UPDATE:At a court appearance this week in Wood County, Beauchemin stated for the record that his real name is Damon James Heimen. A judge decreed that all of the snakes confiscated in last week's raid were now wards of the Humane Society of North Texas, and that Heimen owes them $4,000 for their care. Speaking of care, a snake expert told the court that the most of the snakes were underfed and dehydrated and that some of them suffered from "mouth rot."
Authorities from several law enforcement agencies and a handful of private-sector reptile experts raided the snake farm of David Beauchemin yesterday in Wood County. Before the day was done, the deputies, game wardens and employees of the Caldwell Zoo had hauled off 78 boas, anacondas and pythons ranging in length from four to 12 feet. One of the snakes -- an albino Burmese python, has a street value of
$20,000 several hundred dollars.)
Beauchemin fled Louisiana after jumping bail on a similar case. The ill-coiffed, 45-year-old
Cajun and his 23-year-old wife Tawni were arrested after a March 2010 raid at their combined home/place of business.
Make that businesses: Not only were they operating a snake farm with the unfortunate name High End Herps Inc. (which sounds like something you would catch from a Manhattan call girl), but also Happy Hounds Rescue, an animal shelter they advertised on Craigslist as a "germ free safe haven" for cats, dogs and other more conventional pets.
It was Happy Hounds that brought on their downfall. A woman told police she found the dog she entrusted to the Beauchemins for sale on Craigslist, and that complaint triggered the raid.
That woman's pooch might have been one of the lucky ones. Louisiana authorities now think that some of the puppies and kitties the Beauchemins pledged to shelter wound up as slowly digesting lumps in the bellies of the giant snakes. According to some reports, there had also been a rash of missing-animal complaints in the area after the Beauchemins set up shop.
"We found conditions relating to cruelty to animals," said an Allen Parish cop last year. "Sanitary conditions there were very poor. We have been seizing evidence that will be tested later in the lab to see if there is anything illegal pertaining to the animals."
Police say that David and Tawni Beauchemin were living in squalid conditions. They shared sleeping quarters with their reptiles in a snake barn, which did not have a flush toilet. They told police they burned their own feces in a barrel; as for the snake-shit, police say they pretty much just left it where it lay.
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Marc Duhon, a Lafayette-based (legit) snake raiser, says that conditions were appalling. He helped authorities clean up High End Herps and characterizes the scene as "total chaos and filth."
"It was total Third World conditions in there," he says. "Just death everywhere, these reeking smells. I couldn't believe any animals were alive in there."
He says that Beauchemin also threatened him after his arrest. "He told me he was gonna blow my house up, burn it down, shoot me in the head and dance around like a demon," Duhon remembers. "He's a weird guy."
Charges are still pending in the Texas case. Beauchemin was extradited back to the swamps to face 22 counts of animal cruelty along with numerous other violations relating to improperly operating a snake farm, not to mention telephone harassment and cyberstalking charges.