My interest in strange creatures and monstrous animals dates back to my early childhood. When I was just six years of age my parents took me on a two-week holiday to Scotland. While there, we spent a day at one of the most mysterious places on the planet. You surely know the one: Loch Ness. Even today, I still have a few fragmentary memories of my father telling me the story of the Loch Ness Monster – far better known, of course, as Nessie. As we stood on the shores of the huge loch – surrounded by gigantic, sloping hills and centuries-old castles – I stared intently into the ink-black waters. I was both amazed and excited at the prospect of a colony of monsters lurking deep within the depths of the mysterious loch. In mere moments, my life was forever changed. I was hooked. I began reading books on the likes of Bigfoot, sea-serpents, the Abominable Snowman, Mothman, werewolves, and just about each and every other winged, scaled, hair-covered, or long-necked monster that was said to inhabit the darker corners of our world. And, sometimes, the not so darkened corners, too.
When I left school, I began working on a magazine, titled Zero. It was a publication dedicated to rock music, fashion, celebrity gossip and much more, and which catered to the people of the English town in which I was then living. I embraced the world of journalism like an old friend and, after a few years, elected to combine my experience in the domain of writing with that of monster-hunting. Since that formative, fateful day at Loch Ness, I have traveled the world in search of those creepy creatures that science and zoology assure us don’t exist, but which thousands of witnesses strongly suggest otherwise. I have pursued wolf-men across the woods of Louisiana, Sasquatch in the vast forests of Washington State, diabolical Goat-Men throughout Texas, giant birds in the mountains of Mexico, and huge and mysterious black cats deep within the green, sprawling fields of the U.K. It’s fair and accurate, however, to say that some of my most memorable pursuits have been of the distinctly undead kind. That’s right: we’re talking creatures of the night, malignant blood-suckers. In short: vampires. And, one particular creature: the Chupacabra of Puerto Rico. But, there's something else: there were strange creatures on Puerto Rico long before the Chupacabra surfaced.
Puerto Rico is a place that is as enchanting as it is mysterious. Located in the northeast Caribbean, it is comprised of the main island itself, plus the islands of Mona, Monito, Vieques, Caja De Muertos, Culebra, and a number of other, smaller bodies. Today, Puerto Rico has a population of close to four million people, while its land mass is of roughly 3,500 square miles. It was in the mid-1990s that the phenomenon of the chupacabra exploded all across Puerto Rico. So far as can be determined, the menacing creature first surfaced in March 1995. That was when numerous animals were found slaughtered in the towns of Morovis (located in central Puerto Rico) and Orocovis, which is situated within the aforementioned La Cordillera Central mountain range. Locals were plunged into states of near-hysteria by the attacks, which reportedly left animals dead, with strange marks on their necks, and a distinct lack of blood in their corpses. Since many of the early attacks were on goats, the term, “chupacabra,” was created. It means, in Spanish, goat-sucker.
Vampires were on the loose; monstrous vampires. Reports of strange killings soon began to surface from other parts of the island. The creatures were clearly on the move. The death-rate increased even more. The population was on edge and the media had something new and sensational to report on. It was a turbulent and strange time. But, what, exactly, was responsible for all the killings? Yes, there were plenty of dead animals but, unfortunately, there was no solid, eyewitness testimony relative to the killers themselves. That is, until August 1995, when a woman named Madelyne Tolentino - who lived in Canovanas, which is close to the northeast coast of Puerto Rico - changed everything. Tolentino’s description of the creature she encountered, close to her mother’s home, was disturbing, to say the very least. It was a description eagerly embraced by the island’s media and by investigators of monsters and mysteries.
Tolentino told journalists and researchers that the creature was around three feet in height, bipedal, ran in a weird, hopping fashion, had large black eyes, bony fingers on each hand, overly long arms and legs, and a kind of feathery line running down its back. Or, it appeared to Tolentino to be a feathery line: a young boy employed by Tolentino’s husband claimed that he saw the beast up close and personal and maintained that the feathers were, in reality, sharp spines. The boy also said that the creature possessed a mouthful of vicious-looking fangs. Not only did the people know of the chupacabra and its predations, they also now knew what it looked like: something straight out of their worst nightmares. There is, however, something else about monsters on Puerto Rico: namely, that they're nothing new. The island has had strange creatures on it for not just years, but decades - as you'll see now. Let's focus on a creature that was seen on Puerto Rico in 1975: The Moca Vampire.
Long before the now-legendary beast was on anyone’s radar, there was another vampire-like monster roaming around on the island. It was known as the Moca Vampire – its name taken from the municipality of Moca, which can be found in the northwest of the island, and which is home to around 40,000 people. Unlike the Chupacabra – sightings of which continue to this very day – the “Vampiro de Moca,” as it was referred to on Puerto Rico – was a monster of a definitively “here one minute and gone the next” kind. The controversy all began in late February 1975. That was when the population of Moca was plunged into a collective state of fear. And it was hardly surprising. Numerous ranchers reported how their farm animals were being violently slaughtered under cover of darkness and systematically drained of massive amounts of blood. The first area targeted was the Barrio Rocha region, where several goats, at least four pigs, numerous chickens, and more than a dozen cows, were all found dead, with puncture marks on their bodies, and deep claw-like wounds on their skin, and all missing one vital ingredient: blood.
Villagers and farmers were as outraged as they were terrified. Local authorities, and chiefly the police, tried to diffuse the controversy by attributing the attacks to nothing stranger than the work of packs of wild dogs – a theory that, almost inevitably, was received with nothing but scorn, skepticism, and disdain. By the end of the first week in March 1975, the death count was close to three dozen. It was in this same week that an important development was made: the blood-sucking culprit was finally seen, up close and personal, so to speak. The witness was a woman named Maria Acevedo, who caught sight a monstrously-sized, screaming and screeching winged beast that landed atop her home, and which clambered about her zinc roof, making an almighty racket in the process. It was clearly no normal bird: around four to five feet in height, it was described as being similar in appearance to a pterodactyl, a presumed-extinct, flying reptile of the Jurassic era. Whatever the true nature of the monster, it quickly took to the skies and vanished into the starry darkness. Less than forty-eight hours later, a farmer named Cecilio Hernandez contacted the police after more than thirty of his chickens were killed in a fashion that was quickly becoming attributed to the predations of the Moca Vampire. It was at the same time that Hernandez’ story was widely being reported on Puerto Rico that a potential answer to the puzzle was uncovered: two huge snakes were killed in Moca, just before they were about to attack a cow belonging to a rancher named Luis Torres.
Of course, this didn’t explain the winged monster that Maria Acevedo reported only days earlier. And, it didn’t resolve the many and varied additional killings that continued to plague the people of Moca. In addition, while snakes will typically take down and devour – whole, no less – significantly-sized animals, they will not, and cannot, suck blood in either small or large proportions. In other words, while the snake theory might have been a small component of the saga, it most certainly didn’t explain everything. On March 18, 1975, the monster struck again. On this occasion, the victims were a pair of goats owned by Hector Vega, of Moca’s Barrio Pueblo. Once again, the culprit had struck in its typical fashion of draining the goats of their blood – and, in this case, of all the blood. The creature was not done with Vega, however. On the following night no less than seventeen animals were attacked, of which ten were killed, due to deep, penetrating wounds, trauma, and massive blood loss.
Five days later, a pig was found dead by farmer Felix Badillo. Blood was removed in significant amounts, and there was a hole in the head of the animal, which gave every appearance of something powerful being violently thrust into the skull. On top of that, one of the pig’s ears was missing – in a fashion that, rather intriguingly, was attributed to a surgical procedure. No wonder the people of Moca were as puzzled as they were alarmed. Forty-eight hours later came the most astonishing development: Juan Muniz was attacked by a huge, bird-like animal that swopped down upon him from above, as he walked through Barrio Pulido. He struggled and fought as the winged nightmare did its very best to force Muniz to the ground. In his panicked state, Muniz managed to escape and alert the authorities. Then, as April began, the Moca Vampire began to expand its hunting ground: attacks were reported all across the island, with farm animals again allegedly drained of blood, of rumors of attacks on people, and even of a police cover-up of the facts to prevent a public panic exploding. The attacks continued into May – and then into June, too. By this time, hundreds of animals were said to have fallen victim to the blood-drinking monster, and with barely an answer to the problem in sight. As it transpired, however, matters came to a sudden, inexplicable halt. Shortly before the end of June, the sightings, encounters and attacks were no more. Whatever the true nature of the Moca Vampire, it vanished as quickly as it originally surfaced.
And, things go even further back in time. In September 1959, a groundbreaking paper was published by the acclaimed scientific journal, Nature. Its title was: Searching for Interstellar Communications. The authors were two physicists, Phillip Morrison and Giuseppe Conconi, both of Cornell University. In essence, the paper was a study of how microwaves might be successfully used to seek out alien intelligences, in other parts of the Universe. It had a great effect on one Frank Drake – a man who, after having carefully read the report, embarked on a life and career to search the Universe for aliens. Drake began his work at the West Virginia-based Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory. He was, without doubt, the star of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) conference that was held at the observatory in October 1961. Drake ultimately gravitated to Puerto Rico, home to the Arecibo Radio Telescope, of which he became the director.
Midway through the 1960s, something decidedly strange happened at the telescope, something that may well have a direct bearing upon the chupacabra phenomenon. A guard reported, one day, seeing a curious character roaming around the edge of the installation. What made the man – if a man it was – so curious was his attire: a long, black cloak. The guard, apparently, had his own ideas on what he was seeing: one of the undead; a vampire. A report on the affair was prepared for Drake’s attention. That was far from being the end of the matter, however. Forty-eight hours after the sighting, Drake said: “I really was forced to look into it…because a cow was found dead on a nearby farm, with all the blood drained from its body. The vampire rumor had already spread through the observatory staff, and now the cow incident whipped the fears of many people into a frenzy.”
As all the above shows, when it comes to strange beasts on Puerto Rico... the Chupacabra was not the first.