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One of the most famous legendary creatures of all, the massive, hairy ape-like beast known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch has been reported to be lurking and stalking about in just about every expanse of wilderness in North America. While these sightings are strange enough, the creatures themselves have been mostly said to be shy, reclusive, and peaceful. Yet every once and a while a truly sinister report will come in of these creatures not being any of those things, and one very strange disappearance has managed to combine all of the oddness of a violent Bigfoot encounter and a mysterious vanishing.
On June 1st, 1987, 16-year-old Theresa Ann Bier, of Fresno, California, went off on a camping trip to the rather remote area of Shuteye Peak, in the scenic Sierra Mountains approximately 25 miles northeast of Bass Lake. Her companion on this particular trip was a 43-year-old Russell Welch. It was well known at the time that Welch was an avid Bigfoot enthusiast, in fact a self-proclaimed expert on the creature, and the two allegedly had embarked out into the wilderness on a quest to find the legendary beast. This is not so strange in and of itself, as the Sierra Nevada Mountains are quite the hotspot for Bigfoot activity, with Welch even claiming he had seen them several times in the region, but it was a bit weird that he believed he was in actual continuous contact with a whole group of them, and also perhaps a little odd that Bier’s parents would let her go off alone on a camping trip alone with a much older man on what many would have considered to be a crackpot quest. Nevertheless, they went off on their adventure and only one of them would come back.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains
When Welch returned to Fresno several days later without Bier in tow and the girl made no effort to contact her family, he was considered a person of interest in her possible disappearance. When he was questioned by authorities about what had happened to Bier, things got rather strange. Welch at first told police that she had run away from him out into the wilderness, but then he would change his mind and decide to tell them what “really happened,” which would prove to be perhaps far weirder than any of the law enforcement personnel present could have possibly imagined.
Welch claimed that during their camping trip they had gone out on a hike to look for the elusive Sasquatch and that at some point Bier and him had become separated in the thick forest. At that point, Welch claimed that one of the massive creatures had swooped in to grab her and carry her off into the wilderness. It may come as no surprise whatsoever that police found this all pretty hard to swallow, even though the suspect himself seemed to truly believe what he was saying, and sensing that they had a kidnapping or potential murder on their hands the police immediately descended upon the area where the two had been camping, yet a full and comprehensive search of the surroundings turned up no trace of Theresa Bier. When authorities grilled Welch again to try and glean more information he stood by his story that she had been dragged into the wilds by a Bigfoot, adamant that that this was what had really happened.
Sasquatch or not, Welch was charged with child stealing and a trial was set. While he was waiting to go to court for quite serious charges, Welch was offered the opportunity to sign a waiver allowing prosecutors to pursue a murder charge in the event that the body was found in exchange for a light, one year prison sentence in the meantime. Welch, still apparently believing that Bier had been truly in fact abducted by a giant hairy hominid, promptly refused the deal. In response to this, as well as the lack of any concrete physical evidence at all to link him to the vanishing, the charge was dropped just three days before the impending trial in order to avoid defying the law of “double jeopardy,” which forbids a suspect from being charged twice for the same crime, in this case meaning his release would allow authorities to later charge him with the more serious charge of murder in the event of a discovery of the body. It was thought that a trial for kidnapping at that time could not be won on such flimsy evidence and even if the body was not found, the child stealing charges could eventually be reinstated, although he would likely only get a maximum of 4 years for this lesser crime if they could even make it stick at all.
Since no body has ever been found, and indeed Bier has never been heard from again, and no real evidence other than suspicions exists to hold Welch, he remains a free man. As to the victim herself, there has been absolutely no sign of what has become of her, and oddly Welch has always maintained that she was really in fact kidnapped by a Sasquatch, which of all the wild stories and excuses he could attempt to weave seems like an odd choice at the very least. Indeed, his insistence on this outlandish tale has caused some people to wonder if there is any chance he could possibly be telling the truth. Welch must have known that not only would no one believe him, but that this far-out yarn would cause him to look even more suspicious, but he stuck to his surreal version of events anyway. Why would that be? He could have simply told police that Bier had wandered off hiking and never come back or that she had been injured, so why turn it into a bizarre tale of a Bigfoot abduction? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
There is also the fact that there are actually quite a few reports of people being allegedly kidnapped by Bigfoot, which I have covered here on mysterious Universe before. For instance there is the 1924 case of Albert Ostman, who claimed that he had been carried off by a Bigfoot as he slept, bundled up in his own sleeping bag. He would then say that he had been kept captive for nearly a week by a whole family of the creatures before managing to escape with his strange tale. In 1928 there was also the account of a Nootka Indian named Muchalat Harry, who also alleged that he had been dragged off and held captive by a group of the creatures before getting away while they were distracted. Both men would spend the remainder of their days terrified of going into the woods and fully insistent that their stories were true, and there are quite a few more such reports where these came from. Is there any chance at all that this could have been what happened to Bier?
Of course the most likely scenario is that she either got lost in the woods and perished or was the victim of foul play at the hands of Welch, but in either case it does seem quite unusual that he should so wholeheartedly take the Bigfoot angle in his defense in the aftermath. Perhaps he was so far gone into his obsession with Bigfoot that he sincerely believed the fantasy but it is hard to tell. No matter what the truth may be, it certainly seems that Welch knows what really happened to Bier, or at least more than we know, although whether we will ever really know what that may be is debatable.
The whole sordid mystery has raised all kinds of questions that do not seem to have been satisfactorily answered. Just what was the relationship between Welch and Bier, and why would he be allowed to go out camping alone with someone so much younger than himself in the first place? What exactly happened when they arrived? If Welch did not have anything to do with the vanishing then just what really did happen to the missing girl? Did she really vanish while they were separated hiking and if so did she yell out for help? Did she get lost or injured and he is hiding this information for some reason? If so, why? Did he kill her and if so why? Was she really abducted by Bigfoot, as crazy as that may seem? Why did he insist on that version of events? These seem to be questions whose answers we are doomed to never know. The only thing we know for sure is that Theresa Ann Bier went out into those rugged mountains and never came back, and the case remains unsolved.