Welcome to Killing Killers, worldwide headquarters of author/blogger Eponymous Rox

Browse us for breaking news, missing person alerts, unsolved crimes and cold cases. Plus explore interviews, photos, case updates and brand new evidence in our ongoing 'Smiley Face Murder' investigation.
Never heard of the Smiley Face Killers before?
Start here. New guests, are you investigating a loved one's suspicious disappearance and drowning? Begin with a look at the forensics of a true drowning and the complete Smiley Face Serial Killer case background. Then read in-depth interviews with families of other 'Smiley' victims, by author Eponymous Rox.

ABOUT KILLING KILLERS' BLOGGER: Eponymous Rox covers cops, curs and killers and has been featured in Crime Magazine and on NBC. The author is also a regular paid-contributor to CrimeMagazine.com, the Gather News agency and Yahoo's Associated Content. JUMP IN: The majority of cases presented on this site are unsolved so your opinion counts -- you don't need permission to start or join discussions, vote in crime polls or submit tips on Killing Killers, and can even do so anonymously if you prefer.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Police Probe Python Double Murder Mystery

Canadian police are still probing the deaths of two young brothers believed to have been crushed to death by an African Rock Python this past weekend while they were sleeping.
So far they've revealed some holes in the initial tale told by the owner of the snake in question, Jean-Claude Savoie. Namely that it wasn't kept in Savoie's exotic pet store below his apartment where the boys were killed, but in the apartment itself.
He also had no permit to own or house that particular breed, a snake infamously known as temperamental and potentially vicious.
Although rarely attacking humans as a food source, experts say that African Rock Pythons are the most aggressive of their species and, at 20-feet in length when fully mature, grow to be the largest too.
Indeed, in 2009 the senior herpetologist at Florida's museum of natural history, Kenneth Krysko, characterized these specific types of pythons as so ill-tempered "they come out of the egg striking."
The entire tragic event in New Brunswick Canada has sparked worldwide controversy now, and many acclaimed snake handlers have expressed deep skepticism over the likelihood of such a double killing, regardless of the reptile's notoriously nasty reputation.
Rock Python's are known to bite although they are nonvenomous, and "typically they lunge at you" explains Jay Brewer of the Reptile Zoo in California. But he, like a great many other experts in the field, still doesn't believe it was the snake that killed the youngsters.
“It doesn’t sound logical,” Brewer says. “It’s paranoid, so it will immediately go on the defensive, but it won’t wrap you up and kill you. They generally don’t want to constrict you. I would like to see absolute proof it was guilty. It just doesn’t jive. I don’t know how [the boys] wouldn’t have got up and run away. The dots don’t quite connect.”
Johan Marais of the African Snakebite Institute in South Africa echoed those sentiments.
"I'm totally skeptical," he says, because "the snakes only eat a few times a year when in captivity," and unlike human predators they "don't kill for fun."
The last reported human attack by an African Rock Python was well over a decade ago and occurred right in Marais' own region. Three years earlier, in the U.S., one also suffocated an infant in his crib.
But the point is: Snakes don't slay unless they're very, very hungry and, regardless, they don't expend a lot of energy on hunting their prey since the act of strangling and slowly devouring their kill is unto itself exhausting. 
They lay in wait.
Searching for answers in the bizarre strangulation deaths of the two Canadian children, some people are speculating that the python may have reacted in fear, perhaps when it allegedly fell through the ceiling over the sleeping siblings' mattress.
But they're still pondering how it could have had so much time and opportunity to execute a virtually soundless double-asphyxiation.
Investigators also report that the young boys had been playing earlier in the day with the kind of livestock which appeals to these deadly predators, such as baby llamas, goats and ponies. But that theory doesn't support an accidental killing, which means, if the snake is in fact responsible, its motive remains unclear. 
Rock pythons do have a tremendously well-developed sense of smell but extremely poor night vision, so it's therefore "not impossible" that these enticing animal odors may have been lingering on the boys' skin, clothing or hair and served to seal their gruesome fate.
Yet, days later, even police don't sound too sure of the 'mistaken identity' scenario anymore, and their criminal investigation is still underway:
“Originally we thought it strangled the boys,” said Jullie Rogers-Marsh, a constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “but now we aren’t confirming exactly what happened until we get autopsy and necropsy results.”
While complete autopsy findings for the asphyxiated victims are still pending today, necropsy results on the euthanized python have since been analyzed. These confirmed the suspect snake was absolutely healthy.
*Are you a snake owner, breeder, expert, or victim? Your comments and opinions on this case are welcome and can be solicited anonymously if you prefer.


  1. I know the snake owner and the mother of the children. I also met the boys on a few occasions. I'm also a biologist and have studied mostly at the molecular level. What bothers me about all of the experts' opinions is that the right questions haven't been asked. Many experts also seem to be "shop owners" unless I didn't get that right. That would also make Jean-Claude an expert - if that's how we refer to them. My questions were the following and unfortunately no one asked any of them: 1) Have there been extensive or relevant behavioral studies on these specific snakes in captivity? 2) What do we know of epigenetic changes(changes in gene expressions from environmental stress)in animals held in captivity for so long? 3)Does a python always bite its prey? These children were obviously dead tired (it's essentially impossible to wake children that age when they are sound asleep after being so active during the day). I saw a video of a small python coiling around a chicken and it didn't have time to make a sound as it took only a few seconds and if was dead. 4)Aren't pythons opportunistic animals? If so, could it not take more than one prey if they are readily available. 5)The so called "pet" pythons often coil around peoples' arms, etc. Could the python have simply coiled around the children upon coming into contact and perhaps the pressure was enough to stop the children's beating hearts - growing bones are more flexible... It was a big python and the children were small and vulnerable.

    I'm tired of all the crazy comments and many of the so called "expert" opinions. Finally, I sure hope the province will be held accountable for its role in the matter as well as its failure to follow through on effective inspections.

    1. Let's take these points one at a time. Firstly, there are not any degreed herpetologists that I know of that specialize in python behaviour. The majority of "experts" are indeed breeders and shop owners who deal with hundreds of animals daily; and thus are in possession of fairly detailed observations regarding species behaviour. I've kept and bred animals for over 15 years, and have observed thousands of individuals on a daily basis. I'm not sure how much more or what type of "experience" is needed. If you take a few minutes to clear out the garbage comments you will see the same positions repeated by all the well known, experienced folks who deal with this species. The incident as described is unlikely, out of character for both the species and the pythonidae in general, and seems suspicious. It could simply be a freak tragedy though as well.

      1. Under what parameters? We know how to get them to breed readily in captivity; and that is usually contingent on the animals being well adjusted and healthy. If you are asking: "are ARP's generally more aggressive than other large members of the python group?" then the answer is a resounding "yes". As a general rule, ARPs along with reticulated pythons are generally more willing to strike, or engage in aggressive defensive tactics.

      2. Nothing as far as I know, though I'm not at all certain how that is even remotely relevant. ARPs, like all pythons make excellent captives when provided with the proper environmental conditions.

      3. Yes. Every time. The constriction method depends upon the strike to "grab" the prey item. Usually the animal will strike for the head/ facial area of the prey, though that isn't a hard and fast law. The snake uses it's mouth like a hand to grab a hold. Once caught, the animal rapidly spins it's body to wrap the prey item up.

      4. Not at the same time. It isn't unusual for a python to consume multiple items in a sitting, but they cannot deal with more than one item at a time, they don't have any additional equipment to do so. Their mouth and body is completely busy when engaged in a feeding response.

      5. Not likely. The animals have an excellent sense of what is needed to "hold", "climb" etc.. Constriction is an entirely different behaviour. Large ARPs do not climb much being primarily terrestrial, and will reliably seek shelter in a dark, and secluded spot. Additionally, ARPs are not normally inclined to interact with humans. If the animal is responsible, it meant to kill and consume the children.

    2. Adam,

      1) If there hasn't been extensive research on these snakes in such conditions from a molecular standpoint we can't assume to know everything or predict everything about these animals. I not only know this because of my field of study but from experience. I have a sick child and all the so-called experts were wrong. I found the diagnosis on my own and all of my hypotheses have been confirmed. We simply cannot look lightly at science - evolution happens.

      2) Epigenetics is quite recent and enable us to understand why identical twins for example who are raised in two distinct environments behave differently and suffer from various illnesses (which shouldn't happen given that they are clones).

      4)If I were a python and smelled mouth-wathering preys I'd probably get one and if i'm not ready to eat it I'd probably leave it and settle for a while but I'm not sure I wouldn't be tempted to kill the other prey lying nearby. That's what I meant. But that is just an hypotheses. Don't know how these animals behave but it could make sense - especially if there's a delay between the coiling and feeding. Or do they just remain coiled forever until they are ready to feed?

    3. Hi Linda,

      1. Molecular biology, while providing insight into a host of issues regarding animal care is unlikely to reveal anything particularly interesting regarding behavioural issues. Snakes, while fascinating, are fairly simple animals and their behaviour is predictable within observed knowledge. True, there have been some recent studies linking hormonal patterns to behavioral responses lately, but that merely confirms keeper observation: That most pythons follow a rarely deviated from routine of daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal behaviour. In fact, If one keeps careful daily and feeding notes, after about 6 months you can accurately predict "grumpy" days, times when the animal is likely to go off feed, and estrus cycles. The fact that experts are occasionally wrong, miss something, or need to re-evaluate their position in the light of new evidence does not discredit over a hundred years of solid herpetological husbandry and observation.

      2. I'm aware of epigenetics, though I think your post might be in error here. Two identical twins raised in distinct (different) environments SHOULD demonstrate different illnesses, behaviour, etc. The stresses and variables placed upon them are different, thus one should expect a different response. The fact that they are genetic clones only means that placed in distinct, but identical conditions they should demonstrate the same responses.

      3. Well, unlike you I DO know how these animals behave. I've observed tens of thousands of feeding responses over time and can only report that a large constrictor attacking two disparate prey items, killing both, and making no attempt to eat either is vanishingly rare. I've seen plenty of "kills" (we generally feed frozen/ thawed pre killed rodents) without eating, but the only time i've ever seen a constrictor kill more than one prey item is in self defense. The animal was confined to a small feeding cage and unable to escape the live rodents placed in with it. Occasionally difficult feeders are offered live prey in hopes that the movement will elicit a feeding response. After trying to escape for nearly a half hour, it settled into a corner to avoid the rodents. When they got to close it would puff and threat display. Eventually, it struck one of the rats and constricted it, and left it. It promptly tried to escape/ avoid again. The process was eventually repeated when the remaining rat simply annoyed the animal too much. I have only seen this behaviour a handful of times over tens of thousands of feeding responses. Given the choice, they will either kill and attempt to consume the prey, or leave it alone entirely. The facts of this case as currently prevented do support the animal being backed into a corner and unable to escape. Certainly not without one of the children waking up. Again, I'm not saying it couldn't be a freak case, it could; only that the odds of it are so vanishingly low, that common sense and Occam's razor state that we should be looking thoroughly in other locations first.

      To answer the second part of your question, a coiled snake is in a "rest" position. This position is generally assumed when not actively moving. If you are referring to the constriction, then it differs from animal to animal. Generally speaking, most snakes past the infant stage will not fully release a prey item during consumption. They use their powerful muscles to secure the prey while they work their jaws over the first quarter of the body. Baby snakes will often fully release their prey and crawl around it a few times, occasionally grabbing it again. Since this behaviour usually stops after the first handful of feedings, it is thought that there is a bit of a learning curve here that the animal has to overcome in order to be an effective predator. It is rare for a subadult, or adult animal to engage in a full constriction that does not result in an immediate feeding response.

    4. Hi Adam,

      Interesting insight regarding the snake's possible behavior.

      There are many scientific articles on behavioral genetics - you should look into them it would help you understand a little better although I am glad to see we have the same understanding of epigenetics and twins. I think I may have confused you as you felt the need to tell me I was wrong.

      There seems to be a tendency among individuals, including many experts, to state whatever they feel is the ultimate truth and I really feel we should keep an open mind. I'm not talking about as you put it "experts who are occasionally wrong" - it's far worse than that. This whole thing is a good example of what happens when people think everything is under control and I'm not just talking about the owner.

      Perhaps one of the kids startled the snake (but that is very unlikely for reasons I will not discuss here) or maybe as you say it was a "freak case".

      Anyway, some of the things you say are interesting and I certainly didn't mean to offend you with my first post.

  2. Excellent post and questions, Linda. You make a good point about the stresses of captivity which, even for humans, can be quite profound if held for long durations.

    From the info I've gathered on these snakes, yes, they do usually bite their victims and authorities say there were some bite marks on the boys' bodies. However, that was not clear proof the python was actually feeding.

    Only one zoo expert has cited an example where he witnessed such a snake constricting two victims simultaneously, although you're right again that small 'dead tired' children would definitely be vulnerable in a similar attack.

    Also, many owners, handlers and herpetologists have weighed in to attest to the fact that these type of pythons are famously edgy, so your theory that it may have overreacted due to a sudden movement or the kids' panic is valid.

    One thing is certain, unfortunately: The owner knew he was in violation of the law in having this dangerous *pet* on his premises -- one that was said to have escaped its glass enclosure before.

    That means the tragedy will considerably deepen soon once he's charged with negligent homicide.

    Thank you for reading today and for taking the time to comment as well --

    1. P.S. Like others, I still maintain a sliver of doubt that the python really did it!


  3. Thanks for your reply to my comment E.R.
    But I strongly believe the python is as guilty as charged (or killed)! But of course, I know these people, the environment, and the way people live in this little remote area of NB. It reminds me of years ago when people kept quiet (if you know what I mean). Everyone knew it was there and of the situation.

  4. Oh and the python as far as I know and unless of course the owner has said so himself (which I don't believe he did) has never escaped its enclosure. It think it may have been changed from one enclosure to another though. The press has been saying a lot of things. Right in the beginning, when they said it escaped the pet store (lower floor), at that we knew it was misinterpreted. My eldest daughter was there with the mom that morning as soon as she was told. The stories that were going around were totally off. Even the info as to where the kids were sleeping or found was off...

  5. @ Adam: Great info -- thank you -- the Python was the murder weapon then, although whether this was premeditated or accidental remains to be seen.

    Basically curiosity killed the cat, or in this case two kittens. Here's what likely happened and why the surviving boy's father (the actual owner of the snake) would offer officials such a convoluted version:

    Three little boys unlocked and entered the python's glass enclosure after the adult/s in the apartment had gone to bed. The son of the owner knew where the key was hidden out of habit, and may or may not have deliberately locked the two brothers inside once they stepped into the cage.

    Everyone agrees that an African Rock Python is extremely high-strung, bordering on paranoid and vicious, and at least one detective has indicated there were a few bitemarks on both cadavers.

    This means the snake was startled and attacked his small intruders, NOT to feed on them but defensively. The third youngster probably witnessed the entire shocking event, which was swift to be sure, judging on the enormous size of this particular reptile.

    He then ran to his father who, upon discovering the grotesque scene for himself, began devising some a cover up story, including the hole in the ceiling "where the snake fell down" nonsense. All simply done to protect his young son from any trouble and, of course, the police.

    I based this working theory on your responses above, Adam. Your obvious expertise and the facts which investigators have already unearthed and shared with the press and public, indicate the snake was afraid when it killed, not hungry.

    It still is one of the weirdest crime stories I've ever heard of, though. Thank you for clarifying some of the outstanding questions and issues involved in it, and for taking time to explain this highly misunderstood animal's behavior. Very helpful indeed.