Alabama college football devotees, Harvey Updyke is a polarizing figure. He made national headlines in 2011 when his obsession with the Alabama college football led him to poison a pair of beloved Oak trees at Auburn University, Alabama’s fiercest rival.
The saga of the Auburn Oak trees and their assailant, Harvey Updyke, is forever immortalized in the annals of college football history. But now that Updyke’s probation is over, he is going on the record for the first time since completing his sentence to explain how he did it and why in an exclusive interview with Mo Rocca.
“I wanted Auburn people to hate me as much as I hate them,” Updyke admitted in an exclusive interview after serving his sentence: six months of jail time and a perhaps more traumatizing for him: a five-year probationary period barring him from any college sporting events.
The original Toomer’s Oaks, named affectionately after the owner of a historic drugstore on the corner, stood at the heart of the Auburn Campus. The almost 40-foot-tall trees were significant for a few reasons. Their age: over 80-years-old, and their role in a half-century-old football tradition. When Auburn won a football game, fans would “roll” the trees in toilet paper from top to bottom.
The crime was premeditated. “It took me a month,” Updyke told Rocca. “I figured out when the slowest time, what day of the week and what hour of the night was the slowest around those Oak trees so I could go in there at that time and not get caught.”
Updyke might have gotten away with the crime had he not called into the Paul Finebaum Show, a popular sports talk show, under the pseudonym Al From Dadeville and proudly confessed to it.
On a live radio broadcast, he declared, “The weekend after the Iron Bowl I went to Auburn, Alabama…and I poisoned the two Toomer's Trees.” Updyke was arrested two weeks later.
“It became one of the biggest stories of the year,” said Finebaum. “And one of the ugliest college football related crimes that has ever been reported.”
But Updyke’s dramatic turn for the radical, was actually a part of a larger story. A story that has its roots in a state rocked with a decades-long football rivalry that began over a century ago.
The Toomer’s Oaks survived until April of 2013, when they were finally removed after an Auburn game. Updyke is still infamous across Alabama and many Auburn faithful say his six-month jail sentence was upsettingly lax.
"I think it was garbage," said Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes. "I think to call it a slap on the wrist is overstating it. I think it was a kiss on the cheek."
As for 70-year old Harvey Updyke, he’d like to be remembered for more than his one-time crime.
“When I leave this world, I want people to say he was a good father, he was a good step father, and he was a very, very good Alabama fan.” Updyke said. “I admit I, I like them too much.”
Check out the teaser trailer for this episode of Mobituaries!