Posted by: Craig Woolheater on October 31st, 2006
While Loren had already covered this particular beastie recently here on Cryptomundo, I thought I would share this recent article with the readers of Cryptomundo for Halloween.
The Beast of Bladenboro
In 1954, a savage killer kept a small North Carolina town in a grip of terror. He left big tracks, a bloody trail and a hair-raising legend. Was it a bear? A vampire-cat? To this day, the creature remains a mystery
By Amy Hotz
Wilmington (NC) Star-News
The two butchers at the Dublin IGA grocery store are a little confused about what exactly “the Beast of Bladenboro” was. A Revolutionary War tale, one says. The other jokes that he knows what it is: His daddy.
Just up N.C. 410, in Bladenboro, a man with a graying five o’clock shadow pays the gas station attendant for a bottle of Sun-Drop. He notices someone not from around town and strikes up a conversation.
“Yeah,” he says of the beast, “I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know what it is.”
These folks shouldn’t feel too bad. To this day, nobody really knows what, in 1954, went around killing dogs, goats, hogs and small cows in the most unusual way – breaking their jaws, crushing their heads flat and sucking the blood from their bodies, according to local newspaper reports.
It was downright gruesome. Women and children stayed locked in their homes. Men dared not walk outside without some kind of firearm. Big-game hunters from around the country infiltrated Bladenboro, a town about 60 miles west of Wilmington.
The Beast of Bladenboro was big news then, but today, the story is buried in clumsy rolls of microfiche. Local headlines only give sensational clues: “Mysterious Beast is Still At Large,” “Vampire Tendencies Found In Bladenboro’s ‘Monster,’” and “Guns, Dogs Circle Blood-Lusty Beast.”
Only a few people who experienced the fear are still kicking around Bladenboro. Ask the people at Town Hall if they know anybody who was around when the beast roamed, and you’ll get a pretty good chuckle. But you’ll also get a file of newspaper stories kept in the town vault. And Delane Jackson, town manager, will direct you to Tater Shaw, a man who saw the carnage first-hand.
Shaw lives in a nursing home not too far from Town Hall. On a recent October morning, the 87-year-old man, with his perfectly combed hair and neat long-sleeved gray shirt, sits in the commons area, people using walkers and canes clunking all around him.
“You want to know about the beast?” he says, throwing his hand up as if to shoe away someone. “Oh, you don’t want to talk about that. I’ve told that story before.”
It takes a little encouragement, but before long, he guides his electric wheelchair down the long, waxed linoleum corridor toward his room. You know you’ve reached it when you see a plaque on the door, “Tater’s Place” burnt into the wood.
Inside, bright family portraits and black-and-white World War II navy photos hang on the wall. Shaw glides over to a small table and pulls out a three-ring binder with typed pages out of the drawer. Years ago, a friend of his wrote a screenplay about the beast and based a character on Shaw. He seems quite proud of that.
Then, after shutting the book, Shaw gets comfortable in his wheelchair and says, “It started out one morning.”
Shaw, then the 35-year-old owner of a gas station, had heard about a goat killed on a fellow’s farm out on the edge of town. He’d been told there was something mighty odd about how it died. Curious, he decided to go see for himself.
“His head was flat as a fritter,” he says. “It had a great big ol’ track . . . It was weird.”
Shaw spreads four fingers of his right hand and places them on his left palm, simulating the size of the paw. Then he looks up and says the beast killed small cows, too, and “two or three” hogs.
Those details are missing from newspaper accounts of the time, though the Wilmington Morning Star (what is now the Star-News) and the Wilmington News, as well as others, thrived off the story for a good part of January 1954.
The stories start Jan. 4, 1954, with the deaths of three dogs, their “skulls crushed in and chewed.” There’s no mention of a goat, but then there’s a lot about this beast that is only uncovered with time.
People were already getting distressed enough to cause Police Chief Roy Fores to go out hunting for the killer with three coonhounds. The “dogs refused to follow the trail.”
Maybe they were smarter than their master. The next day, the chief released a chilling detail. Fores called it the “vampire aspect of the animal.”
The story in the Morning Star on Jan. 5 began, “This nervous town chewed its collective nails today, dreading the pitch of night that might bring a return visit by a mystery killer-beast with vampire lust… (Fores) said a dog found killed last night ‘was opened up today. And there wasn’t more than two or three drops of blood in him.’ In all three cases, the victims’ bottom lip had been broken open and his jawbone smashed back.”
People gettin’ crazy
Shaw remembers the fear. “Everybody was scared,” Shaw said. “Everybody, near ‘bout, that had a gun was carrying it.”
Irrationality began to set in. Locals claimed to have seen the beast, described it, then retracted their statements.
Another resident got trigger happy. He heard his dogs barking one night, looked through a window and saw a shadow. Grabbing his shotgun, he rushed outside, blasting away. On closer inspection, he found his child’s bicycle “crumpled to the ground with the tires in shreds and the seat ripped with buckshot.”
Witness accounts of the beast conflicted. Some said it was about 90 pounds, others said 100 or even 150 pounds. Some claimed it was black, or brown, or tabby, or just “dark in color.” Most people agreed it was a cat, but one veterinarian said it could be a big dog.
The sound is about the only thing people halfway agreed on. They described it as like either a baby or a woman crying, only louder and blood curdling.
“Anyhow, it was getting so bad, it was getting in the newspapers and the radio,” Shaw said. “There came hunters from all over, I mean big hunters.”
At the height of the hunt, according to newspaper accounts, 1,000 men armed with pistols, shotguns and rifles divided into posses and combed about 400 acres of swamp. Some were fraternity boys from UNC Chapel Hill looking for a good time; ot
hers were professional hunters accustomed to killing lions and tigers.
Bladenboro only had about 1,000 residents at the time. It only has about 1,700 now. You’d think that if anything was out there, somebody would’ve stepped on it.
Many of these hunters would stop by Shaw’s gas station on their way to the Green Swamp and brag about how they were the ones who were going to kill the beast. Those same men usually stopped back by after the hunt – and always empty-handed.
A friend of Shaw’s, Jabe Frink, also owned a gas station during this time. Frink lives in a brick house just a couple miles from the nursing home. He’s 82 and doesn’t mind talking about beast at all. Frink remembers one group of hunters who brought trained “bear dogs” to turn loose in the swamp. “They said they gonna ‘catch that vampire,’ but they never did,” he said.
Mostly, Frink remembers how terrified everyone was. “It kept snowballing and snowballing. It got so nobody would walk out on the street at night,” he said. “There was a dog that scared that lady on her porch, though.”
Frink is referring to a 21-year-old mother named Mrs. C.E. Kinlaw. She apparently walked out onto her front porch at about 7:30 p.m. January 6, 1954. She was minding her own business when she looked up and saw the “beast” stalking toward her. It was only about 20 feet away, she told the Morning Star.
Kinlaw screamed and ran into the house. Her husband, Charles Kinlaw, grabbed his shotgun and ran outside but only found cat-like paw prints all around his yard.
Everyone’s worst fears seemed to be confirmed. The beast had shown interest in a human.
Not long after that, S.W. Garrett, an experienced hunter from Wilmington, warned women and children to stay indoors. Residents were also advised to keep dogs, “whose nighttime howling reportedly grows more piteous nightly,” locked up indoors.
A rendering of the beast of Bladenboro.
Illustration by Gary Longordo
Click on image to enlarge
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CREATURE?
In 1954, witnesses gave conflicting descriptions of the beast to Bladenboro police. We turned over a summary of the characteristics to Gary Longordo, a local law enforcement sketch artist, and asked him to draw up a rendering of the beast (see above).
Four and a half feet long, bushy and resembling either a bear or a panther
150 pounds, with a footprint like a dog’s A 90-100 pound lion
Three feet long, 20 inches high with a tail about 14 inches long. Dark in color, with a face like a cat
Gray in color – not vampire-like or vicious, but “strange” Four feet long, two feet high, with a long tail. A large head with “runty-looking ears.” Brownish and tabby, indicating a furry appearance.