What Does Bigfoot Have to Do With a Murder at a Pot Farm?
In Hulu's "Sasquatch," director Joshua Rofé investigates whether the mythical creature was really responsible for a triple homicide in 1993
In 1993, investigative journalist David Holthouse was working on a cannabis farm in California’s Emerald Triangle, a region consisting of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties that’s famous for its marijuana production, when a frightened man told him he had discovered three bodies torn limb from limb. This wasn’t a ripoff, the man insisted; the weed was trampled over but intact. The perpetrator of this horrific crime, he claimed? Sasquatch, also known as Bigfoot, the mythical ape-like creature said to roam the forests of North America.
Hulu’s new three-part docuseries Sasquatch follows Holthouse as he sets out to investigate what really happened that night, and what begins as an intriguing look at American folklore and the surprisingly large groups of people who believe they’ve had Sasquatch encounters of their own quickly evolves into something far more sinister. (Spoiler alert: Bigfoot didn’t do it.) A cannabis farm might conjure up images of genteel hippies and back-to-the-landers, but Holthouse and director Joshua Rofé quickly find themselves caught in a world full of AR-15-wielding dope growers, racism against Mexican migrant workers, and yes, several unsolved murders. It’s a sobering reminder that we don’t need to invent cryptids to get our scary-story fix; there are plenty of human monsters walking among us.
We caught up with Rofé to hear about the often-harrowing process of putting Sasquatch together and find out whether the series made a Bigfoot believer out of him.
InsideHook: Tell me a little about how this project came to be …
Joshua Rofé: February 2018, I was having dinner with a friend. His name’s Zach Cregger. He’s one of the executive producers on this, and his parting words to me that night were, “Oh, by the way, you ought to listen to this podcast called Sasquatch Chronicles. It’s about people’s encounter stories.” And truly, I had no interest the second he said that, and I told him that. And he said, “No, no, no. Just do me a favor. Listen to one episode. If you don’t like it, you never have to listen to another one again.” So the next day, I listened to my first episode and cut to four days later, I’d listened to 11 episodes and I was completely hooked. And the thing that grabbed me was I felt like I was sensing authentic, visceral fear in all of these encounter stories. The people seemed genuinely afraid, and I believed that they were afraid. I don’t know, that just sort of took over my brain for a week. I just kept thinking, “Gosh, what would be a Sasquatch story that I could tell that could capture that sense of visceral fear that I think I’m perceiving when I listen to these stories?” And then, I came up with this idea, which was, well, if I found a murder mystery that was somehow wrapped up in a Sasquatch story, that could be pretty awesome and you’ve never seen anything like that before. And so David Holthouse was a friend and colleague already for a number of years. We were actually working together at the time on my show, which was called Lorena, which was about Lorena Bobbitt, and he’s an investigative journalist for 25-plus years, a gonzo journalist on top of that. He’s the person in my life who I would reach out to if I was looking for a sort of unfindable story. And even still, I thought, “Oh God, he’s going to think this is too weird.” So I sent him a text, and my caveat was quite literally, “Hey, this is the craziest text I’m going to send you for the next five years. I want to find a murder mystery wrapped up in a Sasquatch story and if it exists, pursue it as the next project.” He wrote me right back. He said, “I love it, I’ve got one. I’ll call you in five.” And then, he proceeded to tell me that story from the night in the cabin in ’93 and that’s it. We knew we were going to try and do this.
Wow. I mean, what are the odds?
I know, I know. The funny thing is, when I came into the office the next day, my editors, they all know David. I told them this, and they all loved it, and the sentiment was, “Of course David had a crazy Sasquatch story.” He’s just one of those people who throughout his life, he’s just seen and done a lot that is outside of the norms of regular society.
Given the nature of what they were discussing with you guys — illegal marijuana farms and, in some cases, murder — it must have been hard to get sources to agree to appear on camera. Was that something that you and David talked about beforehand, your gameplan for dealing with that?
I think that when we started, we didn’t really have any idea how tough that was going to be, because in many ways, we didn’t fully grasp the world that we were about to step into. And then once we began — and it’s David who’s investigating and I’m documenting it, of course, and working with him closely — but it’s he who is interfacing directly with potential sources and hitting these roadblocks. Really, just like you saw on the series. It was incredibly frustrating, and we definitely had a few moments where we wondered, “Are we going to be able to even do this?” But he has an incredible skillset that I think part of the power of it is just this endless tenacity. There’s just this ability to just continue pounding the pavement, even when walls are coming up at every turn and you’re getting denied. It was really after a few months of that that finally there was a break. And then once there was a break and he had a conversation with somebody who had heard this story and even given him a few more details, then things slowly started to open up. But I mean, he could spend eight months developing a single source. I give him all the credit for the developing of sources and getting people to talk about this thing that they perhaps initially absolutely refused to talk about. David gets all the credit for that.
Another aspect of the doc is talking to the Squatchers, all the Sasquatch enthusiasts, and presenting their perspective. Did interviewing those people and hearing their takes on that change your opinions at all? Do you believe in Bigfoot?
Well, I’ll say that first of all, I need to see something to believe it, and I have not seen Bigfoot with my own eyes. But setting that aside, what I was so taken by when we were talking to all these folks was the deep emotional connection that they had to this subject and the importance that it had in their everyday life and their own existence and identity. This is a part of who they are. They are people who believe, and they believe based on what they’re telling you that they’ve experienced firsthand. I was really moved by that. I’m less interested in the type of doc filmmaking that can be “gotcha” moments. I think that’s low-hanging fruit. I think what I always find more interesting is I just want to hear somebody’s version of the truth. I want to hear somebody’s own take, regardless of whether I agree with it or not. I found spending time with them and hearing their stories to be fascinating, and sometimes really moving because you could see that people were afraid. People were scared. People were hurt that their lives were populated by friends and family who didn’t believe them and had written off this thing that was so important to them as totally ridiculous.
One of the things I enjoyed about the doc was the way it balances the Sasquatch stuff with the actual murder mystery. Did you have a set idea going in on how you wanted to toe that line, or did that just reveal itself to you as you went on?
It was something we knew we were going to have to find the line on, but since so much of the story was truly a discovery in real time, it was just during the edit, just figuring out, “Okay, well, if you put this section here, you can’t go to this other place after that because you’ve killed the mood or the moment or the momentum.” And so you have to deal with this part first, and then you can go off, down this other rabbit hole. And it feels like an evolution to that thing that came before it. Editing is always the most crucial part of documentary filmmaking, by far. And this one, I would say even more so because you had these things that, again, on the surface, they don’t seem like they should be in the same world or of the same breath, but as we’re talking to people about them, tonally, they don’t feel completely disparate when you’re looking at it through this one lens. And they start to inform each other and I think that’s what this series brings you back to at the end, which is, “Oh, these things, they really are intertwined in a certain way, but perhaps not in the way that I would have thought initially.”
Obviously this was a very dangerous crowd and a dangerous world that you had inserted yourselves into. Were there moments where you thought, “You know what, maybe it’s in our best interest if we just leave this alone”?
Oh my god, yeah. Oh my god. Let me tell you. We had so many conversations, David, my producing partner Steven Berger and Zach Cregger and I. We had so many conversations about “Where is the line? What do we include? What do we not include?” At what point do you say, “You know what, I don’t give a shit that we’re making the docuseries, I don’t care that we sold it to Hulu and they are giving us the funding to pursue this story that we pitched. Somebody’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get killed”? That means a lot more than filmmaking. That came up more than you would ever want it to, and there were times where we really didn’t know how something was going to shake out until David came back down off the mountain, or David left that one location that he was going to alone. There was a lot of that. And then even when we would be together with the crew, which is for a lot of the filming, there were just times where we would be run up on by people. All of a sudden that SUV or that pickup truck would just pull a sharp U-turn off that dirt road or off that side road, and then just park right near us, pop out five people who looked like they were … I mean, really pretty torn up by meth, some of them. And they want to know what are we doing? They would comment about how they like our cameras and that sort of thing. You were never safe. We always felt like we cannot overstay our welcome. And there’s something in conflict with that notion. And we understood that. I couldn’t wait for filming to be done. And the truth is, when you’re making a doc, you just don’t know when that’s going to be. You only know when you reach that point where you say, “You know what, we truly have our complete story. This is it. We got it all.” That was insane. I mean, ulcers galore, I believe, were probably developed amongst all of us.
Towards the end, David explains why this case would be almost impossible to solve because there are no names, no bodies, etc. But did you ever consider contacting authorities and reporting what you found?
Oh, yeah. We did all of that. Came up against crickets. Any pertinent piece of information was shared with the authorities, and I’m not going to say that they laughed us off, but there’s just … It’s hard to report a crime when there are no bodies, no missing persons reports, truly no single piece of hard evidence for the authorities to go on. All you have is essentially local folklore. The cops, they don’t investigate folklore. But we did, and what we came to is the closest anybody will ever come to the truth and the facts. That final conversation that David has [in Episode Three], that pretty much tells you, “This is what happened.” And there’s that moment where that individual, without even saying, says that they were a party to that.
What do you think the future holds for Spy Rock? As legalization becomes more prevalent, do you think that the violence there will continue on forever, or is it possible it’ll quiet down?
I really don’t know. I mean, Ghostdance, one of the people in the show, he’s a master grower. Ghostdance is the kind of guy who, if your crop for the season — cannabis — has mold, or has an issue and isn’t growing, you hire Ghostdance to come save your season. He’s a legend in that world. He spoke specifically about legalization and really how that has not made the world over there any less violent or any safer. There’s just a new entity now trying to control the profits, really. And that’s these corporations. So it’s really impossible to say, but I think that as long as you’re in a farflung place that even law enforcement would tell you is relatively lawless, I think they’re going to operate under their own set of guidelines. Perhaps in perpetuity. I really don’t see it changing.
What do you ultimately hope that people get out of watching this doc?
Number one, I hope people enjoy the ride, in the terrifying sense. And I hope that people look at folklore in a different way after watching this, which is we’re not discounting the veracity of certain stories, but right next to that piece of folklore, running parallel to it, you do some digging. There’s going to be something that is much darker and much more compelling than that thing that you even showed up for in the first place.
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