Sunday, September 15, 1996
The Big Muddy Monster – Tracks, screams, smells and sightings since 1973
By Tracy James
The Southern Illinoisan
Many people think the Big MuddyÂ Monster and the people who claim to see it are the stuff tabloid stories are made of. Sporadic sightings of the creature, described as seven or eight feet tall, chunky, usually standing upright, and covered with light, mud-covered fur, began in 1973 near Riverside Park and were reported north and west of Murphysboro for the next three years. One more sitingÂ would be reported by a group of people in 1988.
WITH THE EARLYÂ sightings, mysterious tracks were found. Piercing screeches ran chills up the spines of residents and police. Stinky river slime fell on bushes and swaths were made through woods. Some say its odor was so bad that it totally overshadowed any fears they had of becoming the monster’s lunch.
“It’s the sort of thing people associate with tabloid weirdness and too much to drink, actually,” said Randy Creath, now a Baptist minister in Fort Wayne, Ind. “it’s just one of those things you say, ‘Oh, should I tell anyone?” And before there was a chance to make that decision, the police were called.”
TWENTY-THREE YEARS ago Creath sat with his girlfriend Cheryl Ray, both 17, in the breezeway of her parents’ home in Murphysboro’s Westwood Hills subdivision near the Big Muddy River. They heard a rustling noise at the edge of the yard near Ray’s father’s garden. Thinking it was neighborhood children, they went out to scare them. But after a few steps in that direction, they found themselves frozen in their tracks, staring in awe at a towering creature only 15 feet away.
“It just stood there and stared at us,” said Cheryl Ray Rath, from her Florida home. “I couldn’t have run if I tried.”
“THE SMELL. It wasn’t right away,” she said. “You would think when we were standing right by it we would notice it. It was when we got up to the house (50 yards away) that it was terrific … it was worse than a sewer smell, I can’t even begin to describe it.”
Their experience came only days after a couple claimed to see a creature similarly described at the Big Muddy boat dock on South 24th Street. Newspaper reports said the creature came lumbering toward a car shortly after midnight. The driver took off, heading for the police department.
AÂ young neighbor of the Ray family told his parents he saw a big white ghost in their back yard as he ran around trying to catch fire flies.
THE MONSTER CRAZE had begun.
Early on, police took these reports seriously, according to newspaper accounts. Murphysboro police and Jackson County sheriff’s deputies checked out the reports trying to find evidence – one way or another – that the creature existed or was a hoax.
A police dog was used after the sitingÂ near the boat dock. The dog followed a scent to an outbuilding on a vacant farm, but refused to go in. More than a dozen police officers answered the call for backup but a search of the building turned up nothing.
BOB SCOTT, a sergeant with the Carbondale Police Department, was a sheriff’s deputy at the time and was involved in the searches. He and another police officer walked into the woods near the boat dock where the couple said the creature was seen. They got as far as 25 yards.
“We heard the largest screech that I’d heard in a long time and it immediately got ourÂ attention.” Scott said. “So we decided to come out of the woods and reassess.”
IN THE BACK of his mind, he thinks it could have been a hoax because everything they saw and heard could have been produced byÂ Â humans.
“I do know there was an unusual odor and I still can’t describe what it was” he said. “And there were some strange footprints that weren’t shaped like an animal print or a human print.”
So, what would police have done if they found the Big Muddy Monster?
“I don’t know,” Scott said, chuckling. “I don’t know ifÂ anyone discussed what we’d do if we did find something.”
Police weren’t the only ones looking for the Big Muddy Monster. Hundreds of cars drove through Riverside Park looking for the beast. Out-of-state media came to the area, some camping out in the river bottoms. A story about the sightings appeared in the New York Times — not exactly a tabloid.
OTHER STORIES included one by some truck drivers heading north on Illinois 3 in February of 1975. They saw something that looked like a bear or gorilla near a wooded area several miles south of Illinois 49. Another sitingÂ near McElvain Shcool that summer turned out to be an Angus cow. And in the summer of 1972, a Cairo man said he spotted a hairy, white two-legged creature standing 1o feet tall near the Ohio River levee in Cairo.
The night Creath and Rath had their close encounter, some other teens were having a party across the street. When they heard of the siting, the civic-minded youths, recent graduates of Murphysboro High School, decided to get involved.
“WE DECIDED we’d go look for it,” said Debbie Moore, of Carbondale.
Moore, the executive director of the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau, grew up a couple blocks from the Big Muddy River. She said she is convinced the people who saw the creature saw something. She just doubts it was a monster.
“That was a period of time when the stories of swamp monsters and all those things were really big across the nation,” she said. “But in my family, people who grew up close to the river and hunted and fished, were were convinced it was a bear that made its way down the river on some logs.”
Her father got some mileage out of the craze. He made some plywood feet and made some Big Muddy Monster prints of his own. Moore said those plywood feet stuck around in her family. Ever her young children played with them.
Randy Creath reluctanly returned the recent phone call asking about the night in 1973 when he and his girlfriend, Cindy Ray, came face to face with the Big Muddy Monster. Sometimes, he said, he wishes they had never reported seeing the creature.
At the time, reporters looked at him like, “you poor jerk.”
His father found the drawing Creath made of the creature and a reference to him in an old science textbook. And every two or three years he gets calls from reporters about his adventure.
The story had followed Cindy, too. A first-grade teacher heard of her story from one of Cindy’s children and asked her to tell the class about it. Since then, she returns annually to the classroom.
Rath and Creath think the creature might be similar to a Sasquatch, a manlike being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Or, Creath said, it could have been somone wearing a costume. Rath doubts that, even considering how realistic modern can be.
Creath also discounts the bear theory. He’s seen bears. That would have to have been “a big bear. A way big bear. “