Seven years ago, Louis James Vestal and Robert Lineberry interrupted their friend Bryan Loudermilk performing one of the most extraordinary sex acts to occur on Florida soil.
Lineberry, a drifter, had been living in a metal shed on Loudermilk's property in the town of Okeechobee. Loudermilk, his wife, and three children lived in a doublewide trailer on the north side of town, and as Vestal and Lineberry drove by on a Monday afternoon in June at about 4 o'clock, they saw that someone's feet were protruding from underneath an idling red 1994 Honda Passport.
It was Loudermilk, lying on the ground with his own car's left rear tire parked on his stomach.
They pulled up and asked Loudermilk what he was doing, and Loudermilk told them he couldn't feel his legs. Vestal asked if he wanted the car moved. "Yes," Loudermilk said.
Vestal climbed into the Passport and slowly backed up, easing the SUV's weight off Loudermilk's body. It became apparent that Loudermilk had been lying in a shallow ditch that must have been dug before the car was parked on him. Also, the car's tire had been sitting on a board and pillow, sandwiched between the tire and Loudermilk's skin.
Loudermilk appeared to have been a willing partner, at least initially, in being crushed by the car.
It's not certain how long Loudermilk had been pinned under the Passport, but as soon as the weight lifted, lactic acid and other toxins flooded from his bloodless legs through the rest of his circulatory system, poisoning his body and initiating shock. Loudermilk blanched, and frothy spit appeared on his lips.
"I hurt all over," he said.
Vestal went to the trailer, looking for Loudermilk's wife, Stephanie. After searching the house and banging on the bedroom door, he returned to find Lineberry holding Loudermilk's hand. "Nobody would answer," Vestal told them. "What's up? Do you want me to call an ambulance?"
"What the hell is going on?" Lineberry said to Loudermilk. "Where is your wife and your kids?"
"They don't care," Lineberry remembers Loudermilk telling him.
The two men left Loudermilk lying near the Passport, went into the house, and found Stephanie and her 2-year-old son, Spawn, inside. At their urging, Stephanie, a tall, 29-year-old Seminole woman with a wide face and long black hair, calmly called 911, bending down to refill Spawn's bottle as she did so.
Loudermilk was still alive when rescue workers arrived, and he repeated that he couldn't feel his legs. By the time he reached the hospital, however, he was incoherent and died within hours.
In the ensuing days, police pieced together a startling story that briefly became national news. Loudermilk was a foot fetishist in the extreme like other "trample" fans, he was aroused by being stepped on by women, particularly his 200-pound wife. But he was also into "crush," which made him a member of a fringe sexual group that finds erotic the sight of women's feet smashing small creatures like insects, fish, and mice. When Loudermilk lay down under his SUV that June afternoon, police believe, he was trying to find the ultimate fusion of his two desires.
The summer Loudermilk died, crush videos of women stomping on animals were gaining notoriety and had sparked a nationwide law enforcement crackdown. Between 1998 and 2000, statutes were enacted to target the practice, Internet purveyors of videos depicting cruelty to animals were hunted down, and the online crush scene went underground.
Seven years later, a look at the impulses that led Bryan Loudermilk to his death reveals the strange logic of crush and trample fetishes and their ties to South Florida. Interviews with the people who knew Loudermilk including his mother, who hasn't spoken of the incident to the media before paint a detailed portrait of his complex desires, elements of which are shared by a surprisingly large number of ordinary people. But one question remains unanswered: Police still have no idea who helped Loudermilk with his obsession by parking his Honda Passport on his belly and then leaving him to die.
Bryan Loudermilk was a short, stocky man with dirty-blond hair who spoke in a Southern drawl and played the guitar. Growing up an only child in Okeechobee, he was shy. "Kind of bashful," his mother, Sandra Bailey, remembers. When Loudermilk met Stephanie Tongkeamha in high school, he quickly fell for the tall, quiet Seminole girl from the Brighton reservation. The two dropped out of school, Stephanie finishing ninth grade, Loudermilk the tenth, when Stephanie, who often went by Mamie, her middle name, got pregnant with the first of their three children. Eventually, the family settled in the Okeechobee trailer in 1998, near Loudermilk's family.
It was no secret that Loudermilk had a consuming foot fetish. He even told his mother about it. "He told me that he had a fetish for, like, feet," she says. "I figured, well, that's his thing."
In personal ads soliciting potential "foot goddesses," Loudermilk was more explicit:
"26 year old male with appetite for female feet. I love feet! Being walked on, suck toes, licking feet or crush, I love all aspects of feet" is how Loudermilk described himself in one ad in a foot fetish magazine.
In letters to fellow fetishists, he included his own drawings of giant women crushing men. Each letter was signed with "A tiny foot slave" above Loudermilk's name.
"Ever since I can remember I have always had a foot/crush fetish," Loudermilk wrote to Jeff Vilencia, a California crush fetishist who ran a video production company in the 1990s.
"Bryan had this fantasy of a woman wearing Roman-style sandals," Vilencia remembers. The footwear apparently symbolized that the woman was a goddess, a recurrent theme in Loudermilk's fantasies.
"Have you ever wished you were invisible so that you could lay down in a woman's path?" Loudermilk wrote to Vilencia. "Wished that you could be the slave of a giant goddess from outer space?"
"In his mind," Vilencia says, "it was a loving gesture to be squashed by this woman."
A drawing Loudermilk sent Vilencia depicts giant, strong women clad in goddess garb. One drawing, Rage of a Goddess, starred an angry giantess in sandals stepping on the population of a small village. Another shows a seated woman crushing two small figures under her sandals.
"You would talk to the guy, and he'll tell you he thought he was the only one on the planet who felt this way," Vilencia says. "A lot of people maybe tried to suppress it. Bryan didn't."
Photographs Loudermilk sent Vilencia show him masked and lying on the floor with a blissful expression on his face as feet press into his neck.
Loudermilk's fantasies about being trampled by giant, powerful women are shared by a wide variety of men in South Florida. I discovered this through a little legwork: I placed an ad in the personals sections of several websites offering my trampling services and size 9 feet to any man willing to be written about for an article.
Seventeen local men answered over the next two weeks. Some wanted me to step on them while barefoot. Others hoped I'd crush their cocks with black stiletto heels. Some were married. Most were professionals. They ranged in age from 25 to 56. A few sent (faceless) photos. Most were regular-sounding guys who were delighted to hear that a woman wanted to know more about stepping on them.
"There is an old movie, Butterfield 8," wrote one man. "Liz Taylor is a high-priced call girl. Wears black stilettos. Richard Burton desires her for himself. He grabs her arm in a nightclub, squeezing it painfully, she digs her stiletto heel into his foot, both watch the pain in each other's eyes. I saw it when I was about ten, got a woodie, never forgot."
"For me, its most vivid form takes place via roleplay," another wrote. "It's all about the process by which I first become entranced by seeing the feet... later to be held prisoner beneath them."
The first response to my ad came from a man whose girlfriend regularly tramples him. The couple invited me to meet them.
Jess, a 24-year-old dominatrix, recently moved to Pompano Beach from New York City. While I watched, she placed her slender, tattooed right foot on Frank, a tall and gaunt 34-year-old man lying on his back on a mat rolled out on the tile floor of their apartment. Her foot kneaded him roughly near his shoulder and moved with practiced ease up to Frank's face, smacking him lightly.
"You have to tease them a little," she said. "Work up to the trample. You don't just hop on and go. For us, it's foreplay."
Frank has been having women trample him for ten years. On his back and legs, as well as on his face and penis.
Jess, who's worked at dungeons in downtown Fort Lauderdale as well as New York and St. Louis, said that while she's never been asked to crush animals or insects for a man's pleasure, trampling is a common request.
"Some of them want heels; some want barefoot. They want you to trample their entire bodies, stand on their feet, everything. It's a huge thing. I'll put my feet on their face and crush their face. It gets them off. These men want me to stomp on their chest. They're screaming for you to do it harder and harder, to kick them in the face. It's scary and disgusting and erotic all at the same time."
Finding a woman like Jess, who knows how to trample and wants to do it, is a rarity. But only Frank reaps the benefits of Jess' talents for free; other men must pay her steep hourly rate of $375 to $500. Suddenly it made sense why so many men responded to my ad.
Wondering if I had what it takes to be a crush dominatrix, I asked if I could take a walk on Frank myself.
With Jess' guidance, I stepped on Frank's back and realized that the sensation of standing on a man was surprisingly familiar. I said as much, and Frank chuckled through his gritted teeth as I shifted my weight ineptly. This was harder than I thought Frank was clearly embarrassed at letting me perform what amounted to a sex act with him in front of his girlfriend, and I was having a hard time staying balanced.
"Sure, your male friends would ask for you to stand on them to 'get the knots out,' right?" he asked as I wobbled.
"Yeah," I said, remembering the guys at camp or in high school who made that request.
"They were lying," he said, his voice clotted from the pressure.
He may have been right. On one of the main Internet forums where fans of trample and crush congregate, many trample fans recount tales of covert experiences, where they managed to maneuver a woman, or several women, into stomping on them in public. Some place their feet "accidentally" in the paths of women with high heels. Others convince store saleswomen to stand on their aching backs.
Frank had exactly what these men all want: a real, live girlfriend to step on him. But while that's enough for Frank, it wasn't nearly enough, apparently, for Bryan Loudermilk.
In a letter, Loudermilk described how as early as high school, his fascination with being trampled by sandaled goddesses led to an obsession with crushing small animals.
"I used to catch lizards and frogs and put a little super glue on their bellies and stick them to the floor next to my teacher's desk so that I would be able to see her step on the victim," he wrote. He would subject these "victims" only to teachers who were wearing sandals.
For Loudermilk, the desire to watch women crush animals might have been a way to experience, by proxy, his version of the ultimate sexual act: being squished to death by the feet of a woman. "The extreme fantasy for these men is to be trampled or crushed to death under the foot of a powerful woman," Susan Creede, a Ventura County crush investigator, explained to Congress in 1999 during a hearing to ban crush videos. "Because they would only be able to experience this one time, these men have found a way to transfer their fantasy."
Vilencia, the Californian who formerly produced videos and today is a sort of unofficial spokesman for the fetish, speculates that while watching small creatures being crushed in childhood, boys internalize the animal's pain and their own anxiety and associate it with their sexuality.
"For some reason, these little boys who saw that when they were children, the anxiety stayed with them," he says. (Loudermilk's mother says he told her he thought the source of his obsession might have been a "chemical imbalance.")
Some trample fetishists distance themselves from the crush scene not everyone who wants to be stepped on wants to see kittens squished by stilettos. But for Loudermilk, trample and crush were inextricably linked, both extreme extensions of an obsession with feet.
Immediately following her husband's death, Stephanie Loudermilk told police without hesitation that Loudermilk sold videotapes and photographs of feet and stomping through the mail. Many of the images featured a woman with an ankle tattoo that matched the one on Stephanie herself. Stephanie also did some crushing, she admitted.
One photograph Loudermilk sent to Vilencia was of Stephanie's feet in Roman-style sandals poised millimeters above a baby chick. The caption read: "Steph cruel. See the little chicken? SQUASH."
An ad Loudermilk placed in "In Step" Magazine starred Stephanie. "I'm a 27 year old female, and a Native American with tan feet," it read. "I love to trample on men and I love to feel small insects crushing under my sandal foot." It was signed, "Foot Goddess, Stephanie."
In the back of Bryan Loudermilk's SUV, investigators found two odd-looking objects: a wooden two-by-four with a metal plate in the shape of a foot wearing a sandal attached to one end, and a padded strap studded with spikes. On the two-by-four, in Loudermilk's bold script, was a label: "My Wooden Stephanie."
Stephanie told police that Loudermilk would often masturbate in a bathroom while using the artificial foot and the spike straps to simulate the feeling of her standing on him.
"He would put the strap around his waist with the spikes protruding toward his abdomen," she said in her statement to the Okeechobee Sheriff's Department. "He would take the wooden foot and lean it against something and press the spikes into his abdomen." The spikes, which presumably simulated the feeling of heels digging into his flesh, sometimes gave Loudermilk scars.
Loudermilk started his own small-scale fetish production company, which he called "B&S Foot Action" in a nod to their first names. "We offer videos, photos, & arts of female feet in action. Crushing, trampling, sandals, heels, modeling, & more. We also do some custom work," read one ad for the company.
Loudermilk also published at least one issue of what he called Foot Fetish Forum. Photocopied and filled with drawings of feet trampling and crushing, he sold it for $3 to fetishists across the country.
Loudermilk enlisted other women in his projects, paying them to participate in a crush or a trample. "He employed a lot of people in these videos. At least ten people," says Sgt. William Garrison of the Okeechobee Sheriff's Department, who was the lead detective on the Loudermilk case. "He paid $50 an hour for girls to walk on him."
Sandy Powell, Loudermilk's 26-year-old cousin, told police that she had stood on Loudermilk, allowed him to sell photos of her feet, and had crushed goldfish on video. She had also walked in on Stephanie, nude except for high heels, walking across Loudermilk's stomach.
Another friend, Heather Nicole Davis, admitted to police that she starred in a video with Stephanie titled Nikki and Steph Rabbits. In the video, two sets of female feet walk back and forth over rabbits that are strapped to a grassy lawn, crushing them to death. In other videos found in Loudermilk's house, mice and chickens are stomped, and witnesses told police that Loudermilk had orchestrated the crushing of ducks, fish, and rats.
But nobody who talked to investigators, including Stephanie, seemed to think Loudermilk was a monster.
"Most people thought he was a pretty good guy," Garrison says.
By the time Loudermilk was found under his car, the nation's crackdown on crush was reaching its zenith. Citing arrests in New York and California and buoyed by support from celebrities that included Mickey Rooney and M*A*S*H's Loretta Swit, California Congressman Elton Gallegly urged passage of a bill that would make selling videos depicting animal torture a federal crime. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on December 9, 1999.
Vilencia then had to abandon his company, Squish Productions, which specialized in insect crush videos. And he's still bitter, saying that it's hypocritical for people who eat meat, for example, to oppose crush videos.
It's a common theme with crush supporters, says Katharine Gates, author of fetish encyclopedia Deviant Desires. Crush fetishists argue that it makes no sense for cockroaches or goldfish to deserve protection from "'death by foot' as opposed to 'death by toilet flush' or excruciating poison traps," she says.
Even critics of the crush fetish acknowledge that opposition to crush videos is rooted more in attitudes toward sex than concerns about animal welfare. "There's a lot of hypocrisy, unfortunately," says John Schiff, a California programmer who runs a website that publishes the names and addresses of crush fetish "offenders," including Stephanie Loudermilk. "I think the sexual aspect of it is really what bothers people. They have no problem with people eating live animals on Fear Factor."
But for Schiff, it's the suffering of living things that motivates him to advocate against the fetish. "The fact that it's needless cruelty. There's really no way to condone it."
Today, crush videos depicting the squishing of live animals are still available from websites based in Amsterdam and China, but whenever they receive too much attention, they disappear.
This March, photographs of a Chinese woman crushing a small kitten under her stilettos surfaced on a Chinese website and were reprinted in newspapers across the country, sparking widespread outrage and a manhunt for the so-called "Glamorous Kitten Killer of Hangzhou." In response, China-based crush sites disappeared.
Though crush video activity is almost nonexistent in the United States, Schiff's website tracks one purveyor in Palm Beach County.
Sosio Cristofaro, a smooth-talking rock bassist, owns two houses in Palm Beach and is cagey about whether his crush website, www.mistressaryel.com, is still in operation. He acknowledges that he began the site with business partner Mike Branch in the mid-1990s from a Palm Beach-based production company they called Stomp Productions.
"When we started doing a website back in the day, we ventured off into different little aspects," Cristofaro says. "Burping fetish videos, foot fetish videos. The foot fetish videos are all related, so when we started doing some trampling videos, that led into stepping on grapes, on some crickets, based on what a few people requested."
He says it was a sideline, something extra for his models to do. "We would have a girl do a blowjob video and say, 'Hey, would you step on crickets too?'"
One video currently offered by Mistress Aryel on a site called Niche Clips, also run by Cristofaro, is called Spill Your Guts. It features the feet of "Mistress Rachel" crushing a crawdad. The clip is accompanied by a description designed to entice crush fans to buy it for $12 to $13: "Now that's the way I like to see them, flat and splattered on the bottom of my shoe."
But Cristofaro says that crush videos are "not something I'm into any more" and that Stomp Productions dissolved years ago when Branch moved some of its operations to the Philippines. He says he is appalled to hear that Loudermilk got his kicks from being crushed by a car.
"That's disgusting," he says. "You're shitting me. That's a different world; that's something I don't even know about. What the hell does a car have to do with this?"
"It's sort of a warmth. Your skin, and the muscles, just gradually feel more and more worn, tender. Sensitized. You get numbness like you sit on an arm or leg or foot wrong and it goes to sleep... a tingling feeling."
"Smashman," a middle-aged man from California who has been pursuing the sensation of intense weight on his body for more than 30 years and who asked that his real name not be revealed, says he can imagine what Bryan Loudermilk's last moments might have felt like.
Smashman is living proof that "car crush" can be done safely he himself has been driven over by vehicles ranging from small cars to monster trucks, and in Florida, where his world travels in search of new pressures frequently bring him. His first experiment took place on Daytona Beach, when some men offered to drive over him as he lay buried in the sand. Today, he regularly visits a mud pit in Orlando where he invites local truckers to drive over his body.
To prepare, Smashman digs a shallow pit in the ground, just like the one Loudermilk was found in. This is so the tire won't break his ribs. "I cannot lay down on a flat surface like a parking lot or a street and have someone drive over me," he says. "It pinches the ribs very uncomfortably."
A video shot at the Orlando mud pit recently shows Smashman lying in his ditch, looking at the large wheels of a monster truck.
"Ready?" he says, his reedy voice calm.
The truck moves, rolling over his chest, and Smashman lets out a squeak and a blast of air, sounding more like a cartoon character than a man. And just like a cartoon, he bounces back instantly. "That was good!" he says as the wheel rolls off. It's as if he's just taken a vigorous shower.
Although Smashman has had people sit on him for up to an hour and a half, he's never been under a vehicle for more than a few seconds. According to investigators, Loudermilk was under his SUV far longer. "Obviously, if you are under a significant amount of weight for a period of time," he says, "your endurance gradually wears away."
Loudermilk's mother, Sandra Bailey, was first told that Loudermilk was crushed when his jack failed while he was repairing his SUV. She knows today that his death was related to his sexual desires, but she doesn't know much more about why her son died than she did then.
"I think they should have investigated," she says. "They should find out exactly who put the thing on there and make sure that there wasn't no foul play. Somebody didn't go back and take the car off."
"I expected the investigation to go further than it did," Sgt. Garrison says. In 20 years with the Okeechobee Sheriff's Department, he says, he never encountered anything like Loudermilk's death.
The investigation never officially closed, Garrison says, because it was almost impossible that Loudermilk got under his car without help. "It would have been a difficult situation to do by himself," he says. "But the group is a tight-knit group. It's hard to get information from them."
Police spoke to women between the ages of 18 and 27 who regularly performed fetish acts for Loudermilk (some his relatives and neighbors), but none of them ever hinted who they thought drove the car over him.
State Attorney Bernard Romero, who prosecuted an animal cruelty case against Stephanie Loudermilk based on the videotapes with her tell-tale tattoo, believes that Bryan Loudermilk had a friend position the car, then left as Loudermilk masturbated. Romero says that Stephanie Loudermilk was cleared early on from any suspicion.
"It was pretty clear she was not to be a suspect of murder," Romero says. "We had enough evidence to believe that she was not behind the wheel."
But Garrison says that's not quite true. "Everyone's a suspect. We just never had any evidence to put her behind the wheel. You don't go to court on suspicions."
Stephanie was charged with two felony counts of animal abuse. Romero told reporters at the time that he was incensed by the videotapes and planned to seek the "maximum penalty" for her.
But after conversations with witnesses and Stephanie's Fort Lauderdale attorney, Guy Seligman, he modified his view and asked the judge to reduce her charges to misdemeanor counts. Instead of jail time, she received two years of probation and 300 hours of community service, as well as orders to seek psychiatric counseling. Seligman refused to comment for this article and said that Stephanie, who now lives on the Brighton Reservation, was also unwilling to talk.
Central to Stephanie's defense was the suggestion that she was the innocent victim of Bryan Loudermilk's perverted desires. A Seminole woman with a rural reservation upbringing whom acquaintances described as docile, she seemed to be a compliant part of Loudermilk's fantasies, dressing up in a genie costume and donning sandals for photos and videotapes. What clinched her innocence for Romero was that witnesses close to the couple suggested that, in addition, Stephanie was abused.
"I was the one that was able to glean from the witnesses that she was allegedly beaten," Romero says. "He had beaten her, forced her to engage. She was not a willing participant. He had beaten her, thrown her against the wall."
In their initial statements to police, however, none of those witnesses suggested that Stephanie was a victim. Police heard of no abuse by Bryan Loudermilk toward any of the women who participated in his fetish. He was a drug user, police were told, but no one described him as a man who hit his wife. Sgt. Garrison, who interviewed Stephanie after the SUV incident, didn't notice any signs of abuse.
"I didn't see no physical marks on her at the time," he says. "She was free to come and go. If it was that bad, she could have left."
And Loudermilk's mother says she had heard the opposite, that Loudermilk had been pushed around by his six-foot-tall wife.
What certainly seems true is that the Loudermilk marriage was disintegrating in 1999. Several of Loudermilk's friends told police that he had begun using cocaine several months before his death. The Loudermilk house was full of strangers partying at all hours of the night, and several sources say that Bryan and Stephanie were fighting about drug use and Stephanie's affair with a friend, known only to investigators as Robert, who was living with them. One friend reported that Robert threatened to kill Loudermilk after being run off his property the weekend before Loudermilk's death. According to Loudermilk's mother, the couple was considering divorce.
A friend, Sarah Ruth McCleod, who was with the Loudermilks the night before Bryan died, reported that the couple seemed happy, "drinking and partying." The next morning, as Sarah left the house, Bryan told her that he was going fishing. Stephanie claimed that she didn't see Loudermilk at all that Monday, remaining in the house with her kids.
According to several witnesses, Stephanie gave her friend Kimberly "Krystie" Medders several photographs the day Loudermilk died. When investigators questioned Medders about the photographs, she initially denied that she had them, then answered that the photos had been destroyed.
"They were probably just some more photographs of her walking on some animals," Garrison says when asked about them.
But that same day, Stephanie handed over boxes of photos and videotapes that showed the Loudermilks' crush activities and implicated her in acts of animal cruelty. For some reason, she held back just a few of them.
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After Loudermilk's death, Stephanie cut off contact with his family and obtained a restraining order against Loudermilk's mother after Bailey made attempts to contact her grandchildren.
Bailey hasn't seen her grandchildren since Loudermilk died and is tight-lipped when she talks about Stephanie today. "I don't want her in trouble," she says. "I wouldn't have tried to get her in trouble about nothing like that because she has my grandkids."
In 1999, Bryan Loudermilk was nominated for immortality by the Darwin Awards, the tongue-in-cheek, web-based honors bestowed to those who "improve the human genome by removing themselves from it." The nomination of Loudermilk specifically blamed his wife for driving the car and suggested that Loudermilk got exactly what he deserved. "A man who would lie in a special pit while a woman he groomed for 'crush' videos drove over him, shouldn't be surprised when he winds up holding a Darwin Award."
Romero, who prosecuted Stephanie before ultimately allowing her to plea-bargain for a reduced animal cruelty sentence, was annoyed at the website's assumption of her guilt. "I saw the Darwin Award," he says. "They got it all wrong. She was never charged with murder."