Bigfoot stories have remained the bread and butter of cryptozoology for some time. These accounts and tales have been with us for decades, and take all manner of shapes and sizes, always posing questions for which we have few answers. Some such stories really take us into a strange place, and one of these is that of a documentary filmmaker who pursued Sasquatch to go hurling off into a bizarre tale of danger, mysterious murders, a criminal underworld, and weed.
In 2018, documentary director Joshua Rofé had dinner with a friend of his, and during their conversation it was suggested that he listen to the podcast Sasquatch Chronicles. At the time, Rofé was not interested in Bigfoot or cryptozoology at all, but his friend insisted he listen to just one episode and see what he thought. Soon after this dinner, he sat down to listen, thinking it was going to be a bunch of nonsense and that he would hate it, but he was immediately hooked. One episode led to 11, and during his listening spree what really caught Rofé’s attention was not whether Sasquatch really existed or not. It wasn’t the creature itself that fascinated him, but rather the reactions of witnesses, and he would say in an interview with Io9 of this aspect of the cases and how it planted a seed for a documentary idea in his mind:
I was not really hung up on whether or not I believed the details of the stories; that was almost beside the point to me, because I had become almost overwhelmed by the fear that was the through line amongst all of these people telling their stories. They were terrified in a way that I thought was authentic, and I thought that was fascinating—specifically as a person who, going into this, was in no way a Sasquatch believer. The visceral fear that they were expressing really hit a nerve with me. So I spent a few days, maybe a week, just sort of in my own mind doing this dance of “I think I want to make something that is Sasquatch-centric. I don’t know if it’s a doc, scripted, or what. Then an hour later I would say, “I can’t do that! That sounds ridiculous!” But then I got to this point where it was just clear to me that I wanted to find some kind of a story that was set in the world of Sasquatch, if you will. And so for about a week, I was just going back and forth in my head about, well, I'm going to make a Sasquatch something. I just don't know what that would be. And then what I arrived at was, well, what if I found a murder mystery that was somehow wrapped up in a Sasquatch story? That could really be something special.
At this point it was just an idea he was bouncing around in his head, and there were no concrete plans moving forward. It just sort of dwelled in the back of his mind as a spectral project he might one day get to, but it would come to the forefront when he had a very interesting conversation with a friend of his named David Holthouse. A journalist by trade, Holthouse had a reputation for rather extreme undercover work in his reporting, having gone deep undercover with neo-Nazis and meth heads, and other unsavory characters in his quest for stories, and although he had plenty of wild tales to tell, one in particular would capture Rofé’s attention. According to him, he asked Holthouse if he had heard any good stories about Bigfoot, and was truly shocked when his friend began to spin a truly bizarre and frightening tale.
According to Holthouse, back in the fall of 1993 he had gone up to what is called the Emerald Triangle, in Northern California, and which is the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States, in order to work undercover on a weed farm for a story. While working there, he claims that one day two men had pulled up in their truck and gone about in a state of panic and hysteria saying that they had been checking on one of the weed plots and found a bunch of plants broken off. As they had picked through the ruined, scattered plants, they had come across huge footprints of what they said were those of a Sasquatch, and then they had stumbled across the bodies of three men who had been ripped limb from limb and savagely mangled by something very powerful. When Holthouse talked to other locals, they all said that a Sasquatch was often seen in the area, and that it was this beast who had killed the men. Holthouse would continue his undercover work and write his story, relegating the story of the Bigfoot murder to a corner of his mind but never really forgetting it. Now, it had come back out into the open after not having spoken of it in years, and Rofé was hooked, saying of it:
It was interesting with David because, you know, it would be inaccurate to say he was haunted by it all of those years. But it was a story that—similar to how I almost was embarrassed to concede to myself that I wanted to pursue a Sasquatch story—was too weird to share with people or to pursue as a journalist, in his mind. As a documentarian, most of my things that I’ve done are really rooted in social issues, and now I’m going to go do a Sasquatch story? He had a similar thing as a journalist. Everything that he’d written about had very true and severe real-world implications for those involved. This was just that thing that you don’t tell people because it was too silly.
Rofé was absolutely mesmerized with Holthouse’s story, the idea of this triple murder rolled up into a tale of Sasquatch driving him to near obsession, and so he pushed forward with three-part documentary series that would document the Emerald Triangle, its tales of Bigfoot, and also serve as an investigation to these murders. He managed to get Holthouse on board with him, and so the two went about going up to this notoriously dangerous area in the hopes of finding the murky answers to a murder that may or may not have ever really happened at all, in a quest that would risk their lives for something that was in essence just a memory Holthouse had from years before, and Rofé would say of this:
We knew from the beginning that, in a way, we were pursuing a ghost story. We were pursuing a memory that David had, and a memory that was at times fuzzy and in other moments crystal clear. He was unsure when he was starting to embark on this if he was misremembering certain details.
The whole possibly misguided thing would begin as more focused on the legend of Sasquatch, with them trying to uncover any legends in the region or stories of Sasquatch killing people, and the documentary would start off more cryptozoological in nature, but this would quickly change and go off down a much darker path leading them into a cannabis underworld populated with criminals and killers. Rofé says of this:
The quirkier side of this is really where it begins. David started his investigation looking into the world of Bigfoot believers. He figured that there’s gotta be somebody in that world who’s heard this legend of a Sasquatch murdering people. So that was where he started, and our story starts there in this place that is more open to something perhaps supernatural, something a bit quirkier—but the turns that it takes even via the Sasquatch believers, it just keeps getting darker and darker.
Their investigation would last for around a year, with scattered individual trips to the region typically lasting between 4 and 7 days, during which time they scraped at the underbelly of the region’s pot farms, cannabis underworld, and other nefarious criminal elements. Besides interviewing Sasquatch witnesses, they also interviewed locals about the pot farms, met with shady characters both in person and on the phone, and poked around in an area notorious for being hostile to outsiders, especially those sticking their noses where they don’t belong. Violence and even death were an ever present, very real possibility and threat, a specter they could not escape and which followed them around wherever they went. Rofé has explained this ever-present danger during the shoot in an interview with Esquire:
I'd never pursued something that was an active investigation before. And so that right away, set it apart. And I'd never been to a place that was so potentially dangerous. There was nothing like being in the woods and going to somebody's house and not knowing if you were going to be set up or not. And then even a step further and a step removed from even my experience, there were times when David... I mean, I was never alone out there. There were times when David, the only way he was going to be able to go somewhere, was completely alone and without us. And he did that a lot. And so a lot of times, my fear was really surrounding, is David going to be okay? And he would tell you himself that there were times where he didn't know what the answer to that question was going to be. And that question wasn't answered until he was out of those situations. Our guard was up the whole time. We always felt like we were overstaying our welcome, even though we intended not to. Yeah, it was a spooky experience for sure.
There were a few times when people made it clear to us that they didn’t want us to film when we were filming. There was one time where David was going to go meet somebody on his own, a new source, and it went from a broad daylight meeting in a public place to a close-to-midnight meeting in a private location after a few changes. When he got there, there were eight other people he didn’t know were going to be present. That was a tense night. They wanted to drive him three hours away in the middle of the night to yet another location to talk to someone who had a crucial piece of information. That whole night, any time David could sneak away, he was texting me with updates, just to have a record of where he was and what was happening. I didn’t know which way it would shake out. We had a few nights like that, where we didn’t know if he’d be leaving the place he’d gone to. Going into making the series I had no idea how much trauma was in those woods. Both historical and ongoing. What goes on out there is truly sinister. We were lucky to make it out alive.
In the end, they were able to make their 3-part series called Sasquatch, which aired on the streaming platform Hulu and chronicles the whole harrowing experience. Although they never do solve the crime, it is nevertheless a fascinating mix of Bigfoot and true crime. As for Rofé, he says that this documentary has truly stuck with him like no other, not only because of the danger involved, but also because it has given him a newfound sense of respect, awe, and fear for the remote forests of our world. He has explained of this:
I didn’t even grow up going camping. This was all new to me, and the thing that stuck with me was how massive the forest really is. If you’re out there long enough, you go deep enough into that forest that you can’t hear the cars any more, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a brontosaurus walk by. Anything could be hiding in there. It’s prehistoric, and that’s a powerful thing. In a way I wasn’t before I embarked on this weird adventure, I am now truly afraid of the woods.
It is all a pretty compelling look into a man on a mission, and an intriguing mash-up of Bigfoot, true crime, and mysterious places. What was going on here, and what substance do these mysterious deaths have? Will here ever be more information on any of this, or is this all we are left with? It is all a fascinating experiment and documentation melding real life horror with that which lies beyond our understanding, and if might be worth taking a look into the documentary to see what you think.