The Big Muddy Monster
By Helen W. Linsenmeyer-Keyser
Springhouse – Magazine
From time to time a shiver of fear courses throughout southern Illinois, after still another report that a monster has been sighted in an out-of-the-way location. This has happened not only in and around Murphysboro and Grand Tower, in Jackson County, but in other localities as well.
In the early 1970s a monster appeared, apparently for the first time in Jackson County. Russell Ward, a Murphysboro man, reported that as an eleven-year-old boy, he was playing with some friends in the woods near his home in Westwood Hills, a Murphysboro suburb, one afternoon, when a “thing” appeared. Terrified, the boys raced home and Russell’s mother said he was almost incoherent as he tried to describe this hair-raising experience and the creature which brought it about.
About midnight June 25, 1973, a young Murphysboro couple, Randy Needham and Judy Johnson, were sitting in Needham’s car in Riverside Park on the southwest edge of Murphysboro, bordering the Big Muddy River. They heard a cry, inhuman, loud and shrieking, in the trees along the river’s edge. Then they spied a seven-foot tall creature slowly approaching the car. It appeared to be covered with light-colored hair, matted with mud, and was walking upright. They left the area in great haste and Needham filed a report with the Murphysboro Police Department. Judy was married at the time, but not to Needham. “So they were really scared,” a Deputy Sheriff said. A police officer, James Nash, inspected the footprints fast disappearing in the oozing mud. He heard the “most incredible shriek” from the bushes and “high-tailed it out of there.” Officers searched the riverbank for hours, following a splashing sound like something floundering around in the water, but found nothing.
The next night Cheryl Ray and Randy Creath, the 17-year-old son of a state trooper, were sitting on Cheryl’s front porch and saw the creature. Randy drew a picture of it for the police. Police Chief Berger ordered the entire 14-man police force out for a night-long search, and Jerry Nellis, a dog trainer, brought his 80-pound German shepherd along to aid in the search. Using floodlights, the officers discovered a rough trail in the brush. Grass was crushed, broken tree branches dangled, and small trees were snapped off. The dog picked up the foul-smelling scent. The trail led to an abandoned barn in the area. On approaching, the dog backed off, yelped, and refused to enter the barn, whereupon Nellis picked it up and threw it bodily into the doorway. But the dog crawled out immediately, whimpering, and when the police entered the barn it was empty.
In 1975 the Monster made its appearance in the Harrison area, immediately north of Murphysboro, the first sighting reported since 1973. That same year two truckers reported a sighting at the junction of Highways 149 and 3, west of Murphysboro. Also that same year Tom Hale, Grand Tower restaurant owner, displayed the plaster cast of an extraordinarily large, peculiarly-shaped footprint in his restaurant. He told inquiring visitors that the cast had been brought in by a Boy Scout group, and had been made from tracks in the Oakwood Bottoms, a swampy, spooky area along Highway 3 near Grand Tower and not too far from the above-mentioned junction of Highway 3 and 149. As Hale was well known as a practical joker, some of the viewers scoffed and called it a fake.
Also in 1975 the Miller Carnival was set up in Riverside Park, not too far from the previous sighting of the Monster. The ponies used for riding by the youngsters who came to the park were tethered to bushes on the riverbank. Suddenly the ponies shied, rolled their eyes and raised their heads in an effort to pull free of their ropes. Three carnival workers, Otis Norris, Ray Adkerson and Wesley Lavander, walked around the truck and right there, standing upright in the darkness was what they described as a 300 to 400-pound creature, growling fearsomely. The workers retreated, and sounded the alarm. Townspeople and outsiders stalked the area with loaded guns, forcing the authorities to close the park. A newspaper reporter commented that as southern Illinois is hunting country and hunters own guns, if the creature was human, it (he) was likely to come to harm if the whole affair was a hoax.
About the same time two youths near the McIlvain School on the outskirts of north Murphysboro, reported seeing “it” while gigging frogs along the Big Muddy River. And a logger near Cairo, at the extreme southern tip of the state where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers converge, reported seeing a monster along the Ohio River levee.
Exploration continued through the years, and periodically sightings of strange, foul-smelling, fur-covered, gorilla-like creatures were reported in other parts of the world. In Asia the Abominable Snowman astounded and frightened those who swore they encountered him (them). In 1973 a report from the Himalayas, and from northern California heightened peoples’ curiosiity and apprehension. In her book Bigfoot, Carrie Carmichael inquires into the existence of this purportedly half-human, half-animal creature said to have roamed the northwestern states and British Columbia for hundred of years. In 1924 a man, in search of adventure, ventured into the British Columbia woods to hunt for a lost gold mine. His Indian guide told him about another man who set out in a similar search and was never heard from again. A sasquatch killed him, said the guide. (Sasquatch is an Indian name for large mountain creatures, over 8 feet tall, with hair all over their bodies; but they are not animals.) Their feet were over two feet long. The man, a Mr. Oatman, proceeded on his quest and was kidnapped by strange creature and carried to a camp where he was held captive for a time. Eventually he made his escape and returned to civilization. However, he kept his story of his incredible adventure secret for 30 years, for fear no one would believe him.
Leif Ericson’s Norsemen reported finding some strange creatures which they described as horribly ugly, hairy and dark “with big black eyes.” And in 1811 an explorer, David Thompson, went to British Columbia to hunt furs. One day he came across a track in the snow; measured it: 14 inches long by 8 inches wide. In 1884 railroad workers building a railroad through the wilderness captured a strange creature which they named Jacko. A newspaper decribed the creature as “4 feet, 7 inches high, weighing 127 pounds, resembling a human being except that his entire body except his hands and feet, was covered with glossy black hair. They planned to send him back to England, but one day he disappeared. They had assumed from his behavior that he was young.”
Another story told by Theodore Roosevelt was about two hunters in British Columbia who encountered Bigfoot, and of one being strangled.
Skeptics would like to know why no carcasses, or even a single bone of these monsters have ever been discovered. Investigators say bones of any species do not last long in the forest floor, as scavengers break them up and the acidic soil of the forest is not conducive to fossilization. Bones of deer, common in this area, are seldom found. Meanwhile, memories of the reports in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1975 in the Murphysboro area continue to be discussed among those who saw whatever it was, and the question remains: could a population of 7-foot tall humanoids live in the United States and elsewhere, thus far unknown to science?