Bigfoot and Cryptid Investigations - Collecting Evidence
Most Bigfoot or creature sightings are by nature outdoors. Evidence generally consists of a witness statement and occasionally tracks or imprints they claim were made by the creature. Sometimes other physical evidence may be recovered such as hair samples or damage to trees or other objects in the area. Out of place animals also fall into this area, and may be responsible for much of the physical evidence recovered at the scene. While not attributed to Bigfoot sightings, I would include cases of animal mutilation in this category as well since both do seem to involve physical creatures. You as the investigator will have to make the determination of what was seen or heard.
Another factor is important regarding any Bigfoot or animal report. Time is of the essence. These cases are the most likely of any paranormal report to have physical evidence left behind. but that evidence can be quickly lost to the elements. You want to get on scene as quickly as possible to preserve that evidence. If you should receive a report of something that just happened, you should advise the witness not to enter the area and to not allow others to do so either. He should restrain any dogs or other animals he may own that could likewise corrupt the scene until you can get there and do your investigation.
As was pointed out previously, the first evidence and what directs yourr case is the witness interview. If there are multiple witnesses, treat each as a separate case, interviewing them apart from each other. Minimize the contact between them to the extent possible. As you interview do not give any of your opinions, save that for the conclusion phase of the investigation. Whenever possible interview the witness face to face to better assess their responses and help in determining their credibility. Much as we would like to believe everyone, as an investigator you need to be aware that there are people out there who do hoax reports and will fabricate stories. You can't be judgmental before hearing them, but on the other hand why waste time with an obvious hoax? That is one aspect of some Bigfoot reports. There seems to be a certain type of person who likes to fabricate a Bigfoot sighting or a mountain lion where there shouldn't be any. Whether it is a macho thing or whatever, these seem to come in on a regular basis. You can't immediately write off every case as a hoax, but you need to be aware that on these cases hoaxes do occur at times, more so than any other paranormal report.
Begin the interview process by obtaining the basic information about the witness and the sighting. A General Report form is often helpful here. Have the witness complete the form, which should include at a minimum the following responses:
- Witness name and address
- Establish a confidentiality level regarding what may be disclosed to others
- A basic description of what was seen, lights, sounds, etc.
- Date and Time of sighting
- Where it was observed from, (outside, through glass, from car, etc.)
- Weather conditions at the time of the sighting
- Any other witnesses present? (If so, treat each as a separate case.)
- Significant nearby structures. (Malls, highways, power plants, towers, etc.)
- Any samples retrieved? If so, list
- Any previous sightings similar to this one?
- Has the witness discussed this with anyone else? (Neighbor, reporters, authorities?)
- The narrative portion of the report.
The narrative section is the most important. Generally it is recommended that the witness complete it at his leisure, since this where most of the detail is documented. The witness should document everything he recalls regarding the sighting. That includes what was seen, heard, smelled, felt, and even his emotional responses such as fear, happiness, or confusion. The details here will comprise the bulk of the evidence, so it is advisable to obtain whatever you can.
It is usually recommended to have the witness complete the General Report form as soon after the sighting as possible while details are fresh and the chance of others influencing his story is minimal. In any event, the report should be completed and the researcher read through it before conducting the face to face interview.
A second important part of any interview is to establish a confidentiality level for the case. Your report from should include a provision to establish this near the beginning of the page. I use three levels of confidentiality that applies to all cases regardless of type. It should be mentioned that cases with a low level of confidentiality are usually considered more credible than those with many details withheld. But some witnesses don't want any identifying details included, so it becomes a trade-off. ( I should point out that under NO circumstances do I release witness contact information to others regardless of confidentiality level. Phone numbers or e-mail addresses are never given out.) The three levels of Confidentiality I use are:
- Level One - The least restrictive level. Here most details may be disclosed. The witness's name and city are provided. The witness narrative of the event may be disclosed, subject only to minimal editing as needed to maintain personal privacy. Photos or other evidence may be released provided basic privacy guidelines are maintained. Cases may also be published or discussed in the media, however names will be withheld from those discussions.
- Level Two - This is the level most choose. Some restriction regarding disclosure, only basic details may be divulged. Only the witness's city and state may be released, names are not. The narrative will not be released, however an investigator's summary of the event may be disclosed. Photos and other evidence are held back unless the witness permits specific disclosure on an item by item basis. Cases may be discussed in the media; however both locations and all names will be withheld.
- Level Three - This is the most restrictive level. Most information will be hard to validate, thus this level is the least credible. Only the witness's state or region may be revealed. An investigator's summary may be disclosed; however this will only contain generalities about the case, no particulars as to what happened. Any media discussion of this case will be limited to the generalities, no details will be provided. Also, no contacts will be forwarded since it is apparent the witness does not want to be associated with his sighting. I generally try to discourage people from choosing this level unless there is some aspect to the case of a highly personal nature.
Once the interview is complete, you may want to go out to where the sighting occurred. I generally advise this be done after daylight otherwise you could inadvertently destroy any tracks or other evidence that may help identify what was seen. This is where your skills as an observer are tested.
Begin by moving slowly! Are there any tracks? If so you should make plaster casts of them. Begin by first photographing the tracks, both as a group if more than one to allow you to determine the stride, then take pictures of each individual impression. It is a good idea to lay a ruler beside each track and include that in the photo to establish a scale.
Second, observe the track closely. Are there any signs of hair, skin, or something that doesn't belong there? If so, wearing latex gloves and using sterile tools, place the sample in a clean container and seal it for later analysis. You should not come in direct contact with any material both for your protection and to preserve the integrity of the sample.
Next take the impression of the track using plaster of Paris. Depending on the depth of the impression you may have to put a small retainer around some low areas to prevent the plaster from running out. If so, keep these retainers at least 2 inches from the edge of the track. In the final cast this will show that there was little if any soil compression at that point without altering the track itself.
Compression testing should also be done. This can help determine the weight of whatever made the track.Some investigators will also take soil samples from around the track. From this they can determine characteristics of the soil based on its composition and moisture content. An alternate way that gives similar results is an onsite compression test. This is done using a scale and a 1 inch square block which is pressed into the ground. The scale measures the amount of weight needed to compact the soil to the same degree as the average depth of the track. The amount of pressure needed to compress 1 square inch of soil is then multiplied by the number of square inches the track itself covers. That determines the approximate weight the animal which made track placed on the ground. Now I know some will bring up other factors such as the way the ground behaves with a 1 inch sqaure block versus a larger surface area when compacted at the same time, but when one considers a foot is not flat on the bottom plus taking into account the pliability of the skin, the numbers are remarkably accurate.
Don't forget to look above the ground either! If there are any briars around the area carefully examine each stalk. Many times as an animal goes through them, hair will be caught and pulled out on the thorns. If you see any sign of this photograph the evidence before disturbing it, Then wearing latex gloves, use sterile implements to retrieve those samples. Place a dated, descriptive lable on each container and seal it.
Broken tree limbs may also be considered evidence. How high are the limbs broken above the ground? That can give an indication of the height of whatever broke them. What is the direction of the break? Clues as to whether they were pulled down or broken off as something ran through. How thick are the limbs? Twigs or something bigger? More evidence which tells how much force was applied to break the limb.
Take your time going through the area so you don't miss any small piece of evidence. then note the surroundings as well. what kind of area is it, wooded, field, hills or caves nearby? All of this is evidence. Later you will use it to help determine what animal may inhabit this area naturally.
And don't disregard your sense of smell. Many of these sighting have reports stating that a foul or sulfurous smell was also detected. If it is present here be sure to note it as a part of the evidence.
In the case of any physical material recovered there are some factors that must be considered to ensure the evidence is untainted and that a trail is provided to prevent any opportunity to hoax the data. In addition, weather or any conditions which may have altered the evidence should be noted and made a part of the investigation data. This should take into account anything from the time of the occurrence up until the time of your field investigation.
Any material recovered should be considered hazardous until proven otherwise. The investigator should wear protective gloves when handling any specimens both to protect himself and also to prevent contamination of the sample. The witness retains ownership of the sample unless he specifically says otherwise. Therefore the investigator should give a receipt to the witness before removing any samples for study. If destructive testing is to be performed, the witness must be made aware that his sample may be destroyed before such testing is carried out.
The entire investigation should be logged for tracking purposes. Every person present should initial samples at the time they are sealed. No person should be left alone with the samples at any time until they are sealed. No matter how good the evidence, debunkers will call it a hoax just because the opportunity existed, not because it actually is hoaxed. It's best to have answers when those questions come up. An uninterrupted evidence trail will insure no unanswered questions.