Mystery of dead Scotsman and box of venemous snakes

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The Independent Online

Police have launched an investigation into the bizarre death of a British computer programmer who was found dead at an American airport, half a mile from a box of deadly snakes.

Garrick Wales, 48, was discovered slumped in the driving seat of a rental car at Little Rock National Airport in Arkansas. The body of the businessman, from Kilmacolm in Inverclyde, Scotland, was surrounded by vomit.

A day later, an electrician stumbled across four deadly African snakes in cloth bags near a motorway, about half a mile from the airport.

Detectives believe the unusual death of Mr Wales is connected with the snakes, although they have not said he died of a snake bite. They have yet to release the results of the post-mortem examination.

The four snakes - a 14in twig snake, a 6ft green mamba, a 4ft black mamba and a 5ft forest cobra - were found in a box marked with the warning "live venomous reptiles".

US officials said there was no indication of whether the snakes, which are believed to be worth around £700, were being shipped to a zoo. Neither was there any indication of their ownership.

Staff at Little Rock Zoo, where the animals were taken, said police had told them they were linking the snakes to the death of Mr Wales, whose body was found on 13 May.

"They wanted to know what kind of snakes they were and they wanted to know if they could bite through the bags," Michael Blakely, the zoo's director, said.

The state of Arkansas borders on Tennessee, where snake-handling is a regular practice among fundamentalist religions. Worshippers believe that touching poisonous serpents marks them out as true followers of God. Last month, a preacher died from a snakebite he suffered during an Easter service.

Cecilia Hines, associate keeper of the reptile house at Memphis Zoo, said any of the snakes could have caused the conditions in which Mr Wales was found.

"It would be pretty evident right off the bat (from an autopsy) if he died from snake bites," she said.

Mr Wales' wife, Pamela, a schoolteacher, said her husband had been in the US on business and the matter was being investigated by the American authorities.

Neighbours said he was a "lovely man" and a "nice neighbour".