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O'Lakes nurse investigates Bigfoot sightings
By Isaac Arnsdorf, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, June 28, 2009
“I’m a very skeptical person but when
I talk to witnesses … they all have
a similar story,” says Cathy Betz, 46,
of Land O’Lakes. “I’ve never seen one.
… I keep waiting, you know, one day.”
[KAINAZ AMARIA | Times]
Midnight, March 5. A young man drives
toward U.S. 19 on Gulf Trace Boulevard
in Holiday. He turns on his high beams
where the road curves along some woods,
just past the recreation center. His
lights catch a pair of yellowish eyes,
then a broad-shouldered figure, 8 or
9 feet tall, covered in brown hair.
The creature freezes before running
to the tree line. It stops to look back
at the car. The young man pulls over
20 feet away. There are no other vehicles
on the road. He can now see the creature
from the shoulders up. The man doesn't
know why, but he thinks to yell, "Hi!"
No answer. The creature disappears into
the woods. Believe it?
The young man sure seemed
convincing when he reported the sighting
to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.
It dispatched Cathy Betz, an investigator
who lives in Land O'Lakes. Her job is
to separate hoaxes from actual Bigfoot
sightings in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando
She's never seen a Bigfoot
herself, but she is convinced they exist.
Someday, she says, we'll get proof.
Meanwhile, she'll keep
her day job: saving lives as a registered
nurse in the intensive care unit at
the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital
• • •
Betz, 45, has believed
in the cryptid ever since she was a
little girl growing up in Florida and
her father took her to see the 1972
docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek.
She read up on the subject,
exploring evidence, and she became convinced
that something was really out there.
In 2003 she joined the Bigfoot Field
She has been a nurse
for 25 years. At first, she was reluctant
to tell the other nurses at about her
new hobby. She just told them her weeklong
absences were spent on camping trips.
Eventually she let slip that she was
attending training expeditions with
the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.
They gave her some ribbing,
but she didn't hold their agnosticism
"I don't expect
anybody to believe it," she says.
"I don't disrespect you for that."
She enjoys the trips
as a way to explore the outdoors with
a group of interesting and like-minded
people, she says. They sleep in tents,
look around for signs of Bigfoot, and
get training in tracking and hair identification.
"I never imagined
myself doing this kind of thing 10 years
ago," Betz says. "But I love
She has been on four
expeditions in Florida and one in North
Carolina, and she is now on another
in Utah. It was on the North Carolina
expedition in 2008 that she had her
closest encounter with Sasquatch.
At least she believes
it was Sasquatch. It could have been
a bear. Something walked around the
tent, touching the fabric and grunting.
"I can't say with
certainty what it was," Betz said,
"but it was in a place with a lot
She has collected animal
skulls from her various outings, many
of which now decorate her home at the
end of a dirt road in Land O'Lakes.
In her big leafy yard, another skull
hangs on a cross of sticks — leftover
Halloween decorations, she says. Her
bathroom is decorated with enormous
exotic bugs that she bought on eBay
and framed. She awakes in the morning
to crowing roosters and the chirps of
her pet parakeet, Skittles.
• • •
Two days after the Holiday
man said he saw a swamp monster, Betz
met him at the scene. She compared his
story to the version he submitted to
the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization
online. It was consistent.
They searched for tracks
but didn't find any. He told her he
was sure he had not seen a bear or a
Betz's notes are secret,
she says, in order to protect the witnesses.
She says the young man from Holiday
did not want to be identified for this
She considers her role
to be much like what a police investigator
"We don't want
to be considered like a fluff organization,"
she says. "In order to be taken
seriously, we feel like we should separate
out the stories that don't pan out."
As part of her investigations,
she often cross-check facts, such as
if the witness says it was a full moon.
And she examines the area, looking for
tracks, hair and other clues. She knows
all about inspecting footprints for
dermal ridges and mid-tarsal breaks.
"We're really a
research- and science-based organization
trying to get as much evidence as we
can," she says. "We don't
want people to think that we're just
throwing everything out there that we
Based on reported sightings,
Betz believes Bigfoot creatures are
much like many other Floridians — they
leave for the summer. They tend to travel
in nuclear families, she says. They
eat fish and berries; they kill deer
by breaking their back legs, slitting
them down the gut, and extracting the
She estimates there
are 5,000 to 10,000 of them across the
Scientists doubt that.
community is sympathetic to the possibility,
but there isn't a whole lot of concrete
evidence that is causing a lot of scientists
to give up their current research projects
and go out looking for (Bigfoot),"
said David Daegling, an anthropology
professor at the University of Florida
and author of Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist
Examines America's Enduring Legend.
"The problem with eyewitness testimony
is that it can't stand on its own from
the standpoint of scientific evidence
of an uncataloged animal being out there."
Henry Cabbage, a spokesman
for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission, said Bigfoot's existence
has not been confirmed. But the agency
does keep a file on the subject, which
includes news clippings and letters
from people requesting permits to go
out and catch one.
So, feeling spurned
by the scientific establishment, Bigfoot
believers have developed their own systems
for collecting and corroborating evidence.
They have formal reports, credibility
ratings, training expeditions and special
investigators, like Florida's own Cathy
• • •
When Betz completed
her report on the Holiday Bigfoot, it
was classified as Class A — the highest
rating of credibility, meaning it was
unlikely, based on the observer's conditions,
that some other animal was mistaken
for a Bigfoot. The report joined the
more than 3,700 others posted to the
Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization's
"Thousands of people
for hundreds of years have been seeing
something out there and are describing
pretty much the same thing," she
said. "Most people don't have anything
to lose or to gain, but they're still
But the physical proof
is still rather scant, and Betz knows
this. Photographs and videos are tenuous,
and hair samples and footprints are
(By contrast, there
are just 100 Florida panthers, and one
of them was caught on video two weeks
"It's going to
take a body," Betz says.
Why has no one found
Betz says it's possible
that the Bigfoot bury their dead. She
thinks there are bones, but they're
probably sitting unidentified in a museum
Bears are hit by cars
or shot by hunters in Florida all the
time. Why not Bigfoot? Betz said there
was once a Bigfoot hit by a car in the
Everglades, but it escaped to the swamp.
But when a carcass is
found, and Betz is confident one will
be, all those people who make fun of
her now will be believers, too.
She just hopes the species
will be protected.
"Once it's established
that it's out there, we're afraid of
what's going to happen," she said,
fearing poachers or the government.
"It's going to be a circus."
Isaac Arnsdorf can be
reached at email@example.com or