Most people love to hate cockroaches. Michael Bohdan, a former exterminator in Dallas, he loves them. He loves them so much he earned the nickname "Cockroach Dundee." He says the biggest roach in Dallas made him famous.
Thirty years ago, Michael Bohdan came up with an idea for a contest that changed his life. He offered $1,000 in cash for the largest cockroach in Dallas. He even printed out black-and-white "Wanted" posters with a drawing of a cockroach.
To Bohdan’s surprise, people weren’t that interested. So, he contacted CNN. As soon as the TV segment went on air — remember, this was the '80s — his cockroach competition went viral.
“All of a sudden, I’m getting calls from all over Dallas, all over the world," Bohdan says. "Cockroach hunters are like fisherman, they all brag, they have the biggest one, so that was pretty funny.”
The winners were three young women working at what was then Southwestern Bell. They found a cockroach just a hair shy of two inches long.
There are thousands of species of roaches in the world. Some, like the Madagascar roaches Bohdan still wears on his safari hat brim, are enormous. In the U.S., the smaller American and German cockroaches are more common. So this two-inch bug was a big deal. A few weeks later, Bohdan gets a call from NBC.
“They said, ‘Would you like to bring a cockroach on The Tonight Show?’ I took a big gulp and I said, ‘You bet.’”
Bohdan goes on Johnny Carson wearing a camel-colored leather sports coat and snake skin boots, carrying the 2-inch bug and also live cockroaches (He’d snuck them on the plane.). That’s not all, he gets Carson to put the cockroaches to sleep using dry ice.
After Carson, Bohdan became a famous exterminator. His Texas roaches went on exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Later, he appeared on TV with Jay Leno and Joan Rivers.
In 2000, he went on Ripley’s Believe it or Not, volunteering to lay inside a coffin while they poured a thousand live roaches on him.
For a humble Dallas pest control specialist with a degree in zoology, this was the dream. Bohdan had always wanted to tell the world cool facts about cockroaches – like how they move nearly 3.5 miles an hour, and that their favorite food is dog chow. So, he took advantage of the attention, and came up with another crazy cockroach contest: This one, for the best dressed roach.
"There was was Liberoachy, Ross Peroach, and Marilyn Monroach,” Bohdan says, laughing.
People from around the world sent him dead, dried, dressed-up cockroaches, and he saved some of them.
Bohdan ran the contest in cities like New York and Florida, offering thousand-dollar prizes. By the way, the vast majority of the creators were women. One woman wasn’t so impressed —his wife. To her dismay, he refused to throw the cockroaches out. Instead, he opened a tiny museum, in their old house: The Cockroach Hall of Fame.
“I think I had a little Barnum & Bailey in me,” Bohdan says.
The Cockroach Hall of Fame attracted a few thousand visitors a year. Now that Bohdan’s retired and lives in a smaller house, he needs to find a new place to display his cockroach dioramas.
“Maybe somebody hearing this will say, 'Hmm, I’ve got shelves we could put this sucker up!'”
Thirty years after the adventure began, the exterminator is still struggling to get rid of the roaches inside his own home.