A kooky cryptozoology case dating back to the 80s has returned to the public eye thanks to CNN: after an elderly couple reported damage to their car and the disappearance of their pets, the so called “Lizard Man” of Scape Ore Swamp in Lee County, South Carolina has yet again taken the blame. Like many such stories, it’s treated as an offbeat interest piece: which means that the claims are made with awed seriousness, but a little skepticism is treated as spoiling the fun.
The “Lizard Man” has all the hallmarks of a classic hysteria: a single claimed sighting spirals into rootless anomaly hunting, where anything strange or unidentifiable is ascribed to the mysterious beast, expanding the myth. Tourism increases, mixing money with local legend, and leading to tongue in cheek promotion of the attraction regardless of whether people believe it or not. And, finally, outright hoaxsters are then discovered, casting doubt on even the original sightings.
CNN, of course, was not about to do either the bare minimum of either researching the issue, or at least work that research into the report: doing so might spoil the fun or perhaps even anger a town in love with a local legend.
At this point, though, it’s important to note that not even the key initial sighting by Christopher Davis seems credible. And at least according to one Earl P. Berry, who claims to have been employed by the local Sumter Police Department, Davis not only failed a polygraph test on the subject as well as contradicting his original story, but eventually even recanted the story under questioning. If I can find wet blanket information about this legend in only a few minutes of googling, why couldn’t CNN, who actually has the resources to track down and confirm these leads?
The most irritating thing about these claims are the purported tracks.
Two weeks after the Davis sighting the sheriff’s department made several plaster casts of what appeared to be three-toed footprints – measuring some 14 inches in length – but decided against sending them on to the FBI for further analysis after biologists advised them that that they were unclassifiable. According to South Carolina Marine Resources Department spokesperson Johnny Evans the tracks neither matched, nor could be mistaken for, the footprints of any recorded animal. Evans also dismissed the possibility that they could have been made by some form of mutated creature.
This is really parsing words here to dodge the issue. There’s simply no way to state that the tracks couldn’t be mistaken for another animal: variations on terrain, angle, and all sorts of other factors can always distort physical tracks to the point where they are “unclassifiable.” You could say the same about smudges on your bathroom mirror: but the lack of identifiable human fingerprint marks in some particular smear doesn’t mean that the guy from Seven has been rummaging around in your medicine cabinet looking for Tylenol.