On November 1, 1974, the Columbus Police Department received a series of panicked reports from no less than two sets of eyewitnesses, all of whom claimed to have seen (and even been attacked by) a huge, bipedal, green-skinned monstrosity that took to skulking near the waterways inside Indiana’s 83-acre Mill Race Park.
These encounters would alarm locals and lead to what some consider to be the biggest “monster hunt” in the history of the United States.
Dubbed “Death Valley” by residents during the 1950’s — when the location was besieged by rodents and severe flooding — the tree shrouded Mill Race Park is now known for its’ winding rivers, two small lakes and dense wooded areas designed for picnicking, family outings and private rendezvous. But in the autumn of 1974, the picturesque park was notorious for something else — harboring a violent, scaly, green monster.
The first encounter involved four young women whose names (perhaps due to their age) were not released by the police. As bored teens are want to do, the group decided to go hang out in Mill Race Park where they could converse free from adult supervision.
At approximately 3:00 p.m., on November 1, 1974, one of the young women spotted “the thing” between two trees near the paved boat ramp that led into the east fork of the White River, not far from where the Driftwood and Flat Rock rivers merge. The terrified teens wasted no time in escaping the park and reporting the incident to (almost certainly skeptical) law enforcement officials; stating they had seen a “green, hairy and large” creature.
Later on that same evening, a pair of women — having heard nothing about the teenagers’ earlier sighting — decided to stop in Mill Race Park to chat and eat the fast food they had picked up somewhere quiet. There’s no way either of them could have known that they were about to have a traumatic face to face encounter with an unspeakable thing.
The only one of the pair to ever come forward regarding this harrowing event was Tyra Cataline. She related details of the incident — which is in many ways similar to the first sighting of the MURPHYSBORO MUD MONSTER — on the television program “Monsters and Mysteries in America” in 2014:
“It was just a typical evening shortly after Halloween and we decided to go take our dinner down to the park and eat it and talk; and we were just kind of staring out into the dark woods.”
At that moment a pleasant night between friends began to distort into a scene straight out of a drive-in double feature. Cataline detailed when she first saw the nightmarish creature:
“Out from the woods comes this thing… [it] had to be at least 7-feet tall, if not taller. It was way taller than a normal man.”
It was then that the situation went from bad to worse for the hysterical duo who were trapped inside the car; praying that this monstrosity would leave them alone. Cataline continued her nerve wracking account:
“It was beating on the windshield, trying to get in and we were screaming… who wouldn’t be screaming? We thought we were going to die… I said we’ve got to get out of here, but the driver’s leg was shaking so badly she couldn’t get the car started.”
Through the battered and mucus smeared windshield Cataline finally managed to get a good look at the attacking monster’s inhuman visage:
“There was a greenish tinge to him. The thing’s face. I don’t know if it had been in the river drinking and it got moss on it because there was so much slime on its face… it did have fangs and he was trying to bite through the glass, and I was afraid he was going to tear the door off. Nothing has ever scared me as much as that.”
Finally, the driver of the car was able to compose herself enough to start the engine and the pair made a quick exit, leaving the toothy, green, slimy-skinned fiend in their wake:
“We were just glad to get out of there with our lives. Because this was just the most horrible thing you ever saw.”
Like the teenage girls who had seen the thing earlier in the day, the women — who did not know the girls and who had not heard their story — drove straight to the police station to report the monster. The police, according to Cataline, were no more prone to believing these older eyewitness, then they had been with the first group:
“It just seemed like they were laughing about it. They said: ‘Oh, a monster. Really? Have you been drinking?’ [I said] No. It’s real. It’s out there. You’ve got to go down there. It’s out there and it’s going to get somebody.”
The skeptical officers may not have believed that there was a genuine “monster” lurking in Mill Race Park, but there was no denying the damage done to the car, or the horrific stench that surrounded it. According to Cataline:
“The car stunk on the outside so bad. It was like decomposed animals. I don’t know how else to describe it.”
Unenthusiastically, the police decided to fulfill their duty and check the park. They found nothing at the scene and perhaps thought the hullabaloo would die down with the early morning light. If that’s what they did believe, however, they would have been wrong.
The tumult that would eventually infect the entire populace of Columbus — to one degree or another — began simply enough on November 2, 1974, when The Republic newspaper printed a short, four paragraph story about the sightings under a headline: “Monster — Women Report Seeing ‘Beast’ in Mill Race”
The brief went on to read:
“They swear it’s true. Six young women told city police Friday in two separate reports that they had seen a ‘Mill Race Monster’ — once in broad daylight. And whatever it is, the six are agreed, it is: 1) Green, 2) Hairy, 3) Large, about six feet tall and walking upright, and 4) Has claws.”
On November 6, 1974, the Republic printed the second reported encounter with the beast and officially dubbed it the “Mill Race Monster.” The report read in part:
“The Mill Race Monster has returned, apparently stepping out of the shadows Tuesday long enough to scare two park-goers… county police reported two men in their 20’s saw a large, hairy ‘thing’ hiding behind trees near the covered bridge about 4 p.m. and again shortly before midnight… The men, who did not give their names, said after seeing the monster Tuesday afternoon, they returned with binoculars that evening to get a better look. The told police that the monster was found, and eventually chased them from the park.”
On November 9, 1974, the Indianapolis Star chimed in on the Mill Race phenomenon and included a third report of the creature. This time the beast was seen by a pair of city workers — dogcatchers to be specific — 20 year-old Rick Duckworth and 19 year-old John Brown, who were “studying ways to rescue cats” in the trees of the public park.
The pair claimed that they spied the monster from about 200-feet away. That was when the intrepid (or in this case foolhardy) Duckworth attempted to pursue it. According to the Indianapolis Star:
“When Duckworth started toward the monster, the beast took off ‘as fast as a deer’ and disappeared into the woods. With the monster gone, the two men obtained a ladder and lowered the two cats to the ground. As soon as they hit the ground the two cats took off ‘like bolts of lightening,’ with one disappearing into the distance and the other running into a sewer line, according to Duckworth. ‘They were really scared,’ he added.”
Duckworth would go on to tell the Star what he would do if he saw the creature again: “He will try to shoot him with a tranquilizer gun that he carries to catch dogs.”
All of this talk about utilizing tranquilizer guns is good and well if you’re talking about a lumbering, vicious 7-foot tall monster, but, according to Duckworth, the creature was nothing more than a large framed man “wearing a green mask and green blankets.”
While there’s no way to really know what was in the youthful dogcatcher’s mind when he saw the creature from such a distance, the fact is it’s hard to believe that a city worker’s first instinct would be to shoot a hoaxer with a tranquilizer, then proceed to brag about their dubious plan to the press. Either way, city officials decided to rally behind this prankster hypothesis, a fact which infuriated eyewitnesses like Cataline:
“I know it’s real and what I saw is not a joke. It was not a person in a costume. It was really something that could move around. It could grimace its face. It was growling. It was very aggressive. So people can think what they want to. I know what I saw and it was pretty bad… I don‘t want to think about it too long because it still scares me to this day.”
Following the third report, the story of the now infamous Mill Race Monster spread like wildfire throughout central Indiana, and in no time droves of armed (albeit amateur) monster hunters filtered into the area along with throngs of curiosity seekers.
On one night alone there were over a hundred cars clustered around the park. Paranormal investigator and Columbus native, Chris McDaniel, described the situation:
“People were coming out of the woodwork and they were walking through the woods with baseball bats and shotguns… it was getting to be a thorny situation.”
Former Republic newspaper editor, Harry McCawly, confirmed McDaniel’s statements:
“We got this report from the police department and they described it kind of in terms of a ‘Bigfoot with green scaly things coming off of it.’ The front page helped to feed what developed afterwards. The police reported that people were coming down to the park searching for the monster.”
In an effort to curb the potentially devastating mix that can occur when frightened people are armed to the teeth and roaming around in the dark near a residential area, city park director, Robert Gillikin, order that the park be closed at night. According to a story appearing on November 8, 1974, Gillikin emphasized:
“It may become necessary to close the park to the public at night, not because of the ‘monster’ but because of the public.”
Due to the avalanche of interest in the monster from both the press and public alike, the Columbus police department unofficially appointed officer Kenneth St. John to the unenviable position of “Monster Control Officer.”
After a while the monster furor died down in the small town of Columbus and folks went about their daily lives.
But for many people, including eyewitness Tyra Cataline, there was no satisfying resolution to the puzzle of what it was that made its temporary home in Mill Race Park. According to Cataline:
“Sometimes when I think about it gives me goose bumps. It takes me back to that evening. I’ve never seen anything like that before… to this day I wonder where it came from and where it went to.”
The answer to that question might be surprising. While many folks have lumped the Mill Race Monster into the broad spectrum of HAIRY HOMINID cases, the fact is that this creature was reported to have scales and slimy skin, traits not ordinarily seen in prototypical BIGFOOT reports.
According to McDaniel, the teens who first reported the monster described it as being both “dirty” and “mossy,” which superficially corresponds with Florida’s notorious MOSS MAN, but that is where the comparison between the two cryptids ends.
There’s also the thin possibility that this was a LIZARD MAN, not unlike the creature said to haunt South Carolina’s Scape Ore Swamp, but the description of “hair,” as well as the fact that none of the witnesses claimed it looked reptilian, would seem to rule this out as well.
When considering where to archive this report, we felt that descriptions of the Mill Race Monster would not be out of place in the company of other AQUATIC ENIGMAS such as the nefarious GREEN CLAWED BEAST, the THETIS LAKE MONSTER, the bizarre CHARLES MILL LAKE MONSTER or even the INDESCRIBABLE OCTO-MAN.
These ostensibly amphibious creatures are said to dwell in or along freshwater lakes and rivers and may well use them to both conceal themselves and migrate, which would help to explain why the Mill Race flap — while no doubt chaotic — was so transitory.
Perhaps the strangest suggestion regarding this critter’s origins came from one of the two unnamed men involved in the second Mill Race encounter.
This anonymous eyewitnesses surmised that the UFOs seen over the Indiana for a brief time, might have left something behind. From the November 6, 1974, edition of the Republic:
“One of the men suggest an explanation for the newly found monster, that it had been left here in the early fall by visitors from another planet. At the time, Columbus and much of the Midwest was flooded by sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects.”
Be it an alien from OUT OF THIS WORLD, a migratory river monster, a lost SKUNK APE or some kind of off the wall HYBRID BEAST, the one thing we know for sure is that the population of Columbus will likely never forget their brief, but memorable, run-in with the terrifying unknown.
Rob Morphy is an artist / journalist / filmmaker / designer / crypto historian / podcaster / co-founder of American Monsters and Cryptopia