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What is the “Beast of Bladenboro”?

Ben Steelman
StarNews

This unknown creature made headlines during a slow news season in January 1954 in rural Bladen County. The exact nature of the “Vampire Beast” remains a mystery, with speculations that it might have been a bobcat or possibly a cougar.

According to Richard Walser in “North Carolina Legends,” the story began on Dec. 29, 1953, when “a large, black, catlike animal with a round face” was seen near Bladenboro, dragging a dog into the underbrush. On Jan. 4, 1954, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that three dogs had been found, their skulls “crushed in and chewed.” Other locals said that a goat and some small cows were also killed about this time, apparently by some large animal.

A Jan. 5 story quoted Bladenboro Police Chief Roy Fores as saying that one of the dead dogs had been dissected and “there wasn’t more than two or three drops of blood in him.” In each of the three dead dogs, the story added, the “bottom lip has been broken open and his jawbone smashed back.” Newspaper accounts began to speak of “a mystery killer beast with vampire lust.”

Before long, women around the county were locking their doors and children were being called inside. “Everybody near ’bout that had a gun was carrying it,” a witness, Tater Shaw, told Star-News reporter Amy Hotz decades later. Hundreds — perhaps more than 1,000 — hunters armed with rifles, pistols and shotguns descended upon Bladenboro, formed into posses and began patrolling the nearby swamplands.

On the evening of Jan. 6, 1954, Mrs. C.E. Kinlaw walked out on her porch, looked up and saw the “Beast” stalking toward her — just 20 yards away, she later told the Morning Star. She screamed and ran inside. Her husband ran out with a shotgun but found only cat-like paw prints around the yard.

By Jan 6, an estimated seven dogs in the neighborhood had beed killed or disappeared.

On Jan. 9, Bladenboro Mayor W.G. Fussell called off further hunts. So many people were in the woods, the danger of somebody being shot by accident was too great. (At least one local, thinking he’d sighted the Beast, shot his youngster’s bicycle to shreds, according to stories collected by Hotz.)

On Jan. 13, a fair-sized bobcat was caught in a steel trap outside Bladenboro and shot. Depredations ceased soon afterward, although at least one hog was killed after the bobcat had been dispatched.

Hysteria seems to have accounted for much of the excitement. Witnesses claimed the beast weighed 90, 100 or even 150 pounds, and was black, brown, tabby or “dark in color.” Almost everyone agreed it was catlike and that its call was like a baby or a woman crying, only louder and more bloodcurdling.

Some amateur naturalists have speculated the Beast of Bladenboro was a cougar or “painter.” That claim was revived in 2008 by the History Channel cable-television series “Monster Quest.” Eastern cougars were known to range in Brunswick and Onslow counties in historic times, as well as the North Carolina mountains. State wildlife officials and zoologists with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, however, are convinced that the cougar has been extirpated in North Carolina for decades. The few individuals occasionally found usually turn out to be escaped or abandoned pets or escapees from menageries.

In December 2007, a series of reported attacks on dogs in the Brown Road and Midway Road areas of Brunswick County, associated with cat-like tracks, led to talk of a “Beast of Bolivia.” No culprit was ever identified.

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