At 9 one Saturday morning in mid-August, David Parga threw back the barn doors at his Southwest Ranches farm to a surprise. Marco, one of his two horses, was gone.
Parga's first thought: Someone has stolen Marco -- or maybe, by some measure of equine wizardry, Marco escaped.
He was wrong on both counts. The 8-year-old thoroughbred was dead. His remains were found alongside a drainage canal, throat slit, bled out, his flanks cut from the corpse. Marco had been butchered. "It was sickening," Parga recalls. "He was our pet, and we took it pretty hard."
The entire community, in fact, accepted the death the same way. And the Broward County Sheriff's Office was deluged with phone calls, eliciting a communal response greater than that of some homicides. Southwest Ranches, which was recently embroiled in a separate drama, writhed with an old-fashioned whodunit.
And now the reward for answers about Marco's murder has doubled. An anonymous donor recently kicked in $1,000 -- on top of a $1,000 Crime Stoppers reward -- for tips on the identity of Marco's murderer.
"This happens when a crime has really affected people," says BSO spokesperson Dani Moschella. "If anything can rock Southwest Ranches, it's the brutal death of a horse."
This sort of crime is more common in Miami-Dade -- where an underground horse meat trade thrives -- but it's a rarity in Broward. So Southwest Ranches Mayor Jeff Nelson recently passed Marco's Law, which carries a punishment of imprisonment for up to one year and a $5,000 fine for killing a horse.
It's unclear, however, whether that's enough. The horse meat trade is a lucrative industry. Police told Parga that Marco's murderer might have pocketed as much as $8,000 for the meat.
"But culturally, that's just not the sort of thing that we do around here," Parga says. "We love horses. They're not meat."
Internationally, however, that idea is a little strange. Among the top eight countries that consume horse meat, more than 5 million of the animals were butchered. In France alone, nearly 26,000 tons of horse meat found its way to the dinner table.
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But in Southwest Ranches, Parga has hired someone to pull night duty and guard his last horse. "We're moving on the best we can," he says. "We wait to see who did this to Marco."