Home Local News Cryptids, UFOs topics for 2nd annual EncounterQuest at Hamlet’s Cole Auditorium

Cryptids, UFOs topics for 2nd annual EncounterQuest at Hamlet’s Cole Auditorium

Shenandoah Squatch glides through the parking lot of Cole Auditorium during EncounterQuest on April 13. See more photos below. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — The second annual EncounterQuest brought hundreds of Bigfoot fans to Cole Auditorium April 13 to hear from cryptid connoisseurs.

Visitors came to Richmond County from across the state and other regions of the country for the conference that focuses on the unknown.

Rockingham Mayor John Hutchinson welcomed the crowd with information on a politician who was accused of being a werewolf by his opponents, as well as the santer — a large cat-like creature reportedly seen in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Hamlet and other areas along the Yadkin-Pee Dee and Cape Fear river basins.

Rockingham Mayor John Hutchinson welcomes the crowd to EncounterQuest.

Jay Wolber, co-host of the “Cryptids of the Corn” podcast, served as emcee along with Ohio researcher Jake Dressel. Justin England, the other host of the podcast, was unable to attend this year. Last year, Wolber and England spoke on giant centipedes.

Click here to read about the 2023 EncounterQuest.

On Friday evening, Wolber and Dressel led a workshop on how to make plaster casts of tracks prior to a meet-and-greet dinner with the speakers.

Click here to read about the workshop at Hinson Lake.

Prior to Saturday’s event, the city of Hamlet hosted the inaugural Cryptid Crawl 5K fun run.

Click here to see more on the Cryptid Crawl.

The first speaker to take the stage was retired Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich, a former Navy pilot who was involved in the “tic tac” UFO encounter in 2004.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich recalls her UFO experience as a Navy pilot in 2004.

Dietrich was commissioned as an officer in 2001 and was given her wings in 2003. She joined the squadron just three months prior to her only UFO experience, which was first reported in the New York Times in 2017. The incident was also covered by “60 Minutes” in 2018.

The former pilot said the UFO was called “tic tac” because that’s what it looked like: a smooth, cylindrical object with no wings or obvious cockpit.

In addition to its shape, Dietrich said the tic tac’s movements were also perplexing.

The object was estimated to be 40 feet long — about the same length as the fuselage of her fighter jet — and “turned on a dime” with rapid changes in altitude.

It “did not follow the rules that we knew and expected,” she said, adding that she thought, “It doesn’t make sense according to what I know.”

Dietrich said the object maneuvered mysteriously — and then it disappeared.

The experience, she said, sent her on an “emotional rollercoaster.”

Mike Feltner of the Ohio Night Stalkers talks about his experiences in squatching.

The Ohio Night Stalkers — Mike Miller and Mike Feltner — were the second speakers, discussing their Bigfoot hunting experiences in the Buckeye State.

The Mikes started their segment by playing audio clips from two nights when they were pelted with rocks. The encounter resulted in damage to both of their vehicles.

The Night Stalkers said their recording of howls from 2014 were analyzed and determined to be “no known animal.” One of the howls registered higher than a baboon on a spectrogram.

The hair stood up on Feltner’s arm as he recalled his sasquatch sighting.

During the lunch break, Shenandoah Squatch surfed around the parking lot on a one wheel — and played cowbell while another Bigfoot played banjo — as attendees sampled the food trucks and browsed the vendor booths outdoors and indoors.

Dr. Jeff Meldrum, professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at Idaho State University, spoke after lunch and is one of the few in academia who advocate the possible existence of relict hominids like Bigfoot.

Part of his talk included the social structures and physical aspects of other great apes like chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas.

Meldrum believes the best evidence for the existence of the sasquatch is the many footprints that have been cast since Jerry Crew found a 16-inch track in northern California in 1958.

The professor estimates the print was made by a creature weighing around 1,200 pounds and that “Patty” — the subject of the infamous and controversial 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film — weighed around 700 pounds.

Dr. Jeff Meldrum makes a case for the existence of sasquatch.

Models based on precipitation and geography show that the habitat in the U.S. for the sasquatch is similar to that of the black bear, Meldrum said. He also estimates, based on a formula using the number of black bears, that there could be 150 sasquatches in North Carolina.

According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, there have been 106 reported sightings in the Tar Heel State since the late ‘70s. Nearby Montgomery County has 15 listings, the most recent being from April 2021.

Many critics of the Bigfoot phenomenon argue that there can’t be an adequate breeding population, often saying that inbreeding would be likely and lead to genetic defects. However, Meldrum pointed out that mountain gorillas rebounded from low numbers with few harmful recessive genes.

Cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard took the conversation from the ground to the skies, with a presentation on thunderbirds.

Ken Gerhard discusses historical accounts of thunderbird sightings across the United States.

Thunderbirds, which are common among Native American legends, are described as large, dark-colored birds with hooked beaks and wingspans of 10-14 feet.


There have been more reports from Alaska than anywhere else in the U.S. over the past 20 years, one roughly the size of a small airplane, Gerhard said.

There have also been extensive reported sightings in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas.

In 2013, Gerhard was sent a still from dashcam video by a Texas deputy and he investigated a corroborating report a month later.

There have been historical reports in the U.S. and Switzerland of large birds swooping down and carrying people — usually — children away. One of the most-known stories in America is from Lawndale, Illinois, when a 10-year-old was reportedly carried 35 feet by a large bird.

Ken Gerhard tells the EncounterQuest crowd about numerous pterosaur sightings, including in North Carolina.

One of the original Mothman witnesses from the mid-60s flap around Point Pleasant, West Virginia, described seeing a giant bird, according to Gerhard.

It’s possible, Gerhard said, that the endangered California condor — the largest known bird in North America — could be a potential candidate for misidentification. However, he explained that those birds don’t have the claws to pick up animals or people.

Other possibly misidentified birds could include the golden eagle, heron and Sandhill crane.

The best candidate, Gerhad said, is the teratorn, a bird with a 12-foot wingspan believed to have gone extinct 10,000 years ago.

There have also been recent sightings of another extinct flying creature: the pterosaur.

A 2018 article in the Raleigh News & Observer mentioned there had been at least nine reports in North Carolina. Other states with nine or more sightings include Virginia, Georgia, Texas, California and Utah.

An EncounterQuest attendee from Raleigh recounts seeing a flying creature while driving near Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

During a question-and-answer panel at the end of EncounterQuest, one of the attendees described her encounter with a giant flying “thing” while driving from Raleigh to Cincinnati, Ohio. She soon realized that she was driving through Point Pleasant — home of the Mothman.

Lyle Blackburn brought the cryptid discussion closer to home.

The first creature on his list was the Beast of Bladenboro, a large cat that had been reportedly killing dogs in the small Bladen County town and draining them of their blood in the 1950s.

A large bobcat was eventually killed and declared the purported perp.

The second cryptid Blackburn discussed was the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp, which spawned a media frenzy near Bishopville, South Carolina, in the late ‘80s — and the subject of one of Blackburn’s books.

The Lizard Man has been described as a bipedal reptilian with scaly skin, long arms and three fingers with long claws.

Lyle Blackburn gives the background on two Carolina Cryptids: the Beast of Bladenboro and the Lizard Man of Bishopville, South Carolina.

Many of the anecdotal reports spanned from 1986-1988. In the latter year, Christopher Davis reportedly had a close encounter with the lizard-like humanoid while changing a tire the night of June 29.

The creature reportedly tried to grab Davis through the car window, jumped on top of the car and even chased it down the road.

The incident was investigated by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and tracks were reportedly found, but the bloodhounds couldn’t pick up a scent.

The Lizard Man was also reportedly seen crossing a runway by a local pilot.

Sightings continued in 1990 and Blackburn said there are other documented cases in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

The cryptozoologist suggested that the sightings could be mistaken Bigfoot encounters.

“I think you have some credible witnesses who saw something we can’t explain,” Blackburn said. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t see things. There are mysterious things out there.”