Bigfoot Encounters

Jeepers creepers, he's got his eyes out for creatures
Have you seen Bigfoot? This guy wants to know !


Monday, October 29, 2001
By Paul Schleis, Staff Writer for the Akron Beacon Journal

When things go bump in the night, Richard La Monica is more likely to reach for a camera than a baseball bat.He would like nothing more than to have a picture of one of those elusive creatures featured on his Web site -- a collection of mysterious sightings in Ohio that span two centuries. A monster python in Peninsula. A Bigfoot in Minerva. A menacing frog in Loveland.

This Halloween, you can have your werewolves and vampires -- they won't compare to Kenmore's Grassman or Lake Erie's Bessie. La Monica, who lives in Akron's Firestone Park, spends his spare time combing the Internet and local libraries for newspaper reports of people who tell of unnerving encounters with spooky species.

A few dozen are mentioned on his site and more than 100 are still waiting to be added. ``It really surprised me to find so many interesting stories in Ohio,'' he said. ``You don't have to leave the state. It's a one-tank trip to a monster.'' La Monica doesn't take all the tales at face value. Reports of a werewolf in Defiance running around knocking people in the head with a stick bring a grin to his bearded face. ``That one's funny,'' he says.

But make no mistake about it, La Monica is a believer. He believes the world harbors many undiscovered animals. He believes some of them are in Ohio. And he believes he saw Bigfoot in Guernsey County.

As La Monica talks about his hobby, his voice is soft but earnest -- someone who wasn't born to the spotlight, but whose enthusiasm refuses to be stifled. The 47-year-old truck driver's blond hair is gathered neatly into a ponytail -- a 6-inch gift he is growing for the Wigs for Kids program for chemotherapy patients.

He admits his wife and two teen-age children share little of his passion for the unexplained. His own fascination has roots in the childhood tales his English grandparents told him of water monsters and fairies that inhabited Cornwall and Falmouth Bay.

As a teen-ager, he became fascinated with Sasquatch and the Abominable Snowman. And as a young man working for the Alaska Department of Revenue, he heard a friend's tale of seeing a kushtaka -- a legendary Tlingit ``otterman.''

``Well, of course, being in Alaska, I wanted to see one, too,'' La Monica said. His treks into the countryside that summer of 1974 didn't turn up any unusual animals, and in time his curiosity about such creatures subsided.

And then, one night in 1988 as he was driving a produce truck through Guernsey County, he was stunned to see something he couldn't explain. A large dark figure running through the woods near the side of the road.

``It was faster than any man I had ever seen in the woods moving normally. It went through everything, not around it, including the briar bushes,'' La Monica said.

La Monica shared that moment only with a few close friends, expecting he'd be ridiculed if he repeated his story to anyone else. But when one of those friends called his attention to a newspaper notice about an upcoming meeting of Bigfoot enthusiasts, La Monica took a chance.

``I was excited to have the opportunity to relate what I saw and not have people look at me like I was some kind of nut,'' he said. They not only didn't think he was a nut, but told him that there had been several strange sightings in Guernsey.

So La Monica launched his own research project, taking camping trips to the area where he saw the creature.

In the years that followed, he made a cast of a 13 1/2-inch-long footprint he found in the woods, heard odd ``howl-screams'' in the night, and after reviewing a voice-activated recorder he kept at his campsite, discovered what he believes to be Bigfoot's speaking voice.

La Monica was emboldened by his experiences, and in 1998 he revealed his beliefs to the world when he launched his Web site, where he shares details about his research and allows visitors to hear that recording he has dubbed ``The Talker.''

He also tells stories of other creature sightings in Ohio, which he is compiling in a book he hopes to release under the title CryptOhio. (Cryptozoology is the study of mysterious creatures.)

And for those who think Bigfoot is a hoax of gargantuan proportions, La Monica invites them to simply have fun with their imaginations. Visitors can submit fictional Bigfoot tales for his annual Halloween story contest.

But to the unbeliever, La Monica is quick to offer evidence of just how much of our planet remains unexplored. For starters, he points to a Federal Aviation Administration report that says since World War II, 73 aircraft remain lost in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

``Those planes aren't going anywhere, and they still can't find them,'' La Monica said.

For himself, he makes no apologies for his own beliefs.

``I have to face the real world every day,'' La Monica says, ``but I'll never stop being fascinated with the mysterious.''

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