TN G&L Episode 5: The Beast of the Land Between the Lakes

Due to graphic descriptions, parental discretion is advised for this episode

The Land Between the Lakes, Tennessee and Kentucky

Welcome to the Tennessee Ghosts and Legends Podcast. My name is Lyle Russell. I am your host, and I love a good ghost story. On today’s episode, you’ll hear three disturbing tales of a cryptid creature with a murderous appetite in a popular National Park called the Land Between the Lakes. Allow me to introduce you to The Beast of LBL.

There are stories worldwide of supernatural occurrences in places with dense forested areas. The National Park area known as The Land Between the Lakes covers over 267 square miles of natural woodlands split by the Tennessee and Kentucky border and flanked by Kentucky Lake and the Cumberland River. The Park is a popular outdoors destination that hosts one and a half million visitors annually. A handful of those visitors have encountered a cryptid-like creature described as a bigfoot, a dog man, or a werewolf. While those three have striking differences, each has been reported at different times throughout the history of the park. The first incident we’ll discuss today is related by a gas station attendant named Jan Thompson who worked near the park in the early 80s. This is a paraphrased version of what is supposedly a hand-written third-person account of that night by Mrs. Thompson.

On an uneventful night around 3am, two police officers who were regulars at this gas station pulled in under the pump canopy. In Jan’s written account, she has left the officers unnamed to protect their identity. For the rest of this story, we’ll use the aliases she gave them of Officer Bill and Officer Adam. Instead of their usual jovial banter with Jan, Officer Adam collapsed himself onto the curb and vomited everything his stomach could muster. Jan watched through the window as Officer Bill did his best to comfort his partner, but was also visibly shaken by whatever malady had befallen them. Jan came out to find out what was wrong, offering some Rolaids and refreshments. Neither said much outside of fragmented and incoherent sentences for a span of several minutes, only repeating, “I can’t believe it, it’s just not possible,” or, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” When Adam raised his head, Jan could see dried blood on his face and neck. Jan was curious but didn’t press for more information. She could not imagine what could have disturbed these officers so badly. In her words, “Adam’s bottom lip was trembling slightly, and it wasn’t from the slight chill in the late spring air. Someone or something had filled them each with a congested fear.” After a short while, they calmed some and began their story.

They had been called to assist with a remote site investigation within LBL. It was the beginning of tourist season, and some early arrivals had already staked claim to the prime remote spots throughout the park. Sometimes disagreements would erupt between campers wanting the same site, so an occasional call to the remote areas was not unusual. They arrived at the scene around sunset to find several other official vehicles and investigators already there. Among them were other police cruisers, an ambulance, and a coroner’s van. Before them was a parked motor home with the door hanging on by one hinge. A campfire lit the immediate vicinity that whoever was camping there surely built. Flashlight beams were splitting the usually silent forest surrounding the campsite, and occasionally illuminated what appeared to be bloody hand prints on the walls of the motor home.

Bloody hand prints were insignificant to the carnage they witnessed as they walked into the site. Body parts were strewn everywhere. Shredded clothing, severed limbs, and internal organs were thrown about like confetti at a child’s party. Many on the scene had already lost their composure and their dinner at the gruesome scene. Adam and Bill asked another officer on scene what had happened. He told them a newlywed couple on a hike had discovered what they were now looking at and fled into town to call the police. So far, they identified three separate bodies; a father and mother with their young son best they could tell, and they weren’t sure what the murder weapon was that caused such devastation. The coroner overheard the report and interrupted them with an answer. He stated there was no murder weapon at all; that the bodies had been torn apart by teeth and claws. Adam asked if this was a bear attack. The other officer said bears were not native to the area, but anything was possible. He added it may have been a mountain lion or a wolf. The coroner dismissed that explanation.

“These are not from a mountain lion or a wolf,” he said. “The teeth and jaws are far too big for that.”

The coroner showed Adam and Bill on a larger portion of what was identified as the father’s torso four distinct cuts made by claws, “at least 2 inches long,” he said. “But the bites are what confuses me. The depth of the jaw is much larger than a bear, meaning this beast has a longer snout.”

Suddenly, an officer burst from the ransacked motor home holding a little girl’s dress. “There’s a fourth!” he shouted. “Look for a little girl. We might have a survivor!” They regained as much professionalism as they could and renewed their search. The officers formed a line and marched into the surrounding woods, calling for anyone who could still be out there. After a few minutes of searching, a shrieking scream pierced the night. Bill ran towards the scream alongside the other officer he and Adam first met at the scene. When they came upon Adam, he was kneeling to the ground and sobbing. Bill shined his light onto Adam’s face, asking what made him scream. His tears streaked through the wet blood on his face. Adam pointed up. Their flashlight beams traveled up the nearby tree trunk and into the canopy. The officers jumped back with a start.

Dangling from a high limb was a small and lifeless hand, and on the other side of it a pale leg with a white sock still over the foot. They had found the little girl, and she did not survive. Shortly after they took down her body from the tree, the coroner said her tiny body had been partially devoured, and clumps of dark brown/gray hair were clutched in her hand and on the bark of the tree. An animal had done this, but of what kind, they had no idea. After a few hours of trying to make sense of it all, a line of dark vehicles came up the road with a new team of investigators to relieve the officers. They gave explicit instructions not to speak of this incident to anyone, especially the media.

About a month later, Adam and Bill returned to the gas station while Jan was working, taking a break from their patrol. She describes them as being different after their harrowing experience. No longer jovial or friendly, but quiet, serious, and withdrawn. They told her that lab tests from the crime scene determined the hair and saliva samples could not be matched to any known species, and that the closest comparison was from Canis lupus, a wolf, and that I should be careful. They explained to her never to mention to anyone that they had told her what happened that night.

The Land Between the Lakes has a long history of strange occurrences. Since the early 1700s, there has been talk of Native American curses on the white settlers moving into the area, of hauntings, of orbs seen floating in several of the more than 220 family cemeteries that dot the park, and creature sightings described as a tall, hairy, wolf-like creature that walked on two legs and could be smelled from a great distance away. It is also said this creature has glowing red eyes. Two possible origin stories of the beast come from early settlement of the area, though neither can be proved. One states a Native American shaman gained the ability to shapeshift into a wolf. At some point, he used this ability in some evil way and was outcast from his tribe. The shaman was hunted down and killed by white settlers while in his wolf form, and with his dying breath, vowed to return and stalk the forests and haunt the settlers and their families.

Another account says the beast is an early European settler who moved with his family to the remote area because of an illness that kept him from controlling his “night rages” and was not fit to live in a populated society. It is said that this man’s illness was passed on to his children and they were all kept locked away in their remote cabin. In either case, there are several accounts of unexplained livestock killings and unidentified howls and wails from deep in the woods. Early settlers complained of losing their cows, pigs, horses and hunting dogs to some predator in the woods that was never identified. At a time when wild Bison still roamed in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, hunters and farmers would occasionally find mutilated carcasses of young Bison with the rest of the herd clustered nearby in a tightly knit defensive circle; a behavior displayed when a predator is near. Other than a hunter with a large caliber rifle, not many natural predators prey on Bison. This means whatever killed those calves must be strong, aggressive and relatively fearless.

The second account comes from a group of college students from Murray State University, who took a weekend off to camp in the pristine wilderness of the Land Between the Lakes. On their first night, the young men built a fire and were enjoying the evening when one walked out into the trees to answer the call of nature. He was gone longer than the others thought he should be, and they called out to him. The student came back into the firelight wearing a terrified look and claiming he was being watched and that he heard growls and sniffing coming from the darkness beyond. His friends laughed and teased him of being afraid of the dark, or that he encountered a wild hog or some other benign woodland critter and dismissed the notion.

As the night wore on, they started hearing something just beyond the light of their fire in the surrounding woods. At first, it was the rustling of leaves, like an animal was passing by. But they kept hearing it and quickly determined it was not passing by but encircling them. Each time they shined their flashlights towards the sound, all they would see was the beam of their light on a tree trunk, or a quick blur with no shape or form. Some of them began to believe their friend that something was out there. That’s when the howling began.

A piercing, wailing howl erupted from the brush behind them. They spun to see where it came from only for the sound to erupt again behind them. Whatever it was, it was circling them swiftly. Then, they caught random glimpses of what they thought were red eyes running through the dark. Terror finally overtook them. They piled into their Volkswagen van and sped out of the site, abandoning all of their gear to get away. As the van emerged onto the main road, one of the students looked out the back window to see a large black shape emerge onto the road and chase behind them. As the driver pressed harder on the gas pedal, the VW engine was no match for the creature’s speed. A jolt shook the van as if something grabbed it and was holding it back. The driver pressed the pedal all the way to the floor, breaking free of whatever it was and never letting off until they were far from the park. Upon returning to the campus, the terrified students looked at the back to find the metal around the engine hatch was crumpled and cut through with deep gouges that appeared to be claw marks. Authorities dismissed their claims as a drunken weekend in the woods.

Our final modern-day and arguably more famous account comes from a man named Roger, who claims to be the only survivor of a cryptid attack on another family in another part of the park. This story has a specific date of April 7th, 1982 and is believed to be credible by many members of the cryptid investigative community. He also names the members of the family but omits their last name. Some details of his story have been removed from the sources I found on this due to an upcoming television appearance where he reveals the rest of his story, so this account will have some gaps that will be filled in later.

Roger’s story takes place about an hour before sunset at another remote campsite. Roger was with another family of four that arrived at the park for a vacation. They drove a motor home with a vehicle towed behind it. After unhitching the vehicle and backing into the RV site, the family began setting up their home away from home. The mother and young daughter, Diane and Connie, decided to take a nap inside the camper while the father and son, Levi and Steven gathered firewood for dinner and a campfire for later. One part that is unclear in my research is Roger’s relationship to the family. Perhaps he will reveal that later. Roger was inside the camper preparing to take his shotgun out for target practice by picking up some cans to use for targets. He hears a commotion outside, and suddenly yelling and shouting. He looked out the window inset in the door to see Levi running around the front of the camper, then hears the driver’s door open. Levi takes his shotgun and runs back around to the side where he sees Steven lifted in the air from behind and killed by a black, hairy creature. Levi fired his shotgun, hitting the beast in the shoulder after it dropped Steven’s body.

The shot was not enough to take down the creature. It charges Levi before he can shoot again and mauls him. Levi’s limp body collapses to the ground over his shotgun, and now the beast sets his sights on Roger behind the door. Roger opens the door and as the monster gets closer, he fires his .410 from much closer range, hitting it in the shoulder area again but closer to the neck. It let’s out a blood-curdling growl and runs off past the back of the camper. He yells back to Connie and Diane to follow him outside and hide underneath the camper until help comes. He leapt from the door and rolled under, pulling himself upward above the driveshaft of the camper. The girls did not follow.

He hears Diane and Connie scream as the beast returns to the rear window, smashing it out and climbing inside. The camper rocks violently. His view is obscured, but he can hear everything as the beast rips Diane and Connie to shreds. There are two versions of the account here that are confusing. Roger says he believed a second beast came to the back of the camper and attacked Diane and Connie, but the investigator I researched who broke down this account believes the beast to be a solitary hunter, much like a werewolf is supposed to be, and that the same wounded beast came back to finish off what he started.

Roger is frozen with fear, still hiding beneath the RV, when the attack ends. He can no longer hear anything other than his own pounding heartbeat in his ears, but remains still and silent, straining to hear even the slightest sound. What he does not realize is that the beast has gone, but not without a prize. It has taken the body of young Connie with it out into the night. Something else Roger did not realize is that his point-blank shotgun blast found its mark. Weak, wounded and losing blood at a rapid pace, the beast dropped Connie’s lifeless body about fifty yards behind the camper. A thick trail of blood continued well past where she was left, leading to a large tree where the beast climbed up to rest and recover.

Roger, feeling like the danger had finally passed, eased himself back to the ground and looked out in every direction to see if the beast remained nearby. Out to the side where the cold firepit lay empty is Steven’s contorted body, the first to fall to the monster. At the front, Levi’s twisted body lay in a heap; his head and arms bent in an unnatural pose. He scrambled out and made a run for it. Along the main road, a farmer passing through in his pickup truck found Roger running as hard and fast as he could. He told Roger to get in the back while they drove to the farmer’s house to call the authorities.

The next part of his account resembles something out of an episode of the X-Files. Two agents from an unknown organization arrive at the farmer’s house to pick up Roger and transport him back to the campsite. When he arrives, the area is crawling with other agents of the same organization cataloguing the crime scene. An agent is assigned to escort Roger around the site named Walt. Roger described him as an authority figure based on the behavior of the other agents, and their vehicles as military jeeps, thought to be M-1151s, with large spotlights mounted on each of them. Walt escorted Roger around, asking him questions about the attack when suddenly and agent in the woods shouts for assistance. The jeeps train their spotlights up to see the corpse of a large beast laying in the high branches, bled out from Roger’s shotgun blast to its neck, and the body of young Connie lying not far away.

The Likely Truth:

This legend is divisive in many ways. When the Land Between the Lakes was created, it required imminent domain proceedings that displaced over 700 families that called the area their home. Those families are why there are so many small family cemeteries within the park. And those displaced residents, some of whom are still alive, are still fighting to get their land back. Some of those same residents find the legend of the beast offensive to their ancestral home, and disregard it as nonsense.

So where do they believe the legend originated? LBL has been the home of many moonshine stills since the beginning of settlements there. Some believe the old moonshiners made up the story to scare people out of exploring the woods and accidentally finding their still. Even so, LBL has been the home of one confirmed bizarre incident, the Vampire Hotel. A man claiming to be a 500-year-old vampire named Vesago invited several of his sharp-fanged followers to a structure in LBL. Declaring to be the leader of this vampire clan, he would have blood parties within the park where his friends “fed” off one another. Not long after, he was arrested for the murder of one of those friend’s parents.

Aside from that strange tale, I could not find any official reports of missing persons or murders within the park. Many believers in the LBL Beast claim a suspicious cover-up has buried the stories, and that these dog men and werewolves are known to certain government agencies. In fact, even finding these few stories was difficult, as it appears most of the tales surrounding the legend are only passed by word of mouth.

In a few of the versions I could find, the werewolf is described more as a Bigfoot-type creature over 11 feet tall but no less murderous than its lupine cousin. All of them describe the creature with glowing red eyes and extremely aggressive behavior. There is also a local warning that if you pass through the park at night and come upon a group of White-tailed Deer, they are cautioning you to turn back because the red-eyed demon is near.

I’ve driven through Land Between the Lakes and found it to be mesmerizingly beautiful. The untouched wilderness it offers is like a flame that I can’t help but be drawn to like a moth. When I drove through, it was daytime and sunny, but many stories of the fabled beast denote that day or night makes no difference, and that is enough to give me pause. I’ve spent many days and nights alone in the woods, but I am not certain I’d make a solo trip through the LBL. It appears that the creature is still active, still stalking and still hunting.

Thank you for listening to today’s Tennessee Ghosts and Legends Podcast episode. I am your host, Lyle Russell, and remember, the dead may seem scary, but it’s the living you should be wary of. Until next time.

Listen to this episode here: The Beast of the Land Between the Lakes

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