Islandia Journal Issue 6 Cover Design by Alicia Sales @tristemegistus
In the 1990s, a new creature entered the Caribbean, or at least, the minds of those who believed. Virgilio Sanchez-Ocejo’s 1997 book, Miami Chupacabras, a slim, schlocky publication, documented the wave of animal murders that were attributed to the chupacabra, with a focus on those occurring in Miami. Translating to “goat sucker,” its victims included goats, but also sheep, cows, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats, parakeets and peacocks, and at least one horse. Accounts of the creature and its violence vary, but the owners of these livestock and pets generally said they were found with small puncture wounds in their neck and in other areas of their body. Rather than being eaten, the blood was sucked from them.
Sanchez-Ocejo’s 58-page book begins with an incomplete chronology of the attacks and sightings. Starting in Puerto Rico in 1994, residents reported a hairy, winged creature, three to four feet tall, with large, lidless red eyes, a row of straight feathers or spikes protruding from its spine, and a tube-like “sucking device” that extended from its mouth. It was said to hop like a kangaroo, leave a trail of slime, and change colors like a chameleon. And there was more than one—sometimes they traveled in packs.
In a year, the chupacabras were blamed for over one thousand animal deaths. Hysteria spread over the island. Jose Soto, a former police detective and mayor of Canóvanas, a town in northeast Puerto Rico, was running for reelection when he appeared on El Show de Cristina, a popular talk show filmed in Miami that aired throughout Latin America. “Whatever it is,” he warned, “it’s highly intelligent. Today it is attacking animals, but tomorrow it may attack people.” Soto led weekly hunts with volunteers, scouring the town’s surrounding hills, using caged goats as bait for the chupacabras, and for votes.
In 1996, Sanchez-Ocejo visited the homes of several people who claimed to have been attacked. Eleven chickens belonging to a man named Felix Otura, living in Downtown Miami, were feasted upon. Sanchez-Ocejo took plaster molds of the three-toed tracks found in Otura’s yard, molds which, as advertised in the back of Miami Chupacabras, could be purchased for twenty dollars, plus shipping. “Those footprints are not of any ferret, or raccoon, or any animal that we know of,” Otura said. “This is not from here, from this Earth, they are from some animal that has been set loose from someplace else, from some other dimension.”
Virgilio Sanchez-Ocejo was a young student at the University of Havana in 1956 when he saw his first UFO. In November of that year, a yacht named Granma landed, and out spilled eighty insurgents, including Fidel, Raul, and Che. Sanchez-Ocejo received his law degree in 1960, as the revolution began its descent into tyranny, and moved to the United States, eventually settling in Miami. A paranormal investigator, Sanchez-Ocejo gained a following for his amateur scholarship. He ran the Miami UFO Center and interviewed abductees on a local radio show called Looking for a Response. He traveled the hemisphere speaking at conferences and symposia. The year of his death, 2016, he published an essay about the Cuban Yeti. Rather than hawking these stories as automatically true, he insisted he was gathering evidence in a “scientific manner,” and that more physical evidence was needed.
One of the reasons they are called rabbit holes—perhaps the defining metaphorical structure of our time—is because they lead to a warren of interconnected subjects. Sanchez-Ocejo’s first book, UFO: Contact from Undersea (1982), chronicled the case of Filiberto Cardenas, a Hialeah man who, in 1979, was driving with three family friends tasked with the purchase of a suckling pig, when the car suddenly lost power. A luminous object appeared in the sky, and Cardenas became paralyzed. His body was lifted into the sky and the friends reported that he disappeared. He was found by a police officer ten miles away on Tamiami Trail, disoriented and with hundreds of tiny pin pricks in his flesh. During a hypnosis session, Cardenas described interactions with beings at an underwater site, where he was examined and was told messages that were interpreted as prophetic of Tiananmen Square and the assassination of Anwar Sadat.
In an appearance on The Howard Stern Show sometime in the early 2000s, Sanchez-Ocejo articulated his interest in these stories. “This is helping me to relieve the stress of this life, of everyday work, and living with these pressures, this war we have with Afghanistan, the terrorists,” he said. Stern and company made fun of him incessantly, but Sanchez-Ocejo took it in stride, laughing along with them. “Listen,” Sanchez-Ocejo said, “I prefer to deal with extraterrestrials than to deal with you people.”
In Miami Chupacabras, Sanchez-Ocejo recounts a visit to a ranch in Hialeah Gardens belonging to Rafael Moreno and his son Osvaldo. On the first raid, eleven of their goats were killed. When the second attack happened, Osvaldo was waiting with his 12-gauge shotgun. He fired and heard a high-pitched shriek. The creature ran, jumping like a kangaroo and disappearing into the Everglades. Hair and blood were left behind, and “the blood tracks seemed to glow in the light of my flashlight,” Osvaldo said. However, the blood and hair were gone the next day. “Someone came and took them,” he claimed. On the morning of another visit to Moreno’s ranch, Sanchez-Ocejo reported seeing a black helicopter “without marks, flying low over the ranch and disappearing.” Sanchez-Ocejo speculates that the U.S. government may have bred the chupacabras and that the helicopters were tracking them.
Most of the authorities investigating these attacks in Miami—including wildlife expert Ron Magill of Miami’s then named MetroZoo—concluded that the puncture wounds were totally in line with dog marks and that the slain animals were not, in fact, drained of any blood. In the book Cryptozoology: A to Z, the authors make a strong case for the fact that the chupacabra was one of the first folkloric monsters of the internet age: a couple dozen “goatsucker” home pages could be found online at the time, including one on Princeton University’s website, which is still accessible (and which Sanchez-Ocejo ripped most of his chronology from). This, along with traditional media such as El Show de Cristina, helped generate the chupacabra, or, depending on your stance, bring it to light.
Fugue states, hallucinations, delusions—one might be tempted to attribute belief in aliens and monsters purely to mental phenomenon. But the weird comes for everybody. Emile Blair Milgrim, a longtime resident of Miami, was tripping on acid at her friend’s house in Coral Gables one day, around 1998. They heard a rustling in the bush, so Milgrim and a friend went to check it out. “It was big and snarling and appeared bipedal, but hunched over,” she recalls. “Definitely wasn’t a dog. We ran like hell and told everyone else to get inside. Granted, we were tripping, but it was scary regardless, and since two of us experienced the same thing, it didn’t seem to be a hallucination.”
Another story didn’t involve hallucinogens: Barbara Marie Elting-Mckillop, her husband James, and two of James’ family members were driving late at night down a dirt road in Sumterville, Florida, after visiting some family. “We were all kinda tired and not talking much,” Elting-Mckillop recalls, “We were all looking ahead.” She described seeing “a skinny creature with a long nose quickly run across the road, you could see its rib cage protruding, it had weird legs, and was the size of a large dog. It could have been [a dog] but looked really bizarre.” Elting-Mckillop thought she was imagining it, but at the end of the car ride, everyone looked at each other and acknowledged that they had all seen the exact same thing.
Sleep didn’t come easy as I read Sanchez-Ocejo’s book and conducted this research. For a month straight I woke up at 4 a.m., images of the chupacabra and its carnage flooding my mind. The research was taking its toll. Alex Suárez, who grew up in Hialeah hearing about the chupacabra from “drunk Cuban poet viejos,” had given me a stark warning when he heard about my subject. “Bruh, I’m telling you,” he said. “One day you’ll be driving on the highway. You’ll be deep in thought, content, smiling even. Then something will interrupt that peace and you’ll see those red eyes glaring at you from an impossible distance. Leave him be. He belongs away from your curious mind.” I hadn’t the heart to tell him I’d already glimpsed it.
Dismissed as a pseudoscience, cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals has not provided definitive proof that the chupacabra, or any other cryptids, actually exist. The theory that new (medium to large) animals might be skulking in our midst, waiting to be discovered, is the inverse of where nature is headed—a terrifying scarcity brought on by extinction, wrought by the vampire of human civilization as it currently operates. Many consider cryptozoology to be nonsense. This doesn’t change the fact that an unexplainable creature was massacring animals and terrorizing people, or that new beings may yet emerge, even as the bestiary of Earth thins out.
What the chupacabra brings into relief is another creature, that most bloodthirsty slaughterer of animals, one often hidden from view: the human being. Such a study may be most suited for revealing things about the hidden animal lurking within us, that part humanity will never apprehend, no matter the sophistication of its tools or the rationality of its thinking, the strangeness of the world, its own capacity for brutality. That part of us that lies awake at night, wondering, what was that sound, that mysterious figure?
Below is a digital flipbook version of The Miami "Chupacabras"
by Virgilio Sanchez-Ocejo. Enjoy!