Fear, fury gather force after horse sex assaults State police consult FBI, Interpol

October 30, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

URBANA -- Horror overtook Rick Hansberger the minute he stepped into the quiet of his horse paddock on a chill October morning three weeks ago.

Sprawled on the paddock floor after a vicious sexual assault was his family's favored horse, a 12 1/2 -year old mare named Star, considered so gentle his children rode her without saddle or reigns on their Frederick County farm.

The mare and the Hansberger family had become victims of a bizarre unsolved crime visiting farm communities west and south of Baltimore -- horse slashing.

Mr. Hansberger has been haunted by the sight of the mare, impaled with a pitchfork, her nipples slashed and horrible scrapes across her flanks, the evidence of an obvious struggle to bolt from her attacker. The mare's injuries were so severe she had to be put down by a veterinarian.

"I have not been right emotionally since that morning," says Mr. Hansberger, his voice shaking. "We really regarded Star as a member of our family, so it's as if this was done to one of us. There was a lot of things someone took away from us."

He now fears for the safety of his other two horses -- and his four children and wife. Sleep eludes him. At night he patrols his property and paddock armed with a .357-caliber Magnum pistol.

The eerie incidents have baffled police and animal abuse experts who cannot fathom what would motivate someone to sexually mutilate horses. Many horrified horse owners have begun to arm themselves.

There are no suspects in the seven Maryland attacks reported between June and mid-October. But there are some common threads:

All of the attacks have occurred at night in Carroll, Howard, Frederick and Prince George's counties. All but one were on mares.

In five of the incidents, the animals genitals were cut with what police and veterinarians believe was a sharp knife or other

instrument. In the first two incidents, which occurred in early June on a Frederick farm a mile from the Hansberger property, two horses were sexually molested. Star and a stallion named Revere Paul have been destroyed as a result of their injuries.

Because of the nature of the attacks, investigators believe there must be more than one attacker.

State police investigators are trying to compile a computer data base of similar attacks against animals from around the nation. In their search for clues, Maryland police have asked Interpol for information on a string of attacks on mares in southern England which have some striking similarities to the Maryland incidents.

Police also have requested that the FBI's Behavioral Science Center in Quantico, Va., develop a psychological profile of the attacker.

"This is a first for us," said Sgt. Steven F. Rutzebeck, chief of the state police crime analytical section. "But we plan to work it with the same tools we use to crack other crime strings. In some ways we are working with the same psychology as a serial killer."

Kathy Schwartz, who operates the Days End Horse Rescue Farm in Mount Airy, says she has been inundated with calls from outraged and fearful horse owners throughout the Baltimore-Washington region.

"The most common thing I hear people say is that they are keeping their guns loaded and their tractors ready. All I can say is the perpetrators better hope the police catch them before a horse owner does."

Investigators are particularly interested in a string of sexual attacks on nine mares in Great Falls, Va., outside Washington between January 1990 and February 1991. One horse died. No one was ever arrested for the attacks, said Officer Richard Perez of the Fairfax County Police.

Maryland police have also requested information on a 35-year-old man convicted in Loudoun County, Va., in 1991 for having sex with two horses several years ago.

For now, police don't believe the attacks are tied to occultism. Some occult rites involve using animal body parts.

The gruesome incidents have stirred high emotions among horse owners from Monkton to Frederick.

As many as 300 furious horse owners have jammed three meetings with police investigators. Another meeting is being organized for Wednesday evening at the Carroll County office building in Westminster.

"My phone has been ringing night and day from horse owners who want answers about what they can do to protect their horses," says Sandy Shaw, who breeds and boards horses on a farm near Monkton. She is organizing Wednesday's meeting.

"People are scared. These incidents have made them feel vulnerable. The horses are defenseless."

So many owners at the meetings have stated they planned to keep guns loaded and ready for the nighttime visitor that police now are trying to dissuade horse owners from taking matters into their own hands.

The calls for retribution have alarmed Tfc. Gary Bachtell, the state police trooper coordinating the investigation. "A lot of the horse owners have been pretty vocal about exactly what they planned to do with the person doing this if they come across them on their farm."

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