Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dr. Jeff Meldrum Compelled by Freeman Tracks

Dr. Jeff Meldrum Adjunct Associate Professor of the
Department of Anthropology at Idaho State University

“I thought about the grief I would get from my peers. Do I want to go down that road? But as I looked at this, how could I not?” --Dr. Meldrum after seeing the Paul Freeman tracks

If you have had the fortune of listening to Dr. Jeff Meldrum speak in person, you may have heard his encounter with the Paul Freeman tracks. This was a pivotal moment for Meldrum and there are two things we love about it. First, you become privy to Meldrum's inner thoughts and initial skepticism. Second, you learn what kind of evidence looks for when checking out a trackway.

We don'e think there has been a better retelling of Meldrum's first encounter with the Freeman tracks than what Scott Sandsberry has done below. 

Footprints turn skeptics into believers

June 26, 2012 by Scott Sandsberry  
YAKIMA, Wash. — Jeff Meldrum is a foot guy.

If you want to understand how humans and some apes have evolved to walk on two feet — how the tendons and muscles flex, how the bones work together, how the weight is distributed — Meldrum is your man. A Ph.D. who teaches anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, he has widely published on bipedal foot function throughout natural history.

Jimmy Chilcutt is a prints guy.

For 18 years he ran the fingerprint portion of the crime lab for the Conroe (Texas) Police Department. His crime-scene investigations put people in prison or demonstrated their innocence.

Sixteen years ago, Meldrum and Chilcutt — the prof from Idaho and the CSI cop from Texas — crossed paths in an arena neither thought he would ever enter: Bigfoot tracks.

Each went in expecting to debunk a hoax.

But a hoax wasn’t what they found.

• • •

In 1996, Meldrum was asked to review a compilation of Bigfoot-related columns by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin’s Vance Orchard.

One of Orchard’s favorite interview subjects was a man named Paul Freeman, who said he had on numerous occasions found — and cast in plaster — gigantic, human-like footprints. Freeman had either been fired from or quit his Forest Service job — reports vary, and Freeman died in 2003 — several years earlier after quite publicly declaring he’d seen a Bigfoot. He was believed by some, even within the community of Bigfoot believers, to be a hoaxer.

“I’d been given an earful by people about Paul’s reputation, and it was bad,” Meldrum says of Freeman. “I went into it very skeptical.”

He became even so when Freeman blurted, “Would you like to see some fresh tracks? I just found some this morning. First tracks of the season!”

Meldrum’s immediate thought: Right. Fresh tracks. How convenient.

Meldrum and his brother drove with Freeman into the Mill Creek area of the Blue Mountains and stopped in the middle of an open area where, Meldrum recalls, “Here was this long line of tracks, very clear in wet, silty soil.

“We got Paul’s take on it. At this point, I’m still kind of scratching my head thinking, ‘How did he do this?’ Literally. But as I knelt down I saw skin-ridge detail. Just as you have details on your fingertips and palm, the sole of your feet does that as well, as do all primates. One of the ways you could tell the difference between a bear and a gorilla print would be the texture of the skin, the ridging.”

But one thing struck Meldrum as odd. The route of the “footprints” — the legitimacy of which Meldrum still doubted — seemed to start and end at the same place, right where their truck was parked.

“I could just picture this guy jumping out of the pickup truck, running around the field with these (large fake) feet and then coming back and diving into the bed of the pickup, taking off the feet, climbing into the driver’s seat and taking off.”

So Meldrum took Freeman home and returned with the materials to cast some of the prints. “If it’s a hoax, it’s a hoax,” he recalls thinking. “And we can expose it as such.”

• • •

Upon their return to the field, Meldrum and his brother parked near where they had the first time. As they began assessing the tracks again, something different became clear: The tracks hadn’t started and ended at the same place, as Meldrum had initially thought.

They did a complete change of a direction in the middle of the dirt road — directly under where the truck had previously been parked.

Meldrum began following the tracks, far beyond where Freeman’s boot tracks ended, and found additional sets of footprints coming and going. Whatever had made the tracks had apparently come down the Mill Creek drainage, using the brush along an empty irrigation ditch as cover, possibly to raid the apple and plum orchards further below.

“At that point it was clear Paul had read the whole circumstance completely backward,” Meldrum says. “So the thought occurred to me: Well, if he’s responsible for this hoax, why would he portray it so incorrectly on the chance I would read it differently?”

Freeman had not made casts of any of the tracks at this site, Meldrum says. “His attitude was ‘I’ve seen so many footprints I don’t even bother making casts until they’re absolutely perfect,’ and he said these are such that (he) wouldn’t even bother with.”

Meldrum, though, was dumbstruck by what he was seeing — differences between the tracks, places where the foot had slipped or the toes had dragged, the half-tracks.

“These are all the features that make it come to life in my mind and began to cause me to set aside my skepticism,” he says. “While it’s clearly from the same foot, in one instance the toes are tightly flexed and it’s gripping the soil on a slight incline … in one extended and splayed, the first three toes sunken into the soil but the fourth and fifth don’t quite leave a mark.”

In one print, he says, “It had stepped on a stone and the stone was accommodated by the soft tissue, absorbed kind of by the sole pad of the foot.” In another, “There was a protruding rock and you could see the ball of the foot up onto the rock and then the toes had clearly curled over the top of the rock.”
As Meldrum decided the tracks could not have done with a carved set of fake “Bigfeet,” he thought about the creature that must have made them. “And as that realization set in, the hair on the back of my neck sort of stood up.”

Meldrum knew going public about what he now believed to be a large, unknown biped could damage his professional reputation, turning him into that supposed scientist who believes in Bigfoot.

“I thought about the grief I would get from my peers,” he says. “Do I want to go down that road?
“But as I looked at this, how could I not?”

• • •

Some months later, Jimmy Chilcutt was channel-surfing on weekend when he found himself on the Discovery Channel watching some supposed scientist who believed in Bigfoot.

“I was just halfway watching it, waiting for a football game to come on,” recalls Chilcutt. “He was holding a footprint cast and said there were actually dermal ridges on that cast.

“And I said, yeah, I’ll bet that’s from some human. I figured it was some kind of fake.”
And Chilcutt was precisely the person to know the difference.

In addition to his CSI fingerprinting experience, Chilcutt had also begun researching hand and foot print patterns of all the different primate species, arranging with zoos and animal parks in the South to be on hand to print any apes or monkeys being anesthetized for dental or veterinary work.

His reason: While genetic print-pattern differences between human ethnicities have over time become less distinguished because of racial interbreeding, apes and monkeys do not interbreed between species — so the distinctions between their print patterns remain consistent, generation after generation.

“I wanted to get a database of the different primate species to see if they were different, and why and how,” Chilcutt says, “to see if I could relate that to humans and be more precise.”

And, he adds, “Only primates have dermal ridges.”

So Chilcutt called the scientist he’d seen on the TV — fellow named Meldrum — explained his primate print research and asked for permission to assess the mysterious casts himself. Meldrum told him to come on up, and Chilcutt flew to Idaho.

When Chilcutt arrived at Meldrum’s ISU office, Meldrum took him to the lab where the print casts were and went back to his office. “I totally let him go, without giving him any background or my opinion as to any of (the casts),” Meldrum says. “I wanted him to judge it purely on what he was seeing.”

What Chilcutt found floored him. Three of the castings he examined — out of more than 100 over that day and the next two — were clearly from the same foot. “They were definitely non-human,” he says, but “had all the characteristics of dermal ridges.”

The foot had some scarring on the bottom of the foot. “Any fingerprint expert knows,” Chilcutt says, “when the wound heals, the (dermal) ridges curl inward toward the cut.” Upon close examination of the dermal ridges on the bottom of one of the casts, he says, “No question about it: They were curling back in.”

That particular aspect, Chilcutt says, “would be very, very difficult to fake” — requiring both an extensive background in anatomy and anthropology but also the resources to pull off the hoax.
Chilcutt’s conclusion: The prints were not fakes.

Asked if it was difficult to accept what a week earlier he would have considered laughable, Chilcutt says no.
“Any forensic person, any CSI guy, they look for the facts. It is what it is,” he says. “Whether it helps the defense or the prosecution, it doesn’t matter. And when I looked at the prints, there it was.
“We’ve got some kind of primate out there. Non-human.”

11 comments:

  1. Paul Freeman was a hoaxer. ANY evidence related to this man CANNOT be taken as legit. It is embarassing that Dr. Meldrum does.

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  2. Nail on the head with that remark. Freeman has evidently produced what looks like very good evidence before. It would be valuable evidence if it could be trusted. But unfortunately the man shot himself in the foot when it became known he was a hoaxter. One result of this is that Grover Krantz had some peculiar statements as to Sasquatch hand anatomy based in part on some of Freeman's casts. It now turns out that NONE of the hand casts can be trusted and no such statemnents regarding Sasquatch hand anatomy can be inferred from Krantz's data-we have to look elsewhere for that now

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  3. Freeman hoaxer and Patty real yeah right.

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  4. Freeman hoaxer and Patty real yeah right.

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  5. Meldrum made his own casts. They are not hoaxes.

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  6. Thanks Guy for this article give some good background of Meldrum and how he got started in all this mess.

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  7. Freeman was NOT a hoaxer. Everyone just spreads rumor that was started by the media taking his comments out of context to make him look a fool. The man created some wooden fake feet to test the difference in his own fake tracks against those he cast in the Blue Mountains to compare them. He was doing his due dilligence to debunk his own findings. Of course when the media just clips a portion out of context like "Yea I made some fake tracks" " I made some wooden feet for making fake tracks" It is all taken out of context and decades of peer bashing and misinformation goes on and on.. You should post the raw footage of his video and last interviews that Thom Powell shared from his personal collection. Other researchs have areas that frequently produce tracks. It is is not out of the ordinary for a lone researcher to have his sweet spot research area. The creatures grew familar with Paul as a non threat to them and Paul would say if he brought a friend along the creatures would stay back. No different that what still happens in current areas of a habituated creatures to a trusted indivdual.

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  8. Patterson/Gimlin film = Real sasquatch...and Freeman was not a hoaxer...do some research instead of believing what you hear...

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  9. So Chilcutt is an idiot?

    I don't think so.

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  10. When I first saw the Freeman video on Spokane TV I wrote to Rene Dahinden who was still alive in the early 90's. Rene wrote back saying Freeman was a complete fraud. Tom Steenburg also didn't believe Freeman's claims back then. Perhaps Tom has altered his views since.

    I then talked to Jeff Meldrum when he was in Edmonton around 2007, and got his take on it which is pretty well summed up in this post.

    Now I tend to lean in Freeman's favour, especially since I saw some analysis of his film on youtube.

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  11. Freeman might have been a hoaxster but having made some wooden "Bigfoot" feet is not prima facie evidence that one is a hoaxster. I made some during the 2003 Willow Creek Bigfoot Symposium at John Green's request so he could demonstrate the limitations of wooden feet in creating Bigfoot tracks.

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