The Strange Beast that Prowled a Southern Illinois town

American Unsolved Mysteries & Tales of the Unexplained by Troy Taylor

The History, Mystery & Unexplained of the Prairie State 

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The vast reaches of forest and open fields of southern Illinois, combined with the sparse population in some areas, seem to invite weirdness that might not occur in cities and more crowded locales. In the most southern portions of the region, the Shawnee National Forest covers miles and miles of territory. The acres of forest seem almost untouched by man and some believe that strange things occasionally pass through here, unseen by human eyes.

In the summer of 1973, the town of Murphysboro in southwestern Illinois was the site of a bizarre series of monster sightings. The enigmatic creature, now recalled as the “Murphysboro Mud Monster” appeared without warning and then suddenly disappeared just two weeks later, seemingly without a trace. In its wake, the monster left a number of confused and frightened witnesses, baffled law enforcement officials and of course, an enduring legend.

The monster was first seen around midnight on June 25, 1973. A young couple, Randy Needham and Judy Johnson, were parked near a boat ramp into the Big Muddy River near Murphysboro when they heard a strange, roaring cry that shattered the stillness of the night. It came from the nearby woods and both of them looked up to see a huge shape lumbering toward them. Whatever it was, it continue to make the horrible sound and they later described the noise as "something not human".

According to their account, the monster was about seven feet tall and covered with a matted, whitish hair. The "fur" was streaked liberally with mud from the river. By the time the creature approached to within 20 feet of them, they quickly left the scene. They went directly to the Murphysboro police station.

A short time later, Officers Meryl Lindsay and Jimmie Nash returned to the area and surveyed the scene. Although skeptical, they were surprised to find that a number of footprints had been left in the mud. The footprints were "approximately 10-12 inches long and approximately three inches wide". At 2:00 AM, Nash, Lindsay, another officer named Bob Scott, and Randy Needham returned to the scene again. This time, they discovered more tracks and Lindsay left to go and get a camera. The others followed the new footprints, tracing their path along the river.

Suddenly, from the woods about 100 yards away, came the creature's terrifying scream. They didn't wait to see if they could spot the monster and instead, made a quick retreat for the patrol car. After waiting in the darkness for a little while, they got back out again and spent the rest of the night trying to track down a splashing sound they heard in the distance. Things quieted down after daylight, but the next night, the creature was back!

The first to see the monster this time was a four-year old boy named Christian Baril, who told his parents that he saw a "big white ghost in the yard". They didn't believe him, but when Randy Creath and Cheryl Ray saw an identical monster in a neighboring yard just ten minutes later, Christian's parents, and the police, quickly reconsidered the little boy's statement.

Randy and Cheryl spotted the monster at about 10:30 PM, while sitting on the back porch of the Ray house. They heard the sound of something moving in the woods near the river and then spotted the muddy, white creature staring at them with glowing pink eyes. Cheryl would insist that the eyes were actually glowing and were not reflecting light from some other source. They estimated that it weighed at least 350 pounds, stood seven feet tall, had a roundish head and long, ape-like arms. Cheryl turned on the porch light and Randy went for a closer look. The creature seemed unconcerned and finally ambled off into the woods. Investigators would later find a trail of broken tree branches and crushed undergrowth, along with a number of large footprints. They also noticed a strong odor left in the monster's wake, but it didn't last for very long.

The officers who arrived on the scene, Jimmie Nash and Ronald Manwaring, quickly summoned a  local man named Jerry Nellis, who had a trained German Shepherd that was often used by the police department as an attack dog and to search buildings and track suspects. The dog immediately was sent in pursuit of the monster. He managed to track the creature through the woods and down a hill to a small pond. Eventually, the trees and undergrowth became too thick for the dog to continue and it was pulled off the track just moments after almost pulling its handler down a steep embankment. The officers began searching the area with flashlights and the dog began sniffing near the trees, hoping to pick up the scent again. He then set off toward an abandoned barn, but refused to go inside. In fact, the animal began shaking with fear and barking.

Nellis called the two officers over and they opened the barn and went inside. After a few moments, they realized that it was empty. The three men were puzzled. The dog had been trained to search buildings and Nellis could not explain why it had refused to enter the barn. A short time later, the search was called off for the night.

The Mud Monster was reported two more times that summer. On the night of July 4, traveling carnival workers stated that they spotted the creature looking at some Shetland ponies that were being used for the holiday celebration. Then, on July 7, Mrs. Nedra Green heard a screaming sound coming from a shed on her rural farm. She did not go out to investigate.

So what was the Murphysboro Mud Monster? Local authorities admitted that they didn't know. "A lot of things in life are unexplained," Police Chief Toby Berger admitted at the time, "and this is another one. We don't know what the creature is, but we do believe what these people saw was real."

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, the Mud Monster emerged again as a possible culprit to an attack that allegedly occurred at the Rend Lake campground near Benton in August 1989. During the attack, gaping holes were left in a tent and animal blood was left behind at the scene. The attack was later determined to have been from dogs, but that didn’t stop local residents from speculating about the Murphysboro Mud Monster again!

In the 1989 newspaper reports, Jerry Nellis, the dog handler in the original case stated his own theories on the famous case, which left he and the other witnesses to the events as “hunted” as the Mud Monster itself. Reporters and “monster hunters” came from everywhere asking questions about the case but Nellis maintained that "in my opinion ... we were tracking a bear."

But for the rest of Southern Illinois (the news story continued) and for every outdoorsman who has, as Nellis suggests, "seen something we can't make out just beyond the headlights," that original vision reported to police on June 25, 1973, is all we need to imagine.

© Copyright 2002 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

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