Wild at Heart

by coldglass

Two articles on the Zanesville incident1, which you may remember from the news a few months back when a man in Ohio released all the animals from his private zoo and then killed himself, one in GQ and the other in Esquire. Both articles in US mens magazines, both released on the same day – it’s war to the knife in print media! Apparently the two journalists responsible were in Zanesville at the same time, staying in the same hotel and interviewing the same people. I picture them scuttling round desperately trying to outwit each other like they were in those old Spy vs Spy cartoons. Or possibly a romantic comedy where they both fall for one of the witnesses or something. Though in that case the story they’re working on probably wouldn’t start with a man shooting himself in the head and end with several dozen exotic animals being buried in a mass grave.

The two articles aren’t actually all that similar; the one in Esquire focuses on the events of that day, whereas the GQ piece is more about the big picture. The Esquire article in particular makes the whole thing sounds absolutely nightmarish – an unprepared SWAT team sweeping a darkened farm for dangerous, wildly out-of-place animals. The owner dead with a revolver in his hand, the body partially mutilated and eaten. An officer searching the dilapidated farmhouse and wondering if the place might be booby-trapped whilst monkeys scream and rattle their cages. Someone getting out of their car and finding themselves unable to free their entangled rifle as a black bear advances. The batteries in the lights dying. The night broken by howling and roaring and gunfire. The obvious way to describe it is ‘like something out of a horror movie’, though perhaps a survival horror videogame might be more like it.

The GQ article by contrast is less visceral but rather depressing. Ohio apparently has unusually lax laws regarding ‘exotic animals’2, so that no-one knows exactly how many big cats there are in the state or where they are. I was surprised to read that big cats can be bought as cubs for around $300 – for the price of the PC I’m writing this on I could have got a half-dozen and still had change for catnip. Of course, lions take rather more upkeep than plugging into a power socket and occasionally dusting. . . The background on the owner, Terry Thompson, makes the whole thing seem more understandable, if that’s the right word. A Vietnam veteran with mental health problems, who’d recently had his wife leave him and had just got out of prison after serving time for firearms offences. He had an overgrown, disintegrating farm, no money, a sizable menagerie of exotic animals he couldn’t take care of properly. . .

Myself I prefered the Esquire article, though they’re both definitely worth a read. It’s a strange world.


1 Sometimes called the Zanesville Zoo Massacre, which is rather melodramatic, as well as sounding like the name of an indie band.
2 Not for much longer though.