This article originally ran in Dan’s Papers in December 1999.
Peconic County Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Brody held a press conference in Riverhead today to talk about the two people who were dragged below the ice and killed in Water Mill last Sunday and Monday. People need to know what countermeasures the authorities are taking.
“If you are at a pond walking across the ice, ice skating or playing ice hockey, stay away from holes in the ice, from thin ice and from places where the ice drops off quickly into water. And definitely do not chip a hole in the ice.”
The general public should be reassured, he said, by the appearance of policemen armed with spear guns who have now been assigned to every skating pond on the East End after dark. They are trained marksmen and they will be on duty beginning at 5 p.m. and remain at the ponds until midnight when, as Brody said grimly, the ponds will be “officially closed.”
The first reported death took place last Sunday on Big Mill Pond in Water Mill north of the railroad tracks. At first, the authorities failed to comprehend what had happened.
“Two men from Bay Shore drove out to the edge of the pond at 11 p.m.,” Brody said, “walked out on the ice with a hammer and chisel and cut a hole to catch eels. Then they dropped a line in. According to the testimony of Anthony DeCarlo, his friend Joe Anderson of Cutler Road in Bay Shore felt a tug on his line, said ‘I got one’ and then began to pull. Then something leaped through the hole, wrapped itself around Anderson’s lower leg and pulled him down through. Anderson died under the ice.”
“It was initially reported as an accident,” a reporter said. “Comment?”
“We were wrong. Both men had been drinking. DeCarlo raced to the nearest house and, babbling hysterically, reported what he had seen was flourescent green and made a hissing sound. It sounded fantastic. Like a story a drunk would tell about flying pink elephants.”
Brody admitted that he knew better now. “The environmentalists tell me this is some kind of monster eel. I’ll let Dr. Witkiss here tell about it.”
Dr. Edgar Witkiss, the official County Environmental Officer, got up to the microphone.
“We got the police report Monday morning. And we knew right away what it was. The hissing sound, the fluorescent green color. There have been many reports of tropical birds, fish, seals and other creatures much farther north than usual. It’s global warming. There could only be one explanation. This had to be a Great Ecuadorian Eel, an adolescent male, looking for colder water. We’ve had this cold snap which has frozen the ponds. This is a very exciting find.”
“Has this kind of eel ever been this far north before?”
“The farthest north a Great Ecuadorian has even been
reported before is North Carolina.”
“Is there more than one?”
“Usually they travel in pairs. ”
“And they kill? ”
“The males have a very nasty temper. They’ve been seen to kill gators in the swamps of Georgia. As for humans, this is a first.”
Five police officers witnessed the second attack. It was in the same pond the next night—the environmentalist’s advisory, sent by fax, remained in some bureaucrat’s out-basket—and so a group of six officers were out on the ice to bring in Anderson’s body. When they saw what they thought was the corpse, they began to cut a larger hole in the ice to get it. Almost immediately, Robert Allen Wittenberg III of Water Mill, who was 34, was seized by a fluorescent green creature that snaked out of the water and wrapped itself around both his legs and his torso. It was thick as a truck tire, one of the witnessing officers reported. Wittenberg screamed, there was a spray of water, and in moments Wittenberg was dragged down to his death. All five of the other officers immediately left the ice, went to their two police cars, got guns and called for backup. But the eel was never seen again.
“Ecuadorians are very smart,” Dr. Witkiss told the
reporters. “When they sense an adversary threatening, they lay low.”
“But one of our marksmen will get him?” a reporter asked Commissioner Brody. Dr. Witkiss answered.
“Oh no. The Ecuadorian eel is an endangered species. So he will be captured alive rather than killed.” Dr. Witkiss paused. “And then sent to the University of Missouri Department of Amphibian Studies, where Dr. Franklin Wreckson has his offices.”
“Who is he?”
“He is teaching Ecuadorian eels to communicate. They
already understand him and he’s writing a book about it. There are only 27 Ecuadorians left in the world, so this is very important work. Of course if there are two here, and I’m hoping there are, and we could get these two to mate…”
“You mentioned this is an adolescent male. How do you know that?”
“The green color. When he gets full grown the fluorescent green turns to fluorescent blue.”
“How big?” someone asked.
“They get to be 30 feet. More or less. Females are
fluorescent pink. Flaming fluorescent pink. And not quite as long.”
“So that is why we are stationing officers at every pond with spear guns,” Chief Brody said. “With eight-hour shifts. One of them sticks his nose above the water, we spear him and reel him in. End of problem.”
“Why are you guarding ALL the ponds?” someone asked.
There was silence for a moment.
“The one that’s been seen, we think is on the move,” Brody said.
Around 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, the same night the police officer was eaten, a large black lab was swallowed up while walking across Little Mill Pond. Little Mill Pond is across the Upper Seven Ponds Road and the railroad tracks from Big Mill Pond and is considerably smaller. A stream connects them. The black lab had been let out for a run, according to its owner Bill Van, who lives on Upper Seven Ponds Road, and since the lab is sometimes ornery and won’t come right back, Van was out at the back door overlooking the pond, calling to him. The dog was walking back when Van witnessed the attack.
“Van had no idea about any of the earlier attacks,” Brody said. “But when he lost his lab he said that something fluorescent green, as thick as a tree trunk, had wrapped itself around his dog and pulled him under. He yapped once. And there was a hissing sound.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt again,” Dr. Witkiss said, “but adult males will make not only hissing sounds, but they also roar and snarl. And in Missouri, Dr. Wreckson has gotten adult males to snort and wheeze, even purr and giggle. It’s amazing what he has done.”
Commissioner Brody continued. “Little Mill Pond leads out into Mecox Bay, which is partially frozen and from which about an hour ago we had a sighting,” Brody said, “and Mecox Bay leads out into the Atlantic. These Ecuadorians—and we really don’t know how many there are—could swim along the shore and come back into almost any of the ponds at high tide—Georgica, Agawam, Sagaponack, Town and so forth. So we are stationing marksmen at every pond. We want to cover every possibility. Better to err on the side of caution.”
“So there could be an Ecuadorian in every pond?” a reporter asked.
“Yes,” Brody replied.
Dr. Witkiss broke in again. “Keep in mind that Ecuadorians only feed late at night and in the pre-dawn early morning. From 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. you are perfectly safe. Nothing to worry about.”
If anyone sees or hears anything unusual either under some ice or under the water, please call the Ecuadorian Eel Hotline which the County has set up 24 hours a day at 727-04000.