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Cattle rustlers a growing menace in rural Texas
« on: June 19, 2006, 12:39:09 PM »
Cattle rustlers a growing menace in rural Texas
6/17/2006 7:37 PM
By: Associated Press

The era of dusty stagecoaches and wagon trains is long gone, but cattle thieves never quite rode off into the sunset.

They were the bad guys in a thousand Westerns. But today, rustlers are a growing menace in some parts of rural America. They strike in the dead of night and sometimes sell their haul before the rancher or farmer discovers the animals are gone.

Joe Rector is an investigator who prowls the back roads of central Oklahoma. He calls cattle rustling a low-risk, high-reward kind of crime and people figure that out very quickly.''

Millions of dollars in stolen cattle have been recovered in the last two years in Oklahoma and Texas. And in Missouri, a rash of thefts totaling more than $1 million recently led the governor to create a special task force as lawmakers have called for increased penalties.

Back in the days of the Wild West, cattle thieves sometimes paid for their crimes at the end of a rope. Now, they're more likely to get a slap on the wrist, or prison if it's a repeat offense or an especially large theft.

Some say rustling is on the rise because of a 25 percent increase in beef prices in the last five years. Others, though, say thieves are oblivious to market fluctuations and tend to be common criminals -- some of them methamphetamine users -- all looking for a fast buck.

Cattle thieves are able to exploit a world of absentee owners, busy auction barns and a way of doing business that relies more on a handshake than paperwork. They usually prey on smaller ranches and farms, and can pocket thousands of dollars in no time.

And Texas cattle investigator John Bradshaw said that, unlike other thieves, rustlers collect full value.

 

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