Springfield’s cobra scare of 1953

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This story was written in September 2015, around the time a King Cobra went missing in Orlando, Fla.

While trained professionals frantically search the nooks and crannies of Orlando, Fla. in an effort to locate a renegade King Cobra, Ozarkers can sit back and smile with a dose of deja vu. After all, the incident is strikingly similar to Springfield’s cobra scare of 1953 — except, of course, that Springfield’s search was a bit more vigilante-style in what was a horror-movie-come-to-life.

Where did they come from?

When one cobra was found in a Springfield yard on Aug. 15, it didn’t cause much concern. After all, even though cobras aren’t native to Missouri, “anything is possible in the Ozarks,” said Springfield’s health commissioner in an article from 1953.

Cobra 4

Springfield’s first report of a cobra didn’t even make the front page of the Springfield Leader and Press.

 It wasn’t until other cobras were killed nearby did the bizarre incident turn into a real nightmare. And in the end, at least 11 snakes were found during the three-month ordeal.

Despite Reo Mowrer’s vehement denials, popular belief tied the snakes’ escape to an exotic pet shop he owned on St. Louis Street. Suspicions were further solidified when people saw him, soon after the reptiles disappeared, frantically running about with a snake-catching stick and a large bag.

However, it was decades later before the “how” and “why” came to light. And as it turns out, the epic story was a crime of passion.

“I’m the one that done it,” confessed Carl Barnett to Springfield News-Leader reporter Mike O’Brien in 1988, nearly 35 years after the incident occurred. It was the first time Barnett had told anyone — other than a close friend — that he was the one behind it all.