Thursday, November 8, 1973
Big Muddy Monster makes the big (New York) time
About the article
Murphysboro’s Big Muddy Monster of last summer has attracted nationwide attention. Radio stations in New York and Massachusetts and a national magazine have made recent inquiries about the monster. New York Times News Service reporter Andrew H. Malcom visited Murphysboro in October and filed this story on the national wire of the Times’ news service on Oct. 30.
By Andrew Malcolm
New York Times
Mrs. Nedra Green was preparing for bed in her isolated farmhouse near here the other night when a shrill, piercing scream came from out by the shed.
â€œItâ€™s it again,â€ she said.
Four-year old Christian Baril was in his back yard chasing fireflies with a glass jar. He ran in the house. â€œDaddy, Daddy,â€ he said â€œthereâ€™s a big ghost out back.â€
Randy Creath and Cheryl Ray were talking on her darkened porch when something moved in the brush near by. Cheryl went to turn on a light; Randy went to investigate.
At that moment it stepped from the bushes.
Towering over the wide-eyed, teen-age couple was a creature resembling a gorilla. It was eight feet tall. It had long shaggy matted hair colored a dirty white. It smelled foul like river slime.
Silently, the couple stared at the creature and the creature stared back at the couple, 15 feet apart. Then, after an eternity of perhaps 30 seconds, the creature turned slowly and crashed off through the brush back toward the river.
It was the Murphysboro Monster, a strange creature that has baffled and frightened the police and residents for weeks now in this southern Illinois town on the sluggish Big Muddy River.
It is a creature that has brought a real kind of Halloween to Murphysboroâ€™s 10,000 citizens. And although the hobgoblin is so far benevolent, no one here is taking any chances. Many have armed themselves and a good number of God-fearing families decided to curtail traditional Halloween trick-or-treat rounds.
Such monster sightings are bizarre indeed for an old farm county seat where brightly colored leaves fall on brick streets and high school majorettes practice baton twirling for the Red Devilsâ€™ upcoming football game with Jonesboroâ€™s Wildcats.
â€œA lot of things in life are unexpected, said Toby Berger, the police chief, â€ and this is another one. We donâ€™t know what the creature is. But we do believe what these people saw was real. We have tracked it. And the dogs got a definite scent.â€
It all began shortly before midnight June 25. Randy Needham and Judy Johnson were conferring in a parked car on the townâ€™s boat ramp down by the Big Muddy.
At one point the couple heard a loud cry from the woods next to the car. Many were to describe the sound as that of a greatly amplified eagle shriek.
Mr. Needham looked out from the front seat. There lumbering toward the open window was a light-colored, hairy, eight-foot creature matted with mud.
At that point, the police report calmly notes, â€œcomplainant left the area.â€ He proceeded to the police station and filed an â€œunknown creatureâ€ report.
Judy Johnson was married at the time, according to the police, but not to Mr. Needham. So when the two reported the monster, the authorities took it seriously. â€œThey wouldnâ€™t risk all that if they werenâ€™t really scared,â€ said one.
Later, as Officer Jimmie Nash inspected some peculiar footprints fast disappearing in the oozing mud left by the receding river, he became a firm believer.
â€œI was leaning over when there was the most incredible shriek Iâ€™ve ever heard,â€ he said. â€œIt was in those bushes. That was no bobcat or screech owl and we hightailed it out of there.â€
Officers searched the riverbank for hours, following an elusive splashing around like something floundering through knee-deep water. They found nothing.
Plains folks hereabouts do not excite easily. So the next day on page three The Southern Illinoisan published a 200-word account of the â€œcritter,â€ omitting the embarrassed coupleâ€™s names. That presumably was the end of the case.
But the next night came young Christian Barilâ€™s encounter and the experience of Cheryl Ray and Randy Creath, the 17-year-old son of a state trooper, who drew a picture of the creature.
That did it for Chief Berger. He ordered his entire 14-man force out for a night-long search. And Jerry Nellis, a dog trainer, brought Reb, an 80-pound German Shepherd renowned for his zealous tracking.
With floodlights officers discovered a rough trail in the brush. Grass was crushed. Broken branches were snapped. On the grass Reb found gobs of black slime, much like that of sewage sludge in settling tanks on a direct line between the river and the Ray house.
Red led Mr. Nellis and Officer Nash to an abandoned barn on the old Bullar farm. Then, at the door, the dog yelped and backed off in panic. Mr. Nellis threw it into the doorway. The dog crawled out whining. The men radioed for help. Fourteen area police cars responded, but the barn, it turned out, was empty.
Officer Jimmie Nash searching an area at Murphysboro, Ill., near a parking lot where a monster was reported.
Ten days later the Miller Carnival was set up in the townâ€™s Riverside Park, not far from the boat ramp. At 2 a.m. July 7 the dayâ€™s activities had stopped and the ponies that walk around in circles with youngsters on their backs were tied to bushes.
Suddenly they shied. They rolled their eyes. They raised their heads. They tried to pull free. Attracted to the commotion, three carnival workers – Otis Norris, Ray Adkerson and Wesley Lavander – walked around the truck and there, standing up right in the darkness was a 300 to 400 pound creature, hairy and light colored and about eight feet tall.
With no menace, but intense curiosity, the creature was watching the animals.
The men ran for help. The creature left. But an hour later Charles Kimbel saw it again peering over bushes, its head cocked, watching the ponies.
The creature report, which carnival operators delayed filing to avoid hurting business, was the last official note of the Murphysboro Monster. However, there have been many incidents that have not been reported for fear, not of the monster, but of the hundreds of humans who flock to each sighting with rifles and shotguns.
Somehow, no one has shot anyone else yet, but the police had to close the park one night. It was crammed full of hunters and curious campers.
â€œThis is no hoax,â€ said Tony Stevens, the newspaper editor, â€œthis is hunting country, you know, and anyone who goes around in an animal costume is going to get his butt shot off.â€
Local officials are not really sure what to do. They invited Harlan Sorkin, a St. Louis expert on such creatures down for a spell.
Mr. Sorkin said the descriptions matched those of over 300 similar sightings in North America in the last decade, one of them on an Ohio River levee not far from here. There has even been a movie, â€œThe Legend of Boggy Creek,â€ made about a similar creature in Arkansas.
Mr. Sorkin says the creature is probably a Sasquatch, believed to be a gene deviation in a large ape that has produced a creature that Tibetans call the Abominable Snowman or Yeti and Rocky Mountain Indians call Big Foot.
Typically, he said, these creatures are very shy and favor riverbottoms for their ample vegetation. Even in winter here in Southern Illinois, which is further south than almost all of Virginia, plenty of plant life is available, especially in the vast Shawnee National Forest that straddles the state 400 miles south of Chicago.
Mr. Sorkin speculates that this yearâ€™s flooding forced the creature from its natural home, perhaps a cave down river.
Genetically placid creatures, the Sasquatch is said to have killed some hunting dogs during chases. And there are stories of wilderness loggers in the northwest found crushed next to their emptied rifles.
â€œThese creatures have the strength of five men,â€ Mr. Sorkin said, â€œand when frightened they take five-foot strides.â€ To skeptics Mr. Sorkin replies, â€œyou know the gorilla as we know it today was not discovered until the early 1800â€™s. Can you imagine what people thought when they first saw it?â€
Whatever, it is called, the exotic new inhabitant here is real to residents of Murphysboro, a â€œhospitableâ€ town which, the Chamber of Commerce, says â€œwelcomes newcomers in a way that makes them happy to be living here.â€
â€œThese are good honest people,â€ said young Randy Creath, â€œit would be fascinating to see it again and study it. But you know, I kinda hope he doesnâ€™t come back. With everyone running around with guns and sticks, he really wouldnâ€™t have much of a chance, would he?â€