Thoughts on the Patterson-Gimlin Footage

By John Green

14 March 2004

Almost thirty-seven years ago two young men from Yakima, Washington, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, emerged from a remote forest in the northwest corner of California with a brief 16-millimeter film showing a hairy creature walking along a sand bar on its hind legs, and the debate on whether their film shows an unknown animal or a man wearing a fur suit has gone on ever since.

Now, thanks to a new book on the subject, that debate should be at an end. The answer has been in plain view all along, the creature on the film holding it, quite literally, in its arms. And that answer, ironically, is the opposite of the one in the book.

The creature cannot be a man in a suit.

The writer of the book, of which only review copies are so far available, claims to have cracked the case by finding two key witnesses, the man who wore the suit, a Yakima acquaintance of Patterson and Gimlin named Bob Heironimus, and the man who sold a gorilla suit to Patterson and told him how to modify it, Philip Morris, a costume maker from Charlotte, North Carolina.

The creature in the movie has normal-looking arms. It cannot be a man in a suit.The Heironimus story is not new. It surfaced several years ago one of the many unsubstantiated claims to have been “the man in the suit” that crop up from time to time. Phillip Morris appears to be a real find, a man who actually was making gorilla costumes in 1967 and who says he remembers selling one to Roger Patterson.

One of the things that Morris is quoted as saying is that the way to make the arms in the suit look longer than human arms is to extend the gloves of the suit on sticks. Many people have noted that the arms of the creature in the film look unusually long, almost as long as its legs. Some, including myself in 1968, have published estimates of their length. No one went on to deal with the question of how human arms could be extended to match the extra length and what such an extension would look like.

There is no way to establish for certain if any of the dimensions estimated for the creature in the film are accurate, but what can be established with reasonably accuracy is the length of the creature’s legs and arms in relation to one another. From that ratio, which anatomists call the “intermembral index,” it is simple to calculate how many inches must be added to the arms of a man of known size in order to make his arms long enough to fit the supposed suit. In my own case the answer turns out to be about 10 inches.

But in order for the arms to bend at the elbow, which they plainly do in the movie, all of that extra length has to be added to the lower arm. The result, in my case, is about 12 inches of arm above the elbow and 29 inches below it — almost as much of a monstrosity as Edward Scissorhands. The creature in the movie has normal-looking arms. It cannot be a man in a suit.

Many issues in the long debate about the movie remain unresolved — what the film speed was, whether a man could duplicate the creature’s unusual bent-kneed walk, whether its behavior was normal for an animal, whether the tracks left on the sandbar could have been faked, and so on — but all of them turn out to have been irrelevant to the main issue.

My measurements of the film, made 36 years ago, gave the creature arms that were 30 inches from the shoulder to the wrist and legs that were 35 inches from the hip to the ground. My own measurements are about 24 inches from shoulder to wrist and 40 inches from hip to ground. Only the ratios of the measurements matter, the actual size of either the human or the creature makes no difference, and the ratios for creature and human are so much different that precise accuracy of the measurements is not significant either. The much ridiculed Patterson-Gimlin film does not show a man in a suit.

What about Roger Patterson buying a gorilla suit? Philip Morris does not claim to have records, only a memory, and neither Mrs. Patterson nor Bob Gimlin remember Roger having any such suit. But Roger was trying to make a Bigfoot documentary at that time and most such documentaries contain re-enactments by someone wearing a fur suit. If he did buy one it has little more significance than an apprentice carpenter buying a hammer.

And the descriptions of the suit by the two key witnesses are totally contradictory. Morris is quoted as having described his suit in precise detail, and how he made it. The suit had six separate pieces: a head a body (arms, torso and legs), two hands and two feet. A knitted cloth material served as a backing to thousands of synthetic nylon strands called dynel, which were driven by a powerful knitting machine with needles through the knitted cloth material and then pulled back through to the other side. It had a 36-inch zipper up the back.

Bob Heironimus is also quoted, saying that Patterson made the suit himself by skinning a dead horse and gluing fur from an old fur coat on the horsehide. It was in three parts, head, torso and legs that felt like bigger rubber boots and that went to his waist. He thought the feet were made of old house slippers. The suit weighted 20 or 25 pounds and he needed help to get in and out of it. It also smelled bad. “It stunk. Roger skinned out a dead, red horse.”

A comment by Jeff Meldrum:

It has been obvious to even the casual viewer that the film subject possesses arms that are disproportionately long for its stature. John Green is a veteran researcher into the question of Sasquatch or Bigfoot. He was among the first to view the film captured by Patterson and Gimlin and has studied it intensely in the intervening years. His recognition of the significance of the unhumanly long arms of the film subject is point that has not previously been articulated in such a straightforward manner. It is such a fundamental observation that it is considered a breakthrough in assessing the validity of this extraordinary film. Anthropologists typically express limb proportions as an intermembral index (IM), which is the ratio of combined arm and forearm skeletal length (humerus + radius) to combined thigh and leg skeletal length (femur + tibia) x 100. The human IM averages 72. The intermembral index is a significant measure of a primate’s locomotor adapatation. The forelimb-dominated movements of the chimp and gorilla are reflected in their high IM indices of 106 and 117 respectively. Identifying the positions of the joints on the film subject can only be approximate and the limbs are frequently oriented obliquely to the plane of the film, rendering them foreshortened to varying degrees. However, in some frames the limbs are nearly vertical, hence parallel to the filmplane, and indicate an IM index somewhere between 80 and 90, intermediate between humans and African apes. In spite of the imprecision of this preliminary estimate, it is well beyond the mean for humans and effectively rules out a man-in-a-suit explanation for the Patterson-Gimlin film without invoking an elaborate, if not inconceivable, prosthetic contrivance to account for the appropriate positions and actions of wrist and elbow and finger flexion visible on the film. This point deserves further examination and may well rule out the probability of hoaxing.

Jeff Meldrum Ph.D. Associate professor of Anatomy & Anthropology
Idaho State University,
Pocatello,
Idaho, 83209-8007.

Dr. Meldrum is an expert in primate anatomy and locomotion. He recently coedited, From Biped to Strider: The Emergence of Modern Human Walking, Running, and Resource Transport. He became interested in the Sasquatch question eight years ago after witnessing 15-inch tracks in southeastern Washington state. He has examined numerous footprints, including those associated with the Patterson-Gimlin footage.

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