Bigfoot, Chupacabra, and … Fresno Nightcrawler? Walking pants bring Fresno freaky fame

Fresno has a lesser-known claim to supernatural fame: the Fresno Nightcrawler.

The mysterious being, or puppet, has reemerged in the imaginations of many this spooky season as Halloween approaches.

First spotted on video surveillance footage more than a decade ago by a Fresno resident, the Fresno Nightcrawler roughly resembles a pair of long white pants with a small head.

Some consider it an alien. Others, a fun urban legend and endearing addition to pop culture.

Whatever it is, while not as famous as other mysterious, debatable cryptids such as Bigfoot and Chupacabra, it’s amassed quite a following and growing fascination.

A search for Fresno Nightcrawler on YouTube produces a long list of videos that have been watched millions of times.

One video alone has more than 1.4 million views.

Paranormal investigator Victor Camacho analyzed the original surveillance footage shortly after it was captured in 2007 by a frightened Fresnan. Camacho said he was contacted after the man brought the footage from his front lawn in south Fresno to television network Univision, looking for answers.

The video became better known in 2010 after television show Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files included it in one of their episodes. The group determined the footage to be “unexplainable” after trying to recreate it with puppets and a child dressed in a white sheet.

The show called them nightcrawlers. That’s never made sense to a local expert on the matter, Michael Banti, founder of Weird Fresno, since the things don’t crawl, they walk.

The walking crawlers continue to be celebrated. Marketing of the mysteriousness has included nightcrawler pins and hand-sewn nightcrawler pillows, and there’s a steady stream of new nightcrawler artwork popping up on social media.

nightcrawler collage final.jpg
An assortment of Fresno Nightcrawler art posted on Twitter. Created by the following artists, top row, from left: @Purple_Wyrm, Kiernan Sjursen-Lien @zaken, and @Redurdletron. Middle row, from left: Beth Windle @WindleBeth, J. Lopez-C @Jonalope9889, and Brooke Hogpockets @hogpockets. Bottom row, from left: Such Plush Sew Wow @SuchPlushSewWow, Kali H. @_sinistar, and Ainsley Yeager @aainsleyyactual. Special to The Bee

The nightcrawlers are different from everything Banti and Camacho have seen before.

“There’s like a dictionary of different cryptids, or strange creatures — like there’s Bigfoot and the Chupacabra — there’s never been this before,” Banti said. “And no one has really been able to determine what it is.”

Michael Banti of Weird Fresno poses with a laptop displaying surveillance video captured by a Fresno homeowner years ago as Banti talks about the Fresno Nightcrawler in an interview at the Bee office Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

They remind Banti of “fairy people.” Camacho speculates nightcrawlers could be an “extraterrestrial insectoid,” approximately 3 feet tall and resembling a praying mantis.

Others see pants.

Fresno resident Matthew Jacobs weighed into a Fresno Nightcrawler discussion on Twitter by saying the elusive being is just a cloth puppet on a wire, “or maybe just a pair of pajama pants.”

Banti is undecided on the validity of the original surveillance footage — his gut telling him one thing, his head another — but said a couple popular videos circulated later appear to be fake.

Camacho believes the first video is real.

Camacho said the man who shared the video, and was only identified as Jose and has since died, was initially filmed talking about it without showing his face because he was so scared.

“He didn’t even want to go out of the house,” Camacho said. “He stayed home for a couple weeks … It wasn’t possible that someone tried to make this video just to fool you or the TV station.”

A screengrab from surveillance video shot years ago of a Fresno Nightcrawler in Fresno. HDO

Jacobs pointed to a video debunking the nightcrawler case before talking about its enduring awesomeness.

“I love a good urban legend, ghost story, or bit of lore just for the entertainment and elements of culture,” Jacobs wrote. “In some ways, it is pretty ‘Fresno’ that our local cryptid is a puppet made from pajama pants (and I don’t mean that to be insulting, just about how funny Fresno can be).”

There have been reports of possible sightings outside the area, one as far away as Poland, but Camacho and Banti are still waiting for another video like the first.

As for, “Why Fresno?” Banti joked with The Mad Scientist Podcast that it’s likely the city’s reputation for delicious tacos.

The men debunked a claim that nightcrawlers resemble beings from local Native American legend. That stems from photos shared of similar-looking wooden statues in an unknown location.

Camacho, also host of radio program “Los Desvelados” that airs nationally in the U.S. and Mexico, hopes people stay open-minded.

He presented his nightcrawler findings at a Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) conference shortly after his investigation.

Camacho left things open-ended.

“Could be extraterrestrial, could be elves, I don’t know,” he said at the end of his presentation. “Whatever you want to think.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge