Shenandoah Stables, besides housing the horses of Piatt and those horse owners who chose to board their animals there, had an dirt-floor arena used for horse shows. As May of 1971 unfolded, the dust raised in the arena whenever it was used was enough of a problem for Piatt to decide to have it oiled.
Immediately upon the application of the oil, Piatt noticed that the oil had a powerful acrid odor that stung her eyes. Upon questioning, Lambarth told that the oil contained ‘special stuff’ for ‘special customers’.
Within the week, Piatt began noticing dead birds in the vicinity of the stables……her cats had lost patches of their fur and developed open lesions in their skin….and Mama cat’s new litter all had died. Then Mama cat died. Soon all twelve of the ‘stable cats’ had died, yowling in agony as their faces swelled and pus oozed from their closed eyelids.
Then Piatt noticed that her daughters Andi and Lori had developed a strange acne – marked by blackheads – on their faces and chests.
As June turned to July, an increasingly uneasy Piatt was stunned to see her beloved horses becoming ill. Her veterinarian, James Evans, was unable to provide anything more than supportive treatment….which did nothing to stop the illness.
The horses began dying. They lost their appetites, had diarrhea, stumbled and fell, developed skin lesions and sores.
Piatt herself became ill. And then in August, six year-old Andi became seriously ill, hemorrhaged blood, and was hospitalized. Over the next several months she lost half her body weight.
The remainder of 1971….and then 1972…….and 1973……..turned into nightmares in which more horses died, Piatt and her daughters got sicker, and Piatt was forced to close the Stables and move. She confronted Russell Bliss about what sort of contaminant might have been present in the oil used to spray the arena at Shenandoah Stables. Bliss denied that the oil was contaminated – as far as he was concerned, it was ‘plain ole waste oil’.
'Killing Horses', which was written entirely by Piatt with no editorial assistance, is not a perfect book. Many of the chapters recounting the demises of one treasured horse or pony or colt after the other are probably going to seem tedious to readers who are not horse lovers.
But the final third of the book, when Piatt and Shenandoah Stables co-owner Frank Hampel begin conducting their own investigation of Bliss's operation, is an interesting - and very alarming - account of how the illicit dumping of toxic chemicals was widespread across Missouri.