Real Wolfman

Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 28th, 2009

The Beast of Gevaudan, published by Basset, 1764. Musee Nat. des Arts et Traditions Populaires, Paris, France.

Texas cryptid investigator Ken Gerhard (above) travels to France and stars in a new television special tonight, Wednesday, October 28, 2009, which debuts on the History Channel at 9 PM EST.

Are some werewolves real?

Here’s the blurb the channel is sharing:

“Profiler George Deuchar and cryptozoologist Ken Gerhardt [sic] investigate the legend of the notorious Wolfman. Between 1764 and 1767 the French town of Gevaudan was plagued by a beast that attacked and killed 102 villagers. The victims were mauled and decapitated and bore the bite marks of a non-human creature, and many victims were found undressed and sexually assaulted. For centuries the true identity of this mysterious “wolfman” has remained a mystery. Digging into the mythology of Werewolves, they uncover reported paranormal transformations, diseases that make men look and act like animals, strange but true stories of children raised by wolves, and the truth about wolfsbane and silver bullets.”

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.

21 Responses to “Real Wolfman”

  1. raisinsofwrath responds:

    Ken seems to be making a name for himself. The first time I saw him prepping to go on a trip with his buddy I thought: Here’s another crypto nut. However, I’ve since developed an interest when he’s involved in something. I like the guy as he makes otherwise bad TV better.

  2. scubaclaude responds:

    Interesting story. There is a movie about the Beast of Gevudan called The Brotherhood of the Wolf. Excellent movie!

  3. PA_Deutsch responds:

    Didn’t someone once make a good case that the Beast of Gevaudan was actually a jackal that had escaped from the private zoo of a French aristocrat? I read that years ago, I believe.

  4. siquisiri responds:

    A long haired striped hyena?? Interesting.

  5. MadeInTheShade responds:

    I thought it could it better. I found the way they tried to handle it like “CSI: Gevaudan” or something was a little cheesy at times. While I did learn some new things (I didn‘t know about the doctor shooting the guy wearing the wolf skin), I did notice that they left out some information, such as the one report of the beast describing it as a reddish-colored bipedal creature with a pig-like snout.

    I’ve heard that it might’ve been a baboon, which, given the stories like the aforementioned one and the one account of the beast wading through a river like a man, would make sense. I’m just not sure if a baboon would attack someone like the beast did though. The hyena theory is the most sensible one, but has anyone ever thought that perhaps this could’ve been a combo of several animals (hyenas, dogs, etc.) and human killers at work at the same time? That would explain the discrepancies in the reports of the creature’s appearance. A human element would also explain some of the other reports, like the sexual element to some of the attacks and the switching of victims’ decapitated heads around on different bodies.

    PA_Deutch: I’ve never heard the jackal theory before. Aren’t they supposed to be pretty small scavengers?

    Also, I thought it was weird that they would use a Doberman skull to see if a dog had the jaw power to crush a human spine, then, when the Doberman skull couldn’t, just automatically assumed that no dog was capable of such a feat. Aren’t presa canarios and pit bulls supposed to have pretty powerful jaws, a lot more powerful then those of a Doberman’s? Why not use the skull of one of those breeds? And didn’t that chupacabra video Ken showed turn out to be a diseased coyote or dog? I can’t remember.

  6. Rex Perkins responds:

    Congratulations on a great show! You were spot on with your hyena theory early and gave clear credibility to your profession. The only conclusion I beg to differ is George Deucha’s and your allegations against Jean Chastel as a serial murderer. How and why would a poor farmer train a rare animal to kill for him? More likely, he killed the beast in the forest while hunting, realized what he had, and decided to cash in. First, he would go to the local priest who despised him and make the church pay with silver bullets he pocketed. Then he would claim his prize from the King who upon seeing that it was a rare hyena obviously owned by nobility, dismissed it as only a wolf. I’d be careful besmirching a dead man with as little evidence as you have.

  7. Genus Unknown responds:

    The whole thing seems scripted, like the producers had settled on the theory ahead of time and then constructed the show to lead up to it, right down to their choice of “investigators” – a cryptozoologist who thinks it was an exotic animal, and a cop who thinks it was a person. Surprise, they’re both “right.” How convenient.

    I thought the way they got to the verdict of “Jean Chastel trained a hyena to kill so he could be a hero” was sketchy, to say the least. Gerhard seems to have come to accept the theory over a commercial break, with no reasons given for his change of mind other than that it suited the script.

    The identification of the Beast as a hyena was tentative at best, but it was treated as more substantial than it was. And the silver bullet test… oh dear, the silver bullet test…

    Let’s see, they used modern rifles in the test, and made much of the affect of rifled barrels on the trajectory of bullets, even though rifled barrels didn’t come into widespread use until the 19th century, and, in the re-enactments at least, the “bullets” were actually balls. There’s no hard evidence that he even used a silver bullet (that part of the story – well, the whole story, in fact – could have been completely fabricated, and sounds like the kind of pro-Church detail that made them suspicious in the first place). They made much of the fact that it’s hard to hit a moving target with a silver bullet, even though the Beast was said to be standing still as Chastel prayed. They established that a silver bullet is less accurate and deadly than a lead one based on grouping in the target, and from there implied that you couldn’t hit a good-sized animal with it (though their marksman hit the target all three times), and if you did hit it, it wouldn’t kill it (because it would go right through the animal)! The Mythbusters could have done better than that, for Pete’s sake!

  8. cryptidsrus responds:

    Great episode. Love anything Ken does. Keep on keeping on. 🙂

  9. siquisiri responds:

    I found the following info online:

    The Beast of Gvaudan identified !
    According to Franz Jullien, a taxidermist at the National Museum of
    Natural History in Paris, the stuffed specimen of the Beast of
    Gvaudan, shot in the eighteenth century by Jean Chastel, has
    been kept in the collections of the Museum from 1766 to 1819. It
    has been definitely identified, a fact that all researchers had
    overlooked, and which Franz Jullien comments at greater length in a
    scholarly article, to be published in September 1997 in the Annales
    du Musum d’Histoire Naturelle du Havre
    . It was a striped hyena
    (Hyaena hyaena). Novelist Henri Pourrat and naturalist Grard
    Mnatory had already proposed the hyena hypothesis, from historical
    accounts, as Antoine Chastel (Jean Chastel’s son) was said to have
    possessed such an animal in his menagerie, an hypothesis now
    supported by an identification by a zoologist.

    If the post is factual and Antoine Chastel (Jean’s son) HAD the hyena as a pet, there is obviously some connection. Maybe another Cryptomundian knows further info on this?

  10. PA_Deutsch responds:

    About an hour after I left that post, I realized that I had meant to write “hyena”. Sorry about that…thanks for the catch!

  11. Matt_J responds:

    I tried watching this last night. It was ridiculously bad. I ended up turning it over to Mythbusters because they have a little less junk science.

    I think my favorite part was the stylized picture that they “analyzed”, which was drawn in a manner similar to a heraldic wolf. Oh, look, they say, it has a long neck. It must therefore be a hyena!

  12. MadeInTheShade responds:

    @PA Deutsch: No problem! Even before watching this special, I had heard the hyena theory from several sources, and think it has merit.

    @Matt_J and Genus Unknown: LOL, the both of you phrased my issues with the program a lot better then I did. I’m kind of disappointed in the History Channel. This show was like something I’d expect to see on SyFi, not HC. I think if they had handled it like their show “Histories Mysteries” or something in that vein, I could’ve taken it more seriously.

  13. Loren Coleman responds:

    I have previously explored all the various suggestions, including the werewolf, wolf, serial killer and hyena theories, as have a few others, such as George Eberhart and Michael Newton.

    In Cryptozoology A to Z (1999), page 35, I wrote that a taxidermist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, Franz Jullien by name, discovered that an animal similar to the description and listed as shot by Jean Chastel, had been taxidermically mounted and was on display from 1766 to 1819. It was definitely identified as an African striped hyena.

  14. solitaryman responds:

    @ MadeInTheShade: “has anyone ever thought that perhaps this could’ve been a combo of several animals (hyenas, dogs, etc.) and human killers at work at the same time?”

    That seems the most likely scenario. I lean toward this:

    1. A pack of wolves, similar to the man-eating wolves of India, became active. This explains the wolf-like descriptions, and the range of the attacks. If wolves can become man-eaters in India, why not in rural, 18th century France?
    2. Hysteria took hold and caused people to misinterpret the attacks and sightings of the wolves. This was also an element in the attacks in India, as some told of werewolves.
    3. A human or humans (perhaps Jean Chastel and his son?) took advantage of the attacks and hysteria either kill or abuse the corpses.
    4.There might have been a hyena, a baboon, and a wolf-dog hybrid running around the Gevaudan at that time, though I doubt the baboon was involved in any attacks.

    The attacks stopped when Jean Chastel shot what, in most accounts, is described as a largish wolf. I suspect that the hyena in the National History Museum might have been shot in the area, and mistakenly labeled the Beast.

  15. MadeInTheShade responds:

    @ Solitaryman: A pack of wolves might also explain why some people reported seeing the beast with either cubs or in the company of another animal. Also, it would seem that wolves in those days weren’t as shy towards people as they are now, so marauding packs of man-eating wolves sprang up from time to time.

    The nobility kept hyenas in their imageries apparently, but I wonder if regular villagers would recognize a hyena if they saw one (I’m not particularly knowledgeable on seventeenth-century Europe, so I don’t know if menageries were operated like zoos or a purely private thing)?

    I agree that mass hysteria probably was probably responsible for the werewolf stuff and causing people to exaggerate the beast’s traits (to a scared person, a large wolf-hybrid or hyena looks as big as a cow). Honestly, I’m actually leaning more towards the “multiple human and animal predators operating at the same time” theory now then just a hyena being responsible.

    “The attacks stopped when Jean Chastel shot what, in most accounts, is described as a largish wolf.”

    You mean the large wolf with the hooflike feet (something else the program didn’t really detail)?

    “I suspect that the hyena in the National History Museum might have been shot in the area, and mistakenly labeled the Beast.”

    *nods* I could see that. The Gevadaun case is extremely interesting. I’d love to find out the truth, but it’ll probably never really be known.

  16. crgintx responds:

    Ken’s antagonistic co-host was one of the most historically ignorant individuals concerning firearms that I’ve ever seen on TV in my life. The faux weapons test of silver vs. lead bullets from a cartridge gun of more than 100 years newer in design was an insult to the viewers! A real test should have been a lead ball vs. a silver coin alloy ball from a muzzle-loading, smooth-bore, flintlock musket. Muzzleloading rifles were brand new technology at the time and the chances that a 18th century peasant farmer could have afforded a rifle were pretty much nil. Even if he had a rifle, the ball or bullet would have been rammed down the barrel with a cloth patch, the lead or silver ball wouldn’t have engaged the rifling in the barrel at all! Accuracy from either would been the same! Talk about bad history and science!

  17. BFilmFan responds:

    A hyena (1000 ft/lbs of force) has a stronger bite force than a lion’s (691 ft/lbs of force) and is one of the few animals that can crack bones. As a scavenger, this is a huge advantage in being able to survive with other large predators mucking about the plains.

    I recall reading a theory that humans may have originally tamed wolves to assist in protecting themselves from attacks by hyenas and there was a large version running about North America which may well have suppresed colonization; but, I am rather sceptical of that second theory.

    I can easily see a hyena being responsible for some of the reported attacks. Baboons in troops are very dangerous and have been documented to attack and kill people. While I was unable to find a definitive bite force measurement for a baboon, I did run across one that stated an Orangutan had a bite force of up to 385 ft/lbs. Based on the fact that a baboon has larger canines than a lion and a jaw structure somewhat simliar to a dog or bear, I am led to believe that it would be in the same strength range.

    I agree with the other commentary, that the Beast of Gevaudan was a combination of attacks by different animals, which have been merged into a single animal. And animal displaying all the behaviors observed is either a werewolf or not the same animal. Since I don’t beleive that werewolves are physical animal (and note that I didn’t say I didn’t believe in werewolves cause I certainly didn’t!), then it must be more than one animal.

    The Wolves of Paris and other known and fairly well documented wolf attacks might be an interesting article, especially the wolf attacks in the 1700s in Japan.

  18. solitaryman responds:

    @ MadeInTheShade: “…so marauding packs of man-eating wolves sprang up from time to time. ”

    Yes, there were other attacks in France: Beast of Besnais, Beast of Sarlat, etc. The wolf-pack theory explains those cases, which is a major point in its favor.

    “You mean the large wolf with the hooflike feet…”

    I don’t recall reading about hoof-like feet on Chastel’s wolf, but there may have been an odd report of hoof-like feet.


    You mention the Wolves of Paris and other attacks. These attacks support the wolf theory. Wolves are perhaps more timid nowadays because the aggressive ones have been killed off in past centuries, leaving less aggressive ones. Wolves may also have increasingly learned to fear man, as effective firearms became more common.

  19. DarkRushBeat responds:

    i seem to get contrasting info regarding this…is it a Striped Hyena? an overgrown wolf? a “loupgarou (werewolf)?” if this was indeed a Striped Hyena, which i suppose isnt native to France, who in that period could possibly ship it to the area of Gevaudan?

  20. solitaryman responds:

    “…who in that period could possibly ship it to the area of Gevaudan?”

    From what I’ve read, it appears that any reasonably wealthy person could have afforded a small menagerie at that time. I’d *guess* that middle class people could have gotten exotic animals, especially if it was just one or two. There’s also that old standby: traveling circuses.

    I would like to find some info on how prevalent the exotic pet trade was at that time, but so far I’ve had no luck.

  21. MadeInTheShade responds:

    I’ve neglected this topic for too long’ my apologies.

    @SolitaryMan: Really? The creature supposedly having hoof-like feet was mentioned in several of the books and accounts I read. I was trying to remember if the beast Chastel shot had them or if it was the one bought in by the hunters sent by the king, but after doing some quick Googling, apparently it was Chastel’s creature.

    @BFilmfan: Interesting. I imagine that even a lone baboon could probably do a great deal of damage to a person if it felt threatened enough or the like. Weren’t male baboons responsible for attacks on babies in Africa? I think I saw that on the National Geographic Channel on a series about animal attacks.

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