Sasquatch lore is rife with tales of abductions. Native American tribes from one end of the North American continent to the other have told tales for centuries of how these hair-covered giants, if given the chance, would snatch up women and/or children. The tribes differed somewhat on what the suspected motivation of the sasquatches might have been. Some tribes felt sasquatches were cannibals that were taking people in order to feed on them. Other tribes felt that the motivation was of a more amorous nature. Regardless of the motivation behind the abductions, such things don’t happen in modern times, if they ever really happened at all, right? These stories are just that; stories, folk tales, and myths…aren’t they?
Albert Ostman claims to have been snatched up while dozing in his sleeping bag in the wilds of British Columbia in 1924 by a male sasquatch and kept as a captive for six days by a family of these creatures before managing to escape. While not as well known as Ostman’s story, the tale of a Nootka Indian named Muchalat Harry is very similar. He, too, claimed to have been grabbed by a large male sasquatch and carried off to be presented to a large number of these animals in 1928. Harry claimed the sasquatches lost interest in him after a while which provided him an opportunity to escape. Ostman suspected he might have been taken as a possible suitor for a young female in the family unit. Muchalat Harry suspected he might have been taken as a potential meal. Was either of them correct? No one can say for sure. While more recent than the ancient Native American tales of abduction, these alleged incidents still took place a very long time ago. Nothing like that has happened since, right?
Again, maybe not.
On June 1, 1987, Fresno native Theresa Ann Bier, then 16 years old, traveled into the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains of California with then 43 year-old Russell Welch. Welch fancied himself a bigfoot expert and was taking the teen out on a hunt for the legendary beast in the vicinity of Shuteye Peak. Welch claimed to have had contact with sasquatches in the past and wanted to share his experiences with the teenaged Bier. What happened after the pair arrived is not known. All that is known is that Russell Welch returned to Fresno without Theresa Ann Bier.
Welch was interrogated by sheriff’s deputies once it became clear Bier was missing. He claimed that they had gone out on a hike in the hopes of making contact with a sasquatch. He went on to say that somehow he became separated from Bier and that during this time she was abducted by a one of the creatures. To say authorities doubted his story would be an understatement. A search of the area where the two had camped was immediately ordered but failed to turn up anything. Despite the continued efforts of dedicated searchers, no sign of Theresa Ann Bier was found.
Russell Welch was later charged with child stealing and was scheduled to stand trial; however, officials abruptly dropped the charges and freed him just three days before the court proceedings were to begin. Officials realized they had no physical evidence upon which to build a case and were afraid they were destined to lose a jury trial. If that were to happen, Russell Welch would go free and not be subject to future prosecution, even if Bier’s remains were later located, due to laws against double jeopardy. The District Attorney decided it would be best to let Welch walk at the time and hope physical evidence would be found sometime in the future with which a stronger case could be built. No such evidence would come, however. Absolutely no sign of Theresa Ann Bier has been found in the nearly 25 years that have passed since the incident. She has simply vanished.
There are many questions about this case for which I was unable to find answers. Why was a 16 year-old girl allowed to go on a camping trip with a 43 year-old man? I’ve found no statements indicating that Theresa Ann Bier was taken into the mountains against her will. How did Russell Welch know Bier? What was the nature of their relationship? Neither have I been able to find an answer to whether or not Welch said he heard any cries for help from Bier or exactly why he felt so strongly that a sasquatch had snatched her. Clearly, something terrible happened out in the Central Sierra back in 1987, but what? I suspect strongly, as I’m sure most of you do, that Theresa Ann Bier was the victim of foul play and was not actually carried away by a sasquatch.
I do wonder why Russell Welch would concoct such an outlandish cover story. The mere fact that he was out camping with a 16 year-old girl was going to be enough to raise eyebrows. Surely he realized that authorities were not going to believe such a tale and that it would only cause more suspicion to come his way. Would it not have been more believable to say the he had become separated from Bier while hiking and been unable to locate her? Why not leave it at that? Why add that he believed a sasquatch was responsible? Maybe Welch was mentally unstable in some way or in shock from whatever traumatic event occurred? If so, he might not have been capable of understanding how bad he looked or how crazy he sounded. There is another possibility though…
He was telling the truth.
The truth as he recalled it anyway. What I’m suggesting is that this might have been a story created by an extremely sick mind. A mind so disturbed that it actually believed its own lie. I would really like to know if Russell Welch was ever given a polygraph test. If so, those results would be very interesting to review and would give an insight into what happened out there in the mountains back in 1987. While not admissible in court, a failed polygraph test would certainly firm up the theory that Russell Welch had something to do with the disappearance of Theresa Ann Bier. But what if the results showed Welch was telling the truth? It wouldn’t mean that Welch’s tale was true, of course. It would prove only that Welch believed it to be true. It would also have served to undermine any hopes the D.A. had of getting a conviction as the results would no doubt have been leaked to the public by Welch’s defense team in an attempt to influence prospective jurors had the case gone forward.
Should we completely discount Russell Welch’s story though? After all, we have those ancient Native American legends to ponder upon. I have always put a lot of stock in the knowledge of these tribes. Is it valid to choose to believe some tales of the First Nations Peoples and not others? What about Albert Ostman and Muchalat Harry? I have always found Ostman’s account to be too detailed in a pre-Patterson-Gimlin world to have simply been a complete fabrication. None other than a Catholic Priest named Father Anthony Terhaar vouched for Muchalat Harry. While the Father could not validate what had actually happened to Harry, he did testify about what he had been told, that he had nursed Harry for a full 3 weeks before the terrified Indian regained his strength and sanity, and that over the course of those weeks Harry’s hair turned snow white. Father Anthony also said that the once fearless trapper and outdoorsman never again dared venture out of the small village of Nootka. Father Anthony Terhaar believed Harry had suffered through a terrifying experience. If we entertain the possibility that there is something to all the old Native American tales and that Albert Ostman and Muchalat Harry may very well have been telling the truth, then don’t we at least have to consider the possibility that Russell Welch was telling the truth back in 1987?
I can tell you that the topic of sasquatch abductions is still discussed among those that keep up with such things, albeit in whispered tones. There have been cases, some very recent, in which people have vanished into the forest where suspected bigfoot sign was evident or where one of these creatures was reported seen a few days before or after the disappearance. If you believe it is possible these creatures exist and if you believe there is something to the old abduction stories then it would be illogical to think such a thing could not still happen. Noted outdoorsman Chester Moore wrote in his book Bigfoot Lives: Deal With It:
“Every year hundreds of people disappear in the forests and it is possible, although unlikely, that bigfoot creatures have something to do with some of these disappearances. Since they are a predatory animal, they are opportunists and it might be possible that they would and have attacked people.” 1
I tend to agree with Moore in that this is at the very least a possibility. As such, we should not simply dismiss abduction claims out of hand. Even if they come from a 43 year-old man who likely had no business being out in the woods with a female minor less than half his age.
The truth about what happened to Theresa Ann Bier is almost certainly more mundane, though no less tragic, than her having been the victim of a sasquatch abduction. The story of Russell Welch is hard to swallow and likely not true. No evidence was found to support his claims but, in fairness, it is important to remember that neither was any evidence found that contradicted his story. It seems there was precious little evidence of any kind at all.
What happened to Theresa Ann Bier in the Central Sierra back in 1987? With each year that passes, the truth recedes farther into the mists of time. Unfortunately, it is likely that is where it will remain.
1 Moore, Jr., Chester. Bigfoot Lives: Deal With It. Orange, TX: 13 Productions, 2004. 102. Print.