Bladen County is one of the oldest counties in North Carolina. It lies about 70 miles northwest of Wilmington and just southeast of Lumberton. The mighty Cape Fear River slowly makes its way through the counties on its way to the coast. The county is mostly rural and only a few towns dot the landscape. Farming is big in Bladen with its rich land and abundance of water. A lot of the county is made up of large forest and swampland: a perfect environment for bears, deer, bobcats and just about any other type of beast.
It was in this county, late in the evening on Dec. 29, 1953, that our story began. It seems a woman in the small town of Clarkton, just east of Bladenboro, got in touch with the local law enforcement. Why, she was all excited and ecstatic about what she had seen in her neighbor’s yard. She reported just as the sun had gone down that night, all the dogs in the neighborhood were barking their heads off. As she went to investigate, she saw a large cat-looking creature slipping off into the darkness. This would be the first sighting of what became known as “The Beast of Bladenboro.”
On Dec. 31, 1953, just two days after the sighting in Clarkton, two dogs were found dead in Bladenboro. The dogs had been torn to shreds, their heads ripped off and their skulls crushed. This was just the beginning of the horror to take place in the year to come.
On Jan. 1, 1954, two more dogs were found dead around Bladenboro. One was chewed up so badly it was hardly recognizable. In the next few days, more dogs were found dead with mutilated bodies. The local police were growing concerned and ordered an autopsy of one of the dogs.
A few days later, law enforcement officers were completely astonished as they read the results of the autopsy. The report said that it looked like all the dog’s blood had been sucked out of its body, vampire style.
Witnesses that claimed they saw the creature said it was about 5 feet long, with bushy hair, a long tail, a large head with long fangs coming from its mouth, pointed ears and resembled a bear or panther. Some said it was brownish and tabby colored with little hair on its back.
As the days and nights went by, locals started reporting many other grisly finds, from cows to hogs to mutilated chickens and goats. All seemed to have had the blood sucked right out of them and their skulls crushed. What was doing these grim killings?
As more sightings came in, a party of big game hunters went in search of the elusive monster. All they found were tracks as big as a bear with claws over 2 inches long. The creature’s tracks sunk deep in the mud this indicated to the hunter that this was a rather large animal of some sort — but what?
The local law enforcement became desperate to find whatever was doing all the killing before it attacked a human. They even turned trained police dogs on fresh tracks made by the creature, but the dogs refused to follow the creature’s trail. I can’t much blame them!
As the newspapers got the story out about the creature, somehow it acquired the name of “The Beast of Bladenboro.” This brought in all types of folks looking to kill or capture the beast. As many as 800 people came into the little town in one day, all with shotguns and high-powered rifles in hand. The next few days brought even more people into town, all wanting to be the one to kill the beast. Fear ran though the county like wildfire.
So far, no human had been attacked — but that would change in just a short while.
The story goes that a 21-year old mother, by the name of Mrs. C.E. Kinlaw, came within feet of being the beast’s next victim. Seems she lived in a rural area a few miles out from Bladenboro. As the sun had just gone down and the moon had started to rise, the young mom was outside hanging some diapers on the rail of her porch. She looked up and, with only the light of the full moon, she saw the beast slowly stalking her. Why, the beast was only a few feet from her porch and ready to pounce upon its prey. It was only by the grace of God that the young mom managed to turn and run back into her house, slamming and locking the door behind her.
The woman said the beast then let out a loud scream like a baby or a woman crying, only louder and blood-curdling — the kind that would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
Mr. Kinlaw, being a brave soul and wanting to protect his family, grabbed his shotgun and ran out into the night to face whatever might be out there. The only thing he found was several large cat-like paw prints all around his yard.
For the rest of 1954, women and children were advised to stay indoors while men cautiously went about their business, armed with a weapon.
At one point, the mayor of Bladenboro posed for a picture with a large bobcat, claiming that the Beast of Bladenboro had been caught. I think this was just a ploy to calm the fears of folks in the county. But as suddenly as the mysterious attacks and sighting started, they stopped. The creature had vanished without a trace.
Today, some people still believe the beast still exists and the town holds a Beast of Bladenboro Festival each year to attract more tourists and bring attention to the area.
My personal view is that the beast still roams the impregnable swamps of Bladen County, just waiting to pounce on its next unsuspecting victim — whether human or animal.
J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson County Writer’s Club, Anson and Richmond county Historical Societies and the Sandhills Rod and Gun Club.