What lies beneath

Features - /// Stored Product Pests

This amazing pest encounter was 55 years in the making.

November 7, 2019

This staircase led to the bunker below city hall. All boxes were carried by hand through this 3-foot by 3-foot hatch.

What started out as a bed bug scare quickly evolved into one of the wildest projects that a Boston-area pest control company had ever managed. Turns out tons of 55-year-old wartime cracker rations hidden below a nearby city hall in a long-forgotten bunker caused an immeasurable number of drugstore beetles to invade the administrative office.


In July of 2017, Galvin Murphy Jr., vice president of marketing and sales at Yankee Pest Control in Malden, Mass., received a call from a special assistant to the mayor of a nearby city requesting help with “bed bugs” found in the city hall. He had no idea that he was about to get involved in “one of the coolest things I’ve ever done; a wild story,” he says.

Before Murphy received the call that day, a problem had started to emerge in the city’s administrative office. The staff believed the office had been infested with bed bugs, and very quickly. Bugs were flying around city hall and had focused on a hallway near the mayor’s entrance. Internal staff followed the trail, finding the bulk of the insects coming out of a hatch underneath a security desk near the entrance. When the hatch was opened, not only was the source of the pest problem revealed, but also an underground bunker was discovered for the first time in decades.


Murphy arrived onsite to find “millions” of — you already know it — not bed bugs but drugstore beetles. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says. Upon entering the bunker, a previously hidden room, city hall staff and contractors found “boxes and boxes of civil defense rations.” Lo and behold, the source of the drugstore beetles had been identified: aluminum cans of crackers from 1963 that had been stored during a time when the U.S. government was preparing to feed citizens in case of a nuclear war.

From the 1960s (when the rations had been originally stored) to the present day, somehow the bunker had been forgotten. The current administrative office staff had no idea that the bunker even existed, explains Murphy. And, some of the aluminum cans were degrading and rotting due to apparent periodic flooding that had occurred over the years, allowing pests to proliferate.

An additional room that was uncovered and filled with more Civil Defense (CD) rations.
The CD crackers inside failed metal containers revealing the food source.
Photo of the beetles walking on the bunker floor.


For a short-term solution over the next three to four days, as a complete pest removal plan was developed, Murphy and his team “knocked down” the beetles with a pesticide application to allow staff to continue entering the building. He then proposed to the city that his team would hand carry the boxes, each weighing nearly 30 pounds and with an approximate total of 15 tons, out of the bunker for placement in dumpsters.

“Ultimately once we get rid of the product we’ll be getting rid of the bugs,” Murphy recalls explaining to the administration. He planned for his team, consisting of roughly 20 people, to work overnight to complete the monumental task. The project was approved and the work began.

Stacked boxes of Civil Defense rations prior to being carried out of the bunker.
Label of the boxes showing the 29.5 pound contents and date of packaging (Jan. 16, 1963).
The main hallway of the bunker finally cleared of crackers.


As the Yankee Pest Control team began removing the boxes, recalls Murphy, “We revealed four other bunkers that were blocked by walls of other boxes” totaling thousands of additional square footage in the underground space. Murphy obtained further approvals, the team carried the boxes up and out of the bunker to the dumpsters, and the work continued for an additional two nights. “Once the product was removed, we were able to go in with a gallon of insecticide to knock down the beetles,” he says. The drugstore beetles were then removed by the barrelfull. Murphy says, “We were shoveling them up off the ground, there were so many.”

Over the course of three nights, the team removed nearly 30 tons of debris and 13 barrels of drugstore beetles, filling 13 dumpsters, says Murphy. “Most people have a stored product pest problem with one box that is expired,” he explains. “It was pretty intense,” Murphy remembers, as this was one of the worst pest problems he says he’s ever encountered.


“Most people don’t have a fascination with stored product pests, but it was amazing!” Murphy said. He explains that most drugstore beetle situations in his area are a rarity and occur at places like food production companies. “But, in urban pest control, it’s an alignment of the stars,” he said.

No one knows exactly what transpired in that bunker, but with years of periodic water damage and cans of crackers degrading in an undisturbed area, it was a perfect storm that allowed the infestation to flourish. “There were just so many variables” at play for this unique situation to develop, explains Murphy. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my career. The magnitude and the rarity of the job” is what he remembers most.

The author is an Ohio-based freelancer.