Killer Kangaroo of 1934

Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 25th, 2010

I am on my way to Tennessee for a visit with my brother. Let me review some stories from that state.

One of the classic tales of Tennessee is of the Killer Kangaroo of 1934, which I researched in old newspaper archives almost 40 years ago.

As I wrote in Mysterious America, reports of giant kangaroos are nothing new to cryptozoology. Over seven decades ago, the notorious “Killer Kangaroo” of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, even made it all the way to the pages of New York’s daily newspapers, such as the New York Times.

During mid-January of 1934, a huge mean kangaroo spread terror among the Tennessee hill farmers. This extremely atypical kangaroo was reported to have killed and partially devoured several German police dogs, geese, and ducks.

The Reverend W. J. Hancock saw the animal and described it as fast as lightning, and looking like a giant kangaroo as it ran and leapt across a field. Another witness, Frank Cobb quickly came upon more evidence of the kangaroo’s activities. The head and shoulders of a large German shepherd or Alsatian were all that remained. A search party tracked the kangaroo to a mountainside cave, where the prints disappeared.

In recent years, local rival newspaper writers have tried to blame this Tennessee Killer Kangaroo story on the pen of the late Horace N. Minnis, a South Pittsburg correspondent of the Chattanooga Times. The only trouble with this “newspaper hoax” theory is that Minnis was not a newspaper correspondent for the area in 1934.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

15 Responses to “Killer Kangaroo of 1934”

  1. Sordes responds:

    I really hope nobody tries to make ANY serious connections with the pleistocene carnivorous kangaroos like Ekaltadeta ima or Propleopus. Just for the case somebody is going to do this yet, here are some notions:

    Ekaltadeta did not look like a normal kangaroo at all, and somebody not familiar with the diversity of kangaroos (which include also tree-kangaroos and other species with comparably small hind limbs and strong arms) would most probably not describe it as a kangaroo at all. Furthermore, besides the fact that this animals became extinct already several tens of thousands years ago, there is no – really no – way in which they could have come to North America. Some people could note that oppossums are also marsupials yet living in the US, but they belong to a completely different line of marsupials, which diverged from the line which lead to australian marsupials long before anything only close to a kangaroo had evolved.

    I just write this because there are enough people out there which have a high tendency to bring up such speculations.

  2. dogu4 responds:

    Perhaps it was an escaped circus kangaroo, which under duress and having been attacked by dogs, took to eating flesh. The notion that all herbivores are strictly herbivorous under every circumstance is not true, and there are plenty of examples of herbivores switching to carnivory. The largest kangaroos weigh in at around 200 lbs, energetic and can be aggressive and dangerous if pushed. The 30s were a tough time for travelling circuses and their management styles were famous for being casual, if not actually negligent, about their handling of critters and employees.

  3. Parandr0id responds:

    So that rules out known marsupial ancestors to the kangaroo. Then what out there is carnivorous and can hop similar to the kangaroo? I find this article intriguing because it is the first out-of-place kangaroo encounter I’ve read in which the kangaroo has displayed carnivorous behavior.

  4. Sordes responds:

    Dogu4, there are of course cases in wich normally herbivorous animals ate meat, but the chance that a kangaroo began to kill german sheperds as a source of meat is next to zero. There are some small species of kangaroos like musky rat-kangaroos which eat not only plants but also small animals, but they are VERY different from normal kangaroos.
    It would be highly unplausible, if an animal which can feed on gras and other plants nearly everywhere could begin to kill large and aggressive animals to eat them. In the cases in which carnivory was documented for ungulates (some antelopes, deers, sheep, hippos and some other ones), the eaten animals were normally very small and harmless.
    My personal opinion is that the dogs were killed by wolves or coyotes (I would not completely rule out a bear), and the story about the kangaroo-like animal was nothing but a story.

  5. coelacanth1938 responds:

    I wonder if there might be a connection between this ‘kangaroo’ and reports of small T-Rex like creatures reported during the Depression.

  6. Bob K. responds:

    OK, I’ll give it a shot. Just how big are devil monkeys reported to be? Given that they have been reported to locamote like kangeroos, to the degree that they have been mistaken for kangeros (at least from a distance), combined with their fairly close resemblance to a baboon from the waist up – and a full grown baboon can make short work of a good sized dog – could this be considered a possible devil monkey encounter?

  7. Tarzanboyy responds:

    It’s interesting to note that this takes place just a few short years before the alleged extinction of the thylacine. Is it possible that one escaped from a circus or private collection? Because as far fetched as it may sound, it fits the descriptions nearly perfectly.

    Cougars and wolves were mostly extirpated from the eastern US by 1934, so I have my doubts that they would be responsible for the killings. A single coyote would not be able to kill and eat a german shepherd. A bear is possible, I suppose, but black bears will typically run from large dogs (even though they are capable of killing them). An adult male chachma baboon might be able to take a german shepherd out of the game, but I have my doubts. It would be a pretty even match and the monkey would likely suffer serious injuries. Assuming the reports are true, then I think a Thylacine may be a good suspect.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    I’m going to have to go with Sordes on this one. That a kangaroo, even a large one, would resort to attacking German sheperds for food is unlikely in the extreme.

    First, a normally herbivorous animal would likely resort to eating meat only under remarkable circumstances, such as if there was no other food available. Most strictly herbivorous animals have digestive systems that are primarily evolved to deal with plant matter, and they are not as efficient at digesting and deriving nutrients from a carnivorous diet. So meat would not be the first choice of diet if other food sources were available, which I suspect they would be in this particular locale. The herbivorous animal would likely eat whatever resembles its usual diet before resorting to hunting and killing prey.

    Second, even if a herbivorous animal did resort to eating meat, it is not adapted to go about efficiently killing it’s prey. Even predators in the wild typically will go after sick or weak animals simply because taking down large prey is not easy business. It has the probablilty of incurring injury, and an injury while doing so can mean starvation and death. So even a large herbivorous kangaroo, not equipped or evolved to efficiently kill large prey, is almost certainly going to go for smaller, weaker animals if it does decide to eat meat. I find the possibility that it would go after a large, aggressive animal such as a German sheperd pretty low. Why would it risk injury or death trying to take down prey it is not designed to handle? Smaller, more harmless animals would be a more liklely target for a herbivorous animal forced into these circumstances.

    I also find one detail of this account interesting. The fact that only a head and shoulders remained of the dogs also casts doubt on the possibility that a kangaroo did this. That a kangaroo would attack and kill a large animal like a dog for food is already pushing the limits of plausibility, but that it would strip and eat a carcass to the point that only a head remained? I find that pretty far fetched to say the least. As a matter of fact, only a head remaining is odd no matter what animal did it.

    I do know one animal that would kill a dog and leave only a head and shoulders behind. Humans. Without data available for the examination of the carcasses, I have to ask the perhaps obvious question, maybe people did this? I’m not sure if looking for unknown animals is necessary if there is a chance that this is just plain old, fashioned human cruelty. Did anyone see a kangaroo attack the dogs? Was there concrete evidence that an animal did it, and if there is such evidence, could those same forensics that determined that not be used to confirm or rule out the possibility that a kangaroo did it rather than another predator? I say this sounds like something people would do.

    I won’t discount the possibility that a large kangaroo was seen, but a kangaroo killing and completely devouring German sheperds and Alsatians seems a stretch. Perhaps there were sightings of such an animal and the killings were unrelated, leading to people attributing them to the kangaroo? Maybe there were sightings of a kangaroo and there were killings, but that does not mean that the kangaroo was necessarily the one doing the killings. It could be that we have two seperate cases here that due to timing converged into one.

  9. Tarzanboyy responds:

    The sightings and the killings, from what I can remember were directly linked in that it was seen in the immediate area of the attacks near the time of the killings and if I’m remembering correctly, one witness actually saw it eating his dog.
    I also have to agree that there is essentially no possible way it was a kangaroo. The chances aren’t almost zero. They are zero.
    If there were kangaroo sightings, they were certainly unrelated to the killings. I believe however, that the animal sighted was responsible for the attacks and it may have RESEMBLED a kangaroo either superficially or by being a carnivorous relative.
    It’s also doubtful that it’s any kind of prehistoric relic. Even though there were predatory kangaroos in the fossil record, none of them inhabited North America.

    While it humans could be responsible, from my knowledge of animal behavior, the head of an animal is often the last part consumed by a predator. How often do you watch a nature documentary and see a leopard kill in a tree that’s essentially had the middle of it eaten out? The head doesn’t have a lot of meat. Areas like hindquarters and body cavity would be eaten first, for sure. I don’t find that part strange at all.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    Tarzanboyy- Well, it all depends on the state of the corpse. There isn’t a lot to go on here. If they mean it was just the head and shoulders remaining and nothing else , then that is a little odd.

    Predators do consume most of their kills over time, but there would still be remains left over, bones and such that scavengers would then pick through. In those nature shows, you see the middle eaten out but there are still various parts that are remaining after the predator has eaten its fill. You don’t just have a perfect head remaining while everything else, bones and all are completely devoured without a trace. It’s odd.

    The sort of picking over that would remove all trace of remains of the carcass except the head would take time, and the work of scavengers. Even if that were the case, then the head would most certainly show signs of being eaten as well. The head has soft tissues that would be targeted by scavengers and it would not be completely intact. The head does have edible parts on it.

    Also, an expensive dog like a German sheperd would likely be missed fairly quickly, and the kind of total consumption of a large dog would take time. A perfect, untouched head remaining would be strange in the extreme.

    I don’t have enough information to go on from this article. There is also the possibility that the body was taken elsewhere. But it is a little odd to me that everything would be gone except the head and shoulders. I would expect some other remnants of the carcass to be left behind as well.

    Not really enough info to go on here, but if it is just a head sitting there while everything else is completely gone, that is a bit strange.

  11. Sordes responds:

    Not all bears run away from dogs, and they would be well able to eat a lot of a dog. And now look how a dog-sized animal (in this case a small polar bear) can look when the meat is eaten away.

  12. mystery_man responds:

    Sordes- Wow, that is a spectacular image. Thank you for posting that. That is the sort of thing I like to see here, presenting evidence for one’s case.

    I certainly think a bear is capable of this, and it was actually my first choice over coyotes. That image shows pretty conclusively that a head could remain in the case of a large carnivore working it’s way through a dog. I actually did not mean to turn this into a discussion on just heads remaining. It was an aside and just a little detail I found curious and wanted more information on.

    My main point here was that it was most certainly not a kangaroo.

    Anyway, nice work posting that image.

  13. Tarzanboyy responds:

    Mystery_Man: The impression I got from reading the stories, and I have read about it now from several sources, wasn’t that it was just literally a severed head, but that it was really the only still intact part of the animal. There really aren’t specifics that say whether or not it was a perfectly severed head or a part of a carcass. If the former is the case, then I agree that the cause is almost certainly human, but my impression from reading the story was that it wasn’t just a cleanly severed head. But anyway, I pretty much just repeated what you said.

  14. mystery_man responds:

    Tarzanboyy- Well, then I guess we agree. 🙂 Yeah, there just isn’t the data available to us here, is there? There is the possibility that the corpse ended up looking very much like the image Sordes posted above, and that seems like it could easily have been reported as just a head. I suppose it wouldn’t have to be a perfectly severed head to be reported in such a way.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to shoot down what you were saying. Of course your observations are welcome and appreciated. In the end, we just don’t know what is going on here and can’t really assume anything I suppose. I was curious about certain aspects of the case.

    Thanks for throwing in your to cents.

  15. Oggar responds:

    I’m somewhat surprised that no one has brought up Charles B. Gatewood in this discussion. Well perhaps not entirely as he is a man largely- but quite unfairly- forgotten by history. He is the man most responsible for procuring the final surrender of Geronimo to US forces. In his assembled account of events “Lt. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir” there are a couple of stories about a similar cryptid.

    I am not currently in possession of a copy of the book but I was last fall for a research paper. He told a story of a large black wolf that actually hopped about like a kangaroo. Clearly, this would have been an animal afflicted by disease or injury- but it was somehow still fending for itself. Perhaps this killer kangaroo was something similar. The account I just mentioned however is somewhat muddied by another tale. He mentions having twice seen a wallaby which I believe he also says was black.

    Both of the tales are included as essentially “bonus material” as they only appear outside the main narrative. The book is assembled as I alluded to above out of his personal papers. He knew that his story and that of the Apache was worth telling and it seems that he had considered doing so in both a serial magazine form and as a direct memoir. Unfortunately, during his lifetime this had not really been possible for him as the credit for Geronimo’s surrender was shifted to others. Gatewood’s determined honesty and integrity had caused to run afoul of both General George Crook and his replacement General Nelson A. Miles.

    If you have access to a decent library it should be possible to attain a copy of the book. I believe the chapter is titled “The Black Devil.” The wolf was eventually killed and he attempted to obtain the hide/skull but was unable to- the man who had killed it was unwilling to part with the trophy.

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