Murphysboro, Illinois, mural depicting the town and scenes from its history. (Source: <a href="https://www.kfvs12.com/2020/11/08/mural-ribbon-cutting-kicks-off-revitalization-projects-murphysboro/"KFVS12)

A new mural in Murphysboro, Illinois, includes images of apples, rivers, the nearby Shawnee National Forest, and a large hairy Bigfoot creature.

Known as the Big Muddy Monster, the creature that once subjected those who reported seeing it to ridicule, is now something the town embraces.

In fact, a new documentary, “Creature from Big Muddy”, looks at the history of the monster as well as its acceptance by the small town it was said to “terrorize” in the 1970s.

The legend of the Big Muddy Monster started around midnight on June 25, 1973. Randy Needham and Judy Johnson were in a parked car near the Big Muddy River, hoping to take advantage of a little alone time together when they noticed a foul smell. As they turned and looked out the window to investigate, they saw a 7-foot monster staring back at them.

Covered in white hair and mud, the creature looked like a cousin to the famed Bigfoot monster. With glowing red eyes and yellow teeth, the creature scared the adults enough to make them leave the area and file a police report.

Police investigated the next day and found what appeared to be large narrow footprints.

Later that day, Randy Creath and Cheryl Ray reported seeing the creature on her parents’ farm. Police reports said the couple got an up-close look at the creature.

“Both Randy and Cheryl watched and observed a large creature walk out of the patch of trees near the edge of the yard and then turn around and walk back into the field,” the police report said. “The creature was described as being 7 to 8 feet tall, weighing 300 to 350 pounds, pale dirty white, or cream-colored, and standing on two feet. Creath stated that he walked toward it and got approximately 30 to 40 feet from it. Creath also stated that it had a musky odor to it.”

The multiple sightings made Police Chief Toby Burger’s mind up – he decided to hunt the creature down. Taking a posse of men and search dogs, he tracked the monster to an abandoned barn. But as they approached the edge of the barn, the dogs stopped barking and refused to go inside. The investigators went in but failed to find the creature or any evidence of it being there.

The incidents even made the New York Times.

Eventually, the sightings tapered off until 1988, when a salvage yard owner, his employee, his wife, and his mother were terrorized by something at the yard. The shop owner said he and his employee spotted the creature and shot at it, only to have it turn on them. As they took refuge in the yard’s metal office space, they heard the creature bang on the exterior walls for more than a half hour in response.

All of the encounters, as well as several theories about what the Big Muddy Monster – including a hoax – are being explored in the documentary, released in July of this year. Joe Tury, the film’s writer and director said he wanted to look at all sides of the story.

“It’s a unique story,” Tury said. “Not only did people claim to see something, but it was investigated by the police and documented… I’m not out to prove or disprove the stories at all. I just love the stories and want to explore them.”

Chad Lewis and Kevin Nelson during an interview for the documentary on the Big Muddy Monster. (Photo by Joe Tury)

For him, the fact the story is equally possible to be true and not true is what sets the story apart. Located just a few miles from the Shawnee National Forest, the area has plenty of swampland, caves, and other areas where something that big could hide, he said, and the area is also home to any number of people who claim to know the person or persons responsible for the hoax.

Chad Lewis, a paranormal and cryptid investigator, wrote the book on the Big Muddy Monster – The Big Muddy Monster: Legends, Sightings and Other Strange Encounters – with co-authors Kevin Lee Nelson and Noah Voss. Once the book came out, he said, interest in the monster picked up. He and Nelson also took part in the documentary. Being in the film allowed him to see the monster in a new light, he said.

“The main thing I took away from this project was the severe and life-changing effects that were caused by encountering this beast,” he said. “Witness after witness commented on how powerful this event was in shaping the rest of their lives. Some wanted nothing to do with the story, they wanted to put the incident as far behind them as they could. Others were propelled to dig deeper into the mystery in order to help understand what actually happened to them. For some, even 40 plus years later, the event continued to terrorize and perplex them.”

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Even now, the monster has begun to change the town of Murphysboro.

“Of course sightings of the beast continue to this day and the town is really beginning to embrace the legend,” Lewis said. “The town has a new mural of the beast, they are building a statue of it, they have named a road after it, and local businesses are incorporating it into their names.”

The town even has a Big Muddy Brew Fest. Started 12 years ago by the Friends of Murphysboro, the festival raises money to fund projects in the area like dog parks and splash pads. In 2020, the festival was handed over to Revitalize 62966, a grassroots project to build Murphysboro’s economic success and population growth. Funds raised this year will go toward other projects designed to better the town and the surrounding area, the group said.