Every so often there comes a long a dramatic case of the strange that is hard to classify. In such cases it is difficult to ascertain if we are dealing with a mystery monster, aliens, ghosts, or something else entirely. Such is the case of a strange visitor that made its way to a rural community in the state of Illinois, in the United States, and proceeded to leave a trail of bafflement and mystery in its wake. Stalking through the nighttime woods, the enigmatic apparition which would hold a whole community in the grip of terror is a prime example of either a bizarre cryptid which we may never understand, or the profound effect of myth, legend, and hysteria on the human psyche.
The southern part of Illinois was already long steeped in the bizarre well before the mysterious intruder came to terrorize the area. Native Americans and early settlers often told of experiencing a wide range of strange phenomena here, including seeing strange orbs of light, shadowy phantoms or frightening entities stalking the forests, and hearing bizarre howls, shrieks, or screams in the night. The Natives tribes of the area believed this land to be a cursed place prowled by evil spirits, and the region gained the intimidating nickname the Devil’s Kitchen. It was a place that has long been permeated with paranormal phenomena, and both settlers and Native Americans mostly avoided it. It was to this mysterious cursed land of specters, phantoms, and high strangeness that a sinister entity would emerge to maraud across a small town and earn its place among the most bizarre mystery monsters of cryptozoological lore.
What would go on to be called the Enfield Horror first made its appearance in the small community of Enfield, Illinois, located in the southeastern corner of the state. On the evening of April 25, 1973, 10-year old Greg Garrett was out playing in the backyard of his rural home as his parents watched TV inside. The boy’s parents were startled when their son purportedly suddenly burst in through the back door, crying hysterically and with a terrifying story to tell. Greg claimed that as he had been playing out in the yard, a hideous, misshapen beast had emerged from the darkness to attack him. According to the boy, the creature was an otherworldly abomination around 5 feet tall, with three legs, short stumpy arms tipped with taloned hands, gray skin covered with slime, and disproportionately large, red eyes. The malicious beast had then stepped forward and actually stomped on the boy’s feet, ripping his shoes with its claws in the process, before he had retreated to his house in terror. Police who arrived at the scene could find no trace of the entity the boy had described.
A mere half an hour later, the creature would make another appearance, this time in the yard of the Garrett’s neighbor, a Henry McDaniel. It started when McDaniel’s children claimed to hear something scratching at the outside of the house, and when he went to investigate he too heard the odd scratching noises. McDaniel at first thought it must have been some sort of animal, perhaps a stray dog or cat, and he went out to confront whatever it was. When he opened the door, what he saw was no dog. There looming over the front porch was a bizarre monstrosity which would prove to exactly match the description of what little Greg Garrett had seen just half an hour before. McDaniel would later describe it to authorities thus:
It had three legs on it, a short body, two little short arms coming out of its breast area and two pink eyes as big as flashlights. It stood four and a half feet tall and was grayish-colored… it was trying to get into the house!
Fearing for his life, McDaniel slammed the door shut and rushed off to retrieve a pistol he kept in the house for home defense. When he went back to open the door, the monster was still there scratching away, and reportedly hissed at the man “like a wildcat.” McDaniel then frantically fired several shots at the beast, hitting it dead on, after which it reportedly leapt away at a frenetic rate, allegedly covering 75 feet in three spectacular leaps before disappearing into the darkness. The terrified man called the police, claiming to have seen a “monster from outer space,” and when authorities searched the area they discovered a series of footprints that measured four inches across and looked like those of a dog, only with six toe pads rather then the usual four, and seeming to be of something with only three legs based on the layout and the fact that one footprint was smaller than the rest. They also found some curious scratch marks on the outside of the house that corroborated the story of some creature trying to get in, yet despite these findings authorities were skeptical of McDaniel’s spectacular claims.
Nevertheless, whatever the creature was, it came around McDaniel’s house yet again in the dark, early morning hours of May 6. This time, at around 3AM, McDaniel was woken by his neighbor’s dogs barking excitedly. When he went to go see what the commotion was about, he saw out on the railroad tracks near his home the very same monster he had seen before. The creature was described as casually lumbering along the railway tracks, and this time McDaniel did not shoot at it, but rather stared in puzzlement as it wandered about for several minutes along the tracks before bounding away into the night.
McDaniel’s bizarre accounts soon made the rounds and before long word had gotten out about the “Enfield Horror” stalking the night. Visitors began pouring in looking to catch a glimpse of the thing, bringing a good amount of publicity that the small, quaint rural town was not used to. It got to the point where the sheriff warned McDaniel to stop spreading his crazy stories in order to keep the rumors under wraps. Despite these threats, people continued to come to the town in droves. Although many of these visitors were merely curiosity seekers hoping to see the monster for themselves, others were more ambitious monster hunters, who came armed to the teeth and dead set on actually bringing whatever the creature was down. This alarmed the locals, as the last thing they wanted in their previously peaceful quiet community was a bunch of trigger happy thrill seekers out in the woods with loaded guns and alcohol.
Some of these monster hunters further fueled the frenzy of monster rumors with bizarre sightings of their own. Two hunters from Indiana by the names of Mike Mogle and Roger Tappy claimed to have seen what they described as a large “gray monkey” dashing through the underbrush, which had moved too quickly for them to get a good shot at it. In another incident, five hunters were arrested for hunting violations and as a threat to public safety after they opened fire in unison on what they would later claim had been a gray hairy creature they had spotted in the woods. The hunters even claimed to have hit it, but that their bullets had had no effect whatsoever. The Sheriff didn’t believe a word of it and considered them to be just a posse of gun toting thrill seekers “out drinking and raising hell.”
The final major sighting of the Enfield Horror was made by a group of four men searching the area, with one of them being Rick Rainbow, the news director of radio station WWKI in Kokomo, Indiana. The group claimed that they had seen a grey, stooped over ape-like creature loping through the woods near an abandoned house not far from McDaniel’s property. The mysterious thing was reported to have been moving at a speed far faster than a man could run, and had finally disappeared into the forest. On this occasion, the strange creature was said to let out a bloodcurdling wail, which Rainbow claimed to have actually recorded on tape.
The string of strange events that occurred at Enfield Illinois was then investigated by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who would later write an article about the Enfield Horror in the July 1974 edition of Fate Magazine entitled “Swamp Slobs Invade Illinois.” Coleman interviewed locals, listened to the Rainbow recording, and searched through the area looking for any signs of the beast. He even went to the actual home of McDaniel to investigate, and as he was there he claims to have actually heard the creature’s peculiar wailing for himself. Coleman would say of the bizarre experience:
I traveled to Enfield, interviewed the witnesses, looked at the siding of the house the Enfield Monster had damaged, heard some strange screeching banshee-like sounds, and walked away bewildered.
What in the world was the Enfield Horror? There have been many theories put forward over the years to try and come to some understanding of this bizarre story, running from the rational to the more fantastical. A popular notion is that what was seen was an escaped kangaroo, as this could account for the creature’s purported leaping prowess, as well as give the impression of having only three legs under certain viewing conditions. The problem is that a kangaroo really looks nothing like what was described, leaves different tracks than what were found, and when faced with this possibility the main witness, McDaniel himself, flat out dismissed the possibility, stating that what he had seen “wasn’t no kangaroo.” It was also speculated that an escaped ape could have perhaps been the culprit, yet this also does not really truly fit descriptions of the weird creature. More mundane animals theorized to have been behind the sightings include large dogs, calves, horses, bears, deer, and wildcats. Other theories have branched out into decidedly more fringe realms, including the ideas that the Enfield Horror was a genetic experiment gone awry, an alien running amok, or even an actual literal demon.
There is also of course the possibility that the Enfield Horror never really existed at all. Several red flags go up when one considers that the main sightings were made by one man, McDaniel, and one of the other witnesses, the boy Garrett, would later retract his report and say that it had been something he had made up after the scary stories had already started. As for the hunters who had seen the creature, it has been postulated that these men had been influenced by the strange stories and had either made up their accounts or misidentified other wildlife in a panic. In fact, the idea that the whole Enfield Horror phenomena was the result of mass hysteria was studied in 1978 by a team sociologists at Western Illinois University headed by David L. Miller, who looked into the series of events as a case study of “social contagion,” whereby large groups or crowds of people can be influenced by “group emotions, such as panics, hysterias, collective visions, and extreme instances of suggestibility.” According to the researchers, the Enfield Horror reports had their base in just a handful of sightings, which then had proceeded to cause panic and flame out of control with exaggeration in the media and wild rumors among the populace until it had all reached a state of hysteria of epidemic proportions.
It is unlikely that we will ever know for sure if the creature was ever real in any sense or merely the product of delusion and social hysteria. After 1973 the creature was never seen again, making it hard to verify just what was going on. Interestingly, a similar spate of sightings that may or may not have had any connection to the Enfield Horror occurred in 1941 and 42, in the village of Mt. Vernon, about 40 miles away from Enfield. In these reports, locals claimed to have been terrorized by a strange beast which could leap large distances and looked somewhat like a baboon, which was blamed on a string of mysterious deaths of various livestock. It is unclear just what connection, if any, the “Mt. Vernon Monster” has to the Enfield Horror, but it has been suggested that it could have been the same creature. However, there have been no further reports since then, leaving us to merely scratch our heads and wonder.
As strange as cryptozoology and the potential existence of undiscovered mystery monsters are, it seems that there will always be certain accounts that stand out as particularly bizarre. These are the cases that seem to transcend the notion of mere hidden flesh and blood animals, and take us into the realm of the truly weird. Even if such cases as the Enfield Horror turn out to be nothing more than flights of fancy, they do seem to show that there are many strange facets to cryptozoological phenomena, and that there are certain factors, whatever those may ultimately be, that serve to muddy the waters and ensure that there will always be mysteries of the unknown that we may forever fail to come to a complete understanding of.