It all started during the summer 2004.
Everyone from housewives to hunters started reporting sightings of a strange creature prowling backyards and raiding pet food in Central Maryland. Once or twice a year, this part of the state sees a meandering bear pass through or hears reports of a rabid raccoon, which are treated with passing interest. But this was different.
This animal couldn’t be so easily identified and even after it was captured, first on film and video and later literally in a cage, its myth continues to grow.
In mid-July 2004, the mystery animal was reported to be on the loose in Baltimore County, leaving behind witnesses with bizarre descriptions, fuzzy photographs and puzzled experts.
After the beast was discovered lurking in the woods behind a home in Glyndon, Baltimore County, a family came up with a way to use a portable motion detector and secretly videotape the animal as it moved through the yard.
The videotape became an instant smash hit – depicting a low slung, apparently canine animal loping through the grass with its very large ears, a long tail and a shaggy mane of long fur.
The creature became a regular on the nightly news and in the neighborhood, where some residents even reported it would come up out of the woods to feed on cat food left outside. The Glyndon community not only captured the beast on film, they named it – the hyote, so dubbed because it most resembled a curious combination of hyena and coyote.
As the reality that some sort of hybrid hyena, wolf, coyote was roaming through suburbia began to sink in, a level of anxiety descended upon the public at large. While most were intrigued by the possibility of some exotic or unknown animal prowling the area, others were generally afraid the beast would quickly move from cat food to children.
The Glyndon community was not the first to discover the mystery beast, however. A family living on a rural farm in Joppa, Harford County reported seeing and photographing the animal almost year earlier – during the summer of 2003.
One morning the Mathis family of Joppa awoke and looked out their window only to spot a strange creature drinking out of a pony trough behind the house.
Family members were disturbed by the animal, which they were unable to identify, and held onto the photographs of the strange creature for a year – until the exposure of the Glyndon beast began to hit the airwaves
While the popularity of the hyote was picking up steam and new monikers like the Jersey Devil and The Creature from The Lord of the Rings, natural resources officials were busy putting a more scientific and less supernatural spin on things.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources issued a hypothesis that the animal was most likely a common red fox which came down with sarcoptic mange – a skin parasite, which causes almost certain death – but not before the animal grows lean, weak and rubs off much of its own fur.
While nearly certain the mystery beast was a mangey fox, DNR left the door open to another possibility – some sort of strange, exotic mammal kept as a pet by a Maryland resident who may have released it after not being able to properly care for the animal.
It didn’t take long before the Glyndon hyote was making national news, which, in turn elicited reports of similar creatures all over the country and the world. A farmer in Elmendorf, Texas shot a 20-pound, strangely blue-colored beast after it killed 35 of his chickens in one day.
The eerie photos of the hideous animal only fueled the mystery behind the creature’s identity – and also added a new candidate to the mix.
After the Texas creature was shot, locals began referring to it as El Chupacabras, a legendary monster deep-rooted in Mexican folklore and which supposedly kills other animals by sucking their blood.
At this point in the saga, the mystery beast was alternately described as a razorback hog, a hyena, an aardwolf, a coyote, a capybara, a Mexican hairless dog, a warthog, a wolf, an African wild dog, the previously-believed extinct Tasmanian Wolf, the Jersey Devil and now – El Chupacabras.
Alleged sightings were also popping up everywhere from North Carolina to England, but in early August 2004, the mystery took a mighty blow when the Glyndon man who initially videotaped the beast was able to capture it in a cage trap he set in his backyard.
Veterinarians from the nearby Falls Road Animal Hospital were able to conclusively identify the animal as a male red fox with sarcoptic mange, but there came one last stunning twist in this tale.
Instead of solving the mystery, capturing the animal only added to the intrigue when the man who initially videotaped the creature said the animal he trapped in his backyard was not at all the same creature and was indeed much smaller than the beast he had been seeing.
With an animal captured, the case was satisfactorily solved for the media, which quickly dropped its nightly coverage of the mystery beasts. For those who saw the creature, however, questions linger and there are many who stand firm that the small, sickly fox snared in a Glyndon backyard was not the mighty mystery beast – which they believe is still out there.