Louisiana, Missouri 2001 - Almost 30 years after their moment in the national
spotlight, the people of this small Mississippi River town are still split
on what to believe. And now outsiders are stirring things up again. In
1972, many put stock in stories about the Missouri Monster, or "Momo," a
large, hairy creature with a nasty stench that some believe roamed nearby
Star Hill, about 80 miles north of St. Louis. And many didn't. They figured
some of the believers were tippin' the bottle.
The buzz began when a 15-year-old girl reported seeing Momo outside her home. The sighting sent a slew of armed locals into the hills, looking for the beast. Some even planted bait, hoping to be the hero who captured Momo.
Reporters flocked in from around the country to give Louisiana, population 4,000, its 15 minutes of fame. After a few weeks, the buzz not to mention the reported stench died down. Old differences of opinion faded. People went back to their lives. But they're talking about it again, since an organization based in Tucson, Ariz., spent a week on Star Hill, just north of downtown Louisiana, looking for any traces of the almost-forgotten monster. Mostly, the effort brought laughter. When someone brings up Momo, a light enters people's eyes and a smile crosses their faces. The children of the '70s, who believed, are now grown up and raising their own children.
Momo seems like a fable to them. But for the International Society of Cryptozoology, the visit is serious. Its members examined the area April 14-20, collecting witness statements and checking whether that locale could provide enough food to sustain a Bigfoot-like creature.
Richard Greenwell, secretary of the organization and a zoologist, said this was just one of many trips the group makes each year. The society was formed in 1982 to document and evaluate evidence about animals that have been reported to exist but never verified.
Its Internet Web site boasts that cryptozoologists in the past 200 years have discovered many now-familiar animals, including the gorilla (in 1847), the giant panda (in 1869) and the giant gecko (in 1984). Greenwell said most of his trips have been to the Pacific Northwest. Greenwell said there does appear to be enough food to support such a creature. But he said it will take more than testimonials of the locals to convince him.
"We don't accept things on faith," he said. "We evaluate information. Sometimes it takes years to reach a conclusion. This is just one piece." On this particular trip, he was joined by Bill Riley, a Hannibal native who also claimed to have seen the creature in July 1972.
Riley said Momo chased him onto the porch of a farmhouse along Highway 79. He described the beast as around 8 feet tall, and putting off an odor he described as a mixture of sulfur and feces, only worse. He said he didn't tell anyone about the encounter for six years, fearing no one would believe him. He finally confided in his future wife.
When Riley made this trip to Louisiana, one of several in recent years, he said many other locals came forward with stories of their encounters, some as recently as 1996.
A lot of people don't want to admit publicly what they saw, out of fear of being the butt of humor, he said. It is true that mere mention of Momo can send Louisiana residents into gales of laughter. "I believed in it then," said Candy Barnett, who at 44 has changed her mind about the sightings in 1972. "I think I would actually have to see it to believe it."
Mary Shrum, 52, owns a farm outside of town and said she's never seen anything out of the ordinary only raccoons, coyotes, deer and the like. No giant, hairy creature and no nauseating smell. "I just don't believe it," she said. Some do believe it though, people such as Beverly Siders, 54, of Elsberry, who grew up in Louisiana. Siders said she doesn't have a reason to doubt those who say Momo exists. "I believe there's something out there," Siders said. But exactly what might be out there remains to be documented. Maybe it was a bear or some other already discovered creature. Or a prank.
The cryptozoologists' visit was not completely without incident. Some of their gear disappeared during the week. Police Chief James Graham said that after his officers asked questions about it around town, the researchers heard a knock on their motel room door and found the missing equipment sitting outside. They saw no sign of anyone or anything.
Reporter Brandy Warren, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org