Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Date: August 17, 1989
Ruth and David Spaulding are enjoying their retirement years. They live in a snug house with lots of windows and sunlight in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One of their favorite things about the house is the fact that it is right next to a 180-acre state park. The Spauldings are able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and wildlife of their own yard, as well as the vast land of the state park next door.
On the night of August 17, 1989, David and Ruth were home, watching a frisky raccoon in their backyard through their living room window. After watching the raccoon play for some time, they sat down to read the newspaper. It was while they were reading, at about 10:30pm, that Ruth heard a noise outside. It sounded like an animal squealing in pain and fear, and David decided to go investigate. He had hardly stepped out his back door, though, when he caught sight of a big yellow snake coiled several times around a just-killed raccoon. Realizing that it was the raccoon's squeals they'd heard, David rushed back into the house to get Ruth, so that she could see the snake. When the Spauldings got back outside, however, the snake had disappeared. As they poked around in the nearby bushes, they were startled to see the tip of the snake's tail disappear under their house!
David and Ruth were frightened and didn't know what to do, so they called 911. Unfortunately, they were told that the police do not handle snakes. The next day, when they realized that the snake had probably escaped from the large state park next door, the Spauldings called the park rangers for help. The rangers were skeptical of the reported sighting. Since the Fort Lauderdale area is full of snakes, the rangers simply assumed that the Spauldings were overreacting to a large garden-type snake.
Although the Spauldings were unable to get official help, they knew that they still had a serious problem. Concerned about their fellow residents, they called all of their neighbors to warn them of the giant snake on the loose. On one side of their house lived a young family with two small children; on the other lived a woman with a small dog. When David reported that he had seen the huge snake kill a thirty-pound raccoon, both neighbors were extremely upset and scared. As the father of the two young children remembers, his kids were smaller than the dead raccoon, and could be prey for a hungry snake. Likewise, the neighbor with the small dog refused to let the dog go into her backyard alone. Whenever the dog needed to go outside, the woman brought him out on a leash!
Meanwhile, the Spauldings thought about how they could capture the snake under their house and keep the neighborhood safe. They managed to rig up a very crude trap for the snake. They built a small tunnel out of plywood, with a wire cage at the end. They attached the open end of the tunnel to the hole in their foundation wall that the snake had disappeared into. In the wire cage they placed a rabbit, hoping to lure the snake into the cage. The trap was unsuccessful; they realized the snake must have found another way out of the foundation, and was hunting for raccoons at night in the state park.
Although the Spauldings kept trying to convince the park rangers of the size of "their" snake, they didn't have any luck until Mother Nature stepped in. Over the course of their lifetimes, snakes shed their skin many times. When the Spauldings' snake used their little trap to shed its skin, they had proof of the snake's existence and of its size. When they convinced the park rangers to come and examine the skin, the Spauldings made believers of the rangers. From the size of the scales on the back of the snake's skin, the men were able to determine that it was indeed over eighteen feet long!
Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the rangers put the Spauldings in touch with Todd Hardwick, owner of Pesky Critters Relocation. Todd and his staff are called in to help when a wild animal is in conflict with humans. Pesky Critters' policy is to remove the animal alive and relocate it to another, friendlier environment. They handle all sorts of animal complaints--from possums and raccoons to snakes and alligators. When Todd got a call from the Spauldings he turned to Tom McClellan, an associate and snake expert. Todd and Tom rushed over to the Spauldings' home, exicted at the prospect of capturing such a magnificent animal.
When they arrived, David and Ruth met them in the yard and showed off their primitive trap. Tom remembers laughing at the simple trap, knowing that a giant python could bust out of the plywood walls of the tunnel simply by coiling up and expanding. The Spauldings also demonstrated how they had lined the snake's hole with toothpicks, to gauge whether the snake was "home." When Tom and Todd examined the toothpicks they were lying flat, which meant that the snake had passed over them: The snake was home!
Although both David and Ruth thought it was crazy, Tom and Todd immediately enlarged the snake's hole and crawled into the foundation of the house to look for the snake. Using flashlights to peer around in the little crawl space under the house, the first thing Tom and Todd noticed was the snake's path. It had worn a smooth, semicircular path through the sandy soil under the house. The path led directly to another hole to under a nearby floor joist. Because the crawl space was divided by concrete walls, Tom and Todd could not see what sort of space the snake had in the next area. But, since their plan had been simply to scout out the area, they crawled back outside--much to the relief of David and Ruth! They now knew what they were dealing with: A giant python was holed up under another room of the Spauldings' home. They decided to return the next day with more help. Before they left, they boarded up the snake's holes, in an effort to keep it contained under the house overnight.
When Todd and Tom came back the next morning, they brought two expert snake hunters with them: Felix Valez and Joe Wasilewski. The four men were nervous but excited. They brought along an excess of equipment, because they wanted to be prepared for anything! Carrying their materials and flashlights, the four made their way through the foundation hole and into the crawl space under the house. Then, with the other three men helping, Tom enlarged the snake's hole into the next chamber, and used large rocks to block off any other possible escape routes for the snake. When it was big enough for him to fit through, he very carefully and slowly made his way, headfirst, into the adjacent chamber. Because no one could see into the next room, all the men were nervous for Tom. Todd remembers thinking that if the snake were resting right on the other side of the hole, Tom could be bitten right in the face or throat!
As Tom made his way into the next room, he carefully shone his flashlight around. It didn't take him long to find what he was after--the giant sling was coiled, resting, almost directly in front of him! Tom took note of his surroundings, then crawled back into the next room. When he reported what he had seen--the size and apparent strength of his snake--the men realized that their original plan would not succeed. Before they knew exactly how large the snake was, they had thought they could snare the snake and drag it back through the basement, out the original hole, and force it into a waiting sleeping had to be transported elsewhere. This snake was too big for that plan, though!
Tom remembered that he had seen sunlight from the snake's chamber, so Todd and Felix crawled out into the yard to report on their progress. David and Ruth were waiting, and brought them around to the other side of the house, to a spot that they estimated was right outside where the snake lay coiled. Then, under David and Ruth's watchful eyes, Todd and Felix dug another hole under the house's foundation. When the hole was large enough for him, Todd lowered himself headfirst. With park rangers holding onto his boots, Todd surveyed the space in front of him. He quickly saw the giant python in front of him. When the snake began to move and uncoil, he saw his opportunity. Using a long pole with a loop on the end, Todd was able to snag the snake's head in the lasso and pull it tight. Once he had the snake's head securely captured, he yelled for the others to pull him up. Holding tightly to the pole, Todd was pulled out of the hole, with the snake behind him.
Once all the men and the snake were safely out of the crawl space, the whole crowd began to cheer and celebrate. The snake was measured, and came in at 21 feet long, 250 pounds! Todd adopted the python, which he named Big Mama. David and Ruth are delighted to be free of the annoying creature, which they think may have lived "with" them for over fifteen years! The neighbors are happy that, because of the perseverance of the Spauldings and the bravery of the four men, their neighborhood is free of one pesky python!