This is a story of alleged cattle rustling and apparent cunning by neighbors.
A tale from the Old West?
No. Northern Harford County, 2008.
The story began last Sunday, when Charlie Croft's two cows wandered off his property on Cedar Church Road in Darlington. The animals occasionally abscond (they ended up in a nearby trailer park last year), and in the past, Croft just drives around the neighborhood until he finds and corrals them.
"They're very friendly," says Croft. "They don't bother anybody."
This time, however, somebody bothered them.
On Monday morning, Croft and his friend Nick Smith went looking for the mother-daughter pair, both white-faced, brown-and-white Herefords. A neighbor said he'd seen the animals wandering on the property across the road from Croft's house.
When Croft and Smith walked behind the neighbor's barn, they came upon a large pool of blood.
"It was pretty disturbing," says Croft.
Croft said he later found the meat and remains - 1,200 pounds of beef altogether - at a house about two miles away.
That's when Croft called the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies tracked down Joseph Engers, 46, who lives on the property where the remains were found. According to Croft and the police report, Engers didn't admit to any crime, but he did offer to pay for the cows. Croft says he told Engers he'd drop the matter for $3,000 - the price of the cows.
Engers was arrested, as was Larry Randall Bank, 52, who also lives on the property. The pair were charged with two counts of theft, for allegedly stealing the cows, and with two counts of mutilating an animal, for allegedly killing the cows.
Engers and Bank are free on $25,000 and $10,000 bonds, respectively.
According to the police report, Bank told a deputy that Engers had asked for help with the cows without mentioning that the animals were on someone else's property. Bank, who lives in the 3700 block of Love Road, refused to comment, and Engers did not return phone calls.
Croft said he knows Bank slightly, but had never met Engers before Monday.
"Everybody I talk to, they can't believe somebody could do something so cruel," Croft says.
He said his 13-year-old daughter, Kaitlin, was most upset about the deaths. She helped him take care of the animals, especially the younger one, which was 14 months old
"That cow was her baby," Croft says. The older cow, who wasn't named, was due to be butchered Jan. 9. But the baby, whose name was Daisy, had a free pass.
Croft owns an auto body shop in Bel Air, but has raised a few cows as a hobby for the past seven years, he said. After the animals are butchered, he keeps some of the meat for himself and sells the rest to friends.
But no one seems to know where the meat from the two slaughtered cows is.
On Monday, the sheriff's department asked the Harford County animal control office to dispose of it. But when a Health Department official went to Bank's house on Tuesday to pick it up, the meat was gone.
Wherever it is, Croft doesn't want it.
"You couldn't even use it now," he says. "It was 60 degrees out on Monday. I would say it's spoiled."