Thursday, February 28, 2013

History of “Sierra Kills” Tissue Submission & Testing (Frozen & Salt-Cured Tissue) - By Bart Cutino

As I’ve stated previously in my summary attachment to our Trent University report regarding the “circumstantial” Sierras tissue, our objective and responsibility to the public, fellow researchers, the hunter/submitters and frankly ourselves, was to independently contract multiple labs to screen this sample as a precautionary measure and hopefully rule out “all” potential North American mammalian candidate contributors.

For purposes of “checks and balances” and with respect to both a piece of the frozen Sierras tissue, as well as a piece of the “salt-cured” tissue originating from the same mass (see historic description below) the second lab we contracted in addition to Trent University was DNA Solutions, Inc. (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) and highly respected lab director, Dr. Brandt Cassidy. Dr. Cassidy is a world-renowned expert in DNA research/analysis and lecturer who has also written various abstracts and publications in addition to being actively involved in several professional groups including HITA (Human Identification Trade Association) and The Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators. Of interesting note, Dr. Cassidy and his team at DNA Solutions Inc. were contracted to create and manage the North American Deer Registry (NADR) in 2007. In September of 2011, Dr. Cassidy and his team reached a historic milestone when they completed testing on their 100,000th whitetail deer.

Testing Conclusion & Summary (DNA Solutions Inc.)
(“Frozen Tissue”) Conclusion:

Significant degradation, short PCR fragments, T2 Hablotype and identical Genomic DNA match with Justin Smeja

(“Salted Tissue”) Conclusion:
mtDNA specific for North American Black Bear (Ursus Americanus), identical Genomic DNA match with Justin Smeja


Dr. Cassidy was referred to me by a close researcher friend as a secondary lab to Trent University and was an absolute pleasure to work with. In addition, he was very generous with his time in thoroughly explaining his current findings and data and this more than made up for any delays encountered in receiving his final report. It’s also important to mention that as my secondary lab, Dr. Cassidy knew from the outset what we were testing for (again he was a referral) however, he was completely unaware of the sample’s significance to either this field or another purported study until I explained it to him in depth “after” testing was complete.

I initially asked Dr. Cassidy to perform sequencing on the frozen tissue sample sent directly to his lab from Justin Smeja, followed by a piece of the salted tissue I collected and personally sent him. The objective was to make sure that although the tissues were in different states (frozen vs. treated) they were one and the same species contributors.

My first update from Dr. Cassidy was from August 16th 2012 when he reported via email that he isolated DNA on the frozen tissue and had success on a partial profile with human markers suggesting a “human” origin, however, he was having less success with mitochondrial analysis. On August 28th, 2012,  I received another email update from Dr. Cassidy in which he stated that he’d run the mitochondrial hypervariable regions 1# & 2# and the sequence similarity search matched closely with that of human. On October 19th, 2012, Dr. Cassidy reported that he ran “both nDNA & mtDNA analysis on the frozen tissue and the nDNA came back human.” He further reported that the analysis is specific to human and if “there were more than one human,” he’d see the presence of it. The mtDNA indicated two species with one being human and one unidentified that, due to degradation, was not successfully separated out. On the “salted” tissue, the human nDNA profile mirrored that of the frozen tissue in profile, while the mtDNA was specific to North American Black Bear (Ursus Americanus). This mtDNA was apparently much cleaner with very little indication of mixture.

At this point, Dr. Cassidy requested a sample from the submitter, Justin Smeja, which we had previously offered to provide. Amusingly enough and because of time, On October 20th 2012, I swabbed Justin “after” Bigfoot Discovery Day V event in Felton, CA, immediately after my presentation. On November 5th, 2012, Dr. Cassidy notified me that the samples contained mold and we needed to try again. Dr. Cassidy then sent us a kit from his lab and we got Justin’s DNA swabs back to him on November 28th, 2012 as I immediately requested he expedite comparative testing after receiving the report from Trent University.  On November 30, 2012, Dr. Cassidy informed me that the reference sample from Justin Smeja was a “perfect match” for “both” tissues and he tried to get better mitochondrial sequences from the frozen tissue sample but was unsuccessful due to degradation. With his sincerest apologies for the long delay due to heavy business traffic, the holidays and travel, Dr. Cassidy sent me the final report with all Fasta data I requested on January 28th, 2013.

History Of “Salt-Cured” Tissue

If both men’s account regarding collection is accurate, it’s my personal opinion having spent many hours of “on-site” investigation and directing unsuccessful excavation attempts for remains within the area encompassing the purported shootings, and, after considering weathering elements/exposure, multiple potential predators and recognition state of tissue for a period of up to 5 weeks; the tissue recovered on November 12th 2010 would “likely” fail (though not impossible) to have any association of origin with an unconfirmed deceased subject shot from October 8th 2010 in the same vicinity, despite the hunters initial and understandable suspicions (based on circumstances).

According to both Justin Smeja and his partner Jack, shortly after returning home from the Sierras site with the tissue sample (“recovered sample,” minus cut piece See Figure 1#) in the early evening of November 12th 2010 and per instructions from WA researcher Derek Randles, Justin immediately cut a piece off of the main tissue that was roughly estimated at about 25% of its total mass (See Figure 2#).

About 60% of that piece (which was prepackaged) was shipped directly to Dr. Ketchum for her “study,” per Justin’s wife, within 48 hours. The remaining 40% of that piece was eventually “salted” for preservation purposes so Justin could bring it with him to meet all of us at the Sierras site in July 2011 for a “remains search.” (See Figure 3#)

Within 5 days of submitting this sample, Justin was notified indirectly through Dr. Ketchum that his sample was “looking good for a bigfoot” through preliminary and undetermined testing. It’s important to note that at no time prior or after that determination was made and relayed to Justin, was a sample of his DNA requested or collected to rule out potential contamination.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

The hair morphology of the “salted” piece was subsequently examined on-site in July 2011 by both Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum and Naturalist John Mionczynski, through both visual observation and limited magnification. Although no definitive pre-determinations were made, a canine origin was initially suspected by Dr. Meldrum, who was confident the sample was non-primate in nature and he subsequently stated with respect to visual characteristics present and or absent, “you’d have to rewrite the book for this to be primate.”  The sample was subsequently gifted to Wally Hersom “on-site” by Smeja and continues to be held in his possession.

In June of 2012, I decided it would be best that since we’re testing the Sierras tissue with a second lab that we include a piece of the salted tissue to confirm the subject species of origin was identical to the frozen tissue. After requesting and receiving a small sample of the salted tissue from Wally, I sent off that portion to Dr. Cassidy’s lab (See Figure 4#), while Justin simultaneously sent off a frozen piece of tissue (See Figure 5”).

Figure 4

Figure 5

Independent Vetting of Sample

The primary catalyst in Justin Smeja initiating requests for independent testing with both Tyler Huggins and myself on his behalf were from a phone call he received in January of 2012 from Dr. Melba Ketchum in which three other witnesses, including Justin’s wife and hunting partner from the purported shootings (“Jack”) listened in on speakerphone, anticipating the release of her long-awaited manuscript with the Sierras tissue as its “centerpiece.” According to Justin’s account, and confirmed with two of the three witnesses to me within 30 hours of the phone call, Dr. Ketchum requested the rest of his tissue sample because, “should he ever decide to pursue testing elsewhere,” this particular sample would yield “a regular mammal and possible contamination” in the results from the external testing facility utilized (prophetically stated based on both Trent University & DNA Solutions Inc. final results). According to Smeja, she also stated that she “had a special way of making things appear differently,” subsequently providing him a Clorox bleach cocktail recipe to destroy the DNA present for the remaining sample. In addition, Justin claimed she made repeated references to defrauding her sponsor (my personal dear friend of eight years, Wally Hersom) by suggesting to Justin that she could convince Wally to purchase “the cleansed” sample with the belief it was still viable and she could “arrange” for perpetual and “unnecessary” testing. I was notified by Justin by phone within 45 minutes of the call and he was extremely dispirited and “rattled” with the previous false promises relayed to him after initially submitting the sample to Dr. Ketchum in mid-November of 2010.

As a result of these claims, and concern about potential repercussions on the bigfoot community as a whole should we find a major conflict in findings or evidence of intentional deception, we initiated contact with Trent University in the spring of 2012 and DNA Solutions Inc. in the late summer of 2012.

Public Allegations

It’s important to note that in lieu of our recent Trent University results (which declared the circumstantial Sierras tissue as Ursus Americanus with mtDNA contamination, consistent with Justin) unfounded and very serious allegations of deliberately exchanging of samples by Justin Smeja have come from  Dr. Ketchum’s camp. Based on timing, we suspect the allegations stem from an alarming conflict in conclusions from our contracted labs with those from the Ketchum study (on the same tissue) and our intent to publish those findings in the public forum. The allegations, which again are completely unfounded, consist of Smeja intentionally switching samples with the rationale of protecting himself from potential prosecution based all on unsubstantiated assumptions drawn from the supposed “human” element in the mtDNA found in the Ketchum study results.

Not only are these allegations vehemently denied by Justin, but the results we’ve received in the attached report with the “salted” tissue (which was out of Justin’s custody to administer for testing since July 2011) counter any claim of intentional deception on Justin’s part with respect to switching samples for any reason or concern as these claims are seen by us again, as an attempt to justify the significant discrepancies in the findings and we feel comparative analysis by objective and qualified parties can “clear up” any confusion. 

(For comparative purposes, I would recommend for those who’ve purchased the Novel North American Hominins Journal to see the photograph adjacent to “Next Generation Whole Genome Sequencing”on page 10 of 18. Comparing Figure 2 (Tissue in Smeja’s hand), with this photograph confirm any doubt visually, that these two pieces of tissue are identical and therefore one and the same. That same piece, what was left of it, became the salted tissue that was tested at DNA Solutions Inc.)

It should also be mentioned that prior to releasing the results from Trent University, we were contacted by Dr. Ketchum via a third-party because of her concern with both our findings and timing of our release of that information. The exchanges consisted of an initial phone call from Dr. Ketchum with my partner Tyler Huggins and multiple back and forth emails between the two, where Dr. Ketchum was initially “surprised” by our labs findings before insinuating that the piece of tissue in her possession was processed right off the deceased subject’s body by Smeja and sent directly to her.

Nonetheless, after Dr. Ketchum initially agreed to mutual third-party testing of the remainder of Justin’s tissue sample (in her possession) to potentially resolve this glaring conflict in results from our labs, Dr. Ketchum subsequently changed her position, and was no longer interested in this or any other alternative opportunity to resolve this issue we suggested… even though “she” initiated contact with us.  If our labs were somehow wrong in their findings, both Tyler and myself were willing to consider temporarily delaying our publicizing of results, “pending” confirmation from one of the credentialed third-parties whom purportedly established the determinations and could validate Dr. Ketchum’s verbally stated results on the Sierras tissue (Sample 26#). Again, she declined the offer and this full exchange is documented in multiple emails over a period of several days.

Although Tyler and myself want to prevent misinformation from being perpetuated to the public such as contentions on behalf of Dr. Ketchum’s associates that “she has been willing to undergo third-party testing on the remaining Sierras tissue sample in her possession;” we will only publicize this email exchange where Dr. Ketchum “clearly” declines this option for clarity, with her full consent. Although we covet transparency into matters such as these, we wish to prevent setting a questionable precedent in consideration of ethics and anticipated privacy. 

Although we strongly believe that the parallels in lab results from both DNA Solutions Inc. and Trent University are extremely “compelling” at this time, especially when coupled with the unethical requests and prophetic claims by Dr. Ketchum brought to our attention by submitter Justin Smeja prior to the testing efforts we’ve undertaken on his behalf, we defer to those who specialize and are more capable than us in appropriate interpretation of this data. We would be admittedly “thrilled” if these two highly reputable diagnostic labs with different specializations, failed to recognize a primary mammalian contributor in the tissue provided. Again, the only resolution is for an objective, “open” and rigorous scientific review of all the data.

On behalf of Dr. Ketchum’s sponsor, the submitters of forensic samples to her study, the concerns of the bigfoot community as a whole, and of most important relevance here, submitter Justin Smeja (whom entrusted Dr. Ketchum to initially test his sample in November of 2010) we merely ask Dr. Ketchum immediately release the “FULL” raw sequence genome data for Sample 26 (in place of current, “select,” snippet sequences in the supplementary data portion of her manuscript).

Furthermore, in recognition of full transparency and significance of Sample 26 to her respective study,  and for the purposes of objective and “open” comparative scientific analysis (of course with full respect and consideration of Dr. Ketchum’s proprietary rights from which she’s entitled) we also appeal to Dr. Ketchum to immediately release the hair analysis report from Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science, the Histopathological reports on Sample 26 from both Texas A&M University and Huguley Pathology Consultants, reports on nDNA analysis from both Northern Louisiana Criminalistics Laboratory & SeqWright, Electron Microscopy report on Sample 26 from Texas A&M University and Whole Genome Analysis reports from both Genomics Core Laboratory and UT Southwestern Medical Center.   


  1. Now that's how it's done folks. We all should take a piece (haha) of Bart's and Tyler's investigative skills and put them to practice in our field of study, no matter how insignificant our findings may seem. Kudos gents.


  2. I am glad you are releasing this. Hopefully it will lead to something. One problem I noticed though. The microscopic views of the hairs from the two samples don't match. The frozen hair sample hair a very narrow medulla, measuring less than a third of the shaft's diameter. While the second salted sample's medulla is over half the shaft diameter. The frozen sample is consistant with human hairs while the salted sample matches animal hairs.

    Did they explain this?

    I also am bothered by the fact that they were able to amplify and sequence human contamination on the frozen sample but not able to amplify any other dna.

    I hope more data gets released soon by other studies because right now this entire dna subject is a mess. None of the reports released by anyone are very good. Too little data, obvious different hair samples under microscope, etc.


  4. Bart, I am an avid hunter who field dresses and butchers all my game completely. The DNA issue and controversy aside, there is something that has long concerned me about the 'piece of meat'. It is the circumstances and 'nature' of the piece that only now I can at least see reasonably. Even with a field consumed animal, you don't find skin portions like this left in the woods, especially with something with the hide thickness of a bear. In addition, with a bear naturally deceased or even shot but escaped and then deceased, you would find a whole hide and millions of hairs scattered about the area. Animals don't favor bear or any other hide, and if they were desperate enough to eat hide, they would pull hair off first. You also won't find straight cuts on bear skin torn off by other animals. In addition, any small piece with hair would show clear sign of damage to the hairs themselves. There would be a multitude of broken and torn out hairs on the sample of anything that was left as a result of being consumed in the field.

    The early story by Justin was that a piece of flesh was blown off the bigfoot. This didn't add up at the time since he said it was shot from behind in the chest and at an angle. The resulting piece just never made sense from such a shot. If that were the case, you wouldn't have any straight edges on a piece. The skin would also show trauma of tearing from an exiting bullet. This just doesn't occur with an exiting projectile without there being sign of trauma, of which I suspect there is none here.

    Ironically the term 'salted' (besides having salt added) also means something very unscrupulous when it comes to samples. The same occurs with gold claims where sites are 'salted' to make them appear better then what is actually in the field. Be careful here.

    It is also not likely that a person who field dresses a bear would even accidentally cut off a piece of hide that is NOT a bullet hole or otherwise damaged. ESPECIALLY what appears to be a white patch chest hair if that is what it is. The odds of finding one small piece in the wild is also highly remote and doesn't seem plausible at all.

    Bart, there is some basic physical evidence here that should be reviewed by someone who may not be so involved. I wish I could have looked at some of the detailed photos of the samples at their various stated stages as much can be told. But looking at these photos and hearing the story directly from the teller, well certain basic elements don't seem right. This is aside from all the DNA and polygraph BS too.

  5. Good to hear from you Dave!

    I'm so sorry I hadn't gotten back to you. Do you still have the same number? I'm heading out the door and will try and call you tonight to discuss. Send you a quick FB reminder as well in case you miss this.
    Would love to discuss this with you as we'll compare notes as there's a few things you may not be aware of and vice versa

  6. Yes I'll be around tonight. Look forward to chatting.