Parrots are no stranger to life behind bars, but we rarely think of these pets as the ideal, if unlikely, witness to confounding crimes. However, their intelligence, ability to mimic human voices, and life-long bonds with their owners are just part of what makes parrots one of the most intelligent bird species.
Scientists believe that parrots have roughly the same logical reasoning skills as a 4-year-old human child, and are capable of understanding basic mathematical concepts, as well as making associations between different words and actions.
Parrots also have a lifespan far beyond the average house pet, with many species living between 20 and 50 years. As social creatures, parrots form strong ties to their owners and often learn how to mimic sounds in order to communicate. By directing air differently using muscles in their throats, parrots can imitate both distinct human voices and specific actions, such as the phone ringing or a door closing.
Although parrots cannot legally serve as witnesses or present their testimony to a court, the accounts of several pet parrots have been instrumental in finding the perpetrator, and have been used as evidence in their conviction.
Hercule Parrot and the Murderous Nephew
Police were making little headway into solving a death in Agra, India in 2014 until the pet parrot, ironically and aptly named Hercule, provided some insight.
Vijay Sharma returned home to find that his wife, Neelam, and their pet dog had been murdered, and that many of their belongings had been stolen. The sole survivor was the family pet parrot who had gone silent following the traumatic event. Although Hercule was noticeably withdrawn, he became violently fearful when Vijay’s nephew visited the house. When Vijay spoke of the event later, Hercule became agitated and began screeching whenever the nephew’s name was mentioned.
The widower notified the police, who found cause in the nephew’s phone records to bring him in for questioning. The nephew confessed that he and an accomplice had broken in with the intent of stealing, but had been discovered by Neelam. Fearing that they would be recognized and reported, they killed both Neelam and the dog.
Hercule was able to keep quiet and remain undetected for long enough to solve the case.
Bud and the Murder-Suicide Attempt
Michigan police were called in 2015 to the home of Glenna and Martin Duram. A neighbor had discovered the couple in what initially appeared to be an outsider attack. Police arrived to find that Martin had been shot five times and killed. Although Glenna had been shot in the head twice, she was alive and rushed to the hospital for treatment.
In the subsequent investigation, the incident began to take on a more sinister air when several of the Duram’s children discovered a collection of suicide letters written by their mother. Even more disturbing was the theatrics of the former couple’s pet parrot.
Following the death of Martin Duram, Bud, the African grey parrot, was sent to live with his ex-wife. Shortly after arriving, Bud began to reenact arguments using two distinct voices. He was also said to have screamed “Don’t fucking shoot,” in the victim’s voice. Bud was believed to have witnessed the final argument between the pair before Glenna Duram murdered her husband. Glenna was convicted of an attempted murder-suicide and given a life sentence.
The 5th Roommate and the Rape of Elizabeth Toledo
Elizabeth Toledo was found naked and murdered on the floor of her home in Argentina in 2018. Police investigation revealed that Toledo had been beaten, raped, and strangled to death by several of the men she lived with. Toledo had rented out rooms to three men, two of which were arrested as suspects in the homicide, while the third had an alibi. DNA and bite mark evidence were believed to tie the two men to the crime.
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While standing outside the crime scene, one of the officers heard screaming in a female voice. He found Toledo still on the floor and her pet parrot repeatedly yelling “Ay, no, por favor, soltarme,” or “No, please, let me go.” A neighbor also reported hearing the parrot say “Why did you hit me?” or “Why did you beat me?” in perfect Spanish on multiple occasions. The parrot’s statement was believed to be some of the last words said by Toledo to her attackers during her murder.
The trial date for the two men is still unknown, but the parrot’s ‘testimony’ will allegedly be admitted as evidence.
Lorenzo and the Drug Cartel
Police officers in Colombia were repeatedly foiled throughout 2010 in their attempts to raid the headquarters of a notorious drug cartel. Officers were baffled by the cartel’s continuous escapes before coming toe to talon with their best lookout.
Lorenzo the parrot had been trained to yell “Run, run, you’re going to get caught,” or “Run, run, the cat is going to get you” in Spanish. Lorenzo and two other specially trained parrots would cry out the warning whenever they saw the police.
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Officers were eventually able to sneak past all three of the parrots into the headquarters, and confiscated weapons and a significant amount of marijuana. In addition to Lorenzo and his two feathered friends, four human suspects were taken into custody.
Lorenzo was just one of over 1,700 similarly trained parrots who were confiscated around this area. Lorenzo himself was handed over to environmental authorities, officially ending his criminal career.
Echo and the New Orleans Crime Boss
Echo the parrot not only witnessed and gave evidence for a crime, but was also put into witness protection program because of his involvement.
Suzy Heck, a wildlife rehabber and the founder of Heck Haven, said she was given Echo in the mid ‘90s and told to keep his presence a secret. Echo stayed with Heck for a year, during which she heard him reenact a number of disturbing scenes.
Echo was the former pet of a New Orleans crime boss who was being charged, among other things, with child abuse. The parrot, unable to stop repeating the things he had heard, was at risk of retaliation during the trials. Echo would frequently moan, make loud thwacking noises, and imitate children crying. These were commonly followed by loud bouts of disturbing laughter that were believed to be the crime boss’s response to the child abuse he was accused of.
Although the crime boss was allegedly convicted, it is unknown what happened to Echo after he was removed from the animal rehabilitation center.
Evidence of Elder Abuse
Anne Copeland, a 98-year-old woman in South Carolina, died a day after she was found in her home suffering severe neglect and mistreatment. Copeland’s daughter initially called an ambulance when her mother began struggling to breathe, but police were then dispatched on concerns of elder abuse.They arrived to find Copeland covered in sores, open wounds, and sitting in her own waste.The house was uncared for and unheated, leaving the woman exposed to the freezing temperatures of December.
Along with seven dogs and several cats, Copeland’s pet parrot was taken from the house by authorities. The parrot repeated “Help me, help me,” before laughing in a different voice. This was believed to be a portrayal of Copeland begging for help and her daughter’s responding mockery and abuse.
Copeland’s parrot and the rest of the animals were taken by animal control workers for treatment and rehoming.
Featured photo: Peter Rivera / Unsplash