by Brian Woods
On May 10, 2016, I visited the Monkey Mountain Wildlife Area near Grain Valley, Missouri. I was in the area to examine the location of a witness report that had occurred less than a mile away, along Blue Branch Creek. A night fisherman claimed to have been scared from his spot after large rocks were lobbed from out of the darkness into a fishing pond. Being so close to Monkey Mountain Wildlife Area, I decided to pay a visit.
Heavy rains for several days prior to this left the Sni-a-Bar Creek moving rapidly, garnished with steep, muddy banks on either side. The regularly-used footpaths shared by hikers and deer were now treacherous express lanes straight into the creek. I walked further along the side of the Sni-a-bar, attempting to locate a safe place to descend and get closer. While negotiating my next step on a saturated clump of grass, I felt the mud give way under my boots. Immediately, I found myself sliding down an embankment, only being spared the Sni-a-Bar’s murk by a few inches.
After a pause to account for my situation, I managed to get back on two feet. Being covered with mud, I remember standing there and deciding to call it a day and return home. Going anywhere else in public wasn't an option looking like this.
I began walking forward along the flattened embankment, looking for a spot to safely ascend the hill and return to my car. On nearby RD Mize road, a car crossed the bridge, which caused me to turn in the opposite direction to watch it go by. My eyes eventually rested on a solitary bush next to the creek. From a distance, I could see that the mud below the bush had been disturbed, so I approached. The mud clearly displayed the impression of a handprint, with fingers splayed. I looked at the surrounding earth, but saw no other impressions besides the deep ruts I had just carved with my boots.
The size of the hand print was quite large. It appeared to be very fresh. At least, fresher than the last rain storm less than a day earlier. I confirmed that it had been raining in the area as recent as 6 PM the previous day. The print was also partially sheltered by the bush, which explained why I hadn't obliterated it with my mud slogging. I retrieved my casting kit from my backpack, and set it down nearby. I began taking photos of the the hand impression from different angles and distances, including some to indicate size. A few wider shots to capture the setting and proximity to the creek were also taken.
The next step was to begin casting the print. Situations like this are exactly why I always carry a casting kit. Yes, it takes up precious backpack space and adds noticeable weight, but considering how long I would kick myself for not being prepared, it's essential.
Being a warm and humid day in May, I waited about seventy five minutes after pouring the material to pry the fresh cast from the mud. I bagged up the remaining casting supplies for later disposal, secured the mud-caked cast in my backpack, and resumed the search for a safe route back to my car. Eventually, I had departed Monkey Mountain Wildlife Area, and headed home.
Fresh casts need time to cure, so several days passed before I rinsed the dried mud and leaf clutter from the print. The casting process had been a success, and a large, detailed hand print captured in Ultracal, revealed itself. What's more, dermal impressions could be seen in the cast, which was very exciting.
With help from fellow Investigator Carter Buschardt and his forensic fingerprinting kit, the prints were lifted with clear tape and black powder, and then fashioned to small index cards. The cards were dated, and labeled with which finger or area the dermal impressions came from. Standout features in the cast include those dermal impressions, as well as an elongated thumb that is visible. Placing my hand on the cast reveals that it's quite a bit longer and more pronounced than my own thumb, or anyone's thumb who has since examined the cast.
In an effort to learn more about how long dermal impressions might survive on a wet, porous substrate such as the mud found along Sni-A-Bar Creek, I searched for resources that might teach me what experts know about fingerprints they find at crime scenes. As you might already guess, the longevity of the impression relies on many factors. The type of substrate itself and its porosity, the presence and composition of skin oils on the skin, even humidity and environmental temperature are only a few of the factors to be considered. I read about 7,300 year-old prints being lifted from pottery, and others detailing prints losing much detail only after a few minutes in the dirt. Considering the amount of detail I was able to capture in the handprint cast, the absence of any other people in the location at the time, and the mud-slicked inaccessibility of the handprint placement along the creek, I felt there was a strong possibility that the prints might've been extremely fresh. As recent as only a few minutes, but certainly nothing over 24 hours, considering the previous evening's rain.
It was suggested that I make contact with Cliff Barackman, notable Bigfoot Researcher, and of Finding Bigfoot TV fame. Cliff possesses a very large collection of purported Bigfoot casts, and is knowledgeable of anatomic similarities that have been observed in both foot and hand casts. I was interested in hearing Cliff's opinion on the hand print cast I had obtained, and was eager to find ways to either confirm or debunk the cast itself. I had not previously encountered the presence of such clear dermal impressions in a print that I'd found, so having them examined by a respected and knowledgeable person occurred to me as important.
Cliff and I ended up meeting in person in July of 2016, while filming an episode of Finding Bigfoot in NE Iowa. I had brought the cast with me, in hopes of allowing Cliff to examine it. We did find time to discuss and examine the cast, and several weeks later, I shipped the cast to Cliff. He made duplicates of the original, both to add to his collection, and to provide me with copies. It was important to safeguard the original, and reduce the risk of accidental breakage.
I recently asked Cliff Barackman to put his thoughts and impressions of the hand cast into writing. In a response email, Cliff wrote the following:
“I first had the opportunity to study this cast while in Iowa filming an episode of Finding Bigfoot. Local representatives of the BFRO were on hand, one of which was a man named Brian Woods. Brian found and cast this print while doing a follow-up investigation in western Missouri along a small creek.
The cast seems to be that of a hand. The cast shows five widely-splayed digits fanning out from a wider pad exactly as fingers should spread from the palm. None of the digits impresses deeply into the substrate as is sometimes seen in other purported hand prints. The cast only protrudes into the substrate at most 1 cm at any point. The thumb and several fingers show distinct bends correlating to the interphalangeal joint. It is very important to note that the thumb only has one such joint, while the fingers have two such joints. This detail can be observed in the cast reinforcing this is indeed a cast of a hand.
The vertex between the ring finger and little finger webbing can be easily located in the cast. When my own hand is laid upon this spot with the base of those fingers correlating to the vertex, my little finger is equally long and about as wide as the cast’s. Faint flexion creases can be seen in the cast, and these also correlate with the locations of my own finger’s. My ring finger is 1 cm shorter than the finger that made the impression, but a double-strike can be seen where the track-maker’s ring finger hit and shifted forward making the finger seem longer than what it might be. The base of the ring finger appears to be about as wide as my own, but the ends of the fingers seem thicker. This is almost certainly because of the double strike mentioned above. It is impossible to be sure how long the middle finger is because of the shallowness of the cast. The finger fades into the substrate with no concise outline. This is not the case with the index finger, however. There is a clear terminus to this digit along with water furrows resulting from the saturated substrate from which this cast was lifted. The finger does not appear to be longer than my own, but it is wider than my own near the base and about the same near the tip. The thumb is the most interesting part of the cast. The impression seems to be about a third wider than my own thumb for the entire length. While the other fingers on the cast are more or less the same lengths as my own, the thumb is almost 1.5 inches longer than mine. Sasquatch hands have been noted to have digits that are more equal in length than humans, so this correlates nicely with the other data. Also of note is that the thumb seems to flex directly into the substrate instead of at an angle as a human thumb bends. This has also long been noted in sasquatch hand prints.
This hand cast stands out from the rest of the purported sasquatch hand prints because of the extensive dermatoglyphics that can be observed over its surface. There are at least six patches of friction skin that can be observed on the cast. While this does not prove that the cast is from a sasquatch, it does prove that the impression was made by a primate. Only primates have friction skin on their plantar and palmar surfaces. It should be noted that a cast is not a replica of the hand or foot that made it. A cast is a consequence of the damage done to the ground by the hand or foot that made it. For this cast, what that means is that the finger widths and shapes may not be quite what they appear to be. Double strikes, movement while the hand is in contact with the ground, water flowing into the impression, and other factors all come into play to possibly distort the impression. The presence of dermatoglyphics, however, gives some assurance that any damage done to the impression by water or smearing as the hand moved is minimal.”
A logical criticism of the print is that it's a human hand that's been distorted in size by mud sliding or recent rain. My response to this is that the dermal impressions wouldn't have been as clear and uninterrupted if this apparent hand had slipped in the mud, smearing them. Also, the print itself doesn't have other features distorted by a slipping motion. It's clear that the hand exerted more pressure in the palm and thumb area, and that the lengths and tips of each finger didn't press as deeply. It would seem similar to the kind of print that we would make if we bent down, and stabilized our position by putting one hand on the ground. The bush that hid the print from view was also capable of hiding whoever made the print. Was it a possibility that the bush provided quick concealment from a passing car on RD Mize road? Might that passing car have been me, arriving to the area? Are we to accept that an abnormally large-handed person with a differently-jointed thumb, had been in that exact area, that I not-so-gracefully rolled down a treacherous hill, to access?
Or, do we surmise that the print was indeed left by a Sasquatch, who momentarily concealed itself, left the print, and slipped away to avoid detection?
*Special thanks to Caroline Curtis of the BFRO, Cliff Barackman, and Carter Buschardt, for their time, knowledge, and support.