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‘Sasquatch': How Childhood Trauma Turned David Holthouse Into a Hardened Murder Investigator

Holthouse’s story of surviving sexual assault, ”Stalking the Bogeyman,“ becam an off-Broadway play

Hulu’s three-part miniseries “Sasquatch” is streaming now, and it’s a wild ride, to put it lightly. The show follows an investigative journalist, David Holthouse, as he returns to northern California in search of leads that could solve a crime he heard of while he was working on a pot farm in the area back in 1993.

In the series, Holthouse tells viewers he was working on a grow-op in Mendocino County in the fall of 1993 when a guy burst into the farm’s cabin and started telling everyone he’d witnessed three mutilated bodies not far from the farm they were on. Holthouse recalls that, most bizarrely, the witness (who Holthouse later found out was strung out on meth) said that the three men were killed by Bigfoot. This information sticks in Holtouse’s mind for decades, until he decides to go back up to Mendocino and Humboldt Counties — known as the “Emerald Triangle” in the pot-growing world — to see what he can uncover about the crimes.

But who exactly is Holthouse, and why did he follow this one random ghost story so obsessively? The answer lies partly in his past, which is checkered with violence. (Trigger warner: descriptions of sexual violence ahead.)

As a seven-year-old, Holthouse was raped by a family friend’s son at knifepoint, an experience which he never forgot and detailed in his now-infamous story “Stalking the Bogeyman,” which was originally posted in the Colorado paper Westword. Almost three decades later, Holthouse wrote in his story that he planned to find and kill his rapist, even going as far as to buy an untraceable gun. The plans he made were foiled, though, when his mother found old journals detailing the rape and intervened. Later, Holthouse found out through authorities in his former home state of Alaska the man had raped other children, and published his name in a follow-up essay called, “Outing the Bogeyman.” The story was later picked up by NPR’s “This American Life” and made into an off-Broadway play of the same name.

Holthouse previously worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center helping research race crimes and now produces documentaries. His recent credits include Netflix’s “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer,” “Lorena,” “Declassified: The Untold Stories of American Spies” and “The Last Narc” for Amazon Prime.

Holthouse has said his experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder and tendencies to disassociate made it easy for him to become an undercover journalist and embed with people very different than himself. Throughout his career, he’s reported on and lived with Nazi skinheads and racist extremists in the U.S. military; spent 72 hours awake with meth addicts in Denver, and covered Burning Man in 1996. Branding himself as a Hunter S. Thompson protégé and self-described long form Gonzo journalist, Holthouse is comfortable with the off-beaten path that leads him to the craziest stories he can find.

“I can see a direct line between my being sexually assaulted at the age of seven and being a gonzo journalist who repeatedly put myself in dangerous situations during the course of reporting a story,” Holthouse told Westword. “The lesson you get by being raped before the age of ten is you’re not worth that much. It gets burned into your code. All through my twenties and well into my thirties, I really didn’t give a f— if I got killed while I was reporting a story.”

In a separate interview with Oxygen, Holthouse said disassociating to protect yourself from trauma is a reflex but it can also be used to a person’s advantage. In “Sasquatch,” Holthouse rubs elbows with plenty of unsavory characters, including a chapter of the Hells Angels, illegal pot growers and drug traffickers. Not to mention, most of his meetings took place high in the mountains of Mendocino County, which Holthouse reports has one of the highest rate of missing people in the country.

“Dissociation can be terrifying; it can just come out of nowhere but dissociation properly focused can be a superpower,” Holthouse said. “Like when you’re going undercover in a neo-Nazi gang or you’re embedded with a street gang or you’re like knocking around the Emerald Triangle asking questions about an unsolved homicide 25 years ago to people who may or may not have been involved in the murder themselves…. It gives you a little bit of a step back from the reality of the situation you put yourself in and take a step back from the fear and it can both simultaneously allow you to do it.”

“Sasquatch” began streaming on Hulu April 20. Check out a trailer below.