Six Snake-Handling Horror Stories

When it comes to snake handling, the truth is often stranger than fiction. Over 100 people have perished from snakebites during church services over the past century, and despite the outlawing of the practice in several southern states, a new generation of pastors is reviving the dangerous practice. Here are some of the most chilling stories from when snake handling goes terribly wrong.

1. Perhaps the most notorious snake handler in history is Alabama preacher Glenn Summerford. In 1991, Summerford was convicted of attempted murder for allegedly forcing his wife at gunpoint to fake a suicide note and stick her hand into his cage of poisonous snakes, which he utilized during his church services. Sentenced to 99 years in jail for his vicious attack on his wife – who miraculously survived – the preacher unsuccessfully attempted a jailbreak in 2003, escaping for 45 minutes before being re-captured.

2. For some unlucky families, snake handling can claim the heads of their clan. Five Tennessee children were orphaned at the hands of snake handling in 1998, after the practice claimed their father John Wayne Brown Jr., a preacher who suffered a fatal snake bite in an Alabama church. The children’s mother? Also dead from snake handling, bitten in 1995 attending a Kentucky religious revival. Brown’s five children were taken in by his parents, who have their own snake-handling church in North Carolina.

3. Rev. Dwayne Long found out the hard way that snakebites are deadly – even on holy days. In 2004, Rev. Long was leading a service on Easter Sunday in his southwestern Virginia Pentecostal church when the rattlesnake he was holding recoiled and bit his finger. Long refused medical treatment and died the next day.

4. Are snake handlers fit to be foster parents? A Kentucky agency didn’t think so in 2007, when Jason and Tammy Barrett had their licenses revoked after refusing to stop attending snake handling services. In response, the Barretts sued the foster care agency for discrimination, claiming the agency violated their constitutional rights when it revoked their license and took custody of the foster children in their care.

5. Can you imagine living with 50+ snakes in your house? Snake Salvation’s own Jamie Coots was busted by Kentucky law enforcement in 2008 for the large number of illegal snakes he was keeping in his Middlesboro home. Coots’ snake stash included 42 copperheads, 11 timber rattlesnakes, three cottonmouth water moccasins and two cobras. The pastor was charged with the misdemeanors buying, selling and possessing illegal reptiles. With no listed phone number for himself or his church, Jamie Coots only managed to avoid the law for so long.

6. Mark Wolford watched his father die of a snakebite when he was 15. The pastor, who served as one of his faith’s most high-profile snake handlers, met the same fate in 2012, dying from a rattlesnake bite at an outdoor service. The preacher who had worked to spread his sect of Pentecostalism and had a large following in Appalachia, refused medical treatment as well, choosing to die the way his faith commanded.

Tune into Snake Salvation tonight at 10P.


  1. Wayne A. Bolton/Rockhound17
    Claiborne, County, Tennessee
    September 18, 2013, 10:34 am

    The Family’s that are shown on this program are not representative of the Appalachian people! We all do not pick up snakes and speak in some idiotic language. Most of us are College Educated and attend Churches that are decent!

  2. jeff
    September 24, 2013, 10:54 pm

    You guys are just f……g idiots. You make our entire country look like fools and full of just pure stupid idiots. Really showing people using fucking snakes…what a bunch of just small minded idiots who do not realize that you are educating people to try to handle a fucking snake…how many kids will see this an just try to catch a snake…you’re sorry lack of creative fools…and then when people in other countries see this crap and we all as a country look like weak ass stupid red neck fools…

  3. steve kalonga
    October 10, 2013, 7:10 am

    I see no reason why a church should use snakes. A snake represent a devil. This is no sence.

  4. Jim Harrison
    Slade, KY
    November 8, 2013, 2:07 am

    We turned down appearing on this train wreak of a show when contacted by producers because we felt like it glorified reckless and abusive behavior. They admit that they rarely get the snakes to live more then 2 to 3 months. Snakes can and do live over 20 years if cared for. No accuse for starving and abusing an animal. NGO production company provided money for them to travel and commit illegal poaching. We told the shows producers that they would soon be busted again . Not because of their religion but because of poaching and illegally trading / selling animals. Greed and attention not religion drives these people. Andrew busted in TN for housing illegally and abusively venomous snakes he poached. Many were near death must have been with him for three months. One down and Coots to go. Having appeared on Snake Wranglers and other programs on NGO I am very disappointed in the direction of this type programing that promotes abuse , stereotypes and illegal activities. We debunked these handlers on NPR and last week filmed with a History Channel production group showing the truth behind this activity. Remember none of these people have been charged for handling in church only for poaching and illegal selling of wildlife. Quit using religion as a shield..

    Jim Harrison
    Kentucky Reptile Zoo