; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Momo: Missouri's Legendary Monster

Frightening growls and snapping twigs were all it took to put a normal St. Charles County couple hot on the trail of the legendary Bigfoot.

Robert and Cynthia Stayte said they had never given Bigfoot much thought until their personal encounter with the unknown on July 27, 1997.

“It affected me more than it did my husband. I can’t let it go,” said Cynthia Stayte, 46.

It was a hot, late afternoon when the couple drove to a lonely alcove of the William R. Logan Conservation Area in Lincoln County, 10 miles north of Troy, on Highway 40-61.

The couple parked their car at the top of a hill and walked down toward a lake, said Robert Stayte, 49.

“We were told there was some good fishing in the lakes up there,” he said.

At the bottom of the hill, the couple stumbled upon an unusual footprint.

“It looked like a human footprint, but quite large. I’ll never forget the big toe. I told my husband it could be a Bigfoot, but I was just joking,” Cynthia Stayte said.

The couple dismissed the print and continued toward the lake. They were observing the surroundings when they heard heavy branches snap.

“If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you hear animals moving in the brush. It’s not that rare. I didn’t think much of it until we heard heavy breathing – heavier than a horse. It caught my attention,” Robert Stayte said.

“It was like a human, only 1,000 times magnified,” Cynthia Stayte said.

The breathing seemed to be coming from something right next to them.

Then the growling began.

“It was a snorting sort of growl, like gorillas in the zoo,” Robert Stayte said.

“They were snarling grunts, very deep and guttural,” his wife said. “I turned to my husband and asked him if he heard it.”

“I said, ‘Yes, and we’re out of here,’” he said.

The Staytes began running up the hill to their car. Robert Stayte took the lead, his wife said.

“I said, ‘Wait for me!’ I didn’t want whatever it was to come up and get me,” she said.

“I never had anything scare me like that before,” her husband said.

The Staytes do not match the image of a couple “on the fringe.”

Robert Stayte is a TWA avionics technician. Cynthia Stayte is a dental assistant. But after their frightening encounter, they became Bigfoot researchers.

“When we got home, I got on the Internet and found a Bigfoot database,” Cynthia Stayte said. “I clicked on Pike County, which is near Lincoln County. Sure enough, there were sightings listed.”

Further research uncovered a history of Bigfoot sightings in Louisiana and Cyrene County, she said.

Hoping to network and acquire more information, the Staytes attended a meeting of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).

Bruce Widaman, MUFON state director, said he was impressed with the Staytes’ story.

“Everything she told me sounded true and legitimate,” Widaman said. “I don’t think there was anyone at the meeting who didn’t believe her. She has credibility.”

Widaman said he has documented many Bigfoot sightings in Missouri, especially near the Cuivre River.

“I think there really is such a thing as Bigfoot,” he said. “Perhaps we’ve had one or two come through Missouri, traveling along the waterways.”

Bigfoot was dubbed “Momo,” short for “Missouri Monster,” after a rash of Missouri Bigfoot sightings during the early 1970s.

As for the Staytes, their search continues.

In September, the couple took a trip to Oregon and Washington, visiting the sites of several reported Bigfoot encounters.

They spoke to a young Oregon kite salesman who claimed he and his father found a dead Bigfoot lying in a mountain stream, Cynthia Stayte said.

“They heard a sound and turned around,” she said. “There was a live Bigfoot in the trees just a few feet away, watching over the dead one. They turned and ran out of there.”

While eating breakfast in Seaside, Ore., the couple mentioned to their waitress they had just visited Saddle Mountain.

Cynthia Stayte said the waitress gave her a funny look.

“She said locals don’t go to Saddle Mountain. I asked her why. She hesitated, looked around, then quietly said…Bigfoot.

“They were scared of Bigfoot. She and her husband had seen a Bigfoot standing by the side of a road at 2 a.m. about three years ago. She said it was big and it was real.” - ozarksentinel

A sketch of the creature reported by Doris and Terry Harrison on July 11, 1972, in Louisiana, Mo. Courtesy of MUFON

Momo Returns in May 2001?

Almost 30 years after their moment in the national spotlight, the people of this small Mississippi River town are still split on what to believe. And now outsiders are stirring things up again. In 1972, many put stock in stories about the Missouri Monster, or "Momo," a large, hairy creature with a nasty stench that some believe roamed nearby Star Hill, about 80 miles north of St. Louis. And many didn't. They figured some of the believers were tippin' the bottle.

The buzz began when a 15-year-old girl reported seeing Momo outside her home. The sighting sent a slew of armed locals into the hills, looking for the beast. Some even planted bait, hoping to be the hero who captured Momo.

Reporters flocked in from around the country to give Louisiana, population 4,000, its 15 minutes of fame. After a few weeks, the buzz — not to mention the reported stench — died down. Old differences of opinion faded. People went back to their lives. But they're talking about it again, since an organization based in Tucson, Ariz., spent a week on Star Hill, just north of downtown Louisiana, looking for any traces of the almost-forgotten monster. Mostly, the effort brought laughter. When someone brings up Momo, a light enters people's eyes and a smile crosses their faces. The children of the '70s, who believed, are now grown up and raising their own children.

Momo seems like a fable to them. But for the International Society of Cryptozoology, the visit is serious. Its members examined the area April 14-20, collecting witness statements and checking whether that locale could provide enough food to sustain a Bigfoot-like creature.

Richard Greenwell, secretary of the organization and a zoologist, said this was just one of many trips the group makes each year. The society was formed in 1982 to document and evaluate evidence about animals that have been reported to exist but never verified.

Its Internet Web site boasts that cryptozoologists in the past 200 years have discovered many now-familiar animals, including the gorilla (in 1847), the giant panda (in 1869) and the giant gecko (in 1984). Greenwell said most of his trips have been to the Pacific Northwest. Greenwell said there does appear to be enough food to support such a creature. But he said it will take more than testimonials of the locals to convince him.

"We don't accept things on faith," he said. "We evaluate information. Sometimes it takes years to reach a conclusion. This is just one piece." On this particular trip, he was joined by Bill Riley, a Hannibal native who also claimed to have seen the creature in July 1972.

Riley said Momo chased him onto the porch of a farmhouse along Highway 79. He described the beast as around 8 feet tall, and putting off an odor he described as a mixture of sulfur and feces, only worse. He said he didn't tell anyone about the encounter for six years, fearing no one would believe him. He finally confided in his future wife.

When Riley made this trip to Louisiana, one of several in recent years, he said many other locals came forward with stories of their encounters, some as recently as 1996.

A lot of people don't want to admit publicly what they saw, out of fear of being the butt of humor, he said. It is true that mere mention of Momo can send Louisiana residents into gales of laughter. "I believed in it then," said Candy Barnett, who at 44 has changed her mind about the sightings in 1972. "I think I would actually have to see it to believe it."

Mary Shrum, 52, owns a farm outside of town and said she's never seen anything out of the ordinary — only raccoons, coyotes, deer and the like. No giant, hairy creature and no nauseating smell. "I just don't believe it," she said. Some do believe it though, people such as Beverly Siders, 54, of Elsberry, who grew up in Louisiana. Siders said she doesn't have a reason to doubt those who say Momo exists. "I believe there's something out there," Siders said. But exactly what might be out there remains to be documented. Maybe it was a bear or some other already discovered creature. Or a prank.

The cryptozoologists' visit was not completely without incident. Some of their gear disappeared during the week. Police Chief James Graham said that after his officers asked questions about it around town, the researchers heard a knock on their motel room door and found the missing equipment sitting outside. They saw no sign of anyone — or anything. - Everyday Magazine and St. Louis Post-Dispatch

An illustration depicting the Troy creature wading across the Cuivre River. Courtesy of MUFON

Momo: Menace or Hoax?

Momo sightings have been reported throughout Missouri, even in St. Charles County. But the most famous sightings occurred in Louisiana, Mo., a town of fewer than 4,000 people. Located in Pike County, Louisiana lies 75 miles northwest of St. Charles County.

Bigfoot-like creatures have been reported in the Louisiana area since the 1940s, but it was not until the early 1970s that Momo attracted serious interest.

Bigfoot researcher Loren Coleman describes the now-legendary Momo scare in his book, "Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America."

According to Coleman, the Momo saga began in July, 1971. Joan Mills and Mary Ryan were driving along Highway 79, north of Louisiana, when they allegedly saw a hairy creature that made disturbing gurgling noises. The women described the thing as "half ape and half man."

The most notorious sighting took place one year later. On the afternoon of July 11, 1972, 8-year-old Terry Harrison and his 5-year-old brother, Wally, were playing in their backyard at the foot of Marzolf Hill on the outskirts of Louisiana. Their older sister, Doris, was inside the house. Doris heard her brothers scream. She looked out the bathroom window and saw a black, hairy manlike creature, standing by a tree.

The thing appeared to be six or seven feet tall. Its head sat directly atop its shoulders, with no visible neck. The face was likewise invisible, completely covered by a mass of hair.

The youths reported a chilling detail – the creature, streaked with blood, carried a dead dog under its arm.

A local farmer reported his dog had disappeared. A neighbor reported hearing terrible growling sounds that afternoon.

Edgar Harrison, the children's father, also heard loud growls the evening of July 14. He and several other people smelled a strong, unpleasant odor as they investigated the area around Marzolf Hill. Investigators later reported smelling a similar stench, like rotting flesh.

On July 21 Momo revealed itself to Ellis Minor outside his home on River Road. It was around 10 p.m. when Minor heard his dogs barking. He grabbed a flashlight and stepped outside, expecting to see an intruding dog.
Instead, he saw a 6-foot-tall monster standing in his yard. The black, hairy creature turned and ran.

According to a July 23, 1972 story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, police sealed off a 200-acre wooded area while a team of 25 hunters searched for the creature, which many believed to be a black bear. Police received reports of a creature crossing the highway with a dog or sheep in its mouth. Another witness told police that the creature lifted the back of his automobile.

Not all hunters used guns. Many used pencil and paper.

Bigfoot investigators swarmed Louisiana, interviewing witnesses and taking plaster casts of the creature's unusual three-toed footprints. One of the preeminent researchers was Hayden Hewes, director of the Oklahoma City-based Sasquatch Investigations of Mid America.

"What impressed me was the willingness of people to talk to us. Normally people are reluctant to talk about these things," said Hewes, 61. "This was not just one person spitting in a can, saying `yes sir, I saw it right over there.' These were good quality people who were enthusiastic about what was going on."

Hewes said he was impressed with the witnesses' sincerity.

"These people didn't want to sell something. They didn't want publicity. They just wanted to share their stories. I never got any inkling that there was a hoax."

The Momo scare lasted only two weeks, but it triggered a media frenzy. Television and newspaper journalists from across the nation descended on the small town.

"I did close to 75 television and newspaper interviews," Hewes said. "They flew me to Chicago to do some television there. There were people around us shooting documentaries. We haven't had a case that well-documented since."

Sasquatch Investigations of Mid America is an offshoot of the International UFO Bureau, an organization Hewes founded in 1957.

"We researched Bigfoot sightings in eight states, mainly to see if there was any connection with UFO sightings," he said. "With Momo, we found there was no correlation whatsoever with UFOs."

Hewes said his investigations suggest there are families of nocturnal Bigfoot creatures that continuously migrate across the nation from the Pacific Northwest to the southeast.

"The path begins around Oregon and Washington state," he said. "It crosses Oklahoma around the first week of September, then finishes in Florida."

When he is not conducting paranormal investigations, Hewes runs a talent agency and works in warehouse distribution in Oklahoma City. Hewes has a degree in aeronautical and space engineering from the University of Oklahoma.

While Hewes and other researchers concentrated on Louisiana, one team of investigators focused on sightings in the St. Charles County vicinity.

John Schuessler was living in O'Fallon during the Momo scare. Schuessler worked for McDonnell Douglas as a group engineer for life support systems on the Sky Lab space station, then later as director of flight operations for the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In 1969, Schuessler helped establish the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), an international collective of UFO researchers. The 71-year-old Schuessler still directs the organization from its headquarters in Colorado.

The Momo scare coincided with a rash of UFO sightings, including reports near his home in O'Fallon. The possible UFO connection intrigued Schuessler, so he joined the Momo investigation. Schuessler found no connection between Momo and UFO activity, but he did investigate two incidents that corroborated the presence of Bigfoot creatures in the region.

On June 30, 1972, a month before the Harrison sighting in Louisiana, two young men from Troy were fishing on a secluded bank of the Cuivre River near Cuivre River State Park in Lincoln County. The fishermen, named Vaughn and Tim, stood atop a high bank overlooking an unusually low bank on the river's opposite side.

According to Schuessler, Vaughn noticed a splash and looked up.

"They said they saw something wading across the river – a big, hairy thing. They didn't know what it was," Schuessler said. "Vaughn said, `Hey Tim, look at that silly hippie wading across the river.' Then they realized it was not a hippie."

The men described the creature as standing taller than a normal man and hairy all over, Schuessler said. Like the Louisiana creature, the Troy monster's hair completely covered its face. Its head looked like a dome resting on its shoulders.

Tim scrambled up a hillside while Vaughn held his ground. The creature continued its deliberate march toward him. Vaughn finally panicked and ran. The men found a conservation officer and returned to the scene.

"All they found were fresh, three-toed footprints where the creature came out of the water," Schuessler said.

Schuessler inspected the area the next day and found the prints.

"They were large prints, but I couldn't tell what made them," he said. "We looked for hair, but found nothing but tracks."

Schuessler said Vaughn and Tim seemed honest and genuinely frightened. Schuessler also interviewed the conservation officer.

"He said he'd gotten a lot of weird reports out of the park, but he didn't pay attention to them. I think he wanted to stay at arm's length from it all," he said.

Another Momo sighting took place July 24 near O'Fallon, just after the final Louisiana sighting. Two teenage girls reported seeing a hairy creature at sunset walking along the edge of a wooded area. The O'Fallon incident is mentioned in "The Bigfoot Casebook" by Janet and Colin Bord, but Schuessler does not remember the details.

"It was not as vivid as the Troy sighting," he said.

Momo must have enjoyed his sojourn in St. Charles County, because the creature apparently passed through town again four years later.

The "Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization" Web site lists Momo sightings in 29 Missouri counties, including a 1976 report from St. Charles County. According to the report, two people were in a boat on the Missouri River near Highway 40-61 when they saw what appeared to be a 6-to-7-foot tall creature covered in dark brown hair. The creature was drinking from the river when it saw the boat, stood up and ran into the trees.

Another local story is posted on the "Bigfoot Encounters" Web site. Mark Richardson, of Modesto, Calif., claims to have seen the creature in 1979 when he was living in St. Peters.

According to Richardson, he and a friend were on a railroad bridge over Dardenne Creek one night. Richardson saw shadows moving and assumed it was his friend.

To his shock, he discovered it was an 8-to-9-foot-tall creature with long, matted brown hair covering its body and face. Its shoulders were five feet wide. Its three-fingered hands hung below its knees.

The creature smelled like rotting hair and screamed like a panther. Richardson claims it lifted the railroad timbers and tried to grab his friend.

The two escaped and ran home.

Richardson claims he knows other people who saw the St. Peters creature. He could not be reached for comment.

So is Momo real? Investigators like Schuessler say the sincere testimony of eyewitnesses cannot be dismissed.

"There is definitely something going on," Schuessler said. "I just don't know what it is." - St. Charles County Suburban Journal

St. Charles County Suburban Journal - 10/31/2004
Everyday Magazine - St. Louis Post-Dispatch - 5/2/2001



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