Tension crept through the room as the entries were measured with a digital caliper. The crowd shuddered when one of the judges claimed he'd been bitten, then lurched when one of the contestants broke free. Finally there was a winner—a 1.9-inch specimen entered by Janet Bowman, 33, and coworkers Pat Camden, 32, and Marsha McCrackin, 24. Draftswomen for the local phone company, the ladies were initially elated but became misty-eyed. "It was sort of sad when it died," Camden said of the roach, who was sprayed after the women found it brazenly marching down a corridor at work. "I guess I ought to kiss it, huh?" After consultation, however, the women decided to forgo a victory buss and pose for photos instead. Meanwhile, at the breakfast buffet the blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies and unseeded watermelon slices were, perhaps understandably, barely touched.
The excitement made your flesh tingle. So did the contestants. The occasion was judgment day for a headline-grabbing, two-month-long contest. The setting was the Bizzy Bees Pest Control Co., whose co-owner, former restaurant manager Michael Bohdan, 39, created the competition as a promotional stunt. Dozens of people filled the small offices, hoping that a favorite entrant (American roaches only; humongous Cuban and Madagascan breeds weren't eligible) would win the $1,000 prize. Fourteen finalists, nine of them dead, had been selected from a field of 204. Red, white and blue bunting hung from the walls, a Country & Western tape played, and a continental breakfast was spread out around a 15-inch plastic cockroach centerpiece.