In December 1974, the San Jose Police Department in California had a big problem. It was clear that there had been an intruder in their evidence room. Not just once but multiple times. This happened night after night for several weeks. But no matter how hard they tried, officers were unable to capture the thief. While marijuana was his drug of choice, quantities of hashish and cocaine were also missing, all of which had been originally collected as evidence for various court cases.
Evidence left at the scene of the crime was very telling: there were powdery tracks, evidence bags with holes in them, and bits of cardboard scattered around. What was most interesting was that only very small quantities of these drugs were disappearing. The crook was taking just enough each night to support his addiction.
Then, one day, officers caught a glimpse of the suspect. He had short hair, a small face, beady eyes, and was petite in stature. And when I say petite, I mean tiny. He measured around 3 inches (7.6 cm) overall.
It should be clear by now that the suspect was not human. In actuality, he was a field mouse who seemed to have become addicted to marijuana. He was nicknamed Marty the Marijuana Mouse, and it wasn’t long before he became a minor celebrity nationwide.
Officers were doing their best to trap Marty, but he somehow always managed to avoid capture. Yet, they refused to give up. San Jose Police Lieutenant Arnold Bertotti told the San Francisco Examiner on December 11, 1974, “If we get him, we’ll preserve him for posterity,” after which the article concluded with a bit of humor: “But his diet will be strictly cheese.”
One week later, an expert arrived at the scene of the crime to assist in hunting down the suspect. He was Dr. Ronald K. Siegel, a psychopharmacology fellow at UCLA’s Center for Life Sciences. Siegel’s reason for getting involved was strictly for research purposes. Marty certainly wasn’t the first rodent to have munched away on marijuana in police evidence rooms, but, as Siegel pointed out, there was “evidence in his feces that Marty has been eating actual marijuana stalks in addition to his diet of seeds.” What that meant to Siegel was that Marty had been exposed to the effects of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.
Siegel added, phrased with that classic 1960s counterculture vibe, “I fly all over the world searching for animals that turn on. Man, however, is the only animal who intentionally eats psychoactive plants. Animals turn on by accident.”
Siegel hoped to extrapolate his findings to learn more about, “man’s pattern and self-administration of recreational uses of marijuana and how its use affects our behavior.”
“We’d like to take some blood samples from him to determine exactly what his diet has been.” Siegel continued, “We want to try to find out if indeed he has been eating these plant drugs and how much he has been eating.”
Interestingly, Siegel was fairly certain that Marty wasn’t walking around in a drug-induced stupor. He concluded this by observing that Marty consumed mostly the seeds and stalks of the plant. Most of the psychoactive substances are concentrated in the leaves, which Marty ate little of.
Of course, all of this sounds like legitimate scientific research, but Siegel still had one big problem: Marty was still on the lam. Without Marty, there’s no research.
On Tuesday, December 17, 1974, narcotic officers and Siegel attempted to flush Marty out of his hiding place. They searched high and low, crawling around the floor looking for his home. And then the spotted him. They attempted to capture him, but Marty did all that he could to evade getting caught. He made a run for a filing cabinet, then used a long row of cardboard boxes for cover, before getting away. According to one officer, “He was last seen southbound on the floor.”
Further searching uncovered Marty’s nest. It was inside a plastic bag filled with marijuana stalks and leaves. Marty had used the bulk of his stash as bedding material, although traces of hashish and cocaine were also found.
While they had temporarily flushed Marty out of his home, he was certain to return. Basic traps had proven unsuccessful, so it was decided to use a little sex appeal. A female mouse nicknamed Mata Hairy was brought in to attract Marty, but he resisted the temptation. Of course, no one knew if Marty really was a male, although it was later determined that Mata Hairy was.
It was time to bring in the big guns. The Shermans. Not Sherman tanks but Sherman traps. Three of them were donated by Chabot College zoology professor Carlo Vecchiarelli. Most homeowners are unfamiliar with Sherman traps, mainly because they are costly, but they are used extensively by researchers worldwide to capture small rodents. The Sherman traps are basically elongated boxes made of sheet metal with spring-loaded doors on both ends. After an animal enters the trap to eat the bait, their weight releases a latch that snaps the door closed, entrapping it without any harm.
Officer Jim Leroy commented that if the Sherman traps didn’t work, “We’ll have to use the ultimate weapon—some type of poison. But there’s been such a big deal made about this mouse that if we kill the damn thing, we’re going to look worse than pigs.”
The December 20, 1974, edition of the San Francisco Examiner posed the following questions: “Will Marty avoid the Sherman traps? Will Mata Hairy betray Marty? Will the ultimate weapon come into play? Stay tuned.”
Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times best described what happened next. “What was undoubtedly the most intensive mousehunt in the history of the San Jose police department has ended. Marty the Marijuana Mouse is in custody.
“The elusive rodent, which for months has frustrated some of the narcotics department’s best talent, as well as a mouse-hunting college professor, became the unwitting victim of police entrapment over the weekend.
“In the end, it was not spectacular police work that did him in, but Marty’s insatiable taste for good grass he found among the other goodies in the department’s third-floor evidence room.
“Ignoring no-way-out wire traps baited with conventional mousy tidbits—including another mouse named Mata Hairy—the intrepid Marty scurried into a single trap containing marijuana seeds.”
Detective Leroy commented on Marty’s condition, “Frankly, I think he was more than a little strung out. He was so nervous and frantic that he was banging his head on the top of the cage.
“We had to move him into a glass cage without any objects in it to keep him from hurting himself.” (I guess the mouse equivalent of a rubber room.)
He added, “Honestly, we may have to give him a little grass for a few days to bring him down slowly.”
Christmas was just around the corner and the decision was made to spare Marty’s life. They would allow him to live, but he would have to face trial for his numerous criminal offenses, which included possession of marijuana. In the meantime, Deputy City Manager Harold Rosen signed papers that made Marty an official member of the city’s K-9 Corps. After all, Marty was able to sniff out a stash far better than any dog.
A hearing took place on Christmas Eve before Judge Edward Nelson. Attorneys David Bays and Charles Kramer petitioned the judge for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that Marty “had been illegally entrapped, unlawfully confined, and denied his constitutional rights.”
Representing the police, attorney Royce Fincher argued that Marty was now in good hands and the writ should be denied. He described Marty as having been in “a deplorable condition” at the time of his capture and that he only stole the marijuana to survive, but now that he was in the good hands of the police, he would be provided with a much healthier diet of cheese and water.
Kramer disagreed. Marty had not chosen to become a member of the K-9 Corps. He was forced into it. He demanded that “the mouse be released from his cage right here in court and we’ll see if he’ll voluntarily join the K-9 Corps.”
Judge Nelson denied the writ of habeas corpus, dismissed all charges against him, and the officers carried Marty and his glass cage out of the courtroom.
On Christmas day, the text of a teletype message from Marty appeared in the Examiner:
“Our law finally captured, but afeared I am not.
“For, I deceived my captors a H of a lot.
“During this Yule, I’ve been living on seeds and what not—now I have a regular diet I enjoy a lot.
“The catch was fair, really I’m not mad.
“My children could go hungry, my wife might be sad, but with welfare in this state for those in need, there will be a warmth for my family, with cheer indeed.
“With times so tough and dear, everyone looked to me for cheer.
“Throughout the coming days, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
That message was signed: “Marty Mouse, by Lt. Arnold Bertotti of the San Jose police narcotics squad.”
While they were all having good fun with Marty’s sudden fame, his future was up in the air. Marty was about to become the subject of Dr. Siegel’s scientific studies. On January 13, 1975, he told the UCLA Daily Bruin, “When I went to pick Marty up there were some problems. The San Jose narcotics squad had become very attached to Marty and they were not at all excited about giving him up.”
They did agree to loan Marty to Siegel for about three months, but getting him to UCLA was a bit comical.
“He escaped in the men’s room at the airport. I had to crawl under the stalls on my hands and knees to finally make a diving capture that even Dick Vermeil would be proud of.” [Sidenote: Vermeil was the UCLA head football coach at the time.]
After that, “they wouldn’t let Marty on the PSA (Pacific Southwest Airlines) flight back to L.A. The flight was held up. I didn’t have the papers necessary to bring an animal on board. Finally, the flight captain granted special permission to let Marty on.”
Once in the lab, Marty was fed a diet of laboratory chow and increasing amounts of marijuana, which had been grown on a US government farm in Mississippi. As long as the chow was present, Marty readily ate the marijuana seeds, but not the remaining parts of the plant. This resulted in no change in his behavior.
But when Marty was restricted to a pure marijuana diet, he preferred the seeds and stems over the leaves. This resulted in him becoming more lethargic and there was a significant drop on the counter on his running wheel. While initially quiet and withdrawn, he eventually became irritable and aggressive. His head twitched frequently, a sign that he was hallucinating. Marty also lost interest in breeding with his female companion, Mary Jane. (What else?) When the lab chow was reintroduced into his diet, Marty mostly returned to his normal behavior, although the occasional head twitch suggested that he had become addicted to the drug.
Meanwhile, outrage over Marty’s incarceration began to brew. This resulted in two women, Norma Rosenberg and Lois Lane, starting the Marty Mouse Fan Club. They did this after Norma’s son Bobby commented, “Look, this mouse should become a symbol of freedom. Why don’t we do something about it.” And that’s exactly what they did.
On January 31, 1975, the Daily Bruin, which ran advertisements for Free Marty tee shirts, published an editorial commenting on a Free Marty rally that the two women had planned later that day:
“With apathy and overwhelming crisis facing our nation two women cry out. Their cry is for Liberte, Egalite, ‘Rat’ernite for the great Universal ideal of choosing one’s own fate. They squeek for Marty the Mouse.
“Life hasn’t been very gouda these days from Marty M. Mouse. Locked in an NPI (Neuropsychiatric Institute) slammer, Marty has become more than just a hairassed mouse. Marty is a symbol. A cause célèbre for everyone sweating beneath the iron hand of dictatorship and facing the fist of fascism.
“But the ‘Free Marty’ campaign is on the march, shedding real mousekatears for its namesake. If the campaign scope is equal to the spirit and desire of its two Liberty belles, Lois Lane and Norma Rosenberg, then every American will look inward and ask himself the vital question — “What have I done to perpetrate a system where atrocities like this can happen?
“Today at noon, in Meyerhoff Park there will be a rally to give support to Marty. It is your conscience — don’t send Marty to the cat house!”
So, did anyone show up? Yes, they did. An estimated crowd of 150 people gathered to protest against the experiments being performed on Marty. In exchange for their participation, each protestor was given a Free Marty bumper sticker.
After the rally was over, the fan club did not let up on its pressure campaign. A letter was penned to President Ford requesting Marty be fully pardoned. They also asked for help from US Representative Alphonzo Bell, who replied to the students by telegram:
“The Marty the Mouse problem is our kind of issue… I pledge to take this matter to the highest authority in Washington… just as soon as I find out who the highest authority is.” This was shortly after the Watergate scandal, so he added that if Marty “had committed his crimes in Washington instead of San Jose… there is no doubt at all that by now not only would he be out… he would be giving lectures around the country.”
Marty was eventually returned to the narcotics officers in San Jose and the press quickly forgot about him. That was until October 8, 1975, when reporters learned that Marty was lying listless inside a paper cup at the police station. One officer stated, “He’s getting old. He can’t live much longer.”
A few days later, Marty was rushed to a nearby veterinary hospital with an infection and a high fever. An unnamed narcotics officer reported that “The word is he’s got a hotspot, an allergy or something. He’s getting old but I don’t think his death is pending. He should be back from the vet on Monday.”
He added, “We’re planning to get him a toupee. The bald spot destroys his public image. He looks bad. You can imagine what a bald-headed mouse looks like.”
Sadly, Marty would not recover. He passed away on Tuesday, November 4, 1975, at an estimated age of sixteen months. The San Francisco Examiner published a lengthy obituary the following day. It reads, in part:
“Funeral arrangements were being planned here today for Marty Mouse, a distinguished figure in the San Jose Police Department and in the local scientific circles since last Christmas. Mr. Mouse, descendent of a pioneer family of field mice who settled in and about police headquarters here, died in his sleep yesterday at the San Jose Pet Clinic.
“Attendants said the end came quietly and was due to the infirmities of old age. He was taken to the clinic last October 10 suffering from an undiagnosed ailment which caused loss of appetite and his hair to fall out.
It concludes, “The effects of his diet of cannabis sativa were the subject of articles in several scientific journals.
“Mr. Mouse is believed to leave numerous children and grandchildren and innumerable nieces and nephews. Arrangements are being made for internment under a grassy knoll.”
Detective Leroy commented, “We hated to see him go. He brought us a lot of enjoyment, more than people realized.” He added, “He was really a welcome relief around here, kind of a kick.”
Marty may have been gone, but his memory lived on. In January 1976, the Marty Mouse Fan Club joined up with the manufacturers of E-Z Wider rolling paper to present the First Annual Marty the Marijuana Eating Mouse Memorial Awards. The recipients were then San Francisco Mayor-elect George Moscone and State Assemblyman Alan Sieroty, both of whom sought the liberalization of marijuana laws, and to Representative Bell for his help in trying to free Marty. None of the recipients were in attendance at the Los Angeles champagne brunch, so club president Lois Lane stood in for each of them.
Then, on March 22, 1976, the club presented the San Jose police department with a Marty Mouse statuette, which had an E-Z Wider hat on its head. The inscription read, “Presented by the Marty Mouse Fan Club and E-Z Wider to the San Jose Police Department, for appreciation for its human treatment of the late Marty Mouse. Born—? Died—November 4, 1975.”
Over the next few years, there would be stories in the press of other mice that nibbled away at the marijuana stored in police evidence lockers, but none ever achieved the level of fame of Marty the Marijuana Mouse.
I just wonder if the San Jose Police Department still has that statuette in its possession…
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.