*For this week's folklore series post, the focus will be on more of a "local monster" than a folkloric one - TH*
GUEST POST BY COLIN SCHNEIDER
The Bladenboro Mystery
***Author’s Note: Parts of this post has previously appeared in Animals & Men***
In late December of 1953, while the citizens of Bladenboro, North Carolina celebrated the holiday season, a beast unlike anything they had known reared its head and terrified the small town for over a month. The varmint made its presence known on December 29 in the nearby town of Clarkton when a resident reported hearing her neighbor’s dogs barking in a frenzy. When she went onto her porch to investigate, she spotted a large feline creature slinking away into the shadows.1 The next day, a dog’s mutilated corpse was found. In the nearby town of Lumberton, there was also an attack that night. The Matthews family reported that three of their kittens were mutilated, their skulls crushed and throats slit. Their lamb was also attacked and killed in the same fashion.2
On New Year’s Eve, the beast arrived in Bladenboro. Two dogs owned by local Woody Storm were mauled and were reportedly drained of blood.3 Before the bodies were found, resident D. G. Pait also reported seeing a dog attacked by a large creature and dragged into the woods, but did not get a good look at the assailant. Numerous residents also reported hearing strange sounds emitting from the forests around the town which resembled a woman screaming.4
The next day, the mutilated corpses of two more dogs were found. The scene of the attack was startlingly brutal; both dogs had their jaws pushed back until they snapped, one had an ear that was ripped off and the other’s tongue was missing. When the dogs were examined, an unusual lack of blood was found and noted by the police. Because of the grisly attacks, local police chief Roy Fores gathered a small group of seasoned hunters to hunt the mutilator down.5
All seemed quiet again until January 4. That night, a local man named Johnny Vause discovered that one of his puppies was killed. The animal did not appear to be exsanguinated, but its nose was gnawed off and the body had long gashes. Vause had previously reported an attack on another one of his dogs. At this point, the beast had claimed a total of seven victims in town, all dogs. Five of them were reportedly drained of all or most of their blood and all had varying degrees of mutilation.6
That night also proved significant concerning the party of hunters that the police chief assembled. Using tracking dogs from the nearby town of Wilmington, the hunters were led to an area of the town known as “the Mills Section.”7 Previously, Mills Section resident Lloyd Clemons encountered a creature that he considered to be the Beast. Clemons described the animals as “around three feet long, and low to the ground, probably 18-24 inches high.”8 The Chief considered the animal encountered to have been a cat and likely the Beast. After the hunters were led to the Mills Section, they followed the dogs down to a nearby swamp.9 The swamp was declared the most likely place for the Beast to dwell and began to be regularly searched.
The morning of the 5th arrived with Johnny Vause reporting the previous night’s attack. The scene of the attack proved quite fruitful after investigation. A series of tracks leading from the kill were discovered. They were declared to have been from a mountain lion weighing approximately 80 to 100 pounds. Nearby, a second, smaller set of tracks were also found, leading to the suggestion that the Beast had a mate.10
Chief Fores, when asked about the Beast by a newspaper reporter, expressed worries concerning the animal. He said, “So far the killers have limited themselves to dogs, but there is no telling when they might attack a small child.”11 Fores’ worries soon proved correct. That night, while investigating a strange sound, Mrs. C. E. Kinlaw was nearly attacked by the Beast. Mrs. Kinlaw claimed that the varmint lunged at her while she stood on her porch looking for the source of the strange sound. The animal was then scared off after her husband came out. When describing the creature, Mrs. Kinlaw said “it looked like a dog from the rear,” and noted that it was grey in color. Unfortunately, she was unable to get a better look.12
|Story from the Raleigh News and Observer|
After the Kinlaws reported the attack, a group of over 500 hunters were gathered to search for the Beast. They began to comb through the swamp by the Mills Section and set traps to lure the creatures out. Around 1:00 a.m. that night, one of the groups searching for the Beast heard a panicked, whining sound. They followed the noise and found a large dog being dragged into the swamp by one of the creatures. Before they could fire any shots, the creature disappeared into the darkness with the dog in tow. They described the brief flash they saw as large and dark colored.13
The morning came and no one had any success in finding the creatures. The hunters tried once again that night, but had to be called off due to the high concentrations of seekers flocking from other towns to join the hunt. That night, the number of excited and heavily armed pursuers reached nearly 1,000 strong, outnumbering the population of the town. While Chief Fores did call off the hunt, he posted armed guards around the town to patrol the streets at night. No one saw the creatures that day, but the Mills Section residents did report strange sounds that resembled a baby’s cry.14Bladenboro wasn’t the only town with unusual occurrences. The nearby town of Fayetteville reported that on January 7th, two dogs were found dead in the yard of John S. Jones. They did not have any of the signs of mutilation that was associated with the Beast, nor any evidence of violence. The newspapers suggested poisoning, but the dogs were never examined by a veterinarian to find a conclusive cause of death. The dogs were lying about twenty feet from each other in the front yard when they were found. They were last known to be alive at around 3 a.m. due to barking. One of the dogs was owned by a neighbor, Thomas McLaughlin, and the other was a stray. Nearby, a series of four-inch-long footprints were found. There were scant details reported concerning the tracks but it was noted that they had four toes and no claws were shown, which is consistent with big cat prints.15
The Beast also returned to Lumberton on the 7th. A resident reported to the police that he had encountered a “thing” resembling a feline running through a field carrying a dog in its mouth. The witness noted that the animal had bushy hair around its head and shoulders, but was oddly devoid of hair around its body and tail.16
Around this time, the Beast was beginning to attract the attention of people other than the newspapers and police. Bladenboro’s local theater began advertising and showing a horror movie titled “The Big Cat” to capitalize on the attention and popularity that the subject was garnering.17
Sightings and attacks began to taper off for the next few days.
Then, on January 11th, two different cars nearly collided with a large cat as it calmly crossed the road. The passengers of both vehicles described the strange feline as about four feet in length with shaggy brown hair and “runty-looking ears.” The local newspapers were quick to jump to the conclusion that the Beast was back.18 Later that day, Zeke Stanton from Lumberton, North Carolina was prompted by the new encounter with the Beast to come forward with his explanation from the attacks. Zeke claimed that his dog Big Boy was the Beast. According to him, Big Boy had escaped several months prior and was quite capable of committing the attacks. Zeke said he raised the dog as a guard for his scrapyard and had fed it nothing but blood and scraps from the nearby slaughterhouse. This wouldn’t have been the first time Big Boy had allegedly attacked local animals either. Zeke claimed that Big Boy had escaped several times previously and had attacked a nearby chicken coop, viciously slaughtering the animals, but not eating them. Zeke also claimed that another dog of his had attacked and drank the blood of a calf which prompted him to get rid of the animal. Big Boy was a 70-pound German Shepard mix that had a “long, bushy tail and a coat of… black on the surface of his coat and brown underneath.” Zeke also emphasized that he felt that Big Boy was a “bad” dog. Even going as far as to say, “if I met him in the woods I wouldn’t call him. I would kill him before he got to me.”19
Sightings stopped after January 11th and attacks after the 7th. The town of Bladenboro began to think that the Beast had finally been killed or at least moved away. The calm was broken again on January 19th when Berry Lewis reported that one of his pigs was ripped apart and eaten on the previous night. There was little left of the pig: nothing more than bones and a few pieces of meat held together by skin. After investigation, it was learned that whatever had killed the pig also gnawed on the bones. The teeth marks on the bones led to the conclusion that the killer was a large cat of some kind. Nothing was seen around the scene of the attack and no tracks of any kind were found.20 After the 19th, attacks finally stopped altogether.
In 2013, Thomas Byers, a self-proclaimed paranormal investigator, posted an article on the website HubPages discussing the Beast of Bladenboro. He claimed that he was contacted by a woman from Bladenboro, Misty Turner, on June 15, 2013 about a strange creature that had attacked and killed her ponies. In order to visualize the story, Byers included two images, one of a badly injured horse and the other of two horses laying down in the pasture. He implies that these photos are from the woman’s farm and are of the killed horses.21 I was immediately skeptical of the article because HubPages is a website that pays for each article that is written and has no vetting process. After a bit of digging, I found that both photos were from other websites and had been used previously.
The first photo was of two horses laying down in a pasture surrounded by other horses. This was from David V. Mitchell’s blog Sparsely Sage and Timely. The photo was actually showing Mitchell’s horses enjoying the nice weather by laying down.22 The second photo was of an obviously injured horse laying in the mud. The picture was actually of a horse that was saved from drowning and starvation in Edgworth, Lancashire, England in 2011.23
Two other details nail the lid shut on the coffin concerning this story. Firstly, the name Misty Turner and the date she contacted the author appear to be taken from an article from the blog Foodforfelines. The Foodforfelines article mentions the author was contacted by a woman named Misty Turner from Bladenboro, North Carolina.24 And secondly, there were no other reports to any major or local news outlets concerning any kind of horse attack on or around June 15th.
When I discuss stories such as the Beast of Bladenboro, the question I get most often is what I think the creatures were. When I look at a case as complex as the Beast of Bladenboro and the accompanying attacks before and after, I am not content just shrugging the explanation off as any one thing. There is no one explanation that solves all the mysteries. But that also does not mean the whole thing is a mystery. Indeed, if we are ever going to find a plausible explanation for any of these attacks, one must go through each case individually and match aspects to fitting explanations.
Firstly, what are some candidates for what was seen? Well, many of the descriptions sounded vaguely cat-like. The Beasts were generally described as large cats with dark brown or black, shaggy coats. While this is the most common description, there were several other descriptions that suggest that any encounter with a medium to large sized predator was assumed to be the Beast. When one considers the level of hysteria associated with the Beast, it isn’t too far fetched to suggest that the majority of sightings were misidentifications. Concerning the predations, the attacks are fairly consistent with cougar attacks.
Cougars attack animals with several different methods, depending on the victim’s size. For larger prey, they will leap on the animal’s back and bite the top of their neck, severing several vertebrae for an efficient kill or they will bite the top of the skull, crushing it. Smaller kills will generally be bitten at the throat while the cougar holds on from the front. Cougars then drag away their kill; either burying the body under dirt or leaves or putting the body up a tree.25 Cougars are also known to kill in excess when attacking domestic or wild herd animals which is known as “surplus killing.” The practice of surplus killing is generally seen when a cougar is presented with a high number of animals moving frantically around in an enclosed area. The cat’s hunting instincts kick into overdrive and they kill everything in sight, leaving the bodies as they fall.26 The attack methods of a cougar does fit quite well. The movement of the kills is eliminated when the cougar attacks in surplus, which the Bladenboro attacks most certainly were. The skull being crushed and the throat wounds both are consistent with the attack methods of cougars.27 The largest issue concerning the cougar being the culprit is the fact they are supposed to be extinct in the eastern part of the United States. Despite that, there is evidence to show that cougars do occasionally make their way into the eastern side, or may still remain here undetected.28
The other important aspect of the case to look at is the attacks themselves. Many of the Bladenboro victims were reportedly drained of their blood. There are only three species of mammal known to sustain itself through drinking blood: Desmodus rotundus (the common vampire bat), Diphylla ecaudata (the hairy legged vampire bat), and Diaemus youngi (the white-winged vampire bat).29 These bats are barely the size of a teacup and don’t drink enough blood to cause any harm to the animals they prey on. They are only found in Central America, Mexico, and South America.30 There is no evidence that a mammal of any larger size could sustain itself on only blood.
That being said, according to the police and newspapers at the time of the Bladenboro attacks, the animals were bloodless at the scene of the crime.31 This could appear to have occurred through a handful of different ways. Firstly, when an animal dies, its heart stops pumping. When the heart stops pumping, the blood in the body settles as gravity acts on it, causing pools of blood to form. This causes the animal to appear as if it was drained of its blood. This is called lividity.32 Also, nearly every case during the Bladenboro wave included wounds to the throat. This could lead to the (often inaccurate) conclusion that the attacker was aiming to puncture the jugular vein in order to drink the blood. Cougars are known to attack the throat, as are most large predators.
Finally, while the sightings of the “Beast” around Bladenboro do vary in description, can be explained through various animals that were known to be running around at the time of the attacks. Big Boy, the apparently bloodthirsty hound owned by Zeke Stanton, could plausibly fit the descriptions of the Beast. As do bobcats, several of which were killed during the frantic hunt. All in all, the Beast of Bladenboro appears to be a smorgasbord of various animals put together into the legendary beast.
|A bobcat killed during the hunts.|
Was it the beast?
When any sighting of a large, dark-colored feline occurs, the first thing that is suggested is a black panther. Black panthers are either leopards or jaguars that have completely black coats which is due to a process called melanism. Melanism is the prevalence of the pigment melanin in an animal’s skin or hair. This causes the animal to be very dark or black in color.33 There is also no evidence that the cougar can be melanistic meaning a black cougar is likely impossible.34
Cases where animals were ripped to pieces in excess are likely examples of canid predation. Canines such as feral/domestic dogs and coyotes are known to attack animals through excessive biting and shredding of the flesh. Often this leaves nothing but strips of flesh and hair and a pile of bones. They are also well known for practicing surplus killing.35, 36
Often when something contrary to the “norm” happens in a community, people panic and associate it with monsters. This isn’t always the case. Logical explanations generally work for a good portion of the world’s mysteries. Unfortunately, there are those who are researchers into the unusual that want various mysterious creatures to be real, to the point that they appear to ignore what could be a plausible explanation right around the corner. Yes, the Beast of Bladenboro is a famous monster story, but it probably wasn’t anything more anomalous than a misplaced puma. Honestly, I think the prospect of that is pretty interesting on its own, maybe more so than a “vampire cat.”
*This post is #9 in a series concerning legends and folklore of monsters and paranormal beings throughout the USA. Check the label to see the others.*
Check out Colin's blog here.
- The Beast of Bladenboro.” North Carolina Ghost Stories, http://northcarolinaghosts.com/piedmont/beast-bladenboro/. Accessed 10 August 2017.
- Kitty Korner.” The Robesonian, 8 January 1954, p. 1.
- North Carolina Ghost Stories.
- Gause, John. “Armed Hunting Party to Seek Bladenboro’s ‘Vampire Beast’.” The Robesonian, 5 January 1954, p. 1.
- Ibid. p. 4.
- “Bladenboro Hunters Seek ‘Vampire Beast’.” The Daily Independent, 6 January 1954, p. 2.
- Gause, p. 4.
- “Woman Eludes Bleeder Beast in Attack at Bladenboro Home.” Asheville Citizen-Times, 6 January 1954, p. 5.
- Gause, John. “’Vampire’ Hunters Outnumber the Residents of Bladenboro,” The Robesonian, 7 January 1954, p. 1.
- “Kitty Korner.” p. 1.
- Ibid. p. 1, 4.
- “Theater Announces it has ‘Big Cat’.” Asheville Citizen-Times, 8 January 1954, p. 15.
- “Vampire Beast Halts Autos on Leisure Stroll.” Asheville Citizen-Times, 12 January 1954, p.
- “Dog is Suspected of Being Bladen ‘Vampire’.” The Robesonian, 12 January 1954, p. 1.
- “Slain Hog Arouses New Fears of Vampire Beast.” Asheville Citizen-Times, 20 January 1954, p. 4.
- Byers, Thomas. “The Vampire Beast of North Carolina.” HubPages, 12 July 2014, https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/The-Vampire-Beast-Of-North-Carolina. Accessed 11 August 2017.
- Mitchell, David V. “Way Out West in West Marin.” Sparsely Sage and Timely, 28 April 2013, http://www.sparselysageandtimely.com/blog/?p=19244. Accessed 11 August 2017.
- Broster, Paul. “Loving Veterinarian Saves Horse Minutes Before It Drowns in a Ditch.” Daily Express, 13 June 2015, http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/584237/Veterinarian-animals-horse-love-care. Accessed 11 August 2017.
- Help! My Dog had been Bitten by a Snake!” Foodforfelines, 14 May 2016, http://foodforfelines.com/help-my-dog-has-been-bitten-by-a-snake.html. Accessed 11 August 2017.
- “Cougar Biology & Behavior.” Western Wildlife Outreach, http://westernwildlife.org/cougar-outreach-project/biology-behavior/. Accessed 12 August 2017.
- Hansen, Kevin. “Cougar: The American Lion: Chapter Five: Cougars and Humans.” Mountain Lion Foundation, http://www.mountainlion.org/CAL_ch5.asp. Accessed 12 August 2017.
- Western Wildlife Outreach.
- Bolgiano, Chris, Todd Lester, Donald W. Linzey, and David S. Maehr. “ Field Evidence of Cougars in Eastern North America.” Eastern Cougar Foundation, 12 December 2000, http://www.easterncougar.org/pages/6thworkshop.htm. Accessed 12 August 2017.
- Naish, Darren. “Desmodontines: The Amazing Vampire Bats.” Tetrapod Zoology, 8 February 2007, http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2007/02/08/desmodontines-the-amazing-vamp/. Accessed 12 August 2017.
- “Common Vampire Bat.” National Geographic, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/c/common-vampire-bat/. Accessed 12 August 2017.
- “Woman Eludes Bleeder Beast in Attack at Bladenboro Home.” Asheville Citizen-Times.
- 12. Claridge, Jack. “Rigor Mortis and Lividity.” Explore Forensics, 15 January 2017, http://www.exploreforensics.co.uk/rigor-mortis-and-lividity.html. Accessed 12 August 2017.
- LaRue, Michelle. “So You Say You Saw a Black Panther? Here’s Why I Don’t Believe You.” Living Along Wildlife, 27 August 2015. http://www.livingalongsidewildlife.com/2015/08/so-you-say-you-saw-black-panther-heres.html. Accessed 12 August 2017.
- Langley, Liz. “What’s a Black Panther, Really?” National Geographic, 17 January 2015, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150116-black-animals-cats-leopards-science-jaguars-genetics/. Accessed 12 August 2017.
- LaRue, Michelle. Living Along Wildlife.
- Sheldon, Jennifer W. Wild Dogs: The Natural History of the Nondomestic Canidae. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc., 1992, p. 30-9. Print.
- Westfall, Scottie. “Can Dogs Hunt Cooperatively in Packs?” Natural History, 26 June 2012, https://retrieverman.net/2012/06/26/can-dogs-hunt-cooperatively-in-packs/. Accessed 12 August 2017.