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Ever since some wide-eyed Neanderthal stumbled upon the first mammoth, man has been a shivering moth drawn with fascination to a monster's flame. Buried in most of us is the urge to seek out some hairy, two-headed beast—perhaps breathing fire and just waiting to leap forth and pour icy chills down our spines—and then, when the beast turns to flee, on trembling legs to follow. Beautiful. Unfortunately, the Top 10 of Weirdo Creatures has dwindled to a few Abominable Snowmen, several sea serpents in Scotland, a handful of hairy humanoids in Oregon and an occasional huge, undefined blob that washes up on some distant shore. But monster fans need not give up the game, not when the Great Skunk Ape of South Florida is emerging. And never mind if it is a five-foot, skinny-armed, otherwise overweight monster, one apparently racked by mange and smelling like an old garbage dump.
At the moment no one knows from where the skunk ape came; whether it is an overgrown chimp that escaped from an old Tarzan movie set, or an orangutan that fled a bankrupt Wild West show near Fort Lauderdale, or perhaps just a little monkey greatly magnified by imagination.
Homer C. Osbon, an amateur archaeologist, claims he and four others first spotted the odorous beast somewhere in the Everglades some time ago. The five, all members of the Peninsula Archaeological Society, were out exploring ancient ruins, just where they don't care to pinpoint. They have asked for Government funds to capture the beast.
But there have been previous reports. Last year a young man and his girl were enjoying the late-night view while parked a few miles west of Fort Lauderdale. The young man left the car, strolled 100 yards—and was belted unconscious. "I'm almost six feet tall," he later told police, "and the last thing I remember is looking up at this great shadowy thing." Later, an 18-year-old youth also reported spotting a large hairy beast in the general area, and recently Sergeant Harry Rose, a Davies, Fla. policeman, said he had seen a similar beast a long time back but had remained silent lest everyone think he was crazy.
And then two weeks ago Connie Hughes, age six and minus her top front teeth, was sitting on the steps of her family's mobile home in the King's Manor Estates trailer park on State Road 84, a two-lane, high-speed death trap, part of which is called Alligator Alley. The trailer park is bounded to the north and south by thick orange groves, and to the east and west by woods and pastureland. The eastern edge of the park ends at a 30-foot-wide murky canal. The compact collection of 200 mobile homes is roughly nine miles west of Fort Lauderdale in the middle of nowhere.
Except for her 11-year-old brother, Stephen, who was inside the trailer, Connie was alone. It was just a little after six. Connie looked up, saw the beast on all fours near several garbage cans, and screamed. When she screamed the animal stood up, and then she saw a smaller one.
Stephen opened the door and hauled his sister inside. Then he yelled and clapped his hands. The beast and the little one nonchalantly turned and headed south into the underbrush just a few yards away.
"It was bigger than daddy," said Connie. "One was white and one was black."
"One was brown and one was gray with splotches," said Stephen. "And they smelled so bad they made us sick."
Daddy, six-foot Stephen Hughes Sr., told a trailer-park guard, who called the Florida Highway Patrol.