Who shot Jack Black's cattle?
In 2002, Jack Black and his wife, Roberta, bought a 263-acre farm at Stamping Creek, where they planned to settle down after Jack retired. Roberta always dreamed of having a peaceful, mountaintop home for themselves and their boys.
Roberta passed away in 2006 and Jack, who has other farms to take care of, didn't spend a lot of time at Stamping Creek for a couple years after her death.
Jack found a new love, Robin Dean, and the couple decided to keep Roberta's dream alive. They spent more time on the farm starting in 2008 and decided to move here about a year ago. The couple built a hilltop farmhouse, with lots of windows to enjoy spectacular views of Kinnison Mountain.
Jack moved some cattle from his other farms just to graze and keep the grass down. His Stamping Creek farm received a grassland conservation award from the Greenbrier Valley Conservation District in 2008.
Robin brought her horse to the farm last fall. While riding one day, she encountered a bear hunter with dogs. Dean told the hunter that Black had posted the property no trespassing and hunting was not allowed.
"That was the first time I had my horse up here and I did not want a dog chasing after my horse," she said.
Dean recalled the hunter's warning before he left the property.
"'Well', he said, 'you've got to be careful how you approach bear hunters because there are some here' - exact words he said - 'you don't know who's going to be standing beside you when you wake up in the morning, beside your bed,'" she said.
"Is that a threat? I asked and I sort of laughed," she said. "'Oh no, I would never threaten you' he said, 'but that's how some of them are.'"
Dean didn't think much about the incident until August, when four dead cattle were discovered in two days - all apparently shot with a rifle.
Dean and Black found a dead calf and cow on August 18 and Dean found two dead cows on August 19. Dean called the West Virginia State Police on August 21, and was told an officer would be there the same day. No officer arrived.
On Monday, August 23, Black was working at his other farms and Dean was alone at Stamping Creek. Just before 3 a.m., she was awakened by a loud report. Later that morning, an equipment operator discovered a dead bull and the keys to his excavator missing. Dean called the State Police, who was told an officer would be there within an hour.
After waiting more than an hour, Dean called the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department, who said they could not take the investigation, but would try to find out why no officer had arrived.
"I called the Sheriff's Department, who said he couldn't step on toes but he was going to call to see what was taking the time," she said.
Within 20 minutes, Trooper J.W. Gilkerson arrived at the farm. Dean said the trooper apologized for not showing up on Saturday, the day of her first call.
"He apologized for not coming on Saturday," she said. "He said he was busy on several other cases - one being a counterfeit case. I wasn't real happy with him at that point because of the fact that here I am, with shots being fired."
As the trooper walked around the farm, Dean showed him some empty beer cans that Black had found next to a tree stand. According to Dean, the officer said no prints could be lifted from the cans because of dew on the cans. Dean also gave the trooper two shiny, expended cartridge cases she had found on the property.
During the walk-around, the trooper discovered the remains of a decomposing cow and Dean found another, the third for the day.
Dr. Patrick McHale from Seneca Trail Animal Hospital arrived that evening and examined the dead bull, which the equipment operator had found that morning.
On August 24, Dean found another dead animal, now totaling eight cattle, and called to report the find to Trooper Gilkerson. According to Dean, the trooper said Dr. McHale had told him the bull, which the veterinarian had examined the previous day, had died due to vegetation poisoning.
The next day, Dean found two more shiny, expended cartridge cases, which she picked up with a pen tip and dropped into a plastic bag. The couple delivered the cartridges and photos of their dead cattle to the State Police in Marlinton. One photo shows what appears to be an entrance wound on a steer's back. Black said the steer had a larger exit wound on its underside.
To keep them out of harm's way, Black moved his remaining cattle from Stamping Creek to one of his other farms on August 31. During the move, he noticed a steer bleeding profusely from its horn. A veterinarian from the Salt Rock area confirmed that the steer had been shot and amputated both horns to stop the bleeding.
On September 1, Black and Dean met with Sergeant Glenn Galloway, officer in charge of the State Police detachment in Marlinton. According to Black, Galloway seemed concerned and told them the State Police had "dropped the ball" to that point in the investigation.
"We went to Sergeant Galloway's office and he said, 'well, we kind of dropped the ball on this' and I thought, 'kind of - my eye,'" Black said.
Black and Dean said Galloway told them Gilkerson's report stated that Dr. McHale had attributed the bull's death to poisoning by vegetation.
After speaking with Galloway, the couple contacted Dr. McHale, who, they said, told them he had not spoken with the police.
"The veterinarian said he did not tell that officer that report," Dean said. "He had not talked to him at that point. He didn't know what I was talking about."
On September 6, Dean received a copy of the veterinarian report, which does not mention poisoning by vegetation. The report states the bull had a three-inch laceration on its tongue, several dislodged teeth and "stomach contents in the rear of the abdomen, which could possibly indicate trauma."
Galloway said on Monday there are no leads in the case but the investigation is continuing. The officer said he hoped Black's reward offer would result in some tips and said this kind of crime is difficult to solve without an admission.
The couple reported the crime to the Pocahontas County Prosecutor's Office and the West Virginia Agriculture Department. Dean mailed a letter to various state officials including Governor Joe Manchin, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State and the Commissioner of Agriculture, to inform them of the shootings.
Black and Dean are both avid hunters. They said they will not let the shootings scare them away from their hilltop home or change their mind about allowing hunting on the property. They plan to settle in Pocahontas County and continue their efforts to find out who shot their cattle.
Black estimated the value of the lost cattle at $10,000. He has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s). Anyone with information is asked to call Sergeant Glenn Galloway at the Marlinton State Police office at 304-799-4101 or 304-799-4102.