Prepare to have your spine tingled.
Winter, 1981. The headless, skinned bodies of two bears are found by the River Lea. Police suspect that local circuses have been feuding. Or that these circus bears died in suspicious circumstances and have been dumped.
“Bloody clowns”, tuts Inspector Rogers, turning away from the corpses, tears in his eyes. “When will the madness end?”
The bodies are taken away for examination. The police consider it an isolated incident. No more is said.
Weeks later, on the 27th of December, four boys leave their homes to play on the snow. In this weather, the Hackney marsh playing fields becomes an irresistible plateau of bright white possibility. They build snowmen. They throw snowballs. They do what young boys do. And when they find a mysterious set of footprints they follow, wondering what could possibly make such huge impressions.
Little Tommy Murray, 13, is walking a little ahead of his friends when he comes upon something. At first glance it’s a dog. But this thing is gigantic. It turns and rears up at him, growling, all teeth and claws. Tommy screams. His friends’ jaws open in disbelief.
The boys run screaming through the snow and don’t stop until they reach home. The police are called. They pile onto the marsh with teams of sniffer dogs. Helicopters buzz through the skies. Marksmen load up. But nothing is found.
The boys describe what they saw as a ‘giant great growling hairy thing’. The Inspector doesn’t say it, but it flits though his mind, that this is some kind of Freudian interpretation of an encounter with a flasher. That the boys are suppressing an awful truth about which they daren’t speak. But it’s not something he brings up. He once suggested a rape victim’s claim was in fact a Jungian journey into her own psyche, and was suspended for three months.
He reads too much. He drinks too much. All this talk of bears is getting to him.
This leaves just one remaining theory, which he writes in red pen on his ‘Theory Board’: that this is a hoax. That the boys saw someone dressed as a bear. Possibly someone dressed in the skin of one of the dead bears. Wearing the head like a hat, perhaps.
Later, a man called Ron tells The Sun that he’s the bear. He got the idea of dressing up as one when the dead bear story hit the local news. But this doesn’t quell the rumours. In many minds, the bear exists. And he’s still out there, feeding off birds and foxes. Waiting for tasty boys to devour.
The Sabre Toothed Tiger and the Crocodile
There are no further beast sightings for a while. Rumours circulate that an ancient Sabre Tooth Tiger is living on the marsh. Eye witnesses estimate that it’s four foot tall at least. It’s not known whether the same people who believe in this tiger also believe in the bear. Hopes are raised for a epic battle between the two creatures.
It never happens.
Instead something stranger and more deadly stalks the valley.
In 2006, ecologist Annie Chipchase is on a Leyton stretch of the Lea with a group of local trust staff. It’s a beautiful day. The water laps against the bow. Birds chirp in the trees. A Canada goose drifts past the boat. Suddenly – splosh – the goose is dragged beneath the surface. The group wait for her to reappear. Baited breath. Nothing.
The goose is gone. It’s murder.
On closer inspection, large holes are found in the banks of the river. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that this is the work of a crocodile. There can be no other explanation. Well, there are some other explanations. These include: alligator, dinosaur, underwater bear or man dressed as bear; goose suicide.
Journalists from The Guardian pop down to take a look. The Guardian are renowned for their crocodile hunting acumen. Surprisingly, they find nothing. They pull some strings and draft in a TV expert called Mark O’Shea. He suggests that the culprit could be a discarded pet Caiman. But that it’s “more likely to be a large pike”.
The policeman on the case gets out the trusty theory board. At the moment the board looks like this:
- Crocodile (is this likely?)
- No other theory.
He changes the board to this:
Crocodile (is this likely?)
- Fish (large – Perch? Pike?)
- Caiman (not likely)
This dramatic switch in the suspect list doesn’t stop the Evening Standard issuing this warning about the Lee Valley nature reserve:
“In seven years, it will provide the landscaped parkland background to London’s Olympic village. That is, if the giant crocodile said to be lurking in its waters does not eat the builders.”
In the last six years nothing more has been seen, but story resurfaces from time to time. Usually because people like me put it on their blogs. If you’ve seen any of these beasts or have any further information, then please let me know.
For god’s sake let ALL of us know.