A Chesterfield County man, who authorities said sells venomous snakes online, has been charged with possessing inside his home eight Western diamondback rattlesnakes, a species responsible for the majority of snakebite fatalities in northern Mexico and the greatest number of snakebites in the U.S.
Matthew R. Miller, 39, was charged under a county ordinance with eight counts of keeping a wild or exotic animal on his property in the 3600 block of Thurston Road after Chesterfield animal services officers served a search warrant last week. Officers confiscated nine Western diamondback rattlers, according to an inventory of items seized. Police on Monday amended the count to eight.
In February, an animal services officer viewed Miller’s Facebook account, which had several photos of Western diamondbacks and other venomous snakes, according to an affidavit for a search warrant. The officer also located a screenshot of an advertisement that Miller allegedly placed on an online site known as Fauna Classifieds, which is used to list, trade and sell reptiles, the affidavit says.
The screenshot, posted Nov. 27, stated that Miller had these snakes for sale: “Massive proven western diamondback,” “Carmel western,” “Albino western,” “Melanistic western” and “Patternless western” — all venomous snakes, the affidavit added.
The officer also conducted a search of Fauna Classifieds and located a response on March 6 from Miller’s account that said, “Interested in any trades, I have Burms and hots?” Hots is a term used to describe venomous snakes. The account Miller was using said he was not interested in trading snakes, only selling, the affidavit says.
The investigation and search of his home followed a contact Miller had with animal services officers on May, 5, 2018, after the department received information that he may be in possession of venomous snakes. An officer who spoke with him at the time said Miller would not allow the officer inside his home, which is near Jefferson Davis Highway and state Route 288, and that Miller told the officer that he possessed only Burmese pythons and “articulated pythons,” according to the affidavit.
Six years ago, in October 2012, an amateur naturalist in Chesterfield who kept and cared for numerous snakes and reptiles, among other animals, was found dead after being bitten on the finger by one of his venomous snakes inside his home in the 10800 block of Hinshaw Drive. The body of Jack Redmond, 70, was discovered by his wife about 3 p.m. in the basement of their home, where Redmond kept snakes and reptiles in an assortment of professionally secured cages, authorities said at the time.
A herpetologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said it appeared Redmond was bitten by a Chinese palm viper — one of 24 snakes in his collection. Redmond was battling prostate cancer and taking medication, which friends said could have contributed to his death.
There is no state law prohibiting Virginia residents from possessing venomous snakes, but many localities have passed ordinances banning them. There is no similar ban in neighboring Richmond.
“In Chesterfield, we have a very specific code section on wild or exotic animals,” said Chesterfield Animal Services Director Carrie Jones. “So you’re not allowed to have anything like that, venomous snakes or other exotics.”
Jones said authorities have limited information about Miller’s snake-selling activities.
“The main thing we were focusing on was just him possessing the animals in Chesterfield County,” she said.
A message seeking comment left for Miller at a phone number listed for him online was not returned.
At 4 to 6 feet long, the Western diamondback is the second-largest species of rattlesnake found in North America, second only to its close cousin, the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, according to online sources. The Western diamondback is also the second-largest venomous snake in the U.S.
Jones said Chesterfield residents in possession of deadly snakes is “not something we come across very frequently.”
“Most people run from snakes,” Jones said in jest.
Miller’s snakes were transferred from Chesterfield animal services to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.