Timothy Treadwell, the Grizzly Man who spent 13 summers living with the bears, was part activist, part actor, and mostly mystery. His dreams of Hollywood stardom never panned out, but you could argue that his life story is something straight out of a movie. Actually, he's been the subject of a few documentaries, the most famous being Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man.
Treadwell's personal life was almost as much of a spectacle as his life onscreen. Once a record-setting underwater diver, he reinvented himself many times. Along the way, he picked up some alter egos, including that of an Englishman raised in an orphanage. Because of this and his dubious motivations for protecting the bears, some have questioned if Treadwell was more con-artist than “eco-warrior."
Who was the real Timothy Treadwell? Unfortunately, there will never be a definitive answer. In October 2003, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard became the first people in Alaska's Katmai National Park to be mauled to death by bears.
On October 6, 2003, pilot Willy Fulton flew in to the park to pick up Treadwell and Huguenard and transport them out of the park. But he knew something was off when they didn't show up, and when he tried to contact them he didn't hear a response. After seeing a bear on top of what looked like human remains, he contacted National Park Services. When the rangers reached the camp, Fulton's worst fears were confirmed. In front of the tent, they found Amie Huguenard's fingers and arm sticking out of a dirt mound. Further off in the campsite's vicinity, Treadwell's severed head and arm were discovered.
Audio exists of the final moments of Treadwell's life, and it's chilling. Captured on Treadwell's camera which had apparently been turned on but dropped in the dirt, screams and cries are heard as his girlfriend yells at him to play dead. Apparently, he had stepped out of the tent to confront the bear that wondered into his camp. Moments later, Amie Huguenard emerged and saw that he was being mauled. The bear retreated but only momentarily. Treadwell, seeing that playing dead wasn't working, begged her to “hit the bear!” Sadly, it didn't take long for him to realize that his fate was sealed. In his final moments, he pleaded with Amie to flea.
After park authorities cleaned up the horrific murder scene, four garbage bags of body parts were removed. But two days later, after two bears were shot and killed by park officials, clothing and body parts were found in the stomach of one of the bears. It was a 28-year-old brown male bear that weighed close to 1,000 pounds. After shooting and leaving it for several days, the carcass was almost completely consumed by other bears. It had been the first bear attack since the park was declared 85 years prior.
Out of the 13 summers that Treadwell spent with the bears, six of them were devoted to filmmaking. Based on his footage, it's remarkable that he survived for as long as he did. He often snuck up to bears, sometimes crawling on all fours, to grab a shot. But that's not where the Grizzly Man's advances ended; there were times where he attempted to touch bears, both cubs and adults.
What made matters even worse was that Treadwell chose to set up camp in “the grizzly maze," right in the middle of a bear path. So, bears passing through the area had to cross his tent or the lake nearby. Larry Van Daele, a biologist from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said that “ A person could not have designed a more dangerous location to set up a camp.''