“She pulls up Facebook and a private rescue group had flagged her name for doing business will kill-buyers,’’ …“I immediately started bawling my eyes out.”
Fallon Danielle Blackwood, a 24-year-old Boaz woman, was taken into custody by deputies on a 13-count indictment charging her with bringing into the state property obtained by false pretense elsewhere. The indictment was issued in October 2018 and marked the second state to bring charges against the woman. She was also arrested at the vet school in Macon County eight months ago on an outstanding North Carolina warrant on similar charges.
“I found out she was arrested, and I just started crying,’’ said Lindsay Rosentrater, a Georgia wife and new mother who turned over her beloved gelding to Blackwood nearly one year ago. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Blackwood has been released from the Blount County Jail after posting $15,000 bond. She’s returned to vet school. Blackwood on Tuesday declined comment and court records do not yet list an attorney for her. A call to Tuskegee University officials for comment was not returned.
Rosentrater and her husband in January 2018 found they were expecting a child and were not in a solid financial position to care for their aging horse, Willie. The horse was almost 15 years old and suffered from ailments that prevented him from being ridden. Additionally, the farm where Willie was being kept was going through a transition and all of the boarded horses had to be out by the end of the month.
“I felt like I didn’t have the time he truly deserved so I went out in search of a forever and loving retirement home for him,’’ Rosentrater said. “I posted an ad to my personal Facebook page, horse related Facebook groups and Craigslist. My ad was titled: ‘ISO Forever Loving Home For Sweet Retired Appendix Gelding.’”
Within 24 hours, Rosentrater said, Blackwood contacted her after seeing the ad on Craigslist and said she had a horse farm in Boaz. “She said she was very interested, was a vet student and had a barrel (racing) horse that needed a companion,’’ Rosentrater said. “It seemed too good to be true.”
The two women spoke by phone and arranged for Blackwood to travel to Georgia to meet Willie. That introduction took place on a cold, rainy Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, at a Cherokee County, Ga. barn. Blackwood showed up with a truck and horse trailer.
“My heart dropped,” Rosentrater said. “I was under the impression she was coming to just meet Willie and I but in reality, she did drive about three hours to get to us so I could understand her strategy as we weren’t a quick drive from her home in Alabama. She decided to bring the trailer in case she really liked him. It seemed logical to me considering how much it would be to fuel her truck.”
Blackwood told Rosentrater that she wanted to take Willie with her that day. “That caught me off guard,’’ Rosentrater said. “I was surprised and explained how I wasn’t emotionally, mentally or professionally prepared. I hadn’t planned for him to leave that day as I was anticipating a visit only.”
Rosentrater, who obtained a college degree in Equestrian Studies and is by all accounts an educated horse owner, quickly drew up an impromptu contract that stated, in part, if Blackwood was unable to keep Willie for any reason, he would be returned to Rosentrater. The transaction was completed, and Blackwood loaded up Willie. “He started screaming for me down the road. I just sat in the barn and cried,’’ Rosentrater said. “But I had to dust myself off. I was going into a new chapter and I was doing what was best for him. It was the selfless, right thing to do.”
Rosentrater and Blackwood texted over the coming days and weeks. “Every couple of days I checked in,’’ Rosentrater said. “But I asked her for a photo of Willie, and she wouldn’t send me one. I asked her repeatedly.”
Rosentrater said her suspicions deepened. First, she used Google Earth to look up the address of the Boaz barn, but there was no barn at that address. Next, she confided in a friend who worked in horse rescue who immediately recognized Blackwood’s name. “She pulls up Facebook and a private rescue group had flagged her name for doing business will kill-buyers,’’ Rosentrater said. “I immediately started bawling my eyes out.”
Rosentrater reached back out to Blackwood and said she had made a terrible mistake, and though she had given Willie to Blackwood for free, she was willing to buy him back. “She wouldn’t respond,’’ she said. She texted Blackwood again and told her, “I knew what her gig was.” Later that night, Rosentrater launched a Facebook page called “Finding Willie.”
“Overnight, it blew up,’’ Rosentrater said. “I was contacted by other horse owners with the same story. It was horrifying to me.”
Blackwood saw the Facebook Page and pleaded with Rosentrater to take it down, she said. There was back-and-forth conversation between the two, with Blackwood claiming she had given Willie to a family for their young children. Eventually, all communication ceased.
On April 3, Blackwood was arrested after Alabama’s State Bureau of Investigation notified the Tuskegee University Police Department that a warrant had been issued for Blackwood’s arrest by authorities in North Carolina. That warrant claimed that Blackwood obtained property — specifically, two horses — under false pretense, and included a request for full extradition. She was taken into custody on campus and transferred to the Macon County Jail where she was held on the charges for North Carolina’s Martin County Sheriff’s Office.
On April 6, Rosentrater posted on Facebook that via Missing Horse Report filings through NetPosse.com, also known as Stolen Horses International, they had found 26 horse owner victims and 39 reported horses. “These numbers are rapidly growing as we have had recent exposure in the media,’’ she wrote.
On Tuesday, Rosentrater said they have identified almost 50 missing horse reports from six states filed with Netposse.com that are linked to Blackwood.
Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson said he wasn’t aware of Blackwood’s latest arrest in Blount County, but said it is a sad, tragic case if all the allegations against Blackwood turn out to be true. “These people trusted that their horses were being taken care of and instead they may have gone to slaughterhouses,’’ he said.
Just 13 days away from the one-year anniversary of turning Willie over to Blackwood, Rosentrater said she still has not found out for sure the fate of the horse she had loved and cared for since she was in high school. “We have pretty strong indications he did get shipped into Mexico for slaughter,’’ she said.
Right now, the price of meat is about 50 cents on the dollar, she said, which would have brought someone about $750 for the 1,500-pound Willie. “She had a four-horse trailer and it seems like in many of the cases, she was picking up more than one horse at once,’’ she said.
Blount County District Attorney Pamela Casey said she was made aware of the case when the State Bureau of Investigation approached her late last year. “There has been a large number of persons across the southeast who provided information in this investigation, and we appreciate their help,” Casey said.
Rosentrater said she’s thankful that Blackwood will now have to face the charges in an Alabama court but said she still has so many unanswered questions. “Why? Where?’’ she said.
As a lifelong animal lover, it’s hard for Rosentrater and others to reconcile someone who dedicates their life and training to animals, only to turn around and potentially lead them to their death for financial gain. “It doesn’t make sense to me,’’ Rosentrater said. “How do you separate the two?”
“It’s all still hurtful to me. I’ve been living with a lot of dark clouds during a time I should be rejoicing,’’ she said. “And she’s out there not realizing the hurt she’s caused and I don’t know if she ever will.”