— Holden Kurwicki (@HoldenWHAS11) April 25, 2016
By the time the young couple spotted the locomotive, bearing down the railroad trestle at over 30 miles an hour, they had no choice.
Facing an 8-story drop on either side, with no way to outrun the train to the trestle’s end, the pair’s only hope was to cling to the sides of the tracks. The engineer later told officials, as the Kentucky newspaper the Courier-Journal reports, that he blared his horn and tried to slow down. Though the man on the tracks managed to make the split-second dive to the edge, the train was traveling too fast for his companion — there simply wasn’t enough time.
The train fatally struck Roquel Bain, a 26-year-old from Dayton, Ohio. She fell, some 100 feet to the ground.
Bain and her boyfriend, whose name has not yet been released by authorities, had traveled to Kentucky for an innocent bit of thrill-seeking — a tour of Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a former tuberculosis clinic turned haunted house. While in Louisville, they caught wind of another occult story, one which they decided to investigate in the twilight hours before their tour: the Pope Lick Monster.
Also known as the Goatman or the Sheepman, the Pope Lick Monster isn’t an icon of North American cryptozoology, lacking the national recognition of furry giants Bigfoot and Sasquatch. Still, within the confines of the woods surrounding Louisville, the creature has accumulated a rich history of lore and legend.
The monster’s origin stories are as varied as its name. To hear the Sierra Club tell it, the Pope Lick Monster was “exhibited as a circus freak in the late 19th century, escaping captivity when lightning struck the circus train and left him the lone survivor.” In 2014, local historian David Domine described the creature as something born out of a deal with the devil. He told Louisville’s WAVE news that: “The goat man arose as a tale of a local farmer back in the day. Tortured a herd of goats for Satan and signed a contract with him and forfeited his soul.” Domine depicts a muscular being that’s “part goat maybe even part sheep.”
In every telling, the Goatman remains fiercely attached to the trestle over Pope Lick Creek. “The Sheepman is something only told around here; it’s been around at least three generations,” filmmaker Ron Schildknecht told Louisville paper The New Voice in 1990. Schildknecht created a 16-minute short, “The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster,” that appears to come straight from the yarns a young Kentuckian might spin to impress a date — a part-sheep satyr that can hypnotize its victims, leaving them helpless in front of oncoming trains.
To a certain kind of young adventurer, the legend of the Pope Lick Monster is irresistible. Denise Harris, a Louisville local, said her nieces and nephews have climbed the trestle looking for the folkloric beast. “The Goatman, when they climb up on the trestles and they cross it,” as she told WAVE 3, “he’s supposed to come out,”
And though the trestle is old — it dates back to the 1800s — it’s still very much in use. When Schildknecht’s film debuted in December 1988, representatives for the Norfolk Southern train company feared it would erode the safety efforts in place to keep people off of the trestle.
Despite the warning signs and a tall fence that surrounds the trestle, Pope Creek has had several accidents and deaths, some possibly related to looking for the Goatman. Bain was pronounced dead at the scene, reports the Associated Press, with the coroner citing blunt trauma from the train strike and fall.
The incident has left the local community shaken. “I cried and I’m very upset over it,” Tina Mattingly, the owner of the haunted sanatorium Waverly Hills, in an interview with WHAS11. “I really wish it just hadn’t happened. It’s just not worth it.”
“It’s just so sad — a very pretty young girl who had her life in front of her,” deputy coroner Jack Arnold told the Courier-Journal. Her death, he said, is the first to be explicitly tied to the Goatman legend.
On the Waverly Hills Facebook page, a note posted late April 24 warns that all visiting ghost enthusiasts need to “follow local laws, danger warnings and no trespassing signs.” The Louisville police will not charge Bain’s boyfriend with trespassing, though simply climbing to the trestle itself is illegal, as the areas surrounding the tracks are private property.
For the Goatman, this satyr holds the tragic distinction of being one of the most dangerous mythical animals in North America.