Deep in the swamps along the Alabama- Florida border, residents told tales of legendary battles with a monster they called “Two-Toed Tom.” Carmer was fascinated with the story and included it in his critically-acclaimed but controversial book, Stars Fell on Alabama.
When Carmer first learned of Two-Toed Tom, at some point during the 1920s, the beast was described as a “red-eyed hell-demon” in alligator form, about fourteen feet long and greatly feared by the rural residents along the Florida line near Florala. The reptile had been well-known in the area for more than twenty years and was accused of eating cows and mules and even blamed for assaulting several local women. According to Carmer, the monster received its name from the unusual footprints it left behind. Supposedly he had lost all but two of the toes on his left front foot to a steel trap. Two-Toed Tom also had survived numerous shootings and at least one dynamite attack, none of which seemed to have bothered him.
The well-known dynamite attack was launched after the alligator emerged from the swamps near Florala and killed a mule on the farm of a local resident named Pap Haines. The farmer had been waging a twenty year war with Two-Toed Tom and was so irate over the loss of his mule that he decided to go after the beast with as much firepower as possible.
According to Carmer’s account, Haines and his son packed fifteen syrup buckets with sticks of dynamite, lit the fuses, and threw the buckets into the pond where the alligator was believed to be hiding. The explosions shredded every living thing in the pond, uprooted trees and sent geysers of water high up into the air.
No sooner had they ended their attack, however, than the men – now joined by eight of their neighbors – suddenly heard a monstrous splashing sound from another nearby pond. The splashes were punctuated by the sounds of screams. By the time all the men could reach the scene, all they could see were the red eyes of Two-Toed Tom sinking into the pond. The half-eaten remains of Haines’ twelve year old granddaughter were found on the shore.
A wave of sightings of a giant beast soon spread through the Choctawhatchee River and Holmes Creek swamps of Holmes, Walton and Washington Counties, Florida. Cattle and livestock disappeared from farms and the countryside was generally terrorized by this new threat that had crossed the line from Alabama.
A monstrous alligator was spotted in Sand Hammock Lake, a large body of water near Esto in northern Holmes County. It could be heard bellowing every morning and it was not long before people began finding tell-tale two-toed tracks in the sand.
A group of local teenagers who saw him reported that he was much larger than previously estimated - from eighteen to twenty-four feet. Efforts to kill him with rifles and shotguns failed.
In the 1980s, however, people who remembered the tales were stunned by news that Two-Toed Tom apparently was still alive. An alligator “slide” or path of enormous size was discovered on Boynton Island on the Choctawahtchee. A monstrous gator had walked across a sandbar and climbed the muddy bank to the island. Close inspection of the tracks revealed that one of its feet had only two toes.
The discovery prompted a new frenzy of monster reports and a reward for proof of his existence sparked hunts for Two-Toed Tom that even received national attention from NBC news. Tom, however, was never found.
The legend of the demon-possessed monster still lingers on and many believe that it still hides somewhere in the swamps of Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama.
The story of Two-Toed Tom is a major part of the folklore of the Esto area of Northwest Florida, as well as of parts of South Alabama. Similar stories have been told elsewhere across the South, but Tom's tale is thought to be the best documented.