“Mountain Monsters” premiered on Destination America on 22 June 2013, and had the highest ratings in the history of the network’s broadcast at that time. People have curiosity about creatures from folklore that they had read about or heard of since they were kids, so the show being a hit wasn’t surprising.
The reality television series featured a group of men from West Virginia and Ohio who called themselves the Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings, or A.I.M.S. Trapper led the team in tracking down mysterious creatures and beasts that were believed to be found in the Appalachian Mountains.
Early life and family
John Richard Tice, better known as “Trapper,” was born on 24 May 1947, in West Virginia, to parents, C.B. “Dick” and Thelma Beatrice Tice; he passed away in 2019.
He was raised on the farm they owned on Sugar Creek in Pleasants County, matriculated from St. Mary’s High School in 1965 and enrolled into Ohio University, but enlisted into the US Air Force in October 1966. Trapper completed his basic training at the Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas, and was then stationed at the Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. In December 1967, he was deployed to Vietnam and served as a Forward Air Controller until 1968. He was promoted to Sergeant, and was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the US Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service. In 1970, he left the Air Force and acquired welding certifications from the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology, and then worked as a boilermaker until 2002.
The reality TV show aired for seven seasons, with the first five on Destination America. People thought it was canceled after the fifth season, as it took a year and a half before the sixth season was aired, and on a different network, the Travel Channel, but both were owned by Discovery, Inc.
After the premiere of the seventh season, the episodes were exclusively available on the streaming platform, Discovery +.
An episode would usually start with the A.I.M.S. team discussing the creature they would be tracking down. They would then head off to meet and interview eyewitnesses, and check out the site where the mysterious creature was spotted. The team would track it down and set up thermal cameras to capture proof of its existence, as well as the trap that could contain it. The thrill of finally seeing these legendary monsters had certainly captured the interest of the public.
Another reason why fans loved the show was because they found the cast entertaining, as they were funny and a little bit crazy. Trapper, one of the founders of A.I.M.S., was regarded as the heart and soul of the team. He was a great outdoorsman who spent around 250 days a year in the woods hunting wild animals. An example of his interesting character was would be the time he had a toothache.
Instead of going to the dentist, he said he’d deal with it by drinking moonshine, and then used a pair of pliers to pull out the tooth that had been bothering him. He could also keep a straight face while pulling a prank on a team member. This series had a lot of funny moments due to the personalities of the cast members and the dynamic between them. They had no scripted lines, as Trapper said, ‘The funny stuff is just the funny stuff that old guys say and do. The great part about us is that we can laugh at ourselves.’
Here are the rest of the cast:
Willy McQuillian is an experienced hunter and trapper, in charge of building their base camp as well as the traps for the creatures they aimed to capture. He’s also the jack-of-all-trades.
William Neff, also known as Wild Bill, served as the expert tracker. He has the experience and skills he developed during his six years in the US Marines Corps. Like Willy, he’s an expert climber, and would help in building traps.
Jeff Headlee – called “Jeffro,” short for ‘Jeff is my brother’ – is their resident researcher, their go-to guy in tracking down witnesses, collecting information on the creatures they were after, and acquiring the things they needed in their hunt.
Joseph Lott earned the nickname Huckleberry when he was around six or seven, when he gorged on the fruit one time then puked all night long. As head of security, he took care of everybody including the crew while they were out in the woods, keping them safe not just from the monsters that they were hunting, but also the wild animals that they might encounter in the area.
Jacob Lowe, nicknamed Buck, was the rookie in the team. He’s someone who basically did what he was told, somewhat like a farmhand as he called it. When his team discovered his ability to mimic the sounds of creatures, he became their expert caller. He had a fairly weak stomach, but the producers said that it was ‘his unflinching desire to unravel the mysteries hidden deep within the mountain hollers of Appalachia that makes him essential.’
How the A.I.M.S. was formed
Trapper, Willy and Jeffro had known each other for quite some time, growing up in the Appalachian region. They’d heard stories from families of mysterious sightings of beasts and creatures in the area, but didn’t really believe in them although it piqued their interest. Trapper said that when he was a kid, he would sit on the front porch and listen to monster and ghost stories. ‘The kids were always threatened that some kind of monster was going to get them,’ he said. One night when he was 14, his father took him and his brother, Jared, past the Mount Welcome Cemetery to investigate “Ikie’s Tomb,” which Trapper said was a folklore tomb in West Virginia. He wrote of his experience, and it was published in the 2003 issue of Goldenseal, a magazine that focused on traditional life in West Virginia, produced by the Department of Arts, Culture, and History.
As an adult, his interest in strange happenings and sightings continued. Trapper, Jeffro and Willy had personal encounters with mysterious creatures, and this common interest turned into an obsession that became the basis for the formation of A.I.M.S. in 2006. People often reported to them when they spotted unidentified creatures, and the mission of their group was to investigate and capture these monsters. They were soon joined by Huckleberry and his friend, Buck. Wild Bill was recommended by Trapper’s friend.
The team investigated several mysterious sightings, preferring to do it quietly to get credible sources or eyewitness’ accounts, because once it became public, they would become inundated with reports, and not all of them would be genuine.
However, when the producers approached them about creating the show “Mountain Monsters” for Destination America, the team decided to give it a shot. Trapper said they filmed four to five days, with most days lasting 12 hours.
It was a lot of hard work, as they also had to deal with extreme temperatures at night in the woods, not to mention the rough terrain.
As they became popular, skeptics had started coming out to criticize the show. Trapper even got into a Twitter feud in 2015 with Matt Moneymaker, the star of Animal Planet’s reality TV series “Finding Bigfoot,” which premiered in May 2011. When the A.I.M.S. team had a “Bigfoot Edition” for season three of “Mountain Monsters,” which started airing in March 2015, Matt posted on Twitter: ‘I actually need to explain this to some people: “Mountain Monsters” is a scripted fictional show. Those guys are all actors. It’s all faked.’ Trapper naturally hit back at Matt a few weeks after that tweeting ‘I’m not an actor. Sometimes I feel your show should be called Losing Bigfoot. Keep up the good work, bud.’
Here are just a few of the mysterious sightings they investigated for the TV series.
Trapper and his team went to Hazel Green, Kentucky to track down a Wolfman, described as a seven-foot, 500-pound wolf.
They interviewed an outdoorsman who gave an account of the mysterious beast that he saw in the woods, and a survivalist who showed them a video of a wolf-like creature walking on two legs. The team went back at night and found a boneyard, which Trapper said was the creature’s feeding area. They set a trap with a goat as bait, but it was left untouched. When they reviewed the film, they saw something big that went near the goat but didn’t eat it.
Reports came in about sightings of a creature believed to be the Mothman in Mason County, West Virginia, so the team went there to check it out. It was said to be seven feet tall with a 10-foot bat-like wingspan, with big glowing red eyes; an eyewitness caught the creature on video while it was on top of a bridge. They did see glowing eyes that night after they set up torches to lure it to their electrified trap, and movement so fast that they had a hard time tracking it. When the trap was sprung, the winged creature was nowhere to be found.
Bigfoot – Midnight Whistler
The A.I.M.S. team went to Central Kentucky to prove Bigfoot’s existence, such as the first one that came out from the Mammoth Cave called the Midnight Whistler. They described the nocturnal creature as six-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half-foot tall – over two meters – and weighed 400 to 500lbs or about 200kgs, with jet-black fur and glowing green eyes. A guy said that after he played the harmonica, he heard whistling noises in the woods, the first time he heard something like that in the 20 years he and his wife had lived there. Trapper believed that the creature thought the harmonica was an immature Bigfoot calling out in distress. One time, when the couple was outside their house on a swing at around 11 at night, the wife noticed a pair of glowing green eyes staring at her across the field, then it disappeared. Another guy caught a close-up of the creature with his game camera and noticed huge footprints on the mud.
As they tracked it down, they came upon a huge nest that was still fresh bu,t didn’t chance upon the creature. Trapper and his team later came upon what seemed to be a Bigfoot burial site. He didn’t think it was one, but Buck believed it was, so the latter started to dig the grave when loud high-pitched screaming noises or whistling was heard all around them. They left the place in a hurry, because it became dangerous for them and they didn’t want to hurt these creatures.
They continued to investigate sightings of Bigfoot in other places, as well as other legendary monsters and cryptids.
In 2015, Trapper developed a blot clot in his leg that led to serious complications, and he had to undergo an emergency surgery that lasted for five hours. He came close to losing not just his leg but also his life at that time.
The team visited him at his house after the surgery, and were heartbroken when they saw him and learned the extent of his health problems.
Trapper shared, ‘Being close to death has taught me one thing…what’s important in life is your family and friends.’ He told them that one day they would see him put his hat on and strap his 40 on his hip, and they would all be back together.
Before he fell ill, he was able to film with the team what became his last hunt with them; it was aired on 23 January 2016 for the season four premiere. Although Trapper was unable to join them, the team kept him updated on what was happening, and even consulted with him a few times whenever possible, when they were stumped in their investigation. One could see that he was getting weaker as time passed.
Huckleberry and Buck visited Trapper, who shared that his blood work revealed that his kidneys were about 25 percent. As grim as his prognosis might be, he hadn’t lost his sense of humor. ‘Even if I have to go on dialysis, I’ll still be around’ and added, ‘I just have to go for an oil change two or three times a week.’ He admitted that he was dying.
— Trapper John (@TrapperWV) May 21, 2017
On 16 December 2019, Trapper passed away from health complications at the age of 72, surrounded by his loving family. He is survived by his three children, Laura Melinda, Jared Ryan, and John David as well as his grandchildren. John was so grateful for the outpouring of love, and posted this message on Twitter: ‘The person on the TV screen pales in comparison to the actual legend of man, father, and grandfather he was. The silence of his absence in our lives is deafening. Love you, Dad.’
Seven weeks after Trapper died, the executive producer, Colt Straub, and Trapper’s team gathered together to celebrate his life – they laughed and cried as they watched clips of happy moments with Trapper. His death hit his friends hard, as they believed that he would outlive them all. ‘We knew he was sick…but I don’t think any of us believed that his time was coming that quick,’ Buck said. Wild Bill considered himself a tough marine, but when he heard that Trapper’s gone, he cried like a baby in his living room.
Huckleberry recalled that he and Trapper used to talk about death, and the latter had said to him that he didn’t want anyone shedding tears. ‘I want you to go out and have a good time. Remember me and the good things we did together.’ According to Huckleberry, in the Apalachee tradition, when a loved one died, people would gather and each one would write a letter to their dead, and read a part of it before throwing it into the fire so that ‘the smoke carries the words to heaven.’ One by one, the guys did that, sharing how badly they would miss him and how thankful they were for having had Trapper in their lives, not just as their team leader but also as their brother.
Before the night was over, Trapper’s daughter Laura, and granddaughter Clara, joined them by the campfire. Laura said, ‘You all meant the world to my dad. Each and every one of you gave him a friendship that he cherished.’ Clara had Trapper’s journal in her hand, and said, ‘My Pa-paw basically wrote everything he did and I know he would want you all to have them.’ Trapper left a letter for them as well, that said he wanted the A.I.M.S. to continue even after he’s gone. His journal served as their guide in their new adventures, and was featured in season seven of the show.