It was over 40 years ago that the Outer Cape added itself to the list of homes to cryp-tids, mysterious creatures such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Jersey Devil, and … the “Pamet Puma.”
Also known as the “Truro Beast,” the mythical mountain lion was thought to be roaming the dunes and pine woods of the remote town during late 1981 and early 1982, all while allegedly mauling various mammals and raising the fear levels of residents.
A Truro couple spotted the creature along the Head of Meadow trail in September 1981. This was followed by pigs being mysteriously slaughtered, and cats and other animals disappearing without a trace. Then a Truro police officer spotted the “beast” late one night while on patrol.
As the reports increased, the world’s eyes turned to Truro, awaiting some sort of physical evidence of the creature.
And then it turned up, in an unconvincing sort of way, in the pages of the Feb. 5, 1982 edition of The Cape Codder.
As reporter Nicholas DiGiovanni wrote in the story, “Puzzling Polaroid of Big Cat Keeps The Fur Flying in Truro”:
“It may be the end-product of an elaborate hoax. Catscam, if you will.
“Or Truro’s elusive ‘big cat’ may have been captured on film by an anonymous photographer who mailed a Polaroid color snapshot to The Cape Codder.”
The photographer wrote in a letter, which had no signature or return address: “Last night, I heard something at the garbage cans. I looked out and expected raccoons, which I see lots of in the winter. Like other people around here, I read the things in your paper about a big cat and didn’t believe them — that’s why I could not believe what I saw.
“I’m no great picture-taker, but I did get this picture before the flash made it go away. I am not giving my name and address because people will think I’m crazy.”
That was usually the diagnosis given to anyone who thought that they saw the “Pamet Puma.”
“The actions of the photographer himself raise some doubts,” DiGiovanni opined. “Truro residents who say they have seen a mountain lion have said they were reluctant to report the sightings ‘because people would think we were crazy.’ If someone saw a mountain lion going through trash cans, wouldn’t he stay in the house? Wouldn’t he call the police? Why would he be afraid of ridicule when he had photographic evidence of the sighting?”
SPOTTED ON A SEPTEMBER STROLL
The first sighting of the mysterious cat came from William and Marsha Medeiros of North Truro in late September 1981.
“They said they stood and watched the animal for close to a half hour and it ignored them,” DiGiovanni reported. “When it finally turned to look at them, they said, the big cat didn’t run away, but instead slinked slowly into the woods.”
“The thing stood still, and we froze,” Marsha Medeiros said. “We kept looking at it. We had a perfect view. It was so big. It stood about two feet high, about up to our knees. From looking at it, my husband guessed it was about 60 to 80 pounds. It was all brown in color and it had long, rope-like tail, like a cat.
“Then it must have heard us, and it started moving. It started slinking away slowly, like a cat. Then it looked back at us and we saw its face. It had a very definite cat face, with a small head, small ears, and whiskers.”
“When we got home, we went through all our books and encyclopedias. And the only thing we saw that looked like what we saw was a mountain lion.”
More mysterious reports began to emerge. In early November, Truro dog officer Mark Peters received a call from two people who had been walking along Head of the Meadow bike trail, They had encountered a pile of dead and mutilated cats. In November, North Truro accountant Joe Taves thought the beast attacked one of the horses. In late December, William Waters of Brooklyn said he saw a big cat off South Highland Road. This was one day before any press reports came out about the animal.
On Dec. 16, police officer David Costa found one his pigs mutilated in his barnyard.
“People are going to think I’m crazy, but I think it’s some kind of big cat,” Costa said, contradicting the evaluations of local officials who suspected wild dog attacks. “There’s no way a dog could have done that.”
By February, Cape Cod National Seashore officials, who had been urged by Truro Selectman Edwin Oswalt to launch a full investigation, still weren’t convinced. They remained skeptical even after Truro police officer Rodney Allen sighted what appeared to be a mountain lion while on patrol off Pamet Point Road. According to the Codder, Allen reported the animal was “approximately 2-1/2 feet in height, 3 to 3-1/2 feet long, with a short muzzle and a tail approximately 2/1-2 feet long.” He said that the animal was noticeably “thin” and was “tan in color with dark highlights.”
Allen said he switched on his roof spotlight instantly. “The animal froze for a second or two and turned its head. It then dropped over the edge of the banking (to Allen’s left) out of sight.”
Seashore ranger Vern Hurt dismissed the lion claims. “(Allen) saw something, but it was not a mountain lion,” he said. “It’s like fishing, the one that got away is always bigger than it really was.”
THE POLAROID PUMA
In late January, the photo that everyone had been waiting for — or so they thought — arrived at the Codder office. The darkroom technician cleaned it up the Polaroid photograph as best he could.
While some thought the earlier reports of the mountain lion might have some elements of truth, the Polaroid didn’t do much to make believers out of the Pamet Puma’s doubters.
“We feel this a hoax,” said Louis Schlotterbeck, deputy director of the state’s Fisheries and Game office. “The one thing we don’t know how to cope with is that description by that couple in North Truro. But my immediate reaction when I saw that picture was that it was a mounted animal.”
Eastham taxidermists Charles Lada and Vytautas Montvila also weren’t convinced. Lada believed the cat in the photo was a stuffed mount, while Montvila was, according to the Codder, “convinced the picture is the end-result of an elaborate ruse.”
Also adding fuel to the hoax theory was that the few owners of stuffed mountain lions on the Outer Cape mouthed off about possibly staging a hoax, but investigations quickly went nowhere. Reports of any sightings also faded.
Reports and rumors of mountain lions, which haven’t been seen in Massachusetts for over a century and a half, surface occasionally. Provincetown was also home to a small zoo on Shankpainter Road as late as the 1970s, but former owner Nancy Dutra confirmed to the Codder that their mountain lions had been sold many years earlier to a zoo in Waco, Texas, and to Aqua-World in South Yarmouth.
Accompanying the Codder’s Feb. 5, 1982 report on the cat’s photograph was a statement from the paper’s editors:
“We print the picture of what is claimed to be the big cat that has been getting so much attention in Truro with a healthy amount of skepticism, and largely because we have been unable to prove it a hoax. We suspect someone is pulling a trick on us, but we can’t prove it. If it is a trick, we admire the skill with which it was done, so skillfully that we are forced, willy-nilly, to go along. It’s enough to make us enjoy being taken.”
First published in The Cape Codder, April 2021.