MURPHYSBORO - There are two dates from 1973 in Murphysboro that still leave some haunted - or at least curious.
The two police reports dated June 25 and June 26 relate the sighting of an unknown creature.
It was in those two evenings that reports came in of a loud, tall, white-haired creature caked with mud being spotted in the woods on the outskirts of town near the Big Muddy River.
It was later dubbed the Big Muddy Monster because of its indefinable features and mysterious presence. It set off a media frenzy after the initial reports on those two days, said former patrolman and retired Murphysboro police chief Ron Manwaring.
"(Those) are the most copied, most looked-at reports in the history of the department," he said.
Letters came streaming in from those as far away as California and New York wanting a piece of information or a piece of the prize.
But the prize is still elusive.
There are only two cases that remain unsolved in Murphysboro, Manwaring said, but after 32 years the case on the Big Muddy Monster still remains open.
"It's an unsolved case because I can't tell you what it was," he said.
Having retired three years ago and having not seen the Big Muddy Monster police reports in years, Manwaring is still able to recount those haunting evenings as if they had happened just yesterday.
And he recounts the stories as he would if writing the police report all over again.
"There were numerous sightings and people interviewed," he began.
The first report came in just before midnight on June 25. A couple had been "parked" near the boat dock on the southwestern edge of Riverside Park, next to the woods.
The two, who were not married, said they were in the car when they heard a loud screaming sound in the wooded area and observed a "large creature approximately 7 feet tall. The creature appeared to have light-colored hair matted with mud. The creature appeared to be walking on two legs and was proceeding toward his car" according to the report.
Manwaring said the two came to the police department and risked exposing their indiscretions because they were so frightened by what they saw.
"There was no advantage for them to come up and report this," he said.
Police searched the area with flashlights and spotted tracks in the mud approximately 3 to 4 inches deep, 10 to 12 inches long, and 3 inches wide. While officers were searching the area they reported hearing another scream coming from the woods.
But nothing could be found.
The next evening Manwaring said he was an officer on duty when a call came in from the Westwood Hills subdivision that two teenagers were sitting on the back porch when they spotted a tall, white-haired, hairy creature in a field just to the edge of the woods.
Manwaring said officers responded and while they were at the scene, a neighbor said his 5-year-old son had just come in 10 minutes earlier saying he had seen something on the edge of the woods.
"My partner and I decided to go down to the area where they saw this thing," Manwaring said.
He started traveling a footpath through the bushes and noticed a stench and a slimy film on the tree branches.
"I saw this substance and smelled the smell myself," he said.
Jerry Nellis, an officer with the Carbondale Police Department at the time and a trained dog-handler, was called to the scene. The dog tracked the scent all the way to a barn, but once it got to the barn, the dog refused to go inside.
Nellis said in his humble opinion it was a bear.
"We never got a good view of any tracks," Nellis said. "Is there a Sasquatch? I don't know - it makes for a good story, though."
Loren Coleman, a cryptozoologist who studied the Big Muddy Monster in the 70s, believes that it wasn't an animal in the woods.
"I think it's within the context of other reports of a Bigfoot," he said.
Like West Coast Bigfoot reports, Coleman said this creature was hairy, but differs in the fact that nobody was able to see any distinguishing characteristics in the facial area. He said this creature also seems more aggressive than those supposedly spotted in the West.
"There's something very unique about this eastern-midwestern Bigfoot," Coleman said. "From the reports from the Mud Monster it seemed to frighten people the way it didn't in the west."
Manwaring said people initially thought it was a prank, but after all this time no one has come forward to say so. And after the hype and hysteria was over with, he said he heard two more reports that seemed similar to those in June of 1973. One came in early July of that same year.
But what haunts him more is a report he heard from a man who lived in the Westwood Hills area before it was developed into a neighborhood in the 1950s. Manwaring said the man told him he was out working in his garden one evening when he spotted a creature that was similar to later reports of the Big Muddy Monster.
"I never did see it; but in my mind I feel those people really did see something," Manwaring said. "I guess it just remains a mystery."
Mention the Big Muddy Monster and everyone in Southern Illinois knows who you're talking about, even though the encounters with the Big Muddy Monster go way back to a few brief weeks in 1973.
ARRIVAL IN MURPHRYSBORO
On the evening of June 25, 1973, two young people heard the chilling, unearthly scream of some creature in the woods along the Big Muddy River south of Murphrysboro, Illinois. Sitting in a car in a remote parking lot from which fisherman often launched their boats, the couple then saw something moving closer in the woods. They'd later describe it as a 7-foot tall creature on two legs, covered with mud-matted light hair.
It continued to emit its screams as it closed on the car. 19-year-old Randy Needham started up the car and sped straight to the Murphrysboro Police Department.
He and Judy Johnson told police what they'd seen. Accompanied by then-Police Chief Ron Monwaring and other officers, Needham returned to the parking lot. Search got underway with lightsbut all that could be found were vague footprints.
At 2 am, the police were back, and with them surprisingly, was Needham. As the beams flashlights probed the parking lot and trees, there was a sudden, bellowing scream from the dark forest. Everyone ran for the parking lot where Needham identified the scream as the same as what he and Johnson had heard earlier.
The encounter marked the arrival of the Big Muddy Monster, presumably a Bigfoot-variant, in quiet Murphrysboro in 1973. Over the following weeks, more reports flowed in.
THE SECOND ENCOUNTER
The day after the initial encounter, police dispatched a German shepherd to pick up the trail after a woman caller reported a sighting. She told police her daughter and boyfriend had seen the creature in a field behind their house.
The dog picked up the trail and followed it to a barn, which he refused to enter. Police with flashlights entered the barn, but found nothing.
At least, for what it was worth, police now had a better, if still sketchy, description: 7-to-8 feet tall, 300-350 pounds, pale dirty white or cream colored, standing on two feet.
Days passed. Then on July 7th, another report came from a carnival owner at Riverside Park on the south edge of the town, on the banks of the Big Muddy, the river still, apparently, favored by the creature.
A tall, hairy creature had been bothering the carnival ponies the day before, the carnival owner told police. In order not to disturb customers, he had kept quiet until the next evening to report it. Several workers noticed the ponies trying to break loose from the trees to which they'd been tethered. The creature was seen observing the disturbed ponies from nearby but in a non-threatening manner.
The description given by the carnival workers this time was similar to earlier sightings, that of a creature 7-9 feet tall, 300-400 pounds, standing upright on two legs, with light brown hair over its entire body.
A few months passed, then a local trucker reported another, final sighting of the creature. It was seen a few miles southwest of town, near the Mississippi River into which the Big Muddy feeds. Tracks were left behind and preserved with plaster casts, but that was the last that was seen of the Big Muddy Monster.
Hardly the traditional stomping grounds of Bigfoot, it can be conjectured that this particular individual seen in Murphrysboro, if he was what is commonly believed to be a Bigfoot, was transiting his way through the area which explains why he wasn't seen after the 1973 reports. There have been through the past 30-40 years similar reports of Bigfoot-type creatures from places like Alton, Illinois and Louisiana, Missouri involving a Bigfoot-type creature seen a few times then disappearing as did the Big Muddy Monster.
Near midnight in 1973, a young couple was parked by a desolate riverside for a romantic interlude when they came face to face with a huge, wet, hairy, mud-slathered monstrosity with a penchant for disturbing teenage lovers.
During two harrowing weeks in the summer of 1973, the rural town of Murphysboro, Illinois became the epicenter of a terrifying series of encounters with a huge, albino beast, which would come to be known as the “Murphysboro Mud Monster” or the “Big Muddy Monster.”
This bizarre brute tormented the citizens of this small community — which is tucked away in southwestern region of the state — for approximately fourteen days before its reign of terror abruptly ended, resulting in one of the strangest and, in some ways, most frightening cases in the history of HAIRY HOMINID research.
While there are some who suggest that the first account of this creature came from an unnamed man who claimed to have seen the thing while gardening outside of his isolated Westwood Hills area home before it was developed into a neighborhood in the 1950s, most agree that the first official encounter with this decidedly unhygienic beast occurred at approximately midnight on the on June 25th, 1973.
The first known eyewitnesses were a youthful couple — Randy Needham and Judy Johnson — who were parked at the foot of 23rd Street, in Riverside Park, near the town’s old boat ramp overlooking the Big Muddy River.
Johnson’s father had expressly forbidden his daughter from dating Needham, which is why the pair chose such an isolated location for their illicit rendezvous. It would be a decision which they would soon come to regret.
According to their account, Johnson claimed that they were listening to the radio, engaged in a debate about when they should leave and, presumably, doing what couples are want to do, when they heard a piercing roar — which Needham compared to an “eagle shrieking into a microphone” — that seemed to emanate from the thick underbrush not far from his car. Needham quickly snapped off the radio and scanned the area, listening intently.
Suddenly, another horrific shriek echoed through the night accompanied by a rattling of the brushwood in front of them. Needham flicked on his headlights and Johnson gasped as they both saw a huge, foul scented creature lumbering toward them — a creature whose very existence would tax the limits of their imaginations.
Needham wasted no time in starting his car and accelerating away from the scene with his frightened girlfriend. As the pair entered more civilized territory they drove in stunned silence for a few moments before discussing whether or not they should report their encounter to the police.
Johnson knew full well that once they made an official report it would reveal their secret romance, but she decided that the trouble she was bound to get into when her father found out about Needham was nothing compared to what the monster they just saw might be capable of. It was then that the selfless duo made a beeline for the Murphysboro Police Station.
The couple arrived at the station and made out what is known as an “unknown creature” report, describing a beast that looked like an “over-sized gorilla,” which they estimated to be almost 8-feet tall, with matted, mud streaked, white hair. Former patrolman, now retired Murphysboro police Chief, Ron Manwaring, was still able to recite the facts of this strange incident from memory almost three decades later:
“The first report came in just before midnight on June 25. A couple had been ‘parked’ near the boat dock on the southwestern edge of Riverside Park, next to the woods.”
“The two, who were not married, said they were in the car when they heard a loud screaming sound in the wooded area and observed a large creature approximately 7- feet tall. The creature appeared to have light-colored hair matted with mud. The creature appeared to be walking on two legs and was proceeding toward his car.”
Manwaring felt that the couple’s account was lent credibility due to the fact they risked exposing their alleged indiscretions — which would no doubt bring them public ridicule and, even more alarmingly, Johnson’s father’s wrath — because they were so frightened by what they had seen by the river: “There was no advantage for them to come up and report this.”
While the officers who took down Needham and Johnson’s statement were understandably skeptical of the event, they dutifully sent out two patrolmen — Meryl Lindsay and Jimmie Nash — to investigate their report. Within minutes of the sighting the officers arrived at the boat ramp in the Riverside Park area to inspect the scene.
Officer Nash was the first to discover a plethora of “peculiar” tracks — “approximately 10 to 12-inches long and approximately three inches wide” — deeply impressed in the mud by the riverbank. Nash claimed that as he bent over to inspect the prints from a closer vantage point he was shocked to hear a horrifyingly shrill screech nearby. Nash took off posthaste, accidentally dropping his revolver in his panic.
The officer — who admitted that he initially thought the story to be little more than hogwash — described the hideous sound as: “The most incredible shriek I’ve ever heard. It was in those bushes. It was no bobcat or screech owl. We hightailed it out of there.”
Nash and Lindsay quickly went back to the station to report their findings and gather more men for a search party. The officers later estimated that whatever had made that sharp cry was no more than 300-feet away from them.
Approximately two hours later — at 2:00 am. on the 26th of June — officers Nash and Lindsay returned to the scene accompanied by officer Bob Scott and Needham.The quartet swiftly discovered another spate of tracks near the river. As Lindsay ran back to the patrol car to retrieve a camera the rest of the group intrepidly followed the prints along the bank.
Without warning, the stillness of the black night was shattered by the same horrible scream that Needham and Nash had heard earlier. Fear rapidly usurped curiosity as the trio of men summarily abandoned their search and raced back to the patrol car for safety.
After huddling in the car for what must have felt like an eternity — no doubt waiting for the beast to attack — the men managed to regain their courage and continued their pursuit of this enigmatic monster once more. This mini-posse worked until dawn trying to track down the “splashing” sounds — which they described as being like a large creature rushing through the knee-deep water in the distance — to no avail.
As the sun rose, the officers felt that this so-called “monster” would evaporate with the rest of the night-shadows, never to be seen again, but this presumably nocturnal fiend had a surprise in store for them.
At approximately 10:30 pm. on the evening of June 26th, 5 year-old Christian Baril was playing in his backyard — which was located relatively close to the Big Muddy River — attempting to catch fireflies in the glass jar his mother had given him.
The child frolicked about delightedly when he spied a colossal, white shape looming up from behind the fence that separated his yard from the neighbor’s property — the Ray family.
The terrified Baril dropped his jar and raced inside, crying out: “Daddy, Daddy! There’s a big ghost in the backyard!” The child’s father was understandably dubious of his son’s story, that was, until, his neighbors corroborated the tale.
This account of a terrifying backyard encounter is uncannily similar to one that befell another young Illinois boy named Greg Garrett just a few months earlier on April 25th, 1973.
Garrett claimed to have been attacked while playing in his backyard by a truly bizarre, slimy, three-legged beast known as the ENFIELD HORROR. Like Baril, Garrett immediately retreated to the relative safety of his parent’s house.
While Baril was sobbing in his father’s arms, teenager Cheryl Ray — now Cheryl Rath, housewife and mother of two — was sitting on her darkened back porch next door with her young suitor, Randy Creath. The pair claimed that they were talking and looking at the stars when they heard a rustling in the bushes about 15-feet away from the porch.
Assuming that is was neighborhood kids come to spy on them; an enraged Ray went inside to turn on the porch light, while Creath — the son of a state trooper, now a minister at the First Baptish Church in Sheffield, Iowa — leapt to his feet and opened the door, intending to investigate. This intention vanished the moment that the light came on revealing the same appalling apparition that had terrified Baril just minutes before — as well as Needham and Johnson the previous night. Ray recounted the scene:
“Randy and I were sitting in my parents’ breezeway when we heard something in the woods. We both went down, but Randy was walking a little bit ahead. Then he said ‘Come here,’ and there it was. We stood there looking at it.”
Creath and Ray stood frozen with shock as this filthy, white monstrosity seemed to stare back at them. Creath — who drew a sketch of the creature, revealing a distinctly spade shaped, FLATWOODS MONSTER-like head — recalled the moment vividly:
“The thing I remember was the bulk of it, the shape, the human form, and the stench of the river slime it apparently had on it. It was about eight feet tall, and at least as stocky as NY football player. We were within 15-feet of it, close enough to see the body, the texture of the fur, long and hairy, like an English sheepdog.”
Ray also described the beast, which she claimed bore inhuman features and stood more erect than an ape:
“It was real tall, hairy. I think it was white, but it was dirty, matted. It had a real bad odor. It was really rank. I never smelled anything like it. It seemed like an eternity we stood there, and then it just turned around and walked off into the woods. We could hear it trampling through the woods.”
Creath claimed that the “animal” stared at them for what felt like a long time, although he later estimated that the incident lasted only about 30 seconds. Both agreed that the creature had “glowing red eyes,” which Creath accredited to the glow of a distant streetlight.
This description of the eyes is significant if one is to assume that the Murphysboro Mud Monster is actually a prototypical BIGFOOT-like creature that just happens to be albino. While pink eyes are a common trait in animals lacking pigmentation, Ray — unlike Creath — would insist that this beast’s eyes were actually “glowing” and were not reflecting light from some other source.
This description of glowing eyes is very similar to that of another ape-like monster — the aptly named ORANGE EYES — which is said to skulk around lakes and cemeteries near Cleveland, Ohio.
After this strange interaction, the couple claimed that the shaggy beast simply turned and pushed through the shrubbery, thrashing its way back to the nearby river.
Creath and Ray testified that the creature they saw weighed at least 350-pounds, stood about 7-feet tall. They also stated that it had a “roundish” head and long, gorilla-like arms. Officers Nash and Manwaring were swiftly dispatched to the scene, where they noticed a powerful odor that quickly dissipated. They also found a cluster of footprints where the creature had been lurking.
Following the officer’s discovery, then Chief, Toby Berger, immediately dispatched the rest of his men to the scene — all fourteen of them — then sent for an officer and trained dog handler with the nearby Carbondale Police Department, a man named Jerry Nellis.
Nellis was the owner of a tough German Shepard named “Reb,” who had assisted the Murphysboro police in the past as a search and rescue, attack dog and, most pertinently, as a man — or, in this case, monster — tracker.
The officers — armed with rifles, revolvers and flashlights – discovered a trail of unidentified “black slime” that seemed to lead directly from the Ray’s back porch to the river. Officer Manwaring confirmed the existence of this still unknown material:
“I saw this substance and smelled the smell myself.”
Almost instantly, Reb picked up the scent of his prey and took off. The men then followed the dog down the recently forged path of broken tree limbs and trampled underbrush toward their bizarre quarry.
The dog managed to track the monster through the dense forest and down a steep embankment toward a small pond, but the brush became too thick for it to continue. The officers began searching the area with flashlights for clues as to where this creature might have escaped, but in no time Reb picked up the scent again.
The determined dog darted toward an abandoned barn on the Bullar property — which was located just east of the Ray’s house and a little north of the river — but once he got to the decaying door the usually courageous canine began trembling and yelping with fear.
This mystified both Nellis and the officers who had noted over the years that Reb was the most relentless tracking dog in the county. Nellis attempted to grab the dog by the scruff of his neck and thrust him through the open door of the barn, but Reb just dropped to his belly and scampered backwards, whimpering.
The usually bold Reb’s terrified reaction to whatever lurked within the barn was enough to convince Chief Berger to call in the “troops.”
He radioed for help from neighboring police departments and within hours a dozen patrol cars had responded to his call.
Unfortunately — or perhaps very fortunately for those involved — in the time that had elapsed between Reb’s fearful display the arrival of backup, whatever it was that had hidden in the barn managed to slip out through the back. Not long after, the search was called off for the night and the disappointed officers returned to their home bases.
But this would not mark the end of the Murphysboro Mud Monster saga as sightings of this mysterious man-beast were reported two more times during the next week and a half. Berger claims that during this period he was worried less about the monster and more about one of the 10,000 Murphysboro residents shooting another in one of the many armed posses that seemed to spring up like wildfire.
The next reported encounter with the beast occurred approximately 10 days later after a traveling carnival set up camp in Riverside Park. The carnival workers — apparently unaware of what was lurking nearby — chose a pleasant glade near the river between the boat ramp and the sewage treatment plant located below the Ray house.
At 2:00 am. on July 7th, long after the carnival had closed up for the night, three carnies — Otis Norris, Ray Adkerson and Wesley Lavender — where sitting behind one of the carnival trucks discussing the day’s receipts when they heard a series of whinnies coming from the Shetland ponies that were tied to the bramble on the other side of the truck.
The men quickly got up to see what the commotion was all about and were shocked to find the usually docile ponies — which had been trained to give children rides in endless circles like a merry-go-round — where in a tizzy with their eyes rolling in terror, furiously tugging at their ropes in a desperate bid to free themselves from their constraints. It wasn’t long before the carnies would see what the frenzy was all about.
The men maintained that they spied an 8-foot, 400 lbs. creature — which, much like Missouri’s MOMO seemed to have no distinguishable facial characteristics beneath its fur — that seemed to be “calmly” watching the ponies. The men decided not to wait around to see what happened next and immediately ran for help, claiming that the monster also ran in the opposite direction.
About an hour later, one of the carnival workers called in to help deal with this beast, Charles Kimbal, claimed that he saw the creature once again staring at ponies with its head cocked to the side in what was described as a “deeply curious” pose.
While this would prove to be the last “eyewitness” report of the creature, its reign of fear was not quite complete. Later that same night a woman named Nedra Green asserted that she heard a screaming sound coming from a shed on her rural farm. She, wisely it would seem, chose to remain inside her home rather than go out to investigate.
Following the carnival sighting yet another crowd of locals — most of whom were armed to the teeth – gathered in Riverside Park hoping to take a shot at he furry, white fiend.
This only exacerbated Berger’s concerns for the townsfolk’s safety, so he implored the town fathers to bring in “expert” help.
The man they chose for the job was St. Louis insurance agent and serious student of SASQUATCH reports HARKAN SORKIN. Sorkin led a group of five men — including reporters from the Kansas City Star and a lawyer — into the woods near Murphysboro in the fall of 1973, in an effort to track and possibly capture the Murphysboro Mud Monster.
Sorkin claimed that private groups had offered as much as $2.5 million for the creature’s capture. With that in mind this small expedition came armed with a stun gun with the capacity to take down a for a 500-pound animal, as well as chocolate and bananas, which Sorkin stated they would use to pacify the beast.
They also carried loaded shotguns, which they claimed would only be used if their safety were threatened. Sorkin further claimed that they had local zoos standing by and that arrangements had been made for a cage to be flown in by helicopter should they get lucky and manage to imprison the monster.
Needless to say, this mini-expedition met with very little success. Sorkin asserted that they heard “a very loud yell or guttural sound, between a roar and a bellow” and saw huge footprints and found two-inch saplings pulled out of the ground.
Of course, it wasn’t long before the press got their talons into this tale of a colossal, mud-caked critter. The local paper, The Southern Illinoisan, ran a small story on the search, which was eventually picked up by the New York Times.
Famed cryptozoologist LOREN COLEMAN investigated the sightings in the 1970s and came to the conclusion that the Mud Monster was a Bigfoot-type creature, stating: “I think it’s within the context of other reports of a Bigfoot.”
Coleman also felt that the Murphysboro Mud Monster represented a distinct type of ape-like creature distinct from its west coast counterparts in that they are known to be more aggressive: “There’s something very unique about this eastern-midwestern Bigfoot. From the reports from the Mud Monster it seemed to frighten people the way it didn’t in the west.”
Over the next three years there were sporadic reports throughout the area of animals that resembled the Mud Monster. Perhaps the most intriguing of these sightings occurred on January 26th, 1975, when four truckers — all of whom were traveling separately — radioed in reports of seeing a bizarre “bear-like” creature near the Illinois 149 junction west of Murphysboro.
On July 7th, 1975, two Murphysboro men reported a sighting of a strange creature that they believed may have been the Big Muddy Monster near a pond in the Harrison community, north of Murphysboro. Needless to say these isolated events in no way compared to the tremendous flap of encounters that had plagued the community in the summer of ’73.
It bears noting that in July of 1969, there were reports of a large, hairy, white creature called the LAKE WORTH MONSTER hailing — not surprisingly — from Lake Worth in Texas. While most assumed that this was a standard Hairy Hominid sighting, there were some who insisted that it was a HYBRID BEAST that was half-man, half-goat, much like Maryland’s infamousGOATMAN.
The case of the Mud Monster — which began on a lonely LOVERS LANE and ended near a desolate farmhouse — is just one of two cases that remain unsolved in the history of the Murphysboro Police Department.
Perhaps Police Chief Berger put it most succinctly when he said: “A lot of things in life are unexplained, and this is another one. We don’t know what the creature is, but we do believe what these people saw was real.”