I can think of a lot of things that I would prefer not to bump into on a dark night… a gang of vicious thugs, a dead body, an escaped mental patient who ran out of anti-psychotic meds… the list goes on and on, but there’s one thing in particular that fills me with more dread than all the rest. It’s a strange and enigmatic entity that just a handful of folks have claimed to have encountered; a terrifying being that has shown up in many places and who is known by many names, but needs only one… “The Grinning Man.”
So why does this “thing” freak me out so much? Honestly, I’m not really sure. Aside from a few unsubstantiated rumors involving this entity chasing or “brutally beating” people, there are no official accounts of it attacking anyone. It’s just sort of, well… creepy... like seriously creepy. Before we delve any deeper, let me describe this not-so gentle giant for you:
Eyewitnesses claim that the Grinning Man is a looming figure who stands well over 6-feet tall. His head is said to be devoid of any hair and his dark, beady eyes are nestled unnaturally far apart in his domed skull. Some observers are so perturbed that they are later unable to recall whether he even had a nose or ears, but -- as disturbing as that may be -- far and away his most disconcerting characteristic is the wide, hideous, shark-like grin that is perpetually plastered across his face.
Renowned paranormal investigator and “Mothman Prophecies” author, John Keel, is considered to be the first researcher to mention the creature (or, more likely than not, creatures) that have collectively come to be known as the Grinning Man. In his seminal tome on unnatural entities, “The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings,” Keel discusses what is believed to be the first modern run-in with this peculiar entity.
The encounter occurred in Elizabeth, New Jersey, at approximately 9:45 pm. on the night of October 11th, 1966. Two boys -- Martin “Mouse” Munov and James “Jimmy” Yanchitis -- were walking home along New Jersey and 4th Street when they turned onto a road that ran adjacent to the elevated New Jersey Turnpike.
There was a treacherously steep 30-foot slant running from the hectic turnpike above them all the way down to the tall wire fence that ran parallel to the route that Munov and Yanchitis were walking. The decline on the other side of the fence was so steep that the boys had never even seen anyone attempt to scale it, nor had they ever seen anyone on the opposite side of the rusted fence… but this night would prove to be an exception to the rule.
Both Munov and Yanchitis were nervous as they slipped in and out of the pools of light cast by the streetlamps above, as they had heard that a neighborhood woman had been chased by a “tall, green man” earlier that evening in the same area. Little could the boys predict when they stopped to catch their breath a few moments later that their date with the unknown would be about to begin.
It was Yanchitis who first noticed the ominous humanoid figure standing in the thick scrub brush behind Munov on the opposite side of the fence. He appeared to be ignoring the boys and staring at a house across the road. Yanchitis would later describe the smirking brute for both the police and Keel:
"He was strangest guy we've ever seen… He was standing behind that fence. I don't know how he got there. He was the biggest man I ever saw."
The anxious Yanchitis wasted no time in alerting his unwary pal about the scary silhouette that was stationed behind him. Munov slowly turned and saw a huge figure clad in a green, one-piece suit that seemed to be reflecting the streetlight above. Munov’s account is in his report to the police:
"Jimmy nudged me and said, 'Who's that guy standing behind you?' I looked around and there he was... behind that fence. Just standing there. He pivoted around and looked right at us... then he grinned a big old grin."
The two young men -- evidently wise beyond their years -- listened to their fight or flight instinct and wasted no time in exiting the scene before the eerie emerald apparition could scale the fence and take pursuit.
Just three days after their unusual encounter, Keel arrived at the scene with UFO investigator James Moseley and (oddly enough) famed actor and paranormal enthusiast, Chuck McCann. The boys were interviewed individually -- in the home of one George Smythe -- and, according to Keel, gave identical accounts of the event. Keel described what Yanchitis and Munov had told him, Moseley and McCann:
"The man was over six feet tall, they agreed, and was dressed in a sparkling green coverall costume that shimmered and seemed to reflect the street lights. There was a wide black belt around his waist… He had a very dark complexion, and little round eyes... real beady... set far apart. They could not remember seeing any hair, ears, or nose on this figure."
McCann was a solidly built actor who stood 6’2 and both boys insisted that the Grinning Man was not only taller than the TV star, but much broader as well. This would make him an imposing figure indeed.
Keel and his fellow investigators went to the site of the encounter, wondering whether or not the menacing man behind the fence might actually have been a stranded motorist. Upon inspection of the scene, however, Keel and his crew concluded that the incline was not only too sharp to easily traverse, especially at night, but that any sane person with car troubles stuck behind a high fence would have called out for help rather than leer maniacally.
It wasn’t long before the boys’ bizarre tale spread throughout the neighborhood and folks began to speculate that this so-called Grinning Man might be associated with a UFO sighting that had occurred at exactly the same time just 40-miles north of Elizabeth, near a DuPont explosives factory outside of Pompton Lakes. The initial eyewitnesses to this event were a police officer and his wife.
The officer and his spouse watched in amazement as the object -- which they described as resembling a "blazing white light as big as a car" -- nearly hit an almost 600-foot tall television tower, before vanishing over nearby hills at a leisurely pace. As if they weren’t credible enough witnesses, on the opposite side of the hills two additional police officers would also catch more than a glimpse of this incredible airborne anomaly.
The officers in question were Patrolman Edward Wester and Sergeant Benjamin Thompson of the Wanaque Reservoir Police. The pair watched as the luminous UFO soared over the reservoir at a low altitude. Sergeant Thompson was later quoted as stating:
"The light was brilliantly white. It lit up the whole area for about three hundred yards. In fact, it blinded me when I got out of the patrol car to look at it, and I couldn't see for about twenty minutes afterwards."
It would be due to this -- possibly coincidental -- incident that the Grinning Man phenomenon would become forever associated with UFOs and extraterrestrial entities. While this might be the first incident that helped solidify this creature’s connection to the realm of ufology, it would not be the last.
The second series of incidents that Keel credits as being part of the Grinning Man phenomenon also occurred in 1966; this time during the infamous Mothman’s reign of terror in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. While the Grinning Man often gets lost in furor surrounding this infamous winged beast, for researchers who have studied this astounding series of events one figure looms almost as tall as the Mothman itself… that figure is the Grinning Man who called himself "Indrid Cold."
On November 2nd, 1966 -- less than a month after Munov and Yanchitis had their disturbing encounter -- sewing machine salesman, Woodrow Derenberger, was driving home on the hilly Interstate 77 after a long day of work when he suddenly a bizarre vehicle dropped down from the dark sky and landed in the road in front of him with a tremendous crashing sound.
The vehicle was unlike anything that Derenberger had ever seen before. He described it as looking like: "an old fashioned kerosene lamp chimney, flaring at both ends, narrowing down to a small neck and then enlarging in a great bulge in the center."
The startled Derenberger slammed on the brakes of his old panel truck and screeched to a halt. That’s when things started to get really weird... A hatch slid open on the side of the mystery vehicle before him and a tall, dark skinned man climbed out. The salesman later described him as having “slightly elongated” eyes, but his most notable attribute was the wide, creepy grin, which Derenberger claimed he could see glinting in his truck's headlights
In fact, the one of the few disparities between the frightening Grinning Man described by Munov and Yanchitis and the one seen by Derenberger is that the latter described the humanoid’s clothes as blue instead of green, but -- much like the New Jersey Grinning Man -- his clothes were reflective and made of a material that the appliance salesman noted was: "quite shiny and had a glistening effect.”
Derenberger then claimed that this Grinning Man telepathically communicate with him, asking him a series of odd questions. Following this abnormal interlude, the entity simply stated that: “My name is Cold… I will be visiting you again."
Cold then returned to his unusual vehicle, which -- as incomprehensibly as it arrived -- launched from the interstate and soared up into the sky. Following this wild encounter, both Derenberger and several other Point Pleasant residents would claim to have additional run-ins with the infamous Indrid Cold.
Eventually Derenberger would reveal that Cold informed him that he was an alien from the planet Lanulos, which was nestled in the galaxy of Genemedes. He would further claim that Cold had taken him to his home planet where he saw people wearing “colorful shorts” and all the words on the signs appeared to be in a “squiggly, oriental-like writing.”
Cold was soon followed by two other Grinning Men named Demo Hassan and Karl Ardo. Derenberger’s wife even met them and believed that their agenda was an “evil” one. Sadly, it wasn’t long after these events that his wife divorced him. Derenberger would go on to co-author a book about his experiences titled: "Visitors froim Lanulos" with Harold W. Hubbard.
Another -- even more unnerving -- encounter with what Keel speculated might be a Grinning Man also occurred in Point Pleasant during that same period. The terrifying event transpired at the rural home of the Lilly family.
The Lillys were dealing with frightening poltergeist-like activity as well as seeing peculiar lights in the skies above their home on a nightly basis. According to Mrs. Lilly:
"We've seen all kinds of strange things... blue lights, green ones, red ones, things that change color. Some have been so low that we thought we could see diamond-shaped windows in them. And none of them make any noise at all."
The incident involving the Grinning Man, however, did not happen to the entire family, but focused on the Lilly’s daughter, Linda. The young lady confided in Keel -- who was at the scene chronicling the entire Mothman uproar -- that she had woken up one night to see a hulking figure leering down at her while she was in bed. In Linda’s own words:
“It was a man, a big man. Very broad. I couldn't see his face very well, but I could see that he was grinning at me. He walked around the bed and stood right over me. I screamed again and hid under the covers, when I looked again he was gone.”
Linda then ran into her mother’s room shrieking hysterically: "There is a man in my room! There is!" She refused to sleep alone for months following the encounter.
Whether the figure looming above Linda on that fateful eve was Indrid Cold, another Grinning Man, a ghostly phantasm or just a figment of her imagination is hard to say, but it’s difficult not to speculate that -- much like in the Elizabeth New Jersey incident -- the strange lights soaring above the Lilly home might have something to do with the appearance of this seemingly sinister, smiling fiend.
This leads us to a wild and utterly fascinating theory that I stumbled across, which implies that Indrid Cold in particular (and Grinning Men in general) may be delegates of a sort of paranormal -- or possibly intergalactic -- police force that spontaneously appear in the area of anomalous events in order to keep the peace or simply to observe the proceedings as they unfold.
Another hypothesis speculates that Cold might have been a representative of the notoriously secretive group known as the Men In Black, many of which were allegedly encountered throughout the region during the Mothman flap.
To insure that New Jersey and West Virginia wouldn’t have all the fun, in 1966 and 1967, there was a short wave of encounters with beady-eyed, wide mouthed “giant prowler” with a “fixed grin” in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Understandably, there are some who believe that the entire Grinning Man phenomenon ought to be dismissed due to the fact that all of the cases were presented by Keel, who -- as all writers do -- applied his own biases while connecting dots that were, at times, only loosely associated. While this may be true, there is at least one case involving a Grinning Man and a UFO abductee that, as far as I know, Keel never chronicled.
In December of 1978, a 26 year-old night watchman, Pier Zanfretta, was on a routine patrol in the village of Torriglia, Italy, when he claims he was abducted by a trio of gigantic, yellow-eyed, semi-reptilian aliens. Following this incident would be a series of terrifying abductions that would continue for years, but one of his creepiest encounters was ot with an "alien," but with -- you guessed it -- a Grinning Man.
On December 3rd, 1979, at approximately 9:30 pm., Zanfretta got out of his patrol car at a self-service gas station near downtown Genoa. He claimed that he heard someone calling out to him from the shadows outside the station.
Zanfretta described entity that was speaking to him as a tall, humanoid figure with a bald, “egg-shaped” head, who was dressed in a checkered suit that included a chest plate made of “steel.” He was also grinning from ear to ear.
Like Cold before him, this lanky creature spoke to the security guard without moving his lips and ordered him to drive his vehicle into a small cloud that was hovering just above the ground nearby. Zanfretta swore that the sound of the Grinning Man’s voice physically compelled him to obey the request.
The young guard did as he was instructed and claimed that he and his patrol car were levitated within the cloud and deposited onto a colossal spacecraft. This ship, according to the watchman, was filled not only with the reptilian aliens that had been abducting him, but large, transparent cylinders filled with a weird blue liquid. One of the cylinders was said to have contained a “frog-shaped” body, which the aliens explained was: “An enemy of ours from another planet.” Strange stuff indeed.
In the years since 1978, there have only been a few sporadic -- and unconfirmed -- reports of the Grinning Man and his ilk. The first is from April 23rd, 2009, when a blogger known only as H. R. Zapruder posted a very brief encounter with he believed to be a Grinning Man while driving near Roswell, New Mexico:
“Soon afterwards, I drove past a man standing in the brush, I thought he was hitchhiking so I sped past, you know, hitchhikers = bad news. Anyway, I didn't think much of it at first but as I sped by, I noticed a green glistening so I inspected the rear view mirror. I saw the man from behind, he was bald and over 6-feet tall, wearing a sparkling green jacket, the rest was obscured by the brush. When I arrived in town I was told by some locals I'd just missed a UFO.”
Another strange report hails from author A.J. DiChiara, who told of his sister’s harrowing experience with a Grinning Man in the late 1980s. The unnamed woman was driving to her rural home in Connecticut on a dark autumn eve, when she claimed that an “entity” drove up next to her in what she described as a “phantom car with an eerie glow.”
She looked over and saw what she described as a “hideous creature,” staring at her with glowing yellow eyes and a toothy grin, which terrified her. As quickly and mysteriously as it appeared, the strange vehicle vanished. This incident served as inspiration for her brothers fictional novel “The Grinning Man.”
So what should we make of all of the above encounters? Assuming that they're honest accounts of events as they happened; do they confirm that the Grinning Man's origins are from out of this world or, at least, another dimension? If not, then why are these beings so often seen near so many alleged UFO sightings and what -- if any -- are their connections to the Mothman and these huge, lizard-like intergalactic visitors?
Are they the aliens' lackeys or, perhaps, human-alien hybrid liasons? Are they phantoms or demons or creatures from another plane of existence who erroneously assume that wearing a smile will put their human counterparts at ease? These are just a few of the perplexing questions that continue to surround this mystifying enigma.
And what an enigma it is. Even in the already bizarre worlds of ufology, cryptozoology and the plain ol’ paranormal, the Grinning Man remains one of the most confounding, obscure and outright terrifying legends in all the annals of the supernatural... but whatever these beings may turn out to be... I hope like hell I never run into one.