ladenboro is a small community surrounded by pine forests and swamps at the southeastern edge of the North Carolina piedmont. It was also the setting for the greatest monster flap North carolina has ever seen.
On Decmber 29, 1953 a local farmer reported a large, cat-like creature had attacked one of his dogs and dragged it into the underbrush. On New Year's Eve two more dog carcasses, reportedly completely drained of blood, were found. The next day, two more dogs were attacked. Something was hunting animals in Bladenboro.
Residents reported seeing an animal "Like a bear or a panther" that was "three feet long, twenty inches high, with a long tail and a cat's face."
Police Chief Roy Fores organized a hunt for the beast in the swamps, but came up empty handed. It was when Mayor W.G. Fussell called the papers that things really took off. Fussell, who also owned the local theater, was later quoted in a 1958 edition of the Carolina Farmer magazine as saying "A little publicity never hurt a small town." Bladenboro certainly got its publicity.
Hitting the papers in the slow news week after Christmas, the Vampire Beast of Bladenboro gained an unusually large amount of attention. Hunters from as far way as Tennessee descended on the small town to see if they could get a shot at the beast. Newspapers from Arizona to New York ran coverage of the hunt for the creature. The town was engulfed in chaos, with men with guns walking through the forest shooting at anything that moved.
Deciding that things were getting too dangerous, Mayor Fussell and Chief Fores called an end to the hunt, taking an unusually large bobcat that had been killed by one of the hunters and running it up a flagpole in the center of town. They posted a sign underneath stating "This is the Beast of Bladenboro." After a week or so, things settled back to normal.
So what was the Beast of Bladenboro?
It's probably a little more than a coincidence that Mayor Fussel's movie theater happened to be showing a film about a giant cat stalking the English countryside. I'm also intrigued by the possible role of Bladenboro native Dick "The Half-Man" Hilburn in the affair. Hilburn, who had been born with no legs and only one complete arm, made his living as a banner painter and tattoo artist, and ran a sideshow with his partner Carl "The Frog Boy" Norwood. From what I can gather, Hilburn was also in Bladenboro at the time, using his painting skills to turn out license plates and other memorabilia with the vampire beast painted on it. Did the presence of a mayor who loved his town, loved promotion, and had a movie to sell, along with a carnival promoter contribute to the legend of the Vampire Beast? Probably.
Do we even know what caused the original attacks? Bobcats were still easily found in the woods of Southeastern NC at the time. There are also, to this day, reports of animals resembling the supposedly extinct Carolina Panther that come from those woods.
Whatever the Beast of Bladenboro was, the story lives on as a time when all eyes focused on a usually quiet little town. But it's one of my favorite North Carolina legends, so if anyone reading this remembers the flap, or has more information about Dick Hilburn or the other players in the scare, please email me, I'd love to hear from you.