Jerry D. Coleman was born in Macon County, Illinois, on October 3rd 1951. He received his education the “hard knocks” way, and soon developed a common sense approach to both life and paranormal investigation, which has served him well.
A prolific author and field researcher, Coleman — whose brother is famed cryptozoologist LOREN COLEMAN — has been an investigator of strange phenomenon and bizarre events for over thirty years. He has contributed his research to numerous books during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and his first solo article was published in the December, 1983 issue of FATE magazine.
A media savvy researcher, Coleman has written several newspaper articles and has been a guest of numerous radio broadcasts. He has also served as a consultant for a recent Discovery Channel Special on the Lawndale Thunderbird phenomenon.
In 1994, Coleman created the first ever paranormal collectors card series, called “Myth or Real”. Most recently Coleman has authored “Strange Highways: a Guidebook to American Mysteries” and “More Strange Highways.” The books are an original compendium of true and unexplained stories from hauntings to monster birds.
A serious veteran monster hunter, Coleman has traveled throughout the continental United States, as well as Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, Europe and the Bahamas in order to gather evidence and eyewitness reports of unexplained events, as well as to experience the “unknown” firsthand.
Coleman is renowned as an experienced outdoors man and accomplished guide. Now the father of four, he takes pride in wearing no labels from organized groups, giving him the true freedom to speak his mind. With his unprecedented prospective, Coleman’s sure to stir the paranormal universe into a debate.
INTERVIEW: JERRY D. COLEMAN
When did you decide to become involved with cryptozoology and other fortean phenomenon?
I became involved in Cryptozoology before I ever knew of the term Cryptozoology and the same with Fortean research. For me it seemed to be a natural path to follow, that is to say, unknowns in this world must exist and I felt driven to search for them.
What factors from your youth do helped to mold your career choices?
There were a number of factors. I’d have to say but at the top of the list would be the people, decade and suburban area I grew up in. During the sixties not many youth organized activities existed so my summers became expedition excursion with the neighborhood kids. We started clubs like “The Rogues of Night” and the “Abominable Snowman Club”.
Our clubs’ main mission was to investigate the woods, fields and streams that were found not far from our homes. We would capture animals, identify tracks and dig for fossils. It was during one of these expeditions that an ape-like foot print was found by a couple of the kids in our group, this peeked my interest, which changed my life to a path of research and investigations.
What inspired you to become an author / journalist / field researcher?
From 1962 to present I’ve physically hit the trails of unknown encounters, interviewing eyewitnesses, photographing locations and collecting evidence. Field research is where my heart is, at times I’ve spent as many as 30 days camping in locations of alleged encounters of Bigfoot, Black Panthers and Thunderbirds, to mention a few.
I’ve always been pleased to turn my research over to others or write up small pieces for newspapers and magazines, never wanting or expecting anything for these contributions. But in 2000 as I began to write another article for a website, I contacted Troy Taylor for conformation on the facts of the case I was working on. Well, Mr. Taylor of Whitechapel Press said, “Jerry you have such a great abundance of material and hands-on research why not write a book?” So I did and in 2003 released my first full-length work titled, “Strange Highways.”
What was the first cryptid that ever intrigued you? Why?
The first cryptid that really intrigued me was the Abominable Snowman closely followed by North America Apes. To think that possible unknown apes were running around , hiding, living and breeding in the forests I walked past on my way to school, simply ran exciting shivers up and down my spine.
To what books have you contributed information during the 1970‚s and 1980’s?
My investigations have been picked up, retold and used by many fine authors of Cryptozoology. “Creatures of the Outer Edge” and “Mysterious America” both by Loren Coleman. Jerome Clarks, “Unexplained”. “Earth’s Secret Inhabitants” by D. Scott Rogo and Clark. Mark Hall‚s, “Thunderbirds The Living Legend” and many others.
What were the circumstances which led to your December 1983, FATE magazine article? What was it about?
Most of us must make a living and I am no exception, so every time I go away on a weekend excursion or take vacation time to travel I research the area for which I‚m heading. Some people research, hotels, golf courses, restaurants and local points of interest, I on the other hand research past or current unknown events, strange sightings and native animal habitats.
It was just this research of mine that discovered an ape-like man that had been seen around Boonville, Indiana in 1883. So needless to say my trip to visit friends in Evansville, Indiana became an investigation of the 1883 ape-wild-man. I tracked down and interviewed the great grandson of the 1883 eyewitness that was attacked by the creature and Fate Magazine picked up the story.
How has being a parent of four affected your research?
Positive in every way, I’d say it’s brought us closer together. Unlike the glamorous Hollywood films depicting Indiana Jones-type characters making unique discoveries and never ending excitement, true Cryptozoological research is painstaking and discoveries are few and far between. But it’s during these painstaking times that I’ve camped, fished and hiked the trails with my children, talking about life and pointing out natures interesting birds, insects and showing them raccoon and fox tracks.
What do your children think about your work?
They are very proud and understand it is a quest for truth and knowledge not a complete fantasy of made up hoaxes and spooky stories. I will add, I’ve always been very popular telling the sighting stories at campfire cookouts and other gatherings.
What drives you on your continued pursuit of both unknown animals and otherworldly events?
The quest for truth, for discovery and even at times simply to be there for the eyewitness. These witnesses really have no one to tell, no one they think will believe them, listen to them and investigate their claims, I am that person for them.
When did you first hear about the Lawndale Thunderbird?
The Lawndale Thunderbird hit the newspapers and radio within two days of the encounter and I was on the scene within hours of hearing about it. I interviewed all of the witnesses in person and actually found a couple that had seen the Big Birds that didn’t report their sightings to the media.
Numerous trips involving interviews and personally searching the wooded areas for evidence around Lawndale were undertaken, every angle of this case was investigated with followed up.
Have you even encountered this, or any other, unknown creature?
I have indeed seen what most refer to as a Mysterious Black Panther. It was November the 26th, 1995 on route 72 near Byron, Illinois when as I drove past what I thought was a black garbage bag laying beside the highway someone in the vehicle yelled, “Did you see that?”. I applied the brakes and said, “What, that bag?”. They replied, “No, that was an animal, it may be hurt!”. I turned the SUV around just in time to see a large black puma-like cat strolling across the road in front of us.
Turning the vehicle around again I managed to get directly behind the large cat, with the hi-beams on as it sauntered along the edge of the highway for better than five minutes. Then with one powerful leap it disappear into a cornfield. This complete encounter is in my book “Strange Highways”.
What inspired you to write your first book on the subject of unknown phenomenon?
As I touched on earlier , researcher Troy Taylor made it a logical reality for me but true inspiration came from the recent research or lack of that’s been out there. I gave it much thought and decided I should step up to the plate and be heard. Too much of the same old worn out stories and lack of real field investigations were being presented. Fresh thought, new research and honest, actual investigations pushed my envelope to achieve the goal.
Now I believe there are many worthy, hard-noised researchers in this field but sometimes a few rotten apples can ruin the pie, I wanted, no needed to go on record and give interested people the true facts, also hoping along the way to create a new interest in the young investigator that‚s out there just getting started.
How many books have you written? What were they about?
Thirty-two years of my research and experiences went into my first book “Strange Highways”. I’m now writing my second book and hope to have that released by Spring 2005. My second book will be much as the first, in as far as reporting new and interesting research, encounters and strangeness of all kinds.But what I’m adding this time around are a couple chapters on research techniques, e.g. Basic & Advanced.
In regards to your journalism, what magazines / newspapers / publications have you written for? What topics have you reported on?
I’ve written for, as stated earlier, Fate Magazine, also Strange Magazine as well as a few outdoor Magazines. Scores of my articles have been seen in the Decatur Herald, Elgin Courier (both from Illinois) and too many to count and long forgotten are the numerous newsletter publications.
I’ve written about everything from ghosts to welfare abuse. I once teamed up with a reporter investigating and finding a serviceman‚s Purple Heart that was four decades past due and another time I co-wrote and documented the first wild, free ranging coydog (coyote / dog mix) seen in northern Illinois.
What inspired you to create Myth or Real collector cards? Are you an artist?
The truth of the matter is Myth or Real collector cards came about by accident. One day while I was cleaning out my closet one of my brother Loren Coleman’s books fell on a stack of my son‚s baseball cards, as I picked them up it came to me, collector cards of Fortean and Cryptozoology! Almost two years later “Myth or Real” was a reality, the first of it’s kind I might add. I wouldn’t call myself an artist but I have drawn a few of the sketches as seen in the card set as well as creature sketches described by witness testimony.
How many television productions have you been involved with? What were they about?
Most notable was the Lawndale Thunderbird Discover Channel Special, “Into The Unknown”, which aired in 1997. The boy that was allegedly picked up by a large bird is Marlon Lowe. Marlon had refused to be involved or interviewed for the special. A call was placed to me requesting I persuade Marlon to do the show. Behind the scenes, I accompanied by the Discovery Channel scout visited Marlon and again returned during filming, all went as planned.
Other lesser local events, but every bit as rewarding. Usually the local stations seek out individuals such as myself for interviews around Halloween. They request information on a recent strange sighting or history of a folklore, it’s fun.
What are the radio interviews you’ve conducted usually about?
The radio interviews have ranged from the paranormal to Cryptozoology. I know a lot of people don’t like seeing these two words (paranormal & Cryptozoology) in the same sentence, but the public can’t seem to get it separated, thus it is up to us who find these topics interesting to inform them of the differences.
What is your favorite medium to work in: print, television or radio?
I enjoy writing quite a bit. Television and radio require instant, outrageous tales or information where the facts, research, theories and evidence does not have time or the interest to develop. Writing on the other hand allows me to scientific present all the facts that have been gathered and properly evaluate the encounter or the events, plus I‚m a big stickler for follow-up investigations, which writing furnishes the time.
How has the critical / fan response been to your published works?
I must say, with pride, excellent! The Myth or Real collector cards was a very positive experience, it touched many a young researcher that sent personal letters of praise and new found interest. My book “Strange Highways” has been very well received by the public and well known researchers have telephoned me with excited praise. Like Mr. Mark Chorvinsky’s telephone call and a great review from Mr. Don Keating and others.
How many expeditions have you mounted in pursuit of various cryptids and other mysteries? Where have you traveled during these pursuits?
Numerous expeditions, some for only days and others lasting months. I’ve traveled most ever state of the United States, also Europe, South America and various Islands. I’ve investigated Bigfoot encounters, Phantom Panther reports, UFO sightings, Ghost claims, Ivory-billed woodpecker searches and even interviewed islanders with alleged Mermaid sightings.
What was your most intriguing encounter? The most frightening?
Hands down, my most intriguing encounter is the before mentioned “black panther”, I dubbed the “Byron Lion”. And that, as is so often found in these reports was an encounter, when I least expected it.
The most frightening I must say was when I was stalking a mountain lion and believed it, the puma, had began stalking me, only to find out, as it leaped from the tall prairie grass that the puma was nothing more than a house cat, I must say that was initially frightening then extremely funny.
What is the best piece of evidence that your research has turned up regarding any of the paranormal phenomenon you have pursued?
My best piece of evidence is my present investigation into the Black Panther Reports, many call Mystery Black Cats, Alien Big Cats (ABC) and Phantom Panthers. A current and on going investigation is underway at this time of the interview by Americanmonsters.com. of a mounted large black cat on a Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina.
The owner of the cat alleges the animal was shot in Tennessee. Photographs and hair specimens have been sent to East Tennessee State University and are being examined as we speak. The professor at the university has notified me that he wishes to enlist other colleagues. If this dark colored puma is indeed from the mountains of Tennessee, the proof of an extinct Eastern Cougar or explanation to Black Panther sightings may be as close as Cherokee, North Carolina!
What are some of the hoaxes that you‚ve revealed in your book Strange Highways: a Guidebook to American Mysteries?
One hoax that became quite a little legend in itself was my research findings into the 1962 ape-like print found near Decatur, Illinois. That track had been written up in books as some kind of solid proof for the existence of small apes in mid-west America. Nothing further from the truth was this one.
Other hoaxes found in “Strange Highways” is best left up to the reader. I present the important and or known facts to a case. If the event leans toward hoax, prank or honest error, well, that’s how the chips fall. For instance, the Jersey Devil has been written up with omissions within the encounters. On one of the scenes credited to the Jersey Devil state police found large cat tracks not hooves. I report this others omit it, I guess because it does not fit into there theory. I like to leave the guessing game to the reader.
What is your opinion regarding the existence of the “big three” cryptozoological mysteries: Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Hairy Hominids?
I won’t be very popular answering this question but here goes: Lake and Sea creatures as Nessie and Champ don’t carry much weight to me. More likely I feel are unknown creatures far from anything that would be considered monstrous. The Ocean has secrets to reveal I believe, but contained lakes where a breeding population must exist, I doubt very much.
Hairy Bipeds are seen too often to not be taken seriously. My research places most valid sightings in or near large untamed areas of forest. Of course many hoaxes, pranks, copy-cats and misidentifications account for the majority of reports but I can not rule out the possible existence of such a creature.
Do you feel that the Patterson/Gimlin footage is authentic? Please elaborate!
Personally I do find the film very convincing but I believe too much of it is all about the debate and not the creature. Did Patterson film a dying breed, perhaps the now extinct Bigfoot? Or was it an incredibly once in a life time well orchestrated hoax? Does it matter, does it really matter to future investigations? If the film is authentic, we continue to seek Bigfoot, if the film is a hoax we continue to seek Bigfoot.
What do you think is the most intriguing unknown animal on Earth today? Why?
Bigfoot would be without a doubt. The reason I say this is because of the spotlight on it and the closeness to humans. No other creature would stir the public and scientific community as fast or as much as would a captured Bigfoot, not even, in my a opinion, a living Dinosaur.
What are your future plans? Expeditions / writing / television?
My plate is full at this time with radio appearances and signings of my book “Strange Highways”, also the writing and research involved with my second book and the continued, interesting investigation of the dark colored Cherokee Puma. Plus next years winter expedition into the mountains of the Smokies searching for Eastern Cougar evidence. I’d like to thank Americanmonsters.com for this opportunity and praise them on their fine work in this field!
Since April of 2008, Jerry D. Coleman has been battling — and beating — throat cancer. We at American Monsters wish him nothing but the best of luck and a speedy recovery!