Most people would get squeamish about anything that had to do with cockroaches and rodents, but not so the millions of viewers of A&E Network’s “Billy the Exterminator.” The reality television series followed the pest control operator, William “Billy” Bretherton, as he and his company responded to calls for help in ridding a place of pests or wild animals. It premiered on 4 February 2009 and ran for seven seasons.
Billy was born in 1968. Growing up, he wanted to become a cop or work for the FBI or CIA, so he joined the US Air Force and completed basic training at the age of 18. However, after taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) developed by the Department of Defense, his test results showed that he had a natural aptitude for biology, but contrary to his expectation, his drill instructor told him that he’s going to be a ‘bug squisher.’ He couldn’t believe it, and thought ‘Oh my god, I joined the Air Force to swish bugs. I could have stayed in the real world to do that.’
He called up his parents, crying as he informed them of this development in his career. Billy was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, and his first job was to get the wild coyotes off the runway. He took this seriously, as his superior told him that it would be his fault if a $30 million jet was wrecked because of a wild animal. He quickly learned a lot, and did well during his stint in the military, but realized that he was ‘too free of a spirit’ to stay, and subsequently left the service as a senior airman.
He became a certified entomologist, and has been working as an exterminator since 1987. His mom, Donnie Bretherton, recalled an incident that she believed might have set him on this career path. She said that when Billy was a kid, he was stung by fire ants as they had got inside the cowboy boots he was wearing; it was so bad that he ended up losing his toenails.
The family had been living in New Jersey. When his dad, nicknamed “Big Bill” retired, he invested his retirement money in his sons, Billy and Ricky, and in 1996, they established the Vexcon Animal and Pest Control Company in Louisiana, living in the small town of Benton.
Vexcon, according to Billy, means the study of annoying, pestilent things, and called it the biblical plague that was happening every day. The company’s religious philosophy was to gather information and looked into its spiritual significance to help them with their ‘battles.’
Billy said that there were many pest control companies in Northwest Louisiana, and they called each one and asked them to send any ‘undesirable work’ that the people in the company wouldn’t do. At that time, they were the only ones in Louisiana that could handle all kinds of animal elimination, extraction or removal, from bed bugs to alligators. They drew media attention, and were featured in the local news. Billy became the President of the Northwest Louisiana Pest Control Association in 1997.
Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”
Producers found their footage online, and became interested in the Bretherton family and what they did for a living. The Pilgrim Media Group contacted them in 2004, about filming a pilot episode for a show about pest control, that they were pitching to Discovery Channel.
They were chosen out of 200 companies after being followed for a day as they went about doing their job, and the next thing they knew, they were featured in the network’s reality TV series called “Dirty Jobs”, gaining national exposure. It showcased occupations that were particularly strange, disgusting, or difficult, and the host, Mike Rowe, would tag along with the workers to learn about the job and work with them. Billy along with his brother Ricky, fiancée Mary, and a cousin first appeared in season one during the “Vexcon” episode, which was aired on 23 August 2005. His team went to a house in Shreveport to deal with a problem with rodents. Billy said, ‘it was running at .8 or .9 in the ratings and then it spiked to 1.72 as soon as we came on.’ Due to the viewer interest in them, they also appeared in season two during the “Termite Controller” episode, aired on 21 March 2006.
“Billy the Exterminator”
The A&E show was originally called “The Exterminators” before it was changed to “Billy the Exterminator” during its second season.
Billy easily became a fan favorite, with his rock-n-roll and Goth ensemble and mullet hair. It wasn’t a costume, just what he wore on a daily basis since he became a fan of heavy metal, and enjoyed listening to the English rock band, Black Sabbath, and the Finnish gothic rock band, HIM. Incidentally, this all-black get-up with the skull-and-crossbones logo of the company became the working uniform of their employees with the exception of some of those in the office. When Billy was dealing with bees, he would don a long coat made of leather, a mask, and a feather boa for protection.
People who knew him from “Dirty Jobs” said nothing had changed in his personal style except for his hair. Apparently, his mom wanted him ‘to dress real nice’, such as in polo shirts and khaki pants instead of their uniform when he appeared in “Dirty Jobs”, but his only concession back then was cutting his hair short. As for his sunglasses, he wore them because he was bothered by the hot lights that were constantly on him while filming.
Aside from Billy, members of his family were cast in the show, as they also worked in the company, so there was a bit of family drama.
Ricky lived in Leesville and manned the satellite branch of Vexcon. He would only go to the main office during filming for the show so this was when things would become difficult, because one of the family issues they were having involved Ricky’s ex-wife, Pam. According to Donnie, the couple divorced but when Vexcon started doing well, Pam reconnected with Ricky and they reconciled, and she became part of the company as she did the books for them. There was always tension whenever Pam was at the office, as it was clear that Donnie and Billy didn’t want her there; she was also the cause of arguments between the brothers, so unsurprisingly, she didn’t make it past season one. Billy didn’t want to talk about Pam in public, and hearing about people discussing them drove him crazy.
Apparently Billy is perfect for television, as he has thick skin. ‘I’ll believe in my philosophies ‘til my dying breath. I know who I am, and comments and negative energy…I just surf right through it,’ he said. His wife left the show as well after season one, and it created controversy for a while as fans speculated on the real reason for it. Some people believed that Billy and Mary would file for a divorce; he’s not really keen on sharing details about his personal life, but Billy did say that Mary chose to leave because she was uncomfortable in front of the camera.
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With the women except for Billy’s mom out of the picture, the show started to veer away from family drama, and became more focused on the work itself.
Each episode normally began with Billy talking about the pest that he would be handling followed by a visit to the client’s place to assess the extent of the problem, and then kill or set traps to eradicate the critters that were causing havoc. Some of those he caught were released in another area. He revealed that he had been bitten and stung by everything he encountered on the job, and what made his work more difficult was the situation in which he had to capture the animal, such as in the case of having just a small clearance to extricate an 18-foot python from under a house, or crawl inside a two-foot culvert to pull a 12-foot alligator out of it. During a promo tour for A&E, he was asked to remove two cobras, one of which was 16 to 17 feet long from a tiny kitchen which he flatly refused to do, as even its handler had been bitten in the stomach, and nearly died. However, he wasn’t averse to dealing with a rattlesnake.
During the first three seasons he mostly worked in Louisiana, but for the succeeding seasons he also went to other places in the US, including Alabama, Illinois, and Texas, assisting local wildlife rescue services and exterminators in dealing with various infestations and vermin.
On being famous
Billy had difficulty adjusting to being recognized, and then mobbed by fans. He said that he didn’t like large crowds, and even avoided going to ball games as he was always thinking, ‘If a riot broke out, I’m trapped.’ However, he didn’t mind meeting his fans, as he attended meet-and-greet events in which he signed autographs and posed to have his picture taken with them. He didn’t take all this to mean he had achieved fame, because he had his own standard for that – ‘I won’t feel famous until I’m spoofed by “South Park.” Until that happens, I’m not famous.’
After six seasons, the show was canceled and the only explanation given was that Billy was dealing with some personal issues, left the company and moved to Illinois. However, things became clearer when news came out about his arrest.
According to reports, a 911 hang-up call was made from a room at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Bossier City in April 2012, and police were dispatched. Billy and Mary couple were charged with a misdemeanor for possession of a controlled dangerous substance, which was synthetic marijuana, and drug paraphernalia; each posted bail at $6,000. When the police contacted them about the arrest warrants that were issued in June, the two turned themselves in. They entered a plea deal, with the prosecutors dropping both charges against Mary and the drug paraphernalia citation against Billy. He was sentenced to a 60-day jail term, suspended, and was instead fined $500 and put on probation for a year. He also agreed to undergo rehab for substance abuse.
It was not the first time that a member of the Bretherton family was arrested. Back in 2010, Ricky was stopped by a narcotics unit from the Leesville Police Department for a traffic violation. He and his passenger, a woman named Kimberly Wallis, were arrested after the agent discovered what was suspected to be marijuana in a container, and drug paraphernalia. While Kimberly was charged with simple possession, Ricky was charged with felony possession.
The judge set his bail at around $4,000 and he was released on his own recognizance. Ricky pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, and apparently paid a fine of $500, as well as court costs.
What happened to Billy and the show
Billy went back on television, appearing in “Billy Goes North” produced by Corus Entertainment, premiered in September 2016 on the CMT cable channel in Canada. The concept was also about pest control, as he dealt with Canada’s wildlife and pests. It went to air in the US in April 2017 as the seventh season of “Billy the Exterminator,” unfortunately, it wasn’t renewed for another season.
He later joined his brother in 2020, in the second season of the web series called “Vexcon the Exterminators” on YouTube. Ricky had started vlogging in October 2015, and uploaded videos of his work as a pest control operator. Their parents and the women in their lives weren’t featured in the series. The YouTube account only garnered some 6,000 subscribers, and the videos just more than 300,000 views.
Billy’s popularity might have waned over the years from his absence on the small screen, but he still had many loyal fans who were excited to see him doing what he does best. According to their company website, since Donnie and Big Bill retired, the responsibility of running the business went to Ricky, and was also in now his name. Billy returned to work as an exterminator with Bryce his son one of the technicians. Aside from the services they were offering, they also sold signed Vexcon merchandise, including T-shirts, ball caps, bandanas, and stickers.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bretherton brothers along with Bryce found ways to entertain themselves without breaking social distancing protocols, such as going on a ghost hunting adventure. Billy shared in his October 2020 Instagram post that he’d formed a chakra metal band called V3X3D, together with Bryce and Ricky, and talked about writing the lyrics and music for their songs. The band’s Instagram posts seemed to indicate that they subscribed to the QAnon movement, if one would base it on the word, “QAnon,” that was present on most of the photos.
Based on Bryce’s Instagram posts, his parents divorced and his mom remarried; it’s presumed that his mom, unnamed, was Billy’s first wife, as he’s still married to Mary. It seemed that there was no animosity between his parents, as they were both around during special occasions such as his birthday celebrations. He greeted three men in his life during Father’s Day in 2020 – he was grateful for his stepfather, Kevin, who has been a strong presence in his life, for teaching him to have manners and be a man. His uncle Ricky has been teaching him about himself. His father taught him how to express himself, and to remember that ‘there’s always more to stuff than meets the eye.’ Bryce also spends time with his grandparents, Big Bill and Donnie. He turned 21 in May 2021 and he’s currently living with his girlfriend named Cella.
Billy shared in The Morning Dish podcast with Steven Phillips in 2021 that his wife, Mary, has been sick and bedridden for around five years and that he took care of her rehabilitation. She has been doing much better now. He also said that he’s got a feeling that he would soon be back on TV, but divulged no further details.