CLEARWATER — Mary Wischhusen was headed to the bathroom around 3:30 a.m. Friday when she heard a crash so loud she thought her new air conditioner had fallen through the roof into the kitchen.
What really happened was stranger still.
The 77-year-old Clearwater woman found an 11-foot alligator lying on the kitchen floor.
"All I had was a vision of a huge head," Wischhusen said, "a big head looking at me saying, 'Hey,'"
She hurried into her bedroom and called authorities.
"I have a gigantic alligator who came in through my garage and is sitting in my kitchen," Wischhusen said in a 911 call released by the Clearwater Police Department.
But the 911 operators had already been alerted. And Wischhusen didn’t know the whole story.
The big reptile had busted through the kitchen window.
Hear the 911 call.
For five years, Patricia Picora has been delivering the Tampa Bay Times to Wischhusen's condominium on a retention pond along Eagles Landing Circle, southwest of McMullen Booth and Curlew Roads.
Because there are several golf courses nearby, Picora has spotted plenty of alligators in the area.
But the one she saw in the road outside Wischhusen's condo on Friday was the largest she has ever seen.
Female alligators rarely grow longer than 10 feet, but the Florida record for a male is 14-foot-3 1/2 inches, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Picora speculates that her headlights startled the creature. It scurried toward a street drain but was too big to squeeze into it.
"It was then that he started showing aggression," Picora said. "I think he was upset that he couldn't get down the drain."
The alligator made its way toward Wischhusen’s condo and stopped at the front door.
Worried that Wischhusen would encounter the creature when she opened the door, Picora drove two condos away to call 911. Just before she dialed, she heard a crash.
"I didn't know what the sound was. It sounded like someone dropped outdoor furniture."
She told the operator about the alligator, saying she had seen it "thrashing around” at the front door.
“I thought it had hidden in the bushes," she said.
But the reptile had crashed through a kitchen window that is flush to the ground, low enough for it to crawl through.
Ten Clearwater police officers and two trappers arrived to find the reptile stretched out on the kitchen floor, opening his jaws wide as they snapped photos.
Wischhusen stayed locked in her bedroom playing video games on her computer.
At about 4:40 a.m., the trappers wrangled the alligator back through the broken window.
No one was hurt.
But Wischhusen lamented with a grin that the alligator had knocked over a wine shelf and broken several bottles of her "good stuff.”
"I don't know why he wanted my red wine, but he got my red wine."
She wondered if the alligator was attracted to her home because hers was the only unit with the kitchen light on during alligator mating season, when the reptiles are more aggressive.
Wischhusen might be right with her theory about the season, said Deby Cassile, an associate professor in biology at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus.
The light is probably just a coincidence, Cassile said.
"Alligators are out there on the prowl for mates," she said. "They will be migrating from one body of water to another. For an alligator, it is like bar hopping. My guess is that this alligator was seeking shelter and went to the closest place."
Still, Cassile said, this is the first time she has heard of an alligator breaking into a home.
The reptile might have been trying to escape the newspaper delivery woman. Or maybe it saw its reflection in the window and lunged at what it thought to be another male, she said.
The alligator suffered minor cuts to a shoulder.
It was taken away to rest and recover from what the trapper described as a traumatic experience, according to Clearwater police.
If it is deemed a good candidate for relocation, the alligator will be taken to a private alligator farm in Fort Meade.
And in all the commotion, did Wischhusen get her Friday newspaper?
Well, not right away.
But Picora said she came back later to deliver it.