness, really, on my part. Rick’s road to redemption led us straight to KISS FM’s studio all in one piece.
IV. Not to Believe: “The Haters”
Soon after the “candid” shots were taken in the KISS FM sound booth, the non-fake interview commenced. It followed a script familiar to anyone who’s listened to other interviews with Rick, conducted by various DJs and journalists. KISS’s director of programming, Dallas Chambers, introduced Rick on-air as the Bigfoot tracker. “The best Bigfoot tracker,” corrected Rick in his slow, cool tone. He stood at the mike, hands in his jean pockets, legs slightly astride. He wore what appeared to be his self-prescribed uniform: cowboy hat atop his nearly shaved head, leather jacket, shiny belt buckle, and clean boots. Rick had the build of a retired linebacker or former military man, a bit of padding over the muscle. He’d gained a little weight in the months since he took down Hank, judging from the half-naked selfies Rick took at the 2012 kill site. Midway through the interview, Andrew took off Rick’s leather coat for him. Roosevelt Johnson to Rick’s James Brown. Rick, the hardest-working man in the cryptozoology business, continued his interview, boasting about the kill, his investors, all the money he was making. Rick had an answer for everything.
“Tell us some things about this body,” said Chambers, “that makes it not a hoax.”
“I’m not bringing you a piece of hair. I’m not bringing you a piece of meat. I’m bringing you the complete body,” said Rick. “You can look through the hair and you can see the redness of the skin and you can see the pores, and you can see the moles. It just can’t be faked. And if it could, it’s just not in my budget.”
Chambers directed the discussion to Rick’s claim that he “had been contacted by museums and places like that.” Rick didn’t skip a beat. “What happened was, we were contacted by a company that does museum exhibits. But it’s eighteen months [to prepare such an exhibit]. . . . The only reason I did this is so the people can see it. And they didn’t want me to do it. No one wanted me to take this on the road. But I wanted the people to see it first.”
“The goal of the tour is to let people make up their own minds,” he told Dallas and the listeners. “This is not about making money; this is about bringing it to the people.” Rick, showman of and for the people.
If this thrust-and-parry, this argument-and-rebuttal bit felt rehearsed, it was because Rick has long dealt with a subset of people with whom Chambers might be unwittingly aligned: “The Haters.”
The Haters were unconvinced of Rick’s tales. People like Chambers might simply lift a skeptical brow and ask a few questions. Mere doubters. But The Haters, they went after Rick with a biblical kind of rage, that kind of rage a true-blooded Texan experiences when reading an all-vegan menu. The Haters attacked him mercilessly online, posting vitriol on his Facebook page, his personal blog, the Team Tracker blog, and the Team Tracker website. The Haters had tried to shut down Rick’s appearances. The Haters had even confronted Rick at his home in Las Vegas in 2013 and vandalized his car. The Haters were legion. Rick’s endless supply of stories about them bordered on paranoia.
Except it’s true: The Haters are real, and they are after Rick. There’s more than one website dedicated almost entirely to Rick Dyer, like anti-fan clubs vying for official recognition. Rick grudgingly mentioned that one of the main Haters lives in Canada. “Yeah, that would be me,” said Calgary resident Randy Filipovic, rather cheerfully. Filipovic runs the most popular anti-Rick website, Bigfoot Tracker News (BTN). (His full-time job is a courier for his brother’s delivery business, so it’s not like he’s “sitting at a computer all day wondering how I can make Rick’s life miserable.”) Filipovic got into the tight-knit cryptozoology community a few years ago. He set up the website after Rick announced that he’d kilt hesself ah Bigfoot.
“Well, I don’t know about innocent. He’s not guilty,” said a prosecutor familiar with one of the cases against Rick. “There’s a vast difference between those two words.”
BTN, however, doesn’t just disagree with Rick. It has published all of Rick’s previous, non-Bigfoot-related brushes with the law. In 2012 Rick was arrested for aggravated battery of a pregnant person (his wife), with more than one anti-Rick blog indicating or flat-out saying that he beat the hell out of her. In 2011 Rick was charged with eBay fraud, involving the false sale of vehicles, in San Antonio. That same year, in Arkansas, Rick had been contracted to run a used-car lot after claiming he had worked at one in Las Vegas. The Arkansas business filed charges against him because, as someone associated with the company cautiously described, “the tickets didn’t add up . . . to the extent that we felt obligated to press charges.” Around the same time, Rick allegedly worked for a tow-truck company—called, appropriately, Bigfoot Towing—and a woman accused him of illegally impounding her car.
During the course of the tour and beyond, Rick vehemently denied that he’d done anything wrong. “They take one percent of the truth . . . and make it the worst possible” is a line Rick has repeated more than once. True enough, in Florida, Rick had simply been yelling at his wife (the state’s law concerning aggravated battery of a pregnant woman is pretty open-ended) and a judge dismissed the case at the bond hearing. The San Antonio eBay mess was an old girlfriend using his account. The Arkansas charge concerning the used-car dealership was dropped. As for the charge concerning the wrongly impounded car, I found no evidence that it actually happened. The numerous blog posts about it appear to all have been copy-and-paste jobs from a single Bigfoot enthusiast’s blog post. When I asked that post’s author about the origin of the charge, he said the incident “appears to be a misunderstanding” and directed me to another Bigfoot enthusiast—the Sasquatch Detective from 2008, actually.
All of these transgressions have been dutifully recorded by the BTN. But there’s no follow-up. No correction made to the apparent “misunderstanding.” Nothing about how Rick is, in the eyes of the law, without fault. It all seems rather personal and, well, hateful. Filipovic explained it away. “If you believe somebody, their past has everything to do with it,” he said. “Somebody doesn’t just get in trouble once a year or every six months, you know, if they’re innocent all the time.” As for Rick’s claims that The Haters had come by his house taking pictures or that one of The Haters had stalked his wife? “That was exaggerated,” said Filipovic, not exactly denying it.
See! The Haters are after Rick. He is innocent . . . right? “Well, I don’t know about innocent. He’s not guilty,” said a prosecutor familiar with one of the cases against Rick. “There’s a vast difference between those two words.”
Rick also isn’t above the fray. He got down in the muck with The Haters, striking back online. He accused one man in Australia of bestiality and Filipovic of being a pedophile. The accusations against Filipovic got so bad that he released his own records to prove his innocence. He also claimed to have successfully had Canadian Google block Rick’s website.
Despite the appearance of a heated schoolyard fight among fringe-topic fanatics, there was almost admiration in the way Filipovic described Rick’s efforts. Or rather, he won’t completely blow him off. The crypto-club’s intense sincerity and curiosity can lead to talk of conspiracy, and they have many theories about Rick’s quest. The author of the erroneous tow-truck post kept referring to “my sources,” as if they were Cold War moles. Filipovic earnestly mentioned the “conflicting stories” within the Bigfoot community about how much Rick is expected to get—“$14 million” or “$5,000 here, $5,000 there”—when he finally sells the Bigfoot carcass.
Why not just ignore Rick? Why take the pictures he’s posted of himself waving cash stacks, hatefully overlaid with insulting text and repost them? Why respond to the deluge of taunting videos? Rick certainly seems to relish taunting The Haters every chance he gets. Why not simply shut him out of the discussion and debate? “That’s something that’s come up in the community: ‘Leave him alone and he’ll go away.’ And that would be 90 percent of the hoaxers out there,” said Filipovic. “But Rick is a whole different animal. If you leave him alone unchecked, it makes him bolder.” Oddly enough, Rick said, “Without Randy Filipovic, this would not have gotten off the ground as big as it did.”
Filipovic’s real concern, however, is the damage Rick has done and will do to the “very dynamic and complex dysfunctional family” that is the Bigfoot community. They’re a dedicated, if marginalized and constantly mocked, group. “It’s just that the fringe subjects are targets of hoaxers, of people who either like to have fun or see if they can get away with a hoax,” Filipovic explained. “And there’s people like Rick Dyer who actually try to make money off of those people that maybe believe everything they’re told.”
V. To Believe: It’s Personal
Rick doesn’t take money from everyone who wants to believe. Some of them join Team Tracker. Like the Avengers, Team Tracker has seen several iterations, with at least half a dozen people going through the Tracker turnstile. The team that toured Texas was composed of Rick, star of the show; his confidante, Andrew, who also acted as second-in-command and tour manager; Craig Phillips, the bodyguard and driver; and Lynk Paul, grunt worker.
There was also Texas artist Guy Cannon, the official-unofficial artist (or the unofficial-official artist—as with everything else, there was likely a distinction but it was never made clear), who met up with the team in Amarillo. The sexagenarian from Olton looked quintessentially Texan in his boots and denim workwear, with his scraggly face that bore lines as deep and scorched as the state’s water-starved riverbeds. Guy was as Lonesome Dove as it got, having “worked in the oil fields of Odessa, . . . as a saddle maker in Fort Worth, and been on a couple of wheat harvest runs from Texas to Montana.” He had painted the commissioned piece that hung in the trailer, just across from Hank. It was meant to depict Hank just before Rick’s kill shot. Guy did the best he could with what he had.
“When I painted that, I don’t think Rick wanted me to make it like [Hank],” Guy said. To this observation, Andrew replied, “No. He gave you fake information.” Obfuscation was crucial, even for members of Team Tracker. A closer look at the painting a few minutes later satiated my own juvenile curiosity as well as confirmed Rick’s duplicity. Depicting the moment just before Rick’s kill shot, the painting features a very flaccid Hank; nothing long about it.
Guy explained how he met Rick—online, just as the others had—and how he came to believe. “He just had too much information, and he had it at the tip of his tongue all the time,” he said to me in Amarillo. “There’s no way he’s making this stuff up as he goes along. It’s just too complicated. And nobody’s that smart. Especially not Rick.”
Rick was not around to hear that comment. Nor was Rick around three days later as Craig and Lynk putzed around inside Team Tracker’s motor home, docked at another Walmart parking lot in Dallas, and told me more about their own Bigfoot backgrounds.
Lynk, a successful civil engineer in San Fernando, Trinidad, took vacation time and traveled to the United States on a six-month tourist visa to work the tour. His wife, a phlebotomist, had agreed to let him take the trip, drawing from an incredible well of patience, perhaps because she hopes to one day move their family of four to Texas. Lynk believes because, well, he just believes. He spoke of Hank and his clan with calm, true conviction. “I enjoy life, just a little bit more seriously [than Rick]. But Bigfoot is no joke to me.” Sitting in the motor home, Lynk talked at length about the famous Patterson-Gimlin film made in the late sixties, the one of an arm-swinging Bigfoot strolling through a clearing. Lynk believes that even if it was faked, it was so accurate it had to have been based on an actual sighting. He was self-assured, one of those individuals who has done his “own research” and concluded that those independent findings were completely sound. He was disappointed when Rick’s first hoax was revealed. But the second time, “I was like, how ironic and how fortunate for him. Here’s his chance.” Like his wife, Lynk seemed to draw from an incredible well of patience.
As Lynk and I talked, Craig lit up a cattle prod. The sinister wand crackled threateningly. Did he actually plan on using it? And why in Hank’s name did he have it in the first place? “Well, you know, The Haters . . . ,” said Craig, trailing off as he put away the Hater-stick. Craig had long been dealing with his own brand of Haters. He got his first glimpse of Bigfoot when he was ten years old, running through the backwoods of Linnton, Oregon, “building forts and stuff.” After he reported his sighting, his three brothers did what brothers do and made fun of him incessantly. “But I had nightmares and my mom tried to get me some kind of help.” These days, he needs physical help. Craig, now in his early fifties, used to be a boxer. He remembers his last fight to the day: April 1, 1985, in Juneau, Alaska. If he’d won, I assume he would’ve said as much, but Craig often had the look of a man defeated. These days, he’s plagued by unemployment, weight issues, diabetes, and sleep apnea. “No one wants to hire me because I fall asleep . . . even on ladders.” It only happened once while he was driving the motor home.
Craig’s story of pain, of things lost, had a ring of familiarity to it. With every Bigfoot tale, there seemed to be a companion story reverberating the same gloomy notes. In Amarillo, Guy said he first contacted Rick shortly after his younger brother died (they’d been in business together). A Mineola woman suffering from Bigfoot attacks said she lived alone in the woods, her children leaving around the time the disturbances began.
And when we stopped in Paris, there was one truly enthusiastic visitor. He’d brought along his heavy-set, camo-clad tween son and a male companion with fixed eyes and an innocent grin. Even before Rick had snipped some of the Bigfoot’s hair and set a lighter to it, the enthusiastic man was a believer. He believed even more after he thrust an eager nose toward the burning stench and declared, to no one in particular, “It’s hair!” The Bigfoot apostle was a believer because his father, rest his soul, once saw a Bigfoot. He’d grown up listening to his father retell the encounter with the same precise details, never any embellishments. The way he talked, it sounded as if his father had died long ago. Still, when the subject came up, there seemed to be a perceptible shift in his tone. It sounded mournful.
Losing a loved one is an indescribable nightmare. Hell, life in general is nearly impossible to figure out, especially in hard times. Yet here in the parking lot of a gun show, a nebulous terror, what others call a myth, had not just been explained; it had been dominated, mastered, brought to order. What a great way of coping with the specters of suffering, past or present. You have to wait for angels, but you can hunt for Bigfoot.
VI. Not to Believe: Even Little Kids Have Their Doubts
In Amarillo, Rick had planned to wheel the 34-foot motor home, the accompanying 30-foot trailer, and his ad-wrapped FJ Cruiser into the radio station’s parking lot and feature the attraction right there at the KISS FM headquarters. He’d thought this would happen because Chambers, the DJ, had led him to believe it would.
Chambers told me later that the higher-ups nixed the Rick-proposed event hours before the interview, a fact he neglected to mention to Rick until they were on-air. The news really put Rick on the spot. His finely shaved chinstrap beard dropped ever so slightly. There was the briefest moment of silence. He looked hurt and his voice went scratchy, a half-note higher, just as it had earlier in the interview when he lamented, “I never get any recognition.”
“I . . . I guess we’re going to Cadillac Ranch,” he said, as composed as anyone could be after such a bait-and-switch. An hour later, the RV, trailer, and Cruiser were parked on the shoulder of I-40, looking like just another tourist caravan. “The real frauds are the radio station,” said Rick, still fuming about the last-second gotcha as carloads of families pulled over and tramped through the mud and February wind to get a view of the Bigfoot.
Inside, little noses perched themselves on the casket’s edge like tepees on a cliff, eyes shining with fearful curiosity. Children of all ages scanned the body, lips pressed together in concentration, as if searching for that much-needed puzzle piece hidden in the pile. During the course of the tour, Rick would claim more than once that this was his driving motivation: it’s all for the children. Even skeptical children, it would seem. Rick was offering up all sorts of convoluted explanations of events, and a twelve-year-old girl inspecting Hank was having none of it. She cheerfully grilled Rick with more than a dozen questions in rapid-fire succession:
Kids give the darndest interrogations, and Rick addressed most of the girl’s queries. For example, the Bigfoot has a big nose “because it has big fingers.” Animated, friendly, and full of energy, Rick talked to her much as he did with any skeptical adult, who were always easy to spot. They tended to approach the trailer leaning back with a slight swagger, eyeballs dancing, and forcing down a smirk that kept tugging their lips ear-ward.
Creating belief is a full-time job. You have to reel ’em in early, or maybe at vulnerable moments. It’s hard to convert a skeptic. These are the people who seem to be assured of their own place in the world. Happy. Well-adjusted. Take, for instance, the inquisitive child. She was not pleased about the covered extremities. Her statement that “if they want us to believe, they have to show us the full thing” seemed pretty damn logical for a child. Or a person of any age. Perhaps this penchant for reason was a trait inherited from her dad, Andy Mecham, one of the good-humored skeptics I met during the tour. “It’s hilarious,” said Mecham. He had been following the tour online, promising himself that if it passed through the area he would “stop by, just for the experience.” Mecham had happily and coolly shelled out $30 so his family of six could see the body. “Yeah, it’s totally a scam, but it’s worth it.”
Mecham enjoyed peeking into nuttier universes. He and his wife laughed a lot, especially when they told me about the conspiracy theories surrounding the Denver airport. But I decided to steer clear of investigating the topic too thoroughly. I already find flying and large crowds frightening enough, and there are plenty of other, tangible things in this world—my bank account and nonexistent health insurance for starters—to fuel my neurosis. That profound uncertainty with everything was significantly amplified when, two days later, we traveled through East Texas for a surreal Bigfoot hunt.
VII. To Believe: The Hunt
The tour’s second stop was a gun show in Paris, and while searching for lunch, I’d missed two very important moments. The first was Rick’s purchase of another thirty-aught-six at the gun show. The other was the appearance of a woman who’d driven an hour and a half from Mineola to see Hank. Rick said the woman had cried, beseeching him to come to her cabin. She’d said she was being terrorized by a clan of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?). Rick comforted her, promising to investigate the terroristic beasts. Rick was a man of his word.
Team Tracker left Paris in the early evening, stopping for the night at the Dallas Walmart just over the Ray Hubbard Bridge. “This is the way to travel,” Rick declared at one point. “Because you can pull over at any Walmart and keep yourself contained.” The next day, Lynk and Craig pulled guard duty in the RV as Rick and Andrew ran errands at the Walmart, where they bought a hunting license.
The Mineola woman had asked Rick to be discreet when he came to her house. Good intentions aside, it was perhaps a futile request. Driving into Mineola in the late afternoon, Rick led the RV and trailer, emblazoned with “Body of the Bigfoot” decals, slowly through downtown Mineola, doubling back after a wrong turn. People on the street took notice.
“I will use all my tracking skills,” Rick said with the solemn resolve of an Indian-trained hunter. Then, with a tracker’s vision, he looked up, scanned the pine trees around us, and asked, “Is there a Walmart around here?”
The woman’s small cabin was off the main highway, surrounded by pines. She came out to greet us and got right down to business. As she explained in a warm smoker’s voice, she lives alone, and the Bigfoot clan began harassing her—banging on the cabin, causing general ruckus—shortly after her two daughters moved away. The daughters had done this as soon as they were old enough. Their decision, however, had little to do with Bigfoot. There’d been a beast roaming the area, one of those very real monsters that creates very real victims. The details were vague but the atrocities seemed clear enough. All this is casually mentioned. The arrival and departure times of relevant parties an afterthought, glossed over or barely examined.
Rick traipsed around the property, casually swinging his new firearm around. He confidently took a few practice shots, and when he finally hit a can, the woman yipped an approving assessment: “Good enough for government work.” I scrambled to stay on Rick’s six. Between his displays of force, Rick declared that he would kill the Bigfoot and “drag it across the property.” He declared this to the woman, as well as to the camera Andrew was wielding.
“I will use all my tracking skills,” Rick said with the solemn resolve of an Indian-trained hunter. He held the woman in a slight embrace and stared intently into her damp, grateful eyes. Then, with a tracker’s vision, he looked up, scanned the pine trees around us, and asked, “Is there a Walmart around here?”
It wasn’t made exactly clear what Rick needed (after all, they’d been camped in a Walmart parking lot not eight hours ago), but off he and Andrew went. The rest of the team stayed behind. Lynk and I stomped through the woods and he pointed to some baby pines that were bent over. Classic Bigfoot markings, he said. To me, ignorant of time-tested Bigfoot tracking techniques, it appeared that one particular tree in question was bent over because a larger tree, rotted at the roots, had fallen over and was currently pinning it down.
As Lynk and I stalked through the woods, Craig Woolheater, founder of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, arrived. Having already viewed the body in Paris the day before, he was apparently back for seconds. Woolheater has the air of a man who’s been told, more than once, that he is the country’s premier cryptozoology blogger. On CryptoMundo, he writes things like “For those whose reading and comprehension levels aren’t able to ascertain what I’m saying in the entire article, I’ll boil it down for you.” He had caravanned from Dallas with a posse of friends, which included civilian skeptics, other cryptos, and some small children whose allegiances I was unable to ascertain. Among the cryptos was Lyle Blackburn, author of The Beast of Boggy Creek and Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster, and distributor of business cards that feature him wearing what seemed to be a classic crypto-hunter’s uniform: a chinstrap beard, cowboy hat, and a leather wristband strapped to one of two tightly crossed arms, creating the effect of bulging biceps.
In Paris, Woolheater had decreed the authenticity of Hank’s body to be “possible but not probable.” He took some heat from the Bigfoot community for being overly diplomatic in his assessment. It certainly seemed like he was trying to have it both ways as the gatekeeper of Bigfoot knowledge. Or, as he put it, “I take the high road.” Something about Woolheater rubbed me the wrong way. If Rick’s main impulse was to provide entertainment for the people (for the children!), it seemed Woolheater’s was to pontificate and lecture. He’d heard about the Paris showing because “the information was leaked to me, by the newspaper,” which, technically, is what newspapers do. And he clearly enjoyed holding court as much as Rick. What irked me most was that Woolheater never asked the cabin-owner if it was okay to parade his posse around her property. He just did it.
Everyone milled about, kicking the dirt and discussing Bigfoot—the usual—until Rick returned. As Rick scurried in and out of the motor home and trailer, we bottlenecked at the trailer’s entrance. Craig got the generator rumbling, and the sound itself seemed to fire up Rick as well. He went into super-showman mode, actually yelling, “Step right up!” Once our group of about a dozen squeezed inside, Rick went through his spiel—how he’d lured the Bigfoot, the deals with universities that he couldn’t discuss, the embalming process he couldn’t discuss, the investments he couldn’t discuss. Woolheater made jokes, asking prodding questions wearing an obvious smirk. The rest of the crowd, however, was quiet, contemplative, and attentive.
I got dizzy from all the conflicting personal realities vying for dominance and used that, as well as the setting sun, as an excuse to leave. Poor judgment on my part, and possibly the greatest mistake of my journalism career. When I dutifully checked in with Andrew the next day, he described how frightening it was to have a clan of Bigfoots attack the motor home—All. Night. Long. It was equal parts terrifying and exciting. Despite the night hunt, Rick had been unable to bag Hank II. Still, the woman said she was sure Team Tracker had scared away the Bigfoot clan. Andrew said I really should’ve been there.
VIII. Not to Believe: The Public Descends
The Bigfoot’s last three Texas appearances took place between February 20 and February 25. In San Antonio, the Express-News wrote, “More than 100 people bought $20 tickets to a sold-out event at Alamo Drafthouse Park.” I was unable to attend that event or the following two-day appearance in Houston, because, well, life. But Robert Saucedo and Owen Egerton—the programming director for Alamo Drafthouse and the comedian-slash-emcee for the Houston event, respectively—separately recounted to me near-identical experiences. Because I spoke to them on the phone only and because their retellings were so similar, I began thinking of the two men mostly as one omniscient entity—Saucerton.
The two-night run of Rick’s display was part of a “celebration of Bigfoot, and an appreciation of the con in some ways,” said Saucerton. There was a showing of classic camp episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man in which Lee Majors fights Bigfoot. There was a Q&A with Rick. And of course, out in the parking lot, there was Hank.
Both nights sold out in advance, although there were hiccups. “We were getting two hundred emails a day, probably about six to ten tweets a day,” said Saucerton. “Our Facebook page was deluged with people leaving angry comments. We had people claiming to be Anonymous saying they were going to hack our website and bring it to its knees. We had people reporting us to the FBI and the Houston SWAT team.”
The legion of Haters had massed. They were very real, although Saucerton “got the distinct impression a good number of them had multiple accounts,” because the same angry wording kept appearing in each online message. The Haters, however, didn’t ruin a good time. At least not the first night. The event was “filled with all types”—doubters, believers, and people who said, “Of course it’s not the corpse of the real Bigfoot, but how fun to think that maybe it is.” At one point during the Q&A, while Saucerton was explaining how unique Bigfoot is as an American myth, two guys began chanting, USA! USA! USA! “It became a kind of crypto-patriotism. It almost had a concert feel.”
On the second night, Saucerton reported, “about a fourth of the audience came with a direct purpose of confronting Rick. They had these real questions. And it was definitely a coordinated effort.” Compared with the first show, “it was like day and night.” The energy just felt “kind of quieter, tenser.” Someone—no one’s sure who—had led the true Bigfoot enthusiasts to believe that they were seeing some unreleased footage. “Those people were very disappointed when they saw Lee Majors.”
That night, the Q&A’s first Q came from a guy in the front row, who had apparently been downing drinks. The guy in the front row asked Rick that if he was a Christian, as Rick had apparently claimed, how did he feel about lying to all these people? “It set the mood,” said Saucerton. And while Saucerton commended Rick for addressing every concern and the way he “stood by his claim,” Rick didn’t do himself any favors by bragging about the money.
“He claimed at one point that he’d sold the corpse already for nine million dollars, to which someone rightfully asked, ‘Then why do you need my twenty dollars?’ And [Rick] answered, ‘So I can have nine million and twenty dollars. It’s America.’”
“It really turned the crowd off.”
The sell-out nights were Rick’s greatest public successes to date. They were also the victory before the fall. Roughly a month later, on March 28, 2014, Rick announced via Facebook that the body of the Bigfoot—the moles, the blemishes, those battle marks, that burning hair, that once erect penis, everything—was a hoax. Rick wrote of the episode in Mineola, “I saw nothing and played off a women’s [sic] obsession.”
The Haters let out a collective I told you so. The newspapers published cheeky exposés. I went limp with disappointment.
IX. That’s Not the Question
It takes real talent, a mysterious something, to be able to tell another person, to his face, that this thing is the truth and that that thing is just a lie meant to obfuscate and protect the honest truth, which you are hearing right now, much of which will turn out to be a bald-faced lie, but not without you first discovering that some of those things—this and that—were actually kinda true. Or, when not truthful in the slightest, at least the lie was so committed that it’s almost better than the truth, and when people were being truthful, perhaps they were also, unintentionally, lying to themselves. And maybe there was some honesty in that original lie too, if ever so slight. Or maybe all the lies, together, create some kind of unifying truth.
In other words, it is a journey through another dimension—though less exciting than a fifth dimension, perhaps. And when you’re caught in this twilight zone of lies, truths, and half-truths, you’re confronted with humankind’s most primal existential question: What the fuck is going on?
X. The Truth is Out There …. Right?
How would you differentiate between a fraud, a hoaxster, and a prankster? What was P.T. Barnum or Andy Kaufman, the two men to whom Rick enjoys comparing himself?
Even Rick, usually so loquacious, struggled for the right words when I asked him about this in Paris. “I believe they were showmen,” said Rick after declaring the two men hoaxsters but definitely not frauds. “They knew how to work people, and I believe I know how to work people. The people who think that I’m a hoaxster, people who think I’m just a showman with nothing to show for it, they’re all going to have to eat their words.”
During this brief exchange, Rick seemed to be speaking some great truths, a rare display of a real, honest Rick. It began with him saying, flat-out, that his shadow investors were simply “loan officers. I just take out loans. Bank of America, Wells Fargo is my investors, to be perfectly honest.” So perfectly honest!
This honesty continued. He told me about his six years in the Army, where “I did my job and did what I was told.” He was the driver of an M1 Abrams tank. It was shit work. “The driver is the lowest one on the tank.” But on this tour of duty, it was Rick who was in charge. To drive this point home, Rick showed me the makeshift bedding on which the others slept compared to his own arrangements. He opened the partition to the motor home’s master bedroom, pointing out the flat-screen TV. The queen-size bed had animal-print sheets.
Another commenter went a step further, saying Rick must be charged with fraud “because the Truth about Bigfoot is not a joke.”
This was the first and last time I was ever alone with Rick. He maneuvered into the RV’s captain’s seat, behind the wheel, intentionally propping his boots on the reclining chair where Craig always slept. Rick squinted out the passenger-side window of the trailer, looking out toward the setting sun, a bit nostalgic. At the very least, quieter. He recalled how he took leave in Russia. He loved Russia. There’s “more freedom” in Russia. “You’re a foreigner and everybody likes you. When you’re here you’re just another guy. There, you’re a rock star.” When I brought up his previous employment, Rick snapped back a clarification. “I was never a used-car salesman,” emphasizing his indignation with the phrase. “I owned a car lot.”
Despite his kinship with Barnum, Rick said that between being a showman and making people eat crow, he prefers the latter. He makes “crazy videos to piss off The Haters . . . just to rile them up. It’s hilarious and you just sit back and watch on my Facebook page after I make this video.” Then he catches himself. Maybe.
“Everyone has some bad news and all that stuff, and I just want to bring good news to people.”
It’s a beautiful sentiment. One that Rick almost immediately undermines when he says, “No matter what they say, they’re still talking about me.” To that end, Rick frequently quotes his favorite Ronald Reagan line, “Any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right,” which itself is actually (dubiously) attributed to Barnum.
But, really, if Rick’s being honest-honest, it’s all for the children. “I get more pleasure watching the children’s faces.” At the Houston Q&A, the second one with The Haters, a nine-year-old girl asked Rick why he would kill a creature. Rick replied that he killed it for her, because “every year, ten to thirty children disappear in our national parks. That’s because of Bigfoot.” I would’ve paid $20 just to see the look on that child’s face.
Instead, I called the National Parks Service, a representative of which was in a humoring mood. But his stats showed that between 2008 and 2012, an annual average of 28 people did, in fact, go missing. I got paranoid after calling up the Mayo Clinic, asking about the supposedly rare 3-D scanning technology used on Hank that’s only available at three facilities. The woman hung up with extreme prejudice. It was downright suspicious. I’d read several blog posts, mostly on anti-Rick sites, speculating that Hank may or may not have been named after one of the tour’s shadow investors: Hank Williams III. A better hack, a less paranoid one, would’ve known how to contact Hank III. I didn’t really feel like asking him anyway, though, partly because country singers are notorious tellers of tall tales. But also, knowing definitively one way or the other, would puncture the illusion.
Which is exactly what Rick did for me when he broke the news of the hoax on Facebook in March 2014. “Oh, yeah, the body’s fake,” laughed Rick when I called him about it shortly thereafter. He told me he paid the special-effects guy in Washington $4,500 to make the prop (by the end of that year, it had been sold to a head shop in Colorado). “I mean, you’re not stupid.”
Not completely. The admission, nonetheless, stung a little. And I hadn’t even given Rick my money. Others were more vocal about their disappointment. To date, 926 people have signed an online petition to have the U.S. Department of Justice charge Rick with fraud. Emotions ran high on the Change.org website. Some wanted their $20 back. Others saw the big picture: “If we won’t stop people like this, we no longer are a nation of laws.” Filipovic the Hater chimed in. Another commenter went a step further, saying Rick must be charged with fraud “because the Truth about Bigfoot is not a joke.”
Later that month, Andrew sent interested parties a 480-word statement denouncing Rick. In it, he wrote that as the tour progressed, “My suspicions in relation to authenticity of the body started to develop.” He “confronted” Rick in Daytona, Florida. Rick “admitted to me personally that the body of ‘Hank’ was not a real body.” Returning to Australia, Andrew wished “to make it clear that I am available and willing to cooperate with any Federal or State law enforcement investigations should they arise.”
But that was more than a year ago. “It’s a part of my life I’d never do again,” Andrew told me recently. He sounded weary but spoke at length, issuing a slow but prodding list of all that Rick had done wrong—major issues like Rick “hacking” into his Facebook and email accounts, and slights as small as Rick habitually pushing back his driver’s chair so that Andrew, sitting in the back, was always cramped. “I’m done with it. The feeling I’ve got from it is partly one of embarrassment that I could believe in it.”
And by “it,” Andrew means Rick’s story about Bigfoot, not Bigfoot itself.
“I believe that Bigfoot is real. . . . What happened that night [in Mineola], oh my goodness, stuff really did happen. That’s a scary place.” For what it’s worth, Rick claims he spent the night faking the whole thing, throwing rocks at the motor home, a claim Andrew disputes.
As for Lynk and Craig, they had been abandoned in Mineola—Rick had promised to return for them but never had any intention of doing so. Lynk released a statement methodically and matter-of-factly dissecting each and every one of the points Rick mentioned in his March Facebook message.
“I admit there were times he did say it was fake just to test us and our loyalty to the team,” wrote Lynk, “but we only agreed to go, because he told us it was 100% real and that he just made up all those lies to test us.” Online and to me, accusations between all parties flew back and forth. Rick says Andrew knew the whole time. Andrew says he had his suspicions but only found out the truth in Daytona. Rick says Andrew went with him to the special effects shop in Washington. Andrew says Rick checked in on the prop himself after leaving Andrew in a Walmart parking lot. And those are just the accusations that are publishable. At least this time, no one was accused of bestiality. Neither Lynk nor Craig responded to further interview requests.
That scared woman in Mineola isn’t scared anymore. She’s pissed. A bunch of know-it-all cryptozoology enthusiasts came to her homestead and made a show out of her pain and struggle. The crowd of gawkers are gone, and, she says, a more obnoxious Bigfoot family has returned.
Rick was unfazed. Is still unfazed. “Everybody had a part in this and it was fun,” he told me in March 2014. “No one cared if it’s real or not. It’s just something to make the kids smile and make money in the process.” To be fair, when I called a year and change later, Rick admitted that, yeah, maybe “in this whole situation, bro, I have not been the greatest person.” He said that when selecting Team Tracker members, he “picked people that were not successful, that did not have nothing going for them, that was broke.” He “zoomed in on that. And, yeah, maybe that was wrong of me.”
Of the 2014 tour he says he made about $60,000, enough to “break even.” During our most recent phone conversation, Rick politely asked that I include the fact that, despite all The Haters’ predictions of his demise, he’s currently living in Daytona Beach “with a house paid for, with new cars paid for, and [his own] dealership.” If seeing a Facebook picture of his black Porsche convertible is believing, Rick Dyer’s doing just fine indeed.
I still want to know. I have to know. On that first day in Amarillo, did he just make up that story, on the spot, about shooting Bigfoot?
“Oh, no. No, no. The thing you don’t understand is that I did shoot and kill a Bigfoot on September 6. All that’s true.”
Even the part about the looooong, fully erect penis?
“All that’s true.” It’s just the body that was touring around the United States was a fake. The real body is “still at the university, and I have no control over that. They wouldn’t allow something like that to be carted around by Rick Dyer.”
That much, I believe.