“Leopard Men” — vicious killers wearing leopard skins and gloves fitted with metal claws — have been featured in stories, books and movies since the 1930s.
Their first big splash in pulp fiction was in the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Tarzan and the Leopard Men.
Tarzan and the Leopard Men was first published as a book in 1935, in a hardback edition with a great wraparound cover painting by J. Allen St. John.
In the late ‘30s and the 1940s, Leopard Men — and Leopard Women — showed up in other vintage pulp fiction magazines and novels, as well as in comic books and films.
During the 1950s and 1960s, quite a few stories about Leopard Men were published in men’s adventure magazines.
Some were pure fiction. Some were purportedly true.
Either way, like the earlier pulp stories and movies about Leopard Men, they were all based partially on fact.
Because there really were Leopard Men in Africa.
And, they were pretty damn scary. (Check out this recent video about them on the Discovery Channel, this article about the Anioto Leopard Men of the Belgian Congo and this account of Leopard Men in Liberia.)
The Leopard Men were members of an African religious sect referred to as The Leopard Society.
They really did dress in leopard costumes and use gloves with iron or steel claws to slash and kill their victims.
They were also into ritual sacrifice and cannibalism. They drank the blood of people they killed and ate their flesh and internal organs.
The traditional victims of the Leopard Society were other tribal members. Beyond religious purposes, ritual murders by Leopard Men were a way of punishing violators of tribal law and taking revenge on enemies.
Some accounts suggest the Leopard Society was also a bit like an African Mafia, whose members used murder and terror to gain power and wealth.
During the latter decades of the colonial era, they were also portrayed as “terrorists” who might target white colonial officials and settlers for murder, along with natives who cooperated with them.
One of the best “true adventure” style stories about Leopard Men published in a postwar men’s pulp mag appeared in the October 1955 issue of Man’s Magazine. It’s titled “Leopard Men! Africa’s Greatest Terror.”
The story itself, written by Murray T. Pringle, is illustrated with photos inside.
Pringle wrote stories for a number of men’s adventure magazines during the 1950s and 1960s. He also wrote for some of the last of the pulp magazines in the Fifties, such as Texas Rangers and Ranch Romances. And, in the Sixties, his stories appeared fairly regularly in Boy’s Life.
Pringle’s Leopard Men story for Man’s Magazine was printed at a time when Kenya’s bloody Mau Mau uprising was generating a lot of international attention and fear. So, the subject of African “terrorists” was timely.
Of course, like many “true adventure” stories in men’s pulp magazines, some parts of Pringle’s story are almost certainly embellished or even outright fiction.
But one thing is certain. The story grabs your attention right in the first few paragraphs, by describing this horrific scene:
THE HUNTER knew there was something dead in the grove just ahead. The smell of death and decay hung fetidly in the heat-charged air of the Belgian Congo. The horrible stench grew stronger as he approached the trees.
He entered the grove, took one long, incredulous look, then leaned weakly against a tree and vomited.
Scattered about the grove were the bodies of four natives who had been subjected to the most savage acts imaginable. All four victims had been disemboweled, their throats slashed to ribbons, their eyes torn from their heads and their sex organs clawed from their bones.
Given an opening like that, you gotta keep reading. At least, I did.
If you want read the rest of “Leopard Men! Africa’s Greatest Terror,” but don’t own the October ‘55 issue of Man’s Magazine, you’re in luck. I’m making a reprint available to readers of this blog. Just click this link to download the entire story in PDF format.
I hope you find it as interesting as I did.
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Further reading and viewing about Leopard Men, the Mau Mau uprising and related topics...