updated 5/6/2004 7:51:29 AM ET 2004-05-06T11:51:29

It was a stench of decay that caused authorities to search an apartment in suburban Milwaukee.

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They found a residence crawling with life: About 200 creatures — including alligators, scorpions and carnivorous beetles — formed a bizarre menagerie kept alive by a woman who fed them roadkill.

“The smell was just unbelievable,” said William Mitchell, a state conservation warden who found about 70 ducks cramped in a basement pen with droppings covering the floor. “It was really stinking. ... It made my eyes water.”

Neighbors had complained about the foul smell.

Animal carcasses were in a freezer, and decaying carcasses were in an adjacent garage. Among the dead animals were raccoons, rabbits, opossums and squirrels.

Jamie Verburgt, the apartment resident, was given two state citations for possessing game animals out of season, Mitchell said.

“She said they were car kills,” Mitchell said. “I warned her that it is illegal to take dead animals off the side of a road. ... The dead animals were used to feed the live animals, and some were given to flesh-eating beetles.”

Among the other live animals found were snakes, rats, turtles and toads.

The live animals were seized by the Washington County Humane Society, pending investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mitchell said federal wildlife officials plan to investigate those who sold animals to Verburgt through the Internet.

“She intended to sell the animals to pet stores,” he said.

Verburgt’s boyfriend, John Walters, was prosecuted in 2000 for mistreatment of exotic animals.

At that time, police found a female cougar, female leopard, silver-tailed fox, monitor lizard, two caracals, a coatimundi, chinchilla and a reticulated python in Walter’s apartment in Greenfield, another Milwaukee suburb.

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