Beast of Bladenboro: The Vampire Cat of North Carolina

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Bladenboro, a quiet rural community, was established in 1857. To this day, it remains tucked away in the swamps and pine forests of the southeastern edge of the North Carolina Piedmont (Scary Truth). The population of the area remains limited to this day. In 1954 the peaceful community of Bladenboro experienced two weeks of terror that would put it on the map forever.

Newspapers all over the southeastern United States covered the mysterious incidents. Gallehugh mentioned that even the United Press International and Associated Press carried the story. Those articles were unable to be located for confirmation. The creature that stalked the countryside for those two weeks was never able to be accurately identified.

The authorities never successfully identified the creature. As such, the Beast of Bladenboro would continue to be

As a result, the monster panic that gripped the community would be remembered as a “standing joke” for North Carolinians (Gallehugh 53).

The Elusive Vampire Cat of North Carolina

Watch the story here on Youtube

The story of the vampire cat of North Carolina is one that stretches back seventy years. Unlike many urban legends which are based primarily on stories passed around verbally from person to person, this legend has a basis in fact. Whether the antagonist of the story was truly a vampire cat is up to you to decide. We here at Puzzle Box Horror believe that anything is possible, especially given the evidence.

December 29, 1953

A woman local to Clarkton in Bladen County heard the neighbor’s dogs barking and whimpering in the evening. Her curiosity spurred her to investigate since she didn’t often hear the dogs at all. She would later recall that what she saw was a sleek, black catlike animal. She believed it to be about five feet long with a round face just before it disappeared into the darkness. The creature had only eaten a piece of the body, according to Police Chief Roy Flores (Gallehugh 53).

Reports from D.G. Pait stated that he saw a dog being attacked by a large creature and subsequently dragged into the woods, from his service station.

New reports of canine death flooded Chief Flores’ office from all across the county. These reports varied between sightings of bears or panthers, but the description was consistent—three feet long, twenty inches high, long tail, and a face like a cat.

December 31, 1953

Woody Storm, a local farmer, called Chief Flores out to his property. Storm had found two of his dogs dead, slaughtered by something large and powerful. Flores found a disturbing similarity between Storm’s dogs and the victim from the day before. Something had completely drained their blood.

January 1, 1954

Gray Callihan, a local farmer, found his dog slaughtered. Just like the previous victims, the carcass had no blood and a crushed skull (Gallehugh 54). Two more dogs turned up dead and drained of their blood. Flores called in a team of professional hunters from Wilmington, NC to track down the animal. (NCG)

January 2, 1954

“Several imaginative townspeople” brought around the theory that they were dealing with a vampire-like creature, due to the state in which they found the bodies of the slaughtered animals. Despite his skepticism, Police Chief Flores organized a small search party. Their efforts to locate the animal before dark were hindered by the dense swampy land they had to cover. The town became noticeably more anxious as the creature continued to go undiscovered. (Gallehugh 54)

January 3, 1954

Flores examined the carcass of another dog that had been killed at a service station on the outskirts of Bladenboro. He concluded that “all except a drop or two of blood had been sucked.” A witness found another dead dog within city limits later that day. This would cause fear and rumors to begin to run wild. Mayor G. W. Fussell took more direct control over the investigation and ordered Flores to form a larger search party. Nearly thirty armed men and seven dogs scoured the Big Bay and Red Hill Swamp areas to find the creature. (Gallehugh 54)

The search party returned by nightfall, unsuccessful in their venture to find any sign of the creature. The failure of yet another search only served to bolster the apprehension the residents of Bladenboro felt in their own homes. This newfound fear for the residents of the small town caused them to lock their doors, concerned that the next victim might not be “just a good dog,” fortunately there were no new sightings that night. (Gallehugh 54)

An increasing number of newspapers had taken up the story of the mysterious “Vampire Beast of Bladenboro,” and the news spread like wildfire. Professional hunters throughout the state eagerly flocked to eastern North Carolina for a chance to kill the notorious creature. Speculation on what the beast really began to grow, some stating that it was a black panther, or a large bobcat, while still, others claimed that it was just a rabid dog or a wolf. None of these theories accounted for the immense force the beast possessed, nor did they consider the vampiric tendency to lust for blood. (Gallehugh 54)

January 4, 1954

The next morning, a citizen reported “unusual tracks” at the edge of the swamp behind the mill section. That same morning, three illustrious hunters arrived from Wilmington, fifty miles away, to aid in the hunt. The hunters brought their professionally trained dogs and began their search where they found fresh tracks. Their hunt for the creature was fruitless, but they gained some helpful insight into its behavior. They deduced from the evidence of the creature’s tracks that it traveled in a circular pattern and stayed within an approximately three-mile radius. The three men believed that this might indicate the creature had a mate and therefore presumed that there was more than one creature making the killings. (Gallehugh 55)

As the day passed more hunters joined the fray to locate the creature—before the end of the night, there were between forty and fifty men seeking out the elusive beast. When darkness fell, they gave up the hunt for the day. They knew that if it were indeed a large cat that it would undoubtedly be capable of eluding them under the cloak of darkness. (Gallehugh 55)

Mad Wolf Feared: Vampire Killer Roams At Large In Bladenboro Bladenboro, Jan 4 — This nervous town chewed its nails today, dreading night that might bring a return visit of a mystery killer-beast with a vampire lust. The killer, so far, has vented its depredations only on dogs. Three mutilated corpses have been found. Four other dogs are reported missing. Police Chief Roy Fores and a posse of eight or 10 officers and citizens are armed with pistols, rifles, and shotguns for a hunt tonight. This afternoon a band of youths beat bushes at the edge of town in an attempt to rout the bloodthirsty marauder. Chief Fores disclosed the vampire motive of the animal today. He said a dog killed last night was opened up today and not more that two or three drops of blood was found in the carcass. The chief believes the vampire beast is a mad wolf lurking in the wild reaches of Big Bay and Red Hill swamps skirting Bladenboro.
January 5, 1954

Despite no new incidents overnight—no unusual sounds, tracks, or drained animal carcasses to speak of—the hunting party continued to grow (Gallehugh 55). Most notably, a man by the name of Sam Spivey came from Tabor City and brought along with him his bear dogs.

Escalation of the problem…

The attitude of the hunting party changes dramatically when “a dog within a hundred feet of the hunting party was attacked by the vampire beast.” It was reported to have been dragged screaming into the swamp nearby before anyone could arrive to help it, or a shot could be fired at the creature.

Another Body Found…

Eventually, they found the dog with its head crushed and drained of all of its blood. They got a break in their search, however, when they found tracks that revealed claws that were at least an inch long. This indicated to the hunters that the beast was approximately a hundred pounds. When the hunt ended that night, the town was abuzz with inquisitive tourists, newspaper reporters, and an inpouring of hunters hoping to be the ones to catch the dreaded community menace. (Gallehugh 55)

‘Vampire’ Charges Woman A large marauding cat that has killed and sucked the blood of at least seven dogs charged a woman here tonight, but turned and fled back into a swamp when she screamed and her husband rushed onto the scene. Police Chief Roye Forbes said the animal charged into the yard of [Kinlaw] when she went out onto her front porch to investigate whimpering dogs in the street. After the incident occured, the armed posse that went out tonight to track down and kill the “vampire” swelled to some 500 people and scores of dogs. Mrs. Kinlaw, who lives in the mill village near Bladenboro Mills on Highway 211 one mile west of here, said she heard the dogs whimpering early tonight and went to investigate. Near the dogs, she said, was what looked like “a big mountain lion.” It raced from three doors down the dirt street in front of her house to a few feet from her porch, then turned back when she screamed and her husband rushed out of the house, she said. A neighbor also came to her aid. Chief Forbes said tracks in the dirt road in front of the Kinlaw home were “bigger than a silver dollar.” A search party from Wilmington which tracked the animal last night as it moved in a three-mile circle along the edges of swampy areas found tracks which revealed claws…
Cutting from News and Observer in Raleigh, NC from January 5, 1954
The Clemmons Incident…

Mill worker Lloyd Clemmons and his wife heard their two dogs growling that night and to them, it was highly unusual. Mr. Clemmons decided to investigate the commotion. Clemmons was on record saying, “I glanced out of the window and saw this thing … [the beast] had me plumb spellbound.”

Before Clemmons was able to load his shotgun the beast had already disappeared into the darkness, so he called the police to report his sighting and provide his description of the creature. In his words, it was “about three feet long and 20 inches high. It had a long tail, about 14 inches long. The color of it was dark … it had a face exactly like a cat … Only I ain’t never seen a cat that big.” (“Vampire on Loose” 1)

The Beast attacks a woman…
Bladenboro — Officers and armed citizens hunted today for a vampire beast that has killed at least three dogs and left their corpses bloodless. Police Chief Roy Fores said he believed the killer was a mad wolf lurking in the wilds of Big Ray and Red Hill swamps near here.
Cutting from The Daily Record in Dunn, NC from January 5, 1954

The story of the Beast of Bladenboro made front page news across several different news outlets across the state. One such report from the Raleigh News and Observer detailed an incredible close-call with the creature on the same day as the Clemmons sighting. Not too far from the Clemmons’ home, Mrs. C. E. Kinlaw heard two of her puppies whimpering outside of her house. The beast charged from the darkness the moment Kinlaw stepped out onto her porch to investigate.

Her screams prompted her husband to rush immediately to her aid, which gave the beast an opportunity to escape back into the night. When questioned by authorities as to what she saw near her dogs, she reported that there, “was what looked like a big mountain lion.” It had apparently raced from three houses down the dirt street on which she lived to just a few feet from her porch. When Chief Flores had a chance to investigate around the Kinlaw’s home he reportedly found tracks that were “bigger than a silver dollar.” (Gallehugh 56)

The Beast attacks a woman…

After this incident, an armed posse of around five to six hundred people and scores of dogs thoroughly searched the mill section that surrounded the Kinlaw home. They remained on the premises until daybreak and yet found no sign of the evasive beast. When hunters compared two sets of tracks found, they surmised two different animals created them. On that same night, D.G. Pait and Chief Flores were standing together in the mill section when they heard a dog yelping in pain. Flores believed the dog was being dragged into the thicket that enclosed the houses, but when Flores and Pait arrived to save the dog, there was no sign of either creature. That dog’s body was never found. (Gallehugh 56)

January 6, 1954

The continued search for the beast was hindered by the excessive amounts of armed hunters who were vying for the chance to claim the life of the beast for themselves. “By midafternoon, all hopes of killing the beast were given up,” but that didn’t keep the beast from attacking another pet. It was later found out that a pet rabbit had been killed, its head bitten off, and the blood sucked from its body. Even more disturbing, is the fact that the rabbit’s body was still warm and found in an area that had been covered by the search parties earlier in the day. (Gallehugh 56)

Bladenboro, N.C. — Citizens terrorized by a mysterious"vampire" beast pinned new hope for its annihilation today in a volunteer hunt with a pack of experienced"cat dogs." A two-pronged strategy of lure and chase last night resulted in another failure to shoot the creature that has killed at least eight dogs and drunk their blood and charged a woman on her front porch.

A new hope emerged to put an end to the monster panic. A group of volunteer hunters with their purported “cat dogs” (think bird dogs, but for hunting big cats). Their first tactic, the night previous had been a lure-and-chase strategy which unfortunately ended in failure (“News Shorts”). Traps were set and baited with dogs as a way to bring the beast out of hiding and lure it to its death. Police Chief Flores, Bladen County Sheriff John B. Allen, and the State Highway Patrol were tasked with crowd control. Despite the traps, people refused to move out of the area where they were set. The threat of the Beast of Bladenboro was superseded by the hundreds of nervous armed people milling around the outskirts of town. Chief Flores and Mayor Fussell decided to stop the hunt to avoid the possibility of someone getting accidentally shot. (Gallehugh 57)

BULLETINS — Bladenboro, N.C. — Authorities today planned to continue their hunt for the mysterious"vampire beast" which has killed dogs near here and drained their bodies of blood. Four packs of trained hunting dogs and hundreds of eager hunters have joined in the search for the beast. Police Chief Roy Rores said yesterday that the hunt for the animal had actually been hampered by the number of hunters taking part.
January 11, 1954

Two cars full of witnesses watched, shocked, as the “Beast of Bladenboro” crossed a road at its leisure near Bladenboro. Each of the six witnesses gave Chief Flores an expectedly similar description to those of the past two weeks. One of the witnesses, by the name of Jeff Evers, described the beast as having a large head with “runty-looking” ears. The road it crossed was near the bridge at Big Swamp, an area approximately four miles away from Bladenboro and near to the area where the creature and its tracks had been spotted frequently. (“Runty-Looking Ears”)

blank
January 13, 1954

Five days after the hunt had been called off, Luther Davis a local farmer brought in a 25-pound bobcat that he had trapped and killed around 8:30 that morning. The authorities believed that the bobcat fit all of the descriptions and tracks of the Beast of Bladenboro, but in retrospect, it seems as if they were trying to make it fit the descriptions so as to ease the townsfolk of their fears.

The only thing they could not manage to explain was how a wildcat so small could manage to take down dogs twice its size. Regardless, Mayor Fussel decided to report to the newspapers that the beast had been killed, as a means to quiet any remaining excitement over the creature.

Despite the claims that the bobcat was the infamous beast, townsfolk continued to report sightings of a large catlike creature in the Big Swamp section of Bladen County. The bobcat was nonetheless hung from a flagpole in the center of town by Flores and Fussell and displayed with a sign that read “This is the Beast of Bladenboro”. (Gallehugh 58)

Bladenboro, N.C. — Residents hoped today that a 25-pound bobcat killed near here was the"vampire" beast that kille deight dogs and drank their blood, terrorized townspeople, and attracted eager hunters in such numbers that officials attempts to slay him had to be cancelled. Luther Davis trapped the male bobcat near his home about three miles from here. He said the animal was so"scrappy" in the trap yesterday that he had to shoot it. The animal measured about 30 inches llong and matched closely descriptions give of the"vampire", except that it had a bob tail.
Cutting from The Daily Record in Dunn, NC from January 14, 1954
January 21, 1954

As an added curiosity to the claims that the beast had been killed, Berry Lewis, a farmer local to the area reported that he had found a half-grown hog killed near Big Swamp to Chief Flores. When examined, Flores saw that the hog’s bones had been crushed and part of its flesh eaten. (Gallehugh 58)

S. Ray Johnson Takes New Post S. Ray Johnson of Lillington has assumed new duties as Wildlife Protector for Bladen County and is stationed in Bladenboro. Johnson was graduated on Decemeber 19 from the Wildlife Protector's School sponsored this fall by the Institute of Government at the University of North Carolina. Mrs. Johnson and their young son, Stanley Ray Johnson, II born December 25 have joined him in Bladenboro. She is the former Miss Lola Colman of Lillington. Johnson, who was here on a week end visit a week ago, had to take his share of razzing from friends about drawing for his first assignment, Bladen County, alleged "haunt of the beast of Bladen" which has captured a lot of headlines this month. So far stories of a strange vampire beast loose in the swamps has not been verified.
Cutting from The Daily Record in Dunn, NC from February 8, 1954
February 8, 1954

By February the entire incident would become akin to satire. Bladen County assigned S. Ray Johnson as its newest Wildlife Protector. People began to doubt the copious amounts of evidence collected and the beast would remain an unverified story. (“S. Ray Johnson”)

May 5, 1954

The Tabor City Tribune ran a story by W. Horace Carter about a trip he took to Burgaw on April 29, in order to attend a Junior Chamber of Commerce meeting. Carter stopped in Bladenboro to pick up Lumberton Jaycees, Jim Phillips and E.J. Britt. The meeting ran much longer than they expected, so they didn’t leave Burgaw until approximately 10:30 PM. (Carter)

The three drove through Elizabethtown toward Bladenboro and around a quarter to twelve they witnessed “a huge cat-like animal” jump out of the woods into the road around 100 feet in front of the car. It disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared, but the three witnesses were positive that it wasn’t a bobcat, as they all saw it had a long tail, which “appeared to be about half the length of the cat itself”. The three witnesses described a creature remarkably similar to the vampire cat. Carter didn’t explicitly state that it was the Beast of Bladenboro. It was clear, however, that it was a frightening experience that he wished to not repeat. (Carter)

December 15, 1954

An alleged strike from the beast, had residents of Robeson concerned that the Beast of Bladenboro was back “on the prowl.” The attack happened “within shouting distance” of Robeson Memorial Hospital, where the beast killed five pigs and three chickens on a farm belonging to K. M. Biggs. The killings left behind no blood evidence. This indicated that there was a recurrence of the blood-sucking traits associated with the vampire cat. (“’Beast Of’”)

The Return of the Beast of Bladenboro

The shocking pattern returned with a vengeance in October 2007. More than fifty pets and livestock died in a strikingly similar way to the killings of 1954. The victims showed little sign of struggle, this indicated that they died instantly. Leading experts believe that the creature is an efficient predator. Those who examined the bodies postmortem would find that the victims not only had their blood drained, but their skulls crushed as well. (MonsterQuest)

The beast claimed a larger hunting ground and roamed an approximately two-hundred-mile range. This information shocked authorities, as it meant it had a larger range than any known predator of the region. Townspeople reported incidents in Bolivia, Bladenboro, Lexington, and Greensboro. A new name for the creature circulated—The Beast of Bolivia.

More Dogs found dead…

After the more recent attacks, new witness descriptions of the creature surfaced—with claims that it was dark brown, approximately 4.5 feet long, with the face of a cat, claws of a dog, and vampiric teeth. Due to the areas the creature has claimed as its hunting ground many assume that the predator dwells primarily in the swamps.

In Lexington, a local farmer found approximately sixty goats with their blood drained and heads crushed. Thirty miles away, in Greensboro, another farmer lost his goats in the same way. Residents of Bolivia became concerned that the vampire cat had returned after several dogs had turned up dead. One morning Bill Robinson, a resident of Bolivia, found his pitbull gutted in his yard. Robinson proceeded to bury his dog quite a distance from where he had found it laying dead. The next morning Robinson discovered his dog was back where it had been lying dead the day before. The beast allegedly unearthed and dragged the carcass back to the origin of the kill. Robinson’s dog was just one of ten that had been found slaughtered in the area, over a two-week period.

New tracks found…

Four days after Robinson found his dog dead in his backyard, another resident of Bolivia—Leon Williams—found his own pit bull dead, covered in blood, and missing a few body parts. There was no sign of a struggle which Williams found incredibly strange considering his dog’s breed. Around that time, Robinson found unidentifiable tracks in the surrounding area. Robinson measured the tracks and found that they were 4.5 inches in diameter. The town of Bolivia grew more apprehensive, due to the inexplicable dog deaths, and as a result, parents kept their children inside.

Scientists Remain Skeptical and Unimpressed

Over the decades this alleged vampire cat has had several eyewitnesses who have all come back with fairly similar descriptions. Skeptics theorize that it’s due to the Beast being a variety of Eastern Puma, since common descriptors include the beast being black in color, 3-4 feet in length, with an approximately 14-inch tail, and an estimated 20-inch shoulder height (Eberhart 37).

MonsterQuest aired an episode about the Beast of Bladenboro in 2008 due to a recurring pattern of animal deaths. In this episode, Tom Padget, a now-retired biologist from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission appeared to lend his expertise. He spoke on the claims that he received yearly calls on the death of wildlife and pets, but his scientific background leads him to question the existence of a vampiric beast. Instead, he hypothesizes that the killings are simply other, known predators and that it happens more regularly than most people are aware of. (MonsterQuest)

For Padgett, it was clear that the physiological abilities of cougars would surpass that of the dogs and other animals in the area. Extreme habitat loss and logging at the turn of the last century had all but extirpated the cougar from North Carolina. Up to that time, there had been no documented evidence that cougars existed in North Carolina for the past century.

New Evidence Surfaces…

The evidence came one month after the initial investigation when Bill Robinson and Brian Gardner received an update from a photographer that happened upon a startling find. Less than half a mile from the homes of Robinson and Williams, the photographer captured a blurry image of a cougar. MonsterQuest did not bother to authenticate the photo in question, but they concluded that people were experiencing a resurgence of cougars reclaiming territory. This, of course, took into consideration the fact that the cougar had been extinct through the east coast of America—except the tip of Florida—for the past century. (MonsterQuest)

Immortalized into Folklore

To this day, the Beast of Bladenboro remains a genuine terror to central North Carolinian communities. The North Carolina Folklore Society added the story of the Beast of Bladenboro to its annals in 1976. Over the last seventy years, the residents of Central North Carolina have pieced together a recurring pattern they have imputed to being the alleged vampire cat.

Related Creatures

blank

Check out this list of related creatures to learn more about Cryptids alive in legend and urban folklore:

  • Ball-tailed Cat
  • Chupacabra
  • Splintercat
  • Vampire
  • Wampus Cat
  • Wolpertinger

Works Cited

“Beast Fest.” Boost the Boro, Inc., https://www.boosttheboro.org/beast-fest.html. Accessed 9 May 2023.

“’Beast Of Bladenboro’ Type Killer Strikes In Robeson” The Robesonian [Lumberton, NC], 15 Dec. 1954, p. 9.

“Bulletins, Bladenboro, N.C.” The Daily Record [Dunn, NC], 8 Jan. 1954, p. 1. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88063132/1954-01-08/ed-1/seq-1/.

“Bulletins, Bladenboro, N.C.” The Daily Record [Dunn, NC], 14 Jan. 1954, p. 2. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88063132/1954-01-14/ed-1/seq-2/.

Byers, Thomas. “The Vampire Beast of North Carolina.” Exemplore, 16 Mar. 2023, https://exemplore.com/cryptids/The-Vampire-Beast-Of-North-Carolina.

Carter, W. Horace, “Carter’s Column: That Bladenboro Beast Again” Tabor City Tribune [NC], 5 May 1954, p 2. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068761/1954-05-05/ed-1/seq-2/.

Eberhart, George M., Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc, 2012.

Gallehugh Jr., Joseph F., “The Vampire Beast of Bladenboro.” North Carolina Folklore, vol. 24, no. 2, Aug 1976, pp. 53-58.

Godfrey, Linda S., American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America, Penguin Publishing Group, Aug 2014.

“Mad Wolf Feared: Vampire Killer Roams At Large In Bladenboro,” Charlotte Observer [NC], 5 Jan. 1954, p. 1.

“News Shorts, Bladenboro, N.C.” The Daily Record [Dunn, NC], 7 Jan. 1954, p. 2. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88063132/1954-01-07/ed-1/seq-2/.

“’Runty-Looking Ears’ Beast of Bladenboro Seen Again” The Daily Tar Heel [Chapel Hill, NC\

“S. Ray Johnson Takes New Post.” The Daily Record [Dunn, NC], 8 Feb. 1954, p. 5. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88063132/1954-02-08/ed-1/seq-5/.

“State News Briefs, Bladenboro'” The Daily Record [Dunn, NC], 5 Jan. 1954, p. 6.

“The Beast of Bladenboro.” The Beast of Bladenboro | North Carolina Ghosts, https://northcarolinaghosts.com/piedmont/beast-bladenboro/. Accessed 5 May 2023.

Advertisements

Join "The Horror List" for Weekly Horror in your inbox






blank

Ghost Ship Jenny & The Frozen Crew

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Born of the eerie and enigmatic nature of the sea, ghost ships have been objects of fascination for centuries. Many of the stories behind phantom vessels have historical evidence, explanations—or at least theories—of how they came to be abandoned and what happened to their crew. The legend of the ghost ship Jenny and how it came to be the Ship of Icy remains shrouded in mystery centuries after it was discovered.

“May 4, 1823. No food for 71 days. I am the only one left alive.” – Was the captain’s last entry in the ghost ship Jenny’s log book. Jenny was an 1800’s English schooner that became frozen in ice crossing the Drake Passage in 1823.

Captain Brighton writing his last journal entry for the cursed ghost ship Jenny

Ghost Ships: A Common Thread

A sketch of the ghost ship jenny
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

One of the earliest substantiated claims of a phantom vessel is one that ran aground on Easton’s Beach in Rhode Island, between 1750 and 1760. The SV Sea Bird is well-known through a fictional account, but historical records also exist.

Another well-researched and factually interesting instance was the disappearance of Sir John Franklin—a British Royal Navy Officer and Arctic explorer who, after serving the crown in wars against Napoleonic France and the United States led an ill-fated expedition in search of the Northwest Passage in 1845 (Ray 2023). Countless stories are associated with Franklin’s vanished expedition. Two centuries later his disappearance is just as fascinating and inexplicable now as it was at the time (Schuster 2)

Karl T. Andree a German geographer and publicist, is well-known for linking the story of Franklin and the ghost ship Jenny. As the editor of the Globus, he purportedly brought the two stories together first. In his excitement of the first edition of his geographical journal, he wanted to create interest. His enthusiasm stirred from introducing the general public to the exciting side of geography (Schuster 2).

Watch the Ghost Ship Jenny on Puzzle Box Horror’s YouTube channel

Jenny of the Isle of Wight

Ghost ships are clearly not an impossible concept. The events that surround the ghost ship, Jenny, however, are most unusual and highly unsettling. Bohemia, boasts a narrative that is simultaneously more believable and different than popularly cited sources. Regardless of these differences, the story remains an eerie example of the destructive capacity of Mother Nature.

The ghost ship Jenny was, allegedly, an English schooner that hailed from the Isle of Wight. She would come to be the subject of a legend that remains unproven to this day. The Jenny left its home port on the Isle of Wight, and made a successful journey all the way to the port of Callao, Peru—the main port just outside of Lima. With one-half of their journey completed, the crew of the Jenny would have to sail their vessel through the treacherous waters of the Drake Passage once again. The Jenny’s return trip would end in the Drake Passage—but what caused the ship’s voyage to end so abruptly?

The Drake Passage: The Roughest Seas in the World

The Drake Passage has the roughest seas known in the world. This is largely due to the fact that the Pacific, Atlantic, and Southern Oceans all converge into this one passage. With no landmasses to create resistance, the winds can reach incredible speeds. All of this adds up to rocky waters that only the most robust of vessels can withstand. Throughout maritime history, the Drake Passage has claimed more than 800 ships and with them, the lives of approximately 20,000 sailors. (Andrews, 2015)

The Story of the Ghost Ship Jenny

Little to nothing is known about what Jenny and her crew endured during their travels. Countless versions of their story have been published and since speculated upon. It is believed that Jenny began her journey in England. She left her home port on the Isle of Wight approximately a year before the last entry in her logbook. The intended voyage and where Jenny ended up is vaguely mentioned. However, it is known through each rendition of her story that she navigated the Drake Passage. Her last port of call was Callao, Peru—the de facto port of the city of Lima.

From Peru, Jenny traveled back through the Drake Passage but this is where her journey, as we know it, ended abruptly. It would be quite some time before the fate of Jenny and her crew would be discovered and no evidence of her expedition has been uncovered outside of the stories of her rediscovery. Regardless, any theories surrounding her disappearance would be pure speculation.

Did the Ghost Ship Jenny really exist?

Upon further research, neither the ghost ship Jenny, the whaling vessel Hope nor Captain Brighton could be found among any official documentation of Andree’s sources for the 1862 edition of Globus (Schuster 2). The story that appeared in Globus in 1862 was, however, traced back to the original publication which had been anonymously printed in Bohemia on February 14, 1841. In fact, the story had not only been printed in Bohemia but at least nine other magazines and newspapers within the same year. The only significant difference that could be cited was the year Brighton was said to have found the ghost ship Jenny, but whether it was 1839 or 1840 really made no difference to the readers.

It is assumed that since none of the publications cite a source for their information, the initial journalist likely believed the information was authentic and happened upon it from an oral source since no documentation of an English source has ever been discovered (Schuster 3).

There are theories that suggest that the ghost ship Jenny story is actually an Antarctic retelling of the Octavius which had not only happened on the opposite side of the globe, but almost an entire century prior (Schuster 3). It’s curious, but true that many renditions of the legend include details identical to those of the Octavius. The cargo ship turned ghost ship allegedly vanished off the coast of Greenland in 1761. The story tells us of its miraculous discovery fifteen years later. The crew froze in their agonizing final moments. The Captain, pen still in hand, froze at his desk.

The Ship in the Ice

In an effort to consolidate the details into one manageable story, we have taken the multitude of sources we found and created our own version of the story, just as the storytellers of our past might have done.

That was the story. Question the manner of telling
But be sure at least of ice and pain and silence.
Of Time? Well, there one can never be certain —
For you a thing to be measured, perhaps — for me, a searching,
And for seven alone on a frozen ship? I wonder.
However it was, is beyond our chance of knowing.

— from The Ship of Ice by Rosemary Dobson.
September 22, 1839

Captain Brighton of the whaling ship the Hope, entered into his logbook the sighting of a whale. When their chase drew them close to the ice barrier, they lost sight of the whale. In an effort to find the safety of calm seas, Brighton and his crew found themselves in the middle of a chain of icebergs. Around nine in the evening, a storm was upon them, despite the situation Brighton was more annoyed than afraid since they had chanced into a basin of calm waters. He alerted his crew to remain awake so that they might catch a favorable midnight breeze and navigate out of the basin. If they didn’t turn back, then they risked becoming stuck in the ice for the entire winter.

As the midnight winds hit…

They brought with them a flurry of snow and thunderous cracks that left the crew filled with dread. Brighton knew this sound was an indication that the icebergs surrounding them were breaking apart and his fears were confirmed when tremendous shock waves rocked the Hope from all sides. Escaping the basin proved to be impossible, as did finding a safe place to pass the rest of the night. Anxiety persisted amongst the crew, but they managed to stay afloat through the night. Morning light brought a calm over the crew when they saw their ship had taken no significant damage. An astonished crew noted that the mountainous bergs that had closed them in the day before now lay shattered around them. The icy waters that surrounded them bore a resemblance to a desert archipelago.

Around midday…

The sailor at the watch in the masthead cried out that he had spotted a ship at sea. Persistent icebergs blocked Brighton’s line of sight for a time, but when the hull came into view he stood aghast. The sails faced in strange directions and the ship’s rigging was wholly miserable. They watched as the vessel sailed feebly under the persuasion of the wind before it finally came to rest upon an iceberg. Captain Brighton, along with a few of his men boarded their ship’s jolly boat and quickly rowed over to the derelict vessel which had so piqued their curiosity. A more intimate view of the ship revealed a slew of impacts against the ice that the hull had withstood.

From their vantage point in the jolly boat, they could see no one on the deck. A blanket of snow that reached an incredible height covered the ship’s deck. Still, Brighton called out to the ship several times and received no answer. Just as they were about to make their way up to the deck, an open gate caught Brighton’s attention. Twilight permitted him to see the silhouette of a man sitting in a chair at a desk. He could just make out writing instruments and an open book in front of him. Brighton and his men hesitated no longer. Once on deck, they shoveled away the high blanket of snow that covered the trapdoor to the cabin.

Consumed with anxiety…

The men descended into the depths of the ship. Together they headed to where Captain Brighton had seen the man sitting. They trembled in anticipation as they came face to face with the stranger, who sat unresponsive in front of them. Brighton took a few steps closer to him and observed that the man was dead. Upon closer inspection, he noted something disturbing. A thin greenish mold covered the man’s forehead and cheeks. What was worse, was that it clouded the man’s eyes as well. The ship’s logbook lay open in front of him. It was open to the last entry and a quill lay aside the dead man’s hand. The man had succumbed to the elements shortly after penning the final log.

“January 17, 1823. Today it is seventy-one days that our ship has been trapped in the ice. All our efforts were in vain — last night the fire was extinguished, and all our captain’s efforts to light it again failed — this morning his wife died of hunger and cold, as did five of the sailors from the crew. No more hope!”

Next, the men…

Ventured into the Captain’s quarters, wherein they found the corpse of a woman on the bed. Her features remarkably preserved by the cold, she still held the appearance of life. However, her torment-twisted limbs told the story of the pain and suffering she had endured in her last hours. They next searched the crew’s quarters at the front of the ship. There they found several sailors lying dead in their hammocks. Even the dog lay frozen to death under the stairs in the corner. Out of all the things the men found in their search, food, and fuel were not among them.

Little by little Brighton’s men lost their mettle. Their fears and superstitions prevented Brighton from investigating the ship as thoroughly as he would have liked. Saddened by what they had discovered, Brighton took the ship’s logbook. Noted in the logbook was the ship’s last port of call—Callao, Peru. On the cover of the logbook, Brighton saw the name Jenny of the Isle of Wight. Brighton resolved to return the logbook to the ship’s owner. When he returned to his ship, he did so with renewed conviction. Any ship which ventured too far into these inhospitable waters faced incalculable dangers.

Fact or Fiction: The Jenny’s Mystery Persists

Outside of the legend, there are very few references of the Jenny in fictional works. Both of the works we found through our research were published within the last century. Rosemary Dobson wrote the poem “The Ship of Ice” in 1948. Her poem won her the Sydney Morning Herald award for poetry that same year. In her poem, she mentions that the discovery of the ghost ship Jenny happened in 1860. She cited the information she pulled from the anonymous report The Drift of Jenny, 1823-1840. She cited an English translation of the story from the Globus in 1862.

In 2018, Michael Wilkinson published a short story, entitled “The Drift of the Jenny”. It was a dramatic rendition of the story from the article found in the Globus in 1862. He included elaborate details and perspectives that otherwise would have been unknown. The retelling of this story by new authors truly inspires creative minds to keep old legends alive.

The truth behind the ghost ship Jenny continues to elude us, but our sources remain. The legends as they appeared in both Bohemia and Globus have been included below in their English translations. We hope that you, the reader, will conduct your own investigation. Ascertain the details for yourself and draw your own conclusions. This centuries-old mystery may simply be the evolution of a sailor’s yarn into an urban legend or, this seemingly tall tale may have been birthed from true events. New and substantial developments are unlikely to be found. That doesn’t mean that a dilapidated ghost ship Jenny and her crew aren’t still sailing the haunted inhospitable Antarctic waters.


The Original Tales, Translated

The following article appeared in Bohemia, ein unterhaltungsblatt on February 14, 1841. It is the earliest printed source of the legend for the ghost ship Jenny.

What follows is a direct translation of the story as it was printed in the Bohemia magazine in 1841:

The Ship in the Ice.

A true story.

The ship the Hope, Captain Brighton, equipped for whale fishing beyond Cape Horn in the calm sea, found itself in the middle of a chain of icebergs on September 22nd, 1839, at 9 o’clock in the evening, just as stormy tides were setting in, which formed a wide bay, so to speak. Not half an hour from his ship the captain noticed another long line of ice cliffs of wonderful height and completely covered with snow. All space through which the eye could pass was filled with enormous masses of ice, which showed that the ocean was closed in this direction.

Captain Brighton, however, found his situation more difficult than dangerous, for there was complete calm in the large basin. He was not afraid of being thrown against one of those ice rocks that lay motionless. He therefore limited himself to the exact vigilance that his position required of him; the whole crew remained awake on deck to catch the breeze which usually rises after midnight; in this case, he wanted to turn the ship around immediately because if he had ventured any further he would have to fear being surrounded by ice for the entire winter.

At midnight…

A strong wind arose and brought a flurry of snow. A thunder-like crack, a terrible roar, filled the crew with terror. It was a sign that the ice was moving. The Hope received tremendous shocks from the floating ice masses; it was impossible to find a safe place. The night passed with anxiety difficult to describe. In the morning the storm calmed down and the crew was pleased to see that the ship had not suffered any significant damage. The sailors were astonished to see that the icy mountains that had been so tightly closed yesterday had been shattered, and the entire sea had taken on the appearance of a desert archipelago.

Towards midday, the watch in the masthead shouted: “A ship at sea! At first, some icebergs floating between this ship and the Hope prevented the captain from seeing more than the mastheads, but soon the hull came into view, and Brighton was amazed by the strange direction of the sails and the miserable appearance of the ship the rigging was astonishing. The vessel sailed fleetingly before the wind for a distance of a few cable lengths and finally hit an iceberg.

Soon the crew…

Of the Hope noticed that the strange ship was abandoned. But Captain Brighton let out a boat. He boarded it with a few sailors and quickly rowed over to the ship whose appearance had so excited his curiosity. As he got closer, he saw the ship’s hull, as it were, gnawed by time or by countless impacts against the ice. No one was on the deck, which was covered in snow to an incredible height.

Brighton called the strange ship several times, but there was no answer. He was just about to climb up when an open gate caught his attention. Through the window panes, he saw a man sitting on a chair in front of a table on which there was a kind of register, writing utensils, and pens. The twilight in this room prevented the captain from seeing more.

Brighton and the sailors…

With him did not hesitate to climb the deck. Here they first had to shovel away the high blanket of snow that covered the trapdoor of the cabin. Here they descended with a mixed feeling of anticipation and secret horror. First, they went to the room where the captain had seen the man sitting. When they entered they couldn’t help but tremble. The unknown sat there, didn’t move, and didn’t return the greeting of his guests. The man took a few steps closer to him and saw that he was without life. A thin, greenish mold covered his forehead and cheeks and clouded his eyes. He was a man about thirty years old. A feather lay next to his hand on the table, and the ship’s book was open in front of him.

The last passage in this journal read as follows:

“17. January 1839. Today it is seventy-one days that our ship has been trapped between the ice. All our efforts were in vain — last night the fire was extinguished, and all our captain’s efforts to light it again failed — this morning his wife died of hunger and cold, as did five of the sailors from the crew. No more hope!”

Captain Brighton and his sailors were forced to leave the horrible place after such a sight. When they entered the main façade, the first thing they noticed was the body of a woman on a bed. Her features had retained all the freshness of life, only her limbs, through their twisting, indicated the terrible torments under which the poor thing had died. At her side was sitting on the floorboards a lifeless young man, holding a steel in his right hand and a flint in his left, next to him was a can of tinder.

From here…

The captain went to the front of the ship to the crew’s quarters; several sailors lay dead in their hammocks. A dog was found frozen to death under the stairs in a corner. There was no food or fuel anywhere.

Captain Brighton was prevented by the superstitious fear of his sailors, from searching the extinct ship with as much detail as he would have liked. Meanwhile, he took with him the ship’s book, in which was recorded the entire route the ship had taken since it had sailed from Lima. In front of the diary was the name of the ship, Jenny of the Isle of Wight. At last Captain Brighton returned to his board, deeply saddened by the sad spectacle he had just seen, and by his examination convinced anew of the incalculable dangers to which all ships are exposed if they venture too far into the inhospitable Arctic Ocean.


The following article appeared in Globus, Illustrated Magazine for Countries and Ethnography. It was also a self-proclaimed Chronicle of Travel and Geographical Newspaper. This version of the story wasn’t printed until sometime in 1862. This article remains the most cited source of this legend.

What follows is a direct translation of the story as it was printed in the Globus in 1862:

A Ship in the Ice of the Southern Polar Sea.

Mac Clintock’s report on the trip to find Sir John Franklin is read with keen evaluation and not without emotion. At Victoria Point, on the northwest coast of King Williams Island, where Bad Bay lies, the first written record of the missing sailors was recovered; It was dated May 28, 1847, and at that time everything was fine. But there was a postscript in the margins, according to which the ships Erebus and Terror were abandoned on April 22, 1848, having been encased in ice since September 12, 1846. Franklin had already died on June 11, 1847, and the total death toll already amounted to 9 officers and 15 men from the remaining crew. On April 26th the survivors wanted to escape to Bad’s Fish River.

On May 30, 1859, Mac Clintock found a large boat on the west coast of King Williams Island, not far from Cape Crozier (latitude 69° 8′ north, longitude 100° 8′ west), at a point where the coast bends to the east his companion Hobson had been examined a few days earlier. It was 28 feet long, flat-built, and carefully prepared for travel on the large fishing stream, and consisted of a very strong sleigh. In this boat lay two human skeletons; One had been chased home by wolves, and the other was still covered in clothes and belts. Beside these unfortunates were five rifles, and on the side were two double-barreled shotguns, each of which had a barrel loaded.

Next to various…

Autochthon* books was a copy of the eulogist from Wakefield. Mac Clintock also found an astonishing array of clothing, nails, files, all sorts of implements, some tea, forty cans of chocolate, some tobacco and firebolt. The Eskimos had already told us that many white men had fallen on the way to the great Fish River; A skeleton partially covered in snow had been found at Cape Herschel. An old Eskimo woman hunted: “They fell down and died while they were running.”

Mac Clintock’s report reminded us of a funny one we once read about a dead ship in the southern Arctic Ocean.

It must be a terrible fate to be surrounded by icebergs in the gray polar cold, to be pinned down and to be wiped out by cold, hunger, terror, and doubt, and to say to yourself that you have disappeared without a trace.

In September 1840, the whaler Hope, Captain Brighton, cruised beyond Cape Horn in the southern Arctic Ocean. One September evening the wind drove him to ice fields and mountains, which formed a wide road. About half a nautical mile away, an indistinguishable chain of high, snow-covered Spitsbergen** was visible; Everything was covered in ice and in that direction, the ocean was visibly closed. In the wide basin, however, the sea was rough and the Hope was in no danger of strolling towards the ice coast; Nor were there any icebergs floating around, as they all formed one continuous body of water. However, the captain was always vigilant and the crew was ready to take advantage of the first favorable wind, which usually blows around midnight in September.

If you explore…

This ice base for a long time, a terrible event could occur that the icebergs become mobile, fold together, and wedge the whaler until mild bitterness sets in or for eternity.

The wind really picked up at midnight and at the same time, there was a heavy snowstorm. Soon afterwards a thunder-like sound rang out and the terrible crash of the icebergs filled the crew with fear and horror. The previously rigid masses of ice began to move. The floes also began to drift rapidly and collide against the ship, and Brighton barely had any hope of finding a way out of the billowing ice labyrinth.

The terrible night passed away amidst people who didn’t give in to gossip. The storm subsided as day appeared and was considerably busy. The ice masses, which in the evening had formed an impassable, mountainous mainland, now dissolved into countless floating islands and formed, as it were, a mobile archipelago.

A ship in sight! About midday the sailor on duty called Go from the masthead. The captain, who was on deck, could only see the tops of the masts because of the icebergs between the Hope and the indicated ship, but he soon noticed the strange condition of the rigging. The ship drifted downwind against an iceberg and then came to a standstill.

There was now…

There was now no longer any doubt that the team had deserted. The captain put a boat out to sea and went to the wreck. It soon became apparent how much it had suffered. There was heavy snow on the deck and not a living creature was to be found; There was no answer to repeated calls. Brighton docked and boarded with three sailors. Not a soul moved. When he entered the cabin, what did he see? A man sat on a chair in front of a table on which a logbook lay. Everyone’s hair stood on end because the man remained motionless and the greeting that was called out to him remained unanswered. The man was a dead corpse; He still had a pen in his hand and the last word in the logbook read:

“January 17, 1823. Today is our seventy-first day since we were surrounded by the ice. Despite all our efforts, the fire went out yesterday. His wife is sick today died of hunger and cold; no more hope!”

That’s how it was in the helmsman’s cabin. In the captain’s room, the corpse of a woman lay on the bed; Her face still bore almost all the expressions of life, and only the cramped appearance pulled together limbs suggested the battle she had fought with death. A man sat next to her; On the ground next to him lay firesteel, stone, and a lighter filled with burned canvas. Several sailors were found frozen to death in the hammocks, a dead dog lay in front of the stairs and there was no trace of food anywhere.

The Fear and…

Superstition of the sailors did not allow further investigation, but Captain Brighton took the logbook with him to give to the shipowners. The ship was the Jenny and was based on the Isle of Wight; It had last been in the port of Callao near Lima and had lain in the Antarctic ice for a full seventeen years. Captain Brighton returned happily to Europe with the Hope.

*/ôˈtäkTH(ə)n, ôˈtäkˌTHän/ noun. an original or indigenous inhabitant of a place.

**Dutch for jagged peaks or pointed mountains

Books About Ghost Ship Jenny

Works Cited

Andrews, Candice Gaukel. “Travel Tale: Rite of Passage—Crossing the Drake.” Good Nature, Natural Habitat Adventures, 18 June 2015, https://www.nathab.com/blog/travel-tale-rite-of-passage-crossing-the-drake/. Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

“Aus dem Seeleben.” Gemeinnützige Blätter zur Belehrun und Unterhaltung, 22 April 1841, p. 3 https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?apm=0&aid=gop&datum=18410422&seite=3

“Das Schiff im Eise.” Bohemia, ein unterhaltungsblatt, 14 February 1841, pp. 2-3. https://kramerius.nkp.cz/kramerius/PShowPageDoc.do?id=9246294

“Das Schiff im Eise. Eine wahre Begebenheit.” Brünner Zeitung der k.k. priv. mährischen Lehenbank, 6 March 1841, p. 4. https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?apm=0&aid=bru&datum=18410306&seite=4

“Das Schiff im Eise.” Der Bote von Tyrol, 1 March 1841, p. 4. https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?aid=bvt&datum=18410301&seite=4

“Das Todtenschiff.” Der Siebenbürger Bote, 12 March 1841, p. 2. https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?apm=0&aid=dsb&datum=18410312&seite=2

Dobson, Rosemary. “The Ship of Ice.” Sydney Morning Herald, February 22, 1947, p. 9. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/rendition/nla.news-article18016498.3.html?followup=48bf054771775a7bb3c63808df2dde96

“Ein Schiff im Eise des südlichen Polarmeeres.” Globus, Illustrierte Zeitschrift für Länder und Völkerkunde, Hildburghausen Verlag vom Bibliographischen Institut, 1862. pp. 60-61. https://ia600409.us.archive.org/15/items/bub_gb_vn_lAAAAMAAJ/bub_gb_vn_lAAAAMAAJ.pdf

“Ein Schiff im Eismeer.” Didaskalia. Blätter für Geist, Gemüth und Publicität, 16 March 1841, p. 2. https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?apm=0&aid=did&datum=18410316&seite=2

“Ein Schiff im Eismeer.” Oesterreichischer Beobachter, 22 March 1841, p. 4. https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?apm=0&aid=obo&datum=18410322&seite=4

Jeans, Peter D. “The Schooner Jenny.” Seafaring Lore & Legend: A Miscellany of Maritime Myth, Superstition, Fable, and Fact, International Marine, Camden, ME, 2004, pp. 272–273.

Schuster, Frank M. “In search of the origin of an Antarctic ghost ship: The legend of the Jenny re-evaluated.” Polar Record, 58(e13), 2022, pp. 1-9.

“Sir John Franklin.” Edited by Michael Ray, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 30 Sept. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Franklin.

“The Drift of the Jenny 1823-1840.” The Polar Record. 12 (79). pp. 411-412. 1965. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/polar-record/article/abs/drift-of-the-jenny-182340/8FA2957ADD4D0964DFFAC2357A201C30

“Vermischte Nachrichten.” Laibacher Zeitung, 2 March 1841, p. 5. https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?apm=0&aid=lbz&datum=18410302&seite=5

“Vermischte Nachrichten.” Wiener Zeitung, 19 February 1841, p. 4. https://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?apm=0&aid=wrz&datum=18410219&seite=4

Wilkinson, Michael. “The Drift of the Jenny.” Stew and Sinkers, edited by David Vernon, Stringybark Publishing, 2018, pp.

Advertisements

Join "The Horror List" for Weekly Horror in your inbox






blank

Werewolf of Defiance & Other Cryptid Canines

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Over fifty years have passed since the original reports rolled into the Defiance Police Department. In spite of the turbulent political climate of the early 1970s (Nicely), this story caused panic. Rampant unsolicited reports ensued, meanwhile, there was a werewolf on the loose!

Outside of the original news articles, not much exists in the way of evidence of the Defiance werewolf sightings. Unfortunately, any articles found these days consist primarily of conflicting information. The focus on theatrics, mystery, and whimsy has only served to dilute the sightings from the summer of 1972.

This story has faced more than its share of scrutiny, undoubtedly small changes to the story over time have taken away from any authenticity it had. Marler stated that “the legend has stuck to the town and locals still talk about it to this day,” but our research has shown otherwise.

While it’s true that the legend has stuck to the town in a historical capacity, there are actually very few people who recall the incident. Those that do remember, however, don’t recall much detail. Nevertheless, most of the town remains relatively unaware of the existence of their local cryptid.

Werewolves

One common misconception about the original incidents is that they did not happen during a full moon. Common lore, however, would suggest that the days surrounding a completely full moon are also indicative of werewolf transformation. So, while the moon wasn’t full on July 25, 1972, it was a Waxing Gibbous moon. For those who want exact figures, it was at 98.18% illumination (“Moon”), which means it likely looked full to the naked eye.

Werecreatures, according to lore, are humans who have been cursed with the uncontrollable curse of transforming into a beast under the light of the full moon (Newton, 149). These creatures are paranormal in nature because they are humans with an affliction that transforms them into a beast. Unsurprisingly, legends have existed across nearly every culture in history, with the oldest reference being from Petronius Arbiter’s The Satyricon.

The appearance of werewolves is most prevalent in American pop culture. Throughout the last century movies, television, and literature have attempted to renew the vigor of werewolf lore ad nauseam. The depiction of werecreatures tends to range from comedic to horrific and this vacillation is heavily reliant upon the genre in which they appear. Regardless of their portrayal, whether comical or frightening, they remain a product of a paranormal world of which scientists remain highly skeptical.

For more history on the werewolf, check out our article on the History of the Werewolf.

Dogmen

The dogman is a conceptualized werewolf-like creature native to American culture. Dogmen are not considered to be paranormal in nature, since they exist at all times in their beast state, as both half-dog and half-man. Sightings of these wolf-like cryptids have a history of reports from across the United States but are most heavily centralized in the eastern half of the country.

Cryptid Canines of Ohio

For the past half-century, reported dogman sightings have been rampant throughout the state of Ohio. The most widely acknowledged case of sightings happened in the summer of 1972. Throughout the history of the Ohioan Dogman, it has boasted a surprising variety of different physical descriptions. Witnesses never seem to agree whether it presented as a bipedal humanoid, or as a beast walking on all fours.

Outside of Ohio, the most famous dogman in America is the Beast of Bray Road. It was reported from Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and the neighboring region beginning in the fall of 1989. The subsequent film, inspired by real events, depicted a wholly fictitious storyline (Newton, 149).

Is it a Dogman or a Werewolf?

In Newton’s entry on dogmen within his book Hidden Animals, there is a mention of a 2004 encounter with an unidentified witness. The witness claimed to have had a close encounter with a large bipedal creature with a face that more closely resembled a dog than a human. Another witness report from August 2005, coming from the Liberty area, described a sighting of a creature that was black in color and possessed the head of a large dog (Newton, 151).

When witnesses were prompted to describe the creature, each person immediately mentioned that the creature was “very hairy.” Outside of this vague descriptor, the three witnesses gave similar reports of the creature’s appearance (Stegall). DeLoye aptly summarized the physical appearance of the beast, as it was reported by various sources. All reports agreed it was very tall—between six and nine feet. The creature is bipedal but often looks as if it’s on all fours, as it has been seen hunched over on several occasions.

Many reported that despite having an animal’s head the creature resembled a man, or at the very least an upright wolf. Reports said the creature was covered in hair and that it ran around barefoot. Strangely, in place of human feet, it had large hairy paws and wolf-like claws. Potentially the strangest part of the description, by comparison, was that the creature seemed to be wearing blue jeans and a dark shirt. (DeLoye)

The Werewolf of Defiance

Amidst the heat of the summer of 1972, the residents of Defiance, Ohio suddenly began reporting sightings of a werewolf. An alarming number of people claimed to see a large hairy beast running around town, dressed in rags. Such an insurgence of reports came in, that it was far too great for the police to ignore.

Bewildering Encounters

The myriad versions of the myths and legends circulating about both werewolves and dogmen create a preconception of what they are. This means that the layman will assume the information they’ve gleaned from pop culture to be fact, despite the source material’s claims of fiction.

According to news sources, the first encounter with the Werewolf of Defiance happened around four in the morning on July 25, 1972. Railroad worker, Ted Davis, was working on the Norfolk and Western train lines (Pfeifle) at the time of his first encounter. As Davis was connecting the air hoses of two train cars something on the ground caught his gaze. Two huge hairy paws stood before him. No sooner did Davis raise his eyes in curiosity than the creature hit him with a two-by-four. Davis had seen enough to describe the creature as approximately six feet tall, hunched over, and hairy.

Skeptical of Werewolves

Less than a week later, on July 30, Ted Davis and his colleague Tom Jones reported a second sighting of the creature. Davis faced ridicule from Jones, who believed the whole incident to be a joke amongst the crewmen. All of that stopped that night when Jones witnessed the creature for himself at the edge of the railyard (Pfeifle). Jones was a believer.

The creature disappeared into the brush at the same time an unlucky grocer was driving home late from his shift that night. According to the unnamed witness’ statement, a large dog-like creature ran across the road in front of him (DeLoye). After Jones and Davis noted the creature’s absence, they heard screaming from a car stopped on a nearby road (Stegall).

The Crescent News was the largest skeptic of the bunch and reported that “two of the incidents occurred last week and one last night. None [have] happened during a full moon,” despite the evidence to the contrary. In fact, the first incident happened the day before the full moon (“Moon”).

Elaborate Hoax?

Marler suggested that the investigation should have been more thorough. In the original report from August 3, 1972, The Blade stated that “one man, a train crewman switching trains, said that he was approached from behind and struck on the shoulder.” Later in that same article, Davis is quoted as having claimed, “The creature ran away before [Davis] could say anything.” This uncertainty questions the legitimacy of the claim. Was Davis ever attacked by the creature?

In a follow-up article, The Blade discussed how most people in the area believed it was simply a hoax. A man in a costume, or rather “just some nut running loose,” (“Defiance Residents”).

Werewolf Panic Turned Joke

blank

The problem the Defiance Police Department seemed to face, was not that people were reluctant to report what they had seen, but that the panic caused people who hadn’t seen it to begin calling in due to their concern over the situation. One woman called in with such concerns due to her house being adjacent to the train tracks. She had not seen the creature, but stated that the reported sightings had put her “in a state of shock.”

The initial reports by local Defiance news outlet, The Crescent News suggest that they believed the whole thing to be a joke. Journalist Ellen Armstrong added humor to the incident when she reported it in her article on August 2, 1972. She went as far as to state that the police were “possibly armed with silver bullets and sharpened stakes” (Armstrong).

“Even a man who is pure of heart,
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms,
And the moon is clear and bright.”

Defiance Police, possibly armed with silver bullets and sharpened stakes, are on the lookout for “a wolfman,” who on three occasions, has accosted persons near the Norfolk and Western railroad tracks in the vicinity of Fifth Street and Swift and Co.

Two of the Incidents occurred last week and one last night. None has happened during a full moon.

According to Defiance Police Department, one man was attacked and struck on the shoulder with a two-by-four, however managed to get away from the assailant.

Two other attempts on residents, both men, have not been successful, so the department can’t say if the motive is robbery or just to scare people. No one has reported neck bites.

He, she or it, is described as very tall with “some kind of an animal head.”

Police Chief Don F. Breckler today said if anyone sees the “subject” they should not attempt to apprehend him but call the department immediately, giving a description and the direction in which he was heading.

The attacks have occurred (during the early morning hours, from 1:30 a.m. to 4:20 a.m. — before sunrise.

Ellen Armstrong, The Crescent News. August 3, 1972

Police Remained Alert to Werewolf Reports

blank

The Toledo Blade also began running a series of articles, starting August 3, 1972, on the strange sightings that had popped up in Defiance just a week earlier. Anyone not in the immediate vicinity of the occurrences readily made light of the situation. Defiance police, however, remained steadfast in their duties to protect and serve their small community (Stegall).

The reports baffled the authorities. Unsure what to think about the incidents being reported, they remained skeptical. Despite the number of sightings reported, all of the descriptions were vague. Police Chief Breckler was quoted saying, “We didn’t release it to the news media when we got the first report about a week ago, but now we’re taking it seriously for the safety of our people.” Breckler approached the reports with seriousness. Nevertheless, he was adamant in his belief that it was simply a person wearing a disguise, “such as a mask.” (Stegall)

When probed about his thoughts on the incidents, Breckler admitted that he was, “inclined to think it might be a local person … [since] none of the other area towns [had] anything like [it]. And in each case [the werewolf had] been seen in the same area of [Defiance].” (Stegall)

Motive for a Werewolf Hoax

Breckler was unsure what the motive may have been for a man scaring people in a costume. From the standpoint of a lawman Breckler doubted that the motive was robbery. He pointed out that the targets of these incidents were not the type to have a lot of money (Stegall).

While the panic over the werewolf was overwhelming, it disappeared as quickly as it appeared that early morning on July 25, 1972. Reports of sightings ceased, but the legend lingers on, especially now that information is so readily available in digital format (Marler).

Modern Interpretation of the Werewolf Incident

At the time of Nicely’s article in The Crescent News on July 25, 2013 there were still a few officers remaining in the city from the time, but none seem to remember the details of the case and none of the reports remain at the police department. JoAnne Barton, who worked dispatch at the time, insists that people ask her about the incident fairly regularly and her response is always the same, that she doesn’t “really recall it.” Granted at the time of asking, forty years had already passed, which makes sense that department worker Floyd Stites had much of the same response when asked about the happening. (Nicely)

Were these true werewolf sightings or was it all just a hoax? Since there was no physical evidence to fall back on, it’s hard to say. One thing is certain, if it were really just a man in a mask would it have fooled so many? It’s easy to look back on it from a modern perspective and reason that it could have been a realistic mask. However, in consideration of the technology available at the time for prop masks and practical effects, even large budget movies couldn’t create something altogether convincing. It’s clear that these people truly believed they saw a creature and not simply a man. For, if it were indeed a man, it would have been likely that the reports would have mentioned a man in a mask running around and causing mischief.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Ellen. “Horror Movie Now Playing On Fifth St.” The Crescent News, Aug 3, 1972.

“Defiance Residents Suspicious Of Their Werewolf.” Toledo Blade, Aug 4, 1972, pp. 1 & 21.

DeLoye, Logan. “This Is Ohio’s ‘creepiest’ Legend.” iHeart, 27 Oct. 2022, https://www.iheart.com/content/2022-10-27-this-is-ohios-creepiest-legend.

“Folks Still See Monster: Policemen Unable To Find Werewolf.” Toledo Blade, Aug 10, 1972, p. 34.

Marler, Darren, host. “THE WEREWOLF OF DEFIANCE’ and 3 More Strange True Stories!” Weird Darkness, Aug 2022, https://open.spotify.com/episode/1l29XNj7Ty4jWP6Zk20Rw3. Accessed June 25, 2023.

“Moon Phase for Tuesday July 25th, 1972.” The Nine Planets, nineplanets.org/moon/phase/7-25-1972/. Accessed 25 June 2023.

Newton, Michael. “Dogmen.” Hidden Animals: A Field Guide to Batsquatch, Chupacabra, and Other Elusive Creatures, Greenwood Press, Santa Barbara, CA, 2009, pp. 149–152.

Nicely, Lisa. “Anniversary of ‘wolfman’ Sightings in Defiance.” The Crescent News, 25 July 2013, https://www.crescent-news.com/local_news/local_news/anniversary-of-wolfman-sightings-in-defiance/article_4f21d345-a7df-573e-9820-3e7a98681ace.html.

Pfeifle, Tess. “The Werewolf of Defiance, Ohio.” Astonishing Legends, 11 Oct. 2020, https://astonishinglegends.com/astonishing-legends/2020/10/11/the-werewolf-of-defiance-ohio.

“Toledoan Cries Werewolf, But Police Disagree.” Toledo Blade, Aug 9, 1972, Sec. 3 p. 8.

Stegall, James. “Werewolf Case In Defiance Not Viewed Lightly By Police.” Toledo Blade, Aug 3, 1972, pp. 1 & 4, https://tinyurl.com/yzchhac5 & https://tinyurl.com/2725pxvs.

Advertisements

Join "The Horror List" for Weekly Horror in your inbox






blank

The Miniwashitu: Missouri River Monster

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Cryptozoology is a pseudo-scientific field of study, which undertakes the theories of creatures that are widely unknown to science. The myriad of creatures present within this field owes their origins to the folklore of indigenous American peoples. This includes popular cryptid lore, including Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, and Jersey Devil. Unsurprisingly the state of North Dakota also has an incredibly interesting, albeit bizarre and obscure monster of its own, known as the Miniwashitu!

Known for its harsh winters, North Dakota’s first frost can arrive as early as September, with below-freezing temperatures that stretch all the way into May. An ice sheet regularly forms atop the Missouri River during this part of the year and can extend as far as six feet below the surface. This ice sheet regularly blocks the passage through the waterway near Bismarck for at least three months each year. So, it’s no surprise that life on the plains is no picnic during the coldest months of the year, but even springtime brings its own unique dangers. (White)

Culturally Significant Water Monsters

Within the field of cryptozoology, the implication of water monsters is that they are serpents or other seafaring creatures. The Loch Ness monster, Tizheruk, Chessie, Champy, Ogopogo, and Memphre are all just a few examples of water monsters within cryptozoology. Outside of these more modern legends exists mythical creatures such as Jörmungandr, the Hydra, the Kraken, and the Leviathan. The Miniwashitu is an outlier, however, as it does not fit neatly into the same category as these other well-known cryptids.

The Mandan People

The Mandan people are believed to have settled along the banks of the Missouri River and its tributaries (White). This would have put them just south of what would become Bismarck and the Knife River, between 1100 and 1300. The Mandan people along with other Indigenous communities crafted a flourishing trade hub that stretched the region. It was a system that white fur traders took advantage of centuries later when they arrived. The river provided an easy route for trading goods. It also created an ease of access to goods that were vital for the Mandan people who were traditionally agricultural.

Seasonal Dangers & Stories Told

The trials and tribulations that the Mandan people had to withstand through the winters would have been abundant. Once the ice upon the waterways cracked, it was clear that the weather was warming. This brought much relief to the people of the region (White). That is not to say that seasonal dangers had passed. In fact, a thawing river and the breaking ice shelf upon the river would have still been quite dangerous. It’s likely that these dangers associated with the coming of spring would have been severe enough to warrant the creation of a dangerous monster who might cause the phenomenon.

Much like any other indigenous culture found across the globe, there was a reliance upon oral storytelling traditions. This tradition was the primary means of communicating cultural heritage. Oral storytelling is a less reliable method of communication across generations, but it leaves room for adaptability to change the story.

Being near a river would have been dangerous for all of the children of the tribe and in lieu of simply telling them to “stay away,” an iconic story would drive the point home (White).

Stranger Danger & the Effects of Colonialism

Tragically, by the time Gilmore had recorded the tale within his anthology of folklore, the river had taken on new dangers—ones that were no longer based in mythology (White). The introduction of white colonizers in 1782 ushered in the first wave of diseases such as smallpox and other dangers. By the time the second wave hit in 1837, the delicate nature of their human ecosystem had all but been decimated (White)

Melvin R. Gilmore & His Contributions

Cultural references to the Miniwashitu in North Dakota predate any European settlements in North America. Unfortunately, the first appearance of the Miniwashituo in modern media formats wasn’t recorded until 1921. The story was first introduced in the ethological anthropology of cultural stories as recorded by Melvin Randolph Gilmore in Prairie Smoke. Gilmore was a cultural anthropologist and the former curator for the North Dakota Historical Society (“Monsters”).

His career as a museum curator for a number of institutions spanned from 1916 to 1923 (“Monsters”). His passionate pursuit of unheard stories led him to regularly collaborate with the tribal nations in his area to record their cultural folklore (Rodenberg). Along with contributions to scientific periodicals on the culture and livelihood of the people indigenous to the Missouri River valley, he was also an authority on the Plains Indians (“Monsters”). As a result of his many contributions, Gilmore was an adopted member of the Pawnee tribe. (“Monsters”)

The Myth of the Miniwashitu

People rarely see the Miniwashitu, so there is very little information about it to this day. What does exist, exists primarily as a regurgitation of Gilmore’s original record from Prairie Smoke. Gilmore detailed the story of a beast that was known to exist “in the long ago”. Within the waters of the Missouri River, what Gilmore described was a dreadful sight to behold (Gilmore 26).

Gilmore’s informant was a second-hand witness to the last known sighting. The man witnessed the creature swimming against the current in the middle of the Missouri River. The creature crashed heavily into the ice sheet that sat upon the water. It broke it apart with its enormous body and lethal backbone. The man reported it made a “terrific roaring sound”. It was his description of the creature and what happened shortly after that caused such alarm (Gilmore 26). The informant explained that as soon as the man, “beheld the awful sight,” he lost his vision. His eyes darkened immediately. It was only by luck and a general sense of direction that the man was able to reach his home. However, soon after arriving home, he lost all sense of self and passed away (Gilmore 26).

What we know about the Miniwashitu

To witness the monster at night, one would see a brilliant fiery red streak lighting up the icy waterway. Truly a sight to behold! If one were to see the monster by day they would meet their end. They would lose their vision and hearing. They would soon become restless and begin to writhe in pain. Not until they were thoroughly insane would death kindly relieve them.

Some believe that the Miniwashitu, or water monster, still lives in the Missouri River (Gilmore 26). For those that still hold this belief, they claim that it is responsible for breaking the ice that has formed on the river come springtime (Gilmore 26).

blank

The Appearance of the Creature

The man’s story also took into account the physical description of the monster he witnessed, so we have included it here for reference. According to his report of the creature, it’s the appearance that was most frightful to behold. The Miniwashitu was described as having an extraordinarily strange form, covered from head to toe with hair that resembled a buffalo. The hair was red in color and the creature boasted only a single, cyclopean eye. Above its eye was a single distinctive horn. The bipedal creature stands at over seven feet tall, with humanoid hands and the cloven hooves of an elk. The backbone was described as protruding out, but irregularly notched and jagged like the teeth of an old saw. (Rodenberg)

The True Nature of the Miniwashitu

As one of the creature’s nicknames would imply the Miniwashitu, or Missouri Water Monster, spends much of its time submerged in the Missouri River. This seems to be quite lucky, considering its very appearance is so horrific that it would shatter the mind of anyone who witnessed it. The story has also evolved over the centuries since it was told to assert that direct eye contact would “freeze you in perpetual fear” as you suffered to death from insanity. However, it is also said that even if you were not to directly witness it, but were to simply hear its tremendous bellow, it would still render you unable to hear again.

Of course, none of this takes into account that the creature is actually quite docile despite its grotesque nature. It’s no more a predator than the mundane proven counterpart, the buffalo. The Miniwashitu is a noted pescatarian, subsisting upon fish, plants, and grass. Aside from the supernatural side effects of being in its presence, it is quite similar to a buffalo in being protective of its territory. All of this having been said, we’re delighted to know that this creature does not seek out humans to attack—not that it would need to considering its supernatural ability to harm without confrontation. (Rodenberg)

Fear the Miniwashitu

Regardless of the fear that accompanies the beast’s presence, there is massive respect for the creature that heralds the return of spring. The role it plays in breaking up the ice shelf on the river is a tremendous relief, especially after a difficult winter. The return of open waterways means an increase in the ease of travel, as well as a more available resource of fish. (Rodenberg)

Is it likely that a legitimate creature has managed to go undocumented by zoologists and wildlife biologists for so many centuries? No, it’s not likely, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. The world is still full of undocumented creatures. This water monster has such a bombastic presence, however, that it is unlikely to go undiscovered for this long.

So, if it exists, is the Miniwashitu a beast to be trifled with? Probably not, but if you’re wondering if this creature is dangerous, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know it’s likely not going to be munching on your sullied corpse. It may, however, render you blind, deaf, and so insane that the only relief you’ll find will be in death.

For another interesting read about river monsters, check out the Curse of the River Serpent!

Works Cited

Gilmore, Melvin R. Prairie Smoke: A Collection of Lore of the Prairies. Bismarck, Columbia University Press, 1929.

“Monsters on the Plains.” High Plains Reader, Fargo ND, hpr1.com/index.php/feature/culture/monsters-on-the-plains/. Accessed 20 May 2023.

Rodenberg, Brendan. “What Is the Missouri River Miniwashitu?” KX NEWS, 13 Mar. 2023, www.kxnet.com/news/local-news/what-is-the-miniwashitu-north-dakotas-little-known-river-monster/.

White, April. “In North Dakota, the Hideous Miniwashitu Ushers in Spring.” Atlas Obscura, 5 May 2023, www.atlasobscura.com/articles/miniwashitu-missouri-river-north-dakota.

Advertisements

Join "The Horror List" for Weekly Horror in your inbox






blank

The Cropsey Maniac: The Forgotten Origins

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

It’s not difficult to find sources about the Cropsey Maniac—that is if you’re looking for what has overwhelmingly taken the place of the original urban legend. Finding an article that doesn’t devolve into a true crime tell-all about Andre Rand and the serial kidnappings and assumed murders of disabled children from Staten Island is difficult, if not outright impossible. In fact, we’ve even addressed the true crime events here, but only in juxtaposition to the original, forgotten origins of the Cropsey Maniac urban legend.

The Origin of Cropsey

In 1977 the New York Folklore Society published an article that detailed some of the varied accounts of the Cropsey legend, from a survey of eleven New York City informants which Breslerman conducted in the fall of 1966 (Haring 16). What Breslerman found in his survey was, was that while all of the accounts varied on specific details, all of the significant plot events went relatively unchanged.

Watch Puzzle Box Horror’s Cropsey Urban Legend Video

As a time-honored tradition of summer camps in New York and some surrounding regions, children would attend bonfires to hear the story of the Cropsey Maniac. Once a well-respected member of the community, the accidental death of a loved one sparks a homicidal madness in him and drives him to stalk and kill children who stray off the grounds of the camp. Below is one of the accounts in full, from Peter Sherman, who was identified as a former camper and counselor at Camp Lakota on Masten Lake in Wurtsboro, New York.

George Cropsey was a judge. He had a wife and two children, all of whom he loved very much. He owned a small summer cottage along the shores of Masten Lake. His wife and children would go there for the summer months, and he would come up to visit with them on the weekends… One night two campers snuck away from the camp’s secluded evening activity and went down to the lake to roast some marshmallows. The fire they built went out of control and there was a big fire on the lake. George Cropsey’s family was burnt to death. When Cropsey read the report in the newspaper, it is said he became completely white and disappeared from his home. Two weeks later one of the campers from Lakota was found near the lake chopped to death wtih an ax. There was talk of closing the camp for the remained of the summer but they didn’t.

The camp owners insisted upon constant supervision of the campers, there were state troopers posted in the area, and each counselor slept with either a knife, an ax, or a rifle. One night at about three in the morning, one of the counselors was awakened by the screams of one of his campers. He put a flashlight in the direction of the screams and saw his camper bleeding to death, and, standing over him, a man with chalk-white hair, red, bloodshot eyes, and swinging a long, bloody ax. When the maniac saw the light, he ran from the bunk, but the counselor chopped at his leg with the hatchet he was armed with. The man got away but left a trail of blood into the woods. The state troopers were called, and followed the trail into the woods. They called to Cropsey to surrender, but all they heard was crazed laughter. They determined his position, and when he would not give himself up, they built a circle of fire around him. When the fire had subsided, they searched the woods for his remains but could find nothing. The police closed the file on Georg Cropsey, assuming him to be dead…

It is said that on the evening of the anniversary of the death of Judge Cropsey’s family, you can see the shadow of a man limping along the shores of Masten Lake.

(Haring 15-16)

Significant variations of the Cropsey Legend

Summer camps weren’t the only locations where these stories were told. Boy Scout circles, summer jobs, middle schools, high schools, and even universities were hot spots for spooky storytelling. Regardless of where the informant heard the story, their version was always localized to their respective camp or school.

Cropsey urban legend map of incidents
Mapped Locations from stories collected by Lee Haring and Mark Breslerman

Whether George Cropsey was the owner of a hardware store, a member of the city council, a county judge, or a retired businessman, he always seemed to be one of the best-liked men in town. In each story, he has a wife and at least one child who suffers an accidental death. Of course, it’s a tragedy and Mrs. Cropsey suffers immense sorrow—in most if not all cases, she dies from her grief not too long after her child.

In some instances, Cropsey’s wife and child(ren) die together in a fire or some other inexplicable accident. George Cropsey goes silently mad, disappears and that’s when campers start to go missing or turn up dead. When the police got involved, they would sometimes involve local residents organized into search parties. They would comb forests and even drag the nearest lake in an attempt to locate the missing children.

The terror continues as more campers and counselors go missing, or camp dorms go up in flames—Cropsey takes his revenge upon the innocent souls he deemed responsible for the misfortune that befell his family. The authorities realize that it is George Cropsey perpetrating all of these heinous acts against the youth and a manhunt begins.

In most stories, Cropsey is somehow cornered—whether by a fire in the forest, by bullet holes penetrating the boat he’s escaping in, or by chance of him plunging to his death off of a cliff. It is believed that he died, although there was no indisputable evidence, or body found to conclude that he was, in fact, dead. In every story, after his supposed death there is still a lingering suspicion that he is still out there, waiting to continue his murderous rampage. Overall the endings of each of the versions Breslerman acquired, the motif of the death of children as punishment remains the same.

This background story shows campers that an average person, who would usually be trusted in a city setting, may not be trusted in unfamiliar places. This shows the uncertainty of what might lurk in nature and serves as a warning away from the unknown.

(Vale 3)

Cropsey Pop Culture Parallels

When The Burning came out in 1981 it wasn’t particularly well received—especially not in comparison to the other slashers of the time, but it has since become something of a cult classic. Never mind the period-appropriate stunts, special effects, and over-the-top acting, this movie was loosely based on the original New York urban legend.

The film follows Cropsey, the abusive alcoholic caretaker of Camp Blackfoot; the counselors decide that pranking him will be the sweetest revenge. When their plan goes more terribly than they could have possibly expected, it ends with Cropsey being engulfed in flame, recovering in the burn unit of the hospital, and Camp Blackfoot being shut down.

The ill-fated prank spurs the beginning of a hunt for revenge, years later, against the counselors and campers of the local Camp Stonewater. Like other slashers of the time, the killings primarily surround the horniest of teenagers, leaving everyone else as victims of circumstance and convenience. Not precisely a blow-for-blow telling of the original legend, but it ultimately pays homage to it in ways that count.

Where the Cropsey Urban Legend Meets Reality: An Evolution to a Chilling True Crime Story

Cultures around the world have practiced the tradition of oral storytelling, mainly as fables and folklore for younger generations to learn an important lesson. This tradition would relate chilling tales to children about what could happen if they didn’t listen to their elders.

The community of Staten Island was no different in the mid to late twentieth century. When they would tell the story of the Cropsey maniac it was meant to warn them about the hidden dangers of the world and a feeble attempt to keep teenagers from misbehaving.

After all, Staten Island may have turned into a suburban community, but it was originally established as a dumping ground—not only for local garbage, but was also rumored to be a hot spot for mob body dumps.

My search for source material on this legend was originally quite thin; I was searching for the legend, the myth, and the fiction. My misfortune was that I consistently hit the same wall—with stories about the “real” Cropsey, which is what Staten Island locals dubbed Andre Rand, a convicted kidnapper, and suspected serial killer.

For the kids in our neighborhood, Cropsey was an escaped mental patient who lived in the tunnels beneath the old, abandoned Willowbrook mental institution. Who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets.

Joshua Zeman, Cropsey (2009)

The origin story of Cropsey is often confused with the real-life tragedy that befell the Staten Island community in that surrounded the Willowbrook State School grounds. It’s not surprising that the story of Cropsey was linked to a devastating series kidnappings and subsequent killings. Afterall, there were striking similarities between the spooky story told over a summer camp bonfire and the man who later embodied the legend.

… as teenagers we assumed Cropsey was just an urban legend. A cautionary tale used to keep us out of those buildings and to stop us from doing all those things that teenagers like to do, but all that changed the summer little Jennifer disappeared. That was the summer all the kids from Staten Island discovered that their urban legend was real.

Joshua Zeman, Cropsey (2009)

Andre Rand became the boogeyman of Staten Island, but he allegedly started out as an employee of Willowbrook State School. In some instances, he’s said to have been an orderly and in others a lowly janitor—these two accounts don’t seem to line up at all and we found no sources to cite in this instance.

After his brief two years of employment at the Willowbrook State School, Rand didn’t leave the area, instead, he set up his own private shantytown and remained on the grounds of the school. Rand was allegedly seen with several of the victims before their disappearances which ultimately made him a suspect.

One of the girls was found buried in a shallow grave between 150-200 yards from where Rand’s campsite was located. There was a trial, but Rand was only able to be convicted on one charge of first-degree kidnapping, but the jury was unable to convict him of the murder charge, despite his proximity to her grave. Rand, who is currently serving two 25-years to life sentences will be eligible for parole in 2037.

Did you know all of this about the Cropsey Maniac? If not, what did you know about the legend? Where were you when you heard it and what age were you? Let us know in the comments below!

Sources

Cropsey. Directed by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio. Breaking Glass Pictures, 2009.
Haring, Lee and Mark Breslerman. The Cropsey Maniac. New York Folklore 3. 1977 Pp 15-27.
The Burning. Directed by Tony Maylam, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1981.Vale, Meredith. The Cropsey Maniac. Artifacts Journal 11. 2014 Pp 1-5.

Advertisements

Join "The Horror List" for Weekly Horror in your inbox






blank

Join The Horror List