Finding Willie: how social media exposed dark side of horse biz

- When a Roswell woman thought she was tricked out of her beloved horse, she fought back in a true 21st Century way.

She created a Facebook page, a social media response that ultimately led to a criminal charge with many others telling police they're victims, too.

Fallon Blackwood now faces a felony charge of obtaining property by false pretenses in Williamston, N.C. The 23-year-old veterinary school student is accused of tricking a man into thinking she wanted his two horses to be companions for her personal barrel horse she kept on a farm near Boaz, Ala. Instead, she's suspected of selling the horses where they may have ultimately wound up in a slaughterhouse.

Multiple horse owners across the Southeast have now filed their own police reports, claiming Blackwood conned them out of their horses as well.  

“In this situation, the horses did not deserve that," insisted Macon County, AL sheriff Andre Brunson. "They were thinking their horses were put out to pasture and then to find out they were slaughtered, that’s just a bad thing.”

Blackwood was originally locked up in the Macon County jail. On Friday, she waived extradition to the North Carolina.

It's hard to imagine how word of Blackwood could have spread as fast as it did without social media and a non-profit called NetPosse.com. Horse owners tell police the scam goes back years. But it took the pain suffered by Lindsay Rosentrator to finally make a difference.
 
"We thought they were going to a wonderful forever home," she remembered. "And was just the opposite."

According to her complaint with the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department, Lindsay posted a craigslist advertisement offering her horse Willie for free to anyone who could give him a better home to live out his retirement years. He had become lame and suffered other health problems that made it difficult for him to walk. Lindsay hoped she could pair him with someone who already had a horse so he wouldn't be lonely.

She remembered Blackwood said all the right things, and her status as a vet school student sealed the deal. Lindsay drew up a contract that she'd have "first rights if buyer Fallon Blackwood is unable to keep horse Willie."

We checked the address listed for Fallon on the contract. It doesn't exist. According to Lindsay's police report, Fallon kept promising she'd send pictures of Willie in his new home, but none came.

"If you can text me, how hard is it to send a picture?" she asked.

When Fallon stopped taking her calls, the now-frantic Lindsay created a Facebook Page, "Finding Willie." Eventually, dozens of other horse owners across the Southeast came forward to say they'd been tricked, too.
    
But someone else noticed the Finding Willie page: Fallon Blackwood, urging her to take the page down. Lindsay recorded the call. Here's a transcript.

Lindsay: "You did this to yourself. You dug your own grave."

Fallon: "I know that. I know that. And I'm trying my best to make this right. I just don't want my school life to be messed up. That's all."

School life. As it turns out, Fallon Blackwood did tell the truth about something: she's a third-year student at Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Lindsay: "What you did was deceptive. It was evil."

Fallon: "I was completely wrong."

According to her complaint to police, Lindsay says Fallon admitted selling Willie to someone in Alabama. That man told Lindsay he sold Willie to a woman named Heather White for her children to ride, odd since Willie was lame and had other serious medical issues that originally led Lindsay to look for a better retirement pasture.
    
Heather White eventually calls Lindsay, who's desperate for information. Here's the way the call went.

Lindsay: "I can work something out. I can buy him back."

But then Lindsay gets suspicious.

Lindsay: "Is this Fallon?"

Caller: "No, this is Heather."

Click on our video and listen for yourself. According to Lindsay's report to police "I am 100% confident it was Fallon Blackwood." Whoever was on the other end never called back.

"The last two weeks, every report that has come in, when I see her name affiliated with it, I just get nauseous," confessed Pam Miller of NetPosse.com

Before the Finding Willie page went up and Lindsay started partnering with NetPosse.com, the non-profit that tracks horse theft had only one complaint about Fallon. Since then, Netposse.com has collected 28 owner complaints -- involving 47 horses from across the Southeast -- many urging their local police departments to file charges, too.

"There are so many individuals that have had the same story told to them," Miller said sadly. "And she doesn't have the horses."

According to their reports, some of those horse owners told police they feared their horse wound up at an auction house in Attalla, just a few miles from Fallon’s home. Some of the horses go to the highest bidder. Some eventually wind up in a slaughterhouse.

We saw several horses penned up in the back, the auction house closed to the public on this day. A truck driver pulled up, he told me, to take a load of horses to Louisiana. But when he saw the FOX 5 I-Team outside the gates, he eventually drove away empty.

Did Willie and all the other missing horses go through that auction house? It was recently sold. Our calls to the new owners went unanswered.
    
Horse lovers like Lindsay Rosentrator may be happy to see Fallon Blackwell in criminal trouble, but they'd trade it all to see their horses safe again.

"He was a really special horse," she said, fighting back tears. "Not a mean bone in his body."

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