Transcript

452:

Poultry Slam 2011
Transcript

Originally aired 12.02.2011

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/452

Prologue.

Ira Glass

For 35 years, Scharlette Holdman has worked with defense teams on death penalty cases, including some very high profile cases. But she hasn't given an interview to the press in decades, ever since an incident where she had a few drinks with a reporter and said some things that she was unhappy to see in print.

Scharlette Holdman

It was so embarrassing. And I thought, well, I either have to quit drinking or quit doing interviews. And I wasn't ready to quit drinking yet, so I quit doing interviews. So this interview is a very rare event for me. I haven't done any kind of interviews with the media since '85.

Ira Glass

And you are ending the moratorium, in this one instance, for this story. Why?

Scharlette Holdman

Well, a fluffy, red-combed leghorn deserves his moment in the sun. I mean just the image-- and I'm not talking about any chicken. I'm talking about-- you can just picture it-- this beautiful leghorn, his tail perked up, and that red comb sitting at kind of a rakish angle on his head, and his head kind of cocked to the side, and he looks at you with his little eyes. That's what this story is about.

Ira Glass

That is not just what this story is about. That is what a lot of today's radio show is about. Ever since the early days of our radio show, once a year, during the highest poultry-consumption time of our country, which is of course-- if you think about this for even a moment, you can guess the answer to this-- it's the weeks that begin with Thanksgiving and go through Christmas and New Year's.

During that time, it's a tradition here. We devote an entire hour of our program to stories of chickens, turkeys, ducks, foul of all kind. And in homage to Chicago's poetry slams, which have spread across the country but were created at the Green Mill Bar on the North Side by poet Marc Smith, we named these programs "Poultry Slams."

But I just want to be clear before we even begin. We're using the word "slam" with no malice toward any bird of any kind at all. No birds were hurt, no birds were slaughtered, no birds were slammed in the making of today's program. And we have incredible stories today, incredible enough that at least one woman has ended a quarter-century moratorium on talking to the press to be here with me. And you should too. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Witness for the Barbecue-tion.

Ira Glass

Act One, "Witness for the Barbecue-tion." So Scharlette Holdman didn't just get the idea of calling a chicken as a witness in a murder case out of the blue. She was working on this case-- and we're going to call this guy Harry-- and there was no question that the guy had killed somebody. This wasn't about whether he'd done it. It was just about what sentence he would get. He had sat on death row at San Quentin for 10 years. But Scharlette says he was schizophrenic with an IQ of 58 and just out of touch with reality.

Scharlette Holdman

And one of the things he did-- he wrote messages and symbols on little pieces of toilet paper and rolled them up in a ball. And he'd done this for years on death row-- rolled the little secret messages up in a ball and then rolled them in feces, his own feces, and then into little, tiny, bead-sized balls and put those into the braids in his hair.

Ira Glass

Oh my.

Scharlette Holdman

So that they dangled around his forehead.

Ira Glass

And the things he was putting in his hair-- from his point of view, were they communicating some information, the little messages?

Scharlette Holdman

Exactly. But he couldn't tell me what the messages were because they were secret. When I would talk to him about his mother, he would tell me she lived in a Coca-Cola can.

Ira Glass

It's against the law to execute somebody who is so crazy he doesn't understand why he's being executed. And Scharlette said that was true for this guy.

Scharlette Holdman

When I would say, do you know what's going to happen on the 12th of June, he was kind of befuddled and, with pressure, he would finally say, well yeah, he thought he was going to be reupholstered.

Ira Glass

The state of California did not agree with Scharlette about this guy. They wanted to execute him in 30 days. Scharlette's team was making a last-ditch appeal to stay this execution. Meanwhile, the state was gathering its evidence.

Scharlette Holdman

San Quentin sent in a prison psychiatrist to determine-- was he competent to be executed? Did he know he was going to be executed? And did he know why he was going to be executed? So the psychiatrist goes and interviews Harry. And then this psychiatrist testified in court that not only was Harry aware that he was going to be executed, she was so certain of this because she had played Tic-tac-toe with him and Harry had beat her.

Well, it was so absurd and so outside of any normal experience in a courtroom. And this is after 30 years of being in death penalty cases in the South, around the world, and-- I really couldn't believe she had said it. But at the same time, the only image that came to me-- I'm from the South, obviously. And growing up, we always went to the Mid-South Fair. And they had a chicken that played Tic-tac-toe that absolutely mesmerized me. And it was pretty clear to me-- OK, we've got to find a chicken who can play Tic-tac-toe.

Ira Glass

Scharlette thought-- and this is not a joke. It's not an exaggeration. She thought that a chicken like that could save this man's life. Jurors, after all, tend to believe the state and its witnesses. And a chicken like that could totally undermine the psychiatrist's testimony by proving that playing Tic-tac-toe doesn't mean that you understand things like why you're being executed.

Scharlette Holdman

I just knew a chicken would work. It's a sad state. But I think a chicken has more credibility than the defense team did. And I think it would have brought the jury over to seeing us as people rather than as these obstructionists who were interfering with an execution.

And who can doubt a chicken? You can't. Chickens aren't going to lie. Chickens have integrity.

I had this image of the psychiatrist being on the stand. And I would quietly enter through the wood doors as they opened with this beautiful leghorn under my arm, right, and a comb at a rakish angle. And as I walked into the courtroom, not saying a word, and quietly took a seat on the front row, the psychiatrist-- who we knew, because we'd investigated her background-- was from New York City, would see a person with a chicken and think, why is that-- oh my god, no. And that psychiatrist would slowly realize that she was going to have to play Tic-tac-toe with a chicken.

Ira Glass

So you're trying to psych out-- you were trying to get inside the psychiatrist's head and--

Scharlette Holdman

Exactly. Exactly.

Ira Glass

--And make the psychiatrist unravel even before you pull your stunt.

Scharlette Holdman

The jury's eyes, as awareness overcame her. So it wouldn't work with a frazzled chicken. I didn't want a splotchy, beat-up, tired, exhausted chicken. I wanted a chicken that could capture the audience's attention, in this case the audience was the jury.

Ira Glass

Right. You'd need a chicken like in a cartoon.

Scharlette Holdman

Look, I had to have a chicken that could take on a psychiatrist. It had to be a stand-up chicken.

Ira Glass

Noted.

Scharlette Holdman

So we began to hunt for this stand-up chicken.

Ira Glass

Well, this task fell to the legal interns. The man was scheduled to die, at that point, in less than two weeks. And they needed a chicken. And they searched the places that you find Tic-tac-toe-playing chickens, namely county fairs, carnivals. And really, within hours, they found a Tic-tac-toe-playing goose in Montana. But, of course, Scharlette says, that was totally unacceptable.

Scharlette Holdman

Geese are nasty. They bite you. I didn't want a goose running around the courtroom chasing someone.

Ira Glass

Next was a guy at a roadside stand in Wyoming who did have a chicken, and it did play Tic-tac-toe, but he said that flying or driving it to California for the trial would probably upset it so much that he could not guarantee that it would win the game of Tic-tac-toe, so he was out. Finally, they found a fellow in Arkansas who trains chickens to play Tic-tac-toe. And he had a whole list of chickens that he had trained around the country. And he sent the legal team to one of those birds in San Francisco. That turned out to be a dead end. San Francisco had actually passed an ordinance banning the playing of Tic-tac-toe by chickens as animal cruelty.

Fortunately, another chicken on the list was not far from there-- at the boardwalk at Santa Cruz. They had their chicken.

Scharlette Holdman

So the next step was to convince the court to let us bring the chicken to court as a witness, as demonstrative evidence, to introduce the chicken and let the chicken play Tic-tac-toe. Now of course, I wanted the chicken to play Tic-tac-toe with the psychiatrist. But I realized--

Ira Glass

[LAUGHTER]

Scharlette Holdman

--yeah-- that most likely, no one was going to let us get away with that. But I did think that any of us-- we have a healthy group of interns. They know how to play Tic-tac-toe so that we could demonstrate to the jury that playing Tic-tac-toe did not mean that you were aware of the consequences of your actions.

Ira Glass

Why wouldn't you be allowed to make the psychiatrist play Tic-tac-toe with the chicken? I understand why the psychiatrist would not want to do it. But from a legal point of view, what line does that cross?

Scharlette Holdman

Well, evidently-- I agree with you-- but the court felt-- it never addressed the issue of having to play the psychiatrist. But the court felt that bringing the chicken into the courtroom to play Tic-tac-toe would degrade the dignity of the court. I thought that the dignity of the court was degraded by executing a mentally retarded, mentally ill person.

So the court denied our motion and said we could not bring the chicken into the courtroom for demonstrative evidence. It ruled against us.

Ira Glass

They weren't even allowed to show the jury a video of the chicken playing Tic-tac-toe. And without a chicken on the stand, without a video of a chicken, the jury found the psychiatrist credible and ruled to execute Scharlette's client. His life was saved later, on appeal. And in the years since then, in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that a person at his level of mental retardation cannot be executed.

For Scharlette, though, this story stays with her, this story of the chicken. Because in decades of doing these capital trials, bringing hundreds of witnesses, it is the greatest courtroom move she ever invented, bringing in the chicken. And she never got to try it. She invented this thing. She never got to try it. It was snatched away from her. Something like that sticks in your craw.

Scharlette Holdman

Well, yeah, because I didn't get to do it. But it's also because of the nature and quality of a chicken. When you do this kind of work, when you're down in the worst part-- when you're trying to work for the folks that, literally, the community wants to kill, it can be pretty discouraging. But this nice, fluffy leghorn brightens up your day and you forge on. And all of this, all of this is not to make light of death as punishment, of people with mental retardation, of people who are mentally ill, or of chickens.

Ira Glass

Thank you for saying that.

Scharlette Holdman

No, it's really not. I actually am a member of PETA.

Ira Glass

Scharlette Holdman in New Orleans.

Act Two. Murder Most Fowl.

Ira Glass

Act Two, "Murder Most Foul." OK, here's a crazy fact. The number of wild turkeys in America has grown from-- get this-- 30,000 turkeys at the beginning of the 20th century, to 1.3 million turkeys in the 1970s, to about 7 million turkeys today. Seven million wild turkeys roaming all over the country in every state but Alaska, turkeys that, if you believe videos you see on YouTube, could possibly do this to you.

Youtube Turkey Victim

It's pecking the car. It's pissed. It is attacking the car. It wants in here really bad. It's making weird noises. Oh, [BLEEP] get out of here! Oh my gosh.

Ira Glass

There are lots of videos like this on the web, of wild turkeys attacking people in residential neighborhoods. And they've been making the local news more lately too. You may have seen this footage that's gone around of this reporter in Sacramento who went to verify reports of a rogue turkey and then got attacked herself.

Sacramento Reporter

No. Go away. Oh, Jesus Christ. No!

Ira Glass

But none of these turkeys come even close to one bird, one bird who unleashed a reign of terror on Martha's Vineyard in 2008. Sam Bungey was a reporter on the island when it all went down.

Sam Bungey

It was Father's Day around noon, and two things were true on Old Ridge Road in the tiny town of Chilmark-- first, it was Tom the Turkey's last day on Earth. Second, he was not going quietly.

Alissa Keenan runs a business that specializes in rental baby equipment-- cribs, and high chairs, and things like that for families on vacation on Martha's Vineyard. And on that Father's Day, she and one of her drivers pulled up at a summer house on the road to make a delivery. They noticed a turkey in the yard but thought nothing of it. Wild turkeys run all over the island. The driver got out and a second later, Alissa heard shouts.

Alissa Keenan

And then I heard rocks flying and hitting the side of the van. And then he came screaming in saying, that crazy turkey's attacking. So I got out and I flapped my arms and said, shoo, like you do to the seagulls at the dump and they fly away. And the turkey came at me.

Sam Bungey

It was big, nearly up to her waist. Alissa told my producer, Bryan Ried, and me that she's seen hundreds of wild turkeys and they always run away when you go near them. This one kept rushing her.

Alissa Keenan

And it was pecking with its face, pecking at me. And then we got back in the van, and it was circling the van.

Sam Bungey

So you were besieged in the van, basically.

Alissa Keenan

Yes. We were besieged in the van by a turkey.

Sheriff's Department Phone Operator

Sheriff's Department Communications. This line is recording.

Alissa Keenan

Hi. I'm just calling to let you know there is a turkey here that is attacking us. I'm with my driver and he chased us around the van. I've never seen a turkey come after anybody like that. And the people that are coming here have little kids. I don't know if it has rabies or something. But it's definitely not behaving like any of the turkeys I've ever seen.

Sam Bungey

Alissa made the emergency call, she says, not for herself but for the children that would be using this rental gear. At the time, she didn't know that birds can't get rabies. She and the driver dropped the baby equipment out the van window and drove away.

A half hour later, officers Matt Gebo and Jeff Day rolled up in separate patrol cars. It was a strange scene-- a bunch of beach chairs and strollers and umbrellas lying in a pile. When Gebo stepped out of his cruiser, the turkey charged him. Both officers filed multi-page reports about what happened next.

"Due to the wild turkey's aggression," Gebo wrote, "I jumped up onto the cruiser's push bumper for protection."

From the bumper, Gebo watched as the turkey pursued his partner. It was fast. It got within a few feet and jumped the policemen. casting about for cover, Officer Day, who is about 6 feet tall and in good shape, ran for the baby equipment.

"The turkey chased me around a pile of chairs three times trying to peck me with its beak," Day wrote in his report. "I then kicked it with my boot. It backed up and then charged me again." Day unclipped the holster of his service weapon, a .40 caliber semi-automatic Glock pistol, and leveled his gun at the oncoming turkey. He backed up one more time around the baby equipment and then squeezed off two bullets. The turkey was wounded, but still it kept running.

"I pursued the bird on foot," Day wrote. And then he fired twice more.

Linda

We were outside. I was working in the yard and Jonathan was in the garage, and we heard gunshots.

Sam Bungey

This is Linda, who lives next door with her husband, Jonathan. They didn't want us to use their last name, which makes sense given everything that happened next. Linda and Jonathan knew this turkey, cared a lot for this turkey, actually. It wasn't exactly their pet. But he used to hang around in their yard a lot. And they had named him Tom.

Linda

Instinctively, we just started running over, which was a stupid thing to do. When you hear gunshots, you don't run toward them. But we just panicked. And we saw them pulling this very bloody turkey out of our woods.

Jonathan

I don't want to go into the details of my interaction with the police officers. The long and the short of it is, I tried to get between my wife and the shooters.

Sam Bungey

Jonathan wouldn't tell me much about what happened next. But in a sworn affidavit, he later said, quote, "I was running as fast as I could through the woods, ducking bushes in a panic and flushed with adrenaline, as two of the gunshots were so close that I could see the muzzle flash." The police say there were a total of four shots fired into the turkey, but Jonathan says it was five. He then saw Officer Day holding the turkey by its neck and laughing, saying, it's done.

According to the police, Jonathan was swearing blue murder. "What the [BLEEP] are you [BLEEP] doing?" He shouted.

"This is the Chilmark Police and we're taking care of a problem turkey," said Officer Day.

Jonathan yelled back, "What are you, an idiot? Stop shooting my turkeys, you [BLEEP] idiots." And then he punched Officer Gebo in the face. According to Linda, it was the police who were being rough with her husband, so she ran to the house and called 9-1-1.

9

9-1-1. This is the Sheriff's Department. This line is recorded, what is your emergency?

Linda

Yes, I need the state police right away.

9

Why do you need the state police?

Linda

Because the local police are up here shooting our turkeys and they've got my husband tied up.

9

The police have your husband tied up?

Linda

Yes, they have him handcuffed because he was trying to get them to stop shooting our turkeys. They killed the turkeys. They're over here killing turkeys-- the local police. I need the state police right away.

Sam Bungey

The state troopers came, but it was too late. The Chilmark Police cuffed Jonathan, read him his rights, and took him to jail. He was charged with resisting arrest and two counts of assault and battery of a police officer.

Tom the Turkey, riddled with bullets, was bundled into a plastic bag as evidence and stowed in the police department freezer.

Just to back up here, before he grew up to attack delivery people and police, Tom was small and cute and fuzzy and an orphan. That's the Tom that Jonathan and Linda first met back in the spring of 2006. Their house is surrounded by lots of fields and woods with a pond. And one day they were watching a brood of wild turkeys that had wandered into their yard when they saw a red-tailed hawk swoop down and try and pick off Tom and his sister.

Jonathan and Linda are animal lovers. They've raised dogs and slugs and lizards. And Jonathan once spent two years on a campaign to domesticate a feral cat. So when they saw the injured baby turkeys, Jonathan says it was hard not to help.

Jonathan

They had cuts on their faces. And we fixed them up and put antibiotic on his little face. And they still were very attached to us, I guess, for this.

Sam Bungey

So as Tom grew up, he liked to come and hang out. He'd wander off for a couple of days. But he would always come back. He and Jonathan got on really well.

Jonathan

He'd just sit there and do his thing where he'd gobble around. And if I dropped any birdseed going out to the birdfeeder, he'd scour that. He'd go in the garage, clean that out. And he used to love shiny things. And whenever I'd be working on anything, you'd find him dragging a wrench down the driveway. It's like, where are you going with this?

Sam Bungey

When news of Tom's murder hit the local papers, I was living on the island. And I can tell you, everyone went crazy over this story, couldn't get enough of it. How in the world did this happen, that gunshots were fired in Chilmark of all places-- a sleepy town where alcohol sales are outlawed and people leave their keys in the ignition, a place where the cops have enough free time that they once responded, with success, to a call about a kid with a blueberry stuck up his nose?

The case was discussed in coffee shops and in bars, where people joked about that season's special drink-- four shots of Wild Turkey, or five, depending on whose account you believed. Letters and comments streamed into the local newspapers, some asking serious questions about what the cops did. But in most you could hear the snickering. Just the idea of a turkey attacking seemed ridiculous. A reader warned parents against letting their kids dress as turkeys for Halloween, lest they incur the wrath of the Chilmark P.D.

One paper ran an editorial cartoon of a dopey-looking turkey in a cop's uniform carrying a rifle. This might be one reason why the police officers, even three years later, wouldn't talk to us for this story.

A guy named Chip posted this comment in the Martha's Vineyard Times, "Did anyone think of simply getting back into their vehicles until the turkey no longer felt threatened? I'm sure it would have gone back to whatever turkeys do if left alone for five or ten minutes. Or did this turkey have a long list of priors that made him particularly scary?"

Well, as it turns out Chip, yeah, he did-- a surprisingly long list of priors.

Blue Cullen

I was totally relieved, totally relieved that the turkey was dead-- definitely singing choruses of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead," yeah.

Brian Mackey

I don't personally know the police. But I said to myself, if I had a gun, I would have shot the turkey.

Chilmark Resident 2

I think I can honestly say that we all, on this road, were glad to see him gone permanently.

Chilmark Resident 3

It was just a relentless freakin' bird.

Sam Bungey

Those times when Tom wasn't at Jonathan's, according to neighbors, he'd been stalking them for months. And like any serial criminal, he had patterns, signatures. The first recorded sighting was on, of all days, Thanksgiving. An entire flock arrived on Roger Greeley's lawn. Suddenly, they flew up onto his porch and then marched across it, single file, led by Tom. Before he died in 2009, Roger told me it was like trying to shoo away kindergartners. They were dumb as rocks. But it all seemed so innocent at the beginning. Soon, Tom started showing up at Blue Cullen's house.

Blue Cullen

He would come chasing up to you as if he were going to peck you. He was really scary. And he just would keep coming at you. So I took to walking from my front door to my car, anytime I had to go out, with a broom. And at times I would just laugh at myself because I thought, if anybody just saw me chasing after this turkey with a broom, I would just look like a total madwoman.

Stephanie Derosa

My reoccurring nightmares is that I'm being chased by something, right? So all of a sudden, you have a turkey who really is bringing that to life.

Sam Bungey

Blue's niece, Stephanie DeRosa, lives one door down. Her primary battleground lay on the small stretch between her house and her car, where Tom would come after her.

Stephanie Derosa

I honestly ran in and got in through my passenger door, because that's what was closest to the house door, ran into the passenger door to get into the driver's seat to drive away.

Sam Bungey

Tom seemed to have a particular fetish for cars. Victim after victim told me stories of Tom hurling himself against vehicles, circling them maniacally, or staring down revving engines. Terrifyingly, he could keep pace with a car for the length of a city block. Stephanie remembers one time--

Stephanie Derosa

I got into the car, and he was coming at the car. Coming at my car. I had paint chipped off of my car from this turkey. Yeah, it's terrorizing. It's a living nightmare.

Sam Bungey

As the attacks continued, people adapted to the new regime. They learned to recognize the sound of Tom's low-slung wings scraping the gravel driveway. Some parked as close as possible to the front door to shorten the route between the car and the safety of their house. One man escorted his guesthouse tenants on walks and to their cars. After kicking and swatting, people tried defending themselves with brooms, rakes, garden hoses, golf clubs, baseball bats. A plumber had nothing on him but a hot soldering iron when Tom attacked. He wouldn't talk to us about it on tape, but he claims to have made contact and smelled cooked turkey.

The absurdity of it all wasn't lost on anyone. Brian Mackey, a financial director at the island's YMCA, tried to shoo away Tom with a broom and was backed 30 feet across his own yard, walking backwards, trying not to break into a run, until he knocked into a short, stone wall that he didn't see.

Brian Mackey

And I hit this wall and I went down--

Sam Bungey

He's in his yard showing us where it happened.

Brian Mackey

And I'm just laying here with the broom. And it's going like-- I'm saying, what the hell is--

Sam Bungey

You're lying on the ground right now.

Brian Mackey

And I said, go away. You're a turkey. What are you doing here? You're not supposed to do this to me. This is my house. Get out of here. If it were a person, you could talk to it. This was a turkey.

Sam Bungey

Brian told me he used to yell at Tom again and again asking, what do you want? What do you want?

To make things worse, Tom didn't act alone. According to his victims, he had an entire rogue flock at his disposal. He seemed to have the whole group bent to his will. And they would surround people while he attacked. An electrician told me he was engulfed by a sea of nearly 40 turkeys, with Tom at the helm, who trapped him in his van.

The flock singled out a woman named Debbie Morelli for special treatment. Her house is close to Jonathan and Linda's, the couple that was treating Tom like a pet. The turkeys patrolled Debbie's property day and night. They'd roost in her trees, defecate in her yard and in the outdoor shower. They'd stomp around on the roof. One night, a turkey toppled into her chimney. She had to listen to it struggle and die in there. Even today, three years later, as we were asking her about Tom, she threw her head down on the table.

Debbie Morelli

I really didn't like him.

Sam Bungey

Kevin Oliver is a caretaker for a bunch of summer homes on the island. One day, he got out of his car to check on one of the houses and there they were, Tom and his flock. He says it seemed like they were waiting for him.

Kevin Oliver

And usually, when you come to a flock of turkeys, they run away. This group of turkeys ran towards me, so I made a bolt for the front door. And as I'm running towards the house, I finally realize that I have a handful of keys in my hand and I don't know which one belongs to the house. So I start scrambling with the keys. And as I'm doing that, the turkeys are closing in rapidly. It was just that classic horror scene where you're sitting there fumbling with the keys as creature's creeping up behind you. I finally got the right key in the door. And as I slipped in the door, the turkey's head literally came through the opening in the door.

Sam Bungey

Tom lunged at him, snapping with his beak. If he'd slammed the door shut, Kevin could have ended things right there. But instead, he kicked Tom's head out and closed the door. The turkey then held him hostage in the house until Kevin grabbed a golf club and swung his way to the car.

Sam Bungey

What did you think he was going to do to you if he caught you?

Kevin Oliver

Same thing I saw him do to somebody else, spur me. They have those big spurs out on the backside of their legs. And he was a big turkey. It was a big, nasty, testosterone-filled turkey.

Sam Bungey

The attacks went on for more than six months, sometimes several times a week. Some neighbors suffered in silence, assuming they were the only ones dealing with this crazed bird. Others tried asking for help, but they had a hard time getting people to take them seriously. The chief of police said the birds weren't under his jurisdiction, same with the environmental police officer and the animal control guy, whose specialty is dogs. A few people even contacted hunters, trying to organize a contract on Tom. But no one bit. Wild turkeys are protected animals. And back in 2008, even if you had a permit, you could only hunt them for fewer than three weeks out of the year.

So lots of people found themselves in a pickle, which is why they were so relieved when those delivery people called 9-1-1 and the police finally shot him. Not only because it rid them of the bird, but also because it was proof that they hadn't imagined the whole thing. Here's Blue Cullen, the women who used to chase Tom with a broom.

Blue Cullen

If those people didn't have the fortitude to deal with that situation and the police literally had to shoot this bird, then I felt like, OK, maybe my anger wasn't as misplaced. If it can get to people like that too, then I'm not as cuckoo as I think I am.

Sam Bungey

Why did Tom turn out this way? How did he end up attacking humans? A wildlife expert on the island speculated maybe Jonathan and Linda fed him so often that he lost his fear of people and became territorial. When he saw people in the neighborhood, especially new people, he viewed them as a threat. This expert said, that's why people should never feed wild turkeys. You're creating a monster, he said, when you start hand-feeding these animals.

It's difficult to square Jonathan and Linda's description of Tom with the bird that brought an entire neighborhood to its knees. Maybe it was just a matter of perspective. Jonathan told us how Tom used to chase the UPS van. He remembered it fondly, like it was a cute game Tom and the delivery man would play together. But I spoke to that UPS guy. He wouldn't go on the record about it. But he said that turkey scared the crap out of him.

But isn't that often the way with the parents of a local bully? To everyone else, he's a thug. But to mom and dad, he's a high-spirited little angel, a fluffy, injured orphan misunderstood by the world.

Linda

I felt badly for him because he had been injured and he seemed to come over to our field a lot more than some of the other turkeys.

Jonathan

And he did come back a few times with yellow paint on his face because he had been shot by someone with a paintball gun. And I guess he sort of realized that this was the place to come to when something happened.

Sam Bungey

One of the first things Linda did as her husband was being released from jail that day was call the island's emergency services number and ask for them to return Tom's body. The dispatcher was perfectly polite to Linda.

Dispatcher

OK, I'll see if I can get ahold of Matt and call you.

Sam Bungey

But then the dispatcher calls the animal control officer. And in the recording of that call, you can tell how absurd she thinks the whole thing is. It's almost like they forgot they were being recorded.

Animal Control

Hi, this is the Chilmark Turkey Patrol reporting in. You called me?

Dispatcher

You're not going to believe it. You haven't started dressing it yet, have you?

Animal Control

I did not dress it. It is in a bag in the freezer with a Chilmark P.D. label on it.

Dispatcher

Because Miss [BLEEP] wants her turkey to give it a proper burial.

Sam Bungey

He tells her the police are keeping the turkey on lockdown as potential evidence.

Dispatcher

I can't wait to read about this.

Animal Control

Hopefully you won't read it. I'm not part of it. This is not how I deal with turkeys.

Dispatcher

Never-- are they odd? Is it strange?

Animal Control

I don't know. Don't know.

Dispatcher

It piques my interest when somebody wants their turkey back to give it a proper burial.

Animal Control

That's right, well. It's not going anywhere. It's safely tagged and in our freezer.

Sam Bungey

Half a year went by. After $30,000 in legal fees, all the charges against Jonathan were dropped-- assault and battery of a police officer and resisting arrest, each of which could have gotten him two and a half years in jail. And then, Jonathan says, one day the Chilmark P.D. called about Tom.

Jonathan

The police had kept him for the whole six months of the appeal. And by that point, he was rather freezer burned. So this tiny little bag of this, apparently ferocious, turkey came back to us. And we buried him. And he has a headstone. I thought you'd like to know what is written on it. It's a little rock and it has a little brass plaque. And it says, "Tom the Turkey. He died as he lived." What more can you say for a wild animal?

Sam Bungey

In Jonathan, Tom had found the one guy in the woods who was in his corner, who tried to understand him on his own terms. To almost everyone else, Tom was a thug and a tough one-- gored by a hawk, pelted with paintballs, burned with a soldering iron. None of that stopped him. When Tom finally did go down, it was like Scarface in a barrage of gunfire. He lived like a bird. But he died like a gangster.

Ira Glass

Sam Bungey. He edits the online magazine, The Racket, at theracket.net. Coming up, more birds who do not do what we want them to. That's in a minute. From Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Three. Latin Liver.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today it is our annual "Poultry Slam," stories of chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, foul of all kind, and our attempts to bend them to our will. We've arrived at Act Three of our program. Act Three, "Latin Liver."

For a chef like Dan Barber, foie gras-- goose liver-- poses a special problem. On the one hand, he says, it's fatty. It's sweet. It makes everything near it taste incredible.

Dan Barber

Every chef loves foie gras. I've said this many times. You end up looking like a much better chef than you are if you use foie gras in all these ways.

Ira Glass

But at the same time, it's also the most maligned food out there. Production has banned in many countries. Soon it's going to be illegal to serve it in the entire state of California. And it's easy to understand why. The way foie gras is made is completely inhumane. Ducks or geese are restrained. A long tube is forced down their throats. And then food is pumped into them, several meals a day, for weeks, until their livers get huge, many times their normal size. This force-feeding is called "gavage." So, like I say, problematic, right?

Well in 2008, Dan heard about something that he wasn't sure could possibly be true, a man named Eduardo Sousa, claiming that he was making foie gras without gavage-- no force-feeding at all. He'd just won a big French culinary prize for the stuff-- the first time a non-French person won that award. And there was a controversy about that, actually, because how could it be foie gras if he wasn't force-feeding? What he was claiming that he was doing was impossible. And there was this reporter who was doing a story about this guy, Eduardo, and the reporter asked Dan to accompany her as somebody who knew what foie gras is supposed to taste like, to verify whether or not this was, in fact, foie gras.

Dan Barber

I think, really, I was pretty pessimistic, I've got to say. I've had a lot of liver in my life from birds. And to get a liver that is the size of a foie gras-- the idea that you would be able to do that naturally, just-- it's impossible. It's like, how does that happen?

Ira Glass

How big is it?

Dan Barber

Well, like it's a small football. Yeah. Oh yeah.

Ira Glass

You mean like a Nerf football?

Dan Barber

Nerf football, sorry. Yes, right. It's a Nerf football.

Ira Glass

So Dan flew to Spain, to a region called Extremadura and went with this reporter to see this guy, Eduardo.

Dan Barber

We arrive at the farm. And here was this man who I didn't know was Eduardo at that moment, lying in the lush grass of his farm in Extremadura with a cell phone. He was lying on his back and taking cell phone pictures of the geese all around him, oh, and cooing, of course. He was on his back cooing. In Spanish he was saying, "Lovelies, lovelies, lovelies, come around, lovelies. Over here, lovelies."

It was such a bizarro-- what do you call-- horse whisperer moment. But it felt, at once, both so weird-- and I think I was jet-lagged because I had just flown in and I was just like, what am I doing with this? What is this? This is going to be a [BLEEP] waste of time, is actually what I was thinking. I remember that as my first thought. I was so sure of it.

Ira Glass

Because he just seemed like a nut.

Dan Barber

Yeah. He was a nut. And I think at the moment I was like, holy Jesus, this is a waste of time, I started to question him a little more aggressively. It was one of those things where you just get agitated and tired, and you look back and you're just like, what a jerk I must have seemed.

Ira Glass

And what kind of questions were you asking?

Dan Barber

Like, so how does this work? Like, I don't get it.

Ira Glass

So here's what Eduardo told him. He said, you don't have to force-feed geese to get them to gorge out on food, because geese gorge themselves naturally, in the wild, when they feel winter coming. It's like their preparation for winter.

And so, what Eduardo does is just surround them with all kinds of incredible things to eat. It's like a goosey garden of Eden on his property. There's figs and there's olives. And there are these huge acorns. And there are all kinds of grasses. And the geese can go wherever they want, eat whatever they want. And then, when it starts to get cold, Eduardo tells Dan, they stuff themselves. That's their natural instinct. They just stuff themselves.

But-- and this is an important but-- for that instinct to stuff themslves to take over--

Dan Barber

The geese have to believe they are free. If they do not believe they are free-- if they at all feel domesticated, and one surefire sign of domestication is fencing-- if they get food brought to them, then they don't feel wild. And if they don't feel wild, their DNA to gorge won't kick in.

Ira Glass

So what this means is that all the normal things that you do to raise livestock-- bringing them food, fencing them in-- Eduardo doesn't do. Dan heard this and he thought Eduardo was just lying. He thought he was actually lying. Because Dan knows, actually, a lot about farming. His restaurant has two locations and one is in Manhattan and one is on this beautiful, organic farm called Stone Barns which is 45 minutes outside of New York. And the farm is like this model organic farm. People take tours, there's an education program, and it's this super idealistic nonprofit that grows vegetables without any pesticides or chemicals. And it raises free-range animals. They have pigs and there's sheep and there's chickens. And all this is the latest environmentally-sensitive techniques for this kind of thing. And that incredible food that's produced there is served in Dan's restaurant.

But, even on this eco-friendly, animal-friendly farm, they feed the animals. You know? They use fences, electrified fences, to keep the predators out and to put the free-range animals on whatever field or woods is ready for them to be free-ranging, grazing, whatever. And also, to keep the animals from simply wandering off the property. They're very different from Eduardo.

Eduardo told Dan that the only fences that he uses are with the baby geese. And even then, he doesn't use them for very long.

Dan Barber

So, he loses 20% to 30% of his geese to predators. That was a signal that was like-- can't be true. How do you run a business where you lose 20% or 30% of your profits in the first couple of months? So then I was just like, oh this is-- and what he said to me is, that's God's tax on raising the livers, which, you know, I'd never heard that one before. Have you? No. God's tax.

Ira Glass

And the whole time that Eduardo is talking to Dan, he keeps making these motions with his hands, which Dan takes as, slow down. Wait for the translator. You're talking too fast. And he's been there for an hour or two when he realizes that, no, no, no, Eduardo wants him to lower his voice.

Dan Barber

Because I was scaring the geese. And amazingly-- I swear to God-- the geese, who I hadn't noticed because, I don't know, I'm not sensitive. I'm like a typical guy. I don't notice these things. Geese were on the other side of this area when I was talking. I lowered my voice, much like I'm doing now, nothing too extravagant. I'm lowering my voice. Within a few minutes, the geese were all up against us, all up around us. And so, maybe that's when my tune changed a little bit with him.

A second thing was, the geese were enormous. They were like dinosaurs and a little frightening. And what he said-- and I believed it when I finally got up close to them-- is when they get to a certain-- I think it was like eight months or something-- they fend off foxes and hyenas. They fight back and they can kill them just with their wings. And I was a little skeptical. Then I saw them-- they're big, meaty, fierce, animals. Fierce. So then I started to think, wow, he's doing something right.

Ira Glass

So then, as they're wandering around the farm, Dan witnessed something. And I didn't actually ask him about this in our interview. But he talked about this, a few months right after he visited Spain, in this speech that he gave at the TED conference. And I went to this online. And let me just play this for you.

Dan Barber

So it's like, here I am on the fence about this guy. And we're sitting there and I hear [CLAPPING] from a distance. I look over and he grabs my arm and the translator's and ducks us under a bush. He says, watch this. And a squadron of geese come around. And they're getting louder, louder, louder, really loud right over us. And as they start to go past us, his geese are calling up to the wild geese. [CLAPPING]. And the wild geese are calling down. And it's getting louder and louder. And then they circle and circle, and they land. And honestly, I was like, no way. No way. I look at Eduardo who is near tears looking at this. And I say, you're telling me that your geese are calling to the wild geese to say, come for a visit.

And he says, no, no, no. They come to stay. They come to stay? Think about that for a minute. I mean, imagine-- I don't know-- imagine a hog farm in North Carolina. And a wild pig comes upon a factory farm and decides to stay. The DNA of a goose is to fly South in the winter, right? I said that. I said, isn't that what they're put on this earth for? To fly South in the winter and North when it gets warm? He said, no, no, no. Their DNA is to find the conditions that are conducive to life, to happiness. They find it here. They stop. They mate with his domesticated geese. And his flock continues.

Ira Glass

So, finally came the moment of truth, when Dan tries the foie gras. To do that, Eduardo took Dan to lunch in this tiny town in this area. And, as Dan describes it, it's like a town from an old Western. There's literally tumbleweeds rolling down the street. And there's a candy store, and a post office, and a bar. And the bar is where they go for lunch. And they are the only two customers in the bar. And the foie gras comes in this tiny little jar. And it's cold. And he spoons it out with a little spoon.

Dan Barber

And then I tasted it and it's like-- what I remember thinking was, it really was the first time I ever had foie gras. That's what it felt to me. Because to say that it was the best foie gras of my life would be to cheapen it. Because it was so dramatically different. It gave me the shivers. It was really weird. It was as if I was being introduced to a new food.

Ira Glass

Not just a new food but an incredible new food. You know Dan's a chef, right? So he was trying to figure out, what are all these flavors that he's tasting in this liver? And it's spicy and it's fruity. And he's asking Eduardo, do you put this ingredient in? Do you put that ingredient in?

Dan Barber

I went through a list of these spices and stuff. And he was like, no. He kept shaking his head. I was like, definitely tasted some pepper spice. And then he was just like, no to pepper. I was like, no to pepper? Who doesn't put salt and pepper? So I was like, OK, so you have your foie gras and you take salt-- and he went like this. No salt. You don't use salt? He's like, no. So it turns out, all of the essences that I was tasting, all the spice, everything that I was tasting, were things that they geese were eating in Extremadura-- not those particular spices, but different grasses that had those kinds of flavors. Because he gave them access to-- according to him-- mustard grasses that I was tasting as pepper and spices. He had grasses that had a salinity to them.

Ira Glass

For the saltiness?

Dan Barber

For the saltiness. And so, yeah, right? Wow.

Ira Glass

What Dan was seeing was this guy, Eduardo, who was like a cook out in the field with the birds, preparing their flavor as he raised them. Though, to say raise them-- all he was doing was letting them eat whatever they wanted. And seeing this changed Dan's cooking. So much of what he serves now in his own restaurant is an attempt to present-- it's almost like the platonic ideal of the flavor of whatever meat or vegetable he's serving, and not some taste that he imposes in the kitchen.

But beyond all that, there was also just witnessing this sheer, macho achievement of what Eduardo had done. It was hard to believe he could do this with foie gras. Foie gras was like Mount Everest. It's like the four minute mile before anybody broke the four minute mile. It's a food whose very existence depended on mistreating an animal and ignoring what nature wanted. To make it in a natural way seemed impossible. For somebody like Dan, who wanted to raise animals and vegetables in the most natural way, it was like Eduardo had flown to the moon and walked on its surface. And Dan wanted to go there too.

So he decides he's going to try to make foie gras. He's going to try to make it. He's going to try to make it Eduardo's way at the farm where his food is raised. And they get some geese. And OK, here is how hard it is to try to learn something new. They raised these geese.

Dan Barber

We killed them and the livers were ping-pong balls. Nothing. Nothing. And I remember looking at them and just-- I was a little embarrassed. And I remember this [BLEEP] fish cook was like, well, it looks like "failed gras" to me. I'll always remember that. Steve, the fish cook-- looks like failed gras to me, dude.

Ira Glass

OK, so what went wrong? Well, for starters, Dan and the livestock manager of the farm that he's at, Craig Haney, have a much bigger predator problem than Eduardo has. They have lots of coyotes. So they didn't see a way to raise the animals without fences protecting them. Second, and probably more important, New York State is a lot colder than Spain. So during winter months when Eduardo has tons of vegetation for the geese to feed on, geese on Dan's farm-- they'd starve. Which means, in the end, Dan's geese had fences and they were fed meals.

Dan Barber

And I called Eduardo again and that's when he was just like-- he said, oh no, they'll never-- this isn't going to work. It's just not going to work.

Ira Glass

Year two they did a few things differently. For starters, rather than buy geese and have them shipped in, which totally lets the geese know they are not wild, they're like, OK, the geese need to be born here on the farm. Dan asks Eduardo to come to the United States and help him and Craig get going with this. Eduardo arrives in the US. And first stop-- the incubation room. It was cold outside and of course, you wouldn't want to throw a newly-hatched chick out into the snow, right? So they built this room to be all snug and warm for eggs to hatch and the babies to live.

Dan Barber

And so we walk in and Eduardo's eyes just go like that when he sees it. And one of Craig's assistants, one of the animal husbandry guys, sticks his hand to grab a baby chick-- in to grab it and have Eduardo look at it, at how healthy it was. And Eduardo goes, [GASP.] I was like, what the hell's going on? And Eduardo said, if you touch the chick, the oil from your hands will communicate love and domestication, protection. So they'll never get perfectly wild. He then backtracked and said, you can't have an incubation room because-- I remember what he said which is, if you're trying to create Rambo, you don't coddle him when he's born. You make him Rambo-ish by giving him the experiences to fight to be Rambo. And what we were doing was coddling and protecting. And from that moment, we were cooked. Done.

So year three-- get rid of the incubation. Eduardo style all the way.

Ira Glass

Rambo.

Dan Barber

Rambo. Do you know how hard it is, first of all, to get the males and the females together? Like together at the right time to get them impregnated? This is not easy stuff. Like if you've ever seen a male goose have sex with a female goose, it is barbaric, incredibly loud, and incredibly brutal. Brutal. They tear the hair out. They mount the lady goose and they tear-- they eat the hair out of the head of the female to show their superiority. And the female's bleeding and bludgeoned. And they do that all day in the spring. It is barbaric. And the visitors to Stone Barns would see this. It was crazy.

Speaker

These nicey little people, these nice people out for their day with the children in the country.

Dan Barber

Squeaming. Squeaming lady geese. And the strutting males and the fighting males-- it was like Fight Club. So they got eggs. They layed the eggs. And the lady geese did not sit on the damn eggs. I'll give you my theory-- it's that our breed of goose that we were using-- the instinct for a mother to sit on their eggs has been bred out of them after all these years, because everyone incubates their eggs.

Ira Glass

If birds don't sit on their eggs, of course, the chicks don't form inside properly. So year three-- also a bust. It just goes to show you. When you try to do things nature's way, well, nature has its own idea. Nature is not obedient little birdies having sex the way that we would want them to on a schedule that we would prefer and then gorging out on the right amount of food at the right time. After three years that could not be clearer.

This coming year, they're trying again with a different breed of goose. And Dan is hoping to fence off a big swath of forest, an acre or half an acre, enough area so that the geese will hopefully feel like they are wild animals. But at the same time, they'll still be protected from coyotes. And when they put out feed for them, they're going to scatter the stuff around at random times, so the geese will just find the feed and not know that humans are there feeding them.

Dan, at this point, cannot help but notice how expensive all this is. Even if you could make foie gras this way-- even if it works-- it may be so labor-intensive and cost so much that it is just not worth it. He's not entirely sure that Eduardo makes profit on his foie gras. And then there's this-- Eduardo loses 30% of his birds to predators. Dan says that given the conditions in New York, he's bound to lose more. That is a lot of birds to sacrifice to get the few Rambos who are going to thrive and survive and give him foie gras. And even Dan wonders sometimes-- so many birds dying out there in the cold, is that really less cruel than gavage?

[MUSIC- "DON'T FENCE ME IN" BY LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND HIS ALL STARS]

Our program was produced today by Brian Reed with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Jonathan Menjivar, Lisa Pollak, Robyn Semien, Alyssa Schip, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Seth Lind is our production manager. Emily Condon is our office manager. Production help from Mickey Meek, scouting help from the Elna Baker, music help from Damien Gray and from Rob Gettes.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, where we have a holiday merch sale going on-- posters, DVDs, CDs, all on sale, also we just added a USB drive full of interviews that I did onstage with people like Rachel Maddow, Michael Lewis, Joss Whedon, Philip Glass many, many, more-- plus, of course, all of our old shows for free on the website www.thisamericanlife.org.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia. He's got this new way that he delivers our staff evaluations to us. He likes to print them out, roll them up--

Scharlette Holdman

Into little, tiny, bead-sized balls and put those into the braids in his hair.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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