The Beast of Bladenboro

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
Staff Writer
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.

“Vampire lust”
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.

Beast of Bladenboro

A rendering of the beast of Bladenboro.
Illustration by Gary Longordo
Click on image to enlarge

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.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

22 Responses to “The Beast of Bladenboro”

  1. Shihan responds:

    Sounds like a lynx or maybe a cougar that was sick, injured, or had just left it’s mother and in search of easy prey. Cool story though!

  2. stompy responds:

    sounds like that critter in Maine

  3. fredfacker responds:

    Crushed skulls? I’ve never heard of that before.

  4. crgintx responds:

    Crushed and crunched skull? Sounds an awful like the injuries a dog would suffer attacking a large bear. Felines usually bite spines and necks unless they’re much larger than their prey. This beast didn’t sound that big. Even a small black bear would be more then strong enough to kill even the largest of dogs. I wish there’d been a necropsy on the dogs.

  5. Bennymac responds:

    whenever I hear “dogs refused to follow the trail”, I think BF. smashed skulls, blood curdling screams, jaw ripped apart, doesn’t sound like a cat or a dog, maybe a bear, or hyena.

    how many known animals have this “vampire” aspect to their hunting/eating habits?

  6. raisinsofwrath responds:

    Most likely a bear. I don’t see any other reason for crushed skulls as in some cases a bear will bite down on the head of its victim.

    Who knows though, could be a lion or tiger escaped from a circus train. Only thing is as crgintx said, cats usually grab for the throat or spine.

  7. mike2k1 responds:

    Exoctic pet let loose or one of the escaped circus animals? Rogue Panther?

  8. Bob Michaels responds:

    Left out of the story is what did the tracks resemble a cougar, a bear, a wolverine? No forenics, analysis of tooth marks, hair samples. Even without DNA this case could be readily solved.

  9. hrybeast responds:

    Hey ya’ll —

    Back when I did a feature on the Beast (the same one Loren posted here a while back) the current animal control officer described the tracks as like a panther. Exactly the same as the tracks recently located near the B’boro airport, the tracks behind the middle school last year. Like the tracks left behind by the critter the police chased in January 2004, etc. etc. Not too many folks like to talk about the modern cats, which may or may not be the same thing as the BoB.

    My surmise? The further reduction of the Big Swamp, combined with the burgeoning local deer population, forced a panther or panthers to come out to play. One was hurt (possibly the October shooting of a “big bobcat” that mauled three deer dogs) and it decided to make a living off the mill village.

    What are they now? They are either migrating Florida Panthers, migrating NC Mountain Panthers, or critters who just imitated the coyotes currently bothering my chickens at night.

    Although a late friend of mine swore to his dying day that the BoB was a “mean, big dog” owned by the father of a now-prominent resident of the town. Seems Pops was mad about something, and set out with an “I’ll show’em” attitude.

    Just one man’s opinion, a frustrated man who still gets calls about “writing about the panther,” only to be told “but I don’t want my name in the paper.”

    Svnt., Jeff Weaver

  10. cabochris responds:

    It would be nice to see a headline story photo from 1954. If this story is true then something strange must have gone on. The people in that town would have known of bears, cougars and other natural fauna. Obviously this creature was a savage killer with a taste for blood! I wonder if anyone actually saw the creature? But this animal seemed to kill with a purpose- blood?

    It seems like there are 2 possibilities. Either this was some sort of strange creature or a sick hoax. I have ruled-out all normal animals, because most people can id them. If it was a crazy bear or large cat, that is what they would have called it. But none could quite put their finger on what it was. That means either it was never actually seen or that it was an unknown creature. Yet there seems to be a rather detailed description. So perhaps there really was a strange creature after all? I would rule out a hoax because evidence such as human footprints would lead to catching a human killer. Also if this was the work of a sick person, they sure seemed to get around and would have been quite busy making cat/dog type tracks and killing things. It would be quite a feat to catch a large strange dog, then crush it with some blunt instrument and then drain the blood. A neighbor of mine has a somewhat savage male yellow lab. I could not see catching that dog in a quiet manner. One would have to drug the dog, then perform the dirty deed.

    This is sounding more and more like a real creature. So what was it and where did it come from? It must have been somewhat smart as no hunters caught it. Could it have been some sort of “Freak of Nature”? I do not think so. It also seems likly there is no realistic breeding population of these creatures in the neighborhood. Which brings me to 2 options. This killer was some sort of man-made top secret experiment gone wild, or it is not of this earth. I am not so sure if in 1954 we had biological technology to create such a killer, perhaps designed for the battle field? Just sounds a bit too far out, but who knows perhaps possible? I’m sure that governments have thought about using animals as weapons. My conclusion sounds crazy. I feel this creature is another example of something from another world. It was captured, kept as a pet or in some sort of zoo and for whatever reason brought to earth and set free. Perhaps the same way we would catch a cougar in the city and set it free again miles away in the wild? As odd as it may sound our earth might harbor several alien creatures? In the case of this story, if this was some sort of thirsty Spaceyena, it sure would explain things nicely.

  11. bill green responds:

    hey craig very interesting article very informative. happy halloween bill 🙂

  12. twblack responds:

    Could this be a first report of a U.S. Chupa — The blood drain makes sense but yes I know not sure about the crushed skulls but still seems like a Chupa-type creature. Has a BF ever been known to drian the blood. But the tracks does not match a BF.

    Cabochris: If we all read your thoughts it will make you stop and think you just never know what our Gov. is up to. and the Space creature is another subject along with the Gov. theory I find interesting.

  13. One Eyed Cat responds:

    Whatever it was, I suspect the vampire aspect could have been a simple bleeding out from the catastophic injuries.

    Humans have been breeding the occasinal savage animal for centuries without modern ‘biological technology’

    Was 1954 the only reorts of this?

  14. flame821 responds:

    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.

    I have always been told that moutain lions make this sort of sound. I would think rogue or diseased animal esp as the attacks occured in quick sucession and then died away. Would rabies or distemper or any other feline diseases cause this amount of overkill?

    As for the lack of blood, if the creature was severely iron-deficient (anemic) this is a possibility, but I would think that the excessive head wounds caused the prey to bleed to death and most of the blood seeped into the ground. But without forensics it is nothing but a guess.

  15. shovethenos responds:

    Pretty strange. Lots of possibilities.

    – Could be a mountain lion or large bobcat.

    – Could be a bigfoot, and the animal tracks were animals investigating the kill. The blunt force trauma would seem consistent with this, also the weird vocalizations. Also the coonhounds refusing to track it are consistent with other accounts.

    – Although this is fairly far away from the alleged habitat, these accounts sound sort of similar to the Ozark Howler. Most of the theories are that it is some kind of large cat, but there seem to be other possibilities in the mix as well. And the vocalization reports sound somewhat similar.

    In any case its an interesting story. Good Halloween reading.

  16. carnivore responds:

    Sounds like a cougar. If it were wounded or quilled in the mouth area, It could explain its hunting easy game close to town and drinking the blood. Quills could prevent it from feeding normaly. just a thought.

  17. Shihan responds:

    Also – a person could mistakenly believe that a dead animal has no blood due to “settling” or pooling in the body after death. Especially if the exams were performed a day or two after the animal died.

  18. kittenz responds:

    The only types of large predators that I can think of which would be big enough, and strong enough, to kill large animals such as livestock in the manner described would be bears or very large cats. The fact that “trained bear dogs” would not pursue the scent of the beast leads me to believe that the beast was not a bear. Also, most, if not all, cats will drink the pooled blood of their prey and they will also lick the blood from the prey (this could be how the “vampire” description came about). Therefore I think that the Beast of Bladenboro must have been a cat. But which cat?

    Jaguars often kill their prey by biting through the skull, usually biting through the ears. This results in very little bloodshed. Jaguars are the only cats that regularly use this method to dispatch prey. They are also known to be able to use their forepaws to crush the skulls of animals up to the size of cows. Since jaguars are native to the Americas, and their range in the past did include North America, it is reasonable to suppose that a jaguar could have strayed north, or escaped from captivity, and that the beast could have been a jaguar. But, although jaguars make a wide variety of sounds, most of the sounds they make are similar to the roaring or coughing sounds made by other cats of the Panthera genus, so if the screaming sounds that were heard truly came from the same “beast” that did the killing, it probably wasn’t a jaguar, despite the similarity in the killing method.

    A lion, tiger, or leopard would also be large enough, and powerful enough, to use the forepaw to crush a goat’s or a cow’s skull, and they are known to do that on occasion. Once again, though, the sounds would be roaring, coughing, or moanimg sounds, not screams.

    Cheetahs are known to drink the blood from their kills, but no cheetah is big enough to kill a grown cow, and no cheetah is powerful enough to crush a large animal’s skull. Also cheetahs are not human-aggressive, and they do not make any kind of screaming sounds.

    So that leaves pumas and lynxes. They do make screaming sounds. A puma would be my guess. Although bobcats and lynxes can be surprisingly large, and bobcats can be quite aggressive, they are not large enough to kill grown cattle. But pumas are, and dogs trained to bear would probably not pursue a puma unless they were trained to pumas too. It could have been a puma straying north from Florida (unlikely; Florida panthers are not as large and powerful as other pumas), or a western puma which had strayed east, or which had escaped or been released from captivity, or an Appalachian Mountain puma (although they had become very rare indeed by the 1950s). However it was that the puma ended up in the Bladenboro area, it probably killed domestic stock at first because it was easier to catch. During the 1950s, deer and other wild prey were much more scarce in the eastern US than they are now. After the puma became more familiar to the area it probably shifted its hunting to wild prey and so the livestock kills decreased.

    There had been escapes from a traveling menagerie in the Bladenboro area. Maybe the animal that did the killings was not the same animal that made the screaming noises.

  19. garyk responds:

    Like CaboChris said – where’s the photos?

    Shouldn’t we expect that these and similar bizarre killings would be amply photographed, either by amatuers or professionals?

    There seems to be no shortage of these kinds of stories, but inexplicably few photos.

  20. carnivore responds:

    They would be very fuzzy, and lost negatives anyway Garyk. I know deleted again.

  21. Ninjabunny responds:

    The only animal I know of that is known to crush skulls on what maybe considered a normal tactic is a bear as said. To the uneducated a bear track may look feline, however the Big Game hunters would never make that mistake. Tigers in India are known to attack humans for the high degree of salt in the blood, however they don’t suck it out. I know pigs/hogs are very similiar to humans in biology that’s why their tissue is sometimes used for medical procedures on humans. The only other animal I know of that bashs heads in are humans, what all this means? I’m not sure as the story certainly doesnt fit in with known species. Is it a possible mutation of a species, well if evolution is correct, then we must assume new species are evolving everyday to some degree, thus such similiar stories. I suspect personally a human in this incident, despite the so called eye witness accounts.

  22. voodoodancer responds:

    I think I have an unique perspective on this subject. I’m from Bladenboro. I’ve lived there about half my life there. I now live a couple of counties away.

    There are no reports of this animal being aggressive towards humans. Not one person was attacked and every report that I’m aware of, where it came into contact with humans, it ran away.

    In the report form the Wilmington Star-News. It reports that one of the animals had a crushed skull. It really makes a good Halloween artical. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the beast of Bladenboro, so I may be wrong. This is the only report that I’ve heard where the skull was crushed and the blood drained. The newspapers at the time used the term “vampire”, but they were in the business of selling newspapers and the more outrageous the headlines, the more papers they sell.

    Like somebody said in one of the original report, this is 90% hoax.

    Some of the reports were probably roadkill that was scooped up and then shown to reporters.

    I do believe there was something that killed a few animals in the area. The question is what was it.

    It probably started with one or two legitimate kills. Then as the hysteria grew, so did the fake reports.

    The legitimate kills could have been any number of animals, with the highest probability being bear, panther, bobcat, and ocelot.

    All these animals have a very high probability. Bobcats are very common in the area. Bobcats make the high pitched screams that was reported. Problem is it don’t match the eyewitness reports.

    There was an ocelot, escaped from a zoo in Myrtle Beach. And one was killed in the Bladenboro area. I have no idea what kind of sound they make.

    Bears and panthers are both native in the area. Minus the tail, the description fits a bear. Here is a bear that pretty much fits the size description that was hit by a car in the Green Swamp.

    Bear photo 1

    Bear photo 2

    Bear photo 3

    The bear was killed on hwy 211, the same road that runs through the middle of Bladenboro. This bear was about 40 miles from Bladenboro.

    The Carolina panther has been known to inhabit the same swamp.

    If you look at current satellite photos, you can follow a major wooded area that runs from the Green Swamp, to Big Swamp (just outside Bladenboro). If there is an undisturbed wooded habitat from where panthers are known to live, it is very likely that they inhabit or travel through this area. In 1954, this wooded area would have been an even larger area and more likely that panthers would live there then it is now.

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