In June of 1964, a local legend in the Southwestern corner of Michigan took the country by storm. Reports of a strange creature terrorizing the locals around Dewey Lake in Cass County Michigan were in the news. Not just the local news, but in the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and others. Soon sheriff’s deputies were called to direct traffic, and clear the monster hunters out of the area. Local businesses capitalized on the events. Novelty “Monster Hunting Kits” were sold in a local department store. Monster “Get Away” gas was sold at local stations, and a business owner in nearby Benton Harbor offered a $1000 reward for the live capture of the creature, which was later withdrawn due to the abundance of gun wielding monster hunters from around the country descending upon Cass County.
The first credited sighting of the Dewy Lake Monster was Friday Junes 1st, 1962. Four friends were out playing around in the woods, and fields of Glennwood just off of Dewey Lake Street. The boys took a break to eat the sandwiches they had packed, and later two of the boys found a thicket of raspberries, and began picking and eating the fruit, when one of the boys, Jimmy, suddenly froze dead in his tracks. His friend Jeff not knowing why, continued shoving and pushing Jimmy in an attempt to get more of the berries. Jimmy fell, and Jeff was teasing him, when a strong gust of wind blew Jeff’s hat off, and he chased it along the ground trying to catch it. Jeff almost ran into the creature as it stood in the field before him. At first he thought it was a tree it was so big. By this time Jimmy had started to cry, and Jeff began screaming at the creature. They both ran away but stopped to look back after running about 20 yards. The two could not figure out what they were seeing and began to think that maybe it was artificial, like a totem pole someone had made, and had just started walking back towards it to get a better look, when the creature roared. The two boys ran in a blind hysterical panic. They ran into the other two boys Al, and Gary, further along the road. Jimmy and Jeff were pale and shaking and the other two boys were teasing Jimmy because he had peed himself. Al and Gary had heard the roar, but chalked it up to a crazy neighbor. Later Jeff reflected that the thing was actually “a cool looking thing, like a red hairy Creature from the Black Lagoon, but when it screamed we just ran.”
The second recorded sighting was on July 20, 1962 Three friends were going to meet on the South side of Dewey Lake where one of the friends, Kirk Stover, had parked his camper. The two friends of Kirk’s Vinnie Armstrong and Willis Wright, found the car and camper parked just off the road with the door open, but Kirk wasn’t there. Due to the isolated area that the camp site was in, the two friends knew he had to be somewhere near, so they went into the camper to wait. After about ten minutes Vinnie, and Willis began to feel that something must be wrong. This is when they heard the crunch of leaves outside, and assuming it was Kirk they waited for their friend to enter. It was then that the camper began to shake and rock side to side. The two friends jumped out fearing that the camper was going to roll off into the water. It was after they had jumped out that they saw Kirk running towards them. At first they thought it had been Kirk who had been shaking the camper, but it soon became obvious to them that this was not the case. Kirk was visibly distressed, and as the three friends stood outside trying to figure out what was happening, they all saw the creature. A shadow passed between them and the light being reflected off of the lake. The creature was described as “Huge!” It went down into the lake and disappeared with a splash.
Kirk told his friends that he had been inside the camper waiting for them when it had started to shake. Thinking it was his friends Vinnie, and Willis, he stepped out of the camper, and that is when he was attacked. The thing threw him to the ground, and started to drag him towards the water. When his friends Vinnie and Willis arrived on the scene, the creature dropped Kirk. Kirk was convinced that had his two friends not arrived when they did, the monster would have killed him.
For the most part the creature was blamed for damaging property, and scaring the hell out of the folks that saw it. But on August 23, 1963 perhaps things took a more sinister turn. Three friends were staying at a cottage on nearby Pitcher Lake. Stan “Red” Roberts, Phillip McFee, and his son Roger.
Red was a bit of a ne’er do well, and Phillip wasn’t sure that he wanted Red to come on the trip to the lake with he and his son. Red had a reputation, and tended to get in trouble, and ask his friends for money which he never paid back. Against his better judgment Phillip acquiesced and allowed his friend Red to come with them on the trip. After getting to the rental cottage the two adults began drinking, and later when Phillip said that he was going to go to bed because he wanted to take his son out early the next morning to do some fishing, Red said that he was going to take the canoe out that night. He next morning when Phillip took his son and their boat out, he noticed that the canoe was not back yet. The fishing trip was a bust. Phillip was amazed that nothing at all was biting. When he and his son returned to the rental cottage, the canoe, and Red were still missing. Phillip was going to go across the lake to make sure Red wasn’t pestering any of the locals with his antics. Phillip never had to go to the other side. He found the canoe about 100 yards from the cottage, sunken in the clear water of the nearby shore. Phillip called the police and reported his friend missing. The canoe was recovered, and a neighbor helped search for Red. The helpful neighbor was Paul Wozniak, a retired police detective from Chicago. Wozniac would later send a letter to the Benton Harbor newspaper describing the damage to the sunken canoe. The hole in the bottom of the canoe was caused by something exploding up from the below. The force was such that no pieces were found under, inside or around the canoe. Red’s remains were never recovered. His sketchy reputation probably kept any serious investigation from being carried out at that point. It was just assumed that he had taken it on the run to escape responsibility for the damaged canoe for which Phillip McFee had to pay. Stan “Red” Roberts was never seen or heard from again.
On Tuesday June 9, 1964, the attack that would earn the creature its name occurred. The monster chased Mrs. John Ultrup across her property. She escaped into her home, and credits her dogs, one of which was hurt by the creature, with saving her. The police were called, and in this case there was actually some physical evidence retrieved. Plaster casts were made and photographs were taken of some very large footprints left in Mrs. Ultrup’s yard. This was also that sighting that created much of the local press coverage that would spill over into the national press. Though there had been sightings and complaints about the creature for a few years up to 1964, it was when people that the sheriff considered to be upright and credible witnesses began to call in that the local law enforcement got involved. Once the story hit the national press monster hunters from around the country began to show up, armed and ready to hunt the creature down. Additional deputies from Van Buren County were called in to assist with traffic, and crowd control.
Eventually the sensational story was forgotten, and the interest faded. So much so in fact that by the time my family moved to Cass County in 1966, very little was ever heard of the creature. Though occasional “Swamp Monster” stories were told by a few, for the most part such things were discouraged lest the events of 1964 should be replayed. The locals being a conservative lot didn’t want the wholesale chaos caused by previous sightings to be repeated. Although there would continue to be the occasional sighting, very few were actually reported officially. In fact the last official sighting was catalogued in 2010. A group of friends were visiting at Dewey Lake when they spotted the creature approaching them. They were assailed by a horrible stench, and fled the area, and escaped in their car.
Some people have come forward to say that they knew by way of a friend of a friend, of a friend’s second cousin or some such that the creature was a hoax perpetrated by someone. So far as has been ascertained these witnesses are never first hand, and never point to the same person, and often the facts are incorrect in accordance with police reports and eyewitness testimony. The likelihood that it was a prank, or hoax is doubtful due to the credibility of some witnesses, and the type of damage caused. It is a rare man in a monkey suit that can tear the bumper off of a car, especially a car from the late 50’s early 60’s. There is also the fact that the local Potawatomie people have a history of encounters with the beast, and in one case a cave drawing of a similar creature was discovered and photographed, before the opening of the cave collapsed ending further study. Right now there is a film being produced to document the creature, and there are a couple of sites dedicated to the monster. Channel 3 in Kalamazoo Michigan even did a report on the creature for a series they produced called Michigan Monsters. Summer is coming so if you travel to Cass County Michigan, stay alert, because you never know what’s out there.