Encounters of the 'Fly Man of Alcatraz'
Kimsey, a UC Davis forensic entomologist, first became involved in the fly project in July 2007 when he received a call about the annoying flies from entomologist Bruce Badzik, integrated pest management coordinator with the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Complaints rose to a feverish pitch in late August, September and October. The flies seemed to land on people as if they were rotten meat. Kimsey witnessed the incessant “shoo-fly” behavior on the docks and encountered it on a personal basis.
While during research, Kimsey became known as "The Fly Man of Alcatraz." And, he became keenly interested in the history of The Rock, reading books and conversing with officials, former inmates, tour guides, and visitors.
One of the tour guides was a former Alcatraz inmate, Robert Luke, a convicted armed robber who did time on The Rock from 1954 to 1959. He was known as Alcatraz Inmate No. 1118AZ. "I was convicted of bank robbery with an automatic weapon and was sent to Alcatraz for attempted escape from Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas," said Luke, who now lives in Northern California and is a National Park Service volunteer on The Rock.
UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students met him, too.
"The students met Robert during their 2011 retreat to Alcatraz Island, and learned much of the intimate details of Alcatraz prison life and his extraordinary experiences as an inmate as he toured them around the main cell block," said Kimsey, who advises the UC Davis Entomology Club. "Robert and the students have remained in contact ever since."
The result: The Entomology Club and Entomology Graduate Students' Association asked Luke to give a talk on the UC Davis campus.
Luke will be on the UC Davis campus on Friday, Jan. 13 to talk to entomology undergraduates, graduate students and other interested persons about life on The Rock. His public presentation is from noon to 1 p.m. in 1002 Giedt Hall, located just north of Kemper Hall, in the UC Davis engineering/physical sciences district.
Luke, author of "Entombed in Alcatraz," will then head over to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, to sign copies of his book from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. (Bring your own copy.)
Luke, now in his 80s, is a living resource on what Alcatraz was really like on The Rock.
And the annoying flies?
Kimsey identified the troubling fly as a “kelp fly” (Fucillia thinobia) or “cormorant fly” in the family Anthomyiidae. “But it’s not a kelp fly as such,” said Kimsey, who plans to publish his research in an entomological journal. “It has nothing to do with kelp. It lives in purge-soaked soil under dead cormorants found in rookeries all around the island. It does not exist in any other place.”
“Alcatraz,” Kimsey said, “is the perfect place to study this fly, with three species of cormorants utilizing the island, and this is the only breeding spot for Brandt’s and the pelagic cormorant in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey on Alcatraz Island. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)