The Deadly Legend Of Kentucky’s Pope Lick Monster

Latest mysterious death all but guarantees the goat man legend lives to scare another day

Illustration: Tara Jacoby
May 05, 2016 at 3:57 PM ET

Some say the terrifying being that haunts the Pope Lick train trestle in Louisville, Kentucky is a half-man, half-goat. Others say he’s an escaped circus animal that was mutated into a monster by a lightning strike on the tracks; still others say he was a farmer who once had intimate relations with a local goat. Whatever his origin story, one thing’s for certain: the Goatman of Pope Lick has just claimed his latest victim.

Last week, an Ohio couple sought to investigate the Pope Lick Goatman for themselves. A woman named Roquel Bain, 26, from Dayton and her companion climbed the eight-story trestle near the monster’s rumored home, as many curious locals and travelers have done for decades. They ignored warnings to keep out; Northern and Suffolk Railroad, who owns the track, has clearly posted signs and erected an 8-foot fence in an attempt to deter rubberneckers and would-be paranormal sleuths. Instagram proves it doesn’t do much good.

When Bain and her companion saw a train barreling toward them at 30 miles per hour, they soon found they had no escape. According to the Louisville Courier Journal, they were about 40 feet away from safety, but there wasn’t enough time to disembark from the towering tracks. So they tried to hang off the sides of the track as the train rumbled past. It didn’t work for Bain, who was hit by the train and fell nearly 100 feet down to her death. Her companion was uninjured. The Goatman who lured them there, as always, was nowhere to be found. And so the legend continues. “I was just there a couple of days ago, and there were kids up there, climbing and hanging out, totally unaware that there was a train about to come by,” local author and historian David Domine,who has written and spoken for years about the legend, told Vocativ. Domine said it seems like every couple of years there’s another accident related to the legend, and this just seems to encourage more visits. The fact that that the trestle is a rusty, remote relic from the early 1800’s adds a sort of dangerous ambience for adventure-seekers. Bain’s boyfriend, who the railroad’s police department has charged with trespassing, told the Courier-Journal that they had  “assumed trains no longer traveled this way after spotting the rusty and aging structure.” But abandoned it’s not; in fact, the legendary monster’s haunting ground is actually an active track where several trains run a day. “Generally, you have to go through chain link fences, there are no trespass signs all over,” Domine says. “If you go to where the trestle cross is, it’s obvious you’re trespassing.”

But surviving the train has become part of the legend, too, he says. “A lot of people say they’ve got caught up there and hung on and managed to save himself that way,” he says. “I’ve heard a lot of people talk about that happening to them. But every once in a while there’s an unlucky person who doesn’t make it.”

Domine adds that as the stories become more well-known, and the deaths are more publicized, “more thrill seekers come to check it out now that it’s being reported when someone dies.”

So people don’t like to talk about it too much—not officially, for fear of adding to the appeal—and it’s difficult to determine how many accidents and deaths can be officially connected to the legend. Locals put the number at three in recent decades prior to Bain’s death: In 1987, two students died—17-year-old Spalding University student Jack Charles Bahm II, was hit by a train walking on the tracks, and 19-year-old David Wayne Bryant jumped to dodge the train and later died from injuries. Then in 2000, 19-year-old Nicholas Jewell died after trying to hold on to the side of the tracks as a train passed by. The vibrations shook him loose.

Officials contacted by Vocativ didn’t have numbers immediately available for how many police runs are made to the location in recent months, but according to crime map data for the city, there have only been three crimes on the books in the general vicinity of the Goatman’s address, the Pope Lick Trestle Bridge—the 3100 block of South Pope Road, where the most recent death happened.

Louisville Police Department media spokesperson Alicia Smiley told Vocativ that the numbers of thrill-seekers trekking to the trestle has actually decreased in the decades since its heyday. “There have not been any deaths at that location for a number of years (except for the most recent one), and the instances of trespassing have become fewer and fewer as the area has become more developed with businesses and housing,” she said. “Anecdotally speaking, the train track was trespassed primarily in the 1980s and 90s when the area was more rural and the urban legend at its highest, but in recent years, as the area becomes more developed, its less and less of a problem.”

*No trespassing. Violators will be prosecuted.* || 📷: @hanseav

A photo posted by Sara Beth Davis (@sarabdavis) on

The area around Louisville boasts its share of paranormal hotspots for thrillseekers. According to the Courier-Journal, the Goatman’s latest victim had purchased tickets to another paranormal attraction in in Louisville that night—the Waverly Hills Sanitorium, a former tuberculosis clinic shut down in the 1960s that is now a haunted house. But she and her companion snuck off to check out the train trestle first. And it’s likely that they may not have realized how dangerous it is. “It’s been an urban legend for many years,” Kentucky native Leslie Woods told Vocativ, recalling the numerous versions of the story locals have heard. “My aunt told me once it was more like a dare to see if you could make it across the track and beat the trains. She said the legend was started to keep people away from the tracks so they wouldn’t climb it and get killed, as many have.” You would think in an age of full-time debunking machines like, widely available information would kill the legend dead. You could ostensibly set up 24-hour cameras over the trestle and prove, once and for all, that there was no Goatman, and venturing onto the train tracks wasn’t worth the climb, or the risk to life and limb. But Snopes editor Brooke Binkowski says if anything, it’s the opposite. Binkowski says that among the many rumors they consistently field—“Something that proves Muslims are evil, something that proves Jews are evil, or something that proves Hillary Clinton is evil because she love Jews and Muslims,” she told Vocativ—are the urban legends, a site staple since its inception. “Those [legends] exist because they are sort of they are generally stories with messages and specific morals like fairy tales,” she said. “They’re archetypes. They are a little bit deeper when you look at them than just that there’s a goat person, it’s ‘Hey, there’s things in the world that you don’t quite understand yet, and they may be dangerous—which was the original function of fairy tales when you deconstruct them.” To her, these viral urban legends like Bigfoot or Goatman persist because they have a basis in storytelling for a purpose. “I think they want to assure people [with these stories] that there are still unknowable, ineffable, magical things that could possibly happen,” she said. Domine echoes Binkowski’s sentiment—technology has not ultimately solved the question of urban legends but rather made them one more thing to be a part of, to check out, to do, and to show you were a part of. “People still love urban legends, they’re legend trippers,” he said. “It just seems that more than ever, especially with social media and getting on Facebook and tweeting. If you go to a town and hear about a spot where there’s paranormal activity, you want to check those places out and say you were there. Even if you don’t believe it. There’s a connection to the local fabric.”


The Pope Lick Monster has been found… A photo posted by Jami Guess (@jamiguess) on

The Pope Lick Monster’s Facebook page has allowed its legend to reach an audience much bigger than it could simply by old fashioned word of mouth. The page’s administrator told Vocativ that it was started as a high school class project about folklore, but after the page was linked to by a local paper, it was flooded with digital legend trippers. The site routinely fields questions from people asking all sorts of things of the Goatman, like whether he has human lungs or if he smokes weed. The creator said they think the legend endures because it’s “fairly interesting.”

When asked about her experience dealing with the legend, Louisville PD spokesperson Smiley said, “Listen, I’ve been here 14 years and never had any experience with it,” she told Vocativ. “Have I heard about it? Yeah. Can I prove it? No.”

Despite mounting evidence that the biggest danger to people who venture onto the Pope Lick train tracks are not monsters but trains, the legend of Goatman lives on, deformed, deadly… and very much alive.