TUSKEGEE, Ala. - Fallon Blackwood had to skip her Large Animal Medicine II class at Tuskegee University Friday morning. The third-year vet student had a far more pressing assignment: appearing before a judge to be extradited on charges she pulled off a cruel scam.
The 23-year-old Alabama woman faces allegations she tricked a North Carolina man out of his horses which may have ultimately been sold to a slaughterhouse. So far, 28 horse owners in metro Atlanta and across the Southeast complain they got scammed, too.
“I know the owners of those horses are pretty upset," agreed Macon County sheriff Andre Brunson. "Thinking their horses were living their life out and then to find out they were slaughtered for different purposes so it’s just a bad case.”
Many of the owners said Blackwood's vet school status put them at ease when she answered an ad looking for someone who might need a horse to live out their retirement days. According to their complaints to police, Blackwood told each of them she needed a companion for her barrel horse on a farm near Boaz, Ala.
When they asked for pictures of their horse in their new, happy home, police reports say Fallon wouldn't respond, or when she did, explained their horse had died in a terrible accident, like being struck by lightning.
"She told her the horse had gotten into the feed and collicked and died," said Pam Miller of NetPosse.com, a non-profit that tracks horse theft. "Which is the same story she had told the owner in North Carolina about their horse."
According to a police report, Fallon even sent a vet bill to prove that she had to euthanize the horse. But the veterinarian named on the bill, "Dr. Aimee Bowling" is not listed as a licensed Alabama veterinarian. When the owner took his evidence to the Martin County Sheriff's Office in Williamston, N.C., authorities issued a warrant for Blackwood, charging her with obtaining property by false pretenses.
“She has completely ripped my whole life apart," Heather Manchester complained while standing outside the Macon County courthouse waiting for Blackwood to appear.
Heather lives in nearby Tallassee. She says she gave her horse Ranger to Fallon last year with the assurance he’d be happier on the Boaz farm. Heather believes he was ultimately sold for slaughter instead.
“I really believe that he is gone," she sighed. "But I know him and the other horses, if this is where they ended up they didn't die in vain because she hopefully will be getting her justice. Or at least stopped other horses from going through the same fate.”
She shares strong feelings with all those other owners in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Anger. And guilt.
“I’m so ashamed.”
Blackwood only faces that one criminal charge in North Carolina. But sheriff Brunson predicts other law enforcement agencies will soon follow with their own charges, including in Alabama.
“I think so," he said. "It’s just a sad situation. I hope the numbers stop going up but it looks like they’re still going up.”