Authorities in the Pacific Northwest are investigating the disappearance of an award-winning, multi-million dollar stallion whose trainer said the horse was stolen from his stable last Friday.
The trainer, a convicted drug felon, claims the theft was an inside job, but the local sheriff's office has not yet determined whether a crime was committed and even suggested it might know the location of the horse.
Capone I, a 12-year-old black Holsteiner whose valuable seed has already produced three foal crops, was reported missing after Douglas Spink, the horse's trainer, left the animal unattended for roughly three hours. Handlers arrived later in the afternoon to find the prized stud gone.
"His stall door, which has a significant latch on it, was open," Spink told ABC News. "His halter and lead rope were gone, and he was gone."
Spink had left the barn, where he lives and trains Capone and other stallions, for a weekend hike. When the afternoon staff arrived, they assumed Spink had taken Capone for the weekend for a trail ride and did not report the animal missing. When Spink returned from his hike Sunday, he said he panicked and called 911 to report Capone missing.
"This is a nightmare," Spink said. "Short of him being injured or dead, I have worried about exactly this."
Too Pricey to Insure
The German-born showjumping horse, whose value is estimated at more than $5 million and who has claimed a quarter-million dollars in prize money during competitions, was not insured because of the prohibitive cost of the policy, according to Spink.
"Insurance is so expensive for horses of this value that it's financially cost-prohibitive to insure him for anything close to his actual value," he said.
Spink, who is not a member of the Capone's small ownership group, is curious what somebody would want to do with him. The horse has a specific brand identifying him and could not be shown competitively, the trainer said, because someone in the showjumping community — already buzzing in the blogosphere about the missing stallion — would inevitably recognize him. Spink said horse owners are typically reluctant to use sperm from a stolen stud, making it unlikely that someone would steal him in order to breed with mares for stud fees.
Spink suspected that he might receive some sort of ransom note in connection to the missing horse — but so far has not. He said there is one former associate with whom business soured whom he believes may be involved.
He also believes that he will know the person who has Capone. "This was obviously done by someone who had a pretty good feeling that I wasn't going to be there this weekend," he said.
Police Sift Through Ownership Issues
Jeff Parks, chief criminal deputy for the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, confirmed to ABC News that an investigator had been assigned to follow up on Spink's allegations. "We do have a detective assigned to the case," he said, "and are still trying to decide whether it's something that could be filed criminally with a prosecutor."
While acknowledging that Spink did report the animal missing, Parks said that authorities are still trying to sift through the exact details of the animal's ownership. The stud is owned by Exitpoint Stallions, a private corporation described on its Web site as specializing in "the development and active sharing of a system of stallion management that embodies respect, kindness, empathy and understanding between equine and human."
"We're getting a lot of information on it," Parks told ABC News about the missing stallion investigation. "The core of the matter is trying is really trying to figure out if someone got the horse unlawfully."
Parks also suggested that authorities may have an idea where the horse is being held, but declined to provide specific details. "We do have leads as to where the horse is," he said. "We have talked to a number of parties."
Busted With 372 Pounds of Cocaine
Spink, a native of Canada and the man making the horse-theft allegations, is known to authorities in the area after a high-profile drug arrest in February 2005 in which he was stopped in Monroe, Wash., while carrying 372 pounds of cocaine worth an estimated $34 million in his Chevrolet Tahoe.
Spink was implicated by federal prosecutors in what they called a major cocaine-for-marijuana drug trade along the U.S.-Canada border, according to a June 2005 story in the Oregonian newspaper. Spink was described in the story as a graduate of Reed College who gained a reputation in Portland, Ore., for aggressive business dealings in the late 1990s that ultimately resulted in a bankruptcy claim as well as a love of extreme sports.
In November 2005, Spink received a three-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea to a charge of felony drug possession.
In all, the investigation resulted in a total of four convictions, including two defense attorneys, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Spink told ABC News that he spent 21 months in prison after his guilty plea.
"It's no secret," he said. "I got in trouble and did something stupid to pay for my horses."
He did not, however, think that his arrest had any connection to Capone's disappearance.
On Exitpoint Stallions' Web site, Spink described a life that has taken him to the "highest highs and the lowest lows."
"Throughout my life, I've been an outspoken, controversial, acerbic, and some would say downright curmudgeonly presence," Spink wrote. "Much of my life has been lived in the public eye, out there for all the world to see — good and bad."
Spink described an intense relationship with Capone, whom he met nine years ago, calling him more than just a horse or an asset. He said he cannot help but fear that the animal has been injured or killed.
"We've all seen 'The Godfather,'" he said, referring to the iconic scene in which a Hollywood mogul awakes in horror to find the head of his beloved horse — severed by mobsters — in his bed.
The primarily black horse has white "socks" markings on three legs and a long, thin white blaze on his forehead. He has a brand on his left flank that includes the Holsteiner Verband "H" logo.