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Media Article # 227

Tuesday, May 29, 2001

"India's monkey man sightings bring back fond Lizard Man memories "

By Edward C. Fennell
The Post and Courier - Charleston.Net

BISHOPVILLE - Something jumped out at former Lee County Sheriff Liston Truesdale last week as he read about reported sightings in India of an ape-like creature being called monkey man.

Truesdale said Friday he could not help but remember the hysteria that swept Lee County more than a decade ago when many people claimed to have encountered a tall, big-eyed swamp creature the media nicknamed Lizard Man.

"It put Lee County on the map," Truesdale said. He retired in 1993 after serving as sheriff for nearly 20 years.

He said Lizard Man sightings began in 1988 and brought newspapers, wire services, local television and network newscasters from all over the globe to Browntown - a tiny, swampside community outside Bishopville. The area was crawling with roadside stands selling Lizard Man T-shirts, and Truesdale's phone rang around the clock with inquiries from all over the world.

One of the most outrageous calls Truesdale got came from a reporter in England "who wanted to know if Browntown had an international airport."

Truesdale said that when WIS-TV in Columbia offered a million dollar bounty for the capture of Lizard Man, gun-toting hunters converged on the county.

"I was afraid of people bringing weapons here and that they would hurt somebody," he said.

At one time, thousands of people lined two-lane Browntown Road. "It was like the Carolina-Clemson game on a Saturday night."

The mystery of Lizard Man was never solved but the legend lives on, said Truesdale, who is considering writing a book on the subject.

He maintains a collection of detailed sighting accounts, plaster casts and photos of three-toed footprints and photos of bite and scratch marks reportedly left by the beast on cars.

The prints, made on hard ground, were consistent and about four feet apart - in keeping with a beast described as up to seven feet tall, he said.

His newspaper file includes the Aug. 30, 1988, edition of "The Sun," a British tabloid whose banner headline announced: "9-year-old girl says Lizard Man made me pregnant." The story described the child having given birth to a lizard-like creature.

Truesdale laughs about that story but said he's convinced that most, if not all, of the Lizard Man reports stemmed from actual sightings of something strange.

He speculated that what was seen was a "skunk ape" - a large, smelly cousin to the equally mysterious west coast Big Foot.

Lizard Man was misnamed, he said.

In the first highly publicized account, then 17-year-old Christopher Davis stated he was attacked while fixing a flat tire on the roadside. The teen described a creature as smooth-skinned, perhaps scaly, and said it jumped atop the stopped car after charging from the roadside.

Truesdale said the incident happened in the darkness, and the creature could have appeared glossy if its hair was wet.

News reports this month from India detail an alleged creature about four feet tall with a hairy body and metal claws. Hysteria there has led to two deaths, including that of a pregnant woman who had been sleeping on her rooftop terrace and slipped while running down stairs as neighbors screamed that the monkey man had struck.

Lizard Man caused no known deaths, but some who claimed to have seen him were deeply frightened, even traumatized, Truesdale said.

Sighting reports began in 1988 then died down. The last known one was made in 1991. Truesdale thinks the witnesses were sober and credible and said many volunteered to take polygraph exams and passed.

Most people who claimed to see Lizard Man did not tell authorities until they had been tracked down and asked to make a report, he said.

The fact that Lizard Man reportedly ran in front of speeding cars convinces Truesdale that it wasn't a person in a monkey suit. "I don't know anybody who would want to do that."

Among the many attempts to explain Lizard Man was that he was a local farmer who dressed to scare people away who might break into his butter bean shed, Truesdale said.

There's not a hair of truth to that theory, insists Lucious Elmore, who confided that he was the man some people still suspect created Lizard Man.

"A lot of people kept coming to me and saying I did it, but I didn't," Elmore said.

"If it was a man in a suit, he was pretty good," he said. "They say he could run 30 miles an hour. If he did, he ought to be playing football somewhere.

"A lot of reliable people said they saw him come onto the road. I guess I really don't know what people saw. For a lot of people, maybe their imagination ran wild," Elmore said.

Elmore, now 60, said the network show "Good Morning America" broadcast live from his butter bean shed. Lizard Man didn't appear for cameras as had been hoped.

"It was a hot topic. It was a good, fun thing for the county," he said. "It gave us something to do over the summer and some people made a lot of money off of it."

While the Lizard Man phenomenon was fun for some, "it wasn't too funny to those who saw him. The teen-ager who said he saw Lizard Man not far from the butter bean shed "was horrified. He believed it and I don't think he made it up," Elmore said.

"It was about to get out of hand, with people with guns looking for the Lizard Man. It could have gotten dangerous," he said.

Elmore, who grew up near Browntown, said the Scape Ore swamp is foreboding. "There's places in there you can't go. It's like a South American jungle."

Truesdale agrees. "They don't even coon hunt in there, it's so thick," he said.

The media left Lizard Man alone after 1989, but Truesdale said sighting reports still came in after that.

One detailed, and never publicized, account in Truesdale's collection involved a Camden woman and her five children. They maintain something huge and frightening rushed their car as they passed the Scape Ore swamp.

All but the youngest who were in the car were questioned separately about what happened July 31, 1990, Truesdale said.

Bertha Blythers, then 36, and her 18-year-old son, Johnny Blythers, both gave written statements to the sheriff's office. Johnny, who died later in an auto accident, stated that he, his mother, sisters aged 11 and 5 and twin brothers aged 4, saw what must be Lizard Man.

As the Buick Regal rolled along, Johnny was saying, "There ain't no Lizard Man because if there was, somebody would have seen him or caught him by now," the statements read.

"It came out of the bushes and jumped out in the road. My mother swerved to miss it and mashed the brakes... it acted like it wanted to get in the car," Johnny's statement read.

The beast was at least six feet tall, had brown hair and "tall, big eyes," he reported.

"I seen it last night and I ain't crazy. This was none of my imagination. I know I saw it and I am not trying to get on TV," he wrote.

Mrs. Blythers said the creature had a huge chest, "It almost filled the window of my passenger side.

"I know I saw it and it wasn't a deer or a bear. It definitely wasn't a person, either," her statement says.

Truesdale said that when all the alleged sightings are weighed together, they seem to show that something frightening was in Browntown.

"I can't prove it was, or wasn't, out there," he said.

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