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Woman Dies Searching for Legendary Monster

A woman was killed while seeking a legendary monster in Kentucky, revealing the dangers of legend-tripping. Continue reading →

A young woman was killed last week outside of Louisville, Ky., when she and her boyfriend were walking along elevated train tracks in search of a monster reputed to dwell there.

The couple, both from Ohio, were searching for a beast called the Pope Lick monster. Roquel Bain, 26, and her boyfriend were on the tracks when a train arrived; the conductor saw them, sounded the horn and applied the brakes but it was too late. Bain's boyfriend survived by dangling off the bridge but she was hit and dragged, soon dying at the scene.

According to a news story in The Courier Journal:

"The boyfriend told officials he and Bain came to town from Dayton for a paranormal tour scheduled from 10 p.m. to midnight Saturday. Brandon Barnes, a security guard at Waverly Hills Sanatorium, said Bain had purchased two tickets online for $25 each for Saturday night's guided tour, which was attended by 45 ghost hunters. Bain and her boyfriend decided to spend time beforehand hunting for the Pope Lick monster, the subject of an urban legend and popularized on videos on Youtube and other social media sites and in a movie."

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The Pope Lick monster is said to be part human, part goat, and part sheep. It's one of many part-human monsters of regional lore across the country including the Maryland Goat-Man and the Donkey Lady said to haunt a bridge outside of San Antonio, Texas. This tragedy is not the first time that deaths have occurred at that bridge. Researcher Loren Coleman, author of "The Copycat Effect," notes on his blog that "The nickname of the site is the ‘Trestle of Death,' and this appears to be linked to deaths from 1986 and 1987."

Though ghost- and monster-hunting is depicted on television shows as harmless - if fruitless - fun, the dangers are real even if the subject of the searches aren't. No one searching for Bigfoot, the chupacabra, or the Loch Ness monster has ever been injured or killed by one, just as generations of girls have bravely summoned the legendary mirror-dwelling ghost/witch Bloody Mary without serious incident.

Deaths and serious injuries are not common, but they do happen. In 2006, for example, an Ohio girl was shot while exploring legends about a haunted house near a cemetery. She and a friend were trespassing, and she was critically wounded when the homeowner mistook them for vandals.

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In an incident eerily similar to the Pope Lick death, a man in neighboring North Carolina was hit by a train while on the tracks at a rural bridge. The man was part of a ghost hunting group who hoped to see the ghost of a train rumored to appear on the anniversary of an accident. Instead of a spectral train, a real one appeared from around a bend and killed one man who couldn't get out of the way in time.

Other times tragedy occurs not because of any legend that the victim believes but instead what others believe. The most famous example of this occurred in 2014 when two Wisconsin girls, both 12, stabbed their friend nearly to death in an effort to prove their devotion to a fictional character named Slenderman. The girls planned the killing for months and lured their friend into a wooded area where one girl allegedly held the victim down while the other stabbed her 19 times. The girls are set to go on trial in July.

Unfortunately Roquel Bain's death will inevitably become part of the Pope Lick monster legend, whether she believed in it, and whether the creature is real. Legends of vanishing hitchhikers and hook-handed escaped serial killers can make for spooky fun around a campfire, but those who seek real-life thrills should be careful. No one should lose their life over a rumor or legend, and the death of Bain and others is neither spooky nor funny, but tragic and preventable.

We all enjoy a tall tale. Cultures with seafaring traditions are especially ripe in what seem like the tallest sea monster tales of all: hydra, kraken, sirens, scylla, leviathans, assorted serpents and mermaids. Usually the stories are never confirmed and deemed baseless. Then again, some of the tales are based on something. With our skeptical hats on, let's have a look at sea monsters both real and fanciful. We begin with a story that went viral just this week, about a supposed monster that revealed itself during a swim in the Thames River. A

Nessie-like

bump in the water, filmed from overhead, started it all. But you'll have to judge for yourself: Real or fake? Watch the video and read

Ben Radford's take

on the tale.

'Thames Monster' Video: Hoax Or Mammal?

In keeping with our subject of monsters of the deep, we also learned this week that at least

some whales

really can, and will, use their heads for ramming -- just as the fictional Moby Dick did, in the Herman Melville classic of the same name. Did whales perfect the head-butt long before people started banging heads?

Real Moby Dick: Some Whales Ram With Their Heads

Sea monsters are truly global, of course. This one from Japan serves as the villain for the classic maiden in distress, who awaits rescue by her hero. The poor monsters are almost always cast as the bad guys. And so they usually end hacked to pieces; fish food. But is there any truth behind these sea serpent tales?

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Maybe it's the oarfish. It looks too monstrous to be true. It can grow many meters long, has strikingly bright silver scales, scarlet fins and some ornate headgear that more than explains why some call it a roosterfish. If only it were a reptile, it'd be a true sea serpent. Alas. It is a fish. A very weird and beautiful fish, but still a fish.

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There are also other, newfound "sea serpents" our sea-going ancestors never imagined. This one was spotted by a satellite coiling off the south coast of Japan's Hokkaido island. What do we know about it? 1) It's arguably one of the largest organisms on Earth, 2) It swallows ships, engulfs islands and generally does what it wants, and 3) We're darned lucky it's made of plankton.

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Research into such massive blooms and the individual plankton cells that comprise them has revealed surprising cooperation among the microorganisms. They appear to operate like more than just floating individual cells. They live and die for the greater good, it seems. So they may be, in fact, a gigantic watery superorganism. Now that's a cool monster for you: You can swim in it and never know you've been in the belly of a beast.

VIDEO: Why Squid Are Terror Monsters Of The Sea

Mermaids and mermen have always been the stuff of fantasy. Where did the fantasies come from? There are some standard answers to this question, which have always seemed rather inadequate. For instance ... (next slide, if you please) ...

Mermaids Exist! And They Are Seismically Sensitive

The manatee has often been called the source of mermaid myths. It's a mammal, so it breathes air. But who would ever mistake a manatee for a sleek and beautiful mermaid? Could it be love-starved sailors with poor eyesight? There was no shortage of these fellows in the days before optometrists.

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Another possibility is that merfolk were inspired by fish with roughly human-looking faces, like this fellow. Some fish can look humanoid. That would be enough to get superstitious sailors started.

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How about giant, ship-destroying squid and octopi? These monsters were old hat even to the easily freaked-out. Most folks figured they were historical exaggerations. That's until some very large and unusual squids started washing up or being hauled in by marine biologists in recent years. Colossal squid are meters long, pretty amazing beasts. Still, they have never been known to lift ships out of the water. And since were on the topic of squids ...

Giant Squid Photos

Do you remember when this one hit the headlines? It's not so gigantic, at four meters long, but it was observed 3,380 meters down in the Pacific Ocean near Oahu. It's pretty big to have gone unseen before its May 2001 discovery. So what else is out there? It's pretty clear marine biologists have only just begun discovering what lives in the deep sea. The more time they spend searching, the more they will find. But none would dispute that the nastiest sea monster to ever rise out of the sea is ... (drum roll please) ...

You might have guessed it: Human garbage. Yep. It's the ugliest, most alien-looking, fatal and pervasive monster in the seas. Garbage patches have been getting a lot of attention lately. These are areas on the seas where currents and winds tend to concentrate floating garbage.

Life On The Ocean Floor Garbage Patch: Photos