Renowned Spider Venom
Authority Goes Missing
Erin Walter
MOSCOW, Idaho -- While not working as projectionists at the Micro Moviehouse, Michael Williams and Darwin Vest collected spiders and milked them for their venom.
The process involved Scotch-taping an anesthetized arachnid to a wooden board, delivering a shock and waiting with a pipette to pick up a bead of venom.
Sometimes, the spider woke up unhappy with the procedure.
"We had some fun times," Williams said of helping toxinologist Vest conduct his research.
Vest, who lived in Moscow for a decade starting in the late 1970s, disappeared June 3 from Idaho Falls, where he had lived since moving from Moscow.
The self-taught scientist and owner of Eagle Rock Research in Idaho Falls is known worldwide for his expertise about snake and spider venom. He has published articles in scientific journals, and testified about poisonous bites in court cases across the country.
He and his sister Rebecca Vest also identified and named the hobo spider.
During his time in Moscow, Vest collected and researched specimens during the day while splicing film as a projectionist at the Micro at night.
Williams, a computer network specialist from Moscow, met Vest in the late 1970s. The scientist lived with Williams for a few months before moving to Idaho Falls. The two saw each other in August 1997, when Vest visited Moscow, but Williams said he has not talked to Vest for at least a year.
"He's a quiet, thoughtful person who likes to get along," Williams said of his former co-worker. "And he's very intelligent, too."
Although Vest had no formal degree, he worked with research scientists at Washington State University during his time on the Palouse. He read textbooks on venomous creatures and did his own studies.
"He was quite the expert. People used to come to him when they got bitten," said Gabriella Ball, bookkeeper for the theater. She recalls people bringing spiders to the movie house for Vest to study.
"People used to bring them into the theater and he kept them in plastic bags in the refrigerator."
Before leaving Moscow, Vest started doing a show called the "Venomous Reptile Review" with his sister, Ball said. She and her husband, George, traveled to Spokane to see the Vests teach children about the poisonous creatures.
The Vests educational efforts continued in Idaho Falls, and Darwin Vest was featured on the Discovery Channel.
But all that stopped over a month ago, when Vest vanished.
He was last seen in the early morning hours of June 3 at a bar in downtown Idaho Falls. Earlier that evening, Vest had walked from his home to another bar for a weekly trivia game with friends. Walking at night has long been a Darwin Vest trademark, Ball said.
"I know he used to walk a lot and walk at night. Someone could have grabbed him," she said.
Although Vest would sometimes take trips to search for snakes or spiders, he would never leave without letting his family know his whereabouts, Williams said.
"I think something bad happened -- exactly what, I don't know."
Idaho Falls police said Wednesday there is no new information on Vest's disappearance and there is little evidence in the case.