The Washington Times-Herald

November 5, 2013

The French Werewolf of 1764

The Washington Times-Herald

---- — In several past columns I have featured some of the strange creatures that may or may not roam various areas of the world. There is one that in the past created a panic in France in the 1760s. This was a large wolf-like animal that killed a number of people and became known as the Beast of Gevaudon.

It all began in 1764 when the peasants living in the Le Gevaudon region of south central France reported what they claimed to be a “loupe garou” or werewolf that began to attack people.

It was said to be larger than a wolf with a large head and mouth to match full of large, sharp teeth. As people began to be killed and eaten, many of whom were children that were out tending sheep, panic soon occurred. The word spread that while it had been shot at several times, it could not be killed and must be a feared “loupe garou.”

Eventually it got so bad that King Louis XV of France sent a troop of cavalry to Le Gevaudon to see if they could track down and kill this terrible beast. The soldiers saw and shot at it several times, but failed to kill this animal even though they claimed to have hit it a number of times.

A huge reward was placed on this creature and this lured many hunters out into the countryside to kill the beast. Several claimed they had shot it, but had not been able to kill it, and the killings continued.

Several wolves were killed, but the attacks continued. This story became an international sensation and one English paper even went so far so to say it could be a new species unknown to science.

Finally a hunter, Jean Chastel, using a silver bullet did kill a strange looking creature. When its stomach was cut open the remains of a child was found sequestered inside.

The killing did stop, but not until over 60 people had been killed, a large total for any animal to have attacked and killed. As can be expected, the animal’s death caused great jubilation and the remains of the creature was on display for several weeks before what was left of it was sent to the king. By the time it reached King Louis it was in such bad condition that it was soon destroyed. However, some of its hair was saved and put in a museum.

Now the story really becomes strange. later examination of the hair by some zoologist said the hair was that of a striped hyena and not found on a wolf. So was it really a hyena, not native to France, instead of a wolf that was native to that section of Europe?

The story now becomes even more puzzling. In 1997 Franz Jullien, a taxidermist at the Museum of Natural History, found that a stuffed animal that had been displayed at the Paris museum and said to resemble the “beast,” and was indeed a striped hyena. Checking further, Jullien found that the Chastel family, remember the hunter that said he killed the creature, was Jean Chastel, the son of Antoine Chastel that had a menagerie that did contain a hyena.

So did the Chastel hyena escape and become a killer or did Jean Chastel kill the hyena to claim the reward that had been placed on the head of the Beast of Gevaudon.

To add to the mystery, the Chastel family was said to have some rather unusual members and could one of them have become a serial killer, and it was him who that killed and ate the victims and the blame placed on wolves or the hyena?

We will now never know, but it does add a new twist to the already gruesome legend of the Beast of Gevaudon.

What do you think? Was it really a rogue wolf, an escaped hyena or a schizophrenic human killer?