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Image: Molly Dean

Around 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2014, while driving home from Sarasota along State Road 72, an Arcadia woman saw something strange. “I thought I saw a deer to my right,” she later wrote, “but then I realized it wasn’t a deer.”

She hit the brakes as a huge creature leaped across the street in two bounds less than 15 feet in front of her. The beast had long, shaggy, dark hair and a tan, leathery face. Its shoulders were as wide as a Dodge. The woman knew immediately what she had seen and knew immediately whom to call: the Florida Bigfoot Researchers Organization.

Investigator Re Monteith met with the woman days later. They went over additional details and revisited the location of the sighting. The Arcadia woman, who didn’t think Bigfoot was real before that night, was now a believer. For her, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience; for Monteith, it was just another day spent hunting for signs of the beast.

Monteith’s fascination with Bigfoot developed early. When she was a youngster in Fort Lauderdale, she and her father devoured news reports about Skunk Ape sightings. Bigfoot aficionados consider Bigfoot and similar creatures like the Skunk Ape, the Yeti and the Momo to be closely related and maybe the same species. “It fascinated me and also scared me to death,” says Monteith, now 51. “We were very close to some of these sightings.”

Monteith became an avid outdoor explorer, climbing mountains and backpacking around the world. Ten years ago, she had her own Bigfoot experience. While hiking in North Florida, she saw something moving behind a tree. “You could see the head and the shoulders and even the arm wrapped around the tree,” Monteith says. “It was 8 feet tall—not a person, but human-like, and not a bear.”

 Monteith, who lives in Lutz and works for a securities company, says, “Even to this day, I tend not to talk about it unless asked. Some people would say, ‘She’s crazy.’” Meeting witnesses and reassuring them that they’re not alone is a big part of her work as an investigator.

The Bigfoot Researchers Organization was founded in 1995 and is now best known for its connection to Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot. Monteith is one of eight investigators around Florida. She’s handled many sightings in Southwest Florida; Myakka River State Park is a hotspot. The volume of sightings dips during the hot months of summer, when fewer hikers and hunters are exploring Florida’s woods, and spikes during cool months. The organization posts anonymous reports, as well as the results of its investigations, on its website. The website details eight reported sightings in Sarasota County.

Monteith takes her Bigfoot work seriously, but she says hiking through the woods, hunting for tracks and other signs of the creature is just plain fun, too—the culmination of a lifetime of interest in the legendary creature. “I was just always curious about it,” she says. “I would listen, I would read, and lo and behold, look what happens.”

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