by Andrew Arnett
There is a twisted legend that springs forth from the dark womb of the Kentucky backwoods and it tells of the Pope Lick Monster – a deformed goat like creature that walks upright and has a penchant for killing humans. Rumors of the existence of this man-beast have been circulating across Jefferson County for decades. There’s even a photo making the rounds on the internet showing a startled Goatman looking like it was caught with its, er, pants down? Maybe that’s the problem – no privacy. Not even for the elusive Goatman. No wonder he is ticked-off and on the hunt for young legend trippers, luring them up a 90 foot tall train trestle and forcing them to jump to their deaths. That’s his M.O. and he’s left a trail of dead in his wake.
It is a gruesome fact that Pope Lick trestle is host to numerous casualties. The most recent death occurred in 2016 when a train struck 26-year old Roquel Bain as she and her boyfriend were hunting for the Pope Lick Monster. The two travelled from Dayton, Ohio, to investigate the Goatman’s lair, said to be located below the train trestle running through Pope Lick Park. Bain and her boyfriend were half way out on the trestle when a train came barreling around the corner. The boyfriend managed to hang over the side of the trestle until the train passed, but Bain wasn’t so lucky. She was struck by the train and fell 90 feet to her death. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
There have been other deadly incidents at the trestle. On February 18, 1988, 17-year old Spalding University student Jack Charles Bahm II was hit and killed by a train while walking on the tracks. A year before that, 19-year old David Wayne Bryant died from injuries he incurred after jumping from the trestle while trying to avoid an oncoming train.
Is it possible that a deformed goatman is responsible for these deaths, or are rumors of the goatman nothing more than urban legend? Last spring, I travelled to Kentucky with a group of friends, collectively known as the Brooklyn Paranormal Society, to see what more we could learn about this mysterious Pope Lick Monster.
There’s an eerie feeling in the woods surrounding Pope Lick trestle, that’s for sure. In late May, the forest is hot and stifling. The trestle itself is a forbidding structure, looming 90 feet above Pope Lick Creek, and stretching 772 feet from side to side. Beneath the trestle, we met with Rod Whitenack and Michael Book, founders of the haunted attraction The Legend at Pope Lick. Whitenack told us:
“I grew up in this area. I went to J-town high school, which is ten miles from here, and every kid that goes to that high school hears this story. The story I always heard was that the Goatman had either a ramshackle cave, barn or hut somewhere around this area and he protected this trestle. He didn’t let anybody cross over it and if they tried he had these hypnotic powers where he could look in your eyes and you would be hypnotized. He would lead you up on to the trestle, walking out towards the middle and just as you regained your consciousness there would be a train coming from the other side. You would have to decide wether you would be hit (by the train) or hang off the side (of the trestle).”
“They opened this (Pope Lick Park) as a park two years ago,” Michael Book told us, “As soon as it opened I thought this is the perfect location for a haunted attraction around the Goatman. This is actually one of the largest park systems in the entire country. Last year, I touched base with them and they were ready and interested. And so we started talking about a haunted attraction based around this folklore.”
There was even a movie made. In 1988, the short film The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster retold the local goat man legend. In the film, a group of high school students go in search of the dreaded Goatman. The protagonist walks across the tracks, encounters the Goatman, who hypnotizes him, then narrowly escapes an oncoming train by dangling over the side of the trestle.
Most describe the beast as having features of both man and goat, possessing a man’s head, whilst sporting a nasty snout and horns. The body is muscular and covered in brown hair. It has the hindquarters of a goat with cloven hooves for feet and can run at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. So how did this Goatman legend come to be?
Some say the Goatman was originally an old eccentric farmer who lived in a shack near the trestle. He would scare off people wandering on his property or get too close to his sheep. Others believe the Goatman was the deformed son of a farmer, who’s face was so hideous he could only go about at night, for fear of scaring people.
Another iteration on the story claims the Goatman was once part of a circus attraction. Whitenack explained: “The Goatman was an escapee from a circus train where he was the star of the freak show. The circus train was coming through town heading to Louisville and it derailed. All the circus cars were wrecked and a lot of people were killed. The Goatman however, got loose, and he’s been somewhere in this area ever since.”
Apparently, the Goatman was just an infant when discovered by the ringmaster one night while the circus was stopped in Beltsville, Maryland. When the evil carney saw the child had severe deformities on his legs and protrusions on his forehead resembling horns, he knew he had struct gold. The reference made here to Beltsville ties in another folklore, that of the Maryland Goatman. Yes, there are more of these horned creatures.
According to the story, there was a scientist named Stephen Fletcher who worked at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Maryland during the 1960s. He was conducting early DNA research involving goats and men when an experiment went awry. His subject mutated into a murderous goatman and escaped from the lab. Carrying an axe, this beast is said to roam the backroads of Beltsville, attacking cars and pets while terrorizing teenagers on lovers lane.
The Maryland Goatman gained notoriety when, on November 10, 1971, Prince George’s County News published a front page story alleging the Goatman had mutilated a teenage girl’s puppy. The girl, April Edwards, and a group of friends, noted how they had heard peculiar sounds outside of her home, then witnessed the silhouette of a large creature roaming in nearby fields. On November 30, 1971, a Washington Post article reported that the dog’s decapitated remains were found near railroad tracks. April’s friends and a relative also reported seeing a goatman climb off a pickup truck and enter the woods.
Skeptics blame the dog’s mutilation on the railroad tracks, and perhaps the group was suffering from some form of mass hysteria. We may never know for sure but, interestingly, another case of a genetically engineered goatman popped up on the opposite coast. This one regards the Beast of Billiwhack, California’s own version of the goatman. On November 4, 1964, the Los Angeles Times reported on the presence of a deformed beast lurking in the abandoned structures of the former Billiwhack Dairy in Aliso Canyon, Ventura County. Sheriff’s deputies found a group of boys on the property obsessed with capturing the creature, described as being a white shaggy nine-feet tall hominid with a ram’s head. One boy brandished a sword, while another claimed he saw a “snarling, hairy man in a hole.”
The property was once owned by a very real August Rubel who, according to legend, was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor to our modern day CIA. The OSS had a training camp on nearby Catalina Island and they commissioned Rubel to create, through genetic engineering, a “super soldier” in the vast tunnel system beneath the dairy. The experiment however didn’t go as planned, creating a monster instead, which escaped its confines.
Maybe, as some have suggested, reports of goatmen sightings across the country are the product of government genetic experiments escaped into surrounding communities. And why not? Right now in labs across the U.S., scientists are conducting experiments which involve the fusing of human and animal DNA, creating “human-animal chimeras.” Up until 2016, the National Institute of Health had a ban on such research citing ethical conflicts. David Resnik of the NIH said, “The specter of an intelligent mouse stuck in a laboratory somewhere screaming ‘I want to get out’ would be very troubling to people.”
The ban has since been lifted and, earlier this year, scientists announced they had successfully created the first sheep-human hybrid, consisting of sheep embryos that are 0.01-percent human by cell count. So scientists may not have yet reached the island of Dr. Moreau, but science is moving fast. And what of other countries, such as China and Russia, and the Military-Industrial complex, that works in secret with no such ethical restrictions, all too eager to weaponize anything they can lay their hands on? If not an actual physical beast, the goatman, at the very least, represents our subconscious fears that something hideous is lurking behind the closed doors of science gone mad.
7. FLESH OR FOLKLORE?, by J. Nathan Couch, Kindle Edition (2014)