When the Circus Comes To Town

And the stars of the show end up dead

"I guess it was a few days later she came by here, and I was telling her about the game reserve and my plans and stuff, and she said, 'Well, you can forget that.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' She said, 'You're not going to ever go up to Montgomery County.' She said, 'You can forget it. It's not going to happen.' "

As it turned out, with the help of attorney William Habern, Parr was granted permission to go to Cut and Shoot twice a week to deliver meat and supplies to his caretaker, as long as he was home at night when Carnathon called to check up on him.

"She allowed me no time whatsoever to put my perimeter fences up, to do any kind of maintenance, to go in and clean the cages thoroughly or anything, and I had to get my lawyers involved just to be able to get permission to go up there at all. It was like pulling teeth. She would not acknowledge it. Every conversation she would say, 'Your alleged game reserve.' I said, 'No, that is my whole life.' I have spent thousands of dollars literally trying to get permission to go, to do the right thing. Because I'm not neglectful."

Working with posthole diggers and a wheelbarrow when fair weather and his twice-weekly visits coincided, Parr erected an 8-foot-high chainlink fence anchored to steel poles, each set in a foot or more of concrete, and enclosed about a quarter of an acre. By early November, the fence was complete, except for a six-foot gap where a gate was to be installed.

"If they had granted him that consent and permission," says attorney Habern, "then this would not have happened. The cats wouldn't have gotten out; there'd have been no overreaction by the police; everything would have been fine. What happened to Lefty Parr is another example of poor parole-officer supervision, to say the least."

With Parr's travel restricted, the tigers, alongside a revolving cast of assorted other big-cat exotics and the Rottweilers, were being primarily cared for by one Zettler Monroe Cude Jr. Cude is a quiet man behind Coke-bottle glasses and is described by his supportive acquaintances as slow. Parr isn't shy about making the comment, within Cude's earshot, that the caretaker's elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor. These are ugly things to say, but questions of responsibility have been raised: Cude's responsibility for letting the cats out and Parr's for leaving the cats in Cude's care.

Parr says he has known Cude's family for 20 years and frankly felt sorry for Zettler, who was verging on homelessness when Parr offered him a small trailer to sleep in, paid utilities and a steady supply of groceries in exchange for Cude's feeding and watering and cage-cleaning duties.

"He's always taken good care of my animals. I've never caught rancid meat or dirty cages. My water bowls are always clean," says Parr.

Tigers, it turns out, will sometimes display a claim of ownership by spraying the object of their affections, much like a house cat, if house cats sprayed through high-pressure water hoses. Parr has gotten used to the warning signs of an impending spray and will jump out of the line of fire. Cude, he says, is the only man he's seen who'll take a spray right between the eyes and accept it as a welcome sign that the cats really do like him.

"He really loves the animals."
He also, and there's no nice way to put this, really screwed up.
On the morning of November 8, Cude walked over to the circular pen in which Binanca and Sybil lived. The pen is a zoo-quality pavilion, an 18-inch concrete pad bounded by a thick steel wire fence and bisected by a steel wire dividing wall with a sliding door to allow the cats to move from one side to the other. Each segment of the pavilion is individually accessible via one of two slam-doors, 100-pound grates of steel on vertical tracks that open when lifted and slam shut when unsupported.

Cude secured the cats in one side of the pavilion while he hosed down the other. Then he moved the tigers and cleaned the rest of the cage. When he finished cleaning the second side, he propped open the slam-door with a piece of pipe and dragged his water hose through to a nearby travel cage, which he then cleaned as well. And then, with the tigers secured behind the slider door in the far half of the pavilion, he went back to his trailer to get some breakfast.

When Cude returned, he forgot that the slam-door, largely blocked from sight by the travel cage, was still propped open. And when he opened the slider door to let the tigers have the full run of their habitat, they simply walked across the concrete floor and out the open slam-door.

One of Parr's Rottweilers tried to herd Binanca back to the cage and got chewed up for his trouble (he survived). Cude walked across the street -- running being what prey does -- and found Troy Bynum working on his property. Cude and Bynum got in Bynum's truck and drove a fast few miles to the house Troy shared with his wife, Cindy, who is Reginald Parr's niece. From the Bynum home, Cude phoned Parr, who told him there was only one thing to do: call 911. Cindy Bynum remembers that Cude placed that 911 call from her house at roughly 8 a.m.

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