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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

The mystery monster of Montauk

'If this could be certified as the Suffolk version of the

Loch Ness monster," County Executive Steve Levy said, "we'd sell tickets and

get a lot of revenue."

Levy was talking about the Montauk Monster, a fresh fable of a beast with

the hue of a boiled lobster, the beak of a dinosaur and jaw crammed with

pointy, white teeth.

Is it real? Or suburban legend?

Two locals swear it's real.

And swear that they saw - and photographed - the beast sometime after rough

surf pitched it up to Ditch Plains beach on July 12. "We were looking for a

place to sit when we saw some people looking at something," Jenna Hewitt, 26,

of Montauk, said yesterday.

She and three friends, including Rachel Goldberg, 29, also of Montauk,

walked over to see what was going on.

"We were kind of amazed," Hewitt said, "shocked and amazed."

She said she borrowed Goldberg's digital camera, aimed and fired off two

shots.

"We didn't know what it was," she said. "We joked that maybe it was

something from Plum Island."

It didn't take long for East Hampton to start buzzing about the reported

find. Quickly, skeptics and believers alike offered up - and continue to offer

up - myriad theories.

"We kept hearing it from everywhere," said Rick Murphy, editor of The

Independent, an East Hampton newspaper.

"I'd pick up the phone and somebody would say, "It's a sea turtle without

its shell," he said. "It's a dog; it's Satan; people can't stop talking about

it."

On July 23, The Independent published a story by Kitty Merrill under the

headline, "The Hound of Bonacville."

And a photograph, that editors decided to run in black and white because

it's too disturbing.

"Flies cavorted upon the naked corpse," Merrill wrote.

"The once-robust figure, covered with soft and pettable fur, was, witnesses

noted with dread, utterly absent its coat, save the occasional individual

strand sticking out, as if it had been skinned by an evil tormentor."

By Tuesday, the beast - now morphed into full-fledged Internet viral

monster, lumbered onto Gawker.com, under a headline: GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR HELL

DEMONS.

Hell demons?

In the Hamptons?

Larry Penny, the town's resource director, doesn't think so. (At least

about the Montauk Monster.)

"It could be a dog," he said. "Or, looking at the picture, we thought it

could be a raccoon that was skinned and has its upper jaw missing."

But William Wise, director of Stony Brook University's Living Marine

Resources Institute, after looking at the photo and consulting with a fellow

biologist (who knows land creatures), disagrees.

He knows what it isn't.

A raccoon. ("The legs appear to be too long in proportion to the body.")

A sea turtle. ("Sea turtles do not have teeth.")

A rodent. ("Rodents have two huge, curved incisor teeth in front of their

mouths.")

He said the general body shape looks like a dog or other canine

("Coyote?"). But that the "prominent eye ridge and the feet" don't match.

He said the feet and face look "somewhat ovine" - that would be like a

sheep - but sheep don't have sharp teeth.

Wise's best, educated guess: "A talented someone who got very creative with

latex."

In other words, a fake - which would place Wise with the skeptics. (Many of

whom believe the image was manipulated with computer software.) And from where

I sit, and after checking with Newsday's photo staff, I'd vote fake, too.

Because the sun would have to be in two places at the same time to get a shadow

in one direction on the body and in another direction on the head. (Maybe

that's why the monster also appears to be flipping the bird.)

But Wise also offered what he called a next-best guess: "A dog or coyote

that was diseased and has been in the sea for a while."

Which is it? Without the body, nobody can say.

Hewitt said she knows where the Montauk Monster rests.

"A guy took it and put it in the woods in his backyard; he has a big

backyard," she said. "The thing is rotting there."

But she wouldn't say who; wouldn't say where.

No matter.

The beastie's a legend now. Fodder for campfire tales, T-shirts and stuffed

animals.

It's alive!

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