Tag Archives: mastiff

The Beast of Lyonnais

The Beast of Lyonnais was yet another killer monster (or monsters) in the long, long series of various creatures, beasts, feral dogs, hybrid dogs, wolves with attitude, sexual psychopath or good old fashioned serial killers who have ravaged different regions of France from around 1550 until the present day, with particular reference to the period 1750-1820.

I will freely confess that I knew nothing whatsoever of this type of event until very recently, when I started reading about the Beast of Gévaudan. Then I realised that there had been a Beast of Benais, a Beast of Auxerrois/Trucya Beast of the Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais (it did like to travel about a bit) and then a Beast of Sarlat.
There seemed to be any number of them, and I deliberately selected the ones which seemed not to be the most obvious of wolves. This is also the case with the Beast of Lyonnais, which, as we will see, hardly any of the witnesses at the time thought was good, old canis lupus lupus, even if all the noblemen at the time told them that they were mistaken (despite the fact that none of them had ever seen it):

wolf 1 xxxxx
Once again, I will begin by looking at a number of websites written in French, offering you my own translations and you can then take your own average between them.

We start with a hoary old favourite:

“The Beast of Lyon was a man eating animal behind a series of attacks on humans. The first attack was mentioned as being in the summer of 1754. Until the end of 1756, one or more ferocious beasts then ravaged the countryside, initially between Vienne in Isère, Meyzieu and then around Savigny in the Rhône area. This or these, animals claimed about thirty victims, mostly children or teenagers. Here is Meyzieu:

mey sssssssss

In early August 1754 the Royal Notary of Vienne was summoned by the most important individuals in the parish of Luzinay to proceed with the identification of the body of a young boy who had been found devoured. We know that at least two other attacks occurred in this same area, around Villette-de-Vienne and Régnié-Durette, before the Marquis of Marcieu, the Governor of the province, ordered a large hunt to trap the beast.
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The Great Hunt took place on September 10th, 1754 and lasted two days. It mobilized around 2,000 hunters from 26 different villages, but had no effect other than increasing the extent of the predator’s territory. All trace of the Beast was lost in the last three months of 1754.

The beast resurfaced in February 1755 in the parish of Sarcey, where it killed a new victim. Until at least October, at least one death on average per month could be attributed to the creature, mainly around Savigny and L’Arbresle . There was then no more news of the creature during the winter of 1755-1756. Here is Savigny:

savigny

On Easter Tuesday, April 20th, 1756, a girl was found devoured in Saint-Julien-sur-Bibost. During this attack, for the first time, witnesses reported two beasts together.

In early 1757, the parish priest at Brietton in the parish of Sourcieux-les-Mines estimated that a total of some 25 people had been attacked in the local area since the Easter of 1755. According to the priest, the (two) creatures were wounding more people than they killed and these victims might equally well have been eaten if nobody had come to their rescue.

On November 24th 1756, the last victim was devoured and left half consumed at Montrottier. The local parish priest was the first to hypothesize that the beast might be a hyena. This hypothesis, which has been challenged by present day research, was also put forward at the time to explain the Beast of Gévaudan:

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Following this apparently final attack in November 1756, the parish registers have no further mention of people being devoured by wild beasts in the vicinity of Lyon.
The accounts of burials that we still have give comparatively little information about the animal or animals ravaging the Lyon area between 1754 and 1756. The priest of Saint-Julien-sur-Bibost is the only one to have left us any evidence:

“This April 20th 1756, I buried in the cemetery of St Julien sur Bibost Marguerite Pinet, aged about eleven, the daughter of Jean-François Pinet, a resident of this parish & Jeanne Subrin. The child was employed by Monsieur Subilon in the hamlet of Bernay in the parish of Besenay to watch over his animals in the fields”

lyonnais xxxxxxxxx

“There were two ferocious animals, one as big as a small horse, reddish in colour, resembling a wolf, except that it had a short tail. The second animal was as big as a good sized mastiff, but it had white on the belly and a great long tail ; they seized Marguerite by the throat and neck causing enough damage to kill the child; she was buried in the presence of Mathieu Crois and Jean Guainon , witnesses required by the parish, who said they were illiterate and could not sign this form. These animals have devoured a good number of shepherds in the area. This has gone on for two years. Berbier, Priest.”

Here is a shepherdess, the meal of choice for the majority of monsters and beasts during this era. The sheep were usually ignored:

bergere xxxxxxx

The descriptions of the time mentioned a wolf, but with shorter legs. The fur was more coarse and the skin was mottled with several different colours. The evidence of the priest at Montrottier was that rumours of a hyena had currently gained momentum.

The theory of a werewolf was equally popular at that time and was mentioned by the Marquis of Marcieu in his instructions for Great Hunt held on September 10th, 1754:
“The Officers of both the Fusiliers and the Trackers must make every effort to destroy the ordinary people’s fanatical belief in werewolves:

Dog-Soldiers-2002-Movie-Ixxxxxxxxxxx

We must prove to them that these are just ordinary wolves which unfortunately are accustomed to eating human flesh.
Even if the woods are full of lynxes, bears and tigers, we must prove to them that these are just animals which a bullet from a rifle will kill, and which it is necessary to destroy.”

The French word “loup-cervier” appears on a number of occasions connected with these mystery monsters. I have found it impossible to trace the word in the Online dictionary which I normally use,
but Google Images for France provides any number of photographs of lynxes, mostly Canadian lynxes but also European ones. I eventually discovered that “loup-cervier” originally meant a lynx which hunts stags, and is used nowadays as a favourite metaphor for predatory financiers. “Cervier” seems to have no real existence except when attached to the word “loup” or very occasionally “chat”.

In any case, a Lynx, whether European or Canadian, is more or less out of the question as regards the Beast of Lyonnais. Lynxes are unbelievably shy and retiring creatures and it is inconceivable that they would attack human beings. In Europe their favourite prey item is Roe Deer. This is a European Lynx:

euraianLynx_lynx-2 xxxxxxxx

In North America, they hunt mainly Snowshoe Hares. This is a Canadian Lynx, the so-called “loup-curvier”:

loup cervier 1vvvvvv

To me, they are more kute than killer:

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Wikipedia carried a list of the victims of the Beast(s) of Lyonnais:

Pierre Morel (5 years old), Claudine Tardif (45), François Beloud (8), Madeleine Joubert (?),Christophe Cambria (7), Anne Tricaud (14), Pierre Guillon (10), Marie Berchoud (13), Mathieu Gervais (9), Hélène Berquet (6), Marie Berger(6), Claudine L’Hospital (8), Catherine Cusset (10), an unknown toddler(2), Jean-Marie Duboy (13), Pierre Vaché (8), Benoite Daverdi (9), Marguerite Pinet (11), Benoît Thiver (10), Pierrette Devilard (7), Étienne Manu (6), Pierre Delorme (13), Jean-Baptiste Chazaud (7), Claudine Allioud (8), Anne Tiron (10), Elisabeth Blanc (11), Benoît Mortan (12), Jean Malaval (9), Marie Lombard (10), Benoit Barroh (sic) (1), Claudine Guillot (4), Pierre Paleron (6), Jean-Baptiste Bazin (14) and Anne Sarrazin(9).

This seems to be twice the usually quoted figure of seventeen. The first victim was killed on June 5th 1754 and the last on November 24th 1756. Very roughly, the deaths occurred perhaps once or twice a month, although in some months there were no killings at all. The original list gave dates without any further details but as far as I can ascertain, there were no occasions when two victims might have been killed together. On several occasions, one victim may have been quickly followed by another at the same location, but they were always killed on different days. In some cases, the animal or animals might have returned repeatedly to kill its prey, such as at the village of Savigny (6 slayings), Saint-Pierre-de-Chandieu (3) and Saint-Romain-de-Popey (2). This is Savigny nowadays. It looks a lot quieter:

280px-Savigny_1 xxxxxx
I just do not know if ordinary wolves would return to the scene of the crime like this, although all predators, both animals and birds, tend to be very much creatures of habit, following the same paths and game trails every single day.
Another familiar website tells a fairly similar tale, but comes to a very different conclusion:

In all, seventeen young men and children were bitten, ripped to pieces or even devoured. Those who saw the animal, or believed they saw it, said that it was approaching the size of a wolf, with shorter legs, a coarser coat and skin mottled with various colours-an exact portrait of a hyena.
From these accounts, people were all agreed that it was a real, genuine hyena. But who is unaware that fear may magnify things, or change them completely. The descriptions that people have given of this carnivorous animal have probably been inspired by their heated imaginations. Fleeing at top speed, how could exact measurements be taken by eye? And running along, the creature must have seemed a lot lower than he really was. The frantic motion of his entire body made his hair stand on end and lastly we know that glare changes shades of colour.  Take away these circumstances from your sighting, and instead of a hyena, much more likely it was a question of a big wolf driven by famine in that harsh winter of 1754.
The excessive winter weather of 1754 forced the animals of this latter species to seek in the villages what the countryside could no longer supply to them. Moreover, the hyena is an animal entirely foreign to our climate:

S H 3.png vvvv (2)

How would he have got to France? Can we suppose with any degree of probability whatsoever that he has crossed the immense expanses which separate us from his native home without leaving behind any traces whatsoever of his journey?

We are forced to conclude that too often we consider something miraculous when it is nothing out of the ordinary. “

Another description was of:

“two ferocious animals, one as big as small horse, verging on red in colour, like a wolf except it had a short tail. The other was the size of a large mastiff, but it had white on its belly and a big long tail”

When I wrote about the Beast of Gévaudan and examined in some detail the solutions to the mystery, I thought that the centuries old puzzle was solved. The Chastel family was the guilty party, and in particular, long and greasy haired Antoine. But then I read about the Beast of Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais whose behaviour was nothing like that of a wolf. And then came the puzzle of the Beast of Benais who the local people actually thought at the time was the “Beast of Gévaudan on Tour”. After that, it was the Beast of Sarlat which was supposedly a rabid wolf, although none of the locals thought so, preferring a werewolf as the likely explanation:

werewolf

Next came the Beast of Auxerrois/Trucy which was not a wolf, the locals said, but a tiger, a demon or a werewolf.
Throughout my articles, I had deliberately ignored obvious wolves as culprits and deliberately selected only the creatures which seemed to me not to be obvious wolves.

The enduring problem was that there just seemed to be any number of these strange creatures and so many of the “wolf but not a wolf” category. You can’t stretch the Chastel theory to explain away all of them.

Soooooo……..
I have returned to C.R. Rookwood who, in one of his blog posts, suggested that the Beast of Gévaudan, was a prehistoric mammal, a mesonychid, which were very large ancient predators with huge heads, long tails, and hooves instead of feet.

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I do not have enough scientific knowledge to be quite so precise, but I would certainly go for some kind of relict creature, a fierce animal left over from a bygone age, its ever diminishing population dwindling on in the trackless forests and mountains of south-central Europe. Perhaps it was some kind of hyena such as the Cave Hyena. These photographs give an idea of their size:

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I said that I did not think these monsters could be wolves, but the “Dire Wolf” is not a wolf. Or at the very least, it is a wolf, Jim, but not as we know it:

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Who knows? And indeed, who ever will?

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Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Science

If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone…

One more monster to terrorise the local peasantry of bygone France was the so called “Bête de Cinglais” which was also called the “Bête d’Evreux”. Its bloodstained career lasted from 1632–1633, as it terrorised the province of Normandy, bringing violent death to one of the most beautiful areas of a beautiful country. Indeed, there is a sharp contrast here with the wild mountains frequented by so many other of the monsters we have read about. Here is a map of northern France:

basse norm map national

And here is a bit more of a close-up. The green UFO marks the precise location:

basse norm map

As always, the best approach is to take an average of the various French websites. The “Virtual Institute of Cryptozoology”, the “Institut Virtuel de Cryptozoologie”, states that:

“In 1632, about fifteen kilometres to the south of Caen, in the Forest of Cinglais, an animal carried out a reign of terror. Those who survived its attacks described it as a kind of huge mastiff of extraordinary agility and speed. Two historical documents mention the mysterious beast: the “Gazette de France” of March 19th 1632 and the edition of June 17th 1633. The edition of 1632 announces that the predator has already devoured around fifteen people in a month.

Forest rangers have shot at it with their muskets but are unable to cause any injury. The priests are trying to mobilize the inhabitants of the neighbouring parishes but the population is so traumatised that very few volunteers dare to take part in the hunts. The hunters themselves do not want to venture into the woods unless they are in a large group. The 1633 edition of the newspaper announces the killing of an animal at the end of a massive hunt lasting three days, organised by the Count de la Suze, with the participation of between 5,000-6,000 hunters and beaters. The Beast of Cinglais looks like a kind of wolf, but is longer, and more red in colour with a more pointed tail and a wider rump than an ordinary wolf. At least thirty people have now been killed.”

This, conceivably, may be a depiction of the creature:

perhaps cinglais

Interestingly enough, there was a further series of attacks only some fifteen years later in the Forest of Fontainebleau. This is a very similar area to the Forest of Cinglais and is not particularly far away at all:

sous-bois-dans-la-foret-de-fontainebleau

The Fontainebleau story is carried by the same website:

“In 1679, woodcutters were killed and eaten in the Forest of Fontainebleau. Records in the parish of Bois-le-Roi mention several cases of attacks.”

A website which specialises in the ghostly aspects of the beautiful Forest of Fontainebleau also carries a few tales of ancient beasts thought to live there:

“There used to exist around the beginning of the sixteenth century a fabulous animal that spread terror in the Forest of Fontainebleau and its surroundings. All indications are that it was a wolf, but some cried “Werewolf”, or tried to blame a magician who was said to be an expert in the art of shape shifting.”

“And then, around 1660, long before the famous Beast of Gévaudan, there was already talk around this area of the Bête du Gâtinais, the  Beast of Gâtinais, a frightful creature which looked like a monstrous wolf. His greatly exaggerated exploits, murdering children and young girls, used to feed people’s fears. Such stories caused many sleepless nights. It was even said that the Beast used to cross the River Seine to come and steal little children and animals on the far side.”

Even in fairly modern times:

“Towards the end of the nineteenth century, an old woman recounted the story of a great evil beast which lived in the forest and which came out from time to time to attack farm labourers, shepherds and flocks of sheep. The monster had to its credit a whole multitude of atrocities, dead sheep, dogs killed and children who just disappeared. The little girl who set off to gather hazelnuts in the woods, and was never seen again. The young nine year old boy devoured near the village of Nanteuil les Meaux”

The website’s author states that:

“It is quite possible that these three stories all refer to the same species of animal, described at different times in history….With evidence of this type, spread over long periods of time….it is not easy to make sense of things, to separate the mythical and imaginary monster from a mere animal.”

That “mere animal”, of course, is the wolf, considered in the France of bygone years to be guilty of far more serious attacks on humans than, say, the wolves of present day North America or Europe. This is the location of Fontainebleau. Compare this map with the maps for the Beast of Caen/Evreaux/Cinglais”:forest of fontaineblasu

As far as Fontainebleau during the first half of the sixteenth century is concerned, there were certainly many people who thought that nobody should ever go down to the woods. If they did, they would certainly be sure of a really big surprise, one with lots of a fangs and an aggressive attitude that needed quite a lot of adjustment. And yes, there were lots of marvellous things to eat, (in a way) but it was better not to go alone. It’s really lovely down in the woods, but perhaps it is safer to stay at home:

The same fascinating website continues:

“In the reign of King François the First, during the first half of the sixteenth century, a certain Sebastian Rabutin was to rid the country of a terrible lynx which was just as murderous as any of our previous beasts. It too was devastating the same region, devouring in turn both young girls and children. This monster, which appears in a fresco in the ballroom of the Château de Fontainebleau where it is depicted as some kind of hybrid between a wolf and a feline, was so formidable that no one dared confront it . For the record, the “loup-cervier”, in Latin “lupus cervarius”, which means deer wolf, is the common name of the Lynx, a big cat which hunts hares or rabbits, but never deer or men.”

I have not been able to trace the fresco in the ballroom of the château, but there is quite a lot to go at:

salle_bal_00

There is absolutely no way though that any of these French monsters was a lynx, as I have already discussed in a previous blogpost about the Beast of Benais.

Fairly close to both Caen and  Fontainebleau is the beautiful cathedral city of Chartres:

chartres_cathedralxxxxxxxxx

The “Institut Virtuel de Cryptozoologie” reports how:

“At Chartres, in 1581, a young boy was buried at Ver-les-Chartres, killed by a “wild beast”, “une beste sauvage” whose identity we are not at all sure of.”

If this were not a wolf, and a wolf would surely have been recognised, then it may well have been one of the mysterious beasts we have been examining.

But let’s just forget this supporting cast for the moment. Let’s return to “La Bête de Cinglais”. Another interesting blogpost about this fearsome creature comes from Evelyne Achon:

“The Forest of Cinglais is about 15 kilometres to the south of Caen. The “Beast of Cinglais” is also called “The Beast of Evreux” or “The Beast of Caen”. It refers to a man eating animal behind a series of attacks on humans.

The first attack was mentioned in 1632. These attacks are known through articles in contemporary newspaper. The Gazette de France therefore reported on March 19, 1632:

“News from Caen in Normandy. The 10th of March in the year 1632. Since last month in the forest of Cinglais, and then between there and Falaise, people have seen a wild beast that has already devoured fifteen people. Those who have avoided his fangs report that this savage beast is similar to a large mastiff of such a speed that it would be impossible to run and catch him on foot. He is of such extraordinary agility that people have seen him jump right over the river in certain places. Some people call him Thérende. Local residents and forest gamekeepers have shot at him from range with their arquebuses on several occasions, but without wounding him. They do not dare approach him, or even to reveal themselves, until they are organised in a large group, exactly as they will be today when they hear the sound of the alarm bell, to which all the parishioners from all the parishes around have been invited by their village priests, as three thousand people are assembled to carry out the hunt. “

A gigantic beat was organized in June 1633, with the participation of between 5,000 and 6,000 men. An animal was killed, and the attacks ceased.

Here is an old engraving of the Beast. Spaghetti for lunch:

Bete_de_Cinglais_1632

The Gazette de France reported on June 17th the death of the creature as follows:

“This raging mad beast which I wrote about last year as having eaten in two months more than thirty people in this forest was believed by everybody to be a creature of magical properties. But the Count de la Suze, having assembled by the order of our Lieutenant General on the 21st of this month between 5000 to 6000 people, has pursued the creature so keenly that after three days it was killed by a shot from a flintlock musket. It turned out to be some kind of wolf but longer, redder in colour with a pointed tail and a rump wider than normal. “

Here is the Forest of Cinglais:

Foret-cinglais1xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Wikipedia supplies a little information, but seems, perhaps, rather coy:

“This beast was identified as a wolf, but a mystery still remains. It was described as a kind of red wolf with an elongated body and a more pointed tail than a common wolf. It seemed very quick and agile.”

Another old friend, Vampiredarknews knows the details equally well:

“In 1632, this Beast killed fifteen victims in only one month. It struck in Normandy, where those who escaped described it as a great extremely fast and agile mastiff. It then settled in the Forest of Cinglais, about fifteen kilometres south of Caen. It then killed a dozen or so victims before they organized a hunt that lasted three days and brought together more than 5000 people. It was killed on June 23, 1633 by the Count de la Suze.”

One final website makes a very good point:

“It will eventually be described as a wolf, but a great mystery still hangs around this story ; the behaviour and the agility of the creature are in no way anything like that of a wolf.”

In the fullness of time, I will finish this almost interminable list of “Monsters of France” and draw them all together as the same unknown species. This particular creature is a good example. The Forest of Cinglais, the Forest of Fontainebleau and the charming countryside around Orléans are all pretty much the same kind of environment. The looks and behaviour of these beasts are not unique. Other localities have had strange reddish animals, animals with noticeable tails, animals with extreme agility or with great speed or an ability to leap long distances. There must be a link between them all.

I am very struck by the words of Abbé Pierre Pourcher about the Beast of Gévaudan:

“Everybody who saw it said it was not a wolf. Everybody who did not see it said it was.”

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Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Just what WAS the Beast of Gévaudan?

There is no shortage of theories as to the identity of the murderous beast I described recently,  la Bèstia de Gévaudan,which terrorised a whole province of France from 1764-1767, and claimed upwards of a hundred victims, mostly women and young girls. From what I have read, but above all, from what I have watched on “Youtube”,  basically, you will have to make your own  choice.

The creature was, therefore, perhaps a single enormous wolf, or maybe a number of wolves in a single pack, or even a large number of wolves in a number of separate packs.

Less fancifully, it could have been some type of enormous domestic dog, or perhaps even a wolf dog hybrid, perhaps with a red coloured mastiff involved. Its supposed invulnerability to bullets was because it wore the armoured hide of young boar.

It may have been a hyena although this species is thought to have been long extinct in Europe at this time. It has even been suggested that it was not a real animal, but a sex-crazed serial killer who dressed in a fur costume, pretending to be a wolf. In the same vein, it was perhaps a werewolf with a penchant for hunting women and young girls.

An initial, perhaps simplistic approach, is quite simply to look at pictures of the beast, and to compare it with photographs of the most likely candidates, and then to make up your own mind.

Firstly, here are some pictures of the beast itself. You need to bear in mind that they are unlikely to have been drawn directly from a witness descriptions, and that many of them may have been mere copies of the work of other artists. Furthermore, at this time, it was accepted practice to draw animals in a very stylised fashion, rather than in the more accurate zoological one. Because of this, therefore, the head and limbs are often out of proportion, and the body is frequently too large for a small head and legs. In many pictures, the artist sought to portray an unknown animal by reaching into his knowledge of Heraldry…

 

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Here are some photographs of wolves. I have deliberately picked what I consider to be the largest individuals, and to provide illustrations of animals in poses which are hopefully similar to those in the engravings of the beast.

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Here are some photographs of what are usually called wolf dog hybrids. Having looked at a much larger number of them on the Internet, I do feel that most can be dismissed immediately because an ordinary person would think that they were pure bred wolves. They are only noticeably different when crossed with a very distinctive breed of dog.

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Many cryptozoologists favour the hyena. Certainly, a number of the original drawings from the eighteenth century are titled as being “la Bèstia de Gévaudan, the hyena”.  Many of them, even the most wolf-like, have their flanks covered with either stripes or spots.
This picture was allegedly drawn by the killer of the second beast, Jean Chastel.

drawn chastel

Here are some pictures of the striped hyena.

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And here are some pictures of the spotted hyena.

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Basically, you pay your euros, and you take your choice.
As blogposts cannot be of infinite length, let me summarise the fors and againsts of all the possibilities as I see them.

A wolf or wolves?

This is the mot acceptable of a very large number of  explanations. Certainly, the prints found were deemed to be those of a wolf. Monsieur Antoine de Beauterne who was to kill the first animal, the Wolf of Chazes, said that there was « aucune différence avec le pied d’un grand loup » “no difference with the pawprint of a large wolf”

BUT…

Wolves do not normally attack Man. The locals used to kill around 700 wolves every year, so they all knew what a wolf looked like and could defend themselves against them. All the witnesses were adamant that the animal was not a wolf, but an animal that they did not know. That is why it was immediately christened “la bèstia”. Neither can wolves have a white breast and underparts, as a large number of witnesses said in their descriptions and, indeed, as is portrayed in many of the contemporary illustrations. Only a hybrid animal could exhibit this pattern of coloration.

Wolves do not strip the clothes off their victims, neither do they decapitate their prey.

After the Wolf of Chazes was killed, the deaths did not stop.

A rabid wolf?

An animal  diseased in this way would not have been afraid of Man, but it would certainly have died well before the three year period was  up. A number of rabid wolves? Isn’t that possibly stretching the argument a little?

A hyena?

The animal would certainly have been unknown to the inhabitants of the area. Members of the French nobility, however, frequently indulged themselves by importing exotic animals such as lions and tigers into the country, and we know that hyenas were brought into France at this time. So too, hyenas are supposedly relatively easy to train, or at least, easier than you might expect! Whether this would extend to converting them into fearless and ferocious attack animals is a different matter, however.
Hyenas are certainly capable of decapitating their prey. I have been unable to ascertain if they take the clothes off their victims, although I would have thought that they might have needed opposable thumbs for any particularly intricate garments.

BUT…

the second beast to be killed, the Bête de Chastel, did not have enough teeth to be a hyena. This creature was, without doubt, a canid of some description, according to the King’s Notary, Roch Étienne Marin, the man who carried out what appears to be an extraordinarily thorough autopsy. On the other hand, the creature was also examined by the famous Comte de Buffon, an extremely famous scientist and naturalist of the day, whose ideas were to have a great influence on Charles Darwin. Buffon pronounced it to be a very large wolf.

skulls ccccccc

The Striped Hyena, which resembles most closely perhaps, la Bèstia, does not hunt but scavenges. The Spotted Hyena does  hunt for itself, but nobody has ever really mentioned spots as a feature of la Bèstia.
In one of his blogposts, C.R. Rookwood suggests another exotic solution. He suggests that la Bèstia was a  mesonychid, a prehistoric mammal related to present day whales. They were very large predators with huge heads, long tails, and hooves instead of feet. The largest was Andrewsarchus mongoliensis, known only from its skull, minus the jawbone: for this reason, illustrations of its colour are, for the most part, just well informed guesswork. The structure of the animal is based on the other members of the family, whose skeletal structure is better known.

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This animal does fit quite closely the description given by many of the peasants who saw la Bèstia. A few of the reports did mention hooves instead of feet, although the creature may well have been described as having hooves to emphasise its connection with the Devil.

BUT…

How could a gigantic, fierce, flesh eating mammal have survived from a prehistoric era until the eighteenth century, without anybody noticing it?

A human serial killer?

Humans can remove dead people’s clothes. Humans can decapitate their victims. Some bizarre serial killers would enjoy the chance to mask their activities behind the depredations of a very large trained carnivore.

BUT…

All the reports by eye witnesses say that only an animal was involved. This idea of a human serial killer can only be maintained  if mutilated bodies were found and there were no eye witnesses who saw an animal attacking them. Only in the Cantal area, apparently, were these circumstances fulfilled.
Of late, many people have  become increasingly concerned by the involvement of Jean Chastel in this marvellous enigma. Jean, a farmer and inn-keeper in the province of Gévaudan, and his son Jean-Antoine, have come under suspicion because when both of them were imprisoned for a period  because of their aggressive attitude to two of Francois Antoine’s gamekeepers, the number of attacks by the monster diminished noticeably.

chastel 2 ccccccc
It has therefore been put forward that la Bèstia was the result of Jean’s crossing either his own or his son’s red-coloured mastiff with a wolf, and then subsequently training it to kill. Almost all the evidence is perforce circumstantial, but much of it is quite compelling.
The creature may have been, therefore, a particularly  aggressive hybrid, which Jean-Antoine Chastel trained to have no fear of human beings, but instead to attack and to kill them. Witnesses have said that if its attacks were met with strong resistance, la Bèstia would retreat fifty yards or so, then sit and wait, as if sizing up the situation, before finally returning to the fray. This has been  taken to be the behaviour of a trained animal, unafraid of its opponent, rather than a wild one, whose natural instinct in an equal contest would have been to save itself by fleeing. Furthermore, witnesses thought that la Bèstia was driven not by hunger but by its own fury and an innate aggressiveness. It could also be more agile and jump much higher than a normal dog.
According to hunters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, crosses between dogs and wolves were invariably very varied in appearance with dark or light tinges, sometimes marked with yellow or white or striped a little like a zebra. This, of course, agrees with many of the eye witness descriptions of la Bèstia.
Here are some pictures of mastiffs, although it is very difficult to know exactly what they looked like two and a half centuries ago. Nowadays, they simply don’t look particularly fierce….

 

Here is an English Mastiff around 1700.
mastiff 1700 ccccccc

If we are going down the road of wolf-dog hybrids, then I was quite attracted to a long extinct breed of German bulldog, or Bullenbeisser…

Bullenbeisser extinct ccccccccc

On the other hand, others have said that no successful interbreeding of a Mastiff, or Mastiff type dog, has ever been successfully carried out with a wolf, even though such a hybrid might explain the colours noted by many witnesses.
From the summer 1764 to its death in 1767, la Bèstia wandered over vast distances in almost no time whatsoever. Perhaps the two Chastel were conveying their creature around the province by some artificial means…an explanation of the high frequency of attacks spread over a not inconsiderable area.
On many occasions, people reported the apparent invulnerability of the creature when either stabbed or shot at. It has been suggested that it was wearing some kind of body armour made from the skin of a wild boar. Many witnesses told of the creature being shot several times by experienced hunters, and not being affected by it. Other witnesses spoke of its entrails hanging down after it was stabbed. Could this have been the strapping for some kind of home made armour?
When it was killed, la Bèstia died in the parish of La Besseyre Saint Mary, where Jean Chastel and his son lived. Perhaps they felt that they were about to be discovered, so they shot the creature and then manufactured a tale of heroism and religious devotion to snatch a glorious propaganda victory from the jaws of ignominious discovery and defeat.
As to why the two Chastel would want to kill so many of the people in the area where they lived, that remains a matter of pure guesswork. Certainly, Jean Chastel was supposed to have been an unpopular loner, and given his previous record of various episodes of fairly serious criminal behaviour, he may well have been a man who the locals disliked and feared in equal measure.
Perhaps les Chastel, père et fils were rejected and hated by local women and children, and then took their massive revenge on them, like those American teenagers who return to their High School and kill everybody they can. Perhaps they were sexual psychopaths who enjoyed killing and eating women and little girls.

One further detail which may be of significance is that the loud, belligerent and generally anti-social behaviour of the father, Jean Chastel, seems to have changed profoundly from May 16th 1767 onwards. On this date, in the village of Septols, Marie Denty was attacked in a little lane near her house, right under the eyes of her parents, and killed, just before her twelfth birthday. Supposedly, she and Jean Chastel were very close friends and he doted on her like the grand-daughter he never had. Now he was “fou de douleur”, “mad with grief”, and seemed about to lose his sanity. Perhaps, les Chastel and their appalling pet had killed by mistake. Certainly, his ne’er-do-well son, Antoine, seemed suddenly to be released from an evil spell, and he turned straightway to God. Jean spent his time in pure pursuits such as prayer, confession and penitence. For his redemption to be complete, he and he alone had to be the man who finally killed la Bèstia. According to which sources you believe, in best werewolf killer tradition, he made some silver bullets. Or perhaps, he made them from molten lead which had had a statue of the Virgin Mary dipped into it. Or perhaps he made them from the medals of the Virgin Mary which he wore on his hat. Whatever the case, he certainly had them blessed at a religious ceremony.

The manner in which he killed the creature is extremely suspicious, and could very easily be interpreted as a tale told merely to satisfy contemporary religious feelings, and to exonerate a man who is not bravely hunting down a ferocious killer beast, but who is, instead, shooting it through the head in its kennel before the locals find out it is actually his beloved pet, and then string him up from the nearest tree. The following account I have translated from the French Wikipédia

“On June 19th, the Marquis d’Apcher decides to organise a beat around Mont Mouchet in the wood of la Ténazeire. He is accompanied by a few neighbours as volunteers including Jean Chastel reputed to be an excellent hunter. The latter finds himself at a place called la Sogne d’Auvers,  a crossroads where he sees the animal go past. Chastel fires at it, and manages to wound on the shoulder. Quickly the marquis’ dogs arrive to finish off the beast.”
“As regards this rifle shot, Legend has preserved the romanticised words of the priest Pierre Pourcher which he used to say came from tale told by his family, “When the beast came along, Chastel was saying prayers to the Holy Virgin. He recognised it straightaway, but through a feeling of piety and confidence in the Mother of God, he wanted to finish his prayers. Afterwards, he closes his prayerbook, folds his glasses up, puts them in his pocket and takes his rifle. In an instant he kills the beast which had been waiting for him.”

“A week after the destruction of the beast by Jean Chastel,on June 25th, a female wolf which according to several witness accounts used to accompany the beast itself was killed by Sir Jean Terrisse, one of the hunters His Grace de la Tour d’Auvergne.  He received £78 as a reward.”

Perhaps they were acting on behalf of somebody else. The usual favourite is Jean-François-Charles de La Molette, the Count of Morangiès. He may have wanted to destabilise the area, so that he could take over when the revolution inevitably came.  There were others. The Church wanted to teach the King and the members of the  intelligentsia of the time that free thinking is frowned uon by God….

“Return to the Ways of the Lord or face the Hound of Hell”

As I said before, basically, you pay your euros, and you take your choice.

I had just finished my investigations about la Bèstia de Gévaudan, and had made up my own mind that all the devastation could be attributed, without necessarily knowing the real motivation behind it, to Jean Chastel and his son Antoine.
And then I bought “Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America” by Linda S. Godfrey. I was enjoying reading this interesting and innovative book, when I stumbled upon page 93 which was about the Wampus Cat of Ariton in Alabama.

“The man who wrote me was disturbed by unidentifiable animal sounds while camping on his ten acres on the Pea River near Ariton, which lies about half an hour’s drive south of the picturesquely named town of Smut Eye. His normally rambunctious standard poodle refused to leave the safety of his trailer that afternoon, and the man was having a cup of tea at about 5.00 p.m. when he heard loud rustling sounds coming from outside the camper.”
“As he peered out the camper window he noticed a large black furred animal with a doglike face surveying his campsite on all fours. It was bigger than his standard poodle and, he said, “Looks like a cross between an ugly collie and an even uglier lab.” Weirdly, it sported a white chest.”
“The creature ambled nonchalantly through the camp and when it jumped over a fallen tree, the man saw that it had a long, sinuous tail like that of a cougar. He reported the creature to the area game warden who said that while she didn’t know what it was, others have reported seeing it, too!”

You can pursue this interesting hunt for truth a lot further if you have any knowledge of French. There are three exceptionally good videos about la Bèstia which can be found on a tourist website for the Auvergne region. They are well worth your time, and seem to portray this most baffling of stories in a fairly reasonable and sensible way. Un, deux et trois.
If you want to see even more videos about la Bèstia, then go to this website which is the French equivalent of “Youtube”. If you search for “la Bête du Gévaudan”, you will find a huge number of films, varying from 15 or 20 seconds long to an hour or more. On the first page, there are eighteen different videos, a further eighteen on the second page, and any number of pages after that.

Bonne chance! And don’t be put off by having to practice your French!

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