Throughout the worlds of cryptozoology, the paranormal, and weird history there have often been reports and cases of mysterious phantom figures that have defied explanation. These are those bizarre humanoid entities such as as the infamous Springheeled Jack and many others, which have managed to inhabit a world somewhere between rational explanation and the unknown, managing to lurk in a sort of spooky plane of existence in which they have defied concrete categorization. One notable member of this cast of characters of bizarre figures is one which appeared in Switzerland and went on to terrorize the region, spurring on many wild theories before disappearing just as mysteriously as it had appeared.
In 2003, an increasing number of witnesses began reporting something very strange in the rural woodlands near the town of Maules, in western Switzerland. A very odd and mysterious figure was seen lurking about, estimated as being very tall, sometimes described as “a giant,” dressed in a dark boiler suit, boots, and flowing greenish camouflage cape, and most bizarre of all wearing a full antique gas mask on the face complete with bulging eye sockets and a tube leading away from the mouthpiece. Some reports also mentioned the figure wearing a cap, and by all accounts it was a very unnerving, some might even call nightmarish, thing to see out in the normally pleasant, peaceful woods of the area. Before long there were dozens of sightings of what was being called “Le Loyon,” or also “The Ghost of Maules,” and it was about to start a strange odyssey that would last for over a decade.
Despite his terrifying, otherworldly appearance, Le Loyon was never described as being aggressive or dangerous. Most sightings were exactly as if the figure was a ghost, with him just walking straight ahead along paths and rarely even acknowledging witnesses at all. On those few occasions when he did notice witnesses he would either just stare at them or even react in surprise, as was the case with one report from a woman who had stumbled across him picking flowers in a meadow and described the hulking figure as acting startled before hurrying off into the woods. The witness, a local woman by the name of Marianne Descloux, said that it was still very unsettling, and describes what she saw:
It was a rainy Sunday. He had a cap, a dark cloak and his gas mask. What could possibly be going through his head? I don't know, but it was unforgettable - and unpleasant. I hope I don't run into him again.
Despite the entity's seemingly benign temperament, witnesses often described being overcome with a sense of paralyzing dread and menace upon seeing Le Loyon, with some even claiming it was a supernatural ability that the mysterious entity had, some sort of negative force it was emanating. It got to the point where locals in the area were afraid to go outside at night, many were even afraid to go out into the forest at all, and children would come home screaming and in terror that they had seen the Ghost of Maules looming in the trees. One farmer would tell the Daily Mail, “Families simply won't go into the forest any more. No one here finds this story funny.” Authorities took notice, and began regular patrols looking for him, not to necessarily arrest him, but to question him. One municipal official would say of this:
The situation is delicate because we basically have nothing against this person. But since he arouses these fears, we are going to hold a meeting to see if we can find a way of locating him, and discouraging him from behaving as he does.
However, despite numerous sweeps and searches of Le Loyon’s haunt, there could never be found any evidence of the otherworldly figure. Indeed, Le Loyon didn’t seem to leave behind any trace at all, with some even claiming he left no footprints, and there were no photos produced until 2013, a decade after the first sightings, when a hiker happened across the ominous figure while taking a hike with his child and managed to snap a photo. The hiker would say of his encounter:
I came across him near the marshes. I approached, about ten meters away. He had on a military cape, boots and an army gas mask - an antique type, I believe. It measured more than 1.90 m. He stared at me, then turned his back on me and went away quietly. He—or she, by the way—was not aggressive. But if I had been alone I would have approached him to tell him that it scares children. Except that I was with mine, who was scared and I had to reassure. So I stayed cautious and I just took a picture with my phone when he left. You never know, maybe he's crazy.
The photograph would be published in the Swiss/French news-provider Le Matin, and immediately caused quite a stir. The image was all over the news, and Le Loyon, who had up until then been just an obscure local phenomenon and a sort of Boogieman, was thrust into the national consciousness. There came droves of visitors, many of them armed, pouring into the region to trounce through the woods looking for the enigmatic Ghost of Maules, turning the normally quiet rural area into a raucous, potentially dangerous free-for-all. It was at about this time that Le Loyon just disappeared. There were no new sightings or encounters, he was just gone. There was much speculation that he may have been actually killed by the monster hunters running around, but no one knew for sure until a hiker found Le Loyon’s gas mask, cape, and boiler suit lying neatly folded along a trail he was known to frequent, along with a mysterious note. The note, which was titled “Death Certificate and Testament of the Ghost of Maules,” explained that Le Matin was to blame for murdering “a very harmless being” by publishing the photo, and that “The risk of a hunt for the Beast" had become too great.
The note basically explains that all of the publicity and people out to find him had brought too much unwanted attention to his forest, and had driven him from his way of life and forced him to abandon his walks, which he called a “real therapy of happiness.” Oddly, the note also refers to the works of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote much on masochism. Since it was worded very much like a suicide note the common speculation was that he had killed himself, although it could have just been talking symbolically of the death of Le Loyon, not necessarily that of the one behind the mask. No one knows because he was never seen again, no body was ever found in the woods, and there has been speculation as to who or what Le Loyon was ever since. Theories have run rampant, including that this was a ghost, alien, some sort of interdimensional interloper, simply an eccentric hermit, or even a hoax and pure urban legend. No one really knows for sure, and the case of Le Loyon remains a curious oddity.