The saga of Wessie, the large snake that may or may not be hanging out on the banks of the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, has captured imaginations nationally.

Westbrook police officers and a resident first reported in June that a snake, perhaps as long as 10 feet, was slithering its way through the Riverbank Park area and had been spotted feasting on a beaver. Those sightings set off a flurry of would-be snake spotters looking for the reptile dubbed “Wessie.”

That frenzy was renewed over the weekend with the discovery of a large snake skin near the Presumpscot River. On Monday, police Capt. Sean Lally took calls from reporters from CNN, USA Today, Huffington Post and the Boston Globe, prompting him to joke that he would need to hire someone to handle Wessie’s publicity. The Washington Post got in on the action, describing how Westbrook is “transfixed by ‘Wessie,’ a 10-foot python reportedly on the loose.”

And over on Twitter, “Wessie P. Thon” spent the day responding to inquiries about his location and reveling in the national media spotlight.

“In a year when people have had to deal with a lot of news of terrorists and shootings and turmoil caused by the presidential race, people want some relief,” said Loren Coleman, director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland. “What better than a giant mystery snake that can’t be caught?”

 

Police, meanwhile, are trying to figure out more about the snake’s skin that was found Saturday afternoon. Lally said officers who measured the skin reported it was 12-feet, 1-inch long and 4 inches in diameter at its widest point. Experts told Lally that a shed is usually longer than the snake and estimated the snake itself was likely 9 to 10 feet long.

Photos and a sample of the skin were sent to Dr. John Placyk, a herpetologist at the University of Texas in Tyler who will use DNA testing to determine what kind of snake the skin came from. Lally said Placyk reached out to Westbrook police because “he was very interested in the mystery.” Placyk told Lally that he doesn’t think Wessie is a python based on photos of the skin, but needs more time with the samples before determining its type.

“The DNA will be 100 percent confirmation of what kind of snake it is,” Lally said. “But even if we identify the skin, we can’t tell you there’s actually a snake there. Someone could have planted it.”

David Corker emerges from the spot near the Presumpscot River where he found a 12-foot snakeskin Saturday. "I thought, this is definitely not a garter snake," Corker said.

David Corker emerges from the spot near the Presumpscot River where he found a 12-foot snakeskin Saturday. “I thought, this is definitely not a garter snake,” Corker said. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

David Corkery, a 49-year-old Westbrook resident, is particularly interested in the outcome of the search for Wessie. On Saturday, when the river was low, he was out looking for old bottles to add to his collection when he spotted the snake skin. It stretched through the woods along the river bank, he said Tuesday.

“I’ve never seen a snake skin so big in my life,” he said. “I thought (Wessie) was a myth. When I found a snake skin that big it blew me right away.”

Corkery said he called police immediately and didn’t touch the snake skin, but did get an uncomfortably close look at it.

“Boy, this snake skin really stood right out,” he said. “You could see where the eye sockets were.”

Lally said there have been plenty of people interested in looking for Wessie, though no one has apparently had any luck so far. The police department granted permission to a cryptozoologist to search the park at night after it is closed. Lally declined to name the cryptozoologist because the person did not want any media attention. Cryptozoology is the study of creatures whose existence has not been scientifically proven, such as the Loch Ness monster.

“He’s concerned about the animal itself and hopes it can be captured and not killed,” Lally said.

Coleman said he’s not the cryptozoologist who wants to search the park at night, though he has been out several times looking for signs of Wessie. He said a snake that large would leave behind large tracks, but he did not spot any. Coleman has also been working on collecting memorabilia connected to Wessie, including a T-shirt from a local brewery featuring the snake. He’s interested in compiling the memorabilia, first-person accounts of Wessie spottings and – if Westbrook police go for it – the actual snake skin to include in an exhibit at the nonprofit museum.

“This is going to be a piece of history,” he said.

On Tuesday, Bill Brock, a cryptozoologist from Durham who has been featured on Discovery Channel’s “Monsters Underground” show, was in Westbrook looking for signs of Wessie. He told WCSH-TV that he saw a trough and hole that could indicate the presence of a large snake. He also told the Portland news station that a photo taken that morning by a Westbrook public services employee shows an object in the river that could be the head of a snake.

The Maine Warden Service has told Westbrook police that the snake is not native to the area and was likely a pet that either escaped or was set loose. The warden service advised Westbrook police to kill it if they find it because local officers are not trained to deal with a large snake, Lally said.

Though local officers are not out looking for Wessie, Lally said he is sure police will hear about it right away if the snake is spotted again.

“There are so many people down there, if they see it I’m sure we’ll get a call right away,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many places a snake could hide on both sides of the river. It’s kind of fruitless for amateurs to try to find it.”

At the Westbrook City Council meeting on Monday, Mayor Colleen Hilton acknowledged the intense interest in Wessie and provided an update – punctuated with laughs from the audience – about the quest for information about the visiting serpent. She told the council and residents that an expert told police the snake probably isn’t a python, based on the skin.

“His first guess would be a very large rat snake that is harmless to humans unless it is cornered. So if you see any snakes, do not attempt to corner the snake,” she said. “We’ll have the answer in a couple weeks on the shed skin. Unless it was planted as a hoax, the mystery of Wessie will be solved.”