“Don’t go in those woods. There’s something out there.”
–James “Red Dog” Redman, Rockville resident
In the early summer of 2000 four young men went camping near the small town of Rockville, Alabama. Only three came out of the woods. What happened over their two day camping trip remains the subject of great conjecture even to this day. This story was pieced together using police reports and interviews with the individuals involved.
Joe Royster (22), Richard Campbell (21), Donovan Bird (21), and Chance Boyd (19) left Warrior, Alabama early on a Saturday morning and began the long drive to Clarke County. According to Donovan, “We chose Rockville because we had heard stories about something strange being in the woods there. We thought it would be fun, you know, to take some cameras and video equipment and see what we could find. It was supposed to be a fun trip. We never expected thins to turn out how they did.”
Upon reaching the tiny town of Rockville the four men unpacked their gear and headed into the woods. Numerous people in town later reported seeing a blue 1994 Ford Mustang parked on the side of the road as early as noon that Saturday. The car in question was confirmed to be registered to a Mr. Dalton Bird, Donovan’s father.
Monday morning at approximately 7:45 in the morning the car was spotted in nearby Jackson, Alabama at a local gas station where a 911 call was placed by Chance Boyd. Clarke County deputy sheriff Robert Hamilton responded and was on the scene at approximately 8:10. According to Officer Hamilton’s report, “I discovered three young men, later identified as Richard Campbell, Donovan Bird, and Chance Boyd at the scene. All three men were visibly shaken and Mr. Campbell was visibly bleeding from his right side. His shirt was ripped on that side and upon inspection I discovered a gash about eight inches long which looked to require stitches. All three men were bruised and scratched up pretty bad from running through briar patches.”
As the officer called for an ambulance to tend to Richard the three young men began telling a tale which has now grown quite infamous in the local area and has become something of a local urban legend. In a statement given to police Chance stated, “The first night everything was fine. We camped out, drank a few beers, and eventually went on a hike just as it got dark. We took our cameras hoping to catch something on film but we never saw a thing. We came over this ridge and that’s when we were hit by this terrible smell. It was like a cross between a skunk and a rotting corpse. It was the must putrid thing I had ever smelled. We decided to turn around and go back to camp and that’s when we started hearing strange noises—like something was walking around out there. We never saw a thing but we definitely heard something. We figured it was probably deer or some other animal. We really didn’t pay that much attention to it.”
In a separate interview, Richard Campbell told police, “The first night, as we tried to sleep, it sounded like someone was taking a tree limb and smashing it up against a tree. First it was to the left of us. Then it was to our right. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. We chalked it up to the locals just trying to fuck with us. Even with that explanation, it was unnerving but I had my dad’s pistol so we thought we were safe. To tell the truth, I hardly slept that first night. Something just felt wrong about the whole thing.”
All three men agreed that the second day everything seemed quite normal and that the tension from the night before quickly faded away. Only after the sun set did the odd occurrences start up again. Mr. Boyd stated, “About ten thirty that night (Sunday) we started hearing that strange knocking sound again. It started off in the distance but over several hours it kept getting closer. We got out our cameras and recorded what we he heard. I told Joe we needed to get the fuck out of there but he insisted we stay. I wish to God he had listened to me. I’d do anything to go back and just make him pack up and leave.”
According to Richard, “It was about four in the morning and none of us had slept a wink. That knocking sound was so loud at this point that it seemed to be coming from right outside our tent. We were all on edge and that’s when we were hit with that smell again. It was so strong I actually had to get out of my sleeping bag and went outside the tent to puke. That’s when whatever it was hit me. That’s how I got the gash in my side.”
Chance stated, “I saw Richard go out the tent. Next thing I know he’s screaming like someone shot him. Before I could even move the tent seemed to disintegrate. Something ripped it to pieces in a matter of seconds. You’ve got to remember, it was four in the morning in the middle of the woods, I couldn’t see a thing. Next thing I know I’m buried beneath a collapsed tent and everything went to Hell.”
In a later interview Richard Campbell conducted with a local newspaper he stated, “I was bleeding from the side and looked up and I saw this giant silhouette. I mean huge. I’m nearly six foot four and three hundred pounds and this thing dwarfed me. I heard the thing growl and I damn near shit my pants. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been in the presence of. It was something, I hate to use this term, but it seemed other-worldly to me.”
The interviewer asked, “So what did you do?”
To which Campbell responded, “I screamed at the others to run for their fucking lives and took off through the woods. My gun was inside the tent and I’ll be damned if I was gonna take the time to try and find it. People can judge me all they want but if you had been there you would have done the same thing.”
In the police report Donovan stated, “Me and Chance climbed out from beneath the tent with Joe right behind us. I could hear growling and the sounds of our gear getting trashed. I had no clue which direction Richard had run and at the time I didn’t care. I just wanted out there. I ran. I don’t know when or where we lost Joe but we did. I could have sworn he was right behind us but somewhere down the line we lost him. For the longest time it was just me and Chance running through the woods tripping over every other log we came across. I must have fallen into a hundred briar patches but I didn’t care. I just wanted out of there.”
All three men’s statements corroborated that just after the sun came up they ran into each other near a clearing the men had passed on their way into their camp site. The three immediately began screaming for Joe without any answer. That’s when the three men made their way back to the car and drove to the first pay phone they could find.
As you can imagine Officer Hamilton found their story a bit hard to swallow. He stated in his report, “I thought perhaps this was an elaborate hoax or prank but the urgency the three of them displayed for me to go into the woods and search for their missing friend suggested otherwise. Reluctantly, I called in that we had a missing person in the woods and formed a search party.”
As Richard was receiving medical attention for the gash in his side Chance and Donovan led the search party back to their camp site. What they discovered was rather gruesome. According to Officer Hamilton’s report, “The entire site was a shambles. The ground was littered with crushed film equipment, the stuffing from what I believe to be the four men in question’s sleeping bags, and other assorted items. Most disturbingly was the amount of blood at the site. It didn’t seem to match the kind of wound I saw earlier on Mr. Campbell. I began investigating the site and upon moving the tarp which used to be the men’s tent I discovered a human arm which appeared to have been ripped, not cut, from a human body.”
Fingerprinting proved that the arm did indeed belong to Joe Royster. More men, including members of the Alabama Bureau of Investigations and several hundred volunteers, continued to comb the woods. Search dogs were deployed to track the scent but the animals refused to cooperate. Something they smelled apparently spooked the dogs. A second team of dogs was brought in with much the same result. The search had to be carried out on foot. For three days men combed the woods around Rockville without any success. The search was called off after the third day.
Suspicion of foul play led to the three survivors being questioned extensively by local and state authorities. Over the next two weeks the three were questioned numerous times about the weekend’s events. Their stories never changed. Without any evidence to contradict the men’s account all three were released. Joe Royster’s death was officially labeled “a bear attack” despite the fact bears are not known to inhabit this part of the state and no bear sighting has ever been made near Rockville.
Since the weekend in question Richard Campbell has gone on to live a somewhat normal life. He still resides in Warrior and is married with three children. He was asked to do an interview for this article. He declined. Donovan Bird moved out of state. His current whereabouts is unknown. Chance Boyd, by all accounts, fell into a deep depression after the events. He turned to drugs and alcohol to cope and eventually took his own life on March 13, 2003. He died from a lethal combination of Xanax, alcohol, and heroine.
On May 7, 2005, William McGee (45) of Jackson, Alabama, stumbled upon what appeared to be a human leg bone while wandering through the woods. He immediately called police and the bone was brought in for testing. DNA tests confirmed that the bone belonged to Joe Royster. Disturbingly the forensics report stated, “The bone appears to have been gnawed on. The bite marks are inconsistent with that of a bear or any other predator which we have in the state. In my opinion, the bite marks appear to more closely resemble something from the primate family despite how illogical that may seem. I’ve truthfully never seemed anything quite like it.”
Joe Royster’s death is still officially contributed to a bear attack. But if you ask the people of Rockville you will find they have a very different opinion. They say the four young men stumbled upon the Rockville skunk ape. The truth remains a mystery to this day.