Mark Shackleman arrived at St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children a little before midnight. He carried his flashlight on his belt. As the night watchmen for the school, he walked these grounds every night. The school was located inside a former Franciscan convent outside Jefferson, and the grounds covered several old buildings, an orchard, and wide, open fields where several old Native American burial mounds had been preserved.
The year was 1936. Shackleman was in his thirties, a husband and father, working the uneventful job for a paycheck to support his family. In rural Jefferson, there wasn’t much to worry about, save the possibility of a burglar or some teenagers playing a prank.
That night, Shackleman was crossing the fields, when he saw a shadow. He squinted to see what it was. A hunched form was on all fours, digging into one of the mounds. From the canine way it dug, it could have been a dog or maybe a wolf, but even from far away, Shackleman could see that the thing was far too big for that.
Suddenly, it looked at him, and then it stood up. The sleek, hairy body unfurled to over six feet tall. It had a shaggy canine face, but beneath the thick fur, the muscular body of a man. A low growl echoed across the field.
He smelled rotting meat.
His heart beating fast, trying to control his breath, Shackleman stepped back. With sudden violence, the thing turned and ran off into the trees and was gone.
The next night, Shackleman returned to St. Coletta for his usual rounds. As he walked the fields, he saw the shadow again, digging into the same mound as the night before. This time, he gripped his flashlight tight, ready to run or swing if need be.
Again, it stood up, but this time it opened its mouth. Shackleman saw fangs hanging down from its teeth, and its lips pulled back in a snarl.
It growled at him, its speech half-human and half-beast.
He didn’t move, and again the creature turned and left. He never saw it again, but the horrendous growl, the way it seemed to speak to him, stuck in his mind for years afterward.
This legend is the first reported sighting of the creature that would eventually become known as the Beast of Bray Road. Sightings became prevalent in the ’80s and ’90s, particularly centralized around Elkhorn.
One woman reported the beast attempting to break into her home and later injuring one of her horses, leaving a gash across its back. She claimed the footprints it left behind were over twelve inches long. A woman spotted it crossing the road in front of her car. Another driver saw it crouched on the side of the road, eating an animal. One young girl reported the beast chasing her through the forest.
In 1999, an 18-year-old girl was driving down Bray Road near Delevan, when she says her right tire hit something, lifting it up off the ground. She stopped and got out to see what she had run over, but there was nothing there. She looked to the side of the road and saw a massive wolfish form standing on two legs. She rushed back into the car, and as she peeled away, the beast leapt onto her trunk, but slid off in the slick rain and she sped home.
When she came forward with her story, many of the other sightings were reported as well, prompting both further investigation and fresh skepticism and mockery.
These sightings prompted the The Week, a Walworth County weekly paper, to send Linda Godfrey to investigate and compile stories. While initially skeptical, Godfrey says she came to believe the sincerity of the witnesses who spoke to her.
On her website, Godfrey writes, “There is a high probability that everyone is not always seeing the same thing. There could be a biological, physical animal seen by some while others see phantoms or supernatural entities from a variety of sources. A few may be misidentifications or hoaxes.”
In 2003, Godfrey wrote The Beast of Bray Road: Tailing Wisconsin’s Werewolf which recounts in depth what she learned speaking to the many witnesses in and around Elkhorn who report interactions with the beast.
Sighting of the beast have slowed down considerably since the ’90s, although one or another still crops up on occasion. The veracity of any of these claims remains a cause for speculation, but for now, we’ll leave you with a quote from one of the masters of the strange and terrifying, H.P. Lovecraft.
“There are horrors beyond life’s edge that we do not suspect, and once in a while man’s evil prying calls them just within our range.”