by E.R. Bills
Forty years later, developments shed new light on the legend of the "
A couple of months back, I was filling out an application for two of my kids to attend
Chh-chh-chh. . . ahh-ahh-ahh. . .
The moment was a goose-bumpy instance of déjà vu, but it wasn't “Jason” I was remembering. It was the Lake Worth Monster.
My parents sent me to
We ate hot dogs and roasted marshmallows. We played hide and seek. We double-dared each other to sneak farther and farther out into the hills, away from the campsite. And then we sat down around the campfire, which was now mostly just glowing coals, for a few jokes and a ghost story.
Even at the tender age of 10, I was no lightweight. I'd been scare-weathered by hundreds of episodes of “Night Gallery” and “The Twilight Zone,” and I'd seen every episode of “Kolchak: The Nightstalker” at least twice. As seasoned as I was, I still wasn't prepared for the yarn that came next.
Our cabin counselor was a masterful storyteller. He admitted that no one knew for sure where “it” had come from, or why “it” was here. He said some folks called it a “Goat Man” and that it had first been spotted a few years back.
He said people who had seen the “Goat Man” reported it had scales like a fish and fur like a goat, but walked upright like a man. He told us that sometimes you could hear its strange howl at night that it had attacked some teenagers and had even been shot at by the police. Lately, it had been coming out of the hills and wandering around
He said a few sessions back, the creature had used the short, broken end of a helicopter blade to slice through a cabin window screen and take a camper around our age. No one had heard a thing. The camp had closed down for two weeks while the police scoured the hills for clues, but the case had never been solved.
He told us that we were part of the first session back since the camp had reopened and that he admired our courage. We'd made it through the camp with no incidents so far, but he wanted us to be careful just in case and confine ourselves to lighted areas at all times. He said the Goat Man didn't like being seen, so if we stayed close to the to the well-lit campsite, we'd have nothing to worry about.
“It lives in these hills?” I asked.
“You never found the missing camper?” another inquired.
“We found a pair of glasses,” the counselor said. “And a sock … with specks of blood on it.”
We were enthralled. We were excited. We were only mildly frightened—until all the lights in the camp suddenly went black and we heard a ghastly, piercing shriek.
Then, for what seemed like an eternity, the dark was full of as much mayhem and mortal terror as a platoon of 10-year-olds could endure. We screamed and wailed, on the verge of tears, not sure whether to run or hide. Just before we trampled over each other and the camp devolved into utter hysterics, the lights came back on. The joke was on us, but it was over. We laughed about it until it was time to go to bed. Then most of us fell asleep with our flashlights on.
That was 32 years ago. The real events and the origin of our camp counselor's tale actually transpired eight years earlier.
Beginning around late June 1969, the Fort Worth Police Department started receiving reports about some “thing” that was frightening folks around
Then, in the wee hours of July 10, just after midnight, John Reichart, his wife and two other couples were parked together at
Four police units responded to the Reicharts' call and inspected the site of the attack. They found nothing except an 18-inch scratch down the side of the Reicharts' car that every witness claimed was caused by the creature's grasping claw. The victims described their attacker as “part man and part goat” and claimed it had been covered with fur and scales. The police, again, suspected it was some kind of prank, but made a serious investigation anyway because, as patrolman James S. McGee observed, the Reicharts and their friends were genuinely terrified.
Later in the day, the July 10 afternoon addition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram featured a front-page story on the thing that had attacked the Reicharts. It read “Fishy Man-Goat Terrifies Couples Parked at
Hot off the presses, the “Lake Worth Monster” was introduced to Cowtown, and word traveled fast. By late that afternoon, there were related television and radio reports and, by midnight, several carloads of people had gathered in and around the Greer Island Refuge and
After being spotted just off a park road, the creature appeared on a high bluff just off the lake. There were 30 to 40 witnesses, including members of the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department. According to eyewitness accounts, the creature appeared agitated and hurled a spare tire approximately 500 feet toward the crowd. Subsequently, everyone, including the sheriff's deputies, jumped in their cars and fled.
The next day, the Star-Telegram ran another front-page story that read “Police, Residents Observe But Can't Identify ‘Monster.'” The story was accompanied by a photo of the bluff from which the creature was seen hurling the spare tire. In the foreground, witnesses Jack Harris and Ronnie Armstrong stood next to the tire. In the background, the Star-Telegram art department superimposed a dashed line indicating the path of the tire's trajectory.
Harris confirmed earlier reports, noting that the creature walked like a man but didn't look like one. “He was whitish-gray and hairy,” Harris said. “I might have been scared, but he looked like he was 7 feet tall and must have weighed about 300 pounds.”
Harris described the creature's howl as a “pitiful cry, like something was hurting him.” He had tried to take a picture of the “monster,” but his flash didn't work.
Sgt. A. J. Hudson, the officer who investigated the sighting, said he wasn't worried about the creature so much as the small mob looking for it. Apparently, some of the monster hunters had been carrying guns, and
Jim Marrs, the original reporter on the story, sought the opinion of two local experts. Helmuth Naumer, the curator of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, said the creature was probably a cat. Richard Pratt, the naturalist in charge of Greer Island Refuge and
In the early hours of July 12, carloads of curious seekers once again descended on the Greer Island Refuge and
Tarrant County Sheriff Lon Evans told the Dallas Morning News that he didn't think the creature existed. “There may have been a prankster going around out there dressed up like some kind of monster,” he said. “If he is, it's a good way to get shot.” Evans also teased a theory approaching Freud's notion of a communal neurosis. “There's also the possibility that some people have hypnotized themselves,” Evans continued, “and are convinced that they saw some kind of apparition although they didn't actually do so.”
For the next few days, interested parties continued to cruise around
On July 14, the Star-Telegram featured a short Tarrant Today brief entitled “Ghosts Seen on
Kinson indicated that he and others had encountered the monster and the ghosts on several occasions, but only when visitors were sparse and the park was quiet. When Jones asked Kinson how the ghosts responded when they were spotted, Kinson said he and his companions never “stuck around long enough to find out.”
A few days after the July 10 sightings, a local artist named Joe Pack came forward with a sculpture of the creature, which he had created after listening to the details he had gathered from eyewitness accounts. The Star-Telegram ran a short story and an accompanying photo of Pack and the plaster rendering on July 17. The AP wire picked up the image and it appeared in the Dallas Morning News on July 20.
On July 18, the creature made the Star-Telegram editorial page. In a piece entitled “Lake Worth Monster A Jolly Good Sport,” a newspaper staffer relegated it to a paranormal phylum of “sportive apparitions” whose “purpose is to amaze, sometimes shock, but seldom to cause lasting anguish.” And, as far as proof of the creature's existence, the article concluded that “the Loch Ness monster has existed for generations on evidence neither so well-documented nor half so entertaining.”
The creature's trail grew cold after Jones' Tarrant Today mention, and it didn't reappear again for almost four months. Then, on Nov. 7, Charles Buchanan reported that the creature attacked him while he was asleep in a sleeping bag in the back of his truck in the hills across from
With the '60s coming to an end and local and national headlines being dominated by
The book also identified Fort Worth residents Mr. and Mrs. James Bramlett and a Linda Gilliam of Palm Springs, California, all claiming they had heard the monster in the area and discovered dead, mangled sheep that they believed to be its handiwork.
In 1975, the Lake Worth Monster appeared again, but this time on a stage at the
In the production, which premiered on April 24, 1975, Simons drew from his childhood experiences while growing up on
Also in the 1980s, perhaps after pond-jumping once more, a “Goat Man” began being reported around
In 1993, the Dallas Morning News published a top 10 list demonstrating why the Pentagon should continue to buy F16 fighter jets. The No. 10 reason was a “bomber plant is the ideal obstacle to keep the
In July 1999, the Star-Telegram published a 30th anniversary piece entitled “Thirty Years Ago, a Strange Whatever Terrorized Lake Worth.” It simply rehashed most of what the newspaper had already published about the monster and noted that Jim Marrs had recently indicated that a group of teenage pranksters from
In the October 2003 edition of
In October 2005, an unconfirmed and little-documented sighting of the creature occurred again at
The anonymous witness was reportedly never spotted by the creature, and he quickly and quietly returned to his truck on the shore and watched it disappear into the woods.
On June 8, 2006, the Star-Telegram revisited the subject once again, in a piece entitled “Thirty-seven Years after Snapping Photo, Bigfoot Talk Get's Man's Goat.” In it, staff writer Bud Kennedy spoke with Allen Plaster, the only man ever to get a picture of the creature.
Plaster, the owner of the House of Allen women's boutiques at the time, said he snapped a Polaroid of the monster when he was driving with friends along the shore one night during what Kennedy terms the “monster fever.” Plaster indicated that something furry stood up alongside the road, and a female companion screamed: “Look! Look! Look! There it is!” And he captured an image of it as it ran away.
The photo wound up with Sallie Ann Clarke and now appears on Bigfoot Web sites all over the Internet. As indicated by the title of Kennedy's piece, Plaster now distances himself from the authenticity of the picture because he believes the “monster” he captured with the Polaroid “wanted” to be seen. When Kennedy contacted Clarke about Plaster's misgivings, she said Plaster was now dismissive about the photo simply because he was embarrassed. “We all saw that thing at the lake that summer,” Clarke said.
Here, I have to insert myself in the narrative. For years, every time I drove past
I looked up a few things on the Internet and then wound up getting busy with something else. Another year went by, and then I realized 2009 would be the 40th anniversary of the original sightings.
I recommitted myself to the research. I poured over microfiche, examined Clarke's book and researched all the documented sources. I decided to try to contact some of the folks listed in the original eyewitness accounts. I ran into several dead ends and then located one witness and spoke with his grown-up son. The son told me his dad had mentioned seeing the Lake Worth Monster, so I left a message and my number. After a day or two, I called back and the number was disconnected. I found another witness, and he simply said he was “not interested” and hung up.
I remembered that Hodge claimed to have gotten the name of the prankster masquerading as the Lake Worth Monster from Richard Pratt. I found Pratt's number and gave him a call. He was jovial and accommodating and turned out to be a big help. Now living in Port Aransas, he confirmed miscellaneous details in Hodge's story and laughed about the 40 years that had passed since the first sighting. I asked him about the general comings and goings of the Nature Refuge while he was helming it, and then I popped him the unavoidable question. Who was the kid who confessed to being the Lake Worth Monster? He laughed and gave me the name. He spelled it for me and said the boy had been a good kid of humble means who used to hang around the Nature Refuge a lot. He said the kid talked about being a nuclear physicist someday, but he didn't think he had gotten that far. He said he was pretty sure the guy was still living in Fort Worth somewhere, but had no idea how to reach him, but if I did reach him, to say, “hello.” I told him I would and began a feverish people-search.
I flipped through old and new phone books and got online to check people searches. No luck. Then, I remembered Hodge's conclusion to the
I weighed Hodges conclusion and, for the most part, agreed. But it also occurred to me that he may never have had any luck finding the boy. And even if the kid was responsible for what happened July 11, 1969, he probably had nothing to do with the original sighting on July 10, and it was extremely doubtful he was responsible for the attack on Nov. 7, much less the Marshall sighting in 1971, the Benbrook Lake sightings in 1973 or 2005 or the 1980s reports at White Rock Lake.
I resolved to continue my search because even if the July 11 sighting was a prank, there were enough other incidents and sightings to keep the core of the Lake Worth Monster and/or “Goat Man” lore intact.
Problem was, the guy was nowhere to be found. After a few days, I decided the last name didn't look right and contacted Pratt again. He confirmed the spelling, and I trudged on. I tried to reach a few other eyewitnesses and some of the original responding police officers but, again, no luck. On a lark, I started looking under the last name alone, thinking maybe I could try to locate him through one of his relatives. And BINGO. He popped up in
It was a Saturday, and I immediately headed to his listed address.
His place was out in the sticks, and it made sense. Growing up near the Greer Island Refuge and
I began to think I could hear a dog's tags clinking together and prepared to make a dash back to my car. Then the “Lake Worth Monster” appeared around the corner.
He didn't match his 1969 descriptions. He was around 5'9” and had short black hair that was going gray. For 50-something, he was surprisingly fit but probably never strong enough to toss a spare tire 500 feet. I introduced myself and told him why I was there. He smiled as if it came as no surprise.
He offered me a chair, and we discussed the Lake Worth Monster sightings and some of the stories. He confirmed my belief that the only incident he was involved in occurred on July 11. He said I could use his last name only, which was Vinzens. And he said there were two other guys with him on the bluff that night and gave their names, but neither wanted their identities made public. He recalled that frequent merry-making went on in and around the bluffs back then, and said that he and the others had simply wound up on the bluff above the curious monster seekers looking for a party. They hadn't found a party, of course, just a large crowd below, searching for signs of the creature.
Vinzens insists that the hooting and hollering and decision to roll a tire down the bluff wall was never meant to frighten the crowd below or run them off. It was just he and his buddies' way of firing up the festivities. They had simply wanted to impress some girls, but instead they petrified the whole crowd. He says the rolled tire looked like a toss because there was a “bump” toward the bottom of the bluff wall that served as a ramp and sent the tire airborne.
Vinzens says that when the incident made the papers the following day, he and his friends decided to lay low. Even if they had been interested in an encore, the curious monster seekers had become monster hunters and the entire area was crawling with folks who were carrying guns.
Harking back to Jim Marrs' comment that he'd heard rumors about the police catching teenagers responsible for pranks involving the creature, Vinzens claims that, to the best of his knowledge, neither he nor his friends were ever approached or threatened by the police in connection with the July 11 incident. Vinzens also says he, himself, had looked for a monster in the area but mostly in the “mud flats” region where a ghost and a gnome reportedly haunted passersby. He admits his searches were unsuccessful.
Today, Vinzens still lives in the greater
Continued Campfire Tale
Solving the July 11, 1969, sighting of the Lake Worth Monster does not dispel the myth or seriously challenge the lore surrounding this elusive creature. There have been dozens of documented sightings in the last 40 years, and it remains a tantalizing enigma.
Then, as now, theories and explanations abound. Pratt remembers a local fire and brimstone reverend who moonlighted as a shameless hustler and ran a wino's camp on city land up on one of the bluffs. The Tarrant County Sheriff's Department would round up drunks and turn them over to the reverend for “rehabilitating” labor. Pratt says that one of the tasks the reverend assigned to the winos was to tend to a herd of goats. Pratt and Vinzens recall hearing that the “Goat Man” was the unsavory product of wino bestiality.
Some say the Goat Man was a runaway macaque monkey that had reportedly gotten loose back then. Others claim the creature was an ape that had escaped after being severely burned in a local circus fire. And some say it was an infamous “mud man” who had reportedly haunted the
In the end, it doesn't really matter if the Lake Worth Monster was a monkey, a teenage prankster, a bobcat, a pond-jumping primordial beast or a member of a troupe of nomadic, migratory goat-gnomes. As our own minotaur, jabberwocky and unidentified “whatsit,” it served as a boogeyman who reminded us there were things in the dark that we still didn't understand. And it filled our imaginations with possibility and our community with lore.
Today, 40 years after the first sightings, there are Lake Worth Monster bike races and fun runs. He's got a blog online and you can purchase T-shirts based on Sallie Ann Clarke's book cover rendering of his likeness. If he's around, I'm sure he's ringing his hands or paws about urban encroachment and cursing the gas rush that's resulted from the discovery of the Barnett Shale.
When my children go to
Portions of this website are reprinted and sometimes edited to fit the standards of this website