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40 years later, debate over 'Momo' lingers

Sunday, July 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Louisiana, Mo., a town of 3,300 residents, is the place where a Sasquatch-like creature was spotted by several people in 1972. Forty years later, people in this historic old town on the banks of the Mississippi River are still debating whether the creature dubbed "Momo the Missouri Monster" really existed.

LOUISIANA — The Sasquatch-like creature stood tall like a man — just bigger, stinkier and hairier — cradling a dead dog under one arm and growling. The stench from ole' Big Foot was horrific and sickening before the creature darted back into the rural Missouri woods.

Or, none of that happened and teenagers punked the world.

Either way, for a couple of weeks 40 years ago, tiny Louisiana, Mo., was the center of attention as people came from around the nation to help search for the mysterious beast. People in this historic old town on the banks of the Mississippi River are still debating whether the creature dubbed "Momo the Missouri Monster" really existed.

"I've been a hunter and fisherman all my life and I've never seen nothin'," said Bill Hoaglin, 61, the town's streets superintendent. "But who knows? They've seen things like that in many other places. You never can tell."

The Momo saga began on July 11, 1972. The Harrison family lived in a house along what was then known as Marzolf Hill. On a hot summer day, 8-year-old Terry Harrison and his 5-year-old brother, Wally, were chasing their dog through the woods.

Suddenly, 15-year-old Doris Harrison, who was inside, heard her brothers screaming, ran to the window and saw a creature she described as perhaps 7 feet tall with dark hair covering its face. It held a dead dog under its arm, and blood — apparently from the dog — flecked the dark hair of the beast.

"It wasn't a man and it wasn't a bear," said Doris Harrison Bliss, now 55. "It was something ..."

"Something you'd never seen before?" she was asked.

"Exactly."

Recent beef jerky commercials have proven that messing with Sasquatch is a bad idea. Doris knew that and ran away, then told her dad.

From there, a mix of fear and curiosity spread.

Another woman in the neighborhood reported hearing animal noises. A farmer said his dog disappeared. Soon, others were reporting smells, sightings of dark objects in the night, bizarre sounding screams and cries.

"We heard it a few days later," Bliss said. "It was a roar. I've heard bobcats and other animals and it was nothing like that. My dad just started hollering, 'y'all better go! It's coming!'"

Reports of encounters began to pile up. A man claimed he was chased by a big hairy beast with red eyes. School kids said they saw it from their classroom window. Two women picnicking near the river said Momo chased them to their Volkswagen, then displayed the human-like intelligence to try and open the door before a blast of the horn scared it away.

Ellis Minor was sitting on the front porch of his home one night when his bird dog began to growl — there were many reports of dogs acting crazy when they sensed Momo. Minor pointed a flashlight and allegedly spotted the beast in the middle of the road, 20 feet from him. The thing had hair "black as coal," but ran away from the light and Minor never saw it again.

Soon, Momo was a national phenomenon. News crews and other curiosity seekers found their way to Louisiana, a town of 3,300 residents about 80 miles north of St. Louis. Hoaglin, then in his second year working for the city, recalled seeing license plates from dozens of states. A bus brought in what he described as "Sasquatch chasers" from Oregon and Washington, where sightings are common.

Some bizarre things turned up, according to news accounts from the time: Tree limbs stripped bare of leaves, strange holes, clumps of hair.

People began finding footprints. Clyde Penrod made a plaster cast of an alleged Momo print that daughter Christina Windmiller still keeps.

"It's not human at all," Windmiller, 41, said of the print that's about as long as a human's, but much wider. "It has a big heel and three toes."

Despite the plaster evidence, Windmiller doesn't believe Momo was real. Neither does Priscilla Giltner. The retired teacher, now 76, is certain that a trio of high school boys pulled off a major league hoax.

By Giltner's account, the boys fashioned a homemade monster suit they used only sporadically. They made the curious noises, planted the fake footprints, concocted the putrid smells.

"I don't think they planned for it to get as big as it did," Giltner said. "They were just bored. They didn't have anything else to do."

Perhaps the boys should have gone into careers with the CIA, because if they're responsible for the hoax, they've done an impressive job of keeping it to themselves.

"I will never, ever, tell their names," Giltner said. "That's their secret."

Sasquatch-like sightings have been reported in many states, but most commonly in the Pacific Northwest. Jeff Meldrum, professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University and author of "Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science," said while no one can be certain about the existence of Momo, he believes some mysterious species exists.

"I'm trying to convince my colleagues that there is substantial evidence that there is something out there which could stand to be one of the most significant discoveries of this century," Meldrum said. "To find a huge primate species in our own backyard that could be more human-like, that would really be something."

Eventually, things returned to normal in Louisiana, though there have been occasional reports of other Momo sightings. The ordeal spurred a country song and for many years Louisiana hosted a "Momo Days" celebration downtown.

Today, there are no physical reminders. The Harrison house has been razed. Murals on the walls of downtown buildings depict the river, the bald eagles that nest in the area in winter, the gorgeous bluffs that surround the town. But no Momo, except in the memories of longtime residents, even skeptics like Giltner.

"There are people who think of Momo and they have fond memories," she said. "Let them have them."


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Comments

Harold Sutton July 15, 2012 | 6:26 a.m.

"itsa gonna git ya, sum nite".

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 15, 2012 | 10:29 a.m.

A friend of mine has several nighttime pictures of Momo on his deer trail cameras...right here in Boone County near Columbia!

There's an unusual correlation between the pics and a visit by various friends to a local costume shop the evening before the pictures appeared.

I understand there was significant surprise upon first review of the downloaded pics a week-or-so later.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders July 16, 2012 | 11:38 a.m.

I still remember being a six-year old boy living in the river bottoms a few miles from Louisiana. I didn't go outside by myself all Summer long. Meanwhile, every shadow on a moonlit night was Momo coming across the bottoms to get me.

(Report Comment)

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