Ape terrorizes Tampa community, defeats police in pitched battle!

by Dale Cox

Long before the first reports of a “skunk ape” in the swamps of Florida, an animal that police identified as a chimpanzee – “grotesquely walking upright” – terrorized a Tampa neighborhood. It was 1926, and the sightings took place on North Albany Avenue (see map at the bottom of this page).

The animal first appeared on October 23 when it came from beneath the home of H.E. McMorris at 303 North Albany:

Walking grotesquely upright, the beast moved out into the center of the street and after carefully surveying the neighborhood, entered the yard of 306 North Albany avenue. The family residing there, named Perry, was not home. The chimpanzee, however, had ideas of its own about entering the house and after tinkering with a screen on one of the windows, finally succeeded in removing it. [I]

Tampa as it appeared during the Great Chimpanzee Terror of 1926!
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection

The animal went through the window of the Perry home and apparently went up a fireplace flue! As onlookers gathered to watch, it suddenly appeared at the top of the chimney:

…Seated complacently on its lofty perch, the chimpanzee looked down serenely on the commotion it had caused. Then, slowly, and feeling its way, it entered the chimney again, going down feet first. That was the last seen of the unwelcome visitor. [II]

Arthur Schleman, who specialized in catching stray dogs for the City of Tampa, was the first authority on the scene but he was joined in a few minutes by carloads of police officers “with drawn guns and ready black jacks.” The officers entered the house but could find no trace of the animal.

A chimpanzee in the Florida-filmed movie “Tarzan’s Secret Treasure.” 
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection

Schleman, meanwhile, “gathered a reserve force of a dozen or more youngsters” and – apparently without using drawn guns and blackjacks – he and his volunteers started a search of the neighborhood. They also came up empty.

Although they had no report of an escaped chimpanzee, the police concluded that it likely was a runaway from a traveling circus or a ship visiting from tropical climes.

The scare was far from over. Reports of chimpanzee sightings grew in Tampa over the days that followed, but some residents claimed to see an ape that was 4-feet tall while others said it was less than 2-feet tall.

Another view of Tampa as it appeared in 1926.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection

The answer came four days after the first sighting when two police officers walking along Albany Avenue suddenly came face to face with not one but two apes:

Gripping their nightsticks, the patrolmen gave lusty pursuit. They overtook the fleeing chimpanzee and his companion in another alleyway and backed them into a corner. The little money [sic.] cringed and began to squeal plaintively. But the big one, the chimpanzee, let out an unearthly grown and fell into a fighting position. The doughty officers bore in, swinging their nightsticks. And the battle was on. They fought and he fought. And the little one squealed. [III]

The man vs. ape fight continued for five minutes before, “with a final murderous growl, Mr. Chimpanzee broke through the barrier of blue coats” and fled the scene with his – or her – small friend in hot pursuit. The exhausted officers were too tired to follow and the apes escaped.

Having been defeated by their would-be prey, Tampa Police warned citizens that if they found themselves caught between the two apes, they should “run over” the smaller one instead of tangling with the big one. “It’s safer” proclaimed the chimpanzee-frightened writers of the Tampa Tribune. [IV]

The escapade meanwhile drew the attention of other police officers in Florida and they had great fun poking a little fun at Tampa’s force. The police chief of Winter Haven, for example, expressed his hopes that the animals would be captured, “as we would hate to see a city as big as Tampa surrender to the growls and squeals of either a chimp or a monkey.” [V]

Tampa Police promised to shoot the chimpanzees on sight but apparently never got the chance. The Tampa Tribune soon ended its updates without any report on the outcome of the hunt. The big and little ape disappeared from the headlines and, apparently, from Albany Avenue as well.

Tampa was not alone in its efforts to deal with roaming chimpanzees. Miami reported problems of its own soon after, with police there chasing at least three during the spring of 1927.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that reports of “skunk apes” roaming the Everglades first appeared not long after. Or, possibly, people and police were battling something other than chimpanzees in 1926-1927 Florida!

[I] “Big Chimpanzee At Large Here, Eludes Police,” Tampa Tribune, October 24, 1926.

[II] Ibid.

[III] “Monkey Business Becomes Complicated; Police Have Found Pair of Them Now,” Tampa Tribune, October 26, 1926.

[IV] Ibid.

[V] “Something to Talk About,” Tampa Tribune, November 3, 1926.