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Ohio farmer spoke of troubles before freeing exotic animals

Investigators report that Terry Thompson had expressed concern about his marriage, his workload and his impending electronic confinement before releasing them and killing himself in October.

January 18, 2012|By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times
  • Carcasses are all that remain Oct. 19, 2011, at an exotic animal farm outside Zanesville, Ohio. Authorities had most of the farms animals killed after their owner freed them and committed suicide.
Carcasses are all that remain Oct. 19, 2011, at an exotic animal farm outside… (Associated Press )

On the night before he released 56 exotic animals from their cages on his Ohio farm and killed himself with a bullet to the head, Terry Thompson reportedly turned to the man who worked with him and said he "had a plan."

He was determined to "find out" about the things that were bothering him, including questions about his marriage and how he would face his impending confinement over a criminal conviction, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report, by investigators with the Muskingum County Sheriff's Office, doesn't explain why Thompson decided to free the animals, but it does offer the clearest picture to date of the events leading up to the tragedy.

"I have a plan to find out, and you will know it when it happens," Thompson reportedly told John Moore, the college student who worked six days a week at the Zanesville, Ohio, farm where the animals were kept. Moore's description of his final conversation with Thompson is among the report's accompanying documents.

The world heard of Thompson and his plan the next day — on Oct. 18, 2011 — after officers from the sheriff's office answered an emergency call at the farm. There, they found Thompson's body and the freed animals. Over the next two days, about two dozen officers destroyed 48 of the animals, including big cats such as lions and tigers. Six animals were recovered and taken to a zoo; two animals were presumably eaten by other animals.

"That was his last conversation," Capt. Jeff LeCocq said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I don't think we'll ever know why he did what he did. Who knows when somebody has had too much."

According to the report, Thompson told Moore he had received a disturbing letter about his wife, Marian. She had left the farm in the spring but sent checks for the farm's expenses.

In addition to problems with his wife, Thompson was concerned about being electronically confined to the farm, a condition of his release from federal prison on Sept. 30. He had been convicted of possessing illegal firearms.

Five days before his death, Thompson met with Joe Moore — a federal parole officer — who told investigators that Thompson was distraught over the upcoming yearlong electronic confinement. The federal officer reported that Thompson said he was overwhelmed by the conditions at the farm and the amount of work that had to be done to care for the animals.

The final report also includes the responding officers' findings the night they arrived at the farm and tried to contain the animals, which had fled through opened doors and cut cages.

Deputies said that when they initially saw Thompson lying on his back, they could not tell whether he was alive or dead. A handgun was about 15 feet from his body, and blue bolt cutters were nearby.

The roaming animals, including tigers, made it impossible to approach Thompson's body; the animals had to be killed so that officials could reach the body, deputies said in their report.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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