Tyler Huggins: Why I Believed Justin Smeja
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Tyler Huggins. He has been researching Sasquatch since his first encounter in 1991. Colleagues know him as someone who has the utmost regard for scientific methods and critical thinking and who approaches his work with uncommon (and not always appreciated) skepticism, objectivity and candor. Inquisitive open-mindedness and resourceful persistence have garnered the evidence and experience he has accumulated to date. Highly valuing competency, he is currently working with one of the most reputable forensic DNA labs in North America to analyze tissue allegedly from the “Sierra Kills” casualty, and sees this effort as another straw on the unyielding back of public and scientific ignorance.
If you are reading this, you are without doubt familiar with the Sierra Kills incident and its recounting by one Justin Smeja. For that reason, I will not get into recapping the entire encounter, but as one of the first investigators to interview Smeja, I would like to touch upon some of the features and characteristics of this encounter that I found to be compelling (even before I encountered the physical evidence) and then delineate the potential conclusions it leads us to. None of the conclusions are really plausible, but hopefully one of them will stand out as less implausible than others. To bend a well-known phrase “Once you eliminate the most implausible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, is likely the truth.”
- Smeja and friend claim to have gone on a hunting trip and that two bipedal animals were subsequently shot and/or killed. Receipts prove the trip happened, and lie detector results seem to substantiate the claims of what was shot.
- Smeja claims to have shot and killed an animal with a simian appearance, whose age seems consistent with a 2-3 year old juvenile. This claim does Smeja no favors. He made no claims about this that save face. It only angered bigfoot enthusiasts and disingratiated him with the community.
- Smeja admits firing despite pleas from friend not to. This would anger most anyone, and disingratiated himself with hunters and pacifists alike.
- Smeja and friend chase the wounded animal after shooting it. Smeja takes rifle (corroborating that he feels this was not a person) while hunter friend does not take his rifle (corroborating that the friend did not think this was an animal.)
- Co-witness corroborates every major aspect of the story, yet differs on a very few, minor details. This is indicative of eye-witness accounts, but is not indicative of stories generated by collusion and fabrication.
- Smeja revisits site several times after shooting, prior to the “body recovery effort” in July of 2010. He does so in large part, because he has been told that recovery of a primate body could bring him a lot of money. These trips cost him gas money that he does not have, and time away from work which he cannot afford. It is a cost to himself, and to his friend who accompanied him on some of the excursions. This is not the behavior of someone who knows their story is a lie. He also has receipts that prove these trips were made.
- In speaking with Smeja after some of these fruitless excursions, I witnessed utter frustration and dejection. His actions and emotions were completely consistent with someone who believed his story.
- Smeja invites a team of well-respected scientists and researchers back to the site of the shooting. He does so at his peril and inconvenience. The only parts of his story that waiver are parts that relate to self-preservation in the judging eyes of these unfamiliar investigators. He embellished the amount of fear he felt at the time he shot the animals. This is to be expected, when you head out alone into the woods with 12 people you don’t know, and whom you believe will despise you for shooting their beloved creature.
- Smeja does not have a ready answer to every question posed to him. This is natural and consistent with a real event. For instance, when Mionczynski asks him if the animal made any sound when it was shot, Smeja had to think for a moment first. Having had to re-tell encounters myself, I found his actions consistent with a truth-teller. There will be some aspects that any witness has not re-lived or thought about. I feel a hoaxer would just have spit out a ready answer.
- As someone who is very familiar with all sorts of wildlife, Smeja is aware that they have described greater differences between the adult and young ones than is normally expected from animals that are the same species, yet he makes no attempt to alter the descriptions, or try to explain why that is.
- Smeja’s recounting felt less compelling at the time of the retelling at the Sierra site, than when I first interviewed him in November of 2010. This is to be expected. If you have ever had to tell a story a hundred times, you too will see that you start to recite dispassionately, with less intensity than you did the first few times. That suggests to me that Smeja is not a polished liar.
- Smeja is willing to share tissue samples with a foreign researcher, and get further independent lab testing, despite resistance from some involved. This is indicative of someone who is trying to be transparent, and who is putting his concerns about learning and proof, above concerns for relationships and opinions of his peers and mentors.
- Smeja provides tissue to several researchers and scientists – not just for NO profit, but actually at a fair bit of shipping costs and efforts to himself.
- Smeja turns down several offers of many thousands of dollars, to buy tissue and/or boot samples from him. It is noteworthy that these offers came at a time when Smeja could really have used the money. This is indicative (though not incontrovertibly so) of someone who wants this handled properly, wants the truth, and who has a lot of integrity.
- Smeja eventually breaks ranks with a team that includes a good friend, in order to make sure this is investigated independently. Some even felt it was unpatriotic to let the sample leave the US. Doing so added to his stress, and strained a friendship.
- Smeja is investigated by many and varied people whom he does not know. One of such investigators was a preeminent fraud investigator. Another was a polygraph administrator. Others were law enforcement officers. Some investigators even resorted to getting him heavily intoxicated in the hopes that cracks would appear in his story. Nothing that impacted the veracity of the claims was ever found.
- Smeja has donated massive amounts of his personal and family time to try to answer every question of every Tom Dick and Harry that has asked, in an effort to help this cause and help others feel safer in coming forward with their own stories. He has done this without any net profit to himself, and in so doing, he has strained relationships with some of those closest to him.
- Smeja became extremely disconcerted and panicked about how his samples were being handled, when he came to suspect that someone involved in the vetting of his samples was anything less than competent or totally transparent. If Smeja were a hoaxer, he would have been happy to know that he had onside with him a “believer” who was either gullible and delusional, or complicit in his deception. Instead, he took prompt action to ensure his samples were being vetted competently.
- Other independent witnesses have encountered what they would describe as “Sasquatch activity” at this site.
- To my knowledge, Smeja has not been financially compensated for any of his interviews, and has not sought out any interviews. To me, this would diminish the likelihood that he is doing this for money or the limelight.
- Smeja and friend did not go on the trip, and none of this happened. Pros – None. I don’t think anyone really thinks this, and any espousing of this stance is easily overturned. Counter-points – too many pieces of physical evidence that readily prove they made this trip.
- Smeja and a friend did in fact go on a hunting trip, and may have indeed shot something, but it was something other than a bipedal animal. Pros –More believable to most people, than having shot a bipedal animal. Addresses why receipts and such can prove that the trip happened. E.g.: “Maybe they shot a deformed bear”. That would be consistent with many aspects of the story. Counter-points – If what they shot was only a recognized mammal (deformed or otherwise), why return several times to the site (as proven by receipts) at great wasted effort and expense when they could not afford either? Why submit tissue samples to labs that could easily throw doubt on the claim? How did he pass the polygraph exam? Why do wife and family members support the fact that Smeja’s story has stayed consistent? Why is the account corroborated so well by the other person who was present at the time of the shooting?
- Smeja and a friend did in fact go on a hunting trip, and may have indeed shot something, but it was a human. Pros – Accounts for most aspects of the story, other than the claimed lack of clothes and overabundance of hair. Would explain why they did not keep the body. Counter-points – Why keep proof of something that sounds like a homicide? Why submit it to labs? Why call attention to your alleged crime? Why do the tissue samples look so non-human? Why pull the trigger on something that you believe to be a human?
- Smeja and friend both shared the same delusion. Pros – Doesn’t stretch anyone’s credulity or imagination. No one has to acknowledge that an unknown primate may exist in North America. Answers how polygraph tests have been passed, and why Smeja seems so believable. Counter-points – How do two people have the exact same delusion?
- The encounter was supernatural, or an apparition. Pros – Addresses why this alleged animal has been so elusive over the years. Many of the facets of the story could be accounted for in this scenario. Counter-points – The alleged injuries that resulted from the alleged shootings would not be consistent with what most people would expect from a supernatural being. Testing of physical evidence may eventually be able to completely disprove this hypothesis.
- Smeja and friend are telling the truth. Pros – Answers all challenges not met by any of the other possible conclusions. Can hopefully be conclusively supported by testing of physical evidence, eventually. Counter-points – Stretches the imagination of many people to believe that we have a primate in North America that is not recognized by the majority of the scientific community, or general population. Describes some behavioral and physical anomalies not normally attributed to this animal (or virtually any animal.)
To me, an examination of the facts left me with the impression that the possibility that these witnesses telling the truth was greater than the possibility for the other conclusions. That was before I ever saw or came to be in possession of any physical evidence (either circumstantial or direct.) My hope is that our ongoing examination of the physical evidence will eventually completely negate the need to try to decide whether Justin is telling the truth or not. But in the meantime, I feel quite strongly that the preponderance of evidence supports the credibility of his claims.