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5 Pets Who Helped Solve Their Owners' Murders

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While it’s widely acknowledged pets can offer comfort, companionship, and fuzzy tummies for rubbing, it can also be reassuring to know your furry pals may one day provide the necessary information to find your killer. That could be the case for the late Martin Duram, whose pet parrot Bud has taken to vocalizing his owner's possible last words after a fatal shooting in May 2015: "Don't [expletive] shoot!"

Bud also likes to replicate what sounds like an argument between a man and woman, leading Duram's family to believe it may have been a domestic incident gone awry. (According to Michigan NBC affiliate WOODTV, his wife, Glenna, is a suspect.)

It's not yet known whether Bud's chirpy testimony will ever be admissible in court. Until then, here are five animals that made sure justice was served.

1. BIRD THE COCKATOO

Texas native Kevin Butler was such a fan of NBA great Larry Bird that he ignored the potential redundancy and named his pet cockatoo after him. Friends said Bird was very devoted to Butler, and when Butler’s home was broken into in 2001, Bird tried to fend off his owner's murderers before he was mortally wounded himself. One of them, Daniel Torres, denied involvement until prosecutors presented evidence linking the DNA recovered from Bird’s beak to Torres. He received life in prison. Bird, just 18 inches tall, was heralded as “valiant” during the trial.

2. CHIEF THE PITBULL-LAB MIX

A Seattle, Washington couple and their dog were found slain in 1998, the apparent victims of a home invasion. While standing trial, suspects Ken Leuluaialii and George Tuilefano were surprised to learn that prosecutors planned a landmark entry of evidence: Chief’s DNA. Dog blood had been found on the defendants’ clothing during the investigation, and forensic analysis was able to match it to the deceased pit bull-Labrador mix. In his opening argument, prosecutor Tim Bradshaw stated that “the irony will be that the witness who could never speak, even when he was alive, will present the most eloquent of evidence."

3. TWO CATS

When pet shop owner Lori Auker disappeared in May 1989, her family thought the worst. Unfortunately, their suspicions were correct: After almost three weeks of searching, Lori’s body was discovered near a dirt road in Pennsylvania. Police focused on her estranged husband, Robert Auker, who had been following her in the weeks leading up to her death. Surveillance footage placed a car resembling his 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity in the vicinity, and his parents reported Auker had been meticulously scrubbing the interior before selling it.

Despite his efforts, forensic workers found several cat hairs that later proved to be an identical match to the victim’s two felines. The fur was also stuck to a splint Auker had been wearing on his hand the day Lori disappeared. He was given the death penalty.

4. HIRA THE PARROT

Hira was the only witness to Neelam Sharma’s murder in February 2014; the attacker had also dispatched of the family dog, who had been barking during the struggle. Widower Vijay Sharma, editor of a Hindi daily newspaper, was unable to think of any solid leads to help police until his brother-in-law noticed Hira would become highly agitated whenever his nephew, Ashutosh, visited—or even when his name was mentioned in conversation. Vijay says he informed police and Ashutosh confessed to the robbery-turned-murder. "He accepted his crime and informed us that he was accompanied by an accomplice," officer Shalabh Mathur said. "They had entered the house with the intention of taking away cash and other valuables." Afraid his aunt would recognize him, he killed her.

Police later downplayed the bird’s participation, saying it was an unexplained bite mark on Ashutosh that made him their primary focus. Whatever the case, local news media initially reported Hira’s name as Hercule the Parrot, a rather morbid attempt at humor.  

5. AN UNNAMED GRASSHOPPER

While not quite a pet, one insect found itself dying for a noble cause. According to “forensic entomologist” M. Lee Goff, a 1985 homicide in Texas resulted in precious little physical evidence—save for a grasshopper that had been found on the victim’s clothing that was missing a limb. Further investigation of one suspect revealed that he happened to have a severed insect leg stuck in the cuff of his pants. When Goff re-assembled the bug, he found it to be a perfect match, and the suspect was convicted. Goff went on to be a consultant for the CSI television franchise and continues to use entomology to help determine time, location, and cause of death.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
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Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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