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David Paulides is a former police officer who is now an investigator and writer known primarily for his self-published books, one dedicated to proving the reality of Bigfoot, and his Missing 411 series of books, in which he documents the disappearance of people in national parks and elsewhere. Paulides attributes mysterious, unspecified causes to these disappearances, while data analysis suggests that these disappearances are not statistically mysterious or unexpected.
Early life and career
In his online biography page, Paulides states that he received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of San Francisco, and in 1977 he began a 20-year career in law enforcement, transferring in 1980 to the San Jose Police Department, working in the patrol division on the SWAT Team, patrol, and Street Crimes Unit, and a variety of assignments in the detective division.
Reporter Sarah Emerson, attempted to verify the details of Paulides’ law enforcement and investigative background, but was unable to do so. While working as a court liaison officer in December 1996, Paulides was charged with a misdemeanor count of falsely soliciting for a charity, and was subsequently removed from his position with the San Jose police.
In 2011, Paulides received approval for a deferred vesting status totalling 16.5 years of service for his time with the San Jose Police Department.
After leaving the police force, Paulides wrote books on the topic of Bigfoot, as well as on the disappearances of people in national parks and elsewhere which he attributes to unspecified, unknown causes.
Bigfoot or Sasquatch
Paulides has said North America Bigfoot Search was instrumental in the genesis of a paper published in 2013, which claimed that Bigfoot was real: "The world needs to understand that North America Bigfoot Search was the organizer of the study. We orchestrated the search that led to picking Dr. Ketchum to conduct a study of bigfoot DNA." The resulting paper documented the analysis of 111 samples of hypothesized Bigfoot DNA and was written by 11 different authors. On November 24, 2012, DNA Diagnostics, a veterinary laboratory headed by Ketchum, issued a press release prior to peer review claiming that their DNA sequencing study confirmed the existence of a hominin hybrid cross between modern humans with an unknown primate. Shortly after publication two months later in the inaugural issue of DeNovo: Journal of Science, the paper was analyzed by Sharon Hill of Doubtful News for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Hill's report concluded that the paper was of poor quality, stating that "The few experienced geneticists who viewed the paper reported a dismal opinion of it, noting it made little sense."
The Scientist magazine also analyzed the paper, reporting that the analyses and data fail to support the claims of existence of a human-primate hybrid, but rather, "analyses either come back as 100 percent human, or fail in ways that suggest technical artifacts." The website for the DeNovo Journal of Science was set up on February 4, and there is no indication that Ketchum's work, the only study it has published, was peer reviewed. The paper failed to influence the scientific consensus that Bigfoot is a combination of folklore, hoax, and misidentification of animals, particularly black bears.
Following his work on Bigfoot, Paulides' next project was Missing 411, a series of self-published books and two documentary films, documenting unsolved cases of people who have gone missing in national parks and elsewhere.
According to Paulides, his work on this subject began when he was doing research in a national park and an off-duty park ranger found him and expressed concern about the questionable nature of some of the missing person cases which occurred in the parks. The ranger knew Paulides' background and asked him to research the issue. Paulides obliged, and asserts that he uncovered multiple lines of evidence suggesting negligence on the part of the park service in failing to locate the missing people. He broadened his investigation to include missing people from across the world, and this led to his belief that he has uncovered a mysterious series of worldwide disappearances, which he said defied logical and conventional explanations.
As of August 2021, Paulides has written at least ten books on this topic. According to A Sobering Coincidence, he does not yet have a theory on what is causing the disappearances, although he indicates that the "field of suspects is narrowing." Paulides advised his readers to go outside of their normal comfort zone to determine who (or what) is the culprit.
Paulides books publicized the fact that the US National Park Service does not keep an independent list of people that go missing in their parks. While there is a database for incident and criminal reports, it is not widely or consistently used and it doesn't interface with other criminal databases. In response, a petition was created to make the department accountable.
The interest in the book series prompted the creation of a documentary film based on the Missing 411 books; this film was released in 2017. Images of maps made by Paulides regarding his theory have been frequently shared on social media. The theory has also gone viral on TikTok.
Kyle Polich, a data scientist and host of the Data Skeptic podcast, documented his analysis of Paulides' claims in the article "Missing411" and presented his analysis to a SkeptiCamp held in 2017 by the Monterey County Skeptics. He concluded that the allegedly unusual disappearances represent nothing unusual at all, and are instead best explained by non-mysterious causes such as falling or sudden health crises leading to a lone person becoming immobilized off-trail, drowning, bear (or other animal) attack, environmental exposure, or even deliberate disappearance. After analyzing the missing person data, Polich concluded that these cases are not "outside the frequency that one would expect, or that there is anything unexplainable that I was able to identify." This presentation was discussed in a February 2017 article in Skeptical Inquirer, a publication of the CSI. In the article, Susan Gerbic reported "Paulides... gave no reason for these disappearances but finds odd correlations for them. For example, two women missing in different years both had names starting with an 'A' with three-letters, Amy and Ann." Polich concluded in his analysis: "I've exhausted my exploration for anything genuinely unusual. After careful review, to me, not a single case stands out nor do the frequencies involved seem outside of expectations."
In August 2021, science communicator Brian Dunning released a Skeptoid episode which examined the Missing 411 claims, summarizing the analysis done on the subject by both Kyle Polich, and Madilyn Oster of Seattle University's Department of Criminal Justice. In the report, Dunning states that "researchers have pointed out that many aspects of the cases have explanations that are well known, just apparently not to Paulides." He points out that Oster's paper disproves Paulides' own conclusions, using the information presented in his own research:
...looking at 243 different cases, all of which come from a wide range of decades and scenarios, it becomes very clear that a lot of his claims are incorrect. Though not much can be said in the way of Germanic surnames or wearing red, what's most common is that middle aged caucasian men go missing. Out of the 243 cases observed in this instance, 189 were male, 132 were between ages 20 and 59, and 220 were caucasian. Over and over again, these men were allegedly experienced hikers, had some form of pre-existing health issue (or were of the age where underlying health issues become problematic), or were actively engaging in dangerous trails. The polar opposite of what Paulides claims.
Dunning reported that Polich had confirmed the FOIA requests by Paulides were actually made, and that at least some were denied, but he wrote that while Paulides asserts a coverup conspiracy, a review of what data the National Park Service actually has suggests a more mundane explanation: they simply don't have such information to provide. Dunning concluded that,
...the Missing 411 non-mystery is a virtual clone of the Bermuda Triangle non-mystery... Paulides cites missing persons reports from national parks, and not even he asserts they are at an unexpected rate; and though a few are never found, the majority all have one of the usual explanations. The Bermuda Triangle would be unknown if it were not for the efforts of a few imaginative authors who cited actual disappearances, and then made all sorts of insinuations of mysterious conditions and inexplicable circumstances, cloaking ordinary but tragic events with an air of mystery. Missing persons in national parks would never have received any undue attention had not David Paulides done exactly the same thing, taking ordinary but tragic events, and making all sorts of insinuations about them to weave an air of undeserved mystery. And that's where I think the Missing 411 fictional universe should be left; some ordinary events, made interesting only by one author's layer of false intrigue.
Missing 411 series
- Missing 411 — Eastern United States: Unexplained Disappearances of North Americans That Have Never Been Solved (2012)
- Missing 411 — Western United States & Canada: Unexplained Disappearances of North Americans that have never been solved (2012)
- Missing 411 — North America and Beyond (2013)
- Missing 411 — The Devil's in the Details (2014)
- Missing 411 — A Sobering Coincidence (2015)
- Missing 411 — Hunters (2016)
- Missing 411 — Off the Grid (2017)
- Missing 411 — Law (2018)
- Missing 411 — Canada (2019)
- Missing 411 — Montana (2020)
- Missing 411 (2017)
- Missing 411: The Hunted (2019)
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- David Paulides at IMDb