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How The Biggest Cockroach In Dallas Made Michael Bohdan Famous

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.

Credit Lauren Silverman / KERA News
Michael Bohdan opened the "Cockroach Hall of Fame" in Plano, Texas in the late 1980s.

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. 

Credit Lauren Silverman / KERA News
"Liberoachy," one of the submissions for the "Best Dressed Cockroach" competition created by Michael Bohdan.

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.

Credit Michael Bohdan
"Marilyn Monroach," is part of the collection Michael Bohdan still has, decades after his first "Best Dressed Roach" competition.

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.

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.