Anatomy of a Horse Thief

Thursday, at 10:00 p.m., the Reverend Elijah Goodman, returning home from church services, observed a pickup truck with a horse trailer parked in front of the Pope Plantation front gate. The Rev. Goodman assumed that the Popes were preparing to take their horses trail riding the following morning. What he didn’t know, was at that moment a horse thief was taking Heidi, Harriet Pope’s 20 year old bay Quarter Horse mare.

Harriet Pope would not know that her horse was missing until Saturday morning when Heidi didn’t show up for feeding. She immediately began looking for her missing mare. Harriet notified her husband, Homer, and they searched the property. They checked pasture fences for evidence of the mare getting out. They took Heidi’s filly, Valentine, also a Bay, with them, hoping that the filly might sense the mare’s trail. Harriet called on neighbors with horses and checked their pastures.

Sunday, Harriet decided to notify the County Sheriff’s Office. Deputy Dorite, who lived in the neighborhood, came by Pope’s plantation and took the missing horse report. He told the Popes this was the first stolen horse report he had received in 20 years as deputy. Later Sunday afternoon, after exhausting all possible investigative leads, Harriet decided that Heidi had definitely been stolen. She thought it hard to believe that someone came onto their property through the locked gate and stole her horse, yet there was no other explanation.

Monday morning, Deputy Dorite armed with Harriet Pope’s best pictures of Heidi, began checking with area horse traders. Jack Deal, a horse trader in nearby Pastureton, recognized Heidi as the same horse he purchased from a Grassy Springs man. Deal described the horse thief as being in his early fifties, light brown skin, with a full beard and a receding hairline capping a long forehead. According to Deal, the horse thief said his wife had seven horses and wanted to sell this one. Deal said he bought the horse from the horse thief for $1000.00, which he paid for with a check.

Late Monday evening, Harriet Pope, along with Deputy Dorite, traveled to Pastureton to identify and recover the stolen horse. Their conversation during the trip focused on trying to identify the horse thief. Harriet knew it had to be someone who knew that they would be away for three days. Harriet told Deputy Dorite that she spent that time in the hospital in Birmingham. Homer, she said, went to visit his brother’s place in Grassy Springs while she was at the hospital. Homer wanted to borrow money from his brother for Harriet’s operation if the tests determined she needed one. Of course, Harriet didn’t discuss the tests with the deputy. As a matter of fact, Harriet and Homer had not told anyone about these tests.

A week passed, Harriet called Deputy Dorite and inquired about the status of the horse thief. Deputy Dorite stated that none of the leads had played out yet, but he would arrest the thief as soon as they found him.

Another week passed, and Harriet Pope did not received any additional information from the Sheriff’s office about the status of the horse thief. This worried Harriet because she now knew that whoever stole Heidi knew how to enter the gate to their farm without a key. Or worse yet, they had stolen a key. She also knew that the horse thief was a close friend, someone with whom they had shared the information about the trip to Birmingham.

Harriet picked up the telephone and called the sheriff’s office. Recognizing Deputy Dorite’s voice on the other end of the line, she said with controlled emotive authority: ” This horse thief must be arrested. If others are involved in this criminal act, they must also be identified, arrested, tried and punished for this unlawful activity. That is the way our system of justice works. No one person has the right to take the law into their own hands either to punish a thief or to avoid punishing one. Our community is too small not to prosecute this horse thief, who is most likely one of its members.”

Deputy Dorite managed to say, “we are doing all we can do Miss. Pope.”

Having caught her breath, Harriet continued: ” I understand that you can’t do it by yourself. You need community help to catch this horse thief. The community is not helping this horse thief by protecting him from the law. Once he is arrested, then he can be helped. This person can be rehabilitated. He was not born a horse thief. He is a member of a decent, hard working and respected community. Even the one whom he stole from and caused so much grief can forgive him once he submits to the rehabilitation process of the criminal justice system.”

Deputy Dorite managed to squeeze in, “Yes, I understand,” as Harriet caught her breath again. She hung up the telephone in frustration.

Not wanting to hear his wife vent her anger about her stolen horse upon Deputy Dorite, Homer had slipped out. The tall fifty-five year old man walked down to check the mail box at the road. He removed a letter addressed to Mrs. Harriet Pope, from the Birmingham hospital. Pondering whether he should open the letter, Homer could see Heidi grazing with Valentine next to her off in the distance. He pushed his hat back on his head, exposing the long forehead, inherited from his mother’s side of the family, to the sun. As Homer turned and walked back toward the house, he slowly stroked the hair on his chin.

September 1996

All articles are copyrighted – 1985-2004 – Major W. Cox.

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