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.

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.