It may have a beautiful name, but the Emerald Triangle — the tri-county region in Northern California known for producing an abundance of weed — can, at times, be an unsettling place.
Away from the sparse mountain roads, the terrain is full of deep, dense forests — places where cell signals have no towers to reach and a person could easily get lost and never be found. That’s an early takeaway of Hulu’s new documentary series Sasquatch, which starts out as a Bigfoot murder mystery set among the fertile pot-growing grounds of Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt counties, and takes some frighteningly chilling turns along the way.
Director Joshua Rofé had recently finished docu-series Lorena (about Lorena Bobbitt on Amazon Prime) and had decided on his next topic when he reached out to gonzo journalist, producer and writer David Holthouse.
“I sent him a text. I prefaced it with, ‘This is going to be the craziest text I’m going to send you for the next five years. Want to find a murder mystery that’s somehow entwined with a Sasquatch story. And if, pursue it as the next project,'” Rofé recounted to SPIN. “And he wrote me back right away. He said, ‘I love it. I’ve got one. I’ll call you in five.'”
Holthouse’s story turned out to be jaw-dropping. In 1993, at the age of 23, he was working on a NorCal pot farm when late one night, a worker from a nearby farm came running over shaking and terrified and sharing a harrowing tale of having discovered a triple homicide. The worker had come upon a horrific scene: the dismembered bodies of three other weed-working farmhands. The worker decided this could only have been done by a Sasquatch.
It was a haunting memory Holthouse kept to himself, despite his eventual entry into journalism and documentary work. “He felt like he’d get laughed out of the room if he brought that to one of his editors. So he never did and that’s how that all started,” the director said.
On April 20, aka 4/20 — aka “Weed Day” — Hulu rolls out the three-part docuseries that starts with Holthouse recounting the murder-in-the-redwoods rumors — rumors he’s finally ready to get to the bottom of. What follows is an investigation that very quickly goes from a look into local Bigfoot lore and spirals into the area’s complicated history of the pot trade involving hippies, gangs, racism, and more allegations of murder. Vexing to say the least.
To look into alleged nearly 30-year-old crimes meant talking to all kinds of people from friendly small-time pot farmers, to a much more guarded group of folks unwilling to show their faces on camera. The latter insisted their voices be disguised on those rare opportunities they had weighed the risks and decided to share their stories. And as Holthouse, Rofé and their small crew found real leads that the alleged murders actually happened — and ones that veered away from a missing link in nature who lives in the forest as the suspect — the investigation got more dangerous.
“What I’ve been relaying when that question [about how dangerous the interviews were] comes up, is there was an overwhelming sense of not wanting to overstay our welcome wherever we went,” Rofé explained. “There’s an inherent conflict within that concept, which is, we understood that just by taking the first step and putting that foot down we were already overstaying our welcome because we were not welcome. And so, we were on edge the whole time and there were times that definitely felt dicey. But the most dangerous experiences were had by David when he was alone and when no camera could ever be present.”
Sources would change the location on Holthouse multiple times before their meeting, or he’d show up to a pre-arranged meeting place only for the source to suggest a three-hour drive, “in the middle of the night to somebody’s cabin in the middle of the woods, somewhere else in Northern California,” the director said.
It meant a lot of nights for Rofé staying up late worrying. “There were times where I felt really helpless, just waiting for that text ’til 3 a.m. to say, ‘I’m out. I’m good.'”
Turns out there are scarier things in the woods than Bigfoot, after all, and that is where viewers will find the heart of this three-part Sasquatch story.
“What I made clear is this is going to come down to something that is very simple — it is not the bogeyman in the woods, it is us, and it is the evil of human beings. That thru-line is where we’re going to land,” Rofé said. “I understood that to an extent early on — never so specifically — but there was enough that we had already found out through our research and phone calls that were being had. All that and certain meetings made that really clear to us… even though there was much to discover.”