Beast of Bladenboro: The FULL Story of North Carolina's Vampire Cat TAP TO GET PODCAST
If you ever find yourself traveling the pine forests on the northeastern edge of North Carolina, you might want to stay on guard. Legend has it, there’s a monstrous feline who spends its nights hunting both creatures and humans alike. But that’s not the worst part. No, this ferocious feline sounds less like the one you might find in North America and more like something you would find in Transylvania.
It was a silent, almost holy night on the outskirts of Bladen County. But that silence wouldn’t last for long.
It was right in that sweet spot at the peak of the holiday season as Christmas waves goodbye and a new year begins to knock on our doors. And while society’s upper crust was busy waiting to empty their wallets at tomorrow’s launch of the first-ever color television to be available to consumers, most folks were content to just enjoy the holidays with family and friends the “Old Fashioned” way: Sipping a glass of eggnog around a cozy fire and sharing stories passed down through time.
Late on the evening of December 29th, 1953, a local resident of Clarkton, a small town nestled on the eastern edge of North Carolina, overheard a commotion erupt next door. “It was as if the neighborhood had come alive!” she later reported to local law enforcement. When the unnamed local resident opened her door and stepped out of her house to investigate why every dog on the entire block had begun howling in fear, she noticed something abnormal slumping off into the shadows along the edge of her neighbor’s yard. Her neighbor’s dogs seemed erratic as she watched this abnormally large, cat-like silhouette disappear into the twilight.
Baffled and bemused at what she had just witnessed, she rushed to inform local authorities that something weird had just occurred. They came to inspect the area, but whatever she had seen was long gone. But that didn’t mean it left without a trace. It seems the howling hounds weren’t just howling for the fun of it. When the local sheriff came and inspected the neighbor’s yard to look for evidence of what had paid the little town of Clarkton a visit, he found that the neighborhood dogs were now one short from the pack.
Authorities didn’t have much to go on. A few rowdy dogs, a single attack, and a glimpse of something slinking off into the distance hardly constituted a town-wide hunt. But that would all quickly begin to change.
If you travel Northwest from Clarkton along highway 211, within dozen-or-so minutes you will find yourself in the town of Bladenboro. Located in the forested swamplands of eastern North Carolina, Bladenboro is the epitome of a small town USA. Resting on the southeastern edge of the North Carolina Piedmont; That is, the flatlands at the furthest edge away from a mountain range. This lowland, forested area is known for its farming, family life, and occasional flooding. But on New Year’s eve of 1953, Bladenboro would become most known for a feline vampiric monster that created a terror unlike anything this small town had ever witnessed.
Roy Fores was enjoying the “calm before the storm.” New Year’s Eve looks pretty much the same for many police chiefs; A slow day turned into a rowdy night. But the storm Chief Fores received wasn’t from the expected rowdy partiers ringing in the new year.
On December 31st, 1953, the phone on Chief Fores’ desk began to ring. When he hung up the phone, he hopped into his patrol car and hurried down to Woody Storm Farm. As he pulled up, the farm owner met Fores at the gate and led him down to the scene. There, in the farmhouse yard, lay two deceased dogs. Fores approached the bodies of the farm dogs to get a feel for what caused the mess, but something looked off as he examined their cold, stiff remains.
Now, before we carry on I need to take a minute and explain a bit about small-town living for those of you who grew up in more populated areas. Rural villages do not have wildlife control. They do not have separate departments to handle more common affairs. Everyone kind of works together for the good of the community. Everyone knows everyone’s name. You sit next to the mayor, police chief, postal worker, mechanic, and town drunkard every Sunday at church. And this was even more true in the 1950s when times were a bit slower, and communication wasn’t as instantaneous. Small towns are tight-knit communities. When you need a cake, you call Patti down at the bakery. When you need to fix your roof you call Jack, the local handyman. And when any kind of disturbance happens, what do you do? You’d call Roy down at the Sherif’s office. Makes sense, right? Good. Now, back to our story.
Chief Fores began his examination of the dogs. It didn’t seem they had got into a brawl as there were no punctures typical of a dog fight. They obviously hadn’t been killed by human hands. The only obvious marks on their bodies had been on their neck where their jugular vein had been severed, but that’s where things started to take a turn into the bizarre.
It’s pretty common for predatory animals to attack at the throat. But what’s uncommon is for any predatory creature to not consume what it kills. And what’s even more bizarre is to find this unconsumed prey completely intact but drained of every drop of its blood. And as Chief Fores examined these dogs, he was baffled to find just that. Dumbfounded, he chalked this up to a fluke and made his way back to the station, but this wouldn’t be the last time the monster struck.
The following day on January 1st, Fores was called back out to a familiar scene. Once again, two dogs had been slaughtered in the night, but these killings, while still strange, were quite a bit more gruesome.
Quick disclaimer, the rest of this story gets a bit gory and depicts gruesome animal violence. We’re family-friendly here, so we won’t overdo it, but listener discretion is advised.
Johnny Vause, A local Bladenboro resident, awoke to find a grizzly scene on his back porch. Rather than retell the story, I’ll read his account word for word:
“My dogs put up a good fight. There was blood all over the porch, big puddles of it. And there was a pool of saliva on the porch. It killed one dog at 10:30 and left it lying there. My dad wrapped the dog up in a blanket. That thing came back and got that dog, and nobody’s seen the dog since. At 1:30 in the morning, it came back and killed the other dog and took it off. We found it three days later in a hedgerow. The top of one of the dog’s heads was torn off, and its body was crushed and wet like it had been in that thing’s mouth. The other dog’s lower jaw was torn off.”
This time, no draining of blood, but strangely still, at least one of the dogs had not been consumed but rather left mangled. It was as if this monster killed not for food but for fun.
Again on January 3rd, just down the road from the previous attack, two more dogs were found dead. This encounter was a bit of a blend of the first two. There was obvious carnage done to the dog’s head and neck, but no traces of blood anywhere. Nothing on the ground or in the dogs. Ray brought his own tracking hounds out to the scene, but when they picked up a whiff of the monster’s scent, they quite literally turned tail and cowered in fear, refusing to follow the trail into the swampy woodlands. This time an autopsy was performed on one of the deceased canines to confirm these claims that the blood had been drained from its body. And sure enough, ”there wasn’t more than two or three drops of blood in him.” the coroner reported.
Over the following week, many more attacks would be reported. On January 5th, One family’s pet rabbit was found, and I quote, “cleanly decapitated and still warm,” By midday, the beast was spotted stalking another pet dog but quickly fled when the pet’s owner stepped out of their house, and caught it in the act. This was one of, if not the first full visuals of the monster. Just a few minutes later, it popped back up momentarily in a neighbor’s yard just three houses down before carrying on to cause terror elsewhere. Later that evening, another dog had been found drained dry in a local pasture with its tongue chewed out. That same day a goat had been reported to have had its head crushed in and flattened as if it had been ran over. The same farmer also reported losing three hogs and at least one cow as well, each completely devoid of blood.
Long story short, for those of you who might have skimmed through those gory details, this thing went on a week-long hunting spree that left this poor town shaken to its core. But while the animal attacks were brutal and unnerving, what truly terrified the people of Bladenboro the most was when they finally caught a good look at the monster that terrorized their farm animals and soon would turn its piercing eyes towards them.
Also, I’d like to make a quick note that the attacks we just went over are often quoted in different orders depending on which paper or article you read. Reports were flooding in so fast, it all kind of blended together and marinated into a ‘soup of terror’ if you will. But all of those loose ends came together on January 6th, when this story became much more personal.
Curiosity got the better of her. Mrs. C. E. Kinlaw, a Bladenboro resident and proud new mother, overheard a commotion erupt outside late that Wednesday evening. She stepped outside and encountered a scene that, to you, and I might now seem like an obvious red flag but to her at that moment, more so sparked her curiosity. Every dog in the neighborhood had begun howling and causing a commotion. Mrs. Kinlaw stepped outside and began to walk around her yard to get a better view of what had been causing all this ruckus, and to her dismay, a better view is exactly what she got.
As she patrolled the edge of her property along the wood line, she began to hear a ruckus that stood out among the howling hounds. It sounded as if a baby was crying in the distance… but that faint cry soon gave way to a whaling, hair-raising scream. It sounded as if a woman had been attacked just out of sight in the forest, but unbeknownst to her, the only woman that was in any real danger at this moment was Mrs. Kinlaw.
A silhouette appeared on the wood line. Later described by locals as a large, 150-pound beast with the head of a cat and the body of a bear. Its fur was brown, matted, and tabby. The claws protruding from the pads of its massive, 4 ½ inch paws were each well over an inch long. Its ears were runty, teeth sharp for draining its victims of blood, and its eyes were fierce with instinctual, wild anger.
The beast sized up this young mother, dug its massive claws into the earth, and charged at Mrs. Kinlaw full force, bent on adding human blood to its growing list of prey. Mrs. Kinlaw screamed in terror and bolted for the back door! Already on high alert from the howling they had both overheard, Mr. Kinlaw Leapt out of his chair, swept up his shotgun, and charged to his wife’s rescue. As he cleared the threshold of their home, he frantically yelled at the top of his voice to ward off whatever this beast was that had charged into their yard. Now outnumbered, the beast let out a final howling scream, changed course, and slipped back off into the night.
That was the final straw for the residents of Bladen county. Over the following handful of days, locals would band together, firearms in hand, to patrol the piney lowlands of Eastern North Carolina to put an end to the Beast of Bladenboro and restore order to their small town way of life. Local and regional newspapers had already caught wind of the story, and before the town knew it, there were close to 1,000 people, armed and ready to hunt, trampling through the Bladen county forests.
Traps were set up all through the forest. Locals swept across the woods in formation, attempting to spook the monster out of hiding. Chief Fores even attempted to tie up a few dogs to a tree to use as bait to lure the beast to them, but thankfully, this plan was quickly scrapped when the local humane society got involved. People were locking their doors in broad daylight. Kids were forbidden to play outside. Panic took over Bladenboro, and the more people got worked up, the more dangerous and out of hand things got.
Soon, Mayor Bob Fussell and Chief Fores pulled away from the commotion and came to the conclusion that while having a monster roaming their woods might be a problem, having 1,000 frazzled townsfolk all armed and ready to kill was a much bigger fright. He gave the order to disband the hunt before someone ended up hurt or worse at the hand of an overly anxious hunter. Unless another attack took place and things just escalated that far out of hand, the hunt had to be called off.
Just a few days later, on January 13th, Luther Davis, a local farmer, found a bobcat struggling in one of his traps. He shot the large feline and contacted Mayor Fussell, who quickly came down for a photo op with the cat declaring the Beast of Bladenboro had finally been defeated. Of course, many folks found it hard to believe that such a small cat could’ve caused this much trouble, but Mayor Fussell seemed convinced.
Later that same day, Bruce Soles, a resident from Tabor City, was leaving Bladenboro to make the trip back home when he accidentally ran over a 90-pound leopard-like feline with his car. He tossed the big cat in the trunk and hauled it home to have it stuffed.
Yet another man was accredited by local papers for killing the Beast of Bladenboro. Berry Lewis, a professional hunter, and guide, spotted a large cat on one of his morning hunts. He raised his rifle and shot it down.
Within the span of a few weeks, the town of Bladenboro went from encountering a terror in their woods to mass hysteria, now to have three possible explanations for the beast that brought them all so much fear. And at least one of these seemed to be true because after these three big cats were captured and killed, the attacks abruptly stopped. It seems the town of Bladenboro could go back to its sleepy lifestyle…Except there was just one problem with this: This tiny little blip on the map had drawn eyes all across North Carolina and beyond. They were now directly in the limelight. It seemed that just going back to the same-ole, same-ole was out of the question, which is exactly what Mayor Bob Fussell had planned all along.
Mayor Woodrow “Bob” Fussell was a man with a knack for playing on people’s emotions. A film buff and owner of the one and only town theater, Bob knew what drove the decisions of his townspeople. This made him a good mayor and an even better businessman. On January 6th, at the height of the Beast of Bladenboro panic, Bob hopped in his car and took a trip over to Charlotte, North Carolina, to grab a reel of film for what he knew was about to be a HUGE premier in his little movie theater. “Now you can see the Cat! We’ve got him on our screen! And in Technicolor!” – The local papers advertised. Bob had arranged a one-day-only screening of the 1949 film “The Big Cat.” This film is unsurprisingly about a large cougar that terrorizes a small town in Utah. Townsfolk no doubt piled in to pack the house out for not only an entertaining movie but to better “understand” what they were up against.
Mayor Bob Fussell is also on record as the one who tipped off local papers about the attacks in an effort to drum up a little publicity. Only problem was it worked a bit too well. Apparently, there wasn’t much going on across the state of North Carolina. Papers took Bob’s reports and ran with them. But it didn’t stop there. The sensational news drought stretched even further across the country, so within a matter of days after the first couple of sightings, papers across the southeast were wowing readers with the story about how in the little North Carolina community of Bladenboro, a monstrous beast had been wreaking havoc. This spurred a huge influx of hunters and spectators to fulfill their fantasy of becoming monster hunters.
Bushmen and frat boys alike poured into the small town from as far away as Tennessee, effectively overwhelming Bladenboro’s minuscule police force. That’s when Chief Fores and Mayor Russell stepped away from the media frenzy and realized their attempt to stir up the humdrum worked too well, and they had to call off this hunt before someone got hurt. And as soon as Mayor Bob caught wind that a local had captured a bobcat, he jumped at the opportunity to snag a photo with it for the next day’s paper to squelch the remaining flames of curiosity.
Years later, Bob Fussell went on record stating that while he did find the attacks a bit strange, he believed the Beast of Bladenboro was, and I quote, “10% real, 90% imagination.” And then went on to state that “A Little publicity never hurt a small town.” (Wink, wink.)
And as much as we might hate to admit it, Bob Fussell is right. “Beast Fest” is still, to this day, a yearly tradition drawing in 10,000 plus every year, effectively 5x-ing Bladenboro’s population for the weekend of festivities. Folks rally behind the celebrated festival character, BOB (Which stands for Beast-Of-Bladenboro, not named after Mayor Bob Fussell). They line up for photo-ops and celebrate the big cat, much like a sports team rallies behind its mascot. People willingly offer up their hard-earned cash for the festival’s famed “Collard Sandwich” or to grab a bowl of “Chicken Bog,” Which is a type of chicken and sausage stew served with rice. The “Feast of Bladenboro,” as it has been called, is a row of homemade southern grub stands set up just for the festival and is the main draw for families and foodies alike. Between the crafts, businesses, restaurants, sponsorships, nonprofit donations, and a sheer number of people that flock to Bladenboro every October, you could imagine what this sensationalized story from decades ago has done for the economy of this town.
Some people believed this was nothing more than an extra vicious bobcat or mountain lion. Others believed it to be a panther, a wolverine, or, as Chief Fores believed, a lone wolf. Still, others rumored that it was a feral police dog or even a local Native American family’s German Shepherd/Hound mix named Big Boy. This claim was even substantiated by the local Veterinarian, N. G. Baird. He said Big Boy was capable of leaping over 6 feet in the air and had more than enough strength and stamina to perform the gruesome attacks they had thus far witnessed.
Still, others believed this monster was nothing that had ever been documented. That it was, in fact, a bear-cat hybrid or some other unknown beast. At least one man claims that the creature was a large winged, vampiric “cat-bat”. Basically, a panther with bat wings. He claimed that when he saw it, it let out a roar and then leaped into the sky, soaring overhead and out of sight. Though, I do feel it necessary to mention that as he recounted this tall tale, he continued to take long swigs of his beer, keeping rhythm with the other local tavern patrons he was entertaining.
This might surprise you, but this is one of my favorite parts about researching cryptids. I do believe that there are creatures out there we have yet to fully understand, but man, do I love it when in the process of trying to identify those things that go bump in the night, we learn a little more about ourselves.
And while we are on the subject, cryptids, along with those who research them (Like you and me), often get the short end of the stick when it comes to credibility. When you can’t explain what something is, it gets dismissed as a misidentification or just “all in your head.” And when you finally figure out what it was, people say, “see, it wasn’t a cryptid after all!” But that’s the point, isn’t it? I mean, a cryptid is literally, by definition, “An animal or creature that has been claimed to exist but has yet to be proven.” Once it’s proven, whether something new, old or in between, it exits the world of possibilities and enters the realm of practicality. But to me, that journey of figuring it all out, the whole “was it a bear, mountain lion, or vampire bat-cat” – that journey is where we learn so much. Because even if the answer is a bit mundane, it still sparks something new and exciting. And it helps us understand this world and all that inhabits it just a little bit better.
If it wasn’t for a sensationalist news article and a wild cat, we wouldn’t have this beautiful festival where thousands gather together to share the crafts and cuisine they created with their own hands. The fact that you and I are still telling this story across this modern invention we call the internet shows us so much about what it means to be human and how sometimes the most cryptid of creatures, the ones we often understand the least yet desire to understand the most, are you and me. The depths of the human mind are strange, dark, mysterious, and can be absolutely beautiful. And still yet, as much as we think we have it all figured out, there’s so much more we get to learn.
In all likelihood, the Beast of Bladenboro was probably just one of North America’s ferocious, big cats. I mean, we have plenty of them! The facts seem to outweigh the hysteria. Large cats can leave 4-inch tracks. Large cats often retreat at the sound of human voices. Large cats absolutely will attack dogs, goats, rabbits, cows, and even young mothers. The simplest explanation is often the correct explanation. But then again, large cats are not vampiric. They can’t drain the blood from a carcass, El Chupacabra style.
Maybe it was just a mountain lion or rare leopard (Which would still make this by definition a cryptid, mind you, as leopards are long thought extinct in North America). Or maybe there’s a new subspecies of a big cat roaming the southeast that has found a more iron-rich way of maintaining its physique. (Blood, I’m referencing blood).
And while I personally lean toward the former of those two possibilities, those that believe the latter, that there is, in fact, a blood-sucking cat creature roaming the North Carolina Swampy forests might have a more modern bit of evidence to substantiate their beliefs. So whichever way you lean, let’s hear one last bit of evidence to help you make up your mind.
He heard a commotion outside but didn’t think much of it. Dogs often bark and howl at sounds in the night, but whimpering is a different story. In 2007, Bill Robinson heard a commotion outside his residence in Bolivia, a town about 60 miles southeast of Bladenboro. When he heard his pet pit bull let out a series of barks followed by a loud yelp, he jumped up to go investigate. He probably assumed his dog had got into a brawl with another neighborhood canine or possibly caught the wrong end of a snake or even was bitten by a squirrel; Which, as many dog owners whose pups enjoy a good squirrel chase know, is a more common occurrence than you might expect. But upon searching the yard, he found his beloved pup had been attacked by… well, something, and sadly, didn’t survive.
Heartbroken, he dug a grave on the other side of his property to lay the dog to rest, but the next morning he found the dog’s body had been dug up and laid back in the exact same location he found it the day prior.
Just four days later, Leon Williams, another Bolivia resident, awoke to find his pet pit bull mangled and lifeless with signs of an obvious struggle. Over the next two weeks, a total of 10 dogs in the surrounding area were attacked and mangled. More paw tracks were found surrounding the area the attacks happened, most measuring over 4 inches across. It seemed North Carolina had another big cat problem on its hands, but it wasn’t the dog attacks that scared people the most. No, what truly freaked everyone out occurred further north in Lexington just a few days prior.
What frightened people the most were the reports from a local farm owner that he awoke to find that sixty, yes SIX-ZERO, sixty of his goats had been killed in one night. Every single one of them was killed in the same way: with their heads crushed in and completely drained of every single drop of blood.
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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road.