Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 19th, 2008
Ten years later, the “Ozark Howler” still haunts the world of cryptozoology, and everyone from adventurous artists to Wikipedia writers continue to get it wrong. Here we go again. A new example has popped up in the modern blogsphere.
Artist Robyn Fabsits of Kansas City, Missouri, shares her vision of what two “cryptids” supposedly look like in her new blog entry entitled “Cryptozoology.”
She describes her two items this way:
The blue guy is Momo or the Missouri monster and the orange guy is the “Ozark Howler.” I’ll tell you more about their stories later.
The artist does not tell the “stories later” in her blog (probably will do so in the near future). Indeed, Fabsits’ art is cool, and very much reminds me of some of the good works I’ve seen in Jacob Covey’s great art book, Beasts.
The trouble specifically with Fabsits’ examples is that one is clearly based on the classic Momo, and the other is due to a college-generated hoax that attempted to establish itself with false online postings so it would be inserted into my 1999 cryptozoology book and perhaps others. I just hate it that despite the debunking that has occurred often regarding the internet fakery of the “Ozark Howler,” artists and other popular culturalists continue to give attention to the false story of the “Ozark Howler,” as if it was a “real cryptid.”
Investigator Walt Andrus’ enhanced drawing of Momo.
The reports of the Missouri Monster (Momo) are well-established, and mostly issue from 1971-1972 encounters around Louisiana, Missouri. I’ve written about them in several of my books (see The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates, Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America, and Mysterious America).
Artist L. R. Hanna’s view of Momo.
When tales of the “Ozark Howler” began to appear on the Internet, early in 1998, they seemed to be born in the long history of folklore from the hills of Arkansas. As one website proclaimed: “The Black Howler, or Howler for short, has been sighted a number of times in Arkansas, Missouri, and surrounding states during the last century. These sightings indicate a clear range for the Howler which seems to be based in the Ozark Mountains.”
As one webmaster identified as “David Gauner” put it: “One of the strangest cat-like beasts to be seen in the Americas since the age of the sabre-toothed tiger is the Black Howler. Described as a creature with strong shoulders, shaggy black fur, blazing eyes and large horns, it has captivated those who have encountered it.”
Old cases, sighting reports, and eyewitness account sprang up here and there across the Internet.
Before any of the regular online cryptozoologists could catch their breath, “Ozark Howler” websites began popping up all over. A group calling itself the “Ozark Howler Researcher Group” materialized. Some of the urls (website addresses) were (kept here, as is, even though they mostly are dead links today):
Soon Bigfoot researchers were getting reports from alleged witnesses to the heretofore-unheard-of “Ozark Howler.”
On April 24, 1998, “Fred Sprout” informed Ohio researcher Ron Schaffner: “I was told by some of the folks at the Howler Research Group that you might be a good person to report a sighting of the ozark howler to. I am near Branson, Missouri, and think that I saw it last weekend when I was out hunting with my buddy. It was late in the evening but was still light and we were coming down a hill to a streambed and there it was, a big shaggy thing. I think it was taking a drink, standing in the water. It really smelled, kind of like, I don’t know, burnt onions. Me and my buddy just froze, and it went up the other side. I don’t think it knew that we were there. Well, I can tell you that we took the long way back to the car.”
“George O. Choangle” posted this description of his encounter: “I became interested in what people around here (I live near Hot Springs, Arkansas) call the Howler (Ozark Howler or Black Howler) after I had my own sort of experience with it. Last year , around New Year’s, I was driving home after a party, and I was going around this curve which is really tight, especially at night after a party, if you know what I mean, and I saw this big thing run across the road right in front of me, caught in the headlights. I didn’t see a whole lot, but the one thing I did notice was that it had a big, long, thick tail. At first I though it was a bear, but then I thought, do bears have big tails? I couldn’t remember for a while, but then I remembered that they don’t. I was pretty confused, and a little scared, so I just started my car right back up and went home.”
Apparently witnesses were describing two different kinds of animals, one Bigfoot-like, the other like a giant panther.
According to one website, “Ozark Howler investigators” were already feuding. It stated: “The Ozark Howler Research Council was recently established after several members of the Howler Research Group found that they had serious disagreements with the core Group organization over the interpretation of Ozark Howler evidence. The Ozark Howler Research Council, OHRC for short, is dedicated to the comprehensive evaluation of existing evidence and exploration for new evidence of the Howler.”
Veteran cryptozoologists who had never heard of this alleged creature were suspicious. At a website called “Researching the Ozark Howler,” investigators found a statement that there was a “Cryptozoology WebRing” owned by “The Howler Research Group.” The site described the alleged cryptid pretty much as the other sites had: “The creature that locals call the Ozark Howler is a cat-like beast with black, shaggy fur and a distinctive call that is heard at dusk. The howler has been sighted numerous times over the last eight years in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. Some reports claim that it also has horns and a thick beard like a goat’s.”
This website named an investigator: “The primary researcher of the howler is Itzakh Joach, distinguished professor of Biology at Buffalo River University in eastern Oklahoma.”
The site carried photographs supposedly of the Howler “taken by a Mr. Leigh Hardaman from St. Louis as he was driving home from a weekend in Branson, Missouri.”
A creature with red eyes and horns? A professor named “Itzakh Joach” — “It’s a Joke” — from a nonexistent university? The fake names continued: “P. T. Fuelle,” “D. Gaunner,” and “R. Nixon” – all of the so-called “Ozark Howler Research Group.”
“Fred Sprout” popped forth on the eastern cougar e-mail list in May, 1998, about this time, spewing a variety of implausible and even absurd claims.
If the joke was clear to many, it wasn’t so to others. Some took the story seriously. To the skeptics, however, the only questions of interest concerned who and why.
A few individuals or one person using a series of different false names conjured up bogus sighting reports, then placed them on mystery cat, Bigfoot, and cryptozoology researchers’ websites throughout cyberspace.
Having done so, the hoaxers then asked questions of e-mail list providers and researchers, meantime citing the accounts on other websites as verification for the existent of an “Ozark Howler.” The hoaxers were trying to bait the researchers, and some of the researchers bit. A few even created new website mentions or sidebars on the “Howler.”
One of the early very e-mailers was “Jonathan C. Cook” who said he was with the University of Memphis (which may or may not be true). Claiming to be writing an article on the “Howler” for (the now defunct) Strange Magazine, he urged readers to go to the site locations for further information on the creature. When he learned of “Cook’s” assertion about the Strange assignment, the magazine’s editor, (the late) Mark Chorvinsky, denied any association.
“Cook” seemed especially interested in seeing to it that I, Loren Coleman, put an entry on the “Ozark Howler” in the cryptozoology book I was writing with Jerome Clark ~ or any others that might be planned in the future. Unfortunately for him, “Cook” had made the mistake of picking the real name of a prominent doctor in Memphis and using it as the name on one of the “Howler” e-mail inquiries. I called the doctor’s office and confirmed that the physician had nothing to do with the message or with the “Howler” story.
I confronted “Cook,” who agreed to confess fully if I did not use the real doctor’s name. Searching backwards into the websites, I soon found that numerous aliases had been employed. The deception was deep and complicated, even including a multiple month online design to fool investigators.
Late in May 1998, “Cook” told me why he had done what he did. He said, “Visiting a skeptics’ chat room on the internet one night a few months ago … I started talking about how ridiculous the whole Chupacabras mythology is.”
“Cook” wondered what would happen if he created a “new cryptid.” He bet other skeptics he could fool cryptozoology writers into including the “Ozark Howler” as a real cryptid.
If “many people would fall for it,” it would “kind of [be fun to] undermine the credibility of monster tales like Bigfoot and the Chupa.”
“Cook” fashioned a chain of false fronts of free web pages and e-mail accounts, and the rest is a small episode in the history of faux-cryptozoology.
The “Ozark Howler” lives on thanks to the Internet, but it was never more than a hoax and never will be anything other than that. Sites such as Wikipedia keep the “Ozark Howler” alive, even though they briefly mention that Chad Arment recognized the episode as an example of trickery.
To be more complete, Wikipedia and other rewritings of this case should acknowledge Arment’s recognition and that of a few others of the “Howler” as a hoax was realized early in the quest for what what going on with this drama. Behind the scenes, out of the public light, I tracked the guy down, and whoever wrote the Wikipedia article should note that. As well, several individuals who received the email “inquiries” immediately recognized it as a fake. My writings that exposed the “Ozark Howler” as a hoax were cut from the final edited version of the 1999 book by Simon and Schuster’s editors who made a decision to expunge all mentions of any fakery. Today, I see that as being an editorial error.
Chad Arment summarized the “Ozark Howler” situation on pages 14-15 of his book, Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation (Coachwhip Publications, 2004).
Incredibly, Wikipedia says in rebuttal to the Arment hoax comments that “stories of an Ozark Howler predate this, and have continued long since.” Of course, the “Cook” hoaxer and his friends planted “old sighting” reports during their hoaxing online to “predate” the timing of their mischief to attempt to fool cryptozoology researchers and writers.
Perhaps someone who writes for Wikipedia will expand and correct their “Ozark Howler” entry, finally, in this the tenth anniversary year of this elaborate cryptofiction creation.
Remember, the hoaxers had hidden their answer to the mystery in the name of the primary “expert” – Professor “Itzakh Joach” = It’s A Joke!