Content Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault that might be difficult for some readers.
The true crime mini-series “Sasquatch” on Hulu is part murder mystery and part monster hunt, and it centers on the idea of chasing an enigma that, the closer you get to it, seems to slip farther and farther away.
“Sasquatch” is the work of former Alaska journalist David Holthouse, who says traumatic events early in his life growing up in Anchorage set him on a path of finding and exposing monsters of all kinds.
And a warning, this conversation includes a mention of sexual abuse. That’s something Holthouse has written about in his story “Stalking the Bogeyman,” which was adapted into a play and a radio piece for This American Life.
But “Sasquatch” is the search for a different type of monster, which, as Holthouse told Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove, starts with a scary story circulating among illegal cannabis farmers in mid-’90s Mendocino County, California.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
DAVID HOLTHOUSE: The story goes like this: Three guys were murdered on a weed farm in the fall of 1993, and they were murdered by a Sasquatch. A Bigfoot. Once you get past the initial ridiculousness of that story, and you start looking for the how and why — were three men actually murdered? And if so, what was the motive? And how did the story get twisted up that Bigfoot did it? That’s what the show is about, trying to untangle all that.
CASEY GROVE: The myth of the Sasquatch, sort of works in this search for the truth, right?
Holthouse: The truth was elusive, okay? One thing I figured out the hard way is — you go up to northern Mendocino County and start asking questions about unsolved homicides from the early 90s, which was a particularly dangerous era up there, you pretty quickly find yourself — I pretty quickly found myself on the trail of at least two, if not three, different multiple homicides that have gone unreported, let alone, you know, been solved.
But as I started to zero in on the one that was the genesis of this Bigfoot story, at a certain point I started to realize, am I doing the same thing that all these self-declared Bigfoot hunters do? I’m up here tromping around in the woods, in pretty dangerous country, just thinking that I’m glimpsing something through the trees. It started to feel like a quest to a place that had no end.
Grove: Yeah, it’s like the truth is so elusive it might as well be a Bigfoot or something. It’s like you’re chasing a shadow.
Holthouse: That was exactly right. I started to feel like I was tracing shadows. Like there was some substance to the shadows, but I was never going to get a clear picture of exactly what happened. All that I was gonna get was impressions and shadows.
Grove: So you’ve done a lot of journalism. How did you end up getting into a position in your career as a journalist to put this series together? What led up to that in your interest, and in your career to be in the right place to do this?
Holthouse: Well, to make a show like Sasquatch, you’ve got to be comfortable around criminals, and they have to be comfortable around you. And that’s been a facet of my personality and a strength for the kind of reporting and journalism that I practice pretty much my entire life. That’s always been the case, like I’ve just, I’ve felt comfortable.
That’s not to say that I’ve always felt safe. But I’ve always felt comfortable, and I’ve always felt at home in navigating criminal subcultures and underworlds, whether it’s you know, gang culture in Phoenix or dope growers in Northern California or bikers or whatever.
Grove: I wanted to ask: Is there anything specific to growing up in Anchorage, in Alaska, that informed who you were going to be as a journalist?
Holthouse: Well there’s a specific life experience that I had, and I’ve been very upfront with this: I was sexually assaulted when I was seven years old. That pertains to Anchorage only in the sense that, you know, sexual assault rates of children and adults in Alaska are horrifyingly high, and have been going back a long way — certainly going back to the late 70s when it happened to me.
You know, Anchorage is still a place for me with a lot of ghosts. It’s a place I’ll always consider home, but it’s a place that whenever I’m there, there’s a lot of ghosts. And it’s a tricky place for me to navigate.
So that experience — it didn’t really become clear to me until I was in my early thirties that what I was doing with journalism was basically trying to hunt down and unmask monsters, because I saw the person that sexually assaulted me as a monster. I mean, that’s who he was in my 7-year-old version of the world, the boogeyman. An evil and hurtful creature. So it took a while for me to realize that I’ve been chasing down and trying to destroy monsters pretty much my entire life, and with my entire career.
Grove: Thanks for being willing to talk about that.
Holthouse: No, I’m happy to talk about it because when I was a kid, it wasn’t talked about, you know. So I thought it was just something that had happened to me, and I was like, a freak of some kind, you know. So the fact that it’s talked about more, and it’s talked about more in Alaska and in the country as a whole is great.
There’s still a long way to go, obviously. But I also just think the more people who are high functioning adults can sort of “out” themselves as being survivors of childhood sexual assault, the easier it will be for the survivors of childhood sexual assault who are still children and adolescents right now, who might be listening to this, just to know that there’s getting through it. There’s another side to this.