|This case has remained unsolved for 36 years, 6 months, and 6 days.|
Theresa Bier had already had a tough life by the time she was 16 years old in 1987. She was taken from her biological parents by social services and then was in several different households before she ended up in her uncle’s home in Fresno, CA.
When an older neighbor, Russell Welch, offered to take Theresa camping to search for Bigfoot, she was allowed to go with him. They went camping and she never returned. Welch had many stories for authorities about what had happened to Theresa, ultimately landing on the claim that Bigfoot took her.
Although Welch was arrested at one point, he was later released. Nothing of Theresa has ever been found and no one has been held accountable for her disappearance, even over 30 years later. The main question still remains: what happened to Theresa Bier?
Note About This Case
Because the case took place so long ago, it’s hard to find any primary or secondary sources. There are some sites and pages dedicated to Theresa Bier’s case, but they don’t include links to sources. I did my best to vet the information and mainly included sources that are verifiable. However, there may be some incorrect or incomplete information.
About Theresa Bier
Theresa Ann Bier was born on April 16, 1971 to parents Shirley and David Bier. Her life was not a good one. Theresa was reportedly taken from her parents at a young age by social services due to abuse, and she was placed in the foster care system along with her sister.
A few years later, David Bier (then-divorced from Shirley) filed for custody of Theresa. His new wife, Margie Richmond, was also reportedly abusive toward Theresa.
Eventually, Theresa ended up in her uncle’s custody in Fresno, CA. However, things weren’t any better for her there as the uncle and his friends reportedly sexually abused her and forced her to miss school to babysit other children.
A Bit of a Slow Learner
At 16 years old and when the events of this case took place, Theresa was said to be a “slow learner” and “immature,” which is very possible given all the trauma she’d allegedly endured. She was said to have protruding upper teeth and was slight in build at 5’5 and 110 lbs.
I wish there was more that could be said about Theresa — about her likes and dislikes, about what her dreams and goals were, but unfortunately that information seems to be lost to time, like so many missing and abused children. Everyone failed her, from her parents to the foster system to her extended family, and no one protected her. Ultimately, she ended up missing (and likely deceased) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The Day of the Disappearance
From what I can gather about the case, Russell “Skip” Welch (43) was a neighbor of the Biers in Fresno, CA. He was a self-proclaimed Bigfoot expert and was intent on finding some evidence of the creature out in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He was a house painter who mostly lived off of disability checks and was allegedly a meth addict as well.
At some point, Welch asked if he could take Theresa Beir out camping to search for the legendary Bigfoot or Sasquatch creature. For whatever reason, Theresa’s uncle apparently agreed to allow his 16-year-old niece to go camping with a meth-addicted man more than twice her age. Then again, given the allegations of sexual abuse against the uncle, he probably knew the dangers and didn’t care about Theresa’s safety.
It was the morning of June 1, 1987 when Welch picked up Theresa, although he reportedly told the uncle that he was dropping her off at school. Instead of taking her to school though, the two headed to Shuteye Peak, an area about 25 miles north of Bass Lake, to ostensibly search for the legendary Bigfoot.
Later that morning, Theresa’s uncle got a call from Central High School to report that Theresa hadn’t made it to school that day. It’s not clear whether Welch lied about when he planned on going camping with Theresa or if the uncle misunderstood when Theresa would be gone. Regardless, Theresa’s uncle contacted authorities to report his niece missing at 9:30 PM that night.
Return to Fresno
When Welch returned to Fresno some days later, Theresa was gone. There was no sign of the 16-year-old and Welch was hard to locate for about a week. Eventually, authorities caught up with him, but answers to where Theresa was remained elusive.
Fresno Police spoke to Welch’s friends and family to try to figure out what had happened to Theresa. Welch’s daughter said she’d seen her father and a young girl, likely Theresa, on June 1 before they’d headed off to go camping. Another friend of Welch’s said that Welch told her that Theresa had been taken by a satanic group and was being held in the Sierra Nevadas.
On June 5, Welch’s brown Monte Carlo was spotted and law enforcement went to speak with him, asking about Theresa’s whereabouts. Welch was arrested on a previous drunk-driving violation and brought in for questioning.
Police Interview Welch
Initially, Welch told law enforcement that he’d dropped Theresa off at school on June 1. However, they knew this wasn’t true because the high school had contacted Theresa’s uncle on the morning of June 1 to report her absence. Welch then claimed that they had in fact gone camping and that Theresa had run off into the woods with another young woman, which then changed again and he said she’d gone with some other campers.
Eventually, Welch claimed that Bigfoot had taken Theresa. He agreed to take authorities to the spot where the supposed “abduction” had occurred. When law enforcement arrived at the site, there was no evidence that anything had happened there — no clothes, no prints, no blood. Searches were carried out in the area of Shuteye Peak and nothing was found.
Welch also showed authorities the campsite where he and Theresa had been. There was a large burned area about 3.5 feet wide and 8 feet long. Some blankets were hung up in an odd formation, and there was a purse, an off-white bra, a T-shirt, and a camera. The camera had some pictures of Welch playing guitar by one of the blankets that was hung up along with some pictures of Theresa.
Ultimately, the campsite that Welch took authorities to turned out to be a staged one. The real campsite was thought to be some 20 miles away near an area called Ghost Canyon. That area was searched and law enforcement found a blue shirt belonging to Welch that had meth in a pocket.
Welch Arrested, Then Released
Later that June, Welch was arrested and charged with child-stealing, a crime that is similar to kidnapping, along with child endangerment. Although he was originally released on his own recognizance, he was re-arrested later with a higher bail.
Later that year in September 1987, three days before he was set to go to trial, Welch was released from prison because authorities didn’t think they had not have enough evidence to get a conviction at that point in time. This is common for authorities and law enforcement because of the “double jeopardy” clause in the 5th Amendment in the Constitution: “No person shall… be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” That is, you can’t be tried twice for the same crime.
If authorities went to court on murder charges and were unable to prove their case in front of a jury, there’s a chance Welch could have been acquitted. And, even if more evidence came to light later (like if Theresa’s body was located), Welch would not be able to be tried again for the same crime.
Remember that Welch was arrested on child-stealing charges (the language that was used in the 80s for kidnapping). It’s possible that authorities could have tried him in court for child-stealing and, even if he was acquitted, he could have been later tried for Theresa’s murder — but only if her body was ever located and there was evidence pointing to Welch being the perpetrator.
And That’s It
Welch, nor anyone else, was ever tried for Theresa’s disappearance. She has never been seen again, nor have her remains been located. Most seem to agree that she is likely deceased, regardless of which theory you adhere to.
Theories on What Happened
Like so many old and unsolved cases, the case of Theresa Bier has a lot of interesting and bizarre theories. The main issue with this case is that there is no crime scene, no body, no evidence pointing to the fact that anything happened at all.
Bigfoot Took Theresa
Usually, I don’t like to address wild or crazy theories in cases, but for the sake of dispelling this rumor, I’ll examine the Bigfoot theory a bit more closely. I know a lot of people believe in Bigfoot and this is not a debate about whether the creature exists or not — only whether such a creature might’ve taken Theresa.
First off, there is no evidence that any Bigfoot creature took Theresa. Authorities searched the area where Welch said the abduction took place and they didn’t find any evidence that suggests that either Theresa or Bigfoot was there. Shouldn’t there have been at least something pointing to the creature’s presence like hair or tracks? Or perhaps some evidence that Theresa had been there, like blood or clothes. And yet, nothing was found.
Now, there are other disappearances in this area over the past century or so that some have suggested are due to Bigfoot encounters. However, I think most of these can be explained as deaths by exposure to the elements.
- Richard McPherson (10) was a forest service ranger’s son who went missing in 1934 near Shuteye Peak after going fishing with his cousins. He was found a few days later with his clothes partially removed, likely due to hypothermia. (In the later stages of hypothermia, a victim can paradoxically feel too warm and try to remove their clothes.)
- Doug Pearce (86), a retired nuclear engineer, went missing in April 2005 after going camping near Shuteye Peak. According to his friends, he was in decent shape mentally and physically. Eventually, his car was located later, but he has never been seen again, nor has any trace of him been found.
- James Arthur (67) was a photographer who went missing in 2008 after trekking in the Sierra Nevadas near Shuteye Peak. Despite being older at age 67, he was a retired military man with extensive survival skills and was in excellent shape. Although his vehicle was found, he has never been located.
McPherson almost certainly died to the elements based on how his body was found. The other two likely died to exposure as well, given their ages and the fact that they’ve never been seen again. A slip or fall could leave someone injured and unable to contact others for help, especially in Pearce’s case.
Forest and woodland disappearances are not that uncommon, especially in National Parks. In 2017, there were 3,453 search and rescue missions and 182 deaths in America’s National Parks. The author of the Missing 411 books, a book series about missing persons in national parks, estimates that there are over 1,600 unexplained disappearances in these areas.
Ultimately, people can and do go missing in national parks and other wooded areas all the time. I understand why some people want to point to some supernatural being like Bigfoot as the reason people go missing, but it’s more plausible that the majority of these missing people that died got lost or got injured and then succumbed to the elements.
Welch Killed Theresa
Perhaps the most obvious theory is that Welch killed Theresa. He was an alleged meth addict (and meth was found in one of his shirts at the campsite). It’s entirely likely he got high and did something to Theresa, or perhaps had even planned to do something to her before leaving for the Sierra Nevadas.
The fact that Welch changed his story so many times too also points to him being untruthful. First, he’d dropped Theresa off at school on the day she went missing. Then, it was that Theresa did go camping with him, but she ran away from him. Next, it was that she went off with some other campers. Finally, Welch claimed that it was actually Bigfoot who took her (which there was no evidence of). If that was the truth, why didn’t he just say that at the start? Was he afraid people wouldn’t believe him? Or was he lying and trying to cover his tracks?
Additionally, if Bigfoot took Theresa, why did Welch dig a burn pit near his campsite? And why was a bra found at the site? Was it Theresa’s bra? There are a lot of circumstances in this story that suggest Welch, not Bigfoot, was responsible for Theresa’s disappearance and likely death.
Speed Freak Killers Killed Theresa
The Speed Freak Killers were two men, Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine, who killed a number of people in California in the 80s and 90s. It’s thought that they may have murdered up to 72 people in total, mostly while being high on methamphetamines (hence the name Speed Freak Killers).
Some people have suggested that Theresa was perhaps another victim of these killers. After all, they operated in the same general area that she went missing and they had targeted other young girls as their victims.
At some point after their arrest, Shermatine revealed the location of their “bone yard” — an area where they buried many of their victims. The multitude of bones found there were examined and sent for DNA testing, but none matched Theresa. Not all of the bones have been identified to victims, however.
If the Speed Freak Killers are the ones who killed Theresa though, why didn’t Welch say that he saw two men with her? Or that he met two men while they were out in the wilderness and they were the ones behind Theresa’s disappearance? And why would the Speed Freak Killers have left Welch alive as an eyewitness? Although I think it’s possible that the Speed Freak Killers might’ve killed Theresa, it’s not at all probable.
What Do I Think Happened?
This case is an old and odd one, especially since there is a supposedly supernatural explanation for a young girl’s disappearance. It’s especially bizarre because it’s hard to find verifiable information from over 30 years ago.
Welch Likely Killed Theresa
I’m usually one to go with the simplest explanation of events and it’s no different in this case: I think it’s likely that Welch killed Theresa, then lied to cover his tracks. Between being an alleged meth addict and authorities finding meth in one of Welch’s shirts, it’s reasonable to believe that Welch got high and did something to Theresa during the camping trip.
The fact that Theresa’s upbringing was so horrible probably played into her untimely disappearance. If she had people who actually cared about her, they wouldn’t have let a 16-year-old girl go camping with a 43-year-old man. Even for the 80s, that doesn’t make much sense. Yes, I know it was a “different time” and people were “more trusting,” but I still find the situation bizarre and suspicious.
Unfortunately, even if we found evidence tomorrow pointing to Welch’s guilt, he’ll never be brought to justice because he died in 1998 due to coronary artery disease.
Bigfoot Perpetrator Unlikely
Even if we assume that it was a Bigfoot or family of Bigfoots that killed Theresa, there’s no evidence to support that theory: no footprints, no blood, no hair, nothing. I’m sure there are many cases where an unexplained disappearance could possibly be attributed to something supernatural; this is not one of them.
Unless we happen to find either Theresa’s remains or Theresa herself, I doubt this case will ever be solved definitively. Regardless, Theresa deserves justice, and if anyone out there knows anything, they should report it to the relevant authorities. It’s been over 30 years; it’s time for answers.
Unfortunately, updates in this case are few and far between despite the case being so old.
May 2020: Book Released
A book called Meth, Murder and Bigfoot: A California Crime Saga was released by author Jay O’Connell. The book offers a deep dive into the case and uses primary sources for information.
Do You Have Information?
Theresa Bier was last seen near Shuteye Peak in Madera County, CA. At the time of her disappearance, she was approximately 5’5 and weighed around 110 lbs. She has brown hair and hazel eyes, along with a surgical scar on her lower right leg. If you have information, please contact the Fresno Police Department at (559) 621–2541.
Cold Case Questions
- What do you think really happened to Theresa Bier?
- Do you think there is a supernatural explanation for Bier’s disappearance?
- Will this case ever be solved?
Let me know what you think about this case in the comments below!
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