Going Ape

Suzy the Chimp is dead, her teenage killer faces charges and there's bad blood all around

The teens drove up the driveway, around to the back of the house. When they got out, says Coats, the chimps went to the car and started rocking it. The teens were no longer amused. They sensed aggression in the animals.

The three adult chimps -- Suzy, Gabby and Coco -- had escaped sometime earlier when Connie Casey, 52, mistakenly thought she had locked their cages after cleaning them. First they wandered to the home of J.C. and Joan Wills, who live between the Caseys and the Coatses. The Willses have lived there since 1968 and are used to the chimps. When Coco and the Willses' son, Skowie, were youngsters, Coco would wait for Skowie at the school-bus stop at the end of the driveway. After Skowie was dropped off, Coco, clad only in shorts, would undress the boy. Nimbly he would take off Skowie's shirt, undo his shoes, take off the shoes and socks, get the boy to where he was dressed just like Coco. It was a ritual they both loved. Those days were long gone. Now Coco was a full-grown 140-pound ape, not allowed to roam the neighborhood. In fact, none of the chimps was. Still, J.C. Wills wasn't surprised when the trio showed up at his door.

"The chimps come up on my front porch," says Wills, 62. "One opened the front door, looked in. I just hollered at him: 'Shoo, get outta here!' He played around the front porch for a while. Right about then, the kids drove up. They had that loud music going. The chimps went over, they pounded on the car like how they hit on stuff, you know. I would say it probably did scare them kids right off the bat, not knowing about the chimps and all that."

Neighbors and friends have adorned the Caseys' chain-link fence with banners, wreaths, ribbons and crosses, and the Caseys have erected large signs condemning Jason for killing Suzy.
Jennifer Silverberg
Neighbors and friends have adorned the Caseys' chain-link fence with banners, wreaths, ribbons and crosses, and the Caseys have erected large signs condemning Jason for killing Suzy.
"The adult male chimpanzee is five times as strong as a human," says Frans deWaal, a research primatologist with the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta.
Jennifer Silverberg
"The adult male chimpanzee is five times as strong as a human," says Frans deWaal, a research primatologist with the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta.

Connie Casey was soon on the trail of the wayward chimps. She showed up in the Coatses' yard with Greg Gambill and Mark Lahmann, contractors who happened to be working for her that day, carrying dart-loaded revolverlike tranquilizer guns. "We pulled in the driveway," remarks Lahmann, a hale, ruddy 38. "We seen Coco standing behind their car and these teenagers throwing rocks at him. The teenagers were hollering and cussing at him, just goin' off the wall, and Coco's just standing there, like, 'What're you guys up to?' We told them to either stay inside the car or go in the house. We had it under control."

The Coatses' gravel driveway forms a crescent, winding alongside and behind the house. On a recent afternoon, Jason Coats stands on the drive, about 20 feet from the back door, in the spot where McCullough's Cavalier was parked that day. "Here they came at us," he says excitedly. "We got out of the car, picked up a handful of rocks and tried to get them out of here. The monkeys picked up the rocks and threw them back at us! That blew my mind! I never threw a rock at an animal and then have it thrown back at me." He points to a busted double-pane window on the side of the house. "The big one did that," he notes.

Then Lucky compounded the chaos. Lucky is the Coatses' pooch, a medium-sized black-and-white mutt with maybe some collie in him. "I see all three of them coming at Lucky," says Coats, talking rapid-fire now. "He's a little dog, but he's a fighter. He's barking and nipping at them, and one of them threw Lucky about 10 feet. I thought they'd kill my dog. We stayed close to the car and grabbed some more rocks. I was pissed and scared. Then the big one, the male, charged. I get in the car, and something dark flashed over my shoulder. He was on the car. Then he was next to the car, pounding on the window -- bam, bam, bam! I was face to face with it -- screaming, swingin' his arms, baring his teeth, trying to break the window, it looked like. It was, hands down, the scariest thing of my entire life.

"After that happened, I was, like, 'This is enough. Something's gonna happen -- either we're gonna get hurt or killed. We got to get out of this car,'" he adds. "I told them to let me out, and I bolted for the house."

Gambill, 35, trim and sandy-haired, says he never saw the chimps act aggressively toward the teens, although he, Lahmann and Connie Casey arrived at the scene after the teens were already there. "The only aggression I seen at all was from the boys," says Gambill, "who at first was just cussin' and makin' threats until the point when Jason Coats decided that the dart guns weren't powerful enough to take care of the job -- for him."

Coats recalls his dash from the car to the back door of the house as a scene right out of a horror movie. "Everything was kind of in slow motion, and those monkeys were close and they were mad," he says. "When I got to the door, I was afraid I'd fumble the keys and they'd get me. I got inside and called 911, but I knew it's gonna take them forever to get here and my friends are still out in the car. I ran upstairs, loaded the 20-gauge."

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