Bigfoot Encounters

Monster legend is alive and well in South County, San Diego, California
August 24, 2003, San Diego County, California

Tale of hairy Proctor Valley beast has persisted for years

They weren't the first boy and girl to seek

UMA SANGHVI / Unon-Tribune
Richard Pena of Bonita holds up a concrete casting of what South County lore identifies as a footprint of the Proctor Valley Monster.
seclusion in Proctor Valley.
It was nothing but a dirt road coursing through acres of rolling fields about 10 miles east of Bonita.

It was the kind of place kids find at the edges of small towns. A place boys lured their dates or drank beer. A place far from street lights, parents and police.

When the young couple decided to return to town, the car wouldn't start. The boy warned the girl to lock the doors and stay put while he sought help.

The longer he was gone, the more frightened
she became, isolated in darkness. The eerie silence was punctuated only by the sound of . . . Were they tree branches scratching against the roof? The girl's fright turned to panic and finally
to abject terror. When sheriff's deputies helped her from the car the next day, she saw that the scratching on the roof had been her boyfriend's fingernails his arms dangling from a body torn and bloody and hanging upside down from a tree, the victim of a bestial attack. More specifically, the victim of the Proctor Valley Monster.

That's one version of the story, anyway.

South County's leading bit of folklore sometimes appropriates the narrative from popular urban legends and grafts on geographic particulars to give it its local flavor.

It's not plot or setting that's responsible for the tale's pervasiveness and persistence. The story can change to the old hook-in-the-door-handle legend, the scene can shift from woods to lake.

It's the fun and fear of a bogeyman in a community's collective imagination that's kept the Proctor Valley Monster alive for at least a half-century.

The third-hand, word-of-mouth accounts and the Internet sources that continue resuscitating the myth describe an elusive 7-foot-tall hairy beast that walks upright.

The Bonita Museum has a "footprint" of a monster. Docents don't know exactly how it came into the museum's collection, but it's a thin concrete casting measuring about 18 inches from the tip of the big toe to the pointed heel and looks like an elongated baseball mitt missing its web.

Decades ago, Proctor Valley was as fertile a place as any for such cryptozoology. How else to explain the missing goats, the gored cattle?

"It was a story that got better and better because it was on the edge of town. It was close, but it was so far," said Chula Vista school board member Cheryl Cox, who remembers the tale from her high school days in the 1960s.

Bonita was still the eastern edge of developed South County back then. Berg's Feed Barn thrived through sales of hay. Folks bought their chops at DiRienzo's meat counter in the Bonita Store, not at a modern supermarket.

Berg's was razed, Interstate 805 was built and houses crept eastward.

As eastern Chula Vista evolved from rural to suburban, it must have been simple enough to change the prey of South County's Sasquatch from bovine to human. The way into Proctor Valley was still an unpaved road, and there was still almost no one out there to debunk tall tales.

Because of the dirt-road darkness and limited accessibility, Proctor Valley remained a perfect place for the monster tale.

The paved part of Proctor Valley Road has extended eastward and houses are sprouting up in the monster's territory now. The Chula Vista Elementary School District is building an elementary school at Proctor Valley Road and Rolling Ridge Road.

You can't pave over a good story, though. Chula Vista Superintendent Lowell Billings said he has no problem naming the school's mascot the monster, should the community decide that's what it wants.

Local playwright and Southwestern College journalism instructor Max Branscomb has most publicly resurrected the legend with his musical comedy "The Return of the Proctor Valley Monster," which has been performed as part of Bonitafest, a celebration of history and community.

Occasionally, people still go seeking the monster, just as they look for ghosts in Old Town or munchkin houses in La Jolla.

Sometimes, it's a car full of teenagers looking to scare themselves.

Other times, it's a band of sexagenarians such as Harmon Harris and his buddies. They are geocachers – folks who use GPS devices to find caches hidden by fellow hobbyists – and they recently went to Proctor Valley with flashlights and active imaginations. These caches are everywhere. The Proctor Valley expedition had nothing special to commend it, but when you're pursuing a second childhood, a good monster story helps stir the adventure.

Even Bud Wilson, a longtime local and insurance businessman who downplays the myth, likes to play the game.

"First of all, it's not true that I am the Proctor Valley Monster," Wilson cracked when asked about the legend.

He remembers the valley as the place he paid a nickel to ride calves rodeo-style. But a monster out there? Not that he remembers.

"It is true that there was a monster who lived under the Bonita Bridge," Wilson said.

But that's another monster. And that's another story.

Chris Moran: (619) 498-6637;, The San Diego Union-Tribune 2003

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