Lizardmania crawling into news, tempers

The National Enquirer has been in town, of course, and "Good Morning America" is supposed to come today.

Lee County Lizardmania is sweeping the nation.

Deluged by out-of-state reporters, sheriff's dispatcher Jean Alexander's normal good nature is being sorely tested as she answers the telephone at the sheriff's office.

"If you're from up North, " she snapped at one caller Thursday, "you ought to have enough sense to know there's nothing to it."

Meanwhile, local folks were scarfing up Lizard Man T-shirts like hotcakes for $6.50, along with copies of "The Lizard Gazette, " featuring reprints of articles from S.C. newspapers, for $1.

And on radio station WAGS, this song, by local resident Steve Corbett, was playing every 30 minutes:

"Well, the Lee County Lizard Man, He's the scaliest creature by far.

He'll slip right up behind you, and eat the chrome right off your car.

So if you go to Scape Ore Swamp, be sure and take your gun;

'Cause if you don't, that Lizard Man will put you on the run."

The midsummer madness began July 15 when sheriff's deputies investigated a report of damage to a Ford LTD belonging to a couple who lived at the swamp's edge. Chrome had had been chewed, and the hood ornament was broken.

"We were concerned that it might be a rabid fox or raccoon, " said sheriff's department records clerk Billy Moore.

About the same time, word came to sheriff's deputies that 17-year-old Chris Davis had been telling his friends for a month about a strange creature that had chased him just outside the swamp while he was changing a tire at 2 a.m.

Questioned by Sheriff Liston Truesdale, Davis said, "It was on two foots; its hands had three fingers... long fingernails.... It was strong, wasn't no animal, no man."

Later, state wildlife biologist Matt Knox also interviewed Davis and concluded that the "creature" was probably a drunk who had jumped up from a muddy ditch.

One local law enforcement source has another theory, though. The owner of a nearby butter bean packing shed had been having problems with people stealing equipment at night.

"I'll just say this, " the source said. "He hasn't missed a damn thing since that boy saw the Lizard Man."

However, a sheriff's deputy and a state trooper reported Sunday finding huge, three-clawed tracks stretching for nearly 400 yards on a dirt road paralleling the swamp.

Bloodhounds from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) failed to find a scent, however, and Wildlife Department experts have ruled the tracks a man- made hoax.

But that hasn't stopped Emil Beckjord, a self-described "cryptozoologist" from Malibu, Calif., from determining by telephone that the tracks are from no other creature than Bigfoot.

Even so, people in Bishopville are taking the Lizard Man talk as a fun way to pass an otherwise quiet, small-town summer.

But where nights are pitch dark and critters howl in Scape Ore Swamp, some folks don't think the Lizard Man is quite so funny.

"From what people tell me 'bout how he tears up cars and stuff, " said Buck Jenkins, "if he's a lot of fun, I don't want to see the fun."

Turning his head in the direction of the shotgun in his one-room cabin at the swamp's edge, Jenkins added, "If he comes 'cross that road, he's gonna meet something besides hello."