Livestock killings prompt action

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 29, 2004

A total of nine horses worth more than $200,000 have been shot or have turned up missing in Covington County since last September, and state agriculture detectives and local detectives met Thursday night with those horse owners whose livestock were victims of shootings or possible theft.

Of the six horses that were shot, five died and one survived; three others remain missing, according to Tim Forehand, a state agriculture investigator.

The majority of people who had horses shot in attendance at the meeting live within a half-mile radius of one another, according to Andalusia Detective Sergeant Wade Garrett.

No new leads about the cases, including the most recent incident on Jan. 8, were known at the time of the meeting. But those in attendance agreed the suspect is probably a common acquaintance.

"We're trying to find out if each case is similar to the other," Forehand said. "We're also trying to let everyone know what's going on. Watch out for anything (suspicious)."

The lack of leads or tips makes one believe it is a single suspect or the crimes are not linked, according to Garrett.

"This usually indicates (the crimes) are not associated (with each other) or it is one person," he said.

The public, especially those who have been victims of the crimes, want to know who is the perpetrator.

"My son goes to Opp High School, and he has started listening (for possible leads)," Butch Mathis, whose colt was shot and killed Dec. 1, said.

Mathis, who was on the brink of tears, added the colt, unbroken, would have been worth $2,000 by its second year.

One woman has had a horse shot and killed, followed by more grief.

"We had a mare that went missing last night," Shirley McNeil, who had another horse killed by a shotgun blast in September, said. "The fence was cut in two places, and there were footprints all over the area. A vehicle was also parked close to the fence."

McNeil also had two other horses missing. She raises Tennessee Walking Horses, and she said the total value of all four horses was about $100,000.

"I don't know if those (missing) were stolen or if they died somewhere," she said with frustration in her voice. "It was my father's dream (for us) to raise walking horses."

Forehand said he usually works cases of this nature when the horses have been sent to a (state agriculture) lab for an autopsy, but because of the numerous occurrences in Covington County "an exception will be made."

According to Forehand, the closest lab is in Elba.

Johnny Harper, whose horses were the most recent victims in the area, increased a reward for information on the perpetrator from $2,000 to $3,000.

Garrett said he will treat these cases like a murder investigation.

"We will look for the same things we look for in murders," he said. "And it is murder - the malicious killing of livestock, which is a Class-C Felony."

Garrett added if the missing horses are confirmed to have been stolen, the suspect would be facing theft of property, punishable up to 20 years in prison.

A cow belonging to Bobby Jackson, who was not in attendance of the meeting, was also recently shot and killed.