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Bigfoot discovery 'started as a joke'

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The caller sounded convinced.

She sounded like she had weighed the voices of the two Georgia men and come to believe.

On an Internet radio show, where they talk about the never-ending search for Bigfoot, the caller cautiously offered her verdict: "I can't see someone pushing a hoax this far."

Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer will be remembered as a pair who pushed a hoax pretty far.

They pushed it past a series of Internet videos, into the center of the online Bigfoot subculture. They pushed it until a California promoter arranged to pay them for the rights to make money from their hoax. They pushed it until the news networks around the world knew their names.

They pushed it, finally, until Whitton lost his job, commentators called them 'crazy Rednecks,' and an embarrassment to the state of Georgia. They pushed it until there were threats of a lawsuit and calls for their arrest.

"It started out as a joke," Whitton told the Clayton News Daily on Friday. "It just got out of hand. I can't really say anything more. Just call our lawyer."

A month ago, Whitton described Bigfoot tracking as a hobby. "It's this side business I have," he told the Clayton News Daily. But the "side business" soon became central. Perhaps because of boredom, while on medical leave, or perhaps for some other reason, the prank he and his best friend were perpetuating began to escalate.

In June, Whitton and Dyer were posting videos posing as Bigfoot searchers. They'd talk, go camping, and advertise their web site, while promoting $499 Bigfoot expeditions.

"I think they were trying to make some pocket change," said Loren Coleman, who followed the two closely and who has written a number of books on Bigfoot. "They were selling T-shirts and they were trying to sell tourist-y kind of items."

By July, Whitton and Dyer -- latching on to a slogan -- boasted of being "the best Bigfoot trackers in the world," and developed an adversarial relationship with serious Bigfoot believers. In one video, they burned books about Bigfoot, calling them all fakes. They attacked the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, a group that really does offer expeditions.

BFRO quickly called the two Georgians frauds. One member of the organization got into an argument with Dyer on the phone, according to BFRO, and asked him why he thought he was the best Bigfoot tracker, saying sarcastically, "So do you have a corpse or something?"

In mid July, Whitton and Dyer claimed to have found a Bigfoot's body, during another YouTube video. The story of how, where, and when they discovered the body changed constantly. The descriptions of the animal fluctuated. As parts of their story were shown to be a hoax, they would re-arrange the story, add explanations, and attack their critics as "lunatics."

The entire enterprise seemed like a set-up, according to Bigfoot author Coleman. He suspected it was a way to lure in Bigfoot believers and searchers, and then, at the last moment, step back and laugh. But Whitton and Dyer never stepped back.

Dyer denied the claims were a hoax. Asked if the claims were concocted to prank Bigfoot believers, he replied, "Why would we jeopardize Matt's job? Why would we risk the embarrassment of the backlash that we would get? We just have a lot to lose if this is a hoax."

A few weeks later, Tom Biscardi called the Clayton News Daily to promote the discovered body of Bigfoot. He referred to Dyer and Whitton as "the boys down there," and offered himself as evidence -- saying he wouldn't have flown in if there wasn't convincing evidence. He referred to the Bigfoot body as the "real deal," though he would later say he never saw anything that could be confused for evidence.

Even a cursory check of Biscardi's background shows he's not really a Bigfoot "searcher," like he says, but a promoter. He's been involved with a series of sizable discoveries that turned out to be hoaxes, but has always been able to extract himself, claiming he was also hoaxed.

In a series of moves that seemed identical to a previous hoax, Biscardi released a photo, announced a press conference, and publicized the "the boys'" claims.

"I saw the body," he told the Clayton News Daily. "I touched the body. It was all there."

With Biscardi's backing, the news of Bigfoot was reported on all the cable television networks, and in the papers from New York to Seattle, Austrailia to India. Thousands of news outlets ran some version of the story, republishing the Associated Press' piece, the CNN story, or at least putting up a smug snippet and a link.

As the hoax hummed all over the Internet and took space away from the presidential election and the Olympics, Dyer and Whitton were reportedly paid $50,000.

An Indian man with a construction management company, William Ward Lett, Jr., drove a trailer to Georgia and met the two men in the parking lot of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center at about 10 p.m. He later told police he had a deal with Biscardi. He would buy the Bigfoot body for $50,000, and 90 days later, Biscardi would pay him $75,000. Dyer and Whitton reportedly signed a "transfer release agreement," giving the Indiana man a freezer with a frozen, furry Bigfoot costume.

The entire hoax was deflated in a few days, after the hyped unveiling of evidence turned out to be nothing. One TV anchor ended the live coverage while Whitton was talking, saying if Whitton claimed he had Bigfoot in a freezer, he had to do more than "flap his lips."

A follow-up story connected the picture of Bigfoot with a Sasquatch costume sold online. Biscardi claimed he'd been fooled, easily exiting from the scam with whatever profits he had, getting another radio host to act as "independent observer," and report the "creature" was a costume with big, rubber feet.

The follow-up stories described Biscardi's associates as "experts," repeated claims about how the promoter was hoaxed, and put the blame all on Whitton and Dyer.

Whitton was fired from his job as a Clayton County police officer the week after the press conference, for having discredited himself on national TV. Lett called the police department from Indiana, accusing the two of defrauding him. Whitton and Dyer hired a local lawyer.

The two men weren't willing to say they'd done anything wrong, on Friday, still seeming to see the whole thing as a joke.

They seemed to be taking the exposure of the hoax as their moment to laugh, to step back and say they fooled everybody. The message on Whitton's cell phone says people should report sightings of leprechauns and the Loch Ness monster. Dyer says they're going to [start] looking for unicorns and Elvis.

Whitton's not apologetic, but he repeated his explanation as if no one heard it the first time. "It started as a joke," he said.

Dyer said people should accept this explanation, because Whitton's a hero, a police officer who was shot. He doesn't just want people to understand, however. He seems to think he and Whitton are heroes for creating a clever hoax, and he told the Clayton News Daily on Friday that the whole thing will be a movie one day.

"There's some people who are interested in paying us to turn it into a movie," he said.

"Maybe we pissed some people off, but we didn't do nothing wrong," Whitton said.