True Crime Thursday – Assault with a Deadly…Alligator?

By Debbie Burke


In 1967, alligators were close to extinction in the US and placed on the Endangered Species List. Under federal and state protection, the reptile population rebounded enough that they were removed from the list in 1987.

Alligators have recovered nicely, thank you very much. Nowadays, many people consider them pests because they’re found in swimming pools, on golf courses, and in carports. In Florida, special fencing was installed along interstates to keep them from wandering onto freeways.

There’s even a long-running reality TV series called “Swamp People” about professional gator hunters.

Florida’s gator hunting season runs from August 15 to November 1 with more than 7000 permits issued. Over this past Labor Day weekend, a woman caught this shot on I-95 in Brevard County and the photo went viral. Apparently, this hunter successfully filled his tag.

Deep-fried alligator tail is featured at many restaurants—the texture is similar to gristly Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull testicles) with a fishy overtone. Neither is on my list of favorite delicacies.

An alligator was even used as a deadly weapon, according to Palm Beach County prosecutors.

Photo from Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

In October, 2015, Joshua James, in his early 20s, picked up a live, three-foot-long alligator at the side of the road and tossed it in the back seat of his truck. At 1:30 a.m., he ordered a drink at the Wendy’s drive-through in Loxahatchee, Florida. When the cashier momentarily turned away, James added an unexpected tip—he tossed the gator through the open drive-up window and drove off.

He wasn’t caught for several months. When arrested in February, 2016, he admitted throwing the gator and claims he didn’t realize anyone would take his prank seriously. Apparently, he knew someone who worked at the restaurant and thought they would be there at the time.

James was charged with “assault with a deadly weapon with intent to do less than murder” and “unlawful possession of alligator or parts,” both misdemeanors. Bond was set at $6000 with the condition he stay away from any animals except his mother’s dog.

Here’s an interview with James after he made bail.

According to his mother, Linda James: “It was just a stupid prank that he did that’s now turning into this. He’s a prankster. He does stuff like this because he thinks it’s funny.”

When asked if she thought the Wendy’s employees saw it as a prank, she replied, “Well, I mean, how could you not think something like that was a prank?”

Judge Barry Cohen didn’t agree. At trial in May, 2016, he told James, “In my view there is absolutely no excuse for taking an animal, particularly an alligator, and throwing it through a window at a total stranger.”

According to the Sun Sentinel, “David Hitzig, executive director of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, testified that the alligator, while under four feet in length, would still be ‘very powerful’ with extremely strong jaws.”

James apologized for his “stupid prank.” 

Judge Cohen sentenced James to a year of probation, $500 fine, and 75 hours community service.

No one was hurt in the incident, including the alligator. It was not called to testify and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers released it into a canal.

As the woman who took the viral gator photo said, “This is Floriduh.” 


TKZers: Have you heard of unusual weapons used in commission of crimes? Please share.

This entry was posted in #truecrimethursday, Writing by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes the Tawny Lindholm series, Montana thrillers infused with psychological suspense. Her books have won the Kindle Scout contest, the Zebulon Award, and were finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and Her articles received journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

37 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – Assault with a Deadly…Alligator?

  1. I recall several unusual weapons being used in fictional crimes. Real criminals are probably aware that odd weapons are easier to trace, since their rarity greatly narrows the number of people who might have access to such items and greatly increases their own chances of being suspected. I’m not sure any of these, below, would actually work.

    Exhibit A: The Doorbell: Pressing the doorbell by a mansion door produces a scream, instead of the expected B’ding-B’dong. The circuit energizes a huge electromagnet, which extracts all the iron from the victim’s circulatory system.
    Exhibit B: The Whip: Man becomes angry and grabs the first thing at hand to attack his visitor: a whip made from the stinger of an extraterrestrial animal. Unknown to him, this is a deadly weapon, still holding a quantity of toxic venom. The visitor, knowing the potential danger, kills the wielder in “self-defense,” just as he planned when he provided the whip to the man in the first place.
    Exhibit C: The grimoire: Weegha, the witch, once sent gifts to ten rival wizards, each designed to kill in a different way. Zzyzz, poor fool, received a large, fascinatingly illustrated grimoire whose parchment had been soaked in a volatile substance that slowly poisoned him over several months.
    Exhibit D: The ring: The victim was given a ring containing a radioactive element, coated with a thin layer of gold. When the gold wore off, eventually, the victim would be exposed to the radiation and die of leukemia.

  2. We had a gator that liked to sun behind my car when we lived in Mexico Beach. Since the rest of the yard was sand, I was often stuck waiting for the gator to move. They can also climb chain link fences.

  3. Interesting post, Debbie. From today’s perspective, six years later, I bet many of us find the “crime” somewhat amusing.

    I was amused because last night I was reading Jack Bickham’s The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, and chapter 23 is titled “Don’t Drop Alligators Through the Transom.” Bickham was discussing unexpected or unusual disasters thrown in at the end of a chapter. His point was that the alligator did not answer the scene question. His remark, “That’s the worst kind of cheating, the sorriest kind of writing. Don’t do it. You’ll give all of us fiction writers a bad name.”

    It would be hard to do. I haven’t seen a transom above a door for many years.

    Thanks for an amusing crime story.

  4. Out here in LA there was a “behavior modification” group called Synanon that got sued by ex members. A lawyer representing victims reached in his mailbox one day and got bit by a de-rattled rattlesnake a couple of Synanon thugs put there. He almost died. This was in the late ’70s, but to this day I don’t reach into my own mailbox without looking in first. Strange how that has stayed with me…

  5. “Bond was set at $6000 with the condition he stay away from any animals except his mother’s dog.” Maybe the condition should have been that he stay away from fast food drive-throughs.

    It reminded me of something (true story) a politician said when he was indicted: “I deny the allegations and I deny the alligators.”

  6. Okay, gotta weigh in here…Debbie the gator story is priceless. I think the guy should’ve been charged with cruelty to animals. I mean, throwing the poor thing through a window? How rude!

    In my circle of self-defense-conscious friends, we talk sometimes of using whatever we find at hand to protect ourselves and others. And we practice . . .

    Consider the lowly pen or pencil. Shoved in the carotid, very effective.

    And we’ve all heard of keys in the eyeballs (or thumbs).

    I know this is a discussion of unusual weapons used in *crimes*, but it occurred to me that bad guys probably know about pencils and thumbs, too.

  7. In a short story I wrote, the main character found a copperhead in his kitchen, thought his writing partner had done it for their joint life insurance policies, then put it in the partner’s car to give him a heart attack. He found out later it was a present from his now dead cat. Moral of the story: Don’t have life insurance policies for writing partnerships.

  8. I used the alligator story in my Mystery Question blog a couple of weeks ago and thought at the time the guy got off light. I’ve used a snake in my books–placed under the seat of my protag. I’ll be watching for other comments, looking for new ways to kill people. 🙂

    • Snakes give me the creeps, Patricia. Remember Sherlock Holmes and the Speckled Band. Gave me nightmares.

      Crime writers never have enough murder weapons in our tool boxes.

  9. Glad the girl wasn’t harmed. My God, what is wrong with people? Leave animals alone! They were not put on this earth for humans’ amusement or pranks or as trophies to hang on walls. Admittedly, this story touched a nerve. LOL

    • Right you are, Sue. Fortunately, neither the gator nor the employees were harmed. As I mentioned to Patricia above, gator bites, even from small gators, can be nasty.

  10. Oh, Flori-duh! How about the Jacksonville man who strangled a woman with sweatpants? I’ve lived here for 20 years but this place never ceases to amaze.

    • Floriduh does have its share of weirdness, Elaine.

      The all-time worst case I witnessed in FL was a young couple with an infant. Mom was wading out in a lake holding the baby as a large gator moved closer and closer. Dad was happily taking photos.

      A bystander warned them that wasn’t a good idea. They kept luring the gator closer and snapping shots. Finally the bystander jumped off a dock and landed in the mud which scared the gator off–they can move VERY fast.

      Mom and Dad were quite peeved with the man for spoiling their photo op. TSTL (too stupid to live).

  11. I did read a short story out of the grit lit genre where an abused woman killed her husband by harvesting coral snake venom and coating his straight razor with it. Oops! he nicked himself like he always did.

  12. Hi Debbie – Late for dinner but with a good excuse. Rita said the kitchen “looked a little tired and could use freshening”. Well, many K later the reno rules and I’ve been painting, flooring, and aching. Moving on to weird weapons, I had a case where the murder weapon was a bag of frozen pork chops. Top that, Floriduh.

    • Say, Garry, since you have recent experience, my kitchen could use a little freshening too. 😉

      Did the killer give an excuse? “I was just pounding the pork chops to tenderize them.”

Comments are closed.