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“Tastes Just Like Chicken John Wayne!”

Greetings once again to you my faithful readers as I “churn-up” another memory from my brain-housing group of Gumshoe.

“Suspicious Circumstance” was the radio call that I responded to on that warm humid Southern California evening. I was further advised by the police dispatcher that I was supposed to meet the landlord outside a multi-apartment complex off of Collins Avenue in the city of Orange, California. The landlord wanted to talk to the police about his tenant who was arrears in his rent and was not answering his door for several days.

I had been a street police officer for the “Big O” (moniker that us coppers referred to the city of Orange) for about four years.  This was the time in police work when I felt that I had it all “figured out” in that I made it through my probation and that I was now a real life John Wayne who could right all wrongs!  Don’t you know pilgrim?  My head was too big for my helmet and my ego had no limit.

This was just another routine “civil” call in my thoughts,  but I had to wait to talk to the aggrieved landlord to figure out why it was labeled “suspicious” by the police radio dispatcher.

I arrived at the location and I met the grandfatherly-looking landlord who resided on the premises. He briefly told me that the lights have been on all night within the scofflaws apartment for the past week and that there was no answer at the door upon repeated his visits to try to collect the past-due rent. “No problem” I confidently advised the grandfatherly landlord.  I would announce my presence at the tenant’s front door to make sure he was still among the quick and not the dead.

I told the landlord that the rent issue was strictly civil and not criminal but I could perform the welfare check on the tenant under the auspices of community care taking.  I could make sure the tenant was okay and be there “to keep the peace” when the landlord spoke with him. The landlord holding a pass-key accompanied me to the second floor of the complex and he followed me down a common hallway to the front door of the said apartment.

I did not need a “back-up officer” simply because I had that “John Wayne Syndrome”.  I could handle this “nothing burger” by my lonesome. I used the non-business of my three cell flashlight to rap on the door three times as I utilized my very stern and authoritative commanding voice to announce “Orange Police!” My flashlight knocks along with my official commands were met with complete stone silence from within the apartment.

Hmm? Me thinks all is not right but something is amiss?

I was successful in having the tenants that lived on either side of the “dead-beat” tenant’s apartment open their respective doors though.  I then had to assure them that everything was okay and for them not to be alarmed (little did I know to my chagrin the danger that lurked) and I asked them to close their doors.

I had the landlord give me the passkey that I carefully inserted into the doorknob lock.  I slowly turned the knob and lightly pressed in on the door with my non-gun hand as I continued to announce my presence in a manly voice. (John Wayne would be proud) I took a quick peek into the living room that was backlighted from the adjoining bedroom lamp. No bodies! (Yeah! what a relief!)  I then quickly darted inside to the right side of the open door jamb and I felt vibrations upon the wall I leaned against as I scanned the room.  Yikes!  The walls were all moving and I heard the cacophony of buzzes and rattles that fully enveloped the entire room and beyond.  Double yikes! I quickly darted out of  the door and I almost knocked over the landlord.  His eyes were as large as mine in confusion.

I regained my bearing and my eyesight. I used my flashlight to illuminate the walls of the living room as I slowly peeked into the open door. The adjoining living room walls had glass aquariums stacked from floor to ceiling.  Inside the aquariums were rattle snakes that were all extremely upset. I immediately called for backup, a supervisor, animal control, the national guard, the Marines, several swat teams and defcon three!

Not really, I just called for a few more officers so that they could help me and for them to have a good war story later on during choir practice. We very carefully checked the entire apartment for the tenant and only found more “reptiles are us” in the kitchen, the adjacent bedroom and in the bathroom.  We all exclaimed “yikes!”  (Not really that interjection)

I later telephoned the county animal control as well as the state animal control and later the Feds for help. They all advised me that rattlesnakes are too dangerous to transport and that they must be killed on scene.  They politely advised me that it was a police problem – all mine!

Yikes again!  I had just over 300 rattlesnakes (who were stilled pissed) to deal with inside a multi apartment complex full of curious tenants. I could not shoot them (the snakes, not the tenants) even if I wanted too. Well, through synergistic thinking the solution was to call the fire department and to request every CO2 fire extinguisher they had.

We then froze each of the snakes in place; picked them up (we took turns) and we dispatched them by removing their heads with a fire axe.  I learned that the heads containing the fangs could still be dangerous even without their snake bodies – attached) Yikes number four! These heads with their creepy black eyes were then I placed inside a metal can with a tightly secured lid.

The following day, the enterprising fire department had an “all you can eat” snake barbecue and yes – they taste just like chicken Colonel Sanders! Our department armored sported a snakeskin belt a few weeks later and he even sold a few.  There is profit in chaos I suppose.

I guess you folks just might be wondering about the missing tenant.  He was at the Mojave Desert catching more rattlers – you see, he had a “bootleg” business of selling their venom to university labs across the country.  He was later charged and prosecuted for possession of deadly snakes within city limits as well as for state wildlife offenses.

I learned a very valuable lesson, “be humble and for me to remember that John Wayne was only an actor in the movies.”

Well, that’s my story and I am sticking to it.  Until next time dear readers, love the people who love you and pray for the ones who don’t.  Gumshoe Danny

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Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

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4 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Ah yes, a little humble pie is good for all of us. The more successful and the more self-assured the more in need of another slice of pie. Without that occasional slice, we are at risk of going into a “self-destruct” mode.

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