The Goatman: the lore behind a Maryland legend

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

by Miguel Cuesta

In the spirit of the season, we at Red and Black wanted to share our love and appreciation for the spookiest of holidays by exploring the mysterious and ghastly tale of Maryland’s very own legendary monster, “The Goatman." (Photo: WBAL-TV.)

One of the most famous Maryland legends is that of the Goatman. He’s been around since at least the 1950’s and countless variations of the story exist. To some he’s just a lonely goat herder turned maniacal killer after his flock was killed in Prince George’s County; to others he is simply a mythical creature of the same family as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster; the result of a science experiment gone wrong at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in the 1980’s (this story got so much attention that the Research Center actually had to make a statement denying it); to a mythical monster that decapitates dogs and murders teenagers in the woods of Bowie county. The Goatman has made national headlines and terrorized high schoolers all over the state.

Our story begins in Prince George’s County during the summer of 1957, when the Washington Star published its first report of a big, grizzly, savage creature that was terrorizing the residents of PG County. First reported as the “Abominable Phantom” a search for this creature was actually carried out by the Upper Marlboro Fire Department alongside local hunters armed with shotguns. The search was fruitless however and the county police department stated that it was probably nothing more than a rabid dog.

The myth briefly came to life again in 1962 when legend has it that a mysterious creature murdered 12 children and two adult chaperones who were hiking too close to the Goatman’s home. Something similar happened in 1967, when it is said that the head of 17-- year old Hank James was found in the canopy of woods above his car along Fletchertown Road by Liza Jane Benedict, his girlfriend at the time, after they had decided to spend the night in his father’s Buick secluded in the depth of the woods. While keeping the mystery of the Goatman, these stories failed to expand the reach of the legend as they were casted off as a fictional warning by parents to rebellious children who wanted to explore the woods, and each other too.

Four years later, during the fall of 1971, in Bowie, Maryland this myth was cracked open all over again when Ginger, the German Shepard of April Edwards (a Bowie resident) went missing. Local residents William Gheen and John Hay went to investigate early in the morning in search of the dog after having come across sightings of a strange figure and hearing high pitched squeals the night before. The only remains the boys found of dear Ginger were that of her decapitated head hidden in the bushes.

The eerie and mysterious death of Ginger sent shockwaves around this otherwise calm and quiet town that sprouted the beasts namesake. Sightings of the mysterious Goatman that was reported the night before began to appear everywhere: Fletchertown Road (the scene of the supposed murder of Hank James four years before), the railroad tracks across from Zug Road, High Bridge Road, Crybaby Bridge (also the sighting of many other haunted creatures), to a house behind St. Mark the Evangelist School in Hyattsville, to College Park.

The Goatman has been seen all over Maryland and everyone seems to have some bloody folktale related to it. Reporters from the Washington Post and Prince George’s County News to high school newspapers have fanned the flames of this urban legend, turning the otherwise beautiful Maryland scenery into a dangerous and mysterious place, where the Goatman lies waiting to prey on his next victim.


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