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Geographical Index > United States > Florida > Collier County > Report # 721
 
Report # 721  (Class A)
Submitted by From the Files of Robert Smith and Susan Burlingame (nasus31561@aol.com) on Saturday, August 23, 1997.
Series of reports (6) concerning the Skunk Ape. Photos of the creature and footcasts
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YEAR: 1997

SEASON: Summer

MONTH: July

STATE: Florida

COUNTY: Collier County

LOCATION DETAILS: : (#1)Ochopee, Florida... Collier County... east side of Turner Road.. 1 & 1/2 to 2 miles north of highway U. S. 41... at a burned out wooden bridge located on the east side of Turner Road... two miles west of Burns Road... three miles east of junction highway 29...east of the Turner River
(#2)Ochopee, Florida.. Collier county... Burns Road... 1 & 1/2 mile north of U.S. highway 41... two miles east of Turner Road... five miles east of US. highway 29
(#3) Ochopee, Florida.. Collier county... Burns Road... 1 & 1/2 mile north of U.S. highway 41... two miles east of Turner Road... five miles east of State highway 29
(#4) Ochopee, Florida... Collier County... west side of Turner Road...1 to 1 & 1/2 miles north of highway U. S. 41... south of burned out wooden bridge located on the east side of Turner Road... two miles west of Burns Road... three miles east of junction highway 29...east of the Turner River
(#5) Ochopee, Florida... Collier County... west side of Turner Road...1 to 1 & 1/2 miles north of highway U. S. 41... south of burned out wooden bridge located on the east side of Turner Road... two miles west of Burns Road... three miles east of junction highway 29...east of the Turner River
(#6) Ochopee, Florida... Collier County... Turner road..... 3 to 4 miles north of Highway U. S 41

OBSERVED: DATES: (#1) 7-16-97 at 2:00 pm, (#2) 7-18-97 at 2:30 pm, (#3) 7-21-97 Between 7:20 am & 7:45 am, (#4) 7-21-97 at 7:45 am (#5) 7-24-97 (#6) 8-17-97

Steve Goodbread is a tour guide for Pelican Tours. On Wednesday 7-16-97 around 2:00 pm, Goodbread was driving a tour bus, with a group of tourist, along Turner Road. Goodbread arrived at an area where there is a burned out wooden bridge across the canal on the east side of the road. Goodbread and the tourists observed a large brownish colored creature behind some brush near the bridge. The creature continually stood upright on two legs, was approximately 7' tall, had hair covering it's entire body (except for the face) and was rocking back & forth. Goodbread advised that the creature resembled a gorilla. Goodbread indicated that the creature was shaking the bushes and appeared to be irritated by their presence. The creature was approximately 70 to 80 yards away. Goodbread continued to watch the creature for about 15 minutes. Goodbread repeatedly eased the tour bus forward and backward so as to allow visibility, of the creature, to everyone on the bus. Goodbread attempted to get one of the tourist, with a telephoto lens on her camera, to exit the bus and take photographs of the creature. No on would get off the bus. Goodbread now feels that exiting the bus might have been a bad idea. Goodbread finally drove away, leaving the creature at this location. Goodbread later returned to the area and found a road where he could drive into the swamp. Goodbread did not locate the creature again. Goodbread feels that the creature might have been a hoax but states that it would be nearly impossibly for a human to withstand the heat, at that time of day, in a suit. This is also an area that is heavily populated by alligators. Goodbread states that they have been observing a large number of deer and hogs moving out of the swamp because of the high water. Goodbread feels that he is in a little disbelief of what he saw, although he believes in the possible existence of the skunk ape, and prefers not to associate the creature with his tours.

Dow Roland is a tour guide for Everglades Day Safari. Rowland was driving a tour bus on Friday 7-18-97 around 2:30 pm , with a group of tourist, along Turner Road. Roland observed a brownish colored bipedal creature about 300' west of the road, at the edge of the brush. Roland described the creature as being approximately 7' tall, long brown hair, standing upright when walking or running, having a smooth face and resembling a gorilla. Rowland's observation, of the creature, was brief before it ran into the brush. Rowland's initial thought was that it was someone in a gorilla suit playing a prank. Rowland was on his return trip at the time of this sighting. A few minutes later Rowland returned to the same area, on Turner Road, with another group of tourists. Rowland was near the area where he had first observed the creature. Rowland again observed the creature on the west side of Turner road. This time the creature was approximately 150' from the road and again the observation was brief before the creature ran into the brush. The creature appeared to act nervous. Rowland believed this to be the same creature that he had previously observed. Rowland indicates that he was still shocked and in disbelief that this could be a real creature. Rowland finished the tour without observing the creature again. After completing the tour, Rowland retrieved his camera and returned to the area on Turner Road. Rowland drove up & down Turner Road but was unable to locate the creature. Rowland was driving south near the area of his other sightings, preparing to give up his search, when he observed a white convertible driving north. The convertible passed him and continued north bound. Rowland looked in his rear view mirror and observed the convertible stop suddenly then drive off. In an instant Rowland observed the creature appear at the west edge of Turner Road, approximately where the convertible had stopped. Rowland turned around but the creature had again disappeared into the brush. Rowland was unable to locate the creature again. The next day, on Saturday 7-19-97, Rowland told David Shealy of his observations. David Shealy is the owner/operator of the Florida Panther Gift Shop located on Highway U. S. 41 one mile west of Turner Road.

Jan Brock is a Collier county realtor who lives in the area of Ochopee, Florida. On the morning of Monday 7-21-97 Brock was traveling south on Burns road, sometime just prior to 7:45 am, in route to work. Brock traveled through this location just prior to Vince Doerr. Brock was approximately 2 miles north of U. S. 41 when she observed a creature, that she indicated was approximately 1000 feet in front of her car, cross the road. Brock first observed the creature at the west edge of the road. The creature crossed the road, heading east, and disappeared into the thick brush and trees on the east side of Burns road. Brock described the creature as about 7' tall, covered with a furry coat of thick dark brown hair and what appeared to be a patch of off-white or light colored hair on it's chest. Brock explained that she has often times traveled the roads, observed the wildlife, and has seen numerous animals in the Everglades. Brock compared the light colored chest patch, on the creature, to similar coloration that she has observed on bears that have been laying on the local limestone roads. Brock further explained that this creature was definitely not a bear, that it's legs were too long to be a bear and that it walked upright the entire time of her observation. Brock recalls that she noticed that the creature looked in her direction but she was too far away to view the physical characteristics of any facial features. Brock drove to the location, where the creature had crossed, and stopped her car. Brock rolled her window down part way but did not exit her vehicle. Brock looked around for the creature and for signs of any footprints. Brock was unable to observe any further signs of the creature. Brock commented that she had heard of the pungent odor, reportedly emitted by the Florida skunk ape, but she did not smell anything abnormal. Brock drove on to work without any other sightings. Brock's family has owned property, in this area, for many years. Brock used to bring her children, when they were young & before they built a house there, to the area for picnics and weekend camping trips. This would have been in the late 1960s. Brock explained that her children would often claim that they saw a bigfoot creatures around their property and in the swamps. Brock advised that her family has never been bothered by the creatures. Brock does believe that the creatures exist and does not fear them.

On 7-21-97, Vince Doerr, driving south from his home toward U.S. highway 41 in route to work, observed a Skunk Ape cross the road approximately 600' to 800' in front of him. The creature was moving from east to west at a slow pace. The witness arrived at the crossing sight, exited his vehicle and took a photograph, of the creature, approximately 80 yards away in the swamp. The picture is of the rear and upper torso of the creature. The creature was approximately 7' tall, bulky, reddish dark brown in color and continuously walked upright. This photo is not entirely clear, the alleged creature is circled in the center of the photo. In the future the BFRO will be doing enhancements on the photo, we will update the report when the enhancements are complete.



David Shealy learned of fire chief Vince Doerr's sighting, and associated it with what Dow Roland had told him earlier. On Thursday 7-24-97 Shealy went to the area, on Turner Road, where the creature had been observed. Shealy is a long time resident of the area and is familiar with the swamp. Shealy began searching the area. He found, what he believed to be, hair on some brush. The brush was along side a path. The hair was brown in color and approximately three inches in length. The hair was later lost. (The information can be explained by the researcher.) Shealy located several large tracks in the area. Shealy was able to take plaster casts of two of the tracks. The footprints measured approximately 13.5" in length, approximately 6" in width at the toes and approximately 3" in width at the heel. (The researcher, in this case, has examined and photographed the plaster casts.)


A couple (names confidential) was out watching birds and wildlife when it began to get dark. The couple prepared to leave the area and turned on their headlights. They were traveling north on Turner road when they observed a creature cross the road approximately 100 to 200 yards in front of them... They drove to the area of the crossing and turned their vehicle towards the west side of the road, in the direction that the creature had traveled.. As they turned their car, the headlights caught an object about 30 yards from the west side of Turner road. As the couple looked closer, they realized that it was a very dark complexioned man-like creature that they described as being well over 7' tall, 300 to 400 pounds and looking like a linebacker for a football team.... The creature constantly kept it's back to the vehicle and moved out of the headlights... As the couple moved the car, to place the creature back in the headlights, it again moved out of the light... The couple became concerned and left the area... When the couple were asked about further details, of the creature, they advised that they never saw the face and were unable to advise as to body hair. The couple reported this information to a local wildlife naturalist and tracker... The couple refused to give their names or any contact information, advising that they did not want to be harassed.

OTHER WITNESSES: Goodbread was working in the area. He was operating a tour bus at the time of the sighting. Rowland was working in the area. He was operating a Tour bus at the time of the first two sightings and looking for the creature at the time of the third sighting. Jan Brock was on her way to work. Vince Doerr was on his way to work. David Shealy was searching for evidence of the creature. The confidential submitters were bird and wildlife watching.

ENVIRONMENT: Dry land with swamp to the east and west...Heavy infestation of bugs and the worst infestation of mosquitos in over three years... Preceding winter was extremely warm and this was a record setting hot summer. Surrounding swamp water was high at this time of year... Swamp water 6" to 12" and deeper. Grass 3' high above the water. Sparse pine trees with inner mixed thick brush and palmettos. At the west side of the Everglades swamps. Very few human inhabitants, approximately 35 miles east of Naples, Florida


Follow-up investigation report:

The witnesses in this string of sightings all appear to be credible. The evidence and the environment provide every reason to believe that these were valid sightings of the Skunk Ape (Bigfoot) creature. There is speculation that this rash of sightings may have been more than one creature moving out of the dense swamp, toward dry ground, due to the extreme environment this year.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Future updates will be provided and reports of any future activity. This area has a long history of sightings. Seminole indians, in the area, advise that the creatures have lived in the swamps for many years and that they should be left in peace. They also advise that they are not bothered by the creatures but fear that disturbing the creatures may result in the infliction of their wrath. All research, regarding these reports, is being conducted by members of the BFRO and through the BFRO.

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MEDIA PRINT:

July 23rd, 1997, News Press, Fort-Meyers Florida

Everglades residents report sightings of Skunk Ape

OCHOPEE, Fla. -- (AP) -- The splash next to the lily pads in the swamp might be a Florida soft shell turtle sliding off a log into the water. The rustling in the bushes could be an alligator, bear or snake -- or something else.

That's what a half-dozen tourists, swamp tour operators and the Ochopee fire chief said last week as they reported sightings of a large, furry, black creature.

Tales of a skunk ape, also known as swamp ape and Bigfoot, have circulated around the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades for generations. Decades ago, the community staged an annual skunk ape festival, and longtime residents have numerous tales of the smelly creature they say lurks in the swamp.

``I don't know if it's somebody playing a game or what,'' said Vince Doerr, fire chief in the Everglades hamlet. He said he saw something large and hairy running across Burns Road on two legs Monday.

``I know a lot of old timers that used to be serious about it,'' Doerr told the News-Press in Fort Myers for today's editions. ``I just think someone's playing games. I just looked at it and laughed.''

Dow Roland, a tour guide for Everglades Day Safari, said he was on Turner River Road Friday when some boys in his tour group started shouting that they saw Bigfoot.

``About 100 yards away a creature came out,'' Roland said. ``It looked like Bigfoot or someone in a big gorilla suit.

Roland said it wouldn't be wise to dress up like a gorilla and play skunk ape because the outfit would be extremely hot, the work environment filled with bugs-- and the prankster could be shot.

The Big Cypress National Preserve received a couple of Bigfoot reports from tourists recently, but officials didn't take them too seriously.

``I think somebody's playing a trick at the tourists' expense,'' said Ron Clark, chief of natural resources at the park. ``If an animal like that existed for as many years as people have been studying the swamp, it would have been found. I hardly believe something like that would go unnoticed.''

But longtime residents of the remote, rural community say the creature has been around for generations.

``I believe that there's something out there,'' said David Shealy, owner of the Florida Panther Gift Shop and Big Cypress Trail Lakes Campground. ``And it's been around now for a long time, but it's been hidden.''

Shealy, 33, believes the mosquitoes, which are especially bad this year, are flushing the skunk ape out of the swamp and onto the roads.

Shealy said he saw what he believes was the skunk ape when he was a young boy hunting with his brother. He also grew up listening to skunk ape stories.

``The Indians woke up in the middle of the night when they heard a horrible noise,'' Shealy said, relating one tale. ``They saw him ripping up their camp. ... His eyes glowed red.''

Legend has the skunk ape smelling like a combination of rotten eggs, moldy cheese and goat dung.

``It smelled that bad because it spends most of its time underground in alligator caves,'' Shealy said.

Fire chief Doerr and Pelican Tours operator Steve Goodbread, who also recently spotted a hairy creature, are almost embarrassed to discuss what they saw.

``It just looked like something that didn't look human. It was big and black, but it didn't look like a bear,'' Goodbread said.

But Goodbread added he doesn't want the creature associated with his tour because he wants his tour's reputation to be about viewing nature not ``something hokey.''

Shealy isn't ashamed to talk about or believe in the skunk ape.

``There's no mystery left in the world anymore,'' he said. ``We've become so smart as a civilization that we tend to discount things not based on facts. People like mysteries.''



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Published Monday, July 28, 1997, in the Miami Herald

Mysterious `ape' raising a big stink

By CYRIL T. ZANESKI and Susan Cocking

OCHOPEE -- Someone -- or something -- was lurking in the dark, mysterious swamp just a few steps away from the old gravel road in the heart of cypress stands about 40 miles west of Miami.

A small group of British tourists and their tour guide swear to that. They reported seeing the hulking, ape-like creature lurking one afternoon last week behind a veil of Spanish moss that drips from the towering cypress trees at the swampy edges of Turner River Road.

Could it be . . . the skunk ape?

That's right, the skunk ape.

Florida's Bigfoot, the Sasquatch of the Swamp, the Abominable Snowman of the subtropics, the Yeti of the Glades. A distant cousin of the more famous apemen of the northlands, the skunk ape's reported description usually closely follows those of its primitive relatives: about seven feet tall, flat-faced, broad-shouldered, covered with long hair or fur and -- of course -- reeking of skunk.

In recent weeks, several people have phoned in reports of creatures that fit that description to officials at Big Cypress National Preserve. The reports were believed o be the first since a flurry of skunk ape sightings in
Southeast Florida 20 years ago.

Vince Doerr, chief of the Ochopee Fire Control District, saw a strange creature cross Burns Road near his home last Monday morning.

``I was riding along when, 800 feet ahead of me, a brown-looking tall thing ran across the road,'' Doerr said. ``It wasn't a bear -- that's for sure. It ran into the woods.''

Doerr said he grabbed his camera and snapped away, but he thinks the creature was too far away for a good shot. He hasn't developed the film yet.

Another tourist attraction

There were also reports from tour operators who travel one of South Florida's best places to see wildlife -- Turner River Road. The unpaved state highway cuts through a slough crowded with bald cypress trees laden with Spanish moss and spidery air plants.

Dow Rowland, 54, a guide for Everglades Day Safari, said he was hauling six British tourists up Turner River Road last week when they spotted the apeman loping along the cypress trees on the west side of the road, about two miles north of Tamiami Trail.

``It was about six feet tall with brown, long fur,'' Rowland said. ``It loped along like a big monkey or a gorilla, then it disappeared into the woods.''

Big guy gets around

Rowland said his group was not the first to see the apeman this summer.

``There was a sighting from the Naples Trolley Tour out of Marco Island,'' Rowland said. ``That driver was really shook up.''

David Shealy, 33, owner of Florida Panther Gift Shop on Tamaimi Trail here, has a theory about why the skunk ape has shown itself lately.

``The mosquitoes have been so bad this year that they probably ran the skunk ape out of the mangroves,'' said Shealy, who claims to have seen the ape at a distance many years ago and sees its large, mushy footprints in the mud during hunting seasons.

Maybe it's a conspiracy

The tales go back decades in South Florida.

``There were rumors in the 1960s of a Bigfoot or a really large skunk ape being held by the armed services at . . . Everglades National Park,'' wildlife biologist George Dalrymple said.

The ape escaped by ramming itself through a concrete block wall, as the story went Some investigators made plaster casts of its prints, but those casts are top secret, probably locked away in federal vaults, Dalrymple said with a sly wink.

Sightings of the skunk ape were most frequent in the 1970s in the wake of 1967 film that allegedly showed Bigfoot strolling the California woods and a flurry of news reports of Sasquatch sightings in the Pacific Northwest. Not coincidentally, this was also the time in Southeast Florida when developers were
working their way west into the Everglades, bringing newcomers -- suburbanites -- into close contact with country folks who spent their weekends at hunting or fishing camps in the marshes.

``Back when everybody had camps out there, people would come to town with stories,'' said J.A. Wasilewski, a biologist who once worked at Everglades Holiday Park, the airboating and fishing stop on U.S. 27 in western Broward. ``People were seeing shadowy things, but that was usually after a couple
six-packs of Bud out there in the swamp.

Endangered habitat

The stories have faded as the marshes and the camps have disappeared under suburban pavements. The sightings in the untamed swamps now being reported in Southwest Florida, which is now experiencing a housing development and tourism boom of its own.

Richard Greenwell, secretary of the International Society of Cryptozoology in Tuscon, Ariz., a group that investigates reported sightings of animals unknown to science, expects there'll always be reports of sightings of strange creatures somewhere.

``We live in a world where everything is structured by technology and predictable things,'' Greenwell said. ``People like to know that in this modern, humdrum world, there still unknown places. Still places wild enough to harbor animals still unknown to science.''

Send the suit to the cleaners

To be sure, not everyone is curious. Ron Clark, leader of Big Cypress' resource management team, said the preserve doesn't investigate skunk ape sightings.

``I think we're safe in assuming that there are probably no previously unclassified primates roaming the Big Cypress,'' Clark said.

``We think somebody's playing a prank on our tourists.''

Doerr and Rowland both believe what they saw was probably a man in a gorilla suit.

``If I thought it was real, I would have run in there, beat it to death and sold it to the National Enquirer,'' Doerr said. ``I think it's just somebody playing games.''

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Witness Information: (#1) Steve Goodbread, (#2) Dow Roland, (#3) Jan Brock, (#4) Vince Doerr, (#5) David Shealy and (#6) CONFIDENTIAL






 
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