Sep 4 2012 4:00pm
We hope you enjoy this excerpt from Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America by Linda S. Godfrey, out right now from Penguin Books:
The U.S. has been invaded – if many dozens of eyewitnesses are to be believed – by upright, canine creatures that look like traditional werewolves and act as if they own our woods, fields, and highways. Sightings from coast to coast dating back to the 1930s compel us to ask exactly what these beasts are, and what they want.
Researcher, author and newspaper reporter Linda S. Godfrey has been tracking the manwolf since the early 1990. In Real Wolfmen she presents the only large-scale cataloguing and investigation of reports of modern sightings of anomalous, upright canids. First-person accounts from Godfrey’s witnesses – who have encountered these creatures everywhere from outside their car windows to face-to-face on a late night stroll – describe the same human-sized canines: They are able to walk upright and hold food in their paws, interact fearlessly with humans, and suddenly and mysteriously disappear.
Godfrey explores the most compelling cases from the modern history of such sightings, along with the latest reports, and undertakes a thorough exploration of the nature and possible origins of the creature.
The Canid Invasion
Do true, shape-shifting werewolves exist in the modern world—or are the woods, fields, and highways of the United States infested with creatures that merely look like the legendary canine monsters? According to scores of sober, credible eyewitnesses, creatures resembling wolfmen do walk among us! Scary old tales of werewolves and other man-animals have lurked amid the folklore of cultures worldwide ever since the campfire was invented. Ancient denizens of the British Isles believed competing clans transformed themselves into wolves in order to attack livestock. Europeans of the Middle Ages kept a sharp eye out for those who showed signs—like hairy palms or unusual moles—of having made pacts with the devil to become werewolves. Many Native American tribes believed certain medicine men could manifest animal forms to go forth and perform malign deeds. The wolflike Navajo skin walker is probably the best-known example of such lore.
But based on today’s largely rationalistic view of the world, many tend to pooh-pooh the possibility that such frightening creatures could truly exist. We like our monsters safely pasted on the silver screen or caged in the confines of a game console. During the last few decades, werewolves have become increasingly commonplace in movies, TV shows, and hyperreal video games. Werewolves playing a starring role in the 1985 flick Silver Bullet, based on Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, or in the 2007 episode of the TV show Supernatural that featured a murderous lycanthrope, are great fun because they remain under glass, living on only in our imaginations.
It was a shock to the collective psyche in January 1992, then, when headlines slashed through worldwide media heralding werewolf sightings in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Citizens of the small town, located about half an hour’s drive from Beloit on the Illinois border, claimed to have seen a six-foot-tall, fur-covered creature complete with muzzle, pointy ears, and fangs lurking on a rural two-mile stretch called Bray Road. Such monsters may be everywhere in our entertainment world, but their sudden appearance in densely populated regions of America’s Dairy Land was stunning, even to a public already used to eyewitness reports of UFOs and Bigfoot.
I wrote the original news story “The Beast of Bray Road” for the December 31, 1991, issue of The Week, a paper that covered events in Walworth County. A less adventuresome publication might have ignored the reports entirely. But as a newly hired reporter, I was at once skeptical and intrigued. Elkhorn is a rather conservative little community whose citizens are not usually given to weird proclamations. It bills itself as “The Christmas Card Town” because its picturesque square was once the subject of a series of popular greeting cards, and it functions as the county seat of government. Unknown, hairy creatures were not something anyone could recall in the town’s entire history. The Week’s newsroom staff had a good laugh over the whole idea of werewolves, but since I was curious, the editor finally told me to see what I could learn about it.
I had never even heard the term “cryptozoology”—the study of unknown animals—at the time, but these sightings promised an enticing mystery to be solved. At the very least, I thought people had the right to know if a dangerous animal was in the area. I was not the only person thinking that way.
In my initial investigation I found that people had been calling the county’s animal control officer, Jon Fredrickson, to ask what the strange creature they had seen could possibly be. Some of the reports to Fredrickson involved multiple eyewitnesses, so that my first count of people who officially claimed to have seen a large, mysterious canine totaled at least eight.
My next step was to visit Fredrickson at his office, where he pulled a manila file folder from a drawer. The folder was labeled “Werewolf.” As I have said many times since, when a county official has an active file folder marked “werewolf,” that’s news. Armed with only a notebook, a pen, and a driving need to solve the puzzle, I began the wild hunt.
FIRST WITNESS REPORTS:
As I contacted the callers whose information Fredrickson had shared, I learned to my surprise that the witnesses were as diverse as they were frightened. A young single mother named Lorianne Endrizzi had spied a canine too large to be a dog crouching by the side of Bray Road as she drove home from work late one night in 1989. It was kneeling, she said, as a human would do, and held what looked like a road-killed animal in its paws. Endrizzi searched Elkhorn’s library for pictures comparable to what she saw and concluded the closest thing to her memories of the beast’s long claws and wolflike face was an illustration in a 1976 Western Publishing book called The Golden Book of the Mysterious. “To this day I believe it was Satanic,” said Endrizzi.
A woman who happened to know Endrizzi drove a school bus on which Elkhorn High School student Doristine Gipson was a daily rider. In late fall 1991, Gipson told the driver about a recent encounter she had had, which reminded the driver of Endrizzi’s sighting. On the night of October 31, Gipson was driving on Bray Road when she suddenly feared she had hit some sort of animal, after one of her front tires bounced. Hoping she hadn’t hit someone’s pet, she stopped to have a look. No sooner had she stepped out of her blue Plymouth Sundance, however, than a large creature charged out of the cornfield at her, running on its hind legs. Its hind paws hit the pavement with the same thudding sound the feet of a good-size, sprinting human might make.
“Here comes this thing,” she told me later, “and it’s just running up at me! It was no dog; it was bigger than me.” It was larger than any dog she had ever seen, she said, and it had dark brown fur and pointed ears. She could see the muscles of its chest heaving as it ran toward her.
She jumped back in the car and floored the gas pedal as the creature followed in hot pursuit. The unknown beast made a final lunge as Gipson sped away, and scratched the rear of her car with its claws. She watched in her rearview mirror as it ran after her for a few more seconds before it turned back into the field.
On a later trip that night to pick up a girl from a Halloween party, she caught another glimpse of the creature in a field near the same place, but this time it did not give chase. The girl saw the creature, too, and said, “Look at that thing!” Gipson recounted, glad that someone else had witnessed the odd beast.
Gipson called the creature “a freak of nature, one of God’s mistakes.” She showed me vertical scratch marks on her car’s trunk that were spaced as if scratched by sturdy claws on a pretty big paw. And Gipson has stuck to her story ever since, even though she had to endure much ridicule from her classmates for the rest of that year.
Endrizzi and Gipson soon learned they had plenty of company in their belief that something tall and furry was roaming the Bray Road area. A group of eleven-year-old middle school students had a most unnerving experience with the creature on nearby Bowers Road in December 1990, after a sledding party.
Heather Bowey, then eleven years old, was trudging home over the snow with a few cousins and friends just before sunset, when she saw what looked like a dog by a nearby creek—the same narrow waterway that winds across Bray Road. The youngsters started toward the dog to play with it, but were startled when it reared up and began to chase the very scared children while running on just its hind feet. It soon gave up the chase, however, and veered into a nearby field, an action I now recognize as very characteristic of this creature. Heather and the others reported the incident to her mother about two years before my newspaper article appeared, so it could not have been a case of impressionable children parroting the news.
The creature Heather described appeared very similar to the one Endrizzi and Gipson encountered. Heather said its face reminded her of a coyote’s but it was much bigger than any she had seen, and that its legs were like a dog’s but more muscular. She said that it ran with a leaping or bounding motion, and that its fur was a mixture of silver and dark brown. I also spoke with Heather’s mom, Karen, who remembered how frightened her daughter was that day, and with Heather’s cousin, Russell Gest, who was also in the group that was chased and who confirmed Heather’s account. One of my sons went to school with Heather and Russell; he told me he thought that they were very serious and truthful about the incident.
Other area residents also reported glimpsing the wolflike creature, but Endrizzi, Gipson, and Bowey were the main focus of the story I wrote. I gave them aliases at the time to protect their privacy, but they all later decided to reveal their identities on area TV news shows. The story exploded on a variety of print, radio, and TV news outlets across the nation, including a segment on the CBS show Inside Edition.
Elkhorn would never be the same. The Lakeland Bakery made werewolf sugar cookies, taverns offered Silver Bullet beer specials, and The Week sold scores of werewolf T-shirts. Local state representative Chuck Coleman published a photo of a man named Robert Burnette wearing a rented werewolf suit as he posed with a pen, pretending to endorse Coleman’s (ultimately successful) candidacy for reelection.
Even criminals jumped on the werewolf craze. A man named Jose Contreras was arrested for lurking in a Bray Road driveway with a nine-millimeter handgun and fifty rounds of ammunition. Contreras claimed he had brought the weapon for self-defense against the werewolf. He was convicted partly because, as District Attorney Phillip Koss drily observed, the bullets in Contreras’s gun were not silver.
The field day continued as eager hunters armed with cameras— and sometimes automatic weapons—swarmed the two-mile road lined with old family farms and cornfields, in search of the creature. But although the initial excitement around Elkhorn eventually ebbed, the awareness that there are human beings experiencing scary encounters with upright, canine creatures has grown far beyond Bray Road. Two decades later, people continue to report similar sightings across the United States, Canada, and other countries. The important questions remain: What are these aggressive, bipedal canines, and what do they want? Should we be afraid of them? Teasing out some sort of explanation is one of my aims in writing this book.
THE NATURE—OR SUPERNATURE—OF THE BEAST
Nailing down satisfying answers to questions about the nature of the canine beastie is a frustrating task. The creatures skulk in the liminal—places at the edges and outskirts of wild and civilized environs where borders between reality and unreality also seem to fuzz and fray. They look like natural—if strangely behaving— animals in most cases, but despite their aggressive appearance and actions, they almost always run away or hide at the first opportunity. Does this mean they are afraid of people, as most wolves are, or is there a no-harm clause—as some Native American traditions suggest—in their ancient history that forbids them to snack on us? It seems odd that no eyewitnesses have reported any actual bodily assaults by these creatures, but with the minor exception of a Canadian man who claimed a dogman grazed his hip with its fang as it lunged past him on a park trail, witnesses all claim the creatures stop just short of physical attacks.
Others have wondered the same thing over the years and have provided abundant theories to explain the creature’s true nature and reticence to devour humans. The possibilities run from the startling—time-travelers, nature spirits, and canid aliens—to the more mundane idea that they are members of some misidentified, known but specially adapted species such as the timber wolf. Strange connections I’ve discovered to things like water, certain human constructions, and Native American artifacts, however, pop up in enough reports to tease our imaginations and test the limits of our open-mindedness.
I do try to stay open-minded, myself. Author Jim Steinmeyer in his biography of Charles Fort, America’s pioneer chronicler of anomalous things, explained Fort’s willingness to study phenomena ignored by orthodox science. Fort “labeled himself an ‘intermediatist,’” said Steinmeyer, “recognizing there was no way of positing absolutes or coming to conclusions.”1 When it comes to things that look like werewolves, absolutes are admittedly very scarce.
The manwolves themselves are not much help. They do not cooperate with the methodologies of hard science, abhorring microscopes and cameras with equal determination. Fort’s stance of open-minded intermediacy, then, seems the only honest way to investigate such an elusive enigma.
NAMING THE UNKNOWN CREATURE
There is the additional problem of what to call this loitering, wolflike fauna—it’s very hard to name something when its identity is an unsolved puzzle. And the term “werewolf” is problematic. I have never believed the beast is a traditional werewolf, and will explain that later, but as the first eyewitnesses observed, “werewolf” paints a fairly accurate picture of the creature’s physical appearance. That’s why the word “werewolf” appears in the titles of my books. It howls.
In Hunting the American Werewolf, I used the term “Manwolf” mostly because of the creature’s upright posture, and I still find it useful, although subsequent editors have decapitalized the m. I also like “dogman,” the creature’s moniker in states like Michigan and Kentucky. “Wolfman” is another variation, as is the French loup-garou and its derivative, rugaru. All of these may be understood as meaning the same type of creature—so far as we know. In cases where the animal looks very different or is seen to do something truly hinky such as turn into mist and walk through a tree, I may call it a beast, creature, or manifestation. At least one witness has called it a demon straight from hell. Most witnesses just say, “I saw this thing!”
No matter what puny words we pin on this imposing creature, the many curious interactions between the beast and those who come upon it lead to one scary conclusion: The dogmen are all too aware of humanity and are probably a bit too interested in us for our own good.
Toward that end, my assignment in writing this book was to cull the best of my previous books on this topic and put them together to take the most comprehensive look yet at modern sightings of werewolflike creatures. It was hard to decide which examples to include, and I hope readers will realize I did not get them all in, not by a long shot. On top of that, I kept learning of startling new cases that demanded inclusion.
Other things had to go. The Bigfoot, lizard men, manbat, and other creatures that crept into the first three volumes for comparison’s sake have been barred from this one—for the most part—in order to focus on the manwolves and dogmen. But I did try to include the best theories and evidence for canine cryptids, as well as a healthy dollop of the werewolf’s historic origins to help put the new sightings into some sort of context. And in all cases I revisited my original notes and dug a little deeper to try to see older sightings with fresh, non-glow-in-the-dark eyes. Altogether, this book represents twenty years of research and investigation that have made me understand one thing: Something is out there, and while its trail may be old, it is far from cold.
Real Wolfmen © Linda S. Godfrey 2012