Treadwell, girlfriend may have argued about dangers
By CRAIG MEDRED
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: March 28, 2004)
The mauling deaths of Californian Timothy Treadwell and girlfriend Amie Huguenard at Alaska's Kaflia Bay in October may have begun with something as simple as the celebrity bear-man leaving his lunch to shoo away a wandering grizzly.
After more than a decade of summers spent hanging out among the bears of the Katmai coast, Treadwell considered himself a friend and companion of these bears. But Alaska State Troopers and other people who have reviewed evidence gathered after the couple died believe Huguenard was becoming increasingly nervous about life among the bears.
Newly released reports from troopers hint the two may have been arguing about the danger.
Nearly 70 pages of troopers memos, on-the-scene reports from National Park Service rangers, property records and maps were obtained by the Daily News in response to several Freedom of Information Act requests over a span of almost six months.
The records confirm that Treadwell, 46, and Huguenard, 37, were attacked just after 1:45 in the afternoon on Oct. 5 -- not at night, as originally believed -- and shed new details on what the couple might have been doing before the attack. Among the many documents in the report is one detailing the small amount of food that had earlier been reported found in the couple's flattened but otherwise undamaged tent.
The food, according to the report, consisted of:
• A small Butterfinger candy bar.
• A bottle of juice.
• A "hot dog or bratwurst.''
Given that menu, the time of day and a pictureless videotape said to record the sounds of rain hammering the couple's tent just before the bear attack, John Hechtel, an authority on bears with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said it is reasonable to conclude the couple had ducked into their only shelter in the brushy but treeless landscape to escape the weather and enjoy lunch.
Then they either saw or heard a bear approaching their camp. A videotape containing the sounds of what happened next indicates Treadwell went out into the weather to confront the bear. Troopers reports indicate Treadwell was dressed for going outside, not spending the day lounging inside the tent. Over his normal clothing, he wore nylon overpants made by Patagonia, one of several companies that supported Treadwell's annual summer sojourns among the bears on the coast of Katmai National Park, and a "nylon-lined, polyester insulated'' shirt or jacket.
Friends of Treadwell say it was his norm to try to chase bears out of his camp. Many professional bear biologists say they have done likewise but add they would be reluctant to confront the sort of mature, 1,000-pound adult boar that Treadwell apparently met that day.
Big grizzly males -- animals accustomed to ruling the wilderness in which they live -- "make me a lot more nervous than any others,'' Hechtel said, echoing the words of just about every scientist who has worked around Alaska grizzlies. Even Treadwell, in his 1997 book "Among Grizzlies,'' admitted to the potential danger posed by these bears. He described a chilling encounter with one such bear in the alder thickets that surround Kaflia Lake.
"This was Demon, who some experts label the '25th Grizzly,' the one that tolerates no man or bear, the one that kills without bias,'' Treadwell wrote. "I had thought Demon was going to kill me in the Grizzly Maze.''
The Grizzly Maze is what Treadwell called the area around Kaflia Bay and two small lakes that drain into the bay. The lakes support a late run of salmon that attracts the bears and attracted Treadwell. He usually spent the month of September there. Last fall, he was staying unusually late in the maze with Huguenard, and the troopers report indicates that things were not going well between the couple.
"I read the last several entries of the journals" kept by Treadwell and Huguenard, trooper Chris Hill wrote in one report to superiors. "They did not indicate anything unusual other than some arguing amongst Treadwell and Huguenard. Excepts (sic) of the Huguenard's journey (sic) did indicate that she was more or less afraid of the bears.''
If Treadwell and Huguenard were arguing over the dangers presented by the bears at Kaflia, and if Huguenard was growing increasingly nervous about the bears, Treadwell might have had even more incentive than normal to drop his lunch and chase the day's intruder out of camp.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Larry Van Daele, who viewed some videotapes that Treadwell and Huguenard recorded before their deaths, said it was obvious the woman was uneasy about being in the maze.
One "video shows Ms. Huguenard within three meters (10 feet) of a sow with cubs as they fish,'' Van Daele said. "One of the cubs came even closer to her while (Treadwell) filmed. She seemed uncomfortable but did not move. Some journal entries suggest that she was not as comfortable with the situation as he was.''
Treadwell, Van Daele said, in one video described "his campsite as (in) a potentially dangerous location, but he expresses his confidence that he understands these bears and they will not harm him.''
The videotapes and journals themselves were not available to the Daily News. Troopers say they were turned over to the executor and sole beneficiary of Treadwell's will -- Jewel Palovak of Malibu, Calif. Palovak was the co-author of "Among Grizzlies'' and Treadwell's partner in a nonprofit organization called Grizzly People.
Grizzly People, according to its Web site, "is a grassroots organization devoted to preserving bears and their wilderness habitat. Our goal is to elevate the grizzly to the kindred state of the whale and dolphin through supportive education in the hopes that humans will learn to live in peace with the bear, wilderness and fellow humans."
The organization claimed all donations it collected were used to fund:
• Annual four-month expeditions to protect the bears and other wild animals of Alaska.
• Photographic wildlife studies.
• Educational wildlife videos.
• Educational campaign in North American schools.
• Sharing of Grizzly People's photographs with other preservation organizations.
All of those activities were conducted by Treadwell, but usually in close communication with Palovak. In fact, only seven hours after troopers and park rangers had first gone to investigate a possible bear attack at Kaflia Bay -- more than 24 hours before the attacks would become public knowledge -- Palovak was on the phone to troopers in Kodiak trying to confirm a report from local air-taxi operator Dean Andrew that Treadwell might have been killed by a bear, according to troopers reports.
According to a memo from Hill, she offered help in contacting Treadwell's parents, volunteering that he "was estranged from his family so he didn't talk with them often." And she noted she had "power of attorney for Treadwell and would like to receive his belongings, to include his journals.''
Within days, Palovak also had a Los Angeles legal firm asking Alaska officials that "to protect the interest of the family of the decedent, we request that you refrain from further public dissemination of private information and materials, including, without limitation, the content of audiovisual tapes.''
Shortly after getting that letter, troopers imposed an information blackout. When the Park Service convened a Technical Board of Investigation in December to try to determine what had transpired to lead to the two deaths at Kaflia Bay two months earlier, it still couldn't obtain any information from troopers. It wasn't until after the board had completed its initial report, based on the assumption the attack happened in camp at night, that it learned troopers had known for some time that the attack actually came at midday.
According to the documents obtained by the Daily News, trooper Sgt. Maurice I. Hughes Jr. on Oct. 9 -- three days after Treadwell was discovered dead -- talked to a friend of the author and filmmaker in Malibu who explained how to retrieve the date-time stamp in Treadwell's digital video camera. Hughes said he subsequently discovered that the tape of Treadwell and Huguenard being mauled ran from 4:47:23 p.m. to 4:53:44 p.m. -- a span of 6 minutes, 21 seconds -- but that the camera was set to record the time for a time zone three hours ahead of Alaska.
Troopers knew then that the attack had occurred from 1:47 to 1:53 p.m. Alaska time on Oct. 5, but they were publicly saying there was no date-time stamp on the video. Not only in Alaska, but nationally and internationally, that led to widespread speculation that Treadwell and Huguenard had been attacked by a marauding grizzly at night.
The troopers reports shed no new light on what was on that pictureless videotape. Van Daele and others who have heard the audio have said there are the sounds of heavy rain, shouts from Huguenard to Treadwell to "play dead,'' pleas from Treadwell to Huguenard for help, including his request she hit the bear with a pan, and lastly Huguenard wailing.
There had been speculation that Treadwell, who often wore a microphone to record sounds when getting close to bears, might have been "miked up" when the attack started, but the new troopers documents indicate that was unlikely. An evidence report says his remote microphone was found in the same protective box with the camera inside the tent where he and Huguenard had apparently been lunching.
The reports do, however, suggest a new reason Treadwell might have gone back to the Grizzly Maze at a time when he was normally gone from there. Palovak told troopers, according to the reports, that Treadwell "was originally gonna do a driving trip to Denali Park for some different photo footage. (But) he was worried that one of his favorite bears wasn't sighted on an earlier trip to Kaflia and (he) wanted to go back.''
Hughes reported finding information in Treadwell's journals that put a different spin on things.
"It appeared Treadwell returned to Kaflia Bay because he realized that was where he wanted to be,'' Hughes said. "He canceled a driving trip around Alaska with Huguenard because he became angry with an airline employee about the cost of a change fee for their flight from Kodiak.''
Biologists and bear-viewing guides who knew Treadwell and watched his behavior along the Katmai coast for years said such an action is not out of character. Treadwell, said U.S. Geological Survey bear researcher Tom Smith, often displayed strange behaviors, sometimes fleeing at the site of other people, sometimes confronting them.
Treadwell sometimes liked to brag about how he protected bears at Kaflia by confronting poachers, though no evidence has surfaced that such confrontations took place or even that there were any poachers operating in the area. Park Service officials have no reports of poaching problems and add that it is hard to believe poachers would try to operate in one of the state's most heavily visited bear-viewing areas. Thousands of people now go to view the Katmai bears every summer, and the air-taxi companies that have made a big business of bear viewing are highly protective of the animals.
Still, Treadwell had told enough tales of poachers to California audiences that Hill, according to one of his reports, "received a telephone call from Rosemary White with the Sierra Club. She expressed her insight of the events regarding Treadwell's death being most likely committed by a hunter, due to Treadwell's past reports of having run-ins with poachers and Treadwell's acceptance by the bear population.''
An autopsy later confirmed both Treadwell and Huguenard had been killed by a bear. Troopers and park rangers who investigated the deaths of Treadwell and Huguenard believe they killed that bear -- a 1,000-pound male -- after it threatened them. The air-taxi pilot who'd first reported problems at Kaflia said the dead bear appeared to be the same one he saw sitting on a food cache from which some of Treadwell's remains were recovered. More of Treadwell's body, along with some of his clothing, was found in the bear when Van Daele performed a necropsy to see if there was anything wrong with the animal.
"We know we got one right bear, or there's very strong evidence of that,'' said acting medical examiner Franc Fallico. Fallico noted, however, that it would have been impossible to specifically match bite marks from the bear with the remains because of the damage done by the animal trying to eat the people.
Other than being 28 years old -- old for a grizzly -- and having bad teeth, Van Daele said the animal appeared to be in good condition. It was a little lean, he said, but nowhere near what might be considered starving. Why it decided to attack, kill and then partially consume two people is clearly never going to known, Hechtel said.
The bear's behavior will forever remain almost as much of a mystery as Timothy Dexter, the man who became Treadwell.
Hill said his father, Valentine Dexter, "informed me that Treadwell had actually changed his last name from Dexter to Treadwell, a stage name he had used while pursuing an entertainment career.''
Treadwell never made the big time in Hollywood. But he wrote a book, made the "The Late Show With David Letterman," starred in a couple movies about bears, put on his one-man shows for schoolchildren and environmentalists and acted as an adviser to the Disney Co. on the animated feature film "Brother Bear.''
"Brother Bear" opened three weeks after Treadwell's death, and quickly faded.
The legend of Timothy Treadwell, however, remains.
Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.