The small town of Churubusco, Indiana, located about 15 miles north of Fort Wayne, became an official town in 1847 and currently boasts a population of roughly 1800 people, and for nearly 60 years has been the home of the legendary Beast of Busco. Despites its fearsome name, a quick jaunt around Churubusco will soon reveal that the Beast of Busco was actually a turtle, but not your average run of the mill turtle, reports claimed the Beast of Busco’s shell was as big as the top of a car, its neck the size of a stove pipe and a head the size of a child’s.
The Beast of Busco’s legend began in July 1948 when two men from Churubusco, Ora Blue and Charley Wilson, went fishing in Fulk Lake on the property of Gale Harris. When the two were done fishing they told Harris about a giant turtle they had seen in the lake. Based on a conversation with Ora Blue, Churubusco resident and turtle expert Rusty Reed determined this original report to be a hoax. Mr. Reed also noted that Charley Wilson was known to tell tall tales, so when the local newspaper reported the sighting of a giant turtle on Mr. Harris’ farm the two fishermen enjoyed a good laugh. This is where the Legend of the Beast of Busco would have ended, except now Harris, known for believing anything, claimed to have seen the giant turtle himself.
In the first few days of March, 1949, Harris claimed to have seen the giant turtle again, this time he was persuaded by some townspeople to try and capture the beast, and according to newspaper reports Harris just about did on the first day. A trap of stakes and chicken wire trapped the beast in about 10 feet of water; there was even a video, now lost of course, which appeared to show the creature swimming just below the surface. But no legend worth the status is captured so easily and thus the Beast of Busco made its escape.
On March 7th, the Columbus City newspaper reported on the search for the beast, and the next day reporters from Fort Wayne showed up, including a young reporter from the United Press International who sent the story across the wire. The timing of this story could not be more perfect, with America between wars people where ready for a happy story, and on March 9th newspapers across the nation ran the reports of this giant turtle. The Fort Wayne newspapers, more intent on poking fun at the story, jokingly named the creature Oscar, perhaps after Oscar Folk the original owner of Folk Lake, and also coined the name, Beast of Busco. Harris felt that his reputation was being questioned and began a personal quest to capture the turtle.
On March 12th more than 200 people traveled to Harris’ farm to watch the search, the following day bumper to bumper traffic crowded the town of Churubusco on the route to Harris’ farm while airplanes buzzed over head, all hoping to get a glimpse of the creature now known as Oscar. By March 14th 3,000 people trampled across Harris’ property, it soon became a media circus and almost impossible to tell fact from fiction as reporters began to just make things up.
Harris and local garage mechanic Kenneth Leitch began to develop numerous ingenious traps in their continuing efforts to capture the beast. Harris even reportedly created a type of periscope that allowed him to see down into the murky water in an attempt to catch sight of Oscar. On March 18th, Harris some how obtained a complete dive suit, and Woodrow Rigsby was quick to attempt to walk the bottom of the lake, but the helmet began to leak and Rigsby called off the search. Another diver, Walter Johnson, reportedly spent 2 ½ hours in the lake before giving up because he kept sinking chest deep in the muck covered lake bottom.
In April it appeared the hunt was finally over when two Indianapolis men claimed to have captured the Beast of Busco; however it didn’t take long for people to discover that what they had was a sea turtle, purchased in an attempt to cash in on the Oscar frenzy. This sea turtle however gave someone an idea though, and it wasn’t long before a female sea turtle was brought to the lake in a fruitless attempt to lure the beast out of hiding.
Public interested faded by May as the Beast of Busco continued to evade capture, this however did not stop Harris, who continued the search using various techniques including dynamite charges. In September Harris attempted his most elaborate method of capture yet, he pulled his tractor up to the lake and hooked up a sump pump hoping to drain the water from the lake, leaving Oscar no where to hide. This attempt renewed interest in the Beast of Busco and the crowds began to return. This time Harris charged a fee to help pay for the pumping and to offset the cost of the crops he lost due to the number of people on his property. Harris used over 2,000 gallons of gas as he reduced the once 7 acre lake to a mere acre.
More and more people, including senators and celebrities, began to crowd around the lake hoping to see the now world famous turtle. On October 13th 200 plus people got their wish as the Beast of Busco reportedly appeared at the surface of the lake in an attempt to catch a duck being used as a lure. Harris sensed that the end of his search was near and that his name would soon be vindicated. However, luck seemed to favor Oscar as the unstable muck covered lake bottom took its toll, wearing out the pump and breaking down his tractor. A crane was brought in to dredge the lake as the capture of the Beast of Busco dragged on for weeks.
In December Harris came down with appendicitis and by the time he was well enough to start his search again rain had all but refilled the lake. The search was declared over by Harris, who’s health and money where both gone. The following year he sold his farm including his turtle traps and the land containing Folk Lake. Since 1949, no further searchers have been mounted to find the Beast of Busco and no new sightings have been reported, leaving some, outside the town of Churubusco, to question if a turtle the size of Oscar could have ever existed in Folk Lake at all.
According to Churubusco turtle expert Rusty Reed, the answer to that question is yes, although possibly not the massive size described by the legend. Until very recently Reed bred alligator snapping turtles a much larger version of their Northern Indiana cousins, the common snapping turtle. The world record for a common snapping turtle is 70 pounds, with the average being 40 pounds. In comparison the largest recorded alligator snapper weighed an astonishing 236 pounds. Legend has it that a 403 pound alligator snapping turtle was found in the Neosho River of Kansas in 1937. however the size of this specimen cannot be verified.
Based on his research Reed believes that if the Beast of Busco existed, he would have had to of been an alligator snapping turtle, though he would not expect to find even a normal sized alligator snapper roaming around Churubusco. Reed states that alligator snappers tend to prefer warmer climates, however a 1985 study revealed that alligator snappers do have a tendency to wander north as they age. Since they also gain weight with age, about 1 pound per year, the individual who conducted the study found some of the largest specimens to the north of their normal range.
Reed continues by suggesting that if an alligator snapper did make it as far north as Indiana it most certainly would have been large, perhaps the largest ever, but not as large as a dining room table or the top of a car as the original reports indicated. In his study of the Beast of Busco, Reed found no references to anyone seeing the entire turtle out of the water. Which means the most anyone ever saw of the creature would have been its head, neck and the top part of its shell and since alligator snappers have heads that are way out of proportion to their bodies, Reed believes the enormous head may have led people to overestimate the overall size of the creature.
Several theories have been suggested as to why Oscar has not been seen in over 60 years, one of which suggests that the beast found some underground channels that it used to escape from the lake and emerge elsewhere. Reed finds this theory to be the least likely since the lake bottom contains several feet of muck and the area is not known to have any underground channels. Another theory, the one Reed believes most probable, is that the Beast of Busco suffocated in the murky depths of the lake trying to escape the draining effort.
Perhaps, like any good legend, the Beast of Busco will never die, at least not in the hearts of the people in Churubusco, who in 1950 started an annual tradition celebrated to this day known as Turtle Days. This four day celebration has all the traditional features such as rides, games, food stands, merchant tents, a parade and the turtle race, a four hour turtle verse turtle event. One thing is for sure, the people of Churubusco love the Beast of Busco and as Reed points out, the alligator snapper can live as long as four hundred years, good enough to keep the legend alive for decades to come.
There is currently no evidence to support the existence of the Beast of Busco.
In 1948, two men from Churubusco, Ora Blue and Charley Wilson, claim to have seen the Beast of Busco while fishing in Fulk Lake.
In 1948, Gale Harris, owner of the property which contained Folk Lake, claimed to have seen the creature.
In March 1949, Gale Harris claims to have seen the Beast of Busco again.
On October 13th 1949, 200 plus people reportedly saw the Beast of Busco as it appeared at the surface the lake in an attempt to catch a duck being used as a lure.
The Stats – (Where applicable)
• Classification: Lake Monster / Unknown
• Size: As big as the top of a car
• Weight: Unknown
• Diet: Carnivorous
• Location: Churubusco, Indiana
• Movement: Swimming and four legged walking
• Environment: Lake Bottom