Death by Chupacabra!

April 25, 2011

Airing on April 14, 2011, an episode of the popular forensic-based TV series Bones featured a skeptic who—on a search for the mythical chupacabra (or "goatsucker")—was found in the wilds of West Virginia apparently killed by one: his body punctured by fangs, drained of blood, and otherwise yielding traces of a "cryptid" (an unknown or hidden animal). A goat, tethered nearby and obviously intended as bait, was unharmed. As we learn more of the victim, we find he hosted a television show—Kill the Myth, that debunked pet psychics, crying statues, and, of course, cryptids.

In a bit of ironic mischief, the skeptic is named "Lee Coleman"—obviously after Loren Coleman, America's best-known cryptozoologist. Indeed, the episode does feature a cryptozoologist, who is a rival of Lee, named "Terry Bemis." As it happens, the skeptic was actually killed by a careless hunter, after which the "chupacabra" effects were hoaxed by the owner of a financially troubled lodge.

One wonders: Was the skeptic's character meant to suggest—as Rebecca Watson, Skepchick.org, insisted (at her excellent talk the following night at CFI headquarters)—yours truly? To make the case, one could cite my book, The Mystery Chronicles, with chapter titles bearing the words "pet psychics," "weeping icons," and "cryptids," notably, one titled "The ‘Goatsucker' Attack." The cover is dominated by the word Mystery and the image of a fiercely crouching chupacabra. Among other parallels, the book discusses a hoaxer who once used a goat as monster bait (p. 166) and my investigations into the West Virginia woodlands—looking there not for the chupacabra (which purportedly lives in Hispanic regions) but for the Flatwoods Monster and Mothman (pp. 93-99). (And while I do not have my own TV series, I have been on numerous shows such as Monster Quest and am host of a pilot for a series under consideration as of this writing.) The skeptic even dressed like me, wearing my signature black pullover and sport coat.

If these are merely a series of striking coincidences, and I am not the show's intended counterpart of Loren Coleman (who wrote a foreword to one of my books), then all the better: The skeptical character—who is said to have "made a career of making people look like fools"—does not represent my own motivation, which is not to ridicule but to solve mysteries and uphold science.

Overall, the Bones episode, "The Truth in the Myth," does show the solution of a mystery and, in so doing, the triumph of science over superstitious belief—like that concerning the mythical chupacabra. Thus, forensic techniques demonstrated that the "fang marks" had been simulated by a black bear tooth; trace "reptile scales" were derived from a Mexican spiny-tailed iguana; embedded, chupacabra-like "spiny bristles" came from a wild boar; and so on.

However, Bones missed one opportunity to clarify a forensic point. While the "goatsucker" gets its name from its reputed ability to drain its prey of blood, necropsies consistently show that dead animals supposed to have been killed by the vampiric monster were not drained of blood. While skeptical sources usually acknowledge this fact, less often reported is the explanation for the appearance of blood removal. As I note in the chapter on chupacabras in my book Tracking the Man-Beasts (Prometheus 2011), this is due to gravity causing the blood to drain downward and settle in the portions of the carcass nearest the ground (and so producing in corpses the discoloration known as postmortem lividity—see my Crime Science, co-author John F. Fischer, 1999, p. 249).

Comments:

#1 Arkaro on Monday May 09, 2011 at 7:19pm

I just caught the show and immediately thought of you too.. but my take on it was to dress it up like the way believers might see you - then follow through with the type of investigation that you actually do.

Brennan is goaded by Booth to not impulsively dismiss implausible claims.. Instead she does some research and submits to him an alternative and more plausible explanation. I admire the poetry of how the debunker becomes our dead token skeptic.. while the skeptical investigators live on to solve more cases.

Though I’m sure if they had actually consulted you, the livor mortis tip may at least have been mentioned… but possibly a little too on the nose even for investigators not directly familiar with chupacabra claims?

Also, the actual draining of blood by hanging from his ankles was both revealing and a clue to the hoax culprit. Believers pulling a hoax probably also would not have understood the distinction and set it up as an actual draining of blood.

On the SGU forums I further try to deconstruct the various dynamics of this episode:
http://sguforums.com/index.php/topic,34975.msg967307.html#msg967307

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.