Louanne LaRoche was sitting on her porch Monday afternoon when something that does not exist caught her eye.
"I saw what I believe to be a cougar or panther walk slowly through the yard," she told her Facebook friends. "We are not supposed to have any in S.C., but it clearly was larger than a bobcat and not a coyote. Pretty cool!"
LaRoche got no pictures. She had intentionally left her phone inside to enjoy the lazy May River beyond the marsh that hugs her yard in Bluffton's May River Plantation.
I called to see if she'd started cocktail hour a tad early. But the artist and art collector who once owned The Red Piano Art Gallery on Hilton Head Island flatly denied it.
"It was after I had my Starbucks," she said with a big laugh.
LaRoche said the big cat was about the size of a Labrador retriever, but not as tall. It was the color of a deer. It had a long tail.
"It wasn't quite stalking," she said, "but it had its attention on something."
As a friend of her husband set up night-vision cameras in the yard in case the big cat comes back, LaRoche told me she's seen plenty of bobcats, and this was no bobcat. She lived in Belize, where she saw many a big cat.
And now, according to the best authorities, she has seen the impossible.
Scores of people report seeing panthers and cougars each year in South Carolina and Georgia, where they no longer exist.
Roger Pinckney XI of Daufuskie Island rattles off a number of sightings of the haunting creatures in a piece published last year in Sporting Classic Daily: "The Eastern Panther: Ghost, Legend, Myth."
"Call it the Ghost Cat too," Pinckney writes. "What in the world did I just see? They appear and disappear like swampground haints. They have been in South Carolina since the successful conclusion of the last ice age, but no longer. And why not? Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says so.
"On March 2, 2011, after five years of review, the service declared the eastern cougar extinct since the 1930s."
Authorities don't see what LaRoche saw as proof.
They say most of what we see are exotic animals escaped from captivity. It could be a large cat, a dog, an otter, a bobcat. Anything but what we see.
Nancy Duane Cathcart wrote about them in a book that reflected her years of stalking our environment and railing at us to quit killing it all. The book is harder to find than a black panther. It's called "The Natural History of Hilton Head Island, S.C.: A Field Guide."
Cathcart tells about the numerous bobcats or bay lynx that lived in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve and the swampy ponds of Hilton Head Plantation.
"Catamount, cougar, puma, panther or mountain lion -- the status of this will-o'-the-wisp of the swamp has been in dispute for decades," Cathcart writes. She said the last verified panther killed in South Carolina was in 1916.
But she tells that in the 1960s, pioneer island developer and woodsman Fred Hack reported seeing a black panther cross U.S. 278 at the present day Hilton Head Plantation.
And she says Pinckney's father, longtime Beaufort County coroner Roger Pinckney X, took a plaster cast of a large cat track here in the 1960s.
As I always say, if you can't believe a Roger Pinckney, who can you believe?
Cathcart lists "sounds of the swamps and marshes," places she was known to explore wading up to her armpits:
"Cougar: crylike scream of a woman, unearthly cat-like wails and howls, o-o-o-oh!"
But pretend you never heard that. Because it does not exist.
Comparing bobcats and panthers
Use the slider handle near the bottom of the image compare tool below to alternately view drawings of a panther and bobcat. Images are from Tribune News Services.