PAULS VALLEY — A bad job with a branding iron could help solve a recent cattle theft.
Edward Heath McCoy, 32, of Maysville, is being held in the Garvin County jail, accused of stealing six cows then using a makeshift branding iron to attempt to cover the existing brands. More arrests could follow, Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes said.
On March 31, Ryan Somers reported someone had cut the gate lock on a pasture southwest of Maysville and taken six Limousin-breed heifers from his larger herd.
With no real leads, Somers placed an ad in the Lindsay News offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to his cattle's return. The sheriff's department also highlighted the case in a crime stoppers column that runs in several Garvin County newspapers.
Rhodes said investigators caught a break when McCoy and a woman approached a man in neighboring Grady County seeking to sell several head of cattle for $1,000 each. The man knew about the earlier theft and notified the Somers family, who contacted the sheriff's office with information that the cattle might be found on land McCoy leased southeast of Maysville.
While recovering the cattle, authorities found what they considered a suspicious makeshift corral in a tree line on the property. They also found pliers and large bolt cutters near the pen and a fire pit authorities say could have been used for hot-iron branding. At McCoy's residence, investigators seized four iron brands that authorities allege McCoy used in a poor attempt to cover the existing brands.
“It wasn't done with time or care in mind,” Rhodes said. “If these cattle would have gone through a sale barn, they would have raised all kind of red flags because of the markings and brands. That's probably what prompted him to try to sell to an individual.”
McCoy faces one felony count of knowingly concealing stolen property and five felony counts of fraudulent branding. He is being held in lieu of $25,000 bail. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $5,500 fine. He has previous felony convictions in Garvin County for burglary, possession of a stolen vehicle, assault on a police officer and has charges pending in two other cases.
Each year, about 1,000 head of cattle are reported stolen to the Law Enforcement Division of the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Spring is an active season for the crime as cattle prices rise, chief agent Jerry Fowler said.
Illicitly luring cattle from a remote pasture isn't difficult, said Fowler, who has nine agents across the state to investigate livestock thefts.
“You can shake a feed sack and load up eight to 10 head of cattle and be gone before an owner even knows,” Fowler said.
When cattle thefts occur, authorities notify livestock markets in Oklahoma and surrounding states to be on the lookout, said Fowler, who recommends owners brand their cattle.
“A brand on livestock is like a tag on a car,” he said. “It gives us a chance to identify who the cattle belong to.”
About 40 percent of the cattle reported stolen to the Agriculture Department are recovered.
“If somebody steals your TV out the door, you're probably never going to see it again,” Fowler said. “But if somebody steals your cattle, chances are good we'll find them.”