Wisconsin author Linda S. Godfrey didn’t set out to become a leading expert in the "manwolf" phenomenon, she just kind of fell into one cold winter in 1991.
"I call myself the accidental werewolf chronicler because it was nothing that I thought of in my previous life as a career I might someday have," Godfrey recently told me over the phone.
She lives in the "quiet, conservative community" of Elkhorn. In the early '90s, she got a staff job as a writer and illustrator at the Walworth County newspaper The Week and soon received a strange tip.
"Someone told me that people around Elkhorn were reporting seeing something that reminded them of a werewolf on Bray Road, which is a two-mile stretch of country road, just outside of town. So, just for fun, I checked into it. I found out a lot of people were talking about it and I discovered our county animal control officer had a file folder in his office that was marked ‘werewolf.’ That fact made it news."
Godfrey tracked some of these witnesses down and began to piece together a frightening mystery.
"(The witnesses) didn’t strike me as jokers or liars. They seemed very sincere and frightened over what they experienced," Godfrey recalls.
Her article ran in The Week on Dec. 31, 1991.
"We thought it would probably cause some chuckles and be gone, but in two weeks it became national news," she says.
"The Beast of Bray Road," as it was now known, drew attention from across the country. News vans rolled through Elkhorn to get react quotes from citizens and shoot footage of Bray Road.
Godfrey says the area isn’t quite the creepy Transylvania forest people hope for, but a tame stretch of subdivisions and corn fields. Godfrey’s next surprise was that she discovered that similar reports of the creature were heading her way, not just from the Elkhorn area, but from around the world.
"From that point on I sort of became the person people started sending their reports to and that media came to. As soon as the story appeared I started getting phone calls and letters from all around the country and the world."
Godfrey began compiling all of this incoming information and her research into book format. "The Beast of Bray Road: Tailing Wisconsin’s Werewolf" was published in 2003.
She began to record reports of other mystery animals – Bigfoot, giant birds, lizard men, lake monsters – and she profiled these in books like Monsters of Wisconsin, Weird Wisconsin, and Weird Michigan. Godfrey’s most recent book is a magnum opus of wolfman sightings published last year titled "Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America."
Godfrey calls the creature a "Manwolf," because unlike the Hollywood werewolves we are familiar with, reports don’t involve a human turning into a wolf under a full moon.
One of the most hair-raising stories in her recent book is from a chapter titled "Manwolf Multiples," in which she relays the story of a terrified couple from Palmyra, Maine, who claims that they were trapped in their home by a pack of wolfmen in 2007.
"They were sitting on their front porch at night and found themselves being stalked in their own yard by a total of five, upright, wolf-like creatures, who were walking on their hind legs and flanking them.They were about seven feet tall, which they based on comparison to a door they passed by. They held them hostage in their house all night. The man couldn’t get to his guns because they were locked in an outer building. They called 911, who told them to call a game warden. Neither ever came out. They could see the creatures lurking and prowling around their house."
With no nearby neighbors and fearing for relative’s safety, the couple braved the night out until the creatures vanished in the early morning.
"It’s one of the longest contacts and two credible witnesses who saw the same thing," Godfrey notes.
Godfrey still gets reports of wolfman sightings regularly. Digging through a stack of e-mail correspondence she has printed off from her desk, she tells me of a report from earlier in the year from a hunter in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.
Godfrey says he reports he was hunting for wild boar and deer, when he and his dog stumbled on a seven foot wolfman.
"(He says) it was covered in black fur with some grayish stripes here and there. He backed up slowly and felt like it was following him. He felt threatened and fired on it and it stumbled off into the brush."
Back where it all started, the Beast of Bray Road is still talked about in Elkhorn, especially around Halloween. It’s even been sighted relatively recently – Godfrey’s last documented case was when a middle aged couple in Elkhorn saw it run in front of their car on Bray Road and jump a guardrail in October 2008.
"They said they could see the fur flowing as it ran past," Godfrey says.
But the real question is – what is it these people are seeing?
Godfrey has heard theories ranging from unknown or evolved animal to black magic to extraterrestrial visitors.
"I don’t know whether the mystery can ever be solved," Godfrey admits. "Just when I think I have it pinned down to one idea or another, I’ll get a slew of reports that show something else. I just feel I have become the inadvertent keeper of the lore and reports and I hope that by recording these things that people send me, we’ll be able to get a database that people can refer to and they can make up their minds one way or the other."
You can find out more about Linda Godfrey’s books at lindagodfrey.com.