The Lake Worth Monster
By Larry D. Hodge
One sleepy summer more than 30 years ago, a mysterious creature stirred up the city of Fort Worth.
South Texas has el Chupacabras. The Hill Country has La Llorona and East Texas has the wild man of the Big Thicket and the loup-garou. But perhaps none of these created more excitement than the Lake Worth Monster stirred up in the summer of 1969.
Something strange, people said, was roaming the woods northwest of town on the shores of Lake Worth.
Many claimed to have seen what was variously called the Goat-Man, the Man-Goat and — in a nod to Scotland’s Nessie — the Loch Worth Monster. Some described it as having a short, humanlike body with a head like that of a dog or a goat — with a single horn in the middle of its head. Others claimed it was between 6 feet, 9 inches and 7 feet tall, 250 to 300 pounds, long-necked, flop-eared, slope-shouldered, pot-bellied, covered in white hair or scaly. Reports circulated of sheep being ripped to pieces, of cattle and dogs killed and mutilated and of a car being attacked. One group of witnesses claimed the monster became agitated upon seeing them and threw an automobile tire and wheel 500 feet in an attempt to scare them off.
Sighting the Lake Worth Monster was the thing to do for a time, and rehashing the stories went on until the moon landing and the return of football season furnished other topics for conversation.
All the purported monster sightings took place in the vicinity of Greer Island, which is now part of the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. Although it was called an island, it could be reached by car on a muddy dirt track, and its relative isolation made it a popular hangout for local teenagers.
The combination of rumor, summer boredom and the opportunity to get one’s name in the newspaper fueled the monster craze. At least one explanation was offered at the time, that some students from a local high school were having fun with an old gorilla suit they found. But lacking proof the monster did not exist, many preferred to believe.
The supposed sightings spawned spin-off silliness faster than a nest of alien eggs could hatch. Having a Lake Worth Monster sighting to your credit was a ticket to instant fame, however fleeting. A Fort Worth woman, Sallie Ann Clarke, self-published a book based on newspaper accounts, interviews and personal experience. “It went Grrrrr, Brrrr, Yeeepe, Yuuuuuuuuuuu,” she wrote. “Don’t go alone. It is too scary out there.”
Some 30 years later Robert Hornsby, a New York artist who grew up in Fort Worth, put on an exhibition of pictures and sculptures based on the Lake Worth Monster mania. As references he used newspaper accounts and pictures of a Goat-Man statue sculpted by an Azle man and sold in a local gift shop during the uproar. Hornsby invited local art students to contribute their own works depicting the monster, and a new generation made the legend its own. One wrote a poem that said, “He creeps at night through brush and tree / Or scraggly grass to peek at me.”
Now, here’s where the story gets weird. There actually was a Lake Worth Monster — and a friend of mine knew him personally.
Rick Pratt, now of Port Aransas, was director of the Greer Island Nature Center at the time of the sightings. “A couple of local teen-agers were putting anti-war signs on the center, and I caught them at it,” he recalls. (Their names have been omitted to protect the guilty.) One of them, a student at a local high school, was interested in science and hung around the nature center, which was half a mile from the trailer park where he lived. Pratt describes him as being about 5 feet, 9 inches tall, with long black hair and a fondness for dressing in black. “He was a nice fellow, kind of an early hippie,” Pratt says. “He wanted to be a nuclear physicist.”
The boy confessed to Pratt that one evening he and his brother put on a little show for people parked in a gravel pit on Greer Island. “The area was home to a former junkyard and had also been a gravel pit at one time,” Pratt explains. “There was a cliff wall about 30 feet high around the gravel pit, at the base of a hill. The Lake Worth Monster and his accomplice jumped around on top of the hill waving their arms, then rolled a tire and wheel from the junkyard down the incline. It flew off the cliff and landed near where the cars were parked. The total distance traveled was less than 500 feet, and the tire was not thrown, but that didn’t stop the press from reporting it. All the descriptions of the monster were taken from people who had not seen it. The reporter interviewed me but elected not to use anything I said.”
The newspaper report of the purported tire hurling by a superhuman something sparked bedlam, Pratt recalls. “There was not a lot going on in Lake Worth at the time. The notoriety gave people an excuse to come out and misbehave. A couple of nights there were big crowds and traffic jams, a lot of drinking. People drove around the lake roads, started fires and partied, and just had a high old time. This went on for about two weeks, and then it died out.”
And what became of the boy who started this ruckus?
Although an Internet search for the Lake Worth Monster yielded numerous hits, his creator was more difficult to find. But I can report that the Lake Worth Monster is apparently living incognito, sans telephone, just a few miles from the scene of his exploits, while tales of his purported deeds circulate through cyberspace.
I have his name, and I know where he was last seen. Am I going looking for him?
No way. Like lost treasure, mythical monsters are a lot more interesting as unsolved mysteries.