|Click Here to Download Full DNA findings report|
On October 8, 2010, Justin Smeja and a friend claim to have encountered three animals with characteristics that match typical eyewitness descriptions of Bigfoots or Sasquatch. Smeja claims to have shot two of the three subjects. Numerous lines of reasoning and corroborating evidence have caused me to believe him (http://bigfootevidence.blogspot.ca/2012/08/tyler-huggins-why-i-believed-justin.html). Smeja claims to have left the site with neither a body nor physical evidence of what he had shot, but a few weeks later he was compelled to return to the site in an effort to retrieve evidence of his claims. The landscape of the site had changed appreciably due to abundant snowfall and change of season, but at the location where they felt one of the animals had expired, Smeja and friend recovered a substantial amount of tissue with hair attached. They were very confident that characteristics of the recovered hide scrap matched the animal that Smeja shot. Smeja then submitted some of this tissue to Dr. Melba Ketchum through Derek Randles, and in a separate undertaking, provided samples to me (Tyler Huggins) and then to Bart Cutino.(1)
In April of 2012, I contracted one of Canada’s most respected forensic DNA labs at Trent University to determine the samples’ species of origin.(2) Director Dr. Bradley White (Canada Research Chair in Genetics), who has authored papers related to both human and non-human mammalian genomes, became personally involved in the efforts to genetically identify the tissue, and was very indulgent of my questions and challenges to his lab’s work. My hope was for the results to indicate that the tissue came from an uncatalogued primate (including potential hominids). In November 2012, after a prolonged effort and after withstanding my many challenges to their conclusions (as well as challenges from many other concerned parties, including Justin Smeja), Trent University provided me with their final report. (Between these two dates, there are volumes of data and dialogue which we are attempting to make available for public consideration). Bart Cutino’s American lab has now corroborated Trent University’s results, and we are finally ready to make a statement regarding the data.
Each lab independently identified only two contributors (the presence of DNA from only two animals). They identified the primary contributor as Ursus americanus (Black Bear), and the secondary contributor as Homo sapiens (Human). Download full report here.
When forensic results indicate the presence of ‘human-looking’ DNA, the first thing to do is to test the “chain of custody” – in other words, compare the human DNA of the sample against the DNA of all humans who have handled the sample. As the submitter, Justin Smeja would logically be first on that list. We subsequently obtained and compared Smeja’s own DNA against that of the human DNA found in the sample.
*The only human DNA present in the sample was found to be a match for Justin Smeja’s own DNA.(3)
It should be noted that Trent University was able to obtain only mitochondrial DNA from the human contribution in the sample. Apparently the human DNA in the sample came from a source that does not provide much nuclear (genomic) DNA (nDNA), or it was too degraded or too scant to provide viable nDNA.(4) As such, the lab was able to compare only the mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) of the tissue sample to that of Justin Smeja. Smeja’s mDNA showed no divergence from any of the 423bp that were compared against the mDNA present in the sample. While the mDNA of the technician working on the sample was also tested and did show divergence from the mDNA of the sample, this test is not precise enough to conclusively rule out every other human as a potential source for the contaminant human DNA that was present in the sample. Fortunately, the work done by the American lab that Bart Cutino contracted was able to provide augmenting data that makes us very confident (though very disappointed) that the only human DNA present in the tissue sample is in fact that of Justin Smeja.(5)
As disappointing as this is, we must keep a few points in mind:
- There are many strong reasons to believe Smeja’s account other than just the expectations surrounding
this tissue (including a passed polygraph that established a pristine absence of any deceit). (http://bigfootevidence.blogspot.ca/2012/08/tyler-huggins-why-i-believed-justin.html)
- We knew from the start that this tissue may not have originated from the subjects he claims to have
shot. No claims were ever made about this tissue other than that it seemed to be good circumstantial
- Bart Cutino is in possession of boots from Justin Smeja, which Smeja claims one of the animals bled onto after he shot it. This boot evidence then, is direct and not circumstantial. We will be pursuing testing of these boots. However, these boots have been exposed to contamination from other animals and Justin himself. Additionally, the boots were exposed to the elements for many months, so degradation is sure to add complexity to any efforts at DNA retrieval. Once we are confident of the best lab to perform this work, and once we are confident that testing methods are advanced enough to give us optimal chances of identifying all DNA present, those efforts can begin. This undertaking may be a “one-shot” affair, so we need to get it right the first time.
I would like to thank the following people for their support and efforts in so many different ways:
Justin Smeja, Gary Cronin and Bart Cutino. Dr. Bradley White, Tasnova Khan and Dr. Martyn Obbard of Trent University. Additional input was provided by Ken Walker, Dr. D. Jeffrey Meldrum, John Green, Dr. Henner Fahrenbach, Dr. Craig Newton, Wally Hersom, Todd Prescott and others.
(1) In a polygraph which showed absolutely no evidence of deceit, Smeja has asserted that the samples I received from him originate from the exact same source (the same piece of hide and flesh) as the samples he provided to Melba Ketchum.
(2) I also sought opinions regarding the morphology of the hair on the sample, from three knowledgeable PhD’s. While opinions derived from visual hair analysis have some subjective elements, several characteristics caused all three analysts to conclude that this hair was not consistent with primate hair. Dr. D. Jeffrey Meldrum will be providing a more thorough hair analysis report soon.
(3) To Smeja’s knowledge, Ketchum has none of Smeja’s own DNA to use as a control sample to compare against in order to rule him out as the source of the human DNA which she claims is present in her samples.
(4) Tissue, blood, bone, saliva, hair and sweat all have differing ratios of mDNA and nDNA. Additionally, nDNA is typically less abundant and is therefore less readily available in samples where degradation has occurred.
(5) Melba Ketchum claims that the tissue recovered and submitted to her by Justin Smeja is from a Sasquatch and that this animal is in fact genetically “human” in almost every sense of the word. Our labs achieved species identification for only the samples that Smeja submitted to our team. While Smeja claims (and has confirmed under a polygraph) that the samples he provided to Melba Ketchum are the same as the samples he provided to us, Ketchum disputes this and asserts that her samples are visually distinct from ours. The Ketchum team has expressed concern about our results and their subsequent release. In an effort to avoid any confusion for the general public, the scientific community and/or the “Bigfoot/Sasquatch community”, I complied with requests to consider any sort of alleged contrary evidence from the Ketchum camp that could cast doubt on the results of our labs, prior to releasing our data. After weeks of opportunity and requests, Ketchum has provided no such evidence (outside of personal assurances), nor any corroborating statements from any other scientific source allegedly involved in her study.
Bart Cutino's Statement:
From the beginning, our objective and responsibility to the public, fellow researchers, the hunter/submitters and frankly, ourselves, was to independently contract multiple labs to screen the Sierras tissue sample as a precautionary measure and hopefully rule out “all” potential North American mammalian candidate contributors. What precipitated a sense of urgency in us independently vetting this sample was largely due to a private exchange about a year ago between Justin Smeja and Dr. Melba Ketchum (overheard by multiple persons), resulting in an immediate distrust of Dr. Ketchum from Justin's standpoint. In addition to our concerns from that event, we decided to document this process with the intention of providing full transparency to set an example for other amateur researchers and provide them a roadmap to navigate and expedite the diagnostic process when working with labs they contract in the future. Those who take the time to read the email communications we'll be providing in the coming weeks, will see a very sophisticated and often frustrating process, as it unfolded. Initially our plan was to receive final determinations on both the circumstantial (tissue) and non-circumstantial (boots) evidence of the Sierras shooting event before sharing anything publicly; however, due to the nature of the current findings on this tissue, as well as the length of time this first phase took, we all agreed (myself, Tyler and Justin) it was imperative to immediately disclose this information to the public before testing of the boots is even initiated.
It’s important to note as well, that it’s not our job as amateur researchers to provide in-depth interpretations of the final determinations put forth by both lab directors as we appropriately defer to their expertise and accept their findings, which appear very clear and definitive. From a personal standpoint, to state there’s some disappointment on our end (Tyler and myself) with respect to the final lab determinations is an understatement, especially when you consider some of the initial and periodic, intriguing “difficulties” (if you will) encountered and documented by Trent University in their thorough examinations of the tissue over the course of many months. However, when you consider the timing (tissue found almost a full 5 weeks after purported shooting), the odd exchange with Dr. Ketchum reported to us by Justin, coupled with the recognition state of the tissue when collected and even, admitted uncertainty of origin by the hunters/submitters themselves (who never claimed the tissue was from the subject shot, just that they suspected it was), we had very tempered and realistic expectations going in and that is reflected in both our communications internally as well as my public statements of caution throughout the last year with respect to the bigfoot community. It’s also important to remember as well that the hunters were unable to confirm, that the larger subject shot (which they suspected was a likely tissue match) was actually deceased as the last contact was about a minute after shooting impact when they heard a subsequent large, powerful “crash” uphill (60-70 yards estimated from location of purported tissue find 5 weeks later) in dense secondary growth.
Unfortunately, due to definitive evidential claims with respect to this tissue sample made by other parties without visible substantiation, the “circumstantial” aspect of this particular piece of evidence has unfortunately been lost on many persons following this claimed shooting event. The only “non-circumstantial” evidence collected from this event to potentially corroborate it as described by those involved, are the boots worn by Smeja that day that “may,” contain a significant amount of blood from the juvenile subject shot. The boots have been in my custody since August 2011 and are being appropriately stored until we undertake processing and should not be considered as transient evidence (further degradation extremely unlikely). There’s been multiple reasons and circumstances for the delay in testing them, especially and including a significant anticipated expense, which Tyler and myself will be absorbing personally at this point, unless circumstances change. It should be noted that because the boots were worn several times after the shooting, environmental contamination and mold degradation is a likely reality that will have to be contended with by the eventual testing lab/facility. We also believe we’re only going to get one good attempt for successful processing, but are confident there’s a viable and realistic opportunity from a forensic standpoint considering the leather material the boots are comprised of and the degree of saturation (blood) described by Smeja.
In about two weeks, we’ll receive and share a final lab report from the second North American (Mid-West) lab I contracted which processed both the salted piece of tissue, and another unsalted frozen piece of Sierras tissue (for second opinion identification and comparison purposes).
I want to thank my partner, Canadian researcher Tyler Huggins, for all his work as the diagnostic liason with Trent University of Ontario, Canada, as you’ll see through the email communications we'll be providing soon (current consolidation), he spent a significant amount of time and effort doing a “yeoman’s” job quarterbacking the communications with that institution.
To join in the discussion and ask questions on this report, visit: