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When a 1970s-Era Werewolf Created Terror and Hysteria

Located in northwest Ohio, the small and picturesque town of Defiance is home to around 17,000 people and has origins which date back to th...

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Located in northwest Ohio, the small and picturesque town of Defiance is home to around 17,000 people and has origins which date back to the latter part of the 18th century. In the summer of 1972, Defiance became a hot-spot for monster-seekers when locals reported a shapeshifting werewolf in their midst. Thankfully, the beast did not stay around for too long; but, from July to August of that year the man-beast most assuredly left its creepy calling-card and, as a result, the town was quickly under siege. Children were kept indoors after school. The local police carefully combed the neighborhood, by day and night. And werewolf fever was just about everywhere in town. The very first encounter occurred on July 25, in the early hours of the morning. The unfortunate soul who came face to face with the creature was a railroad employee, working an early-hours shift. As the man switched a train to another track on the Norfolk and Western railroad – in the area of Fifth Street and Swift and Co. – he was suddenly confronted by a large, humanoid figure that had apparently been stalking him from the shadows.

Dressed in ragged clothing, covered in dark hair, and with a face that closely resembled that of a wolf or a German Shepherd dog, it rendered the man frozen to the spot with overwhelming terror. That was most unfortunate, given that the fanged beast had a large brick in its huge paw, which it used to pound the fear-filled man on his left shoulder. Fortunately for the hysterical man, the beast raced off into the darkness, leaving his shaking victim curled up into a ball on the floor. And there was something else, too: the night of the attack was a full moon. That was hardly the end of things, however. Rather, matters had just begun. Other railroad employees, including Tom Jones and Ted Davis had notable tales to tell. According to Davis – cited by journalist James Stegall in an article for the Ohio-based newspaper, The Blade, in an August 2, 1972 article titled, “Werewolf Case in Defiance Not Viewed Lightly by Police” – “I was connecting an air hose between two cars and was looking down. I saw these huge hairy feet, then I looked up and he was standing there with that big stick over his shoulder. When I started to say something, he took off for the woods.” Jones, also quoted in Stegall’s article, was far more concise, describing the beast as “wooly.”

The local media was at least partly responsible for the growing controversy. A week later, on August 2, the city’s Crescent News ran an article titled “Horror Movie Now Playing On Fifth Street,” a reference to the location of the initial attack. Then, one day later, on August 3, the newspaper ran a second article, “Wolfman Reports Persist.” Its subtitle was suitably spine-chilling: “The Shadow of the Wolfman stalked Defiance again last night.” August 3 was also the date on which yet another report was made, this time on Deatrick and South Clinton Street. The single witness, a man, was making his way to the Henry Hotel at around 1:00 a.m. when he developed a deep and unsettling feeling of being followed. Such was his level of terror, after racing to the police station, he spent the rest of the night in the hotel lobby; fearful of what might be waiting for him, should he dare to venture outside and into the darkness of the city.

The staff of the Crescent News knew a good story when they saw it, hence the August 4 article, “One Wolfman Report Logged.” The story was growing by the day. The Toledo, Ohio-based newspaper, the Blade, also got in on the act. The title of their article reflected the police’s attitude to the matter: “Werewolf Case In Defiance Not Viewed Lightly By Police.” In a city the size of Defiance, it didn’t take long at all before just about everyone had heard of the crazed werewolf in their midst. One of those was a woman whose home backed onto the railroads. She was someone very keen to speak to the police when word of the potentially deadly attacks got around. For three nights running, the woman informed the police, she was woken up by the sound of someone violently turning back and forth the knob to her front-door. Someone, or something, was trying to get in the house. Of course, it could have been a burglar. Except for one thing: on each occasion a low and disturbing growl could be heard directly outside.

Police Chief Don F. Breckler urged calm and told the citizens of Defiance not to try and take on the monster themselves, but to dial 911 immediately and let the police handle the situation. He added: “We don’t know what to think. We didn’t release [the details of the story] when we got the first report about a week ago. But now we’re taking it seriously. We’re concerned for the safety of our people.” It was also the police who suggested a down to earth explanation for the weird affair. Namely, that the creature may have been a burglar wearing a werewolf mask to hide his real identity. Not an impossible scenario, but it’s important to note that of those who saw the thing at close quarters, all were unanimous on one point: it was covered in hair from head to toe. Wearing a werewolf mask is not a difficult task. Covering one’s entire body with fake hair would be far less easy. No wonder, many scoffed at the idea of a masked burglar on the loose. Even the police noted this, admitting that werewolf or burglar, “there is a lot of natural hair, too.” Quite!

When this particular story reached the media, other people came forward, all claiming that the man-monster had tried to force its way into their homes – always in the early hours and sometimes leaving deep and long scratch marks on the front-doors; something which the police were careful to photograph and add to their quickly growing werewolf-file. As the publicity grew and grew, other railroad workers – also working night-shifts – came forward to say that, while they had not been attacked by the creature, they had certainly seen it. But, for the most part, they had previously stayed silent for fear of ridicule. By now, however, no-one was laughing. At all.

It was as a result of this collective body of data that the police were able to put together a composite picture of the sinister shapeshifter. By all accounts, it stood at a height of around eight-feet. The hair on its body was coarse-looking and short. And the fact that the creature was clothed led many to believe the inevitable: that this was a man who, whether by choice or not, was able to take on the form of a werewolf. Of course, that the clothes – jeans and a shirt but no footwear – were always ragged and torn, and the beast was around eight-feet in height, provoked a theory that in his normal form the man was of regular height and build. Night-time and early-hours encounters continued well into August, as did sightings of the huge beast in the vicinity of the railroad tracks. And, then, as mid-August arrived, the beast was gone, never to return. Thus ended what was, without doubt, the weirdest, and most fear-filled, saga in the history of Defiance, Ohio.

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