Olympic gold brings back brutal memories (US)

McClain Ward won a gold medal last week in Hong Kong (quarantine restrictions kept them out of the rest of China) as part of the United States Olympic Equestrian Jumping Team in a jump off with Canada. However, the win brought the spectre of his father’s crimes against horses to haunt him once again before celebrations began.

In an article penned by Timothy O’Connor for the Journal News, he gives all the grisly details of the horse murders for insurance money scam involving his father, Barney, that shocked the horse world and uncovered because of investigations into the 1977 disappearance of candy heiress Helen Voorhees Brach.

Here’s the article:

:: Criminal past haunts Brewster horse family
By TIMOTHY O’CONNOR | Lower Hudson Journal News | August 20, 2008

    The shining Olympic gold medal McClain Ward won as a member of the United States’ equestrian show-jumping team is the pinnacle for any rider.

    And the celebration at Ward’s Brewster horse farm, Castle Hill, reflected that Monday morning, as Ward ascended to the rarified strata of two-time winner in the Olympic event.

    But the bright spotlight that comes with his present achievement shines also on a dark past that haunts the farm and the family anytime Ward hits another high.

    “I knew it was coming and it just (stinks),” said Castle Hill barn manager Erica McKeever. “But they always have to do it. It just totally blows me away that anyone would want to read about that stuff after all this time.”

    “That stuff” involves an equestrian murder-for-hire plot that was unearthed as a result of an investigation into the disappearance of a candy heiress – a plot that resulted in Ward’s father, Barney, pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from the electrocution of a show horse named Charisma by an equestrian hit man.

    Barney Ward, now 67, was not in Hong Kong to see his son win gold. He has been banned from attending events sponsored by the U.S. Equestrian Federation since shortly after he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in 1996. But that did not keep him away from Olympic Games. The ban is still in effect, said Kathy Meyer, the USEF senior vice president for communications, but it doesn’t extend to nonfederation events.

    “Any suspension from the federation would not have jurisdiction at an Olympic venue,” she said.

    McKeever said that Barney Ward was home preparing horses for his son’s next event after the Olympics, and that he attended the Olympics in Athens in 2004, where he saw McLain win his first gold medal.

    Barney Ward stands next to a horse named Quovadis at Castle Hill Farms in Brewster as he talks about his son, McLain Ward, winning a gold medal in the Olympics. McLain Ward won the gold in the equestrian team jumping event. (Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News)
    Barney Ward stands next to a horse named Quovadis at Castle Hill Farms in Brewster as he talks about his son, McLain Ward, winning a gold medal in the Olympics. McLain Ward won the gold in the equestrian team jumping event. (Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News)

    Barney Ward was not available for comment yesterday. McKeever said he would not want to talk about his past in connection with his son’s victory.

    Despite his guilty plea, Barney Ward insisted in a 2004 interview with The Journal News that he had done nothing wrong.

    “Whether or not you believe the stuff they said I did,” Ward said, “and I didn’t do any of the stuff they said I did, but it’s irrelevant now.”

    What federal prosecutors said he did was arrange for a man named Tommy Burns to kill George Lindemann Jr.’s horse Charisma at Cellular Farms in Armonk on Dec. 15, 1990, so that Lindemann could collect on the horse’s $250,000 life insurance policy.

    And Burns said that wasn’t the first time Barney Ward had tapped him to knock off a horse for insurance money.

    According to court records, Burns testified at Lindemann’s trial that Ward had arranged for Burns to carry out 14 horse slayings before the killing by electrocution of Charisma.

    Twenty-three people, including Ward, himself a top trainer, breeder and rider, were indicted in 1994 in connection with plots to kill horses for insurance money. The case stunned the blue-blooded world of equestrian competition and garnered national media attention.

    The case might never have come to light if not for a continuing probe into the 1977 disappearance of candy heiress Helen Voorhees Brach. Burns was arrested in Florida in 1991 on charges he killed a horse. Federal investigators came down to talk to him about Brach’s disappearance. He spilled details of the equine hits – and Ward’s involvement.

    Burns testified that Ward called him Dec. 13, 1990, and told him “that he could make a lot of money by coming to New York to kill a horse for a man Ward identified as Lindemann,” according to papers filed a federal appeals court.

    Burns arrived at Westchester County Airport at 10:18 a.m. Dec. 15 and drove icy roads to Castle Hill Farms in Brewster, where he met up with Ward, who arranged for an employee to drive Burns to Cellular Farms, so named for the family’s cell-phone empire. Ward had done business with Lindemann before and hoped to again, so he arranged the hit even though he wasn’t going to get a cut of the insurance money.

    Burns met with Lindemann’s trainer, Marion Hulick, at her apartment, who told him the horse had to be killed that day because Lindemann was in Asia and the horse was to travel to Florida the next day.

    At 10 that night, Burns sneaked into Cellular Farms by a back road that Hulick had showed him. And he electrocuted Charisma in the horse’s stall.

    A stable worker, Colleen Reed, found Charisma dead in his stall the next morning, blood in his nostrils.

    Ward pleaded guilty March 19, 1996, to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He admitted he plotted to kill four horses for insurance money between 1987 and 1990. In addition to Charisma, Ward admitted he arranged the killings of Condino in 1987, Rub the Lamp in 1989 and Roseau Platiere in 1989. The three horses were insured for a total of $320,000.

    Ward admitted he threatened to kill Burns if he “did anything to hurt” him, according to court papers filed in Ward’s suspension from equestrian competitions. He was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison. He was released Feb. 5, 1999. He fought the 15-year suspension handed down by the USEF’s forerunner, American Horse Shows Association. He attended events in violation of the ban, prompting the association to go to court to get its ban enforced. Ward cited his desire to attend events where his son, McLain, competed.

    A New York state court upheld the ban in December 2000, ruling Ward “should have considered the consequences of his actions before he put himself in the position in which he is in now.”

Why is it that people who abuse, neglect and murder horses are allowed to ever own and be involved with them again?
Recommended Reading: If you are a mystery lover, horse lover or simply looking for a good book to read, we recommend “Hot Blood: The Money, the Brach Heiress, the Horse Murders“, by Ken Englade, Used and New from $2.45 at Amazon.com

2 thoughts on “Olympic gold brings back brutal memories (US)”

  1. I just have to say I worked for Barney Ward for 10yrs and i never once saw any cruelty to any of his horses the only reason he pled guilty was to get the FBI off his son He is one of the nicest men you could ever meet and would do anything for you He treats his staff like family thats why they stay for a long time People need to learn that there are two sides to every story and that they should get both sides before they judge


    1. I worked for Barney for a summer at Shannon Stables in Bedford NY before going off to college. I definitely witnessed twitches used to intimidate horses, not calm them. But maybe that’s commonplace in the horse biz (it was my first experience around horses). Barney however seemed right out of Goodfellas. Intimidating for sure. When I asked to leave two weeks prior to the end of my commitment that summer to get ready for my college experience he flipped out. He even went to my house and told my mother “I could hold a gun to his head to get him to stay”. Nice people don’t do things like that…he was a thug, plain and simple. Happy for his sons achievements though irrespective of his fathers crimes.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s