Saddlebred Exhumation Under Way

The much anticipated court-ordered exhumation of the body of champion Saddlebred Wild Eyed and Wicked began this morning under gray skies and amidst chilling temperatures at Double D Ranch near Versailles, Ky. Wicked was one of five top American Saddlebreds that were injected with an unknown necrotizing (tissue-killing) substance the weekend of June 28-29, 2003. Wicked and one of the other horses, Meet Prince Charming, were euthanatized due to their injuries and buried in the same grave at the ranch on July 17, 2003.


Above, the exhumation site at Double D Ranch near Versailles, Ky. on Wednesday morning. Below, Detective Ronald L. Turley from the Kentucky State Police answers questions from the press.


A federal judge ordered the exhumation in early January following a request by Joe and Sally Jackson (Sally is Wicked's owner). The Kentucky State Police (KSP) and scientists chosen by the Jacksons will conduct forensic examinations on the remains to obtain further clues about the attacks, since no arrests have been made in the case. For background information on this story, see

Since the press was not allowed at the exhumation site, two news trucks, two cameramen, and several photographers and reporters gathered at the fence in front of the property on Huntertown Road. The sound of the idling trucks drowned out any sound coming from the scene of the digging. A backhoe worked slowly and steadily, bringing out buckets of topsoil as many people stood near the site watching. Drivers slowed as they passed, some turning around in a subdivision across the street from the ranch and stopping long enough to ask if everything was OK.

Sally Jackson, Wicked's owner, spoke with The Horse by telephone as she stood graveside. "It's upsetting, but it's something that needs to be done," she said. "I'm sorry it wasn't done sooner, because there would be less deterioration and more tissue and that sort of thing to test. I'm very grateful the judge ruled we could do this." Jackson is the defendant in a series of legal wranglings that commenced in early 2004 with Double D and its owner, Dena Lopez.

The exhumation was set to begin at 8:00 am. By late morning, the team had unearthed the plastic container that held the ashes of a third horse that had to be euthanatized as a result of the attacks (Kiss Me, a mare owned by Jane Burkhemper, euthanatized on July 18, 2003). The plaintiff's counsel, William C. Rambicure of Rambicure, Miller & Pisacano, PSC, later explained that Lopez had given permission to a Double D farmhand to bury the ashes of the mare when they were returned after cremation, and it turned out the farmhand had buried the ashes in the same area that the other two horses were buried.

Jackson said the backhoe would continue to dig until Wicked and Meet Prince Charming's remains were reached. Then the digging was to resume by hand.

"We haven't gotten down to Wicked, and I don't know if I'm going to look," she said late morning. "Now they're just digging, there is just dirt, and we should be getting to the bodies soon. The ground is good, there is no mud, no odor, and the conditions are perfect," said Jackson.

She said there were less than 20 people at the site, many of whom were KSP officers. Some individuals had returned to their cars to warm up, and officials with the company operating the backhoes were coming and going from the site. She and her husband, and their attorney Brent Caldwell, were present.

Rambicure said, "Co-counsel Larry Deener was out there for awhile…Dena (Lopez) was on site, but not watching or observing the exhumation. She was out at the farm and otherwise engaged with her farm work. A fellow Dena has hired assisting with the process was there." Messages left for Lopez today went unreturned. 

Jeannine Kreinbrink, senior archaeologist with Natural and Ethical Environmental Solutions, LLC, of West Chester, Ohio, was directing the dig, and had several archaeologists with her. Someone was taking soil samples after every few feet of digging, said Jackson.

"Dr. Elizabeth Murray (PhD, Dipl. ABFA--the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and a professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio), a forensic anthropologist, is the one who will take the bones and horse for study," said Jackson. She said there were plastic tubs on-hand for removal of the remains, and that the remains will be frozen once they are removed.

In the agreed order for exhumation filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, on Jan. 5, it was designated that the Jacksons would allow Dr. Emily Craig (PhD, forensic anthropologist for the Kentucky State Medical Examiner) and other representatives of the KSP and the plaintiff to observe the exhumation, and that the plaintiffs would bear none of the exhumation costs.

The KSP or their designated representatives were to be allowed to take certain parts of the forelegs and any other portion of the remains considered necessary for criminal investigation to the KSP Lab in Frankfort to conduct non-destructive examination. Following examination, the remains can be turned over to the defendants. Any remains that aren't taken into KSP custody at the gravesite can be submitted for examination by the defendants.

"I understand that the KSP might be interested in the front forelegs of Meet Prince Charming (who was owned by Lopez) as well," said Rambicure.

Investigations planned by the defendants include an MRI investigation at a yet undisclosed location, and a toxicology investigation that will likely be performed at the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Detective Ronald L. Turley of KSP Post 12 in Frankfort came to field questions from the press around 11:00 am. He explained that many hours had been devoted to the case, the investigation was ongoing, and he could not reveal if there were leads in the case. He encouraged anyone who has any information about the case to contact either Detective Wolff or Rayburn at the KSP at 800/378-3463 or 502/227-2221. Information may be provided anonymously.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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