Fremont man arrested in 'horrific' animal cruelty case
Posted January 6, 2009 8:06 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
Fremont, N.C. — A Fremont man faces charges in what Wayne County animal control officers call "the most horrific, disturbing case" of animal cruelty they have ever seen.
Lawton McKenzie, 28, of Old Black Creek Road, was arrested Tuesday on three misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty after authorities who went to his home found dismembered animals, a machete, knives, bowls of blood and what appeared to be a puppy’s head in a plastic bag.
The investigation is ongoing, and more charges are possible, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office said. Authorities declined to release his exact address.
Animal control officers found the remains of several dozen animals on Dec. 3, Justin Scally, director of the Wayne County Department of Animal Control Services.
"There were multiple animals that had been decapitated," he said. "I don't think you're ever really prepared to see situations like this."
Other animals were being burned on what Scally described as "a homemade grill of sorts."
Investigators also found the remains of a decapitated dog with its front paws cut off, dead snakes, a dead turtle, dead puppies and what appeared to be a goat’s head on the grill.
Other items were unidentifiable. Investigators also found the remains of several predatory birds, such as owls, on the property.
An accurate count of how many deceased animals will never be available, Scally said, because of the number of unmatchable dismembered parts found on the property.
Investigators removed 26 living animals from the house, including a dying goat, Scally said. It was rushed to a local veterinarian's office and survived.
“It was the most horrific, disturbing case that I have ever investigated," he said. “What we saw, I don’t think I will ever forget for the rest of my life."
Neighbors said Tuesday they had complained to animal control in the past about animal carcasses in the yard and about pit bulls getting loose from McKenzie's residence and killing other animals in the neighborhood, including a pony and two cats.
Scally said he had questioned McKenzie before and that he denied killing the animals, that they were road kill and that he was studying taxidermy and using the animals' bones to make necklaces.
Investigators were only able to charge McKenzie last week when they determined they had enough evidence.
Scally said the animals are improving and should all have no problems if adopted. While he said the scene at McKenzie's home disgusted his investigators, workers have been concentrating on the surviving animals.
"Our goal is providing the best care that we can for these animals," he said, "and to prosecute (McKenzie) ... to the greatest potential."
The County of Wayne has filed a civil complaint against McKenzie requiring he pay for the upkeep of the seized animals. The county also requested McKenzie post sufficient funds with the Clerk of Superior Court to insure the care of the animals for an additional 30 days.
McKenzie is scheduled to appear in court on the civil charge on Jan. 15.