- CONROE -- Jimmy Chilcutt
is not someone most people would associate with the kind of wild, unsubstantiated
stories that show up in supermarket tabloids.
- Chilcutt, 54, is skeptical by nature. His job as a fingerprint
technician at the Conroe Police Department requires hard-nosed judgments
and painstaking attention to detail.
- He is highly regarded by agents of the FBI, the Drug
Enforcement Administration, and state and local law enforcement agencies
because of his innovative techniques and ability to find fingerprints where
- But in doing what comes naturally -- being careful and
thorough -- he ended up rocking his own skepticism about one of the most
sensational tales that routinely show up in the tabloids.
- Chilcutt's quest to squeeze more information out of fingerprints
led him to develop a rare expertise in nonhuman primate prints. He tried
to use his special knowledge to debunk alleged evidence of Bigfoot, also
known as Sasquatch.
- But his examination of alleged Bigfoot footprint castings
didn't lead to the conclusion he had expected. He now believes that --
while some of them are fakes -- some are the genuine prints of a reclusive
animal that has yet to be documented and studied.
- The path to Chilcutt's unusual investigation began with
an idea he had in 1995. "If I could look at fingerprints and could
tell the sex, gender and race, I'd be way ahead," he recalled.
- He began examining fingerprints to determine whether
there were differences based on race or sex.
- "But every time I thought I had it right, I'd be
wrong," Chilcutt said.
- It finally occurred to him that the key to understanding
human fingerprints could lie in nonhuman primates.
- "If Darwin was correct, if we did in fact evolve,
we should be able to study primate prints," Chilcutt reasoned.
- Primates are members of the order of mammals that includes
humans, great apes, monkeys and lemurs.
- Chilcutt said he hoped to find primordial characteristics
that would unlock hidden information in human fingerprints. First, he had
to convince a zoo or a research center to allow him to take fingerprints.
- "It was hard to find somebody who would let you
fingerprint their monkey," he said.
- After being rebuffed about 25 times over three months,
he called Ken Glander, director of the Duke University Primate Center in
- "At first I wasn't sure that it wasn't one of my
friends playing a joke on me," Glander said about his initial reaction.
"But it didn't take long talking to him to realize that this was a
- Impressed by Chilcutt's expertise, Glander offered prints
from his collection of lemurs. But Chilcutt was primarily interested in
apes, so Glander steered him to the Yerkes Regional Primate Center at Emory
University in Atlanta.
- Kaylee Summerville, occupational health program coordinator
at Yerkes, said Chilcutt's request was received with caution.
- "We've never had one like it before or since,"
she said. "It was unusual, but in the study of primates we get unusual
- After checking Chilcutt's credentials, the center arranged
for him to take prints of apes at the Atlanta zoo during an annual medical
checkup, while the apes were anesthetized.
- Since then, Chilcutt has amassed a collection of about
1,000 nonhuman primate prints.
- "That is a fantastic, incredible sample size,"
Glander said. "I've been working with primates for 30 years. I started
in 1970. I have about 350 prints."
- He said there are only about four or five researchers
working with nonhuman fingerprints. "All are biologists," Glander
said. "We don't have fingerprint expertise."
- Chilcutt studied the primate prints and discovered characteristics
that distinguish different species and traits within species. He said he
has become an expert on primate prints through long study of his samples,
although he is not yet able to decipher human fingerprints.
- But an opportunity arose in December 1998 to put his
rare knowledge to use. He was at his home in Montgomery reading a book
one evening, barely paying attention to a TV program about Bigfoot.
- His interest was piqued, however, when he heard the term
"dermal ridges," a reference to fingerprints.
- He listened closely as Jeff Meldren, associate professor
of anatomy at Idaho State University, held a casting of a supposed Bigfoot
footprint and pointed to what appeared to be the loops and whorls of prints.
- Believing he could determine the authenticity of the
prints, Chilcutt phoned Meldren, a specialist in primate anatomy and locomotion.
- "If there is a Sasquatch, only a handful of people
in the world know the difference between a primate and a human print,"
- Meldren said he was delighted to find someone who could
help authenticate his collection of about 100 castings of supposed Bigfoot
- A skeptical Chilcutt arrived in Pocatello, Idaho, last
April and began studying the collection.
- He first examined the casting Meldren had shown on TV
and quickly determined it to be a fake. The toeprints were actually human
- Meldren turned him loose on the entire collection.
- "What I actually found surprised even me,"
- The print ridges on the bottoms of five castings -- which
were taken at different times and locations -- flowed lengthwise along
the foot, unlike human prints, which flow from side to side, he said.
- "No way do human footprints do that -- never, ever.
- "The skeptic in me had to believe that (all of the
prints were from) the same species of animal," Chilcutt said. "I
believe that this is an animal in the Pacific Northwest that we have never
- Meldren, for whom the study of Bigfoot prints is a sideline,
believes it's a legitimate, scientific inquiry.
- "A misconception is often perpetrated that this
should be relegated to the tabloids," he said. "The question
is, what made the tracks? They are there; that is indisputable. It's either
a hoax or the track of a living animal.
- "Officer Chilcutt has brought his expertise to that
question. We will never know for sure until a specimen is collected. Until
then, it's unscientific, in my opinion, to dismiss this evidence without
giving it an airing."
- Glander, who was casually acquainted with Meldren when
Meldren taught briefly at Duke, said: "Do I believe in Bigfoot? I
don't know, but I think it's one of those things that is interesting and
- Glander likened Meldren's research to his own study of
lemurs in Madagascar, where he hopes to find a species of lemur believed
to be extinct. "Does that make me a crackpot? I don't think so."
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