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Chasing Monsters: Big Muddy Monster still has Murphysboro residents wondering
Murphysboro Police Chief Jeff Bock walks around a wooded area on the edge of Riverside Park, near where the Big Muddy Monster reportedly was spotted several years ago. (KENDRA HELMER FOR THE SOUTHERN)

MURPHYSBORO - There are two dates from 1973 in Murphysboro that still leave some haunted - or at least curious.

The two police reports dated June 25 and June 26 relate the sighting of an unknown creature.

It was in those two evenings that reports came in of a loud, tall, white-haired creature caked with mud being spotted in the woods on the outskirts of town near the Big Muddy River.

It was later dubbed the Big Muddy Monster because of its indefinable features and mysterious presence. It set off a media frenzy after the initial reports on those two days, said former patrolman and retired Murphysboro police chief Ron Manwaring.

"(Those) are the most copied, most looked-at reports in the history of the department," he said.

Letters came streaming in from those as far away as California and New York wanting a piece of information or a piece of the prize.

But the prize is still elusive.

There are only two cases that remain unsolved in Murphysboro, Manwaring said, but after 32 years the case on the Big Muddy Monster still remains open.

"It's an unsolved case because I can't tell you what it was," he said.

Having retired three years ago and having not seen the Big Muddy Monster police reports in years, Manwaring is still able to recount those haunting evenings as if they had happened just yesterday.

And he recounts the stories as he would if writing the police report all over again.

"There were numerous sightings and people interviewed," he began.

The first report came in just before midnight on June 25. A couple had been "parked" near the boat dock on the southwestern edge of Riverside Park, next to the woods.

The two, who were not married, said they were in the car when they heard a loud screaming sound in the wooded area and observed a "large creature approximately 7 feet tall. The creature appeared to have light-colored hair matted with mud. The creature appeared to be walking on two legs and was proceeding toward his car" according to the report.

Manwaring said the two came to the police department and risked exposing their indiscretions because they were so frightened by what they saw.

"There was no advantage for them to come up and report this," he said.

Police searched the area with flashlights and spotted tracks in the mud approximately 3 to 4 inches deep, 10 to 12 inches long, and 3 inches wide. While officers were searching the area they reported hearing another scream coming from the woods.

But nothing could be found.

The next evening Manwaring said he was an officer on duty when a call came in from the Westwood Hills subdivision that two teenagers were sitting on the back porch when they spotted a tall, white-haired, hairy creature in a field just to the edge of the woods.

Manwaring said officers responded and while they were at the scene, a neighbor said his 5-year-old son had just come in 10 minutes earlier saying he had seen something on the edge of the woods.

"My partner and I decided to go down to the area where they saw this thing," Manwaring said.

He started traveling a footpath through the bushes and noticed a stench and a slimy film on the tree branches.

"I saw this substance and smelled the smell myself," he said.

Jerry Nellis, an officer with the Carbondale Police Department at the time and a trained dog-handler, was called to the scene. The dog tracked the scent all the way to a barn, but once it got to the barn, the dog refused to go inside.

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Nellis said in his humble opinion it was a bear.

"We never got a good view of any tracks," Nellis said. "Is there a Sasquatch? I don't know - it makes for a good story, though."

Loren Coleman, a cryptozoologist who studied the Big Muddy Monster in the 70s, believes that it wasn't an animal in the woods.

"I think it's within the context of other reports of a Bigfoot," he said.

Like West Coast Bigfoot reports, Coleman said this creature was hairy, but differs in the fact that nobody was able to see any distinguishing characteristics in the facial area. He said this creature also seems more aggressive than those supposedly spotted in the West.

"There's something very unique about this eastern-midwestern Bigfoot," Coleman said. "From the reports from the Mud Monster it seemed to frighten people the way it didn't in the west."

Manwaring said people initially thought it was a prank, but after all this time no one has come forward to say so. And after the hype and hysteria was over with, he said he heard two more reports that seemed similar to those in June of 1973. One came in early July of that same year.

But what haunts him more is a report he heard from a man who lived in the Westwood Hills area before it was developed into a neighborhood in the 1950s. Manwaring said the man told him he was out working in his garden one evening when he spotted a creature that was similar to later reports of the Big Muddy Monster.

"I never did see it; but in my mind I feel those people really did see something," Manwaring said. "I guess it just remains a mystery."

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