Walking stick: Check.
RAW ANIMAL FLESH FOR BAIT: Sort of. (Do burger patties count?)
KNIFE MADE OF PURE SILVER: No, but there’s probably a Swiss Army knife around here somewhere.
The clock is creeping near midnight, and I and a ragtag crew of werewolf hunters are lurking deep in the woods. We’re near Bray Road, the unassuming but infamous country lane on the outskirts of Elkhorn, Wisconsin (near Lake Geneva, about two hours north of Chicago), that sparked a full-blown werewolf craze back in the early ’90s.
The hype has subsided, but the sightings continue—the most recent was in 2004. So here we sit, car lights dim and hopes high, scanning the brush and nearby cornfields, listening for howling coyotes or any other animal sounds. We’ve been waiting for hours…but nothing. No werewolves or manwolves; not even a goddamn Bigfoot. The werewolf known as the Beast of Bray Road is probably laughing at us. Or maybe he’s waiting to tear our lungs out.
Our journey north to Elkhorn (population 6,500) began on a skeptical note—being sophisticated big-city types, we didn’t give much credence to the reports of a tall, wolflike creature walking on two legs along roads so remote they don’t have real names (“turn left past County Road A…”). Nevertheless, we sought out Linda S. Godfrey, local resident and author of two books on the subject, to shed some light on the proliferation of creature sightings in and around this quaint town—and maybe provide some hunting tips as we try to capture evidence of the woolly Beast’s existence.
Incredibly, later that day, we would meet two witnesses who came forward with yet another mysterious tale—this one the sighting of something Bigfootesque near the boggy Lima Marsh Wildlife Area about 15 miles west of Elkhorn. Later, we trekked with these brave souls back to the site of their encounter. Our thinking was: Maybe we’ll catch a glimpse of one of these “things” for ourselves—and hopefully, we’ll emerge without being shredded like yesterday’s roadkill.
The werewolf lady
A polite, diminutive, 50-ish–year–old mother, wife and former community-newspaper reporter, Godfrey is perhaps the least likely werewolf expert on the planet. But she broke the Beast of Bray Road story in late 1991, and she’s been known as the “werewolf lady” ever since. Not that she’s shied away from the moniker: Pulling into the parking lot of the Sugar Creek Inn off Highway 12, we notice an unassuming blue car with the vanity plates bray bst. The werewolf hunter drives a Toyota Corolla.
“People will say, ‘Ah it’s just all drunks.’ That’s just an ignorant bias,” she says. “It makes people very uncomfortable to think there’s stuff out there. It even makes people who are willing to admit there’s a Bigfoot—but not spirits or ghosts—very uncomfortable, because some of these stories have somewhat supernatural overtones.”
For Godfrey, this werewolf business began on a late December day in 1991 when a freelancer called the newsroom of The Week, the community newspaper where Godfrey worked at the time. “I got this tip that the county’s animal-control officer had a file folder in his office marked werewolf,” she recalls. “People were calling [him] and saying: ‘I saw this thing. I don’t know what it is, but it looks like a werewolf.’?”
Godfrey began interviewing the names in the file and was surprised to find most of the witnesses presented lucid and believable accounts. As detailed in her book The Beast of Bray Road (Prairie Oak Press, 2003), the first witness—a young woman from the area named Lori Endrizzi—said she saw a “dark brownish-gray” animal the size of a man, with pointy ears and long claws, kneeling on the side of Bray Road munching on roadkill.
“To this day I believe it was satanic,” Endrizzi told Godfrey in a follow-up interview a few years ago. (Endrizzi has since moved away.) Another interviewee, then-teenage Doris Gipson, hit what she thought was a “small mammal” while driving down Bray Road on—cue spooky music—Halloween 1991. When she got out, she spotted something running at her and immediately jumped back into the car. A legend was born.
Godfrey says she doesn’t buy into traditional Lon Chaney–esque lycanthropy (transformation of a human being into a wolf), but she does think the creatures could have a supernatural element, perhaps similar to Native American shape-shifters, who some believe can exist in both the animal and human state. She appears much more comfortable with theories focused on cryptozoology (the study of unexplained animals), but acknowledges she doesn’t have all the answers.
“I don’t know what it is, I don’t claim to,” she says. “I just take down all the stories and then try and piece it together.”
Silver Bullet specials
A recap of Godfrey’s original story moved on the Associated Press wire in January 1992, and soon werewolves became all the rage in Elkhorn. TV and radio stations from Milwaukee, Chicago, Baltimore and elsewhere pounced on the story—many to poke fun. One radio station in San Francisco called Godfrey and asked her to howl on air (she refused). An enterprising Illinois watering hole aggravated already-strained Wisconsin-Illinois relations by running werewolf bus tours to Bray Road, complete with “Silver Bullet specials.”
“Bray Road was just ridiculous for a while,” Godfrey says. “It’s all private land…You’ll be reported for trespassing pretty much anywhere.” (That didn’t stop her from staking out Bray Road with a photographer shortly after her original story—to no avail.) “It’s not like Disneyland, where you can drive in and expect to see the werewolf character strolling around. I’ve been trying for all this time and I’ve never seen it, and I live here.”
But as more residents came forward to share their stories, Godfrey soon found that local sightings of werewolves or manwolves went back at least six decades. “Most witnesses will hold it in for years, and finally when the opportunity seems to come, then they’ll talk about it,” she says. “Many times they’ll say they just wanted to talk about it with someone who won’t think they’re crazy.“I get this more and more from people—and usually it’s the last thing they tell me,” she continues. “They feel that it was impressing some sort of telepathic message on them.”
The hunt is on
Meanwhile, our own hunt has taken a strange turn. After talking with Godfrey about everything from nearby Native American effigy mounds to her favorite werewolf movies (she thinks An American Werewolf in London is a good one; she also admits the original Teen Wolf was pretty funny—but they “are not specific to my research,” she says), a very nervous-looking woman approaches our table. She had overheard our conversation, and feels compelled to share her personal experience with the supernatural.
A few years ago, Michele Kilcoyne drew a picture that appeared to resemble an angel. The strange part was, she felt like it was her deceased grandmother doing the drawing…channeling it through her. It bothered the woman so much that she brought the picture to her priest, who turned the picture upside down and saw the picture looked exactly like—you guessed it—a wolf.
As we leave the restaurant, I get uneasy about our quest. I’m as cynical as the next guy, but this woman certainly believed something was contacting her…something not from this world. I had never really thought about the possibility that all this spooky werewolf business was real, but now, I’m not so sure.
A Halloween prank backfires
While Godfrey says most who seek the Beast never find it, we hold out hope thanks to another eyewitness story—this one from an October night in 2004. A 47-year-old nurse from Milwaukee named Marie was telling her daughter and a friend about the legend of the Beast while driving along Bray Road, and decided to play a spooky prank on the two teens by acting as if the car suddenly stalled out. She began slowing down, and to their horror, they all saw the Beast right there in the flesh, just six feet away on the driver’s side.
“It was taller than six feet, muscular, massive and hairy…dark fur with silvery-gray,” she says during a phone interview. (She requested we not use her real name due to the sensitivity of her job.) “The legs were all wrong—its knees bent the wrong way. We noticed the claws…its hands were palm down, just below chest level. The face was a little less hairy, with furrowing around the snout and brow. We all screamed and drove like a rocket away.”
She says she isn’t sure what it was; but she had the distinct feeling it was something otherworldly, beyond the norm of nature.
“It was not a Bigfoot creature,” she says. “I think of that as benevolent. [This creature] did not have a [vibe] of benevolence.”
Hoping to find the beast in a benevolent mood, we follow Godfrey to Richmond House in Delavan. It’s one of those rural Wisconsin restaurants with a Pabst sign out front, a great wood-paneled bar and undoubtedly a damn good fish fry. The proprietors, Lenny and Stacy Faytus, are warm and upbeat, but both become a little uneasy when they recall a certain early evening in May 2005; that’s when they saw what’s been termed the Lima Marsh Monster (think a slightly smaller version of Bigfoot). It strolled Abbey Road–style in front of their car on McCord Road, a place they now call “Spooky Holler Road” (about 18 miles from Bray Road).
Stacy, 40, does some pet-sitting on the side, and she and Lenny, 45, were on the way to a client’s home about an hour before sunset. That’s when they saw what they thought was a deer popping out of the brush. Proceeding closer, they saw something stand upright and clear the 20-foot-wide road in two sweeping strides. They suspect it was around seven feet tall, at least 350 pounds.
“When he stepped across the road I knew he wasn’t a human,” Lenny says. “I’m guessing it was hair-covered. From the distance it looked like he wasn’t wearing clothes and there was no exposed skin. It was like a human head wearing a hood; it had no neck.
“The weirdest part is, I knew where he crossed so I thought, Well, I’m gonna see him for sure when we get up there, because there’s no place to go,” Lenny continues. “We got closer and I slowed down and I didn’t see him anywhere. I just had the impression right away he knew we were looking for him.”
We follow Lenny and see an open field and woods about 100 yards away. He points out a ditch on the west side of the road, which may or may not have been the place where the creature was hiding that day. Whatever this thing was, it was either waiting in that ditch or it was Carl Lewis–on–steroids fast. Either way, the couple didn’t stick around to find out. “You definitely got a strong idea not to be there,” Lenny recalls. “It was an ugly feeling.”
Meet the monster
With dusk approaching, and our heads filled with scary stories, we gather our gear and finally set out to lure a creature ourselves.
Godfrey mentioned cat food was particularly good bait, but we couldn’t find a pet store. So we settled for four bloody-raw burger patties compliments of the Richmond House. When Lenny handed us the meat, an old woman sitting at the bar asked us what they were for. “We’re hunting werewolves,” I said, matter-of-factly. The woman paused, looked at her friend, and then went back to their card game. It seemed it wasn’t the first time she had heard this response.Instead of Bray Road, which we were told was old news and a far cry from the hot spot it once was (“very ’90s,” Godfrey says), we figure the beast might hang in a less popular area, so we opt for a spot on the outskirts of Elkhorn off Highway 11. We lay the burger bait 30 yards from our camp, set down our chairs in a farmer’s backyard, smoke cigarettes in the crisp air and wait. And we wait some more. Time passes, and the sky fades to black.
We hear some promising howls (“did you hear that?”) and some strange crackling noises (“oh wait, that was me”). But after several hours there, no malevolent yellow eyes peer at us out of the darkness. Nor do we catch glimpses of any silvery or brownish-gray fur shining in the beams of our flashlights.
Disappointed—but secretly relieved—I begin packing up the cameras. But just before driving off, I pop out of the car to check our bait one last time. At first I thought I was looking in the wrong spot, but then I notice the pile of cigarette butts and the remnants of a bloody wrapper.
“That’s weird,” I call out to the photographer. “Where did those burgers go…?”