Lawndale Incident

The Lawndale, Illinois, incident is among the most important avian cryptozoological events ever to have been investigated. It is a modern, real-life enactment of a kind of episode portrayed in folklore all over the world: the attempted abduction of a child by a Thunderbird. Its status was recently reinforced when it was highlighted on the 1998 Yorkshire Television/Discovery Channel series on cryptids, Into the Unknown.

On July 25, 1977, as ten-year-old Marlon Lowe played outside his family home along open fields near Kickapoo Creek, two giant birds passed over. One suddenly swooped down to grab the boy, carrying him a few feet before dropping him, apparently because of his frightened mother’s screams. The incident occurred in front of seven witnesses, all of whom described exactly the same thing: two huge, coal-black birds with long, white-ringed necks, long curled beaks, and wingspans of ten or more feet.

Jerry Coleman of Decatur, Illinois, was able to interview Marlon and his parents, Jake and Ruth Lowe, within hours of the incident. Two years later, he conducted a follow-up interview, this time accompanied by his brother Loren. In 1996 Jerry Coleman, accompanied by a crew from Yorkshire Television, spoke again with Marlon and his mother.

“I’ll always remember how that huge thing was bending its white ringed neck,” Ruth Lowe remarked. It “seemed to be trying to peck at Marlon as it was flying away.” Though she compared the bird’s size to that of an ostrich, she said it looked more like a condor. After the incident she spent many hours in the library trying to identify the bird, without success. She rejected a local sheriff’s speculation that it had been no more than a turkey vulture. “I was standing at the door, and all I saw was Marlon’s feet dangling in the air,” she recalled, adding the obvious: “There just aren’t any birds around here that could lift him up like that.” Several other incidents followed quickly in the wake of the one at Lawndale. Sightings occurred in late July and early August in locations throughout central and southern Illinois. On Thursday, August 11, in southwestern Illinois, near Odin, the 1977 series of Thunderbird sightings publicly ceased.

Officials had begun telling the newspapers that people were seeing turkey vultures and letting their imaginations run away with them. The Lowe report, impossible to square with turkey vultures, was dismissed out of hand. As public ridicule was setting in, witnesses grew quiet about what they were seeing.

Mark A. Hall, author of Thunderbirds—The Living Legend! (1994), concludes an extended discussion of the Lawndale incident thus: “The final word on the Illinois wonder deservedly goes to Ruth Lowe. After all the experts had their say, Mrs. Lowe, who spoke from personal experience, has made the most perceptive comment on the appearance of two extraordinary birds in Illinois. She was quoted as saying: ‘The game warden said there wasn’t anything like this ever reported in the county. Maybe there wasn’t, but there is now. Two came through here last night.’”


The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark