Damon Heynen, East Texas Snake Farmer, Back in Court with True Name (and Weird Past) Revealed

Categories: Crime, Texas

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Damon Heynen: Man of many names, and snakes
Last month we brought you the story of an East Texas snake farmer law enforcement identified as David Beauchemin. In recent years, the 44-year-old proprietor of High End Herps has been accused of keeping 79 boas, pythons and other large exotic snakes in appalling conditions, and using Craigslist to obtain unwanted small pets to feed his reptiles.

Since then it has come to light that his name is not David Beauchemin, but Damon James Heynen, and that he is an ex-con who served six years in a California prison for manslaughter.

This is also far from the first or even second time he has run afoul of police and animal protection agencies.

What's more, he is highly, highly controversial among his fellow snake raisers, as this 220-page message board thread attests.

Last week in Wood County court, a judge awarded custody of Heynen's snakes to the Humane Society of North Texas and decreed that Heynen pay $4,000 for their care and feeding. Heymen was also fined $500 for keeping the snakes without a permit and is still in jail awaiting extradition to Louisiana, where he skipped out on a court date concerning 22 counts of animal cruelty that face him there.

But this ain't Heynen's first or second snake rodeo. Far from it.

Ten years ago, a complaint was lodged against Heynen by a neighbor who didn't like the four alligators -- named Jose, Beefer, Chiquita and Dusty -- that Heynen was keeping in a pond in his San Bernardino, California, backyard. Heynen admitted at the time that he lacked the necessary state permits to keep the carnivorous reptiles, but claimed to be exempt under a grandfather clause. He said then that the gators -- one of which was nine feet long and weighed 400 pounds -- were family heirlooms that had been in the family since about 1951.

By 2005, that gator congregation had grown to 32 and Heynen had taken them all on the lam. When he and a female companion were stopped by the Arizona Highway Patrol on Interstate 10 near the town of Casa Grande, an officer described Heynen's trailer as looking like something of a motorized Noah's Ark.

Not only were there all those gators, but also tortoises, chickens, rats, rabbits, dogs and more than 50 boa constrictors. The couple told cops they were passing through, attempting to relocate this menagerie from San Bernardino to Georgia.

At the time of his arrest in Texas, Heynen was using the identification of a Georgia man named James Johnston, who is officially listed as a missing person.

Heynen next surfaced in Louisiana, which is where we picked up the tale.

Police are still searching for Tawni Beauchemin, a much younger woman variously described as Heynen's wife and friend. Her purse was found on the scene when Heynen was arrested, but she lit out for parts unknown.

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