Black panther witness sets the record straight aft|Mark North|darkdorset@hotmail.com|10/04/05 at 10:45:40|Mark_North|xx|0|86.131.102.41|Black panther witness sets the record straight after 50 years

By DAVE CLARKE

The girl who saw the black panther near the Spoon River bridge north
of Osceola while going to get the mail 50 years ago sent us a letter
this week to tell her side of the story.

Our recounting of the Aug. 9, 1955 incident in "Around Town" on Aug.
10, 2005, prompted Pat Loucks Azevedo, now 62 and living in
Henderson, Nev., to write us about a day she vividly remembers.

"I am the girl in the article named Patty Loucks. I was 12 years old
at the time -- not 11 (as the 1955 story states) and no one called
me 'Patty' except the skeptical Star Courier reporter who wrote the
original item and was, as you quoted Blaine Reed, 'making light of
what the girl claimed she saw.'"

We had called Blaine, an old friend of my dad's, who lived north of
Osceola at the time, to check on the exact location of the bridge
were Pat -- or Patricia, as she was also called -- claimed to have
seen the black panther, not native to this area. Reed, it turns out,
was one of the hunters who came out the next day to track down the
cat and was on the bridge when the reporter was getting his story
from the girl and her father, Henry.

The family lived on the farm at the top of a hill just west of the
bridge.

"Yes, there really was a black panther," Pat wrote to anyone out
there who might still question what she claims to have seen. "I saw
it with my own eyes more than 50 years ago and it has remained clear
in my mind for all these years." She said her 89-year-old mother,
Margaret Loucks, now living in Brookfield, Mo., also remembers it
well.

"I remember walking down the road toward the bridge and the corner
were the mailbox was was located. Being an avid reader even at that
age, I was walking with a book in my hand and my eyes on the pages. I
heard a noise and thought it was a car coming along the road in front
of me.

"No car was there nor was there any vehicle traveling the rutted dirt
road behind me. The second time I heard the noise I looked up again
and that's when I saw the cat, black and large, ambling across the
bridge.

"I knew what a panther looked like and this was most certainly one. I
froze. The cat turned toward me and took a step or two in my
direction.

That was when I was making the decision to run home or throw rocks. I
knew if the cat came toward me I could not outrun it and throwing
rocks might scare it away. After a few seconds, the cat apparently
lost interest in me and continued across the bridge and down into the
high grass and weeds.

"I backed up slowly until I was sure the panther wasn't paying me any
attention, then turned and ran."

Mrs. Azevedo said her grandmother, the late Mary Roberts, was in the
yard hanging up laundry on the clothesline and she shouted to her
that there was a panther down there and pointed to the corner. Since
the house sat on a hill, Mrs. Roberts was able to see the animal
moving through the grass. "My mother came out of the house at this
time and she saw it too. After a few minutes it disappeared from
sight down into the river bed. I never saw it again," said Mrs.
Azevedo.

Pat directed us to a subsequent article which ran on the front page
of the Star Courier on Saturday, Sept. 3, 1955, telling how farmer
Bert Berry of Osceola had fired at the animal the day before, saw it
flip over three times, and then lope away. He said the animal was not
a dog and had a long tail.

Once again, hunters were called out and another front page photo
showed about 20 of them gathered around Henry County Conservation
Officer Kenneth Andris who had been called to the area north of
Osceola to lead the search following Berry's encounter.

An airplane was also pressed into service as concerns grew that if
the animal was wounded it might pose a greater danger.

It so happens that the late Bert Berry was an uncle of present-day
Star Courier reporter Mike Berry. "Uncle Bert lived about a mile from
what became known as 'Panther Lane,' said Mike, "but he never
mentioned shooting the panter."

New accounts reported several sightings of the elusive animal in the
Osceola and Bradford area, and since the column ran last month,
several people have told me they remember hearing a "screaming"
sound, which is supposedly how a panther sounds, in the Osceola area
in the late summer of '55.

Over the years the panther stories continued to be looked upon with
skepticism by many people who thought they were the product of active
imaginations and rumor-turned-legend. Some will tell you there never
was or has been a black panther in these parts. Skeptics said the
Osceola panther was just a big, black dog, or an animal which had
escaped from a circus.

All that changed somewhat, however, a few weeks ago, when a bobcat --
a cousin of the panther also not supposed to be found around here,
was struck and killed by a car in broad daylight on Route 17 just
east of Toulon, an urban area such nocturnal animals are said to
avoid.

Thank you, Patricia Loucks Azevedo for sharing what must have been
the scariest day of your life and giving us a firsthand proof that 50
years ago there really was a black panther roaming the woods and
weeds along the Spoon River around Osceola that is still talked about
today.

You just never can tell what's out there.

The Star Courier 4/10/05
http://www.starcourier.com/articles/2005/10/03/local_news/local5.txt||