First, the homicide detectives were called off. Now, the trail has gone cold for those hunting Sasquatch in Spotsylvania County.
It turns out the severed foot found in a Spotsylvania dump Feb. 10, which spawned a homicide investigation and then wild theories involving the supernatural, belonged neither to a human nor an "apelike" creature.
The hairless, five-toed, eight-inch appendage that seemed to be a tantalizing clue to something -- Bigfoot, perhaps? -- was, scientists concluded, a bear's skinned hind paw.
Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard Smith said yesterday that he figures that someone out there has a nice, warm bearskin rug. "We're not dealing with a homicide. That's what I'm thankful for," Smith said.
After workers at the Livingston Landfill found the cleanly sawed-off foot, authorities feared a terrible crime had been committed. They spent the next day sifting through 127 tons of trash in a search for more body parts. When an X-ray revealed that the appendage wasn't human, the law enforcement probe ended. But fascination grew. Web sites devoted to Bigfoot or the supernatural posted images of the foot.
Virginia scientists, with the help of an anthropologist, finally solved the puzzle. Authorities said the foot will be kept by the state and used for training.
William Dranginis, who started the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization and who says he spotted a Bigfoot in 1995, is accustomed to having his hopes dashed as he searches for the creatures. He suggested from the beginning that the foot belonged to a bear.
"Bigfoot researchers deal with things like this all the time," Dranginis wrote in an e-mail. "You never know when tangible evidence from a Bigfoot creature will surface. . . . I know these creatures exist, so last week's roller coaster ride was just a small bump in the long road ahead."
Mark Fonseca of Blackbear Taxidermy in Millford, Va., wasn't surprised by the confusion. These days, he is preparing a bearskin rug and trophies of three other bears.
"A bear's foot can look close to a human foot until you get to the toes," he said. "If you're going to do a rug or a mounting, you have to skin the whole thing so you skin the feet. The claws stay with the skin."
Fonseca has another project in the works that might be of note to Bigfoot watchers on local highways. He is using fake fur and a mannequin to make a gorilla-like creation for a customer who plans to carry it in the passenger seat of his jeep.