The Bedford County sheriff's investigation into cattle rustling has led to a third arrest and recovery of a prized heifer from land owned by actress Ashley Judd in Williamson County.
"I guarantee you, she doesn't know anything about it," Sheriff Randall Boyce said Friday about two of Bedford County Agricultural Extension Agent John Teague's special bred cows having been found on Judd's farm at Leiper's Fork.
Ironically, that land is managed by a man Teague has known for many years because he had been a University of Tennessee agricultural extension agent in another county, according to Teague, who declined to name his friend or that man's celebrity associate until she was named by a Nashville TV station.
"It's one of those coincidences that apparently was meant to be," Teague said. "The gentleman who managed it didn't know the cows were stolen," he said.
"The cows appeared there a couple of weeks ago and the sheriff's departments started asking question," Teague said of investigators for Boyce and Williamson County Sheriff Ricky Headly.
Boyce said, "I think there are five more cows over there" in Williamson County.
"We've found about $200,000 worth of stuff" since the arrest of Mark Robert Carter, 29, of El Bethel, and a woman who's not been named in connection with the theft ring, and on Thursday, Jeffery Thomas Cantrell.
Cantrell, 39, of Unionville was the third suspect arrested. Booked in Thursday morning and then out four hours later on $50,000 bond, he's due in Bedford County General Sessions Court on Wednesday like Carter because of crimes alleged in several counties.
"It depends on what happens in Williamson County," Boyce said on whether there will be more arrests in this case that's revealed gasoline pumped from stations in Marshall and Maury counties and farm equipment taken in Moore County.
Spring Hill Police Detective Shane Cothran and another detective who declined to be named were at the Bedford County Sheriff's Department on Friday with Detectives Brian Farris and James "Scooter" Bonner just before the four men drove off to inspect seized farm equipment and a wide variety of personal property.
"We've got a lot of stuff missing and a lot of identifying to do," Cothran said. "Just one victim [in Spring Hill] had more than $30,000" worth of property reported stolen.
As for the two cows recovered Thursday, Boyce said, "We're very certain that Carter was involved."
Boyce and Chief Deputy David Williams Jr. went to Lieper's Fork about 2 p.m. Thursday and were assisted by Williamson County Sheriff's Detective Ken Anderson.
"We didn't know it was a celebrity's farm at the time," Boyce said.
Boyce said he believes the cattle stolen from Teague in early January were put on land adjoining Judd's property.
"The cows broke in on their farm," the sheriff said. "I think they broke through the hot-wire [fence] and went in and got with the others ... Cows will go to cows."
Farm hands noticed the broken electric fence wires and "They first thought it was a deer who broke it," Boyce said.
His officers were led to believe last week that Cantrell was in Louisiana or Mississippi, but he apparently returned to Bedford County from "the Carolinas," Boyce said.
"We've been to his house looking for him at Hopkins Bridge Road," the sheriff said. "He was working out of state. His family told him I was looking for him and he turned himself in."
Boyce said he believes Cantrell is represented by a lawyer in Williamson County. Carter was represented during a bond hearing by Assistant Public Defender Cathy Hickerson.
"Two or three informants told me he (Cantrell) was involved" in the cattle rustling case, Boyce said.
The warrant sworn out by Detective Farris on Oct. 13 alleges Cantrell went to Teague's property northeast of Shelbyville and took approximately six cows and calves as well as a 16-foot Featherlite brand livestock trailer.
"It was my trailer," said Ken Ferguson of Rockvale who's the farm management specialist for the University of Tennessee in Rutherford County.
"My family and the Teague family own cattle together," Ferguson said Friday.
"For sentimental reasons and genetics, we consider them valuable," Teague said of the two cows recovered last week.
The heifer named KT Miss Chrome was named Breed Champion at the Tennessee State Fair in fall 2003, Breed Champion at the State 4-H Livestock Show that summer in Nashville, and among other show winnings, the cow was second in her class at the Junior National Short Horn Show in Indianapolis, Ind., during the summer of 2003, Teague said.
His 17-year-old daughter, Katie, owns Miss Chrome's mother, so she's won honors for having bred the prize winning cow, Teague said.
"Some of these heifers are four generations deep in the family," He said as his daughter was dismayed with the cow's "skinny" condition Friday.
Ferguson said, "They've not had the best nutrition this past spring and summer.
"One of the most frustrating things is that John and I don't golf or fish. Our get-away is to make decisions on breeding cows," Ferguson said. "We haven't bought high dollar cows. It's done through breeding."
They collect embryos from cows and implant them in surrogates to refine a breed-line with greater beef, strength, milk production for their young, an ability to reproduce independently, and confirmation of breed distinction.
Recovered with Miss Chrome was the heifer FT Southern Belle 503, not a prize-winning cow, but one in a line of winners, and therefore valuable to the cattle partnership.
"The news of the day is that they're both pregnant," Teague said. "Pregnancy is good news and bad news. It's good to get a calf, but we've lost ... breeding time and we take that seriously."
The potential off-spring are "not necessarily" a result of the cows' time on Judd's property, he said before listing how three years of breeding are lost.
"These cows will have calves that don't fit into our program," Teague said of what's lost during 2007. This year was lost "in developing the breed," and 2005 was lost "because the calves that were conceived [from that year] were lost, so we didn't have anything to show in 2006."
"How do you put a price on that?" Teague asked.
He and Ferguson said three cows, three recently-born calves, and a yearling heifer were reported stolen on Jan. 4, 2006. One calf had been born overnight Dec. 27-28, 2005, and since it was about a week old when taken, Teague and Ferguson speculate that it's possible that the animal didn't survive.
The partners' comments about the thefts parallel those of other cattlemen who spoke of how Bedford County's rural community is changing.
"It's not been a pleasant year," Teague said. "I've had to put locks on doors and gates. It's something I've advised other farmers to do."