The year was 2008 and America was going through a tough recession. Many people were very poor and struggling just to get by. I was fresh out of college, unemployed and looking for work. My parents had kicked me out when I turned eighteen and so I took to living with whichever unfortunate friend would allow me to sleep on their couch. I believe the term for it is “couch surfing.” It was in those difficult times that my bizarre story took place.
One evening, while sitting on the couch in utter despair, the oddest of stories came on the local news. “Folks are calling him The Beef Bandit!” said the newsman cheerfully sitting at the desk.
“Three local grocery stores are now reporting that large amounts of red meat have been stolen” he continued. “Security cameras caught glimpses of the suspect filling his shopping cart entirely with beef and then exiting the store without paying.”
Security footage then came up on screen depicting the supposed “Beef Bandit”. The images were blurry and low quality but you could clearly make out that it was a large man with dark hair, a white t-shirt and tan cargo shorts. He stood in the frozen meat section, filling his grocery buggy with slabs of steak.
The videos were taken from separate locations on different days but the man was still wearing the same clothes. The last image showed him walking out of the store with a cart full of meat.
“So just who is The Beef Bandit?” asked the newsman, “A homeless person? Or perhaps simply a man trying to feed his family in these turbulent economic times.”
Something about the news story really got to me. The label “Beef Bandit” was a bit silly and sensationalistic, but to be expected from local news. It was like they were trying to turn it into a joke.
I’ve always had an eye for oddities and so this naturally peaked my interest. How could a guy just walk out with a cart full of food without being noticed? I thought. I suppose if it was done confidently enough no one would question it. Why only beef though? I wondered.
A few days later, while looking through the newspaper for work, I spotted a headline.
“The Beef Bandit Strikes Again!”
A smile went across my face. I’m not sure why, but I found myself rooting for the guy. He wasn’t hurting anyone, just trying to get by like the rest of us. I hoped they would never catch The Beef Bandit. I began following the story, excitedly waiting for the next update to see where he went next or if he would ever be identified.
Living on my friend’s couches made me feel like a freeloader sometimes, so I tried my best to do chores around the house and make myself useful. I was terrified of getting kicked out again or burning all my bridges with those I’ve built up a friendship with since college.
The first friend I stayed with sent me away after an argument, and the next person said I had to leave because they too were suffering from money problems. I felt like this time I was really on my last leg so I did everything I could. This included going to the grocery store for them to pick up food.
While at the store, in the frozen food section, I saw a familiar character approaching the aisle that I was standing in. A large man in a dingy white shirt was pushing an empty shopping cart towards me. That's when I came face to face with the man himself, The Beef Bandit.
I was the only other person in the frozen food aisle. He paid me no mind, as if he didn’t even see me. His expression was blank and defeated. His eyes were almost dulled and empty.
He went straight to work, pilling stacks of red meat into his shopping buggy. I tried not to stare. I couldn’t believe it was actually him. Seeing him right there, after hearing about him in the news for so long, was very surreal.
I grabbed my carton of milk and began walking away. I certainly wasn’t going to intervene or call the cops on someone stealing food at a time like this. I walked down aisle five near the store entrance and stopped. While pretending to be looking at the shelves, I waited to see if he would walk out with the buggy.
I considered trying to talk to him or ask him why he was doing this, but I thought better of it. I wasn’t stupid enough to get directly involved or at least I thought I wasn’t. I watched as the man rolled his cart full of stolen beef out the front door. To my surprise, no one reacted in the slightest.
That’s when I made a big mistake and let curiosity get the better of me. I decided to follow him and see what he’d do next. I quickly went to the store checkout, paid for my items and exited to the parking lot. While trying not to look suspicious, I scanned the parking lot for any sign of the man. That's when I spotted him, loading his shopping cart into an old beat up station wagon.
He narrowly fit the entire cart into the back of his rusted vehicle and slammed the door. He walked around to the driver’s seat and got in. There was no one else with him. If he was a family man, they must’ve been at home.
It could’ve ended there. I had confirmed that he was taking the food and from the looks of his car, he seemed quite poor. I didn’t really need any further explanation. Yet as he pulled out of his parking spot, I couldn’t help but get in my car and follow from a distance.
I kept telling myself that I’d only follow for a few more miles then head home. I told myself that this was just a small detour. The prospect of knowing more about this mysterious person kept me going.
The man then pulled onto a dirt road which led only to the edge of town. There were trees on either side and it led straight to a dead end with a turn around spot where kids would shoot their BB guns at old cans. There was also an abandoned cave there which led deep into a mountain. I thought, if this was a homeless person, perhaps this dead end spot is where he lived. Then I thought, maybe he had noticed that I was following behind him and was just trying to lose me.
The station wagon suddenly stopped at the edge of the wide spot in the road. The mystery shoplifter got out. I cautiously approached and shut off my engine at a distance. I opened my car door and covertly hid behind it, watching to see what the man would do next. At any moment I expected him to turn around, come towards me or yell out to ask if I was an undercover cop or something.
However, the man seemed to be ignoring his surroundings entirely, much like back at the store when he walked right past me and didn’t even acknowledge my presence. He walked to the back of his station wagon and opened the back door. He robotically went about his task, pulling out the shopping cart from the vehicle.
I questioned why he was taking the cart out and what he was going to do with all the meat. There was no one else in sight. There was no grill, no stove and no fire. I wondered how he even intended to cook this stolen food. Then came the moment of truth.
My eyes widened as I saw the man slowly wheeling the food into the nearby cave.
I watched the bandit disappear into the darkened cave entrance. The next thing I heard was a horrifying loud screech followed by sharp clawing and sound of scraping rock. It appeared as if the entire mountain was trembling. The whole cave was shaking as if something within was rattling the stone shell.
I heard the harsh gnashing of teeth like the sound of a very large animal eating. What followed was another loud ear piercing scream that echoed out of the cave and throughout the rural surroundings. In shock I watched the man wheel out an empty shopping cart.
The mystery man stopped just outside the cave and looked back deep into the darkness. I felt the ground begin to shake violently like an earthquake. It grew louder and louder as the movement became more intense. Finally, I saw the creature emerging from the cave.
It was huge, about twice the size of my vehicle. Shadows draped across it from the cave overhang. I was looking from a distance but I could see that the beast looked starved and sickly. Its skin was the same shade as the rocks, perfectly suited to its environment. Its eyes were sunken and bruised a dark purple. Its body was thin and elongated. Jutting out its immense jaws were rows of teeth like razors. A terrifying, gruesome and pitiful thing.
Despite its size it gave off a feeling of helplessness. Dripping from its massive teeth were the bloody remains of the red meat. The man approached the giant and began moving his hand along its smooth skin. The beast closed its eyes and began humming a sad and eerie tune as the man looked at it blankly with his same cold demeanor. The giant then receded back into the darkness, shaking the cave walls as it returned to its slumber in the shadows and faded from sight.
I jumped back into my vehicle. I knew I had to get out of there, but I was facing a dead end. I’d have to drive right past the man in order to turn around. It was a one lane dirt road, so If I stayed he’d run right into me as he made his way out. I sat there for a moment trembling with my head in my hands.
Then, gaining my nerve, I turned on the engine and pulled forward hoping that he wouldn’t notice or think twice about someone turning around there. By this point, he was loading the buggy back into his station wagon. I nervously turned my car around in the wide spot.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him looking straight at me with an almost zombified expression. I desperately hoped that he didn’t know I saw anything. He stood there staring for a moment longer before shutting the back door and walking to the front of his vehicle. Dust flew up from the tires as I sped off without turning back to get another look.
I never saw The Beef Bandit again and there was never another story about him reported in the local media. To my knowledge he was never identified. I eventually managed to find myself a job and now I make enough money to not have to sleep on couches. Whenever I pass a homeless man, I always make sure to give him a twenty and tell him I’ve been there. I know how tough it can be and you can never tell what people are going through.
I don’t know where the mysterious shoplifter is today, or what that thing was that he was bringing meat to in the cave. It may sound weird for me to say, but wherever he is now I hope he’s alright and I hope whatever he was feeding isn’t still going hungry.
Written by Levi Athens