Witnesses who've allegedly encountered the Beast of Bray Road describe it as tall and hairy, with glowing eyes, long claws, and the stench of rotting meat.
Through the rural community of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, runs Bray Road, a 17-mile stretch of thoroughfare dating back to colonial times when it was known as the King’s Highway. Like many roads in America, it is generally unremarkable — except for the terrifying creature that supposedly lingers in its vicinity.
The first sighting of what would come to be known as the Beast of Bray Road occurred in 1936 when a night watchman for the nearby St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children was crossing the fields. He saw what he described as a hairy, humanoid creature standing between six and seven feet tall, closely resembling a wolf or a bear. Its speech was half-beast, half-human, and the watchman caught the strong scent of rotting flesh.
He never saw the creature again, but the experience stuck with him for the rest of his life.
But that was just the first of many encounters with the Bray Road Beast. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, more witnesses would come forward claiming to have encountered the Wisconsin Werewolf, each with their own theory as to what it might be.
The First Encounter With The Bray Road Beast
Elkhorn, Wisconsin, 1936. A small rural town, picturesque and charming, with a population of roughly 6,500. As author Linda Godfrey wrote in her book The Beast of Bray Road, Elkhorn was known as “the Christmas Card Town.” Surrounded by a rich prairie and dotted with cornfields and dairy farms and about an hour’s drive from Madison and Milwaukee, it was an almost idyllic place — not the sort of setting you’d hear about in a true-crime podcast, for instance.
But something would soon change the town of Elkhorn forever.
Enter Mark Shackleman, a night watchman at a Catholic convent known as St. Coletta — the very same St. Coletta where Rosemary Kennedy was housed after her father Joseph Kennedy had her lobotomized for “agitated depression” to combat her sometimes violent mood swings in 1941.
Around midnight, Shackleman was walking through the fields near the school when he saw something perched atop a nearby “Native American burial mound.” It appeared wolf-like, yet standing upright, and appeared to be clawing at the ground. Shackleman approached the creature to get a better look, but it fled.
The following morning, Shackleman told his wife about the creature, describing that its thumbs and little fingers appeared “shriveled,” notably shorter than the others on its hands. During the daylight hours, Shackleman returned to the mound and discovered “raking” marks in the dirt.
After dusk passed and gave way to night, Shackleman returned to the mound and once again saw the creature. This time, however, it did not flee. It stood and faced Shackleman, who later estimated it to be nearly seven feet tall. He said the creature was “covered with dark or black hair, gave off a bad, bad odor… like long-dead meat… eyes that looked right into me, and it made a sound. It was a three-syllable growl, low and mean, something like ‘gadarrah’ with the accent on the second syllable.”
Mark Shackleman was in his mid-30s, a strong and capable man — and a former heavyweight boxer — but the encounter made the hairs on his neck stand on end.
“Then I did the only thing I could do, I prayed to God to save me… and it turned and slowly walked away… For a long time I stood there, that bad smell hung in the air and then I said another prayer of thankfulness. I never saw that thing again or anything even like it.”
Some who heard Shackleman’s story assumed the creature must have been a hellhound, a creature often found in ancient European and Biblical literature. The growl of a hellhound was once described by writer Bob Trubshaw as a “halfway station between articulate speech and silence… filled with emotion and power, but utterly lacking in reason…”
Then, there was what Shackleman had heard the creature say: “gadarrah,” which shares an uncanny resemblance to “Gadara,” a site mentioned in the Bible as the location in ancient Judea where Jesus exorcised a demon-possessed man “coming from the tombs” — just as the creature Shackleman saw had been clawing at a burial mound.
Even among believers, though, this “hellhound” explanation for the Beast of Bray Road carries little credence. Rather, it highlights how the creature seems to defy explanation. When presented with something beyond understanding, it is often easiest to compare it to what you do know.
In any case, Shackleman’s story ends there. The creature he saw atop the burial mound vanished for a time — or perhaps it simply lay in wait, as nearly 50 years after Shackleman’s encounter, stories of the creature once again began to surface.
Subsequent Sightings Of The Beast Of Bray Road
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, sightings of the Bray Road Beast rose in prominence. Though mostly seen around Elkhorn, locals also reported sightings of the beast as far as Walworth, Racine, and Jefferson County.
The first of these recent encounters with the so-called Wisconsin Werewolf occurred in the fall of 1989. Around 1:30 a.m., Lori Endrizzi was driving home along Bray Road from a lounge in Elkhorn called The Jury Room, where she worked as a manager. There, off to the side, she saw a massive creature, its back turned to her, but as she continued along the road, she glanced back and caught it from the front.
“It was kneeling!” she said. “Its elbows were up, and its claws were facing out, so I knew it had claws. I remember the long claws.”
She said it seemed to be holding something between those long claws — roadkill, perhaps. But unlike many animals, which would turn and run when headlights were aimed at them, this creature instead turned and stared at her. Terrified, Endrizzi drove home.
The next morning, she ventured to the local library to dig through the catalogs and find something that might explain what she saw. What she found was an entry in The Golden Book of the Mysterious, published in 1976, featuring an illustration labeled “werewolf.”
“It was night, and it was quite late, but I know what I saw,” Endrizzi said. “You don’t mistake something like that… To this day I believe it was satanic. It was just my feeling. I don’t believe in werewolves, per se, but I believe something could be, well, conjured up.”
Two years later, another local named Doris Gipson claimed to have seen the beast. It was Halloween night, 1991. Gipson was driving along the road through the fog when she hit something and felt her front tire lift off the ground. After driving another 50 feet, she stopped the car and got out to assess the damage — to her car and to whatever she might have hit.
There was nothing on the road behind her. As she made her way around the back of the car, it came running out of the woods.
“Here comes this thing, and it’s just running up at me!” she said. “It was no dog; it was bigger than me… I’ve never seen a human run like that, and my uncle was a track star.”
Gipson quickly got back in her car and slammed her foot on the gas; at that same moment, the creature caught up to her car and landed on the trunk, only sliding off because it had become slick in the rain. Gipson said she felt she’d have been “dinner” had the beast caught her, but she managed to escape.
Except, later that night, she saw it again. She picked up a friend from a party, and on the way home, that friend pointed out the window and screamed, “Look at that thing!” Gipson wasted no time in speeding away, and when she got home she noticed claw marks on the back of her blue Plymouth Sundance.
Gipson later described the creature as “a freak of nature, one of God’s mistakes.”
Is The Wisconsin Werewolf Still Out There?
Godfrey published both Gipson and Endrizzi’s stories in the local paper, The Week, and shortly after, even more people came forward with accounts of the alleged Beast of Bray Road.
As reported by Milwaukee Magazine, Godfrey acknowledged some of the nuances on her website: “There is a high probability that everyone is not always seeing the same thing. There could be a biological, physical animal seen by some, while others see phantoms or supernatural entities from a variety of sources. A few may be misidentifications or hoaxes.”
For the most part, sightings of the Wisconsin Werewolf have dropped off since the ’90s, but a few still believe the creature lurks in the brush along Bray Road. And, of course, there are those who never believed in it to begin with.
In either case, the legend of the Beast of Bray Road has solidified itself in the pantheon of American folklore. And who knows? It may still be out there.
After learning about the terrifying legend of the Bray Road Beast, read about another legend from North America, like the creepy tale of the Bunny Man and the disturbing true stories behind it. Or, learn about a horrifying Japanese legend, Kuchisake onna, the slit-mouthed woman.